Tag Archive | "Jarret Johnson"

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Chapter 13: The Legend of 4th and 29

Posted on 24 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“It’s the greatest play I have ever seen.”

– John Harbaugh (November 25, 2012)

 

 

FIVE DAYS AWAY FROM FOOTBALL was just what the doctor ordered as far as everyone in the building was concerned. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time, almost exactly in the middle of the season. As much as the players use the down time to get away, see their families, go “home” – wherever that might be in 53 directions – the coaches used the final three weekdays of the week without a game to do what they call “self scouting.”

The NFL schedule is meat grinder, where the games happen Sunday; Monday and Tuesday are game-planning installment days; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are practices days; and Saturday means walk-through and a plane ride every other weekend. There are no off days for NFL coaches once training camp begins in late July. The fan in Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti always marvels at the level of commitment of football coaches, who he’s said work more than any other category of business he’s ever seen.

And although the Ravens began the season 5-2, there was plenty of “self scouting” to be done and bad habits that they’d like to see their team break especially in light of the meltdown in Houston.

Cam Cameron’s offense had been sputtering week to week, depending on location and opponent. What worked so flawlessly against Cincinnati, New England, and Dallas – the “sugar huddle” tempo, spreading the ball around, creating holes for Rice and time for Flacco to throw – seemed like a distant memory in light of the poor Kansas City and Houston footage. After five years of trying to find more consistency, the Ravens still didn’t know what they were getting on any given Sunday, especially on the road when Mr. Hyde showed up far too often.

On defense, Pees was trying to evaluate combinations and schemes that would serve the personnel he currently had at his disposal, which was far different than the unit that stifled the Bengals eight, long weeks ago. Frankly, the Ravens didn’t have much to be proud of in regard to defensive statistics or categories. They weren’t stopping the run at all. They weren’t rushing the passer. They weren’t tacking particularly well. And without a pass rush and with Webb out and Reed gambling and guessing even more than usual, Romo and Schaub – a pair of legitimate top-shelf NFL quarterbacks – picked the secondary apart, especially running across the middle of the field where the Ravens’ linebackers were sub-par in coverage.

As the Ravens prepared to convene on Monday, October 29th, a monster storm was threatening the East Coast, which would impact millions of people over the next few days and weeks. Hurricane Sandy also took its toll on the organization that week as players scrambled to get back to Baltimore amidst altered flights, long drives, and chaos. Special teamer Sean Considine got stuck at the Chicago airport with his four small children. He and his wife had triplets who were toddlers and a 4-year old. Arthur Jones got stranded in Dallas. Terrell Suggs re-routed a flight into Raleigh and drove seven hours on Sunday night in the driving rain to make it back to Monday’s practice. Harbaugh was giving the team the usual Tuesday off in preparation for the game in Cleveland on Sunday, and the brunt of the storm spared most of Maryland, but created a state of emergency just 150 miles away as parts of New Jersey and New York were devastated and destroyed. The storm that eventually helped elect a President was wreaking havoc.

By Wednesday, it became a normal week and once again the Ravens had the thankless task of trying to find a way to sneak in and out of Cleveland with their 10th straight victory over the AFC North-rival Browns. The history of the Ravens and Browns and Art Modell was all written two decades ago. Now, it was simply a matter of a great franchise coming to a city with a poor franchise and continuing to rub more purple salt in the festering wounds. The fans of Cleveland still have incredible disdain for anything related to Art Modell’s Baltimore Ravens and probably always will.

“Everything we’ve done since our last game is geared towards going to Cleveland and being the best team we can be,” said Harbaugh, the sting of the Houston beating now in the rearview mirror. “We have everything we need – players and schemes – to play well. We have to organize it in a way that gives our players the opportunity to play their fastest and best under pressure, on the road and at home. We’ve had the chance with the bye to go into deep study and into the laboratory to figure out what we do best, and we want to take that into this game – and the other eight after that. We think we’ve learned a lot, and we’ll continue to push the envelope to be the best we can be. Our players are definitely good enough to get the job done.”

