Tag Archive | "Jason Phillips"

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Getting down to 53: An early projection

Posted on 05 August 2009 by Luke Jones

We’re a week and a half into training camp, so I thought I would give my VERY early look at the 53-man roster.  Keep in mind, injuries are bound to occur and will change the makeup of the roster considerably.

The first preseason game will take place against the Washington Redskins next Thursday night, but here’s my roster projections based on my early observations in Westminster.

I’ve listed the number of players I predict the Ravens to keep at each position in parentheses. This list does not include the practice squad of eight players the Ravens could keep in addition to the 53-man roster.

And, remember, I’m not John Harbaugh, nor will I ever claim to be.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Troy Smith, John Beck
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Though Smith and Beck will continue to battle for the No. 2 job, there are no other quarterbacks currently in camp to even compete.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
LOCK: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain
BUBBLE: Cedric Peerman, Jason Cook
LONGSHOT: Jalen Parmele, Matt Lawrence
Skinny: It will most likely come down to special teams in determining whether Peerman and Cook find their way on the roster. Cook would give the Ravens a backup fullback, but Cam Cameron could elect to use the tight end as a fullback in certain packages. The team could obviously choose to keep both, but we’ll see how it plays out in the preseason.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
LOCK: Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith
BUBBLE: Kelley Washington, Justin Harper, Yamon Figurs
LONG SHOT: Biren Ealy, Thomas White, Eron Riley, Ernie Wheelwright, Jayson Foster
Skinny: The team still could elect to sign another veteran receiver, especially with Mark Clayton out with a hamstring injury. Washington probably makes the team since he’s a strong special teams player, and Harper has been very impressive in the early stages of camp. Considering Figurs is no longer a lock to return kicks, his roster spot is in serious jeopardy. Riley could be a candidate for the practice squad.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
LOCK: Todd Heap, L.J. Smith
BUBBLE: Edgar Jones, Davon Drew
LONG SHOT: Isaac Smolko
Skinny: The fifth-round pick Drew has been a disappointment so far after failing the initial running test at the beginning of camp and then injuring his ankle. Drew has returned to practice, but he’s currently behind Jones on the depth chart.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Chris Chester, Michael Oher, Marshal Yanda, Oniel Cousins
BUBBLE: David Hale, Tre Stallings
LONG SHOT: Robby Felix, Stefan Rodgers, Bryan Mattison, Joe Reitz
Skinny: The Ravens will likely bring in a veteran tackle to replace Adam Terry who will miss the season with a knee injury. Hale has backed up Birk at center during camp, but Chester has the ability to play center in the event of an injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
LOCK: Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce, Justin Bannan
BUBBLE: Dwan Edwards, Brandon McKinney, Kelly Talavou, Lamar Divens
LONG SHOT: Will Johnson
Skinny: This unit is very deep, and the Ravens will inevitably have to part ways with a very talented player.

LINEBACKERS (9)
LOCK: Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Tavares Gooden, Antwan Barnes, Jameel McClain, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbadejo
BUBBLE: Jason Phillips, Dannell Ellerbe, Will VanDeSteeg, Prescott Burgess
LONG SHOT: Tony Fein
Skinny: This is another deep unit. I could envision the Ravens finding a mysterious “injury” with one or two of these young guys and stashing them on injured reserve.

CORNERBACKS (7)
LOCK: Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb, Samari Rolle
BUBBLE: Frank Walker, K.J. Gerard, Evan Oglesby
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Are you noticing a theme here at the defensive positions? Once again, the Ravens will have to part ways with some talented corners, but the numbers won’t allow them to keep everyone.

SAFETIES (4)
LOCK: Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Haruki Nakamura, Tom Zbikowski
BUBBLE: Derrick Martin
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Martin is giving himself a chance to make the roster by shifting over to work at safety, so the team could conceivably carry him on the roster if he proves effective at his new position. Otherwise, he’s squarely on the bubble at the cornerback position, too.

KICKER (1)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Graham Gano, Steve Hauschka
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: This battle will last through the entire preseason. Numerous Ravens officials have told me the four preseason games will carry the most weight. Both kickers have hit 50+ yard field goals during camp, but Westminster is a far cry from a Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium or Heinz Field.

PUNTER (1)
LOCK: Sam Koch
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Koch is one of the better punters in the league, and his ability to place the ball inside the 20-yard line is a major asset. He also runs a mean fake punt play. Just ask the Cowboys.

LONG SNAPPER (1)
LOCK: Matt Katula
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Katula is one of the most anonymous players on the team, because he does a great job. The Ravens hope it stays that way.

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Live from Westminster: Suggs, Clayton do not practice

Posted on 03 August 2009 by Luke Jones

4:51 p.m. — One player I haven’t discussed too much is tight end Todd Heap.  The veteran has looked good out there with no lingering effects from the back injury apparent.  He looks quick getting in and out of his cuts and is hoping to once again become a major factor in the passing game.

“Todd has done a really good job in the offseason getting himself ready,” coach John Harbaugh said.  “He looks like he’s getting himself ready to have a really good season.  He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s got a lot of work to do betwen now and then, but he’s done well.”

4:45 p.m. — Dannell Ellerbe is a player to keep an eye on if you’re going to make your way out to Westminster.  An undrafted rookie inside linebacker out of Georgia, Ellerbe was considered a mid-round draft prospect before battling knee issues in 2008.  Ellerbe was 2nd team All-SEC in 2007.

He has been so impressive that he received a few reps with some of the defensive starters at the end of practice this morning.  While he clearly won’t challenge Ray Lewis or Tavares Gooden for a starting spot, he could be making a strong case for the 53-man roster, especially if he can perform well on special teams.

4:02 p.m. — One offensive lineman looking strong during camp is Oniel Cousins.  After largely being considered a disappointment last year, the 2008 third-round pick has impressed.  However, his kryptonite on the defense is linebacker Antwan Barnes.  Whenever the two face off, whether in individual drills or live 11-on-11 situations, Barnes seemingly gets the best of Cousins every time.

With Terry still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and on the PUP list, Cousins is making a charge for that third tackle spot behind Michael Oher and Jared Gaither.

3:56 p.m. — Just to recap the Ravens’ injury situations, the big names missing from this morning were Terrell Suggs (left heel) and Mark Clayton (left hamstring), both considered day-to-day.

