Tag Archive | "jerry rosburg"

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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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Young players to see extensive action in preseason finale

Posted on 28 August 2012 by Luke Jones

While the third preseason game is viewed as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the preseason finale fails to register a pulse in terms of excitement for most observers.

But don’t tell the Ravens it holds no significance, even if most starters aren’t expected to play against the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night. Of the 75 players remaining on the preseason roster, upwards of 20 players are legitimately fighting for roughly 10 spots on the 53-man roster.

For those individuals, an otherwise innocuous preseason game becomes the most significant contest of their lives.

“This is really an important game to the majority of the team, not the minority of the team, because this is a chance for everybody to really get extended time playing — playing very competitively,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It’s going to be on film for everybody to see, and it’s down to crunch time where everybody is making their team and making their final cuts and their final roster decisions.”

The Ravens haven’t revealed their plans for the first units on Thursday, but history suggests most starters will be standing on the sideline the entire night. Quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t played in a preseason finale since his rookie season in 2008, and coach John Harbaugh has only played a few starters here and there in the fourth preseason game over the last few years.

Their absence leaves 60 minutes for rookies and fringe players to show the coaching staff why they should be part of the 2012 Ravens.

Entering the preseason as unknowns, rookie free agents such as wide receiver Deonte Thompson, running back Bobby Rainey, and safety Omar Brown have earned consideration for roster spots with strong performances this month. Bubble players will have one more opportunity to leave an impression, which could help them land with the Ravens or one of the other 31 NFL teams when final cuts are made by 9 p.m. on Friday night.

Many debate the number of players teams will keep at each position, but the Ravens don’t construct their roster with the idea of having a set number of receivers, offensive linemen, or cornerbacks. Instead, they are examining how individuals can help them in as many ways as possible.

“Numbers? I’ve never gotten caught up in the numbers game,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “We believe you just keep your best 53. You [also] have to see how you are going to carve out your [eight-man] practice squad.”

A critical factor in awarding the final spots on the roster is identifying players with a unique ability to play special teams. While Thompson and Rainey have stood out at their respective positions, their ability to contribute in the return game and other special teams units has transformed them from strictly bubble players to ones all but assured to earn spots on Friday.

Players with similar abilities at their regular positions who fail to distinguish themselves on special teams often find themselves on the outside looking in if they don’t earn a starting job.

“I think it’s always the case in any team where you get to the point where you are picking your final 53 and you’re not necessarily picking your starters,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “Special teams must always factor in that, because you want to be strong up and down your lineup.”

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Ravens facing interesting decisions at wide receiver

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The impressive performance of rookie wide receiver Deonte Thompson during training camp has raised questions about how the Ravens will handle roster decisions at what’s considered to be a deep position.

The top of the depth chart is essentially set with starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and veteran Jacoby Jones locked into the No. 3 spot, but the questions begin after that. Second-year wideout LaQuan Williams appears to have a strong hold on the No. 4 overall spot on the depth chart after an impressive camp while 2011 fourth-round pick Tandon Doss has dealt with a hamstring injury.

Despite being sidelined for much of the summer, Doss’ pedigree and offseason work suggest he’s still a safe bet to make the 53-man roster, pushing the Ravens’ total to five receivers before you consider the surprising Thompson or 2012 sixth-round draft choice Tommy Streeter. Thompson has performed at a higher level overall with his exceptional speed and better-than-advertised hands in practices, but Streeter’s 6-foot-5 height and straight-line speed make him the player with the higher upside despite his limited route-running ability and inconsistent hands.

However, the question of whether the Ravens can keep six — or even seven — receivers involves much more than the passing tree and reining in passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. Many will try to project a number of players at each position that are ultimately kept on the 53-man roster, but those decisions are determined by versatility and what type of contributions players can make on special teams. In that sense, a wide receiver is suddenly viewed as an all-around football player and not an individual with a specific skill set at a given position.

“The best players will be kept on the roster,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. “And you may be heavy at a position, but I know John [Harbaugh] believes that, and Ozzie [Newsome] believes that we are going to keep our best players, and if you have a bunch of receivers that are your best players, that will dictate that. If you have receivers that aren’t, than you probably will not have a lot. I’m confident that we have a really good group of receivers on this offense. How many? We are probably going to have more than maybe we can keep, so we’ll see.”

Thompson may gain the edge over Streeter when it comes to his ability on special teams where he’s working in a number of areas. Though only listed as the fourth kick returner on the team’s most recent depth chart, Thompson has also worked as a gunner on the punt team and is learning multiple jobs on the special teams units.