“There were some very real concerns. There are things that we need to do a lot better, not just from [Houston], but through the whole seven-game period that we felt like we needed to take a hard look at and we did, and I did feel good about it. I felt like our coaches, our players, the communication, we really went to work, and we really had some great conversations. We had some great discussions. We had some great study watching the tape. Guys did some great studies looking at numbers and things like that. In the end, what you try to do is make good counsel then make wise solid judgments about what makes us our best as we move forward. I am really excited about that – I really am. The proof will be in the pudding. So, if I say I am excited about it

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Five questions pondering Showalter, Arrington, Harvey, others

Posted on 15 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or does the acquisition of Kyle Arrington have you feeling really good about the Ravens in 2015? Baltimore is no stranger to significant roster turnover, but fans were understandably uneasy in seeing so many high-profile players depart this offseason. Since then, general manager Ozzie Newsome has done some of his finest work — on paper, at least — with this year’s draft and Wednesday’s acquisition of veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington, which addressed the last glaring need the Ravens had. Arrington isn’t a Pro Bowl player, but his experience and versatility will be welcomed in a secondary that struggled at cornerback and safety last season. The Ravens may not be the clear favorite in the AFC this season, but they could be very dangerous in December and January if — and it’s a big one — rookies Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams are ready to contribute in a meaningful way.

2. Is it just me or are the Orioles delaying the inevitable with Hunter Harvey’s latest elbow problems? I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu when hearing Buck Showalter say that the pitching prospect wouldn’t need surgery before he then dodged a question about whether a magnetic resonance imaging exam showed any damage to Harvey’s ulnar collateral ligament. Last July, Harvey was first diagnosed with a flexor mass strain, the same ailment experienced by Dylan Bundy before he ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013. To be clear, undergoing the surgical procedure shouldn’t be viewed as flippantly as some like to think as not every pitcher fully recovers, but the fact that this is the second time in less than a year that Harvey is having arm issues makes you wonder if we’ve seen the last of him on a mound until sometime in 2016. He will seek a second opinion with Dr. James Andrews in the near future, and you know how that story usually ends.

3. Is it just me or are you already fatigued hearing hype about this year being different for Matt Elam? The Ravens hope to finally get a return on their 2013 first-round investment, but Elam will need to show improvement on the field after a dismal 2014 campaign. While it’s certainly premature to completely bury the strong safety in only his third season, Elam won’t be assured of anything this summer with Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis the favorites to win starting jobs on the back end. Head coach John Harbaugh mentioned earlier this week that Elam has lost eight pounds and that his body fat is down to about six percent. Elam will hope that improved fitness helps improve his tackling and coverage skills, two areas that were sorely lacking in last year’s performance. The Ravens have had other late bloomers such as cornerback Jimmy Smith, but Elam has rarely ever shown signs that his game could have another level and the discussion about him being in better shape and showing more confidence means very little until we see it translate to the field.

4. Is it just me or does Showalter just “get it” about managing in Baltimore? Winning is the most important change that the sixth-year manager has brought to the Orioles, but Monday provided the latest example of how he always knows the right thing to do. Showalter so often wears a black jacket during games that most fans would struggle to remember his jersey number, but you saw him proudly wearing his No. 26 in the series opener against Toronto when the Orioles wore “Baltimore” home jerseys in their return to Camden Yards. It was a subtle gesture, but it came after the honest and thoughtful manner in which Showalter spoke about last month’s unrest in Baltimore. He isn’t from Charm City and he’d be the first to tell you he hasn’t done it alone, but no one has been more important in rebuilding the pride of what it means to be an Oriole or an Orioles fan since his arrival in 2010.

5. Is it just me or does Jarret Johnson top the list of Ravens players you wish had won a Super Bowl? Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, and Kelly Gregg also deserve mentions, but Johnson epitomized what it meant to “play like a Raven” in his nine years in Baltimore. During his retirement press conference this week, I asked him about his emotions watching his former team win the Super Bowl less than 11 months after he departed via free agency — the Ravens made no real effort to keep him after the 2011 season — and you couldn’t sense an ounce of bitterness or regret in his reply. Johnson recalled celebrating when the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII and quickly sent a congratulatory text message to Harbaugh, a man with whom he occasionally clashed in their years together. The Ravens coach said that was one of the most meaningful messages he received that night and replied telling Johnson he was a part of that championship. He wasn’t a Pro Bowl player and is unlikely to go into the Ring of Honor, but the dependable Johnson was about as “Baltimore” as a guy from Florida can be.

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Jarret Johnson to sign one-day contract to retire with Ravens

Posted on 04 March 2015 by Luke Jones

After announcing his retirement from the NFL last week, Jarret Johnson is coming home to officially finish his career where it started.

