Tag Archive | "Jarret Johnson"

Former Ravens linebacker Johnson ready to reunite with former teammates

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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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More Questions Than Answers for the Ravens

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More Questions Than Answers for the Ravens

Posted on 25 May 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

#1 – What’s going to happen with Ray Rice?

 Not only has Ray Rice been one of the best pound-for-pound bargains in all of football during his time as a Raven, but unlike many other running backs in similar situations last season Rice played things quiet and trusted that the team would take care of him. Whether or not they do remains to be seen, and whether or not they should is debatable. Running backs come and go quickly in the NFL, but by most accounts Rice has been “special” and is perhaps worth the risk. Either way expect him to play in 2012, but history hasn’t been kind to players who hold out of camp. A bad season for Rice under the franchise tag could be disastrous for him and for the Ravens.

 

#2 – Who’s playing on the offensive line?

 

This question is actually a myriad of different questions. Who fills Ben Grubbs spot at LG? How much does Matt Birk have left in the tank? Can we pencil in Bryant McKinnie at LT? Are Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda still the right side? And where do Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, Gino Gradkowski and Ramon Harewood fit into the picture? The answers to all of these questions could represent the beginning or the end of any offensive hopes the Ravens will have in 2012?

 

#3 – Do they have enough at wide receiver?

 

Torrey Smith was a pleasant surprise last season, but whether he can refine his route running and improve his hands still remain to be seen. He’s now a proven field stretcher but will need to add to his game in order to be a bona fide playmaker. Anquan Boldin was worse than expected last season, but was also injured, He’ll need to be more like the Anquan Boldin of old to lead these Ravens forward on the offensive side of the ball. And beyond those two the questions are even bigger. Is Jacoby Jones a wide out or a just a special teamer? Will Tandon Doss be ready to play in 2012? Who is Tommy Streeter and if he’s any good, how did the Ravens get him so late? Before we start comparing Joe Flacco to the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, let’s make sure he has some weapons that he can rely on.

 

#4 – Are the tight ends good enough?

 

Ed Dickson is big and athletic enough but has struggled with his hands. Dennis Pitta has very good hands but may not be big or athletic enough to impose his will on defenders, as modern tight ends are prone to do. Until one or the other shows marked improvement the Ravens will hesitate to use the middle of the field in the passing game, where coincidentally the best offenses all seem to have fantastic weapons. And who is Lamont Bryant?

 

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Courtney Upshaw- with or without Suggs injury absence- determined to produce

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Courtney Upshaw- with or without Suggs injury absence- determined to produce

Posted on 03 May 2012 by Ryan Chell

When the Baltimore Ravens traded out of the first round last week in the NFL Draft and picked up Alabama LB/DE Courtney Upshaw with the 35th pick, many Ravens fans criticized the move saying that general manager Ozzie Newsome needed to select an impact wide receiver or other skill position to help quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense score points.

Little did they know that on Thursday, it was revealed that linebacker Terrell Suggs-the reigning defensive player of the year in 2011-tore his Achilles tendon last weekend and is likely out for the 2012 season.

Suggs may have ruptured the tendon playing pick-up basketball Saturday night-which could cost Suggs a chunk of his contract (at least a reported $250,000 this season)-should the Ravens go after him for a non-football injury.

That decision to draft Upshaw and go with the best player available looks a lot better now doesn’t it?

Courtney Upshaw

Upshaw, a 2011 First-team All-American for the Crimson Tide, was originally scheduled to be the backup to Paul Kruger at the SAM/strong side linebacker spot opposite Suggs.

He and Kruger were being relied upon together to fill the void left by longtime Raven and fellow Alabama-alum Jarret Johnson, who left via free agency for the San Diego Chargers.

But with today’s news, it shoots the pair to the top of the depth chart barring any other outside transactions from the Ravens.

And Upshaw told me today that even with the news of Suggs’ injury, it wouldn’t have changed his preparation of suiting up for the Ravens in 2012-his first year in the NFL.

“I was already coming in expecting to be a big part of this team,” Upshaw said this morning. “There’s no added pressure.”

Upshaw said that he’s been bombarded with messages today about “manning up” and “stepping up”, but he remained adamant that next week at rookie mini-camp is when the work begins for him, and that he is still going to come into this season with the attitude of not having a roster spot by default.

“I’m a grown man,” Upshaw said. “I was already planning on battling for a position.”

Upshaw said just getting drafted by the Ravens-especially being tabbed as their primary selection last week-carries with it a lot of trust and respect in its own that he has to build on.