It can only help his cause when the Ravens trim their roster to 53 on Aug. 31 for the regular season.

“He’s working at a variety of different positions,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s one of those guys that we like to cross-train, and we have this expression: ‘The more you can do.’ So, for example, on kickoff coverage, he’s worked as an inside player, he’s worked as an outside player. And on punt return team, we’ve had him work at the end where he’s rushing punts. We’ve had him work at the vice, where he’s holding up gunners. And so, he’s got enough skill where he can play a variety of positions, so we’re trying to expose him to all those different opportunities.

“Depending on how the roster all works out, and depending on where the opening is, we can insert him there and see what he can do. So yes, his speed and his agility – and he’s a football player – you watch him play offense and you can see that, because he has the ability to get open. He’s got good hands, he’s got good spatial awareness and a football sense, and it shows up in special teams as well.”

Even if Thompson or Streeter — or neither — find their way onto the 53-man roster, both would be ideal candidates for the eight-man practice squad.

Whether they’d make it that far before being snatched up by any of the other 31 NFL teams, however, remains in doubt.

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Corey Graham

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New CB and special teams ace Corey Graham on Ravens: “It’s something I want to be a part of”

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Ryan Chell

New Ravens corner back Corey Graham has always been comfortable being called a special-teamer.

It’s difficult to not know him as anything else.

Graham, a 2011 Pro-Bowler in that facet of the game for the Chicago Bears-was brought in by the Ravens over the weekend to aid in that area of expertise.

But this year with the  Ravens-who brought the 26-year old corner back out of New Hampshire in on a two-year contract Friday-said he’s wanting to prove to the coaching staff that he can do more to help this Ravens defense as well.

Corey Graham

He joined Glenn Clark Monday on ‘The Reality Check”, and said he can’t wait to contribute for John Harbaugh, special teams coach Jerry Rosburg and his new Ravens teammates.

“I think they’ve done a great job this off-season with bringing in guys like myself,” Graham said humbly. “I think we got a great group now with the guys we added.”

Graham joins fellow safety Sean Considine and ex-Ravens Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jameel McClain as additions in this 2012 off-season, and Graham feels like the plan is in place to fix the teams issue from a year ago.

“I think we got a group now with the guys we added,” Graham told Clark. “The pieces add up and the more guys you get, it definitely helps.”

The Ravens-who came within one catch of going to the Super Bowl last season-didn’t have a lot of fundamental issues, but if there was one glaring weakness on the team, special .

They ranked near the bottom of the league in that category, and Graham said Harbaugh-a former special teams coach-reached out to him in the hopes of solving some of those woes.

“The Ravens did really well last year, but I think the special teams hurt them in certain aspects,” Graham said. “I just want to go out there and play the game.”

“I’m happy Baltimore saw what they saw in me, so that I can go out there and help.”

And Graham can help. Anywhere on special teams.

“I’m the gunner on punt and safety on punt return. I’ve played the “two” on kickoffs, and the right tackle on kick returns. I’ve done it all.”

“I’m a four-phase guy. I was always on the field and trying to get out there and help as much as I could.”

But what drove Graham to move on from the only team he’s known in his short NFL career?

He said the passion for the game on the part of his new Ravens teammates is well-known around the NFL.

“When you see the tradition of the Baltimore Ravens and the way they go out there and play, they play so much with so much emotion. That’s one of the things that drew me to this team.”

He mentioned the reputation of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis in the Ravens locker room, and he said that their approach and preparation for the game speak for themselves.

So much so-that he hopes to offer his Pro-Bowl skills in more than just special teams-he wants and desires to contribute on defense as well.

He saw considerable playing time in 2011 in Chicago as a nickel-back, and he wants to continue to have those opportunities with a defense in Baltimore.

Graham said he hopes to follow the model set last year from his former teammate with the Bears in Brendon Ayanbadejo in taking snaps in more than just kick and punt coverage.

“At the beginning of my second year, I started a lot of my games at corner. In my third year, I was able to play a few games at nickel and this past season, I was also fortunate enough to start three games at that nickel position, and make some plays on defense.”

In 16 games last year, Graham registered 13 tackles and grabbed three interceptions.

He says he can fit right in with what Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Dean Pees have in store for the 2012 Ravens defense.

“I love the way this defense plays,” Graham said with excitement. “There is a lot of disguising. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are doing a lot of things out there.”

