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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

Posted on 06 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As everyone else goes through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts that will ultimately mean very little, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their effort to bounce back from the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

1. Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player.

The quarterback won’t suddenly transform into a 5,000-yard passer with 35 touchdowns, but the arrival of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will bring the most efficient Flacco we’ve seen since the 2010 season when he completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and posted a 93.6 passer rating. A steadier running game will alleviate pressure on the seventh-year signal-caller to feel the need to do it all like he encountered last year, which will only make him more effective with better weapons to target. Flacco will throw 25 touchdown passes for the second time in his career.

2. Haloti Ngata will be playing his final season in Baltimore.

The Ravens and Ngata talked about a new contract this offseason in the same way the organization extended Terrell Suggs’ deal, but talks didn’t go anywhere with the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle carrying a $16 million salary cap figure this year and next. The difference next year will be the ability to save $8.5 million in cap space by releasing him, which will be easier to execute with the emergence of second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams this season. Though Ngata is still a good defensive tackle, anyone who’s closely watched him play over the last few years has seen a decline in impact and durability, making it likely this is his final season with the Ravens unless he alters his financial expectations significantly.

3. Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Williams will be players to take a step forward.

The second-year fullback was a non-factor offensively as a rookie, but it’s clear Kubiak envisions a role for Juszczyk as a receiver out of the backfield, making it possible he catches 30 passes in the way H-back James Casey did in Kubiak’s Houston offense a few years ago. Meanwhile, Williams will need to emerge to soften the blow from the loss of defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency, and the 2013 third-round pick was impressive against the run in the preseason. The Ravens need more young players to emerge to offset the reality of several core players approaching the end of their careers, and Juszczyk and Williams will make a bigger impact in 2014 after very quiet rookie campaigns.

4. Marlon Brown and Elvis Dumervil will be players to take a step back.

Even though the second-year receiver had an inconsistent summer, his inclusion in this prediction has more to do with the sheer number of weapons added to the equation with a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta back and the free-agent additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Brown won’t catch 49 passes again, but he will still be a target in the red zone, which will give him a chance to make his limited opportunities count. Dumervil collected 9 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Ravens, but had only one in his final seven games. He added weight in the offseason, which sounds like a questionable strategy for a 30-year-old rush specialist dependent on speed to get around the edge.

5. Jimmy Smith will be the player who deserves to make the Pro Bowl but won’t.

Before a scary fall that caused bruising and bleeding from his lungs in the second preseason game, Smith was having the best summer of any Baltimore defensive player and appears primed for a breakout campaign after taking significant strides in his first season as a starter. The rest of the secondary is a major concern right now, but Smith could be chosen by defensive coordinator Dean Pees to shadow Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green and the other elite receivers the Ravens encounter in 2014. It may take another year for Smith to finally receive league-wide recognition after an injury-riddled start to his career, but he will play at a Pro Bowl level for an otherwise shaky secondary this season.

6. Terrence Brooks will be starting at free safety before Halloween.

If Smith and Lardarius Webb are healthy, the Ravens should be alright at cornerback even with uncertainty at the No. 3 spot, but there is no such comfort at safety where 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and veteran newcomer Darian Stewart will start. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage allows him to make a bigger impact, but his summer was quiet as he still struggled to cover and tackle consistently. Stewart didn’t show any signs of being an impact defender playing deep center field and the third-round rookie Brooks took major strides at the end of the summer, making it only a matter of time before the Florida State product supplants him in the starting defense.

7. Steve Smith will be the top veteran newcomer.

It’s easy to be skeptical of the impact Smith will bring at age 35 by pointing to his yards per catch average steadily decreasing over the last three seasons, but the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was too impressive this summer to think he won’t be a substantial upgrade to the offense. His swagger and attitude will pump life into an offense that lacked any a year ago, and he has the ability to help move the chains and provide production similar to what Anquan Boldin did in his three years with the Ravens when he averaged 882 receiving yards per season. He won’t be able to bring the same explosiveness all 16 weeks that we saw this summer, but he will still be a significant reason why the offense improves from its 29th overall ranking a year ago.

8. Owen Daniels will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 31-year-old tight end revealed a few days ago that he was dealing with a hamstring injury to clarify Harbaugh’s vague “leg soreness” diagnosis that forced him out of practice for two weeks, but Daniels wasn’t impressive when he was practicing in training camp, struggling to gain separation and make plays to complement Pitta at the tight end position. The Ravens have given Daniels the benefit of the doubt because he is so familiar with Kubiak’s system, but it’s difficult not to be reminded of how little Dallas Clark had remaining in the tank last season while watching Daniels practice this summer. Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore will need to be ready to step up if Daniels can’t provide what the Ravens need in 2014.