“I just have to go out there and produce,” Upshaw said. “With me being the the 1st pick, I have to live up to it.”

“I’m determined to go out there and produce.”

Upshaw ironically played Suggs’ position on the Alabama defense and flourished in the role.

On top of being named an AP First-Team All-American after finishing with 51 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2011, Upshaw also came up big in Alabama’s National Championship win over LSU, recording a sack and winning the game’s defensive MVP award.

“I think about getting sacks all the time,” Upshaw joked.

Whether the Ravens decide to keep Upshaw at his natural position of rush-linebacker or decide to move Kruger-the converted defensive end-to Suggs’ spot so he can rush the passer instead, Upshaw said it doesn’t matter to him.

“Playing that position does sound a lot like I did at Alabama,” Upshaw said earlier in the week. “It wont be too much of a transition. I’ve already been looking at the playbook and I’m ready to go.”

But he knows that comes with a lot more work than just chasing down the quarterback.

“Playing that SAM position, I’ll be doing much more dropping back. The SAM and the rush are totally different. At the SAM, you have to know more of the defense’s concepts…there’s a lot more playing the SAM than the rush.”

Wherever Coach John Harbaugh and new defensive coordinator Dean Pees want him, Upshaw says right now he has a “Yes Sir” approach.

“I still have the same mindset,” he said. “If the coaches want me to play the rush-backer, I will go battle for it. I’m fine with that. And if they want me to continue being the SAM, I’ll learn the SAM.”

Upshaw made it clear that he didn’t want to let his coaches down.

And despite being new to the team and not having an opportunity to chat with Suggs, Upshaw did say that on a day like this, he knows how hard Ravens Nation is reeling right now at this news, and he wants to be there even more for the fans who know he was the right choice by Ozzie Newsome.

“The one thing I’ve learned in the last week on Twitter is that the fans really love their Ravens. I want to give [them] a good showing.”

WNST thanks Courtney Upshaw for his time and expects good things out of him this year! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve already gotten about a hundred messages via email/Facebook/Twitter/text/Pony Express that said something along the lines of “well Glenn, you got what you wanted.”

To at least an extent, the people sending those messages have been right. After pounding on the desk of the studio at 1550 Hart Rd. in Towson for months (if not years), the Baltimore Ravens acquired a size receiver in the NFL Draft.

In the 6th round of the Draft, the Ravens selected Tommy Streeter, a 6’5″ wide receiver from the University of Miami. Combined with impressive speed (Streeter posted an impressive 4.40 forty time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis), Streeter seemingly adds a more unique dynamic to Cam Cameron’s offense in 2012. Streeter’s size presents an immediate matchup problem in the red zone (and specifically in the end zone) that the team simply didn’t have in their receiving corps in 2011.

Well…mostly anyway.

You see, the Ravens actually DID briefly have a receiver like that in 2011. If you’ll remember, the Ravens acquired former Buffalo Bills WR James Hardy late in the 2010 season in hopes he could make the team out of Training Camp. Nagging injury issues and a lockout later, Hardy couldn’t crack the 53 and the lack of a size receiver played a role in the Ravens finishing 18th in the NFL in red zone offense.

So Streeter solves all of those problems, right? Right?

As I was also quick to point out, simply being tall wasn’t the only desirable attribute in a new Ravens receiver. Clarence Moore was tall. Randy Hymes was tall. Even Marc Lester was tall. The Ravens not only needed a tall receiver, they needed a receiver who could catch the ball and become a consistent threat in a National Football League offense.

While I liked the team’s decision to draft Streeter, I will admit that I don’t believe the Ravens (and 31 other teams) passed on him for five and a half rounds because they were TOO worried about how good he was. There have been questions about Streeter’s hands, as well as his overall ability to develop into a consistent standout receiver. Those questions may or may not be fair, as the former Hurricanes star could show 31 teams they made a mistake in the coming seasons or they could show one particular team they made the wrong decision to take him even as late as the sixth round.

I guess that’s basically the entire point of this week’s column. After the NFL Draft, analysts attempt to identify “winners” and “losers” from three days of selecting players. Some of these players will go on to outstanding pro careers, others will leave little in the way of a legacy at the NFL level and others still will never play in even a single NFL game.

So do I think the Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft? Yeah…I guess. I guess the Baltimore Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft.

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

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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

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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

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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?