“I think those guys have a lot of fun, and it’s something I want to be a part of.”

WNST thanks Corey Graham for joining us Monday and welcome him to Baltimore! Check the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault for the entire conversation with your newest Raven! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Ayanbadejo questions young players’ effort on special teams last season

Posted on 24 March 2012 by Luke Jones

The Ravens sent a clear message on Friday of their intentions to improve their special teams from a season ago.

In addition to re-signing three-time Pro Bowl selection Brendon Ayanbadejo, general manager Ozzie Newsome added 2011 Pro Bowl special teams player Corey Graham and veteran Sean Considine to improve depth in the secondary as well as add more experience to the special teams units.

According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Ravens finished 30th in overall special teams last season. And given head coach John Harbaugh’s background as the longtime special teams coordinator for the Philadelpia Eagles, you knew addressing that facet of the game would be a priority this offseason.

“It’s certainly something that we felt, coming out of the season, that we really needed to do,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We weren’t as good there as we needed to be. We needed to be more explosive; we need to cover kicks better.”

While the struggles of kicker Billy Cundiff received much of the attention, the Ravens stumbled elsewhere, finishing 31st in kickoff coverage and 24th in punt coverage while allowing three returns for touchdowns in 2011. Adding a return specialist will also be a priority as Baltimore too often settled for touchbacks on its kickoff returns and would also like to replace top cornerback Lardarius Webb as the punt returner.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg has come under fire because of his group’s struggles last season, but Ayanbadejo was quick to deflect the blame from the coaching staff when asked about it during Friday’s conference call.

“I think the biggest failure is that the players failed the coaches,” Ayanbadejo said. “The coaches did the same thing they’ve done every year.”

With special teams units comprised mostly of younger players, Ayanbadejo pointed to the absence of an offseason as a major factor that contributed to the Ravens’ struggles in kick coverage.

However, the 35-year-old linebacker went on to question the motives of last year’s rookies when it came to their commitment to special teams. Without naming names, Ayanbadejo clearly had at least a couple individuals in mind who were more interested in working their way into the starting lineup than contributing in the third facet of the game.

“When these young guys come in, they have to understand that they’re going to cover a kick before they go out there and cover a receiver,” Ayanbadejo said. “They’re going to cover a kick before they go out there and run a route. I don’t think last year’s group got that. They felt like they were going to come in and surpass special teams and go play defense. Their priorities were in the wrong place.”

Ayanbadejo finished with nine tackles on special teams, second to linebacker Albert McClellan’s 12 last season. The veteran went on to explain how experience players also needed to have more accountability in the group’s performance in hopes of improving in 2012.

“It’s not just on the young guys,” Ayanbadejo said. “It’s on guys like myself; I missed some tackles and I did some things wrong as well. As a group, we have to focus and put that time in and dedication and understand that there is an order to how football is played.”

If any player has the authority to speak critically about the team’s performance on special teams, it’s Ayanbadejo, who has been to three Pro Bowls as a special teams player with the Bears and the Ravens over his nine-year career.

I have my suspicions about which players Ayanbadejo might be referencing — particularly with him twice mentioning young players wanting to play defense — but it will be interesting to see if those individuals were paying attention to the veteran’s comments.

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billy-cundiff-miss

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest special teams needs

Posted on 17 February 2012 by Luke Jones

As the start of free agency moves closer and teams prepare for April’s draft, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

Earlier in the week, I looked at Baltimore’s biggest needs on offense as well as essentials for the defense. In the conclusion of a three-part series, we finally take a long at the often-forgotten but always-important phase of the game: special teams.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron undoubtedly receives the most criticism among the coaches on the Ravens staff, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg may deserve the most heat after a disappointing 2011 season. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Ravens’ special teams ranked 30th in the league in a percentage contrived from efficiency in field goals, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns.

Looking from a more simplistic stance, Rosburg’s units struggled in both kickoff coverage (31st) and punt coverage (24th) and allowed three returns for touchdowns. In the return game, the Ravens ranked ninth in kickoff return average and 19th in punt return average, rarely getting a significant spark from either group as injuries and ineffectiveness forced them to shuffle returners in and out of the lineup.

Kicker Billy Cundiff converted only 75.7 percent of his field goal attempts, ranking 28th in the league. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker made only one of six attempts from 50 or more yards and was only 11-for-20 away from M&T Bank Stadium — where he was perfect on 17 attempts. And that’s not even taking into account his heartbreaking 32-yard miss in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that would have sent the Ravens into overtime against New England.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, punter Sam Koch ranked 10th in punt average (46.5 yards) but 19th in net average, which was affected by the Ravens’ suspect coverage.

