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Ravens readying for challenge against tough San Diego secondary

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Ravens readying for challenge against tough San Diego secondary

Posted on 27 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates still garner the headlines, but the defense has been the most consistent unit for the San Diego Chargers en route to a 7-4 start in 2014.

The Chargers rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense this season, making them one of the bigger challenges quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game have faced all season. Led by two-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, the Chargers are allowing only 221 passing yards per game and 6.8 yards per attempt from opposing quarterbacks.

“It could arguably be the best safety tandem we’ve played this year,” said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak about Weddle and strong safety Marcus Gilchrist. “Those two guys are really good players and like quarterbacks back there. They do a great job.”

It’s quite a change from last season when San Diego qualified for the playoffs despite having the league’s 23rd-ranked defense and finishing 29th against the pass. The offseason acquisition of Brandon Flowers has paid major dividends as the 5-foot-9 veteran has the fourth-highest grade of any cornerback in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Chargers rank 15th against the run in 2014, but Kubiak added that their depth has been a major reason why they’ve allowed only 19.6 points per game, good for fifth in the league. They’ve only collected 18 sacks all season, but veteran Dwight Freeney remains a player to watch despite being relegated to a situational pass-rush role at age 34.

“I think the biggest thing with this team is they’re playing a lot of people,” Kubiak said. “You have Dwight Freeney on your team and he’s playing 25 or 30 snaps a game, it tells you how deep they are. They’re rotating a lot of people [and] a lot of new faces when it’s third down and time to rush the passer. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Another “basketball” tight end to deal with

After doing an admirable job against All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham last Monday, the Ravens will face another challenge at the tight end position with the 34-year-old Gates still creating problems for defenses.

“You’re hoping that he’s going to age out at some point,” said head coach John Harbaugh as he laughed. “We all do at some point, but he hasn’t yet. He continues to adjust his game. He really does a great job of bodying up and making plays as a receiver. He’s still a downfield threat. He’s a go-to guy for Philip Rivers.”

He’s no longer a candidate to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but Gates has nine touchdown catches — the fourth-highest total of his career — and 491 receiving yards this season.

His 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame presents a challenge as he uses his physicality to outmuscle defensive backs and still has the speed to beat linebackers in coverage.

“He’s kind of a basketball player, kind of like how Graham is,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “When I’m on him or whenever we cover him, we’ve just got to make sure that we keep our hands on him. The big thing as far as covering guys like him is to just keep our eyes on him. He’ll pop out of the ground and make good plays.”

Koch, Mosley honored to be among Pro Bowl fan vote leaders

The latest Pro Bowl voting update had Sam Koch leading all punters and rookie C.J. Mosley second among inside linebackers.

After seeing teammate Justin Tucker make the Pro Bowl last year, the nine-year veteran Koch has been close before in his career and acknowledged how meaningful a trip to Honolulu would be. He ranks third in the NFL in net punting and seventh on punts inside the 20 this year.

“It would mean a lot,” said Koch, who was also the holder for 2010 Pro Bowl selection Billy Cundiff. “For all the support I’ve had from my family and my kids and all the people here, just going out and almost making it a couple of times, winning the fan vote to one year to becoming an alternate [in 2010], it’s on my bucket list in football.”

Meanwhile, Mosley is sixth in the league in tackles and has graded as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL by PFF.

“It’s an honor and a blessing for people to notice all the hard work I put in and the great coaching I’ve received here,” Mosley said. “At the end of the day, the last thing I want is a Pro Bowl. We all want that Super Bowl and to play in the last game. But when your play is going good, you like to be recognized.”

The fans account for a third of the total voting with players and coaches making up the rest.

Rosburg plays peacemaker

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg found himself in the middle of the sideline altercation between wide receiver Steve Smith and Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro Monday night, which might have created a flashback to the coach’s younger days.

The 59-year-old assistant recalled being a bouncer back in 1976 when asked about his role in breaking up the scrum in New Orleans.

“I was saying the right things,” said Rosburg as he smiled. “I was trying to keep the peace as best I could. It came to me. I didn’t go seek it. It landed on my lap. At first, I defended myself and then I tried to help others.”

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Dumervil on mend as Ravens set sights toward Detroit

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Dumervil on mend as Ravens set sights toward Detroit

Posted on 09 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILL, Md. — The Ravens escaped their win over the Minnesota Vikings without an extensive injury list, but veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley joins linebacker Elvis Dumervil as question marks for next Monday’s game in Detroit.

Stokley left the game with a concussion in a fourth quarter that featured an astonishing 42 points scored between the two teams. It is believed that he was injured catching a 2-yard pass on third down that set the Ravens up for the fourth-and-1 play in which fullback Vonta Leach was stuffed for no gain at the Minnesota 21 with 10:36 remaining.

The 37-year-old wideout missed seven games earlier this season while nursing a groin injury but returned to play in the last three games, catching four passes for 36 yards. Stokley has dealt with at least 14 concussions in his football career dating back to his high school days, which could complicate how quickly he’s able to return to the field.

“He’ll go through the concussion protocol,” coach John Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. “We’ll have to see how that shakes out. Unfortunately, he’s had a number of those in his career, so that could be problematic for us. We’ll have to see in the next 24 hours or so.”

Dumervil missed his first game of the season against Minnesota after he was unable to recover from a left ankle sprain suffered against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night. The pass-rush specialist returned to play in that key AFC North game, leaving the Ravens optimistic that he’d be able to play against the Vikings.

However, his progress was slower than expected last week and the snowy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday likely made the Ravens’ decision to deactivate him even easier. The Baltimore defense has failed to collect a sack in each of the last two games, which is a disturbing trend with meetings against Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and New England’s Tom Brady coming up in the next two weeks.

“I think Elvis has a chance for next week,” Harbaugh said. “He looks pretty good [Monday]. It’s kind of a bruise in his ankle, so we’ll just have to see where he’s at. I was hopeful for him this week, so I’ll be more hopeful for him next week.”