Lamar Divens, Davon Drew (right ankle), L.J. Smith (hamstring), and Brendon Ayanbadejo (toe) were other significant players not practicing today.

Samari Rolle (groin/shoulder), Adam Terry (knee), and Yamon Figurs (foot) are still listed on the physical unable to perform list.

3:47 p.m. — The kick returner competition will also be another interesting battle to follow.  Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb appear to be the early favorites with Yamon Figurs still on the PUP list with a foot issue.

Carr fits the mold of a Jim Leonhard-like returner.  He won’t be a home run hitter back there, but he’ll field kicks cleanly and gain positive yardage.  Webb shows outstanding speed and returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week.  He has great instincts and will be interesting to watch when the Ravens get into the preseason schedule.

When you consider that both players can contribute to the secondary’s depth and Figurs is rather limited as a wide receiver, I think Figurs may have a difficult time winning this job, even when he finally is healthy.

3:40 p.m. — The afternoon practice is complete, as the Ravens focused on their special teams on the upper fields at McDaniel College.  The team spent a considerable amount of time working on kick return blocking assignments.

While these practices aren’t the most exciting to observe if you’re a fan, this is the area where those fringe players can stake a claim for a spot on the 53-man roster.

Moving to the kicking battle, Graham Gano had the opportunity to get the reps—with Steve Hauschka having the day off—and he did not disappoint.  Gano was perfect on five attempts, hitting from 33, 36, 45, 47, and 53 yards.  I spoke to him after the afternoon session, and he was really please with how he was hitting the ball.

12:48 p.m. — The highlight of the morning was a long completion to Demetrius Williams from Joe Flacco the sideline, drawing the loud cheers of the Westminster fans.  Defensive back Chris Carr was guarding closely, but Flacco dropped the ball right into Williams’ hands as he reached over the defender.

Another highlight came when the offense was practicing its goal line sets.  Willis McGahee took the hand-off to the right side and was met by Ray Lewis who wrapped him up and appeared to have the running back stopped.  McGahee kept fighting and crossed the goal line, giving the offense a touchdown on the final play of the drill.

Both Ray Rice and McGahee continue to impresse onlookers, as both men have run with strength in the early stages of training camp.

12:20 p.m. — Ben Grubbs was hobbling around toward the end of practice and was not participating in team drills.  He had previously been on the PUP list with an ankle injury.  Justin Bannan did not practice this morning, but the reason was not disclosed.  Brendon Ayanbadejo continues to recover from a toe injury but was not wearing a walking boot as he walked out to the field at the end of practice.

12:07 p.m. — I have some other injury notes to pass along.  Tight ends L.J. Smith and Davon Drew did not practice, as Smith continues to recover from a hamstring strain and Drew has a right ankle injury.  The rookie tight end Drew was walking with a significant limp today, so it may take some time for him to get back on the field.

Antwan Barnes suffered a mild concussion on Sunday morning, but he was back on the field practicing today.

Samari Rolle, Adam Terry, and Yamon Figurs are still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Jason Phillips was cleared to practice yesterday and is off the list.

11:52 a.m. — The morning practice has come to an end, and there were two notable absences from the field.

Terrell Suggs has a sore left heel and will be out for a short period of time.  Both Suggs and coach John Harbaugh told reporters after practice that the injury was not serious.  Harbaugh expressed little concern with Suggs missing some time, pointing out that he had three solid days of reps in a row before the heel flared up on Sunday.

Suggs had been seen walking through the hotel Sunday afternoon with a walking boot.

Mark Clayton also did not practice, still recovering from a hamstring tweak.  Harbaugh said the team will be extra cautious with it, citing Clayton’s history of hamstring issues.  It is not believed to be a major strain, but the training staff wants to play it safe for at least a couple days.

Rookie Paul Kruger took Suggs’ place on the starting defense while Demetrius Williams, who had his own hamstring issue yesterday, took Clayton’s place with the starting unit.

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Ravens kick off 2009 Training Camp

Posted on 28 July 2009 by Luke Jones

The Baltimore Ravens completed their first workouts on Tuesday with rookies, quarterbacks, and selected veterans participating.  The morning and afternoon workouts each lasted an hour and 15 minutes due to a smaller roster needing a smaller number of reps.

“Guys worked hard; it was crisp,” coach John Harbaugh said.  “But it will be a lot sharper on Thursday and Friday.”

The Ravens announced 11 players would be placed on the active PUP (physically unable to perform) list to start training camp.  The players are Lamar Divens, Davon Drew, Yamon Figurs, Ben Grubbs, Willis McGahee, Jason Phillips, Joe Reitz, Samari Rolle, Lou Saucedo, Adam Terry, and Marshal Yanda.

These players still count against the 80-man training camp roster but may come off the list at any time to practice.  Once a player practices, he is no longer eligible for the more commonly-known reserve PUP list that is used in the regular season and requires a player to miss the first six weeks of the season.

“We’ll continue to put these guys through a physical, who have had injuries in the past,” Harbaugh said.  “We’re going to make sure that certain situations react positively to the work before we put them on the regular practice field.”

McGahee was probably the most surprising addition to the list, but both he and the head coach confirmed that it was strictly a precaution to protect the running back’s knee.  He looks to be in great shape and ready to practice in the near future.

“They just want to be sure,” McGahee said.  “We don’t want the same thing we had at last year’s training camp.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco looked sharp in his training camp debut and without veteran receiver Derrick Mason.  Last year as a rookie, Flacco relied on Mason in big situations countless times.  Despite losing a target who caught 80 passes in 2008, Flacco is confident in the passing offense’s ability to move the ball.

Flacco connected with both Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams numerous times during Tuesday’s practices.

“Last year coming in at this time, I had no idea who I was going to be throwing the ball to,” Flacco quipped.  “I didn’t know what Derrick Mason or Mark Clayton even looked like…This year, we’re in much better shape than we were in last year.”

If Flacco is telling the truth, the Ravens will need to have a healthy Williams on the field.  The fourth-year receiver has battled injuries the last two years but will start opposite of Clayton in Mason’s absence.  The receiver looks noticeably bigger and stronger, setting a goal to build muscle mass around the joints.  Williams hauled in a pretty sideline catch over Frank Walker in the afternoon, drawing the cheers of the training camp crowd.