The former Ravens linebacker will sign a one-day contract to retire with the organization that selected him in the fourth round of the 2003 draft. The 33-year-old Johnson spent nine years in Baltimore and was one of the most respected players in franchise history for his toughness and durability as he played in 129 consecutive games to conclude his Ravens career — once a franchise record — before departing to sign with the San Diego Chargers in 2012.

Johnson’s departure from the Ravens was amicable but difficult as he saw his former team go on to win Super Bowl XLVII while he spent his first season in San Diego. Though not as flashy on the field as former teammates such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the University of Alabama product earned the respect of Ravens fans for his blue-collar approach while becoming a permanent starter in 2007.

He finished his run in Baltimore with 382 tackles, 20 sacks, three interceptions, and nine forced fumbles in nine seasons in addition to setting a franchise record for consecutive games played that was surpassed by punter Sam Koch this past year.

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Former Ravens linebacker Johnson ready to reunite with former teammates

Posted on 21 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Former Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson sent a text message to running back Ray Rice and several other former teammates Wednesday afternoon ahead of Sunday’s game in San Diego and the message was clear.

Guys, you better bring your game faces!

The new Chargers linebacker has adjusted to life in a new town, but he still identifies with the city he called home for nine years. Old feelings don’t die easily, especially when you have the type of blue-collar reputation revered in a place like Baltimore.

“It was weird the first time I saw them on TV,” Johnson said. “It was really weird watching the Pittsburgh game the other night on the way home from Denver. That’s a game the Ravens look forward to, and looking out there and me not being one of them was a little weird.”

It was just eight months ago that a choked-up Johnson sent another text message to those same teammates, informing them of his decision to sign a four-year, $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers in what was a bittersweet day for the 31-year-old. He knew it was time to move on as the Ravens were strapped for salary cap room while Johnson wanted a long-term contract for the latter portion of his career.

He now faces those former teammates for the first time this Sunday as the Ravens look to improve to 9-2 and avenge an embarrassing 34-14 loss from last season. At 4-6, the Chargers have struggled offensively, but Johnson has been a welcome addition to a respectable defense that ranks eighth in total yards and tied for 13th in points allowed.

Serving primarily in running situations in his first season with San Diego, Johnson has accumulated 26 tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble.

Never possessing the flash of Ray Lewis or the physical tools of Terrell Suggs, Johnson prided himself on doing the dirty work, setting the edge at the strongside linebacker position and playing in a franchise-record 129 consecutive games before his free-agent departure in March.

His 382 tackles, nine forced fumbles, and 20 sacks over his nine years in Baltimore all rank in the top 10 in the history of the franchise.

“He epitomized what it was to be a Raven,” Rice said. “He was a no-nonsense kind of guy here.”

The scene figures to be especially significant for Suggs, who roomed with Johnson when they were rookies in 2003. Suggs was the Ravens’ first-round pick while Johnson was an undersized defensive lineman from Alabama drafted in the fourth round.

Johnson transitioned from the defensive line to outside linebacker and worked his way up the depth chart in the early years of his career before finally joining Suggs in the starting lineup in 2007. Though offering different skills, the two formed one of the top outside linebacker duos in the NFL over a five-year period.

“I’m definitely going to give him a hug,” said Suggs, who joked about offering the silent treatment or even a cheap shot to his former teammate. “Me and Jarret, we came in the same class together [in the 2003 draft], and it was nine years, me and him. It’s definitely going to be a little emotional to see him wearing a different color and playing for a different team.”

Both have faced trials this season as Johnson took on the challenge of adjusting to new coaches and teammates as well as an entirely different defensive system while Suggs rehabbed from surgery to repair a partially-torn Achilles tendon sustained in late April.

The two kept in touch over those months but will now be on opposing sides in San Diego on Sunday.

“We’ve been through a lot of wars together,” Johnson said. “We are kind of polar opposites personality-wise, but it was kind of an odd mix. The experiences you go through on and off the football field are things that you remember forever. He’s been a very important person in my football career.”

As he expressed the day he signed with the Chargers on March 14, Johnson holds no ill thoughts toward his former team. The business side of the game can be difficult to accept for many players when they’re forced to depart the place they called home, but the former Raven sounds happy, even if San Diego appears to be a team in transition and likely heading toward a coaching change.

It isn’t Baltimore, but Johnson is feeling right at home.