By all accounts, tight end Dennis Pitta made it through Sunday’s game feeling no ill effects after returning to action for the first time since dislocating and fracturing his hip on July 27. Pitta finished with six catches for 48 yards and reined in a 1-yard touchdown pass with 2:05 remaining in the game.

The Ravens were so confident in Pitta’s ability to play extensively against Minnesota that they listed veteran Dallas Clark as inactive, but Harbaugh said the 34-year-old still fits into the team’s plans moving forward. Clark’s limited ability as a blocker and his lack of a special-teams role make him a difficult player to include among the 46 active players on game days, especially if the Ravens plan to emphasize the running game in a given matchup.

“Dallas is going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward,” Harbaugh said. “It just depends on the game plan and how the offensive coaches decide to put that together.”

Pass rush MIA

Masked in the euphoria of Sunday’s miraculous 29-26 win over Minnesota was the fourth-quarter struggles of the defense and its inability to collect a sack for a second straight week after 19 straight contests with at least two.

Harbaugh expressed concern over his defense’s inability to finish games strongly, but he didn’t seem as concerned with the pass rush, citing the ability of Minneseota quarterback Matt Cassel and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger a week earlier to get the ball out quickly. Of course, the snowy conditions Sunday left a few inches of snow on the field, which also impacted the rush in a way similar to the sloppy conditions in Chicago last month.

“I don’t think it’s a product of what people are doing differently. They’re getting the ball out pretty quick,” Harbaugh said. “There haven’t been a lot of downfield-route-type things. We had some maximum protection yesterday, two backs, and those kinds of things where they try to throw it down the field. They were mostly throwing fades or they threw seams over the middle. Those balls come out pretty quick. Field conditions were a factor … more than anything else.”

The absence of Dumveril left more pass-rushing situations for second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw on Sunday and fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs extended his streak of games without a sack to five. Suggs earned at least one sack in seven of the first eight games of the 2013 season but hasn’t collected one since.

Flacco gets taste of own medicine

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Bears passing game dangerous despite backup McCown under center

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Bears passing game dangerous despite backup McCown under center

Posted on 14 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Chicago Bears are one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises built around a reputation of menacing defense that’s stretched across decades of professional football.

However, this year’s team under new head coach Marc Trestman centers around an explosive passing game despite injuries that have sidelined starting quarterback Jay Cutler and thrust 34-year-old journeyman Josh McCown into action for the better part of the last month. With Cutler sidelined for Sunday’s tilt against the Ravens, McCown will again serve in a starting capacity, but the number of pass-catching targets at his disposal qualifies as a new version of the “Monsters of the Midway.”

Of course, the Baltimore defense did exceptional work against Cincinnati’s talented group of receivers led by A.J. Green last Sunday, but the Bears bring a level of physicality that the tall but wiry Bengals receivers do not provide. Leading the way is the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Brandon Marshall, who is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and ranks ninth in the NFL with 786 receiving yards and tied for sixth with eight touchdown catches.

“He catches the ball no matter where you put it,” said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who is coming off his best game of the season in Week 10. “If you put it somewhere around him, he can make the catch. That’s what makes him so dangerous. You have to know where he’s at at all times on the field. Wherever he’s lined up, we need to know because he’s a game-changer.”

What makes Marshall so dangerous is Trestman’s willingness to line him up in a variety of places on the field, making it difficult for defenses to find the best matchup consistently. Even if the Ravens are able to harness Marshall, the emergency of second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery has forced pass defenses to pick their poison when electing to bracket coverage on Marshall, leaving the 2012 second-round pick matched up in single coverage.

After an underwhelming rookie season in which he caught just 24 passes for 367 yards, the 6-foot-3 Jeffery is 13th in the league with 735 receiving yards, giving the Bears one of the best pass-catching duos in the NFL. With the Ravens possessing only one cornerback taller than six feet — starter Jimmy Smith — Webb and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham will need to play in a physical manner similar to how they played last week against the Bengals.

“[Jeffery] catches everything. He goes up and gets the ball,” cornerback Corey Graham said. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him drop a pass on film. If you’re not attacking the ball and going up and making a play, he’s going to get it.”

The news doesn’t get much better beyond that as 6-foot-6 tight end Martellus Bennett has caught four touchdowns and running back Matt Forte is regarded as one of the most dangerous receivers in the league out of the backfield. The Ravens will find size everywhere they look in the Bears passing game, making their ability to pressure McCown that much more critical in Sunday’s tilt at Soldier Field.

It remains to be seen whether defensive coordinator Dean Pees will once again use Webb inside in the nickel package, but the ability of safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam to gain good position in coverage against Bennett will be a major challenge in containing the Chicago passing attack, especially inside the red zone.

Even with an array of power forward-like targets to throw to, McCown must still deal with a defense tied for third in the NFL with 32 sacks. The Ravens were able to harass Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton into throwing three interceptions and will look for similar results against the career backup, who has completed 60 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions in three games this season.

Baltimore has talked all week about the takeaway outburst against Cincinnati being the result of preparation finally coming together and will try to prove it wasn’t simply the result of some different defensive looks mixed with good fortune against their division rivals in the 20-17 overtime win.

“You all just happened to see a byproduct of all the work that we put in,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “We got put in the position to get those plays. I always like to say that turnovers and interceptions are an accumulation of preparation and luck. Some of those plays, [the ball] landed in the perfect position. It’s luck, but it’s preparation for being there.”

Rare chance for running game

The struggles of the Ravens’ historically-poor running game have been discussed ad nauseam, but Sunday may represent their best last chance of hope that the ground production can improve in the second half of the season.

The Bears rank 31st in the league against the run and are giving up just under 130 rushing yards per game this season. The season-ending loss of defensive tackle Henry Melton in September and the current shoulder injury sidelining outside linebacker Lance Briggs haven’t done the defense any favors as the Bears have needed to lean heavily on offense to build a 5-4 record.