“I think his goal is to become a durable football player, along with becoming capable of doing all the things he needs to do as a receiver,” Harbaugh said.  “He looked good out there [Tuesday].  There was no indication of the Achilles [injury] at all.”

Another player returning from an injury is veteran defensive tackle Kelly Gregg.  Wearing only an ace bandage on his surgically-repaired knee, Gregg participated fully in both the morning and afternoon practices.

With a healthy Gregg, 32, joining Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce, and top reserve Justin Bannan, the Ravens are hoping to field an even better defensive line than they enjoyed a year ago.

“I feel great about our defensive line,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said.  “In watching a bunch of film in the offseason, the thing that keeps sticking out is that the front seven gets after it.  They have a lot of pride, and now with [Dwan] Edwards back and Kelly [Gregg] back, you’ve just added depth to that, and it should allow us to rotate guys and keeps guys fresh throughout the year.”

– The Ravens signed wide receiver Jayson Foster, a 5-7 receiver with good speed.  Foster attended Georgia Southern and spent time with Pittsburgh, Miami, and Denver on their practice squads.

Former Maryland Terp Isaiah Williams was waived on Tuesday.  The rookie wide receiver was signed by the Ravens in May.

– Veterans are set to report to Westminster on Wednesday.  Physicals are scheduled for 3:00 p.m.

The first full-squad practices open to the public will be on Friday.

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Live from Westminster: Ravens waive Sypniewski & sign WR Biren Ealy

Posted on 27 July 2009 by Luke Jones

8:32 p.m. – Ealy’s dismissal from the New Orleans Saints stems from an arrest back in May.  You can read about it here.

5:57 p.m. – If you’re on the WNST text service, you just learned the Ravens have signed wide receiver Biren Ealy.  Having only one career catch, I’m not sure Ealy would be the signing to “replace” Drew Bennett, but he is another warm body here in Westminster.

Ealy played his college football at Houston and played four games with the Tennessee Titans in 2007.

5:42 p.m. – Willis McGahee just walked into the lobby of the Best Western, joining veterans Samari Rolle, Adam Terry, and Antwan Barnes among the select veterans reporting today.

McGahee looks to be in good shape, but we’ll get our first look at the former Hurricane tomorrow morning on the field.

He was second behind Ray Rice on the depth chart during OTAs, as he was recovering from offseason knee surgery.

As I type this, I just saw Kellly Gregg walk through the door.

5:14 p.m. – Lardarius Webb is really excited to get going and says that the sore hamstring that plagued him during OTAs is now 100 percent.

He mentioned how much he’s learned from just observing Ed Reed—his hero growing up—and how he’s looking forward to playing with him.

4:01 p.m. – Ozzie Newsome was overheard in the hotel lobby shooting down any chance of Michael Vick becoming a Raven.

“We have a quarterback,” he said.  “We have three quarterbacks.”

3:17 p.m. – The John Harbaugh press conference was very brief.  It will be available in the WNST audio vault shortly.

* Harbaugh described Bennett’s condition as an “arthritic” knee.  The veteran receiver just didn’t think he could do it anymore.

* There are some “irons in the fire” regarding the wide receiver position.  Harbaugh said the Ravens would be adding a receiver but did not name anyone specifically, speculating that it could be a veteran or a young player.

* Regarding Michael Oher’s contract status, he said the rookie right tackle wants to be in camp on time but understands his agent needs to get the best deal possible for him.  Harbaugh pointed out that very few first round picks have signed contracts and how the slotting process delays negotiations.

The deal should happen “pretty soon” according to Harbaugh.

* Harbaugh insists that Quinn Sypniewski—waived earlier today—is still in the team’s plans, but the organization could not afford to keep him on the 80-man training camp roster.

The surgery on Sypniewski’s injured knee did not work last season, and he is recovering from another procedure.

* Harbaugh said the team would make decisions on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list tomorrow but would not disclose any players who would be on the list.

2:20 p.m. – I just spoke to third-round pick Lardarius Webb, and he’s very excited to finally be at training camp.  He actually spent the last month here in Baltimore, continuing to train and work out at the Ravens’ facility.

2:10 p.m. – If you’re looking for another person who isn’t sure of Derrick Mason’s status for this season, look no further than his quarterback Joe Flacco.

Flacco today said he spoke to Mason last week, and the 35-year-old receiver did not “sound too sure” about the prospects of returning to the Ravens.

I’m sure we’ll hear more about the Mason situation this afternoon when Harbaugh speaks to the media.

1:48 p.m. – The news of Quinn Sypniewski being waived is not very surprising given the state of his surgically-repaired knee that cost him the entire 2008 season.  The young tight end had experienced some setbacks this offseason in getting the knee back into football shape.

With Todd Heap, L.J. Smith, Edgar Jones, and rookie Davon Drew in the fold, the Ravens have plenty of capable tight ends to compete this summer.

1:12 p.m. – Other players making their way to Westminster include Paul Kruger, Jason Phillips, Jason Cook, and Graham Gano—who was sporting a new buzz cut.

I had the chance to talk to Gano about his battle with Steve Hauschka for the kicking job.  He’s confident and says he’s kicking better than he ever has right now.  The interview is available in the WNST audio vault.

12:06 p.m. – I just had the chance to chat with John Harbaugh in the lobby.  He will make his official statement about Drew Bennett at 3:00 p.m., but he was surprised to hear about the veteran receiver’s retirement.

Bennett’s decision seems to be completely about the poor health of his knee.

Harbaugh confirmed that he met face-to-face with Derrick Mason last week.  There had been some confusion in the media over whether their discussion was over the phone or in person.

11:47 a.m. – The players are starting to trickle in slowly.  I just spoke to sixth-round pick and running back Cedric Peerman.  He’s refreshed and ready to go for his first training camp as an NFL player.

Antwan Barnes has also walked through the lobby, the first “select” veteran to make an appearance.

10:59 a.m. – I’m here at the Best Western in Westminster, waiting for the Ravens rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans to report for training camp here at McDaniel College.

It’s been a very quiet morning with the only noteworthy appearance being made by assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, walking through the lobby.