While it’s difficult to target a laundry list of special teams’ needs from a position-by-position standpoint — the units simply need to improve across the board — but two positions stand out this offseason.

1. Kicker

Before you get carried away, this isn’t the pitchfork mentality we’re talking about here. Cundiff isn’t going anywhere for now. However, his disappointing season topped off by the most devastating moment in the 16-year history of the franchise can’t be forgotten as the Ravens assess their special teams.

To their credit, the organization and Cundiff have handled the miss with as much dignity as can be expected, with no one publicly questioning whether the Ravens should have kept veteran Shayne Graham to kick in the postseason. It’s been a credit to coach John Harbaugh and the family atmosphere in the locker room.

But what everyone is thinking privately is a different story. In his defense, Cundiff battled a left calf injury late in the season, but it doesn’t excuse what was a very inconsistent year after signing a five-year contract last January. For a kicker without a proven track record beyond his Pro Bowl season a year ago, Cundiff may have reverted back to the inconsistent performer seen early in his career.

The Ravens need to bring in another kicker to seriously compete against Cundiff during the preseason. The organization will keep Cundiff for now in hopes of avoiding the situation in which they found themselves in 2009 after parting company with Matt Stover. Neither Steve Hauschka nor Graham Gano were fit for the job, forcing the Ravens to scramble during the regular season until they settled on Cundiff.

It needs to be a serious competition, whether the Ravens elect to find a rookie coming out of college such as Randy Bullock of Texas A&M or a veteran on the open market. Graham wasn’t good enough to win the competition against Cundiff two years ago and has struggled with long-distance kicks in recent years, so it makes little sense to bring him back for the competition.

Even if Cundiff performs admirably in the preseason and wins the battle, the Ravens and their fans simply won’t know whether he’s recovered from the disappointment in Foxborough until he finds himself in another late-game situation. It’s difficult to envision the Ravens ever fully trusting Cundiff again, but they’ll at least give him a chance in the preseason before moving on for good.

2. Kickoff-Punt Returner

The Ravens had 10 different players return kickoffs — three of those only returned squibs or pooch kicks —  in 2011 and never found stability at the position. Second-year return specialist David Reed was demoted after two fumbles on returns against the Seattle Seahawks and then tore his ACL when he finally earned another opportunity to handle kickoffs.

While Reed will certainly find himself in the mix if he proves healthy in recovering from the knee injury this offseason, the Ravens must look to add an impact returner, preferably someone who can handle both kickoffs and punts to allow Lardarius Webb to focus solely on his duties at cornerback. Field position is critical, and the return units rarely aided the Ravens offense in setting it up on a shorter field.

Of course, the new kickoff rule limited many returners across the league, but the Ravens cannot settle for a returner downing the ball in the end zone constantly as they did down the stretch with reserve safety Tom Zbikowski this past season.

The Ravens could look to the draft for a returner such as Arkansas receiver Joe Adams in the middle rounds, who could add depth in both areas. One name to keep an eye on in the preseason is receiver Phillip Livas, who was signed to the practice squad in the final weeks of the season. Though only 5-foot-8, Livas was a record-setting return man at Louisiana Tech and could be a sleeper to watch in the preseason.

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cameron

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Your Monday Reality Check-Cameron Future Only Part of Postseason Agenda

Posted on 23 January 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve had the opportunity to make a number of radio appearances throughout the country during the last few weeks while the Baltimore Ravens marched along in the National Football League playoffs.

In virtually every conversation, I was asked a question about how the outcome of the next game could alter the future of Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron in Charm City.

It always felt a little strange to be asked about Cam Cameron. Usually I only hear Cam Cameron’s name when a listener/caller screams at me about him. It’s never in the form of a question.

After the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium, it didn’t take 30 minutes for the screaming to start again. It was a bit odd considering there was really no way Cameron could be blamed for the loss in Foxborough.

The reality is that as the team’s offseason officially got underway, Cameron sits at the forefront. His future can only be labeled as “to be determined”, as his contract expires with the end of the season.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens’ coaching staff are headed to Mobile, AL this week for scouting at the annual Senior Bowl. It would seem as though the team wouldn’t want the situation with Cameron to linger far into the offseason, especially if they ultimately decide not to retain Cameron after four playoff trips in four seasons and have to find a new coordinator without a likely replacement on staff.