It remains to be seen how offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will handle the workload in the running game after head coach John Harbaugh suggested performance will dictate how many carries struggling starter Ray Rice and backup Bernard Pierce will receive moving forward. Rice is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry while Pierce isn’t much better at 2.8 as both have battled injuries this season.

“We’re working to get better,” Rice said. “I know I’ve worked my butt off to get back on the field to play at a high level. I’ve just got to keep myself motivated, because I know once the opportunity comes and we rip off one of those big gains, we’ll be saying, ‘Well there it goes.’ The day will come.”

If the day doesn’t come Sunday against one of the league’s worst run defenses, it may be time to close the book on any hope for improvement in the Ravens’ rushing attack.

Hester the home-run hitter

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Ravens defense aiming to reverse trend of late-game struggles

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Ravens defense aiming to reverse trend of late-game struggles

Posted on 07 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees recollected Thursday that his defense came under fire a year ago for being lousy statistically despite the Ravens’ 6-2 record midway through the 2012 season.

Of course, a 3-5 record this season doesn’t sit well with Pees despite his unit’s overall improvement, but problems still exist on his side of the ball. Ranked 10th overall in total yards and points per game allowed, the Ravens have forced only 10 turnovers — ranked 11th in the AFC — and have struggled to get defensive stops late in games when they’ve been trailing. And with an offense that’s struggled immensely, those defensive shortcomings have contributed to three straight losses.

“More games are lost than won in the National Football League,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “We’ve got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot, stop doing the things that cause you to lose games, and just play solid ball.”

According to Football Outsiders, the Baltimore defense ranks fifth in the NFL in average defensive drive time (2:21), making their late-game struggles even more puzzling. In losses to Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, the Ravens have surrendered a drive of six minutes or longer that’s been pivotal in either allowing the opposition to build on a second-half lead or to prevent the Baltimore offense from having a final opportunity to tie the game or take the lead.

Many have pondered how much the offense’s first-half struggles have tired out the defense, but the final time of possession wasn’t lopsided in any of the three losses with the Ravens having the ball for at least 28:38 in each game. In Week 9, the Browns took possession of the ball with a 21-18 lead and 6:44 remaining in the fourth quarter and remained on the field until kicking a field goal with 14 seconds remaining. On that drive in which the Browns converted a third-and-3 from their own 36 and a fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 43 with 3:12 remaining, Pees opined that his defense played tentatively instead of aggressively in trying to make a play.

“You’ve got to feel good enough about yourself that you don’t worry about making a mistake,” Pees said. “You guys have heard me tell you the analogy before – and that’s what I told them this week – you practice that way out here and you go 100 miles an hour, because there’s really not a lot on the line. Somehow, mentally, you’ve got to make yourself play it the same way in a game. I know it’s on the line, we all know it’s on the line, but you’ve got to go. And you’ve just got to make a play.”

Regardless of the exact reasons why, the Ravens are frustrated with their growing reputation of being unable to finish defensively after generally playing well over the first three quarters of the game.

And that recent trend, coupled with the offense’s extremely slow starts all season, has led to the Ravens being as close to must-win mode as they can be against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

“It’s always frustrating. You’ve got to win games,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They’re on scholarship, too, so to say – the opposing team – and they’re making plays. It’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to get after it and do it.”

Punting problems

Sam Koch is just one of several established veterans experiencing rough seasons as the longtime punter struggled again last Sunday in Cleveland, three times failing to pin the Browns inside the 20 when kicking near midfield.

The worst of the three offenses came on his final opportunity of the day from his own 46 when he produced a 25-yarder that went out of bounds at the Cleveland 29. The shank gave the Browns solid field position that preceded their game-clinching drive that erased all but the final 14 seconds of the game.

“It’s very frustrating,” Koch said of his season. “I put all the time and work and effort into to trying to make that perfect game.”

Koch’s 37.6 yard net punting average ranks 28th in the league and would be his lowest since 2007 (36.0).

“Sam would be the first one to tell you that he’s been inconsistent,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “There have been situations in games where we need a better ball; [the final punt against the Browns] was an example of it. You’ve also seen him in games where he can hit exactly what we want. We put a lot on Sam. We ask him to do things that other punters in this league aren’t asked to do in terms of direction and so forth. He has demonstrated in practice,time and time and time again that he can do all of that. We just need to do that same kind of performance in the game.”

“Ngata”-nough

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Monroe trying to overcome learning curve as quickly as possible

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Monroe trying to overcome learning curve as quickly as possible

Posted on 03 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even with all the concerns surrounding the Ravens as they take a 2-2 record to Miami on Sunday, they’ve still matched the total number of wins new left tackle Eugene Monroe experienced in Jacksonville over the last two seasons combined.

To nobody’s surprise, the fifth-year lineman and eighth overall pick of the 2009 draft feels like a new man in joining the defending Super Bowl champions after five years in football purgatory. Monroe said all the right things about his former team on Thursday, but he couldn’t hide his excitement over receiving a fresh start.

“To come into a situation like this with a culture of winning is unique,” Monroe said. “It’s something that I really haven’t been around, so it’s exciting to experience this.”

The Ravens made the trade for Monroe official on Thursday, releasing veteran tight end Billy Bajema to clear a spot on their 53-man roster. To ease concerns about the tackle’s 2013 base salary, the Jaguars agreed to pay all but $547,000 of his remaining salary, leaving the Ravens with enough room to fit Monroe underneath the salary cap.

With all the business details out of the way, the Ravens were noncommittal about Monroe’s status for Sunday’s game with only a couple days of practice time to get him up to speed on the Baltimore playbook, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell knows how much potential the lineman holds. As the former head coach of Indianapolis, Caldwell saw Monroe twice a year in AFC South meetings and claimed that Colts pass rushers Dwight Freeney — now with San Diego — and Robert Mathis often had difficulty against the University of Virginia product.