The news on everyone’s mind is obviously the surprising retirement of veteran wide receiver Drew Bennett two days after signing a contract with the Ravens.  The announcement leaves the Ravens exactly where they were two weeks ago when Derrick Mason announced his own retirement.

John Harbaugh will speak to the media at 3:00 p.m., and the wide receiver position will surely be the hot topic of discussion.

Will the Ravens now turn their efforts toward D.J. Hackett?  The former Seahawk and Panther was among four receivers who tried out on Friday—along with Bennett, former Lion Chris Hannon, and rookie Justin Brown.

Hackett was also scheduled to try out back in May along with Kelley Washington, Jerry Porter, and Tab Perry but chose to try out with the Houston Texans instead.  The Ravens decided to go with Washington.

Hackett’s best season came with Seattle in 2006 when he caught 45 balls for 610 yards and four touchdowns

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Training Camp Preview: Five Burning Questions

Posted on 26 July 2009 by Luke Jones

With the eve of training camp upon us, the Baltimore Ravens—and their fans—have extremely high expectations entering 2009 after coming ever so close to the Super Bowl last season, falling to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship.

As with any offseason, the Ravens have undergone a number of changes to the roster and coaching staff.  These changes leave behind questions that must be addressed if the Ravens are to build upon last season’s 11-5 record.

Here are five burning questions to ponder as rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans report to McDaniel College on Monday with the rest of the roster arriving on Wednesday.

1.  Will Derrick Mason show up in Westminster?

It’s been almost two weeks since Mason announced his retirement, and the Ravens are still trying to figure it all out.  Most believe the “retirement” is driven by money, as Mason made it clear he was seeking a new deal earlier in the offseason.  His contract will expire following the season.

The tragic murder of former teammate Steve McNair has also impacted the 35-year-old receiver and further complicates what would otherwise be viewed as a disguised holdout.

Mason is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and may not have been physically ready for the start of training camp anyway.  He wore a red jersey (non-contact) throughout OTAs.  If he does change his mind about retirement, his delayed return could actually be a positive for the health of his shoulder.

If Mason follows through with the retirement, the Ravens will have a difficult time replacing the 80 catches and 1,037 yards he supplied to the passing game.  Mark Clayton would figure to step into Mason’s role as the primary possession receiver with Demetrius Williams stepping into the other starting spot.

To bolster the receiving group, the Ravens signed veteran Drew Bennett on Friday.  The 6-5 wideout will compete with second-year player Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington for the third and fourth spots.

Regardless of how the rest of the receivers play, the coaching staff will not rest easy unless Mason jogs onto the field at McDaniel.

2.  Who will be the successor to Matt Stover?

The Ravens enter uncharted waters this summer with the prospect of not knowing who their kicker will be in Week 1 for the first time in the history of the franchise.

Stover is undoubtedly one of the better kickers in the history of the NFL (462 career field goals), but his declining range and inability to get distance on his kickoffs forced the Ravens to look elsewhere this offseason.

The battle between last season’s kickoff specialist Steve Hauschka and rookie Graham Gano will be one of the most competitive—and important—of the summer.  Hauschka shows more consistency, but the organization loves Gano’s leg strength.  Gano, the 2008 Lou Groza Award winner in college football, made a 60-yard field goal during OTAs.

Ravens fans have been spoiled with the consistency of Stover over the last 13 seasons.  An ineffective kicker can quickly ruin a team’s season, so the organization could turn back to Stover if Hauschka and Gano can’t do the job.

3.  Can Tavares Gooden fill the shoes of former Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott?

With Scott now playing for Rex Ryan in New York, the Ravens turn to Gooden to take his spot next to Ray Lewis at inside linebacker.  The third-round pick from last season spent most of 2008 on injured reserve with a hip injury.

Gooden looked good in OTAs, showing great speed and strength and is excited to play next to fellow Hurricane and idol Lewis.  Lewis will count on Gooden to take on blockers with the same ability as Scott, allowing the 34-year-old linebacker to pursue the ball carrier without being blocked.

The biggest concern with Gooden is his health.  In addition to last season’s hip injury, he battled concussion and shoulder issues at the University of Miami.  If Gooden gets hurt, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will look to Jameel McClain, veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo, or rookie Jason Phillips to fill the other inside linebacker spot.

4.  How will Willis McGahee respond to being demoted behind Ray Rice at the start of training camp?

McGahee has said all of the right things regarding the running back situation, but it will be interesting to see what kind of shape he’s in when reporting to camp this week.  After admitting he didn’t show up to training camp in optimum condition last season, McGahee battled knee, eye, and ankle injuries in his most disappointing season as a pro.

Despite the surprising story of Le’Ron McClain and the play of Rice in 2008, this offense would benefit immensely from a McGahee closely resembling the one that rushed for 1,207 yards in 2007.  Knowing he would likely be cut following another disappointing season, McGahee will need to show an urgency in playing for a job next season, whether it’s with Baltimore or another NFL team.

With the coaching staff insisting that McClain will primarily play fullback this season, the opportunities will be there for both Rice and McGahee to receive plenty of carries.

It’s no secret that the coaching staff would like to see Rice emerge as the every-down back, but McGahee’s combination of size and speed—when healthy—will make it impossible to keep him off the field.

5.  Will Joe Flacco take the next step after a successful rookie campaign?

Though everyone is focusing on the wide receiver position, the biggest factor in determining how far the Baltimore offense to go is Flacco.

The young quarterback surprised everyone after being thrown into the starting spot last season, leading the Ravens to their second conference championship appearance.

Despite getting off to a tough start,—one touchdown and seven interceptions in his first five games—Flacco rebounded to post an 80.3 quarterback rating.  In his final 11 games, Flacco threw for 13 touchdowns and only five interceptions as he became more comfortable in Cam Cameron’s offense.

With an entire offseason and training camp to prepare as the starting quarterback, Flacco should have the confidence to offset the adjustments opposing defenses will make in 2009.  With the coaching staff planning to use the tight ends more frequently in the passing game, Flacco will need to improve his ability to throw to the middle of the field.

There’s no question that the wide receiver position will affect Flacco’s development, but the young quarterback can also reciprocate in the development of young receivers such as Clayton and Smith.  Though many will continue to beg for a big-play receiver such as Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin, Flacco will have more influence over the passing game than any outside receiver could bring.