(That’s not an endorsement for either decision. It’s just a fact. I’m actually indifferent towards the situation, as I believe any coordinator in 2012 would need more offensive talent to work with.)

The next pressing situation remains on offense. The team’s Most Valuable Player in 2012 (RB Ray Rice) becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at a time where NFL teams have been particularly unwilling to invest in long term deals for running backs. Also hitting unrestricted free agency is LG Ben Grubbs, who has never reached a Pro Bowl but has certainly played at a Pro Bowl level. (Monday update: Grubbs will in fact be making his first trip to Hawaii this season as a replacement for Patriots G Logan Mankins.)

There is a likelihood that the Franchise tag will come into play with one of the above players, as it did with DT Haloti Ngata last season before a long-term deal was reached.

DE Cory Redding, LB’s Jarret Johnson & Jameel McClain and S’s Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura highlight other Ravens who become Unrestricted Free Agents. LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (who has publicly stated he would like to play another season) is also on the UFA list, as are OL Andre Gurode, TE Kris Wilson, DT Brandon McKinney and LB Edgar Jones.

(CB’s Cary Williams & Lardarius Webb as well as LB Dannell Ellerbe are restricted free agents, all are expected to return.)

Also on the list of Unrestricted Free Agents is C Matt Birk, who denied a CBS report earlier this month that he had already decided to retire at the end of the season. With no “center of the future” clearly on the roster, it may behoove the team to bring the big man from Harvard back for one more season if he’s interested.

While we await Birk’s decision about his future, future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis told reporters in New England he intends to return to Baltimore for a 17th season. S Ed Reed’s future isn’t quite as defined, as he did not speak to reporters after suffering his second AFC title game defeat. Nagging back and neck issues appeared to affect Reed’s play at the end of the season, but he came with big plays in both playoff games.

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Shayne Graham

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Comfortable situation for reunion between Graham, Ravens

Posted on 21 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Shayne Graham walked into the locker room he thought he’d be inhabiting as the Ravens kicker a year ago.

That was before he was beaten out in training camp by incumbent Billy Cundiff. Since then, their respective careers have gone in opposite directions as Cundiff was selected to the Pro Bowl last season while Graham split time with the Giants and Patriots a season ago and has played just two games this season, filling in for the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Carpenter last month.

However, a left calf injury to Cundiff has brought Graham back to Baltimore, a place where he signed a one-year contract potentially worth $2.5 million last season before he failed to make the team.

“It’s nice to actually come into this locker room,” Graham said. “A lot of these guys were in camp when I was here a couple of years ago. A lot of the guys are familiar with me. There’s a lot of good guys here, so it’s a real smooth transition for me. Having the operation here, the snapper and holder, those guys are phenomenal. So, I couldn’t ask to be in a better position or be around a better bunch of guys. I’ve played in this stadium a few times. It will be nice to be out there.”

With Cundiff only 2-for-5 on field goals in the month of December, including a missed 36-yard on the opening drive of the Ravens’ 34-14 loss in San Diego last Sunday, the Ravens had no choice but to address their kicking situation. It’s an uncomfortable position for a team trying to win their final two games of the regular season to secure the AFC North title and a minimum of a first-round bye.

“[Bringing in Graham] is a real plus for us,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said, “because we know we’re bringing in a guy that not only is a quality NFL kicker but has been in the NFL environment and understands playoff-caliber football at the end of the season. We expect him to come in here and add that veteran experience.”

In his 11th professional season, Graham provides a veteran pedigree that includes some experiences kicking in the postseason while a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. However, the final game of his seven-year tenure with the Bengals was a playoff loss to the New York Jets in which he missed two second-half field goals, including a 28-yarder that essentially sealed the 24-14 defeat.

Graham said all the right things in not wanting to create a kicker controversy in Week 16 of the season, reminding everyone he was brought in due to an injury and not simple ineffectiveness.

“I hope he gets healthy as soon as he can,” Graham said. “All I can control is what I’m asked to do. If I’m asked to go out and play then I go out and play and play my best to help these guys win. If it’s for one week, it’s for one week. If it’s for two, it’s two. If it takes more or less, that’s really out of my hands. All I can do is line up and kick when they ask me to.”

Rookie memory loss

Coordinator Chuck Pagano did not mince any words in assessing his defense’s poor showing against the Chargers in which they surrendered 34 points and 415 yards of offense.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but much of the focus has centered around the struggles of rookie first-round pick Jimmy Smith, who was torched by Chargers wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Pagano believes there’s no time for Smith to dwell on his mistakes; he’ll be busy learning from them instead.