9. C.J. Mosley will be the top Ravens rookie.

This prediction isn’t exactly going out on a limb as he’s the only first-year player currently starting on either side of the football for the Ravens. The Alabama product could occasionally struggle to hold up against physical blockers in defending the run, but he has shown impressive ability in pass coverage, which will make him a three-down linebacker in Week 1. The selection of Mosley raised eyebrows considering the Ravens already had depth at inside linebacker and needs at a number of other positions, but he’s been as good as advertised and has the potential to be a dynamic defensive player in the years to come.

10. The Ravens will make the playoffs with a 9-7 record as a wild card, but they will exit in the first round.

The Ravens will move into the top half of the offensive rankings in 2014, but the defense will slide from last season’s 12th overall spot with an aging front seven and a shaky secondary. This adds up to only modest improvement from 2013 when Baltimore finished 8-8 and fell short of the postseason. Cincinnati will prevail in the AFC North with a 10-6 record, but the overall mediocrity of the AFC will leave the door open for the Ravens to finish 3-1 in the month of December and grab one of the two wild-card spots before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.

Bonus Super Bowl XLIX prediction no one asked for: New Orleans will beat Denver in a 30-24 final.

A defense that continues to improve under coordinator Rob Ryan will offset last year’s road struggles and put Drew Brees and the Saints in position to win their second Super Bowl title in the last six years while Peyton Manning and the Broncos fall short on the NFL’s biggest stage for the second straight year.

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Figuring out what to make of the Ravens isn’t easy as they open the 2014 season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon.

Coming off their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have expressed confidence that 2013 was an aberration as significant roster turnover and injuries not only derailed their chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions but led to an 8-8 season that left them sitting at home in January.

The optimists will point to the Ravens playing in a league-high nine games decided by three or fewer points and suggest they easily could have made the playoffs had they done a smidgen better than their 5-4 mark in those contests. But the critics will say that record could have been a game or two worse while reminding that the Ravens allowed 32 more points than they produced a year ago and were outscored by 51 in their final two games in which they had the opportunity to lock up a playoff berth.

After six weeks of summer practice and a 4-0 record in the preseason, it’s easy to say this year will be different until you tee it off for real as the Ravens will against the defending AFC North champions at M&T Bank Stadium. In reality, there is plenty of unknown on each side of the football.

“It’s kind of like the first hit in a game or of training camp when you come back,” Harbaugh said. “There’s anxiety and excitement, but there’s anxiety until you get that first hit, and as soon as you get the first hit, the game is on and you’re playing. It’s a little bit like that with the opener.”

Yes, even with the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd to begin their 19th season in Baltimore, the Ravens face a major challenge in taking on the Bengals, who are viewed by many as the most talented team in the division despite an underwhelming offseason and the departure of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Playing three straight division games to start the year gives the Ravens the opportunity to take early control of the AFC North, but it could also leave them with an immediate uphill climb if they’re slow to answer the regular-season bell.

Needless to say, the objective of the offseason was fixing the league’s 29th-ranked offense that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry and just 20.0 points per game. The hiring of coordinator Gary Kubiak and the acquisitions of five-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, and tight end Owen Daniels don’t exactly make it a bold statement to suggest the offense will be better.

How much improvement we see will begin and end with an offensive line that was an utter disaster a year ago. Injured and undersized on the interior, the Ravens were manhandled at the point of attack and struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco. The revamped group paved the way for a successful running game in limited opportunities in the preseason but still showed too many leaks in pass protection, meaning the jury’s still out on offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s group. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele and left tackle Eugene Monroe are expected to be anchors, but how well Zuttah and second-year right tackle Rick Wagner hold up against talented fronts like Cincinnati’s will be a more telling test.

Smith and Daniels give Flacco more weapons in the passing game, but age is a legitimate variable in determining how much of an impact they’ll make. The 35-year-old Smith quelled some concerns with an outstanding summer, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to bring that same impact over the course of 16 weeks. Meanwhile, Daniels didn’t exactly look like a difference-maker this summer before a hamstring injury sidelined him for two weeks, making you question whether Dennis Pitta will have much help behind him at the tight end position.