“I wanted to finish my career there,” Johnson said. “It’s where I spent nine great years. Love the staff there. Definitely where I wanted to finish, but I kind of knew the writing on the wall going into the [final] year. You can’t pay everybody.

“I was just fortunate enough to have a team like San Diego. Other than staying, I couldn’t have drawn up a better storyline for my career.”

 

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Ravens select Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw with third pick of second round

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After trading out of the first round on Thursday, the Ravens drafted pass rusher Courtney Upshaw from Alabama with the third pick of the second round on Friday night.

The Crimson Tide defensive end is projected to be an imposing pass-rush linebacker who will be a nice option lining up on the opposite side of 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. At 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds, Upshaw will have the ability to line up at defensive end on passing situations immediately while the Ravens will likely look to develop him as a strong-side linebacker.

Upshaw collected 16 1/2 sacks in his final two seasons at Alabama, where he was a critical member of the 2011 national championship team. He will now compete with third-year linebacker Paul Kruger for the outside linebacker spot vacated by Jarret Johnson, who signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers earlier this offseason.

“I’m a tough physical player,” Upshaw said. “I feel like I’m relentless. I get after the ball. I’m a playmaker. At the end of the day, I’m a football player and I love the game.”

Much like Johnson did in his days in Baltimore, Upshaw is strong setting the edge against the run despite some critics questioning how his athleticism will translate at the next level. Upshaw revealed earlier this month he took a pre-draft visit with the Ravens, as general manager Ozzie Newsome met with another Alabama alum.

Projected to go in the first round by most draft pundits, Upshaw gives new defensive coordinator Dean Pees another pass-rushing threat for a defense that accumulated an AFC-leading 48 sacks in 2011. Thought Upshaw wasn’t asked to drop into pass coverage often during his collegiate, he played a hybrid “Jack” position that included linebacker and defensive end responsibilities.

“I wasn’t shocked,” said Upshaw when asked if he was surprised to fall out of the first round. “I kind of went into it today hoping I would be a Baltimore Raven honestly. I couldn’t do nothing but smile once I got the call. I tried to get the tough guy act going.”

Though the Ravens’ biggest need was to address the interior of the offensive line, a talent such as Upshaw in addition to the uncertainty at the outside linebacker position made it difficult for Newsome to pass on such a defensive talent.

Offensive linemen Cordy Glenn, Peter Konz, and Jonathan Martin as well as wide receiver Stephen Hill were all remaining on the board when the Ravens made their first selection of the second round.

Hoping to continue their tradition of excellent defense, the Ravens hope Upshaw is just the next in a long line of impact defenders selected in the draft over the history of the franchise.

“Courtney will provide great competition,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There will certainly, obviously, be tremendous depth. It adds one more guy into the mix in special teams. Obviously, it makes us more physical on defense. We will continue to be physical and stay physical, because that’s the kind of player he is.”

Hear Upshaw’s conference call with the Baltimore media on Friday evening here.

Listen to Courtney Upshaw’s interview with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” on April 16 here.

Check out Upshaw’s Wikipedia profile here.

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Kruger Looking To Reward Harbaugh For Faith

Posted on 27 March 2012 by WNST Audio

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Harbaugh envisions Kruger at outside linebacker for Ravens

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After longtime linebacker Jarret Johnson signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, the Ravens began the process of finding his replacement at the strong-side linebacker position.

Pass rush specialist Paul Kruger is the consensus choice among options currently on the roster, and coach John Harbaugh confirmed that notion at the NFL owners’ meetings in Florida on Tuesday. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Kruger struggled to find a role on the defense in his first two seasons before becoming a regular contributor in passing situations last season.

“I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the ‘Sam’ linebacker job,” Harbaugh said. “I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost [Johnson], I went back and watched all of Paul’s tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we’d be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well.”

The 26-year-old Utah product collected 5 1/2 sacks while playing in all 16 games last season after struggling to simply avoid the inactive list in his first two seasons. Kruger had only one sack and five tackles over 20 games in 2009 and 2010 as the coaching staff evaluated whether he was better suited for defensive end or linebacker.

He and rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee became mainstays of the defensive line on third down last season as the pair combined for 11 1/2 of the Ravens’ 48 sacks. Now, new defensive coordinator Dean Pees will take a long look at Kruger as the replacement to the run-stopping, blue-collar Johnson, who started every game at strong-side linebacker over the last five seasons.

“Obviously, he’s a very good pass rusher,” Harbaugh said. “I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it.”