“No. 1, they’re going to go after rookies, and No. 2, you’ve got to have amnesia to play that spot,” Pagano said. “It’s, physically, one of the most demanding positions to play on the field, especially when you’re playing against that caliber of a quarterback and wide receivers. You’ve got to go back and you’ve got to look at the tape and you’ve got to study yourself and you’ve got to look at yourself as the next offensive coordinator is looking at you. Until you put the fire out, they’re going to keep coming.”

It’s typical for young cornerbacks to find themselves in learning situations as Smith did on Sunday night, but his defensive coordinator believes his mindset is equipped for moving on quickly and becoming a better player because of it.

“The great thing about Jimmy is he’s kind of unflappable that way,” Pagano said. “He’s pretty calm and looked at what he needed to correct from a technique standpoint. So, we move on from there.”

Boldin bogged down

It’s been an up-and-down year for No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin, who has caught 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns.

The distribution of that production has been hard to figure out as Boldin began the year slowly, catching just 15 passes for 222 yards in his first four games. His next four games were dramatically better as he made 26 catches for 405 yards.

However, Boldin finds himself in an extensive rut over his last six games, securing only 16 receptions for 260 yards. He has only one touchdown over the stretch, a 35-yard score against Cincinnati on Nov. 20.

Are the Ravens doing enough to make sure their veteran receiver is included in the offensive game plan with the continuing emergence of two young tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, and rookie receiver Torrey Smith over the course of the season?

“He is always involved,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “He is always in our top three progressions. Obviously, he has made some big plays. You are always wanting to get a guy like that the ball more. I think you have to look at the big picture. He has an opportunity to get over 1,000 yards, and there aren’t many guys doing that in the league.”

Though Boldin is miscast as a No. 1 receiver, the Ravens would benefit to see his production increase over the final two games of the regular season to assist in moving the chains on third down and to control the intermediate portion of the field in the passing game. However, those throws to Boldin need to come organically, according to quarterback Joe Flacco.

“You don’t really do anything [extra to get him the ball],” Flacco said. “You run the plays that are called. Anquan is going to get open. It’s just a matter of running those plays and executing them. I think if we execute our game plan and we get first downs and we maximize the amount of plays that we have in a game, then everybody in our offense is going to get a good chance to get the ball.”

Pro Bowl voting in books

Voting for the 2012 Pro Bowl concluded earlier this week as seven players from Baltimore were leading at their respective positions after more than 100 million votes were cast this season.

Inside linebacker Ray Lewis, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, free safety Ed Reed, offensive tackle Michael Oher, fullback Vonta Leach, and special teams player Brendon Ayanbadejo were all leading at the conclusion of voting. However, fan voting accounts for only one third of the decision as coaches and players also vote for the honor.

Leading all NFL players in voting was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Pro Bowl selections will not be announce until next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on the NFL Network. The game will take place in Honolulu on Sunday, Jan. 29, a week before Super Bowl.

Of course, Ravens players hope to be ineligible for the Pro Bowl game as selected players from the two Super Bowl teams do not participate.

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sp-584smith

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First-round pick Smith ready to shine against San Diego receivers

Posted on 15 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — His first NFL season hasn’t gone exactly to plan, but cornerback Jimmy Smith is ready to prove to everyone why the Ravens used their 27th overall pick to select him in April’s draft.

With Lardarius Webb suffering from a turf toe injury and unlikely to play against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night, Smith is in line to receive his first assignment as a starting cornerback. And a challenging one it will be as a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, will try to get the best of Smith and Cary Williams.

However, at 6-foot-2, Smith is better-equipped to go up against taller receivers than most cornerbacks in the NFL. Not only are Jackson and Floyd challenges in terms of height, but their speed is deceptive, according to Smith.

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“These are really big dudes,” Smith said. “I’m considered a big corner, so these dudes have to be considered huge as far as receivers. They can run as well. When you watch them on film, they’re big and they can move pretty well.”

With Smith injuring his ankle early in the season opener against Pittsburgh, his development was stunted after a six-week layoff forcing him to miss four games. While the Colorado product needed time to re-adjust to the speed of the NFL, his preparation in meetings and watching films kept him sharp mentally as his ankle healed in the first half of the season.

That mental preparation has enabled Smith to begin playing at a higher level in recent weeks, as he’s intercepted two passes while playing at cornerback in the Ravens’ nickel package on third down and other passing situations.