If Flacco takes a leap toward becoming an elite quarterback in the NFL, the Ravens become a dangerous Super Bowl contender.

*****

Don’t forget that WNST.net is your source for Ravens training camp coverage.  We’ll be bringing live reports, audio, video, blogs, and Twitter updates throughout the summer at McDaniel College.

You can find me on Facebook or drop me an email at luke@wnst.net.

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Four down, two to go for the Ravens

Posted on 25 June 2009 by Luke Jones

The Baltimore Ravens have signed third-round pick Lardarius Webb to a three-year contract with a reported $530,000 signing bonus.

The Nicholls St. defensive back is the Ravens’ fourth draft pick to sign a contract, joining linebacker Jason Phillips, tight end Davon Drew, and running back Cedric Peerman.

The remaining unsigned picks are offensive tackle Michael Oher (first round) and linebacker/defensive end Paul Kruger (second round).

Considering the Ravens typically have not negotiated with their draft picks until July, the chance of both Oher and Kruger reporting to training camp on time appears likely.

If Oher would sign prior to July 27, it would mark the third year in a row in which the Ravens have signed their first-round pick before the start of training camp.  The Ravens’ last two first-rounders were quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and guard Ben Grubbs (2007).

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Looking ahead to training camp

Posted on 08 June 2009 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles in last place and owning the second-worst record in baseball, Baltimoreans are obviously looking ahead to the Ravens reporting for training camp on July 27—only seven weeks away.

The team holds another passing camp this week, as we continue to focus on several key positions.

As we look ahead to 2009, key departures include linebacker Bart Scott (New York Jets), center Jason Brown (St. Louis), safety Jim Leonhard (Jets), cornerback Chris McAlister (unsigned), offensive tackle Willie Anderson (retired), Lorenzo Neal (Raiders), tight end Dan Wilcox (unsigned) and defensive end Marques Douglas (Jets).

In addition to selecting six players in this year’s draft, the Ravens have added cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth (Atlanta) and Chris Carr (Tennessee), center Matt Birk (Minnesota), tight end L.J. Smith (Philadelphia), quarterback John Beck (Miami) and receiver Kelley Washington (New England).

With so many new veterans and rookies in the fold, training camp in Westminster, Md. figures to host several key positional battles as the Ravens prepare for their opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 13.

The following is a look at five key positional battles—in no particular order—to watch during training camp at McDaniel College.

1.  Inside Linebacker

The departure of Scott leaves a gaping hold next to Ray Lewis at the other inside linebacker position.  Scott did the dirty, physical work of taking on blockers, leaving the veteran Lewis free to pursue the ball carrier.  The younger Scott was also stronger in pass coverage than Lewis.

Second-year player Tavares Gooden looks like the safe bet for Scott’s replacement in the starting defense, but this may not be a foregone conclusion.

The 2008 third-round pick is a health risk after spending most of last season on injured reserve with a hip injury.  He also had a history of concussions and shoulder problems at the University of Miami.

At the team’s earlier minicamps, Gooden appeared bigger and faster, a good sign for coordinator Greg Mattison’s defense. He has reportedly been spending time at Lewis’ home, watching film and gaining wisdom from the 34-year-old linebacker.

If Gooden does not get the nod on the inside, another option could be second-year linebacker Jameel McClain.  The undrafted free agent from Syracuse emerged last year to grab a spot in training camp and worked his way up the depth chart, earning significant playing time as the season progressed.

McClain finished the season with 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks and was a strong contributor on special teams.  His biggest challenge will be adjusting to the inside after playing outside linebacker last season and defensive end in college.

Fifth-round draft pick Jason Phillips (TCU) is a gritty and physical linebacker, but he would be a long shot to grab the starting spot as a rookie.  The organization could also look to Brendon Ayanbadejo, but his value on special teams would be hard to sacrifice with other options at inside linebacker.

2.  Backup Quarterback

A quarterback controversy is brewing in the Charm City; only for once, it’s not over who will be starting under center—Joe Flacco has finally stabilized the position for the Ravens.  The real battle will take place between incumbent backup Troy Smith and newly-signed John Beck, a former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

Smith found moderate success running the Ravens’ version of the Wildcat formation—the “Suggs” package—at times last season, but his size (6’0″) makes it difficult for him to spot receivers in the pocket, forcing him to move outside. The 6’2″ Beck is a more traditional drop back passer.

Beck has strong ties to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (Miami’s head coach in 2007) and would figure to have a strong grasp on the playbook, improving his chances to overtake Smith for the backup spot.

The Ravens will once again try to use Smith’s athleticism, so he figures to be the No. 2 quarterback (the No. 3 can only enter the game if the starter and backup are injured).  However, a long-term injury to Flacco might cause the coaching staff to play the more traditional quarterback Beck.

Smith oozes with confidence, but he failed to grab hold of the starting job last preseason before suffering a tonsil infection, opening the door for Flacco to become the team’s starter in his rookie season.  This factor might weigh on coach John Harbaugh’s mind as he decides who will back up the talented Flacco.

3.  Kick/Punt Returner

With the departure of Leonhard to the Jets, the Ravens must find a new punt returner and try to stabilize the kick return position.

Newly-signed defensive back Chris Carr had a good season with the Titans and would likely be the top candidate for the job.  He averaged 28.1 yards per kick return (fourth in the NFL) and 10.1 yards on punt returns.

If injuries in the secondary would force Carr into the starting lineup, several in-house candidates are presently on the roster.

Yamon Figurs began last season as the primary kick and punt returner, but it’s clear he is not a favorite of the current coaching staff.  Figurs appeared hesitant in returning kicks and struggles holding onto the ball at times.  He is currently recovering from foot surgery and will need to have a strong preseason to stay on the roster.

Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb, a third-round pick, returned kicks at Nicholls St. and will compete for the job.

Tom Zbikowski returned kicks at the end of last season but did not provide much of an impact.

Sixth-round pick and rookie running back Cedric Peerman also returned kicks at the University of Virginia, but the team would figure to allow Peerman to focus his efforts competing at the running back position.

Carr would figure to have the upper hand, but strong training camp performances would certainly blur the competition a great deal.