Kruger’s ability to play the run and to drop in pass coverage remains a mystery after limited opportunities in his first three professional seasons. The Ravens will look hard at the draft if a prospect such as Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw or North Carolina’s Zach Brown is available early, but with other positions to address and limited cap space to potentially add another veteran linebacker, Kruger may find himself in position to be the starter when the preseason begins.

“He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it’s been done for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you want out of one of your players.”

Of course, Harbaugh’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt when you remember we’re four months away from the start of training camp. The coach is clearly going to show as much faith as he can in players currently on the roster without dwelling too much on hypothetical additions down the road.

The other player mentioned by some as a potential candidate to replace Johnson is 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle, but Harbaugh didn’t exactly speak about him in the same encouraging terms as he did with Kruger. Active for only two games last season, Kindle more closely resembles a player fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster than a viable starting option after the slow recovery he endured from a fractured skull just days before the start of the 2010 training camp.

While it’s true that Kindle has never had the benefit of a full offseason program at the team’s Owings Mills facility, it’s clear he has plenty of work to do before the Ravens can afford to keep him on the roster for a second straight season.

“If he comes back and becomes a player in the NFL, it’s going to be an unparalleled accomplishment,” Harbaugh said. “You know what? We think it can happen, and we’re going to know by the end of training camp.”

Cundiff competition

Ever since kicker Billy Cundiff missed a last-second 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship game into overtime, fans and media alike have pondered how the Ravens should handle the kicker position next season.

As he did when he spoke to WNST.net at the NFL Combine last month, Harbaugh reiterated that he fully expects Cundiff to handle kicking duties again this fall. However, the Ravens are looking to create some competition for the incumbent kicker in the preseason.

Whether the Ravens choose to add a veteran or sign a rookie following the draft, Harbaugh sees no reason why they shouldn’t explore every avenue to get better — while clearly maintaining faith in the 2010 Pro Bowl selection.

“I say that so I’m not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker,” Harbaugh said. “I would anticipate Billy [being] our kicker for the opening game of the season. I think he’ll have a great preseason. I think he’ll have a great season next year, but everybody gets competition and he’s no exception.”

Running without Rice?

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Plenty of work remains, but Friday’s activity a modest step forward for Ravens

Posted on 23 March 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The first 10 days of free agency had been anything but smooth for the Ravens, even if it was expected by anyone paying attention.

With limited salary cap room and 12 unrestricted free agents becoming available, coach John Harbaugh knew there would be difficult decisions to make, including waving goodbye to veterans Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Corey Redding, Haruki Nakamura, and Tom Zbikowski. Even when the Ravens targeted a potential outsider to help fill one of those voids — such as their flirtation with Eagles guard Evan Mathis — they found themselves without sufficient funds to close the deal.

Other than the re-signing of veteran center Matt Birk last week, the lack of activity was causing some restless nights among the fan base. But with the second week of free agency nearing its conclusion, this is typically when general manager Ozzie Newsome begins hunting for the best value.

Newsome and the Ravens apparently found it on Friday, re-signing linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo and inking former Bears cornerback Corey Graham and veteran safety Sean Considine to contracts.

“[Waiting] probably wasn’t as hard for me as it was for the fans, because I had a little bit more of a front seat into what we were doing and those conversations are happening every day,” Harbaugh said. “We were involved with guys all the time, but we had our limits as to what we were going to be able to pay certain players.”

While none of the four moves should be labeled as significant splashes, the retaining of McClain allows the Ravens to cross off inside linebacker as one of their most pressing needs this offseason. Though not an elite player, McClain acquitted himself nicely in the absence of fellow inside linebacker Ray Lewis for four games last season.

The 26-year-old repeatedly stated his preference to remain with the organization that took a chance on him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, but many expected McClain to find a new home somewhere else once he hit the open market on March 13.

“There’s always that possibility, because this game is unpredictable,” McClain said. “We never know what’s going to happen at the end of the day. But in the back of my heart, I always knew that Baltimore was home.”

With a deep group of available inside linebackers and a slow pace to the market, McClain’s only visit came with the Denver Broncos, who eventually re-signed inside linebacker Joe Mays. Those circumstances led to increased optimism that the Ravens would be able to keep McClain in Baltimore, which became reality on Friday afternoon.