“You can see how fast he’s coming back and now the plays that he’s starting to make,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “That’s only going to continue to go up. From a schematics standpoint, he’s not out there thinking about what his job is anymore. He understands, he knows what to do, and now he’s being able to diagnose and recognize formations and down-and-distance and things like that and just be able to go out and play and make plays.”

From the first day he arrived at the team’s practice facility in Owings Mills after the Ravens selected him in the first round of April’s draft, Smith hasn’t lacked confidence and feels comfortable if called upon to step in for Webb’s starting spot on the defense. He’ll need that swagger matching up against two of the biggest receivers in the NFL.

“I feel confident, I always feel confident,” Smith said. “A corner with no confidence is a corner who’s getting beat. I feel very confident that I can step in and do a good job.”

Pagano Bowl?

Though it lacks the luster of the much-anticipated Harbaugh Bowl that took place on Thanksgiving night, the Ravens defensive coordinator will meet his younger brother John Pagano on Sunday night. John is the linebackers coach for the Chargers as the two will meet on opposite sides for the eighth time.

“We don’t talk this week,” the Baltimore coordinator said. “One text after [last] Sunday’s game — ‘Good job’ — and then we kind of shut it down and then wait till the game’s over and then we visit.”

However, the elder Pagano is looking to improve his lifetime record against his younger brother, who had the upper hand when Pagano was an assistant with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns before joining the Baltimore staff in 2008. The younger brother is the longest-tenured assistant on the San Diego coaching staff after 10 years with the organization.

“I’m 1-6 [against my brother], so the first six were JV teams that we took in there,” Chuck said. “I took a varsity team (the Ravens) there in 2009 and won. We’re taking a varsity team out there again. So, I’m 1-6 against him. It’s always fun to do it, but when that ball’s kicked off, it’s football, so you forget all about that stuff.”

Backfield awareness

The Ravens lead the NFL with 45 sacks, and they’ll try to collect a few more against San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers on Sunday night. However, the manner in which they go about doing it will have to be carefully designed.

Running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert have combined for 90 catches and 790 yards this season as the Chargers will try to discourage the Ravens from blitzing heavily by releasing their backs in open space. Baltimore will need to create pressure with its front four on passing situations to avoid the problems created by the duo of running backs.

“When we do pressure, if we do pressure them, we have to do a great job of making sure we know exactly where they are, because they will free-release them,” Pagano said. “They will get [the running back] out in a heartbeat, so they are not afraid to do that.”

When asked about the Chargers’ tendency to get the ball to their running backs in the passing game, Pagano said it’s no different than quarterback Joe Flacco finding Ray Rice in open space as vertical threats such as Torrey Smith and Lee Evans stretch the field.

“What you see from our offense, it’s the same thing,” Pagano said. “It’s the same exact offense. That’s why people have to do such a great job with handling Ray Rice. They are throwing balls vertically down the field, and everybody is dropping in coverage. Then, you dump it off to him in space.”

Weddle waiting

Flacco will have to deal with the NFL’s seventh-best pass defense in San Diego that is led by fifth-year safety Eric Weddle.

A second-round pick in the 2007 draft out of Utah, Weddle is tied for the league lead in interceptions with seven this season.

“He’s smart, he’s tough,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Everybody that watched him coming out of college, you can see why they traded up to get him. He kind of quarterbacks the defense and is having a solid year.”

Punt return problem

With Webb’s status remaining unknown, not only will the Ravens be lacking a starting cornerback but also an impact player in the return game.

After Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown two weeks ago in Cleveland, the Ravens must now scramble to potentially find a replacement for the third-year cornerback. The most likely candidate would be veteran defensive back Chris Carr, who has handled those duties in the past, and rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams.

“We really don’t know yet,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. “Honestly, we have to wait and see how he’s going to be on Sunday, and we’ll make a decision on Sunday.”

The use of Williams at the punt return spot would be a welcome change for the Maryland product after being inactive the last two weeks. The Baltimore native had played in the Ravens’ first 11 games before finding himself on the sidelines against Cleveland and Indianapolis.

“We have high hopes for LaQuan; I think he’s got a very bright future here,” Rosburg said. “I think that as we go forward the rest of the season, his practice reps have been good, and he’s going to be a very good special teams player, I think. The Ravens have a lot of plans for LaQuan.”