4.  Kicker

For the first time in the history of the franchise, the Ravens are uncertain who will be their kicker on Opening Day.  Matt Stover was not re-signed but is on general manager Ozzie Newsome’s speed dial if the other options do not work out.  Harbaugh continues to speak with the veteran kicker regularly.

Steve Hauschka was the team’s kickoff specialist in 2008 and made one of two field goal attempts.  He has a big leg, but trying a long field goal before the half is quite different than kicking a game-winning 42-yarder when the pressure is on late in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens signed rookie free agent Graham Gano from Florida State to compete for the job. Gano won the Lou Groza Award in 2008, awarded to college football’s best kicker.  He made 24 of 26 attempts last season with the Seminoles, hitting five of seven from 50 or more yards.

While a battle at kicker isn’t going to capture the city’s attention, it is crucial to stabilize the position entering the season.  If neither Hauschka nor Gano can win the job in the preseason, look for Stover to return for his 14th season with the Ravens.

5.  Right Tackle

This position would have been the featured battle of training camp had veteran Willie Anderson not announced his retirement several weeks ago.

First-round pick (23rd overall) Michael Oher of Ole Miss is a tremendous talent at 6-5 and 309 pounds.  His story was well-chronicled prior to the draft, and the Ravens appeared to snatch up another highly-talented player in the later stages of the first round.

Oher has performed well in OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and has picked up the offense quickly, according to the coaching staff.

With veteran tackle Adam Terry continuing to battle an ankle injury, the job appears to be Oher’s to lose.  Terry would be the ideal backup for both Oher and left tackle Jared Gaither since he has experience playing both positions in the NFL.

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Purple Friday – Join me on WNST this afternoon

Posted on 08 May 2009 by Luke Jones

Join me on AM 1570 WNST or WNST.net this afternoon at 4:20 as we have an excuse to talk Ravens football despite the season still being months away.  What’s the biggest question on your mind as we approach the preseason?

It’s a far cry from a Purple Friday in the fall, but we’ll get a small tease of football this weekend as the Ravens begin their mandatory minicamp today at 1 Winning Drive.

The weekend is nothing more than an obligation for most veterans—with the exception of Terrell Suggs who is not expected to attend after again being named the team’s franchise player—but it’s the first chance for the rookies to rub elbows with the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Derrick Mason.  It’s always interesting to hear the veterans’ first impressions of the new draft picks and rookie free agents.

As we take the next step toward training camp in Westminster—now less than three months away—, several questions loom large as the Ravens try to improve upon coach John Harbaugh’s surprising first season.

Here are five questions on my mind as we approach the season, in no particular order.

1.  How is the depth at quarterback shaping up?

A quarterback controversy is brewing in the Charm City; only for once, it’s not over who will be starting under center—Joe Flacco has finally stabilized the position for the Ravens.  The real battle will take place between incumbent backup Troy Smith and newly-signed John Beck, a former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

Smith found moderate success running the Ravens’ version of the “Wildcat” formation at times last season, but his size (6-0) makes it difficult to spot receivers, forcing him to move outside the pocket.  Beck has strong ties to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (Miami’s head coach in 2007) and, at 6-2, is a more traditional drop-back passer.

It will be interesting to see Flacco’s progression from his rookie season to year two—a time when many experts believe a quarterback makes his biggest improvement.  If Flacco can improve upon his 14 touchdowns and 2,971 yards from a year ago, the Ravens will be as deadly as any team in the AFC.

Keep in mind, Flacco will have a full training camp to prepare as the team’s starting quarterback, something he did not enjoy in his rookie season when he was launched into the starting role after Kyle Boller and Smith went down in late August.

2.  Is there another wide receiver out there?

Despite national pundits and fans clamoring for Ozzie Newsome to take a receiver in this year’s draft, the team did not find one to complement Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams.

The Ravens signed rookie free agent Eron Riley, a speedster out of Duke, and will bring in veterans Jerry Porter, Kelley Washington, D.J. Hackett, and Tab Perry to try out this weekend.

Porter is the most notable of the four, playing his best seasons in 2004 (998 yards, 9 TD) and 2005 (942, 5 TD) with the Oakland Raiders.  However, his character is a question mark after being suspended in Oakland in 2006 for “conduct detrimental to the team.”  He is also a health risk after missing time with the Jaguars last season due to an injured hamstring.

Hackett may provide the next-best threat at receiver (13 catches with the Panthers in 2008) while Washington and Perry would provide a stronger presence on special teams, something sure to catch Harbaugh’s attention.

None of the four will provide the impact that Ravens fans are seeking, but one could step up to take the role of Demetrius Williams if the oft-injured receiver does not return to form in 2009.

3.  Who will be the Ravens’ next kicker?

For the first time in the history of the franchise, the Ravens are uncertain who will be the kicker on Opening Day.  Matt Stover was not re-signed but is on Ozzie Newsome’s speed dial if the other options do not work out.

Steve Hauschka was the team’s kickoff specialist in 2008 and made one of two field goal attempts.  He has a big leg but is largely unproven.

The Ravens signed rookie free agent Graham Gano from Florida State to compete for the job.  Gano was 24 of 26 last season with the Seminoles, hitting five of seven from 50+ yards.

While a battle at kicker isn’t going to capture the city’s attention, it is crucial to stabilize the position entering the season.  If neither Hauschka nor Gano can handle the job, look for Stover to return for his 14th season with the Ravens.

4.  Who starts inside next to Ray Lewis?

With the departure of Bart Scott, the Ravens need to fill his spot at inside linebacker.  Scott did the dirty work for the Ravens defense, taking on blockers to keep Lewis free to pursue the ball carrier.

Conventional wisdom points to Tavares Gooden as his replacement, but this may not be a foregone conclusion.  The 2008 third-round pick is a health risk after spending most of last season on injured reserve with a hip injury.  He also had a history of concussions and shoulder problems at the University of Miami.

If Gooden does not get the nod inside, the sleeper could be Jameel McClain or fifth-round pick Jason Phillips.

5.  Who will be returning kicks and punts?

With the departure of Leonhard, the Ravens must find a new punt returner and try to stabilize the kick returner position.  It’s clear Yamon Figurs is not a favorite of the current coaching staff and will need to have a strong preseason to stay on the roster.