“I probably wasn’t real confident early on because we just know what kind of a player he is,” Harbaugh said. “I think you guys have seen him. Our fans know how good of a player he is. For whatever reason, the inside backer market just didn’t really go crazy.”

McClain represents a rock-solid starting option next to Lewis and quells concerns at the position, but the Ravens will still look to address the inside linebacker position in April’s draft with an eventual replacement for Lewis in mind. Pass coverage still remains an issue, but the re-signing of Ayanbadejo does give the Ravens another option in the nickel package.

Friday also represented an encouraging day for the Ravens’ special teams with two Pro Bowl selections secured for a unit that finished 30th in the NFL in 2011, according to FootballOutsiders.com. The returning Ayanbadejo as well as Graham and Considine will try to help the Ravens improve on their 31st-ranked kickoff coverage and 24th-ranked punt coverage last season.

Of the three signings, Graham represents the most intriguing upside. Regarded as one of the best gunners in the league, he will start on all special teams units and be a focal point for which other teams will have to game-plan. Though clearly behind Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith, Graham does have secondary experience in addition to his special teams prowess.

“He’s kind of a guy like me who you’re going to have to scheme against him and double-team him and come up with ways to stop him,” Ayanabadejo said about his former Chicago teammate. “And anytime you double-team one guy, that’s going to leave someone else open.”

While Friday can be regarded as a modest sigh of relief for the Ravens and their fans, plenty of holes remain with the draft nearly a month away. Identifying starting replacements for Grubbs at left guard and Johnson at outside linebacker are still the top priorities. After that, the Ravens will look to address the third receiver spot as well as to try to find a viable return specialist.

The four signings eat away most of the near-$5 million in cap room the Ravens held entering the day, meaning they will likely need to sit tight until the draft and reassess the roster and the open market after selections have been made.

Yes, Friday represented a satisfying move in the right direction, but it will likely put the Ravens back in the familiar position of waiting.

With plenty of work still to do between now and the start of the season.

Hear interviews with John Harbaugh, Jameel McClain, and Corey Graham in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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After rocky first week of free agency, what’s next for Ravens?

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Nearly a week into the signing period and with Peyton Manning finally choosing his next football home — ending our long-suffering national nightmare — it’s safe to say we’ve reached the conclusion of the first wave of NFL free agency.

As expected, it’s been anything but an exhilarating splash for the Ravens as they’ve witnessed five unrestricted free agents depart while only re-signing veteran center Matt Birk to a three-year contract on Friday. Baltimore has six remaining unrestricted free agents to potentially address, with inside linebacker Jameel McClain at the top of the list.

Unlike veteran defensive starters Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, McClain represents a more difficult decision as he’ll only turn 27 in July and has plenty of good football in front of him.  He also represents a known commodity at a position where the Ravens lack depth behind Ray Lewis. Though he doesn’t bring the skills in pass coverage the Ravens would like to see improved among their linebackers, McClain proved valuable when Lewis was sidelined with a toe injury for four games last season, leading the huddle while Baltimore barely missed a beat without its future Hall of Fame linebacker.

The problem is general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens are having a difficult time gauging McClain’s value with the market for inside linebackers developing at a snail’s pace so far in free agency. Most top names at the position remain unsigned, including Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch, Seattle’s David Hawthorne, and Atlanta’s Curtis Lofton.

McClain visited the Broncos on Friday and took a physical, but Denver ultimately decided to re-sign Joe Mays, who will presumably be the guy at middle linebacker after making 12 starts last season. With such a deep group of inside backers still available and most having the same limitations in pass coverage beyond the top names on the list, McClain may not find the payday he’s looking for.

Of course, the Ravens have a limited amount of salary cap space and a number of other positions to address. They also placed a second-round tender on restricted free agent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, which would pay him roughly $1.92 million in 2012, as a likely insurance policy to losing McClain.

Whether they can ultimately re-sign McClain or not, the Ravens are likely to address the inside linebacker position in the first few rounds of April’s draft. And unless the market remains very cool on McClain, Baltimore will likely roll the dice with the combination of Ellerbe and a drafted rookie to fill the void next to Lewis in defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ 3-4 scheme.

Changing of the guard

With the Ravens missing out on free-agent guard Evan Mathis when the veteran elected to re-sign with the Eagles over the weekend, the remaining options on the open market are underwhelming in trying to replace former Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs.

A few veterans such as Jake Scott and Vernon Carey are still out there but represent a noticeable step back from Grubbs at the position. That’s led many to speculate about the possibility of second-year tackle Jah Reid being moved to guard.