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lewis

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Gloomy prognosis for Ray Lewis and injured toe for Sunday

Posted on 17 November 2011 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 6:00 a.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens inch closer to an AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, doubts began to grow surrounding linebacker Ray Lewis, who was absent from practice for the second straight day on Thursday.

Reports late Thursday night indicated Lewis will miss Sunday’s game and possibly more after suffering a toe injury in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday.

Lewis saw a specialist in Florida on Thursday, according to a report from the Carroll County Times.

Listed on the injury report with a foot injury, Lewis did not appear to be favoring anything as he walked to the podium to meet reporters on Wednesday afternoon. The injury could prevent Lewis from playing on Sunday afternoon and a second missed practice in as many days cultivated concern after he struggled in last Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks.

The 16-year linebacker has not missed a game since sitting out the final two games of the 2007 season with a hand injury. The 36-year-old has made 57 straight starts for the Ravens.

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Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion) and running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) were also missing from practice for the second straight day. Wide receiver Lee Evans was practicing again, the fifth straight workout in which he’s participated.

Kick returner search

The Ravens conducted their search for a new kickoff returner on Thursday and confirmed that incumbent David Reed will not be back there on Sunday. The news was hardly surprised after Reed fumbled two kickoffs and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg would not rule out Reed as a future consideration for the job, but the Ravens believe the second-year receiver needs to prove he can take care of the football before they put him back deep again.

“He’s looking forward for the next opportunity,” Rosburg said. “Now, we don’t know when that is, and I’m certain when he does get in there again, everybody’s going to be watching him with that in mind. David’s a competitive guy, and he understands what he’s got to do to get that job back. He’s got to earn the trust of everybody on this football team that he’s going to hang onto the ball when he gets it.”

Rosburg said the Ravens will consider every possibility in finding a new returner. Candidates include Lardarius Webb, LaQuan Williams, Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, Chris Carr, and Tom Zbikowski. Webb is listed as the backup kick returner — behind Reed — on the team’s most recent depth chart while the rookie Williams is listed as the third-string return man.

“We’re going to have a good kickoff return practice, and we’re going to find out who our kickoff returner is going to be for Sunday,” Rosburg said.

Head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday he believes Webb to be the best kick returner on the team, but his current roles as a starting cornerback and the punt returner may cause the Ravens to look elsewhere. However, they could elect to slide Webb to the kick return spot and to use Carr as the punt returner.

First-round pick ready

With rookie Jimmy Smith now having four games under his belt since returning from an ankle injury last month, many have been asking when the first-round pick can expect to see an increase role on the defense.

Since Webb and Cary Williams have played so well in starting roles, the Baltimore defense hasn’t forced the issue with Smith’s development, allowing him to readjust to the speed of the NFL after a six-week layoff. However, with Carr struggling at the nickelback position on Sunday — allowing a critical 24-yard completion to Seattle receiver Golden Tate on the final drive of the game — the Ravens may be ready to expand Smith’s role. The Colorado product saw limited reps in the dime package against the Seahawks.

“He’ll see a considerable amount of time,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. “We’ve got to get him out there and get him going. He’s ready.”

Though not really suited to play inside at the nickel position, the Ravens could elect to slide Webb inside to the nickel spot, allowing Smith to line up on the outside.

Evans fitting into game plan

Optimism continues to grow around Evans, who took part in his fifth straight practice on Thursday afternoon.

Evans’ imminent return — whether it’s this week or soon thereafter — has sparked plenty of debate on where he will fit within the offense. Though the rookie Smith has displayed late-game heroics, his inconsistent hands have also hurt the Baltimore offense at critical points throughout the season.

After being acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills after the first preseason game in August, Evans appeared to be developing quite a rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco in a short amount of time prior to being stricken with the ankle injury. With Evans missing so much time on the field, it remains to be seen what kind of effect it will have on his comfort level with Flacco.

“That doesn’t really affect Joe a lot,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “He’s one of those unique guys that if a guy can get open, he can hit him whether he’s been with him for a week or a month. It’s really going to be predicated in how he practices. He probably needs a week or two of good practice. I think that will help.”

The improved play of Smith as well as the Ravens’ increasing reliance on tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta appears to have bought some time for Evans to work his way back into the flow of the offense, but his addition would provide a major boost in the final stretch of the regular season.

“Some of our other guys are playing really well, and we’ve got some other options until he comes back,” Cameron said. “We’ll see how the practices go, if he’s practicing at a level that [Harbaugh] feels and we feel he can help us win a game, then I’m sure he’ll be active. That may take a week or two.”

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