“The two pass rushers we had down there certainly respected him quite a bit because of the fact that he did such a tremendous job against them,” said Caldwell, who acknowledged it would be conceivable for Monroe to at least play a limited role on Sunday. “We’re happy to have him. He’s a great young man with an abundance of talent.”

It’s simply a matter of when, not if, Monroe will take veteran Bryant McKinnie’s place with the starting offensive line, but the newcomer appeared to be in a strict learning and observing mode during the portion of practice open to media on Thursday. Monroe told reporters he feels great physically after playing in Jacksonville’s first four games of the season, but the mental challenge of absorbing the Ravens’ playbook so quickly won’t be easy.

The Ravens find themselves in a difficult spot in deciding between an understandably-disgruntled McKinnie and an underprepared Monroe facing a talented Miami front that could include a returning Cameron Wake, who is regarded as one of the league’s best pass rushers after collecting 15 sacks last season.

“When you’re speaking a different language, you have to be on page with the other guys or it’s not going to be a good outcome,” said Monroe, who acknowledged that some of the Ravens’ techniques and assignments share similarities with what he used in Jacksonville. “Overcoming the learning curve and getting acclimated with how things are done around here is going to be the big challenge.”

Once Monroe grasps the playbook, the Ravens are not only hoping to have a clear upgrade at left tackle in the present but also a long-term option at the position that they’ve lacked since the retirement of Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden following the 2007 season.

Monroe is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, but even he acknowledged the Ravens’ willingness to surrender fourth- and fifth-round picks is a good indication that he could fit into their future plans.

“It doesn’t look like they brought me here the way they did to not have me here for a long time,” Monroe said. “But again, I have to do my thing on the field, prove that I deserve this opportunity, which I’m fully confident that I will.”

Caldwell’s take on running game

Coach John Harbaugh stood by the Ravens rushing a franchise-low nine times during their 23-20 loss to Buffalo in Week 4, but Caldwell didn’t echo that exact sentiment with a few more days to think about the offensive attack.

The Ravens dropped back to pass on 31 straight plays at one point and did not record a rushing attempt in the third quarter against the Bills. Harbaugh said it was his call to abandon the run game because he didn’t feel the rushing attack was working well enough to help them win the game.

“If you had a chance to do it all over again, perhaps we’d have to consider and look at running that ball a little bit more,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think we ran it quite enough [against Buffalo]. Oftentimes, you just try to look at how the game is going, how you are faring in terms of blocking them up front, and then make a determination on how you’re going to go win it.”

The Ravens are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, which ranks 30th in the league.

First-down woes defensively

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees clearly wasn’t played with his unit’s performance against the run in Week 4 after the Ravens surrendered 203 yards on 55 carries to the Bills.

After crediting Buffalo’s game plan that caught Baltimore coaches and players off guard, Pees offered an explanation of what exactly led to the Ravens nearly giving up as many yards on the ground against the Bills as they had in their first three games combined (224 on 66 carries).

“We’re doing OK on third down. We’re doing well on third-and-short, which we didn’t do well a year ago,” Pees said. “We’re doing well in the red area. And up until this game, we were doing well on the run. But the run was primarily first-down run. That’s where we got in trouble. It’s hard when it’s second down-and-four and second down-and-three. All of a sudden, now you’ve got to really try to tighten it down to get to third.”

Not counting Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s kneel-downs at the end of the game, the Ravens gave up 143 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries on first-down plays. For the season, Baltimore has surrendered 253 rushing yards on 64 first-down attempts.

Jones back in return mix

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones was practicing for the second straight day Thursday and could provide a much-needed boost to the passing game should his knee be deemed ready to go against the Dolphins.

Fellow wide receiver Tandon Doss has down an admirable job as a punt returner, but the Ravens would love to have Jones’ explosiveness back in the return game as soon as possible. Ideally, they’d like to take it slow with Jones, but the current injury situations for rookie Marlon Brown (hamstring) and Deonte Thompson (knee) could make Jones’ availability a necessity in Miami.

“He’s catching balls, he’s doing what he can in practice,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “We look forward to having him back.”

Jones injured the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the season opener on Sept. 5 and has been sidelined ever since.

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Suggs, Ngata trying to finish strong in injury-riddled campaigns

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Suggs, Ngata trying to finish strong in injury-riddled campaigns

Posted on 09 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After winning their second consecutive AFC North division title with a 10-6 record and winning a postseason game for the fifth straight season, the Ravens could easily be described as a group that’s overachieved when taking into account the extensive list of injuries sustained.

Among those are two players whose combined salary cap number accounts for $21.9 million of the $120.6 million limit for the 2012 season. As decorated as anyone on the roster with a combined nine Pro Bowl selections, linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata are supposed to be the Ravens’ best defensive players. Instead, they’ve made little impact this season as the Baltimore defense slipped to 17th in yards allowed and tied for 12th in points per game.

Injuries have told the story for both players as Suggs returned in October from an offseason Achilles tendon surgery that most assumed would end his season. As remarkable as the recovery has been, many predicted Suggs would not regain his explosiveness this season, which has appeared to be the case as the 30-year-old was held to just two sacks and 22 tackles in eight games played. Not helping matters was an additional injury as Suggs suffered a torn right biceps on Dec. 2, which forced him to miss another game and has limited his ability to tackle and even fire out of a three-point stance as he tries to keep weight off the injured arm.

“I am marveled the guy has played at all this year,” Pees said. “I think anything that we’ve gotten out of Terrell Suggs has been a positive. I don’t look at it at all like he hasn’t done something successfully. I look at it as this has been a bonus that we ever had the guy. I never dreamed that we’d ever have the guy at all this year.”

Of course, Suggs’ mere presence forces opponents to identify him and takes attention away from others such as linebacker Paul Kruger, but his production hasn’t matched the $11.5 million cap figure he carries. This accounts for nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap this year.