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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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Your Monday Reality Check-I Got A Nice Reminder Sunday

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Your Monday Reality Check-I Got A Nice Reminder Sunday

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Glenn Clark

It’s been a tough start to National Football League free agency for Baltimore Ravens fans.

Even for the most realistic fan of the Purple And Black (I’d like to think of myself in that group), it’s impossible to be excited about a six day span that has seen five players (LB Jarret Johnson, DL Cory Redding, G Ben Grubbs, S Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura) depart, just one free agent (C Matt Birk) return and no free agents added to the roster.

The realistic Ravens fan knew this could be coming. Between them, the five players share just one Pro Bowl appearance (Grubbs was invited to Hawaii this season as an injury replacement) and all were able to cash in on the open market. The Ravens, having spent significant money during the regular season to extend would-be free agent DT Haloti Ngata decided none were “cornerstone” players and wouldn’t overpay to keep them.

The Ravens are instead working to spend a boatload of money to extend QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice, both players they do believe are “cornerstone” parts of the organization.

The realistic fan also knows the Ravens still have work to do in free agency before the process is finished. It was revealed this week that return specialist (and part time Wide Receiver) Ted Ginn Jr. visited Owings Mills last week. The team could still look to find help along the Offensive Line and at Linebacker as well, and could even add another Safety at some point.

Additionally, the realistic fan is aware that the upcoming NFL Draft is likely to help shape the 2012 season for the defending AFC North champs, with some players (like WR Torrey Smith and DE Pernell McPhee) not likely to fully develop into contributors until after the season has started.

AND the realistic fan knows the 2012 season will also be defined in part by the continued development of young players. Entering the 2011 season, the team’s secondary was considered to be one of the bigger question marks about the roster. Just months later, the CB trio of Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith represents one of the more solid units in football.

Yet even the most realistic Ravens fan still agonizes over the thought “can enough be done to get this team over the hump and into a Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years?”

A reasonable level of concern is understandable at this point. In addition to the pre-existing question marks facing the team (uneven O-Line play, lack of a size receiver, age and injury related decline from defensive playmakers, Special Teams issues), there are additional depth issues created by the first batch of free agent departures.

It’s an uneasy time for Ravens fans.

The majority of Ravens fans have not swayed far from reality in how they’ve viewed Week 1 of the actual NFL offseason. As can be expected, some have gone off the deep end entirely. The reminder I got Sunday could serve as a nice “reality check” itself for fans in both groups. It’s probably something you already know about.

I assume you’ve heard that free agent quarterback Matt Flynn agreed to a three year, $26 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. As the deal involved only $10 million of guaranteed money, most analysts agreed it was a particularly fair and perhaps very good deal for a team that is trying to improve on a third place finish in the NFC West last season.

I actually think the deal was a great move for the Seahawks. In fact, just days ago during our weekly “Free Advice” segment on “The Reality Check” (weekdays 2-6pm on AM1570 WNST.net for the one of you that doesn’t listen already) I encouraged the Seahawks to pull the trigger on the move. I can only assume my endorsement was the final approval the team needed to get the deal done.

But the facts about Flynn don’t change. The quarterback was believed to have so little pro talent coming out of LSU that he slid to the seventh round of the NFL Draft. While they’ve been impressive, he’s made only two starts with the Green Bay Packers as is still mostly an unknown commodity.

An unknown commodity who has $10 million guaranteed coming his way.

You see, the Seahawks are in a place where they had to make a significant move that could backfire. Matt Flynn might be more Rick Mirer than Matt Hasselbeck in the Emerald City, which could possibly doom Pete Carroll’s tenure.

Yet if the team didn’t pull the trigger, they could face a reality that involves more Tavaris Jackson. That would almost certainly doom Carroll to a sub .500 record until he was dismissed.

The Seahawks had to pull the trigger partly due to desperation. It’s a feeling the Baltimore Ravens have experienced in the past with mixed results. It’s a feeling that Baltimore Ravens fans should enjoy not experiencing this year.

The Ravens haven’t been able to accomplish much during free agency, but they haven’t had to. They’re not a desperate organization seeking a single fix to exit mediocrity. They’re a superior organization merely looking to make a few moves to reach “the next level.”

The Ravens have a quarterback. The Ravens have talented players at other offensive skill positions. The Ravens (still) have one of the best defenses in the league.

Desperation isn’t a word General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Head Coach John Harbaugh and Owner Steve Bisciotti even have to consider. Neither do Ravens fans.

It’s a significantly better place to be. I appreciated the reminder.

Carry on.

-G

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