The thought of Reid playing guard has intrigued me since he began working there late last season and was a sleeper candidate to replace the injured Marshal Yanda in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati. You typically don’t see 6-foot-7 guards, but having the tallest starting quarterback in the league eliminates the need for shorter interior linemen.

Evan so, it’s difficult to view Reid as anything more than a project for the position, meaning the Ravens’ best bet might be to select a guard in the first or second round of the draft. While many have cooled on the idea of drafting Wisconsin center Peter Konz in the first round after Birk’s re-signing, another intriguing name that might be available at the 29th pick is Georgia guard Cordy Glenn.

With massive size at 345 pounds and impressive athleticism, Glenn has seen his stock rise substantially since the Senior Bowl. Despite playing left tackle as a senior after playing inside prior to that, Glenn is considered to be best suited for guard by most. However, some still flirt with the idea of him eventually becoming a left tackle at the next level.

It’s far from certain that Glenn will be there when the Ravens pick late in the first round, but he would be the ideal candidate to start at left guard compared to the underwhelming veteran options remaining in free agency. And with veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie entering the final year of his contract, the Ravens could also evaluate whether Glenn could move to left tackle in his second season.

Third wideout

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Bittersweet day for former Ravens linebacker Johnson in leaving for San Diego

Posted on 14 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After nine productive years in Baltimore, longtime Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson became the team’s second defensive starter to depart on Wednesday.

Johnson has signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers, leaving a void at outside linebacker for the Ravens. The 30-year-old linebacker was rumored to be of interest to the Indianapolis Colts, but the Chargers were looking for help at outside linebacker in a thin market at the position.

It was a bittersweet day for Johnson, who struggled with the juxtaposition of a new opportunity with the San Diego defense while acknowledging the difficulty of leaving the only franchise he’s known in his professional career.

“It’s been a weird day and a weird process,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “On one side, you’re really excited and thrilled about a new opportunity. On the other hand, you have a lot of relationships, and it’s just [a team you’ve] been through so much with.”

Johnson would not divulge specifics of any contract talks with the Ravens or whether he gave his former team a chance to match San Diego’s offer, but given the Ravens’ limited cap space and previous comments made leading up to the start of free agency, it was apparent he knew he would not be returning to Baltimore. However, he holds no ill feelings toward the organization.

“They made it clear,” Johnson said. “They were very respectful and handled it with class like they always do, but it was clear it was my time to go.”

Johnson will now play for first-year defensive coordinator John Pagano. Previously a longtime defensive assistant in San Diego, John is the brother of former Ravens defensive coordinator and new Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

In making his decision to join the Chargers, Johnson said the most difficult part of the day was sending a long text message to many of his former teammates. Aside from veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, no player on the current roster had a longer tenure in Baltimore than Johnson, who came into the league the same year as fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs.

“I got pretty choked up, and it was tough to send that out and say goodbye.”

Unlike the departure of defensive end Cory Redding, the loss of Johnson leaves the Ravens without a comfortable replacement currently on the roster. Pass-rush specialist Paul Kruger would be the most logical current option, but he has never shown the ability to be an every-down player in his first three seasons in Baltimore.

Linebacker Sergio Kindle was drafted in 2010 as Johnson’s eventual replacement in the starting defense, but a fall down two flights of stairs only days before the start of his rookie training camp has derailed the early part of his career. Kindle was only active in two of 16 games last season after missing the entire 2010 season with a fractured skull.

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, Johnson began his career as a reserve defensive lineman before transitioning to linebacker and becoming a full-time starter in 2007. Always overshadowed by bigger defensive names such as Lewis, Reed, and Suggs, Johnson provided strong run support and durability as he never missed a game due to injury in his nine years with the Ravens (he was inactive for one game due to a coaches’ decision in his rookie season).

His blue-collar style on the Baltimore defense made him a fan favorite. Never one to dance or draw attention to himself on the field, Johnson said he will always remain appreciative of the overwhelming support from Ravens fans.

“I’m just really thankful for the way the fans accepted me,” Johnson said. “I was kind of my own unique personality. Nothing brings a player more pride than looking into the stands and seeing someone wearing your number.”

Johnson finishes his run in Baltimore with 382 tackles, 20 sacks, and three interceptions in nine seasons and holds the franchise record of 129 consecutive regular-season games played.

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