Also taking up a huge portion of the cap with a $10.4 million number, Ngata suffered a sprained MCL on Oct. 14 and hasn’t been effective for much of the season. Missing two games — one of them coming in the regular-season finale when the Ravens rested numerous starters — Ngata finished with his lowest tackle total (51) since 2009 and five sacks, but the 28-year-old failed to provide consistent pressure or control the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis.

Regarded as one of the biggest forces in the NFL, Ngata’s presence has gone unnoticed for large portions of the season as he’s lacked the same speed and power he enjoyed prior to a thigh injury midway through the 2011 season. Ngata signed a five-year, $61 million contract early last season, which included $40 million to be paid in the first two years of the deal.

It’s fair to say physical issues have prevented him from living up to that contract so far despite Ngata being named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.

“Haloti has been hurt all year, and the fact that we’ve gotten a lot out of him – we’ve tried to rest him a couple of times, tried to take some reps off of him – the guy never says a word,” Pees said. “He just comes out and plays, does what he’s supposed to do, and it’s a credit to him. I think he probably, production-wise, hasn’t had the year that he has had in some other years, but he really has been hurt.”

The Ravens hope the rest awarded to both players in Week 17 will pay dividends as they travel to Denver to take on the red-hot Broncos, who finished fourth in total offense (397.9 yards per game) and second in points scored (30.1 per contest).

In the 24-9 win over Indianapolis, Ngata finished with four tackles and knocked down a pass while Suggs had two tackles and two quarterback hits. The two will need to bring a bigger presence to Denver in order to slow quarterback Peyton Manning. In the teams’ first meeting, the duo combined for two tackles and no sacks.

Pees has seen improvement in Ngata in recent weeks after acknowledging how banged up the defensive tackle was during the middle portion of the season. The seventh-year lineman did not play in the Ravens’ 55-20 win over Oakland on Nov. 11.

“I think taking some of the reps off of him with DeAngelo Tyson and Art Jones and some of those guys getting some playing experience, whether we wanted him to or whether we didn’t want him to, in the long run, I think it was a good thing,” Pees said. “We got to take some plays off of him, which has been a little bit better here towards late in the season.”

Gaining separation against Denver secondary

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Pees hoping two recovering stars give Ravens defense boost down final stretch

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Pees hoping two recovering stars give Ravens defense boost down final stretch

Posted on 20 December 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ranked 26th in yards allowed and ravaged by injuries, the Ravens defense is heading in the wrong direction after allowing 65 points over its last two games.

But could the late-season returns of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis provide the emotional spark and improvement the defense needs to put the Ravens in better position for a postseason run? The pair could be on the field together for the first time all season against the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon, which would certainly provide a spiritual boost for a team in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

Of course, Suggs returned to action this past Sunday against Denver — two weeks removed from a torn right biceps — but it was difficult to recognize his presence aside from his familiar No. 55 jersey lining up at the rush linebacker spot. Clearly laboring as he employed a four-point stance to keep his body weight off his upper right arm, Suggs appeared tentative at several points and removed himself from the game on a few occasions while appearing to be in pain on the sideline.

He finished with only one tackle, and the performance has left more questions than answers about his impact for the rest of the season.

“He’s coming back. He’s not back full, but he’s back, and he’s playing hard,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think if you ask him, I don’t think he would tell you that he’s playing at 100 percent like he has, but he certainly is giving us a great effort and giving us what we need in there.”

Even before the biceps injury, Suggs wasn’t making his normal impact after a remarkable recovery from a partially-torn Achilles tendon in less than six months. In seven games this season, Suggs has 20 tackles and only two sacks.

Meanwhile, it was just a few weeks ago when many were wondering if Lewis truly deserved to be an every-down linebacker whenever he’d make his return from triceps surgery, but a season-ending injury to Jameel McClain and an ankle injury to Dannell Ellerbe has left the Ravens bare at the inside linebacker position as Josh Bynes, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Albert McClellan have manned the “Mike” and “Will” positions in the last two weeks.

The Ravens are not only hoping for the pick-me-up of Lewis’ impeccable on-field leadership, but they’re now desperate for him to bring an improved level of play to the middle of the field. With Baltimore electing to wait to place McClain on season-ending injured reserve, it’s apparent the organization is hoping to place Lewis on the 53-man roster by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

Lewis is just nine weeks removed from surgery, an incredible fact considering the normal recovery time for such an injury is a minimum of four months.

“I’d love to have him. I think it would be a great emotional lift, but more than that, we could use some bodies in there at linebacker,” said Pees with a chuckle. “We’ll just have to wait and see whatever they say is a go. We’d love to have him back.”

The Ravens hope to get back Ellerbe and strong safety Bernard Pollard from injuries this week, but the latter’s status appears to be in doubt after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Pollard aggravated a rib injury in the Ravens’ Week 14 loss against Washington and hasn’t practiced ever since.

Only two defensive starters from Week 1 have played in every game this season — cornerback Cary Williams and safety Ed Reed.

“I think if anybody can be fully healthy throughout a season, it’s going to be a great team,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “And with us, we definitely had an injury bug this year, but we had guys step up and make some plays for us. And hopefully, we can get some guys back and see what we can do there.”

As is the case with Suggs, it remains to be seen how well Lewis can hold up physically after such an abbreviated recovery time following surgery. Amazingly, Lewis ranks fifth on the team with 57 tackles despite playing in only six games this season.

The coaching staff isn’t exactly sure where Lewis is at physically due to the light nature of practices, but Lewis’ mental prowess has kept him as sharp while he continues to rebuild the strength in his right upper arm. Whether that can translate to success on the field is the question as Lewis struggled to shed blockers early in the season and has shown declining ability in pass coverage over the last few seasons.

“At this time in the year, I don’t think there are very many teams out there hitting like you do in training camp,” Pees said. “So, you don’t necessarily see the physical part, but the mental part, it’s not going to leave you after 17 years [with] missing a couple of weeks.”

Third corner carousel

With 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith making his return from sports hernia surgery this past Sunday, it was assumed the Ravens had solidified their nickel package with the second-year defensive back playing on the outside opposite Cary Williams while Corey Graham slid inside to the nickel spot to cover slot receivers.