Newly-acquired defensive back Chris Carr was a good returner for the Titans and would likely be a top candidate for the job.  Third-round pick Lardarius Webb also returned kicks at Nicholls St. and will compete for the job.

Tom Zbikowski spent time returning kicks at the end of last season, and sixth-round pick Cedric Peerman also returned kicks at the University of Virginia.

The position is wide open and should be an interesting one to monitor throughout the preseason.

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Draft Grade For The Ravens

Posted on 28 April 2009 by Neal Bortmes

Immediately following the draft I thought the Ravens did a poor job, and I was very upset with their effort for several reasons.  First I thought that Ozzie was swindled out of a fifth round pick when he traded up three spots to draft Michael Oher.  He gave up a 5th round pick to move up from 26 to 23 when the Eagles only gave up a 6th round pick to move up from 21 to 19.  The Eagles selected Jeremy Maclin, who could be a steal considering his appearance among the top 10 in most mock drafts.  According to the NFL draft pick value chart Ozzie gave up 700 pts. (pick 26) and 27.6 pts. (pick 162) for 760 pts. (pick 23) for a total gain of 32.4 pts.  While Tom Heckert the Eagles’ GM gained a total of 60.6 pts. when he traded the 21st pick (800 pts.) and 195th pick (14.4 pts.) to get the 19th pick (875 pts.).  This obvious discrepancy had me miffed for a while.  I also had wanted them to trade down to the second round to get more picks a la the Patriots (who I thought had one of the best drafts) because the best value was clearly in the top half of that round. 

 

 In the second round the Ravens selected Paul Kruger DE out of Utah.  I think he is an undersized DE for the NFL (6’4” 263 lbs.) and it appears as if he is a project due to his lack of elite speed (5 sec. 40) and elite strength (24 reps at 225).  His selection was a surprise to me considering he is going to be a 23 year old rookie with only two years of college experience (in the Mountain West).  Kruger has some character concerns having been severely stabbed at a house party last year, one to which the cops were called for other infractions only to find out about the stabbing after they arrived.  Kruger also has only one kidney having lost his due to a car accident as a child which could present significant health concerns in the future.  I thought the Ravens should have traded down to acquire more picks or possibly selected Jarron Gilbert who at 6’5” and 288 lbs. is bigger, stronger, and faster than Kruger although he is a project as well coming out of a weak football conference (WAC) too.

 

 The Ravens’ 3rd round selection had me puzzled to say the least.  Lardarius Webb is from a non-FBS school in Nicholls State and he is considered a tweener, which means that the Ravens have to basically create a position for him as he lacks the ideal size-speed ratio to play corner or safety in the NFL.  He too has character concerns which caused him to be dismissed from Southern Miss.  One would have thought the Ravens learned their lesson on lightly regarded defensive back prospects from small schools with the recent failure of David Pittman whom they selected in the third round of the 2006 draft.  My first thought was that the brain trust is more eager to prove they can successfully draft a small school DB than to make a sound third round choice.  Typically the Ravens do extremely well in the first round and later rounds (4-7), but they more often than not select busts in the second and third rounds.  D.J. Moore was still available and had a better grade according to the experts on ESPN and the NFL network as well as more production at a higher level in college.

 

 I was also surprised that the Ravens did not select a kicker in the draft considering they let Matt Stover go in the off-season.  The selection of Davon Drew was the most perplexing potential blunder because James Casey and Cornelius Ingram, players with superior measureables and production, were still on the board.  For all of these reasons I would have given the Ravens a C on Sunday night, but after a day or so I have tried to reexamine the Ravens’ effort. 

 

 Upon further review I think the Ravens did an adequate job.  Their best decision by far was to trade up to select Michael Oher, although I still think they gave up too much when compared to the Eagles deal; however New England is a shrewder trading partner than the new Browns’ front office (Mankok) so one may have to expect they would ask more in a trade.  Oher has the potential to be a rock at right tackle for years, and if he pans out he will solidify a very young and talented offensive line for the foreseeable future.  He was rated higher than 23rd on many teams’ draft boards and I saw him in the top ten in several mock drafts so they got tremendous value with his selection.

 

Kruger is still a toss-up to me but when I listened to Eric DeCosta described him on the Comcast Morning Show with Drew Forrester I had a better feeling about him.  I suppose he is a high motor guy in the mold of Michael McCrary but he still needs to gain size to be effective on the end.  His age and injury history are also concerns.  The Ravens should have moved back from the second round at that point to grab a different pass rusher such as Gilbert, Michael Johnson, or Lawrence Sidbury.  http://www.ksl.com/?nid=635&sid=6285559&autostart=y  I am still not impressed with Webb having further investigated him although Mel Kiper likened him to Bob Sanders.  If he can play as effectively as Sanders then he would be a steal but I think the David Pittman scenario is more likely.  The selection of Davon Drew still has me scratching my head in light of the talent still on the board.  Eric DeCosta mentioned in his interview that several players did not pass the Ravens’ physical so I can only hope he was explaining the reason for not taking Casey or Ingram.  If nothing else the Ravens added to their depth at DB, rush linebacker/DE, and TE.  Davon Drew could provide insurance if Quinn Sypniewski cannot recover properly from his season ending injury of last year.  http://beta.sling.com/video/show/136305/12/Draft-Prospect:-TE–Davon-Drew  Jason Phillips was a very good value pick in the fifth round as he was extremely productive for a very good defensive football team.  He should help fill the void left by the departure of Bart Scott, although he is probably a rotational player at best.  Phillips is recovering from a meniscus tear he suffered at the combine.   