Instead, Pees used a combination of Smith, veteran Chris Johnson, and special-teams standout Chykie Brown as the extra cornerback against the Broncos. Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged on Monday that Smith didn’t show as much speed as they anticipated he would. Smith is just over a month removed from the surgical procedure.

As a result, Smith took only 12 defensive snaps. Johnson took part in 20 defensive plays and Brown was on the field for nine defensive snaps. It’s not a good problem to have with the Giants’ ninth-ranked passing game coming to Baltimore on Sunday, and Pees would like to sure up the role sooner rather than later.

“I’d just like to see someone take the bull by the horns and take the job,” Pees said. “We are just going to have to make that decision at game time on who that is going to be, and who that’s going to be during the course of the game. The good news is that you do have two or three guys there, but yes I would like to see someone step up and take it.”

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Ravens preparing to face returning foe Polamalu

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Ravens preparing to face returning foe Polamalu

Posted on 29 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will enter Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers having not lost a contest at M&T Bank Stadium in 727 days, possessing the longest active home winning streak in the NFL with 15 straight regular-season victories.

But ask anyone with ties to the organization and they’ll tell you the streak should be even longer, as it was the Steelers who last beat the Ravens in Baltimore on Dec. 5, 2010. A run of 23 wins in 24 tries at home is still an incredible feat in the parity-driven NFL, but the efforts of Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu helped prevent the Ravens from holding a flawless home record for well over three years.

As the 31-year-old defensive back prepares to make his long-awaited return from a calf injury on Sunday, the image of his sack-and-strip of quarterback Joe Flacco with just over three minutes remaining to set up the game-winning touchdown for the Steelers two years ago will undoubtedly be on the Ravens’ minds. Instead of collecting a couple first downs to run out the clock and collect a 10-6 victory, Baltimore fell victim once again to a big play by Polamalu and lost hold of the 2010 AFC North title and a first-round bye in the process.

“Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he’s coming,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs in the moments following that 13-10 loss. “It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn’t feel good when I saw that hair at the line.”

Two years later, the circumstances are dramatically different as the Ravens enjoy a three-game lead in the division and can eliminate the Steelers from AFC North contention and put their playoff hopes in serious peril with a win. Polamalu hasn’t played since Oct. 7 and has appeared in only two games this season while the Pittsburgh defense has still managed to remain first in the league in yards allowed.

But with a healthy Polamalu on the field, the Ravens know they face a unique challenge in addition to the already-stout defense that held them to no offensive touchdowns and just 200 total yards despite a 13-10 win at Heinz Field two weeks ago. Dropping into coverage or lining up to blitz at the line of scrimmage, Polamalu must be identified by Flacco and the Baltimore offense on every play.

“With Troy, you have to be aware of him at all times,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’ve done a great job of playing defense back there without Troy. So, you add a guy like that in the mix, obviously, what a factor that can be.”

With it looking more unlikely that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will play on Sunday, it’s difficult to imagine many scenarios in which the Pittsburgh offense can provide enough punch with third-string quarterback Charlie Batch in line to receive the start. The Ravens offense must be smart with the football despite their preference for playing aggressively at home, and that’s where Polamalu’s return could be a factor.

Much like Ravens safety Ed Reed, health concerns have taken a toll on Polamalu’s play-making ability, but his presence on the field alone gives Flacco a significant headache he didn’t face two weeks ago when he struggled to make plays against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked secondary. Protecting the football will be paramount, and it was a failure to identify Polamalu late in the game two years ago that netted the Ravens their only loss at M&T Bank Stadium since Nov. 22, 2009.

“He just has a good knack for the game of football,” Flacco said. “He usually can figure out where the ball is going. He just has a feel for the game. While you try to combat that and account for him, there is always a certain amount that you really can’t account for what he is going to do. You just have to go out there, play your game, and take care of him by playing sound, fundamental football.”

Pees with good problem on hands

With linebacker Ray Lewis’ anticipated return before the end of the regular season, the questions have already been raised over how the Ravens should handle his workload with fourth-year player Dannell Ellerbe playing so well in the starting lineup.

A few have taken the extreme position that the Baltimore defense is better off without the 37-year-old, but most would at least agree it’s worth discussing the possibility of Lewis not playing every snap with the thought of keeping him fresh and hiding his suspect coverage in obvious passing situations. It’s not an easy discussion to have should coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome decide on that course of action, but now might be the time to do it with Lewis making a quicker-than-expected recovery from a torn triceps.

It’s too early to speculate how the Ravens will act with Lewis not yet practicing, but it’s a good dilemma to have with Ellerbe and fellow inside linebacker Jameel McClain doing an admirable job filling in for the middle of the defense. The reality is they’d like to have all three on the field as much as possible to enhance their strengths and compensate for potential shortcomings.

“I’d rather have that problem than to try to figure out who the heck is going to be playing because we have a bunch of injuries, which we’ve had to do,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It’s always a good thing for a coach. It may not be a good thing for the players, but it’s always a good thing for the coaches.”

The better question might be whether the Ravens elect to keep Ellerbe at the “Will” linebacker spot over McClain, who has filled in at Lewis’ “Mike” backer position in the veteran’s absence. Ellerbe is stronger in pass coverage and has had the better overall season, but McClain has raised his level of play in recent weeks as well.

In the mean time, Pees appreciates having Lewis back at the team’s Owings Mills facility this week as he continues to rehab his right arm before returning to the practice field in the not-too-distant future.

“I’ve told you guys before that going in and coaching him and watching him in the meetings sit back there and take notes like a rookie, that’s why he is who he is,” Pees sad. “Really for the younger guys, but really for us older guys — to me — he’s a perfect pro.”

Jones continues to receive accolades

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Pees entrusted with slowing former team’s offense

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Pees entrusted with slowing former team’s offense

Posted on 20 September 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dean Pees spent 25 years in coaching before Bill Belichick gave him his first opportunity in the NFL.

So, you’ll forgive the new Ravens defensive coordinator if this Sunday’s meeting with the New England Patriots means a lot more than just a rematch of last January’s AFC Championship game. After spending six years working under Belichick, it’s always special for Pees to go up against his old team.

“It’s always an emotional day,” Pees said. “I’m not going to lie about that and act like it’s just another game. It’s a big game for me. It’s kind of like when you go out and you play golf against somebody and you want to win, but when you play your brothers, you really want to win. There’s a lot of friends over there on the other sideline, a lot of old colleagues, a lot of players that I coached.”

Sunday night’s game marks the first time that Pees faces the Patriots as a defensive coordinator, which is the post he held with New England from 2006 through 2009. His defenses ranked in the top 11 in total yards allowed in all four of those seasons and ranked no worse than eighth in points surrendered.

His departure from the Patriots still remains a mystery as Pees cited “personal reasons” for electing not to return upon having his contract expire after the 2009 season. It was widely speculated that Pees chose to leave the organization for health reasons as he experienced shortness of breath and was taken to the hospital in the regular-season finale of that season.

Others believe the Patriots weren’t completely enamored with his work as the defensive coordinator and privately didn’t want him to return. Regardless of what caused his departure, Pees immediately joined the Baltimore staff to coach the linebackers and became the defensive coordinator this offseason when Chuck Pagano was hired as the new coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

“Dean’s a very experienced coach,” Belichick said. “He’s done very well at a lot of different levels. [He] did a good job for us here — coached the linebackers, coached the secondary, was the defensive coordinator — and had a great experience on that side of the ball.”

Now Pees will be asked to slow one of the best offenses in the NFL over the last decade. Having already employed extensive use of the nickel package in the team’s first two games, Pees will likely copy the formula used by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 — they played the nickel for nearly the entire game — to slow quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots passing game.

Unfortunately for the 63-year-old coordinator, he won’t have one of his sounding boards to offer ideas for this week. Pees remains close with his former boss in New England, who is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in NFL history.

“We still speak on occasion when we’re playing a team that’s a common opponent and we aren’t playing each other,” Pees said. “In certain years, we’ll discuss things. It’s a great relationship.”

Special teams improvement

After being ranked 30th in the league in special teams efficiency by FootballOutsiders.com last season, the Ravens have shown much improvement through the first two weeks of the regular season.

In addition to rookie kicker Justin Tucker going 6-for-6 on field goals — with 2 beyond 50 yards — and Sam Koch punting effectively, the coverage units have shown marked improvement after allowing three return touchdowns last season. After finishing 31st in kickoff coverage last season, the Ravens are sixth in the league with opponents averaging only 18.8 yards per return. Baltimore is tied for 15th in punt return coverage as opponents have gained 10.4 yards per return attempt.

Improving the special teams units was an offseason priority as the Ravens added a few veterans with special teams experience and re-signed three-time Pro Bowl special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo.

“Our players that we look to make plays on special teams and coverage aspect – and in blocking – really played well,” Rosburg said. “Brendon had an excellent game; he had three tackles. Sean Considine had a couple of tackles. Corey Graham had a couple tackles. Sam [Koch] punted the ball very well. So, our players were making plays, and that was encouraging.”

Ayanbadejo has been honest in his assessment of the Ravens’ special teams units last season, citing a lack of commitment from younger players more interested in improving their standing on offense or defense and the lack of an offseason to fine-tune the coverage units.

“We took turns making mistakes,” Ayanbadejo said. “This year, the main thing is just consistency, not making those mistakes. And if we do, just make it one time and don’t have everybody rotate making mistakes because one breakdown can lead to a touchdown. That’s kind of what you saw last year.”

On Sunday, the Ravens even attempted to run a fake punt on a fourth-and-4 play from their own 43 in the first series of the second quarter. Considine appeared to have daylight in front of him after taking the snap but tripped over teammate James Ihedigbo, stopping him short of the first down. Rosburg took the blame Wednesday when asked what went wrong with the trick play.

The special teams coach went as far as to suggest it could have gone for a touchdown.

“I didn’t coach the timing of that play well enough,” Rosburg said. “If we had the timing down, it wouldn’t have mattered what happened. He probably would have stopped somewhere out there by General Washington’s encampment.”

McClain on outside looking in

The Ravens spent plenty of time in the nickel package against the Eagles in Week 2, meaning inside linebacker Jameel McClain was often replaced by fourth-year linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who is regarded to be stronger in pass coverage.

This left the Ravens with more flexibility to experiment with McClain at outside linebacker since Paul Kruger missed Sunday’s game with a back injury. A former defensive end at Syracuse, the fifth-year linebacker hadn’t played on the outside since his rookie season in which he mostly played special teams and saw limited action in passing situations.

Pees has struggled to generate a consistent pass rush without the use of blitzes, so it was an interesting choice to see McClain line up at rush linebacker on a few occasions.

“It’s something that I did in college. It’s a learning curve,” McClain said. “It’s something I’ve got to get back used to if I ever get the opportunity again. But, I got the chance and I hope the coaches believe I made the best out of it. With more opportunity, [there are] a lot more things I can do.”

 

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Defensive coordinator Pees tired of Kruger being compared to Suggs

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Defensive coordinator Pees tired of Kruger being compared to Suggs

Posted on 07 September 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ever since the revelation in early May of linebacker Terrell Suggs suffering a partial tear of his Achilles tendon, the Ravens have been peppered with questions about what it means for their pass rush and overall defense in 2012.

On the Friday before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, it appeared defensive coordinator Dean Pees had heard enough when asked how critical it would be for linebacker Paul Kruger to accumulate more sacks with Suggs expected to be out of the lineup until at least November. Pees reiterated the common theme of multiple players needing to step up in the star pass-rusher’s absence.

Only he didn’t sound nearly as cordial in expressing that this time in comparison to previous statements.