 

 

 

I really think the steal of the Ravens’ draft has to be Cedric Peerman.  Peerman had a very good season for a terrible Virginia team last year, he is also said to be one of Al Groh’s favorite players and a high character guy.  He has some injury concerns but is a tough runner who had the fastest 40 time at the combine of any RB.  I think even with the Ravens’ depth at RB he will make the team.  The Ravens’ draft has been made stronger by their additions of rookie free agents. http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4853302/12935650

 

 

 

 

Their signing of Eron Riley is particularly intriguing because he has very similar measurables to Heyward-Bey, as he is taller (6’3” compared to 6’1 5/8”) and almost as fast with a 4.3 second 40 time.  Riley does need to add bulk and gain strength, but he also had more receptions (61 to 42) and TD’s (8 to 5) than Heyward-Bey last year on an arguably worse football team in the same conference.  The second excellent pick-up was obviously Graham Gano as the reining Lou Groza award winner he lead the nation in field goals per game (2.18) as well as leading all kickers in points per game (9.5), and his 5 made field goals from beyond 50 yards were the most last year.  He will compete with Steve Hauschka to be the starting kicker; however he could also serve as a backup punter having also punted for Florida State last year.  He is believed to be the only punter ever to be named the MVP of a bowl game when he was named the Most Valuable Player in the Champs Sports Bowl.  http://rivals.yahoo.com/video/recruiting-football/Graham-Gano-Cantonment-28523  http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4853301/12935654  

 

 

The Ravens were able to address their needs for a place kicker and a speedy wideout through free agency so in retrospect I think the Ravens earned a solid B from me.  They traded up to get Michael Oher which was a fantastic move and they were still able to recoup another pick.  I know that the Ravens’ front office has far more experience scouting and selecting players than I do but if you are still reading this blog than you care about my opinion as well, plus the draft is so much fun because of the debate it creates.  As always only time will tell how the Ravens fared in this year’s draft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How the draft shapes the current roster

Posted on 27 April 2009 by Luke Jones

We’re exactly three months away from rookies and quarterbacks reporting to McDaniel College in Westminster for the start of training camp.  With the 2009 NFL Draft complete and the names of undrafted free agent signings beginning to leak, we will start to get a better idea of how the training camp roster will look.

Much can change between now and July 27, but here is a look at the Ravens’ selections and how they affect the competition at their respective positions.  Listed in parentheses is the projected number of players kept at the position.  Since undrafted free-agent signings are not officially announced until minicamp, I have excluded them from the current breakdown.

Round 1 (23rd overall):  Michael Oher (Mississippi), OT

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4)

Locks:  Jared Gaither, Michael Oher

Bubble:  Willie Anderson, Adam Terry, Oniel Cousins

Longshot:  Joe Reitz, Tre Stallings

Analysis:  The selection of Michael Oher immediately transforms offensive tackle from a position of weakness to one of depth.  Gaither is firmly entrenched on the left side, so the real battle will take place on the right side between Anderson and Oher.

While Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta currently envision Anderson as a mentor for the rookie, he could be released to clear cap room if the Ravens pursue other veteran free agents that could be released before training camp.  Cutting Anderson would reportedly clear close to $3 million from the cap.

If Anderson remains on the team, Terry and Cousins would figure to battle for the last tackle spot.  Terry has the edge in experience, but Cousins can play both guard and tackle and was the team’s third round pick last year.  He is raw but promising.

*****

Round 2 (57th overall):  Paul Kruger (Utah), OLB/DE

Round 5 (137th overall):  Jason Phillips (TCU), ILB

LINEBACKER (8 or 9)

Locks:  Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Tavares Gooden, Paul Kruger, Jason Phillips, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jameel McClain

Bubble:  Antwan Barnes, Edgar Jones

Longshot:  Prescott Burgess

Analysis:  Though the Ravens hope Kruger can put on the necessary weight to eventually move to defensive end when Trevor Pryce retires, he will likely be a hybrid-rush end in his rookie season.

Phillips will provide depth at inside linebacker after the departure of Bart Scott.  The Ravens envision him eventually becoming the replacement for Lewis in the starting lineup in a few years.  In the mean time, he will push Gooden for playing time at the other inside spot.

Despite showing much promise in his first two seasons, Barnes will need to show more versatility to make the 53-man roster.  He has great speed off the edge but fell behind McClain in the rotation last season.  Jones will be moved back to linebacker with the signing of L.J. Smith and selection of Davon Drew at tight end.  He must continue to contribute heavily on special teams to stay on the roster.

Burgess appears to be a longshot with the drafting of Phillips.  As always, special teams play will figure heavily in deciding the final spot or two.

*****

Round 3 (88th overall):  Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State), CB

CORNERBACK (6)

Lock:  Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, Samari Rolle, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb

Bubble:  Frank Walker, Derrick Martin

Longshot:  Anwar Phillips, Evan Oglesby

Analysis:  The selection of Lardarius Webb further increases the likelihood of Walker being cut to clear cap room in case a veteran free agent shakes loose at another position.  Releasing Walker would reportedly save $1.6 million against the cap.

Martin missed most of last season with a shoulder injury but showed promise in 2007, making three starts and grabbing two interceptions.  He would be a cheaper alternative to Walker.

Phillips and Oglesby do not figure to seriously challenge for a roster spot after the signings of Foxworth and Carr pushed them further down the depth chart.

The team could elect to keep an extra corner if they view Carr or Webb as a primary returner over Yamon Figurs.

*****

Round 5 (149th overall):  Davon Drew (East Carolina), TE

TIGHT END (3)

Lock:  Todd Heap, L.J. Smith

Bubble:  Davon Drew, Quinn Sypniewski

Longshot:  Isaac Smolko, Edgar Jones

Analysis:  Heap and Smith are obviously safe, so the real battle will be between Drew and Sypniewski.  The Ravens like Drew’s potential, as he’s only spent a few seasons as a tight end.  He could eventually develop into an H-back in the offense.  Sypniewski showed promise in his first two seasons but missed all of last season with a knee injury.

Jones will have to make the team as a linebacker and special teams contributor.  Smolko will be little more than training camp depth.

*****

Round 6 (185th overall):  Cedric Peerman (Virginia), RB

RUNNING BACK (4 or 5)

Lock:  Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, Cedric Peerman

Bubble:  None

Longshot:  Matt Lawrence, Jalen Parmele

Analysis:  McClain figures to play more regularly at fullback in 2009, but he will still get carries in short-yardage situations and the fourth-quarter jumbo formation.  Peerman provides more depth at running back, allowing Cam Cameron to move McClain back to the more traditional fullback spot.

The team has reportedly signed undrafted free agent Jason Cook, Oher’s teammate at Ole Miss and described as a traditional power fullback.  Veteran Lorenzo Neal does not fit in the team’s current plans, but that could change in August.

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