“It has nothing to do with Sizzle. It has to do with playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens,” Pees said. “You guys keep comparing; you can never compare two people. It has nothing to do with another guy. There’s no comparison; I never compare them.

“It’s playing outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Period. Whether it’s the Sam, the rush, the Mike, the Will, when Ray [Lewis] was out, it has nothing to do with a guy having to take another guy’s position. It has to do with that guy playing his position.”

The Ravens’ pass rush will receive its first test against a Cincinnati offensive line with three new starters inside, meaning defensive end Pernell McPhee and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata may have opportunities to pressure second-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

Uncertainty remains at both outside linebacker positions with Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan both unproven as three-down players, so Pees will need to be more creative in generating heat on the passer until the Ravens can accurately assess where they’re at in that department. Baltimore is still hoping rookie Courtney Upshaw can also provide a bigger impact than what he showed in an injury-plagued preseason.

No one player has the ability to replace Suggs, but the Ravens hope a combination of rushers along with a deep group of cornerbacks will minimize the damage in the Pro Bowl linebacker’s absence.

“Terrell is a big part of our team, a big part of what we do, and guys are going to have to step up,” safety Ed Reed said. “Not just one player, every guy that’s on offense, defense, and special teams. We’ve all got to pick up that slack, because we know what Terrell brings to the table.”

Suggs was held to one sack in two games against Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, which could mean Kruger and McClellan will have their hands full generating any pressure on Dalton. The question is nothing new as the loss of the Pro Bowl linebacker may knock the Ravens defense from the elite status it enjoys annually.

Pees is right that Kruger shouldn’t be held in comparison to Suggs, but asking whether the sum of the parts can not only match the 14 sacks accumulated by Suggs a season ago but also force teams to game-plan and account for pressure in the same way they’ve done in the past is a relevant and fair query.

“I don’t want to come across stirred up about it,” Pees said. “I’m not, it’s just when you compare players, you take everything so far out of context. It’s not about that; it’s about how he fits in the defense, how does he do his part. He’s one of 11 of this defense and so is Sizzle when he’s in there — he’s one of 11. Whether you game plan certain ways or whatever, that’s what they are. They all have one-eleventh stock in this defense.”

Needless to say, if the Ravens are unable to make Dalton uncomfortable in the pocket Monday, the questions and concerns will only grow louder.

Cameron confident in tight ends getting up to speed

With Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, any notion of the tight ends being game-time decisions was clearly gamesmanship on the part of coach John Harbaugh.

However, with Pitta missing nearly all of training camp and Dickson injuring his shoulder in the first preseason game, it remains to be seen how quickly the pair can become acclimated in a Baltimore offense that focused exclusively on the no-huddle attack this summer. The Ravens relied on both tight ends heavily last season and you’d expect to see the same in 2012, but it will be interesting to gauge how the coaching staff handles their workload after the offense primarily went with three-wide sets in August.

“Both guys – it’s a tribute to both of them – even though they’ve missed practices, they’re not missing meetings, they’re not missing any walk-throughs, they’re not missing any rehab or strength and conditioning,” Cameron said. “[Quarterback Joe Flacco] has such a great rapport with those guys. Not only are they together on the field, they’re around Joe all the time. So I’m thrilled to have them back, and I think they’ll pick up right where they left off with no concerns at all.”

The Ravens used plenty of single-back looks in August, which makes you think we could see Dickson lining up at tight end with Pitta moving to a slot position on a semi-regular basis, but the offense also wants to have more speed on the outside with Jacoby Jones as the No. 3 receiver and possession wideout Anquan Boldin sliding to the slot.

Regardless of how the rotation plays out this season, Monday might be too soon to draw conclusions based on how the playing time is split up against the Bengals as the tight ends are still working their way back into football shape.

Tucker letting it rip on kickoffs

One question asked by fans throughout the preseason has been about rookie kicker Justin Tucker’s unimpressive performance on kickoffs.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg reminded everyone Thursday that the rookie was directed not to send kickoffs as far as he could in order for the staff to evaluate its the kickoff coverage, which struggled a year ago. Tucker was only allowed to take five steps in approaching the ball instead of the ability to take a longer approach to the tee.

With the regular season now upon us, Tucker will be allowed to put his full foot — with full steps included — into each and every kickoff in hopes that the rest of the unit won’t receive as many opportunities to cover.

“He’s certainly going to try,” said Rosburg in describing how Tucker will simply boot it as far as he can. “That is the way we kick off; we try to kick it as far as we can, and we’ll give him that opportunity. You may have seen in the St. Louis game, I believe he did it twice if I’m not mistaken, and one they brought out [of the end zone] and the other one was [kicked] out of the end zone.”

Organization supports Ayanbadejo’s stance on marriage equality

The bizarre story of Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns Jr. writing a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti stating his opposition to linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s public support of marriage equality created quite a stir this week.

But the Ravens are standing by the veteran’s side.

Ayanbadejo has spoken openly in support of gay marriage countless times, which promoted Burns to write a letter expressing how “appalled and aghast” he was over the public stance and imploring Bisciotti to silence his player. In response, team president Dick Cass issued a statement supporting Ayanbadejo’s right to free speech and even delivered a message directly to the player regarding the matter.

“He said, ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel,’” Ayanbadejo said. “But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates and he was telling me how he was on Pro Football Talk and he was reading all the comments that people have said and he was overwhelmingly surprised and happy to see that football fans were supporting me and what I said. He told me that I should go there and I should read it.”

Ayanbadejo believes we’ve seen a dramatic shift in support over the last four or five years, with more people beginning to support marriage equality. Cass also offered him a take on the state of NFL locker rooms as it relates to the issue of equality.

“He believes the culture in locker rooms is changing as well,” Ayanbadejo said. “He believes there are gay players in the NFL — they’re just not publicly gay. He thinks that, for the most part, players just want to play with good players. They don’t care who your mother, your father, who you are, what color or creed you are as long as you can play football at this level.”

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