Kubiak’s arrival signals a clear return to the Ravens’ long-held commitment to run the football, but his variation of the West Coast offense should empower Flacco to make quicker decisions to neutralize potential issues with pass protection. Even if the offensive line is able to open running lanes for Bernard Pierce and the currently-suspended Ray Rice, the Ravens will ultimately go as far as their franchise quarterback will take them in what’s intended to be a more balanced offense.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but I think the biggest thing for us is to be good at doing the little things,” Flacco said. “The base things in this offense and coming up with little things to throw defenses off here and there. But I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know if versatile is the word, or what not, but I can tell you that I feel very comfortable in it. I think all of our guys feel very comfortable running it.”

Will there be early-season growing pains with a new system predicated on quicker passes and good timing? Historically, those aren’t the types of routes with which Flacco has been particularly effective as he’s often been criticized for not getting rid of the football quickly enough. The Ravens are confident that Smith can at least provide another third-down option to go along with the dependable Pitta.

Yes, the offense will be improved, but how much better will it be in relation to last year’s incredibly low standard? Will they simply manage to crack the top 20, or will the Ravens find themselves in the top third of the league?

“It’s time to go find out. I wouldn’t say we’ve held anything back,” said Kubiak of his offense’s preparation for the regular season. “They’ve handled things really well, so we continue to progress forward as far as the load in what we give them. Obviously, you’re trying to put them all in position to do what they do best, but we’re starting against a great group — a team that was a Top 5 defensive team last year. We have a big, big challenge this weekend, but that’s part of this league.”

Even if you’re buying what Kubiak and the offense are selling, the bigger concern might exist on the opposite side of the ball even though the Ravens ranked 12th in total defense last season. The overall numbers were respectable, but the pass rush declined in the second half of the season and two significant pieces departed in the offseason with defensive tackle Arthur Jones and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham finding new homes in free agency.

The front seven hopes the infusion of second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams and 2014 first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley will pay dividends — both were impressive during the preseason — but the other five starting members of that group (Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil) are all 30 or older. That’s not to say those core members of the defense won’t make significant contributions in 2014, but it’s easy to see some correlation with age and the defense’s fourth-quarter struggles and disappointing finish a year ago.

Of particular importance will be the pass-rushing duo of Suggs and Dumervil, who combined for 19 1/2 sacks in 2013 but collected only two in the final seven games. With a secondary that was hampered by injuries during training camp and is just now back on the practice field, the Ravens need to put heat on quarterback Andy Dalton to keep wide receiver A.J. Green and the Bengals’ other pass-catching threats from shaking free in the event of rust or miscommunication on the back end of the defense.

“The sense of urgency, it never changes if you’re a true front seven,” Suggs said. “They’re the defending division champions, and [Dalton] has shown that he can lead his team. If we already didn’t have a sense of urgency, then we’re hustling backwards, we’re not prepared to play. It didn’t heighten just because we had some guys out [during] camp.”

Yes, the Ravens finally appear healthy in the secondary as cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson are now practicing at full strength, but the extended absence of Webb remains a concern as defensive coordinator Dean Pees was unable to determine which nickel alignment would work best for his defense this summer. Webb is better suited to defend the slot in the nickel package, but Jackson is also more of an inside corner and the other outside options — Chykie Brown and the newly-signed Derek Cox — don’t inspire confidence. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, it’s not a comforting feeling to be without a known commodity at the No. 3 cornerback spot.

Though injuries didn’t necessarily plague the safety position, it’s unclear whether the tandem of 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and newcomer Darian Stewart are even as effective as Elam and former strong safety James Ihedigbo were a year ago, let alone whether they’ll be more dynamic. Neither played particularly well in the preseason as the Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage will allow him to utilize the skill set that made him a standout at the University of Florida. It only appears to be a matter of time before third-round pick Terrence Brooks supplants Stewart at free safety, but it’s an awful lot to ask a rookie to handle that position with Baltimore’s sophisticated coverages.

Beyond the healthy tandem of Smith and Webb, the secondary appears vulnerable and could be in serious trouble if the front seven can’t make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.

In sizing up the Ravens entering the 2014 season, it’s fair to wonder whether they will find themselves spinning their wheels with an improved offense but a defense in apparent danger of taking a step or two in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism is the current state of the AFC North with the Bengals not taking the necessary offseason steps to become a true Super Bowl contender, the Steelers appearing to be in a state between good and bad, and the Browns still being, well, the Browns. Barring key injuries, there’s no reason to believe the Ravens won’t be in contention for the division title along with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but there are too many unknowns to give them a distinct edge beyond the natural optimism existing in most cities around the NFL entering Week 1.

History suggests you don’t count out the Harbaugh-led Ravens, but it will be fascinating to see how the coach and his team respond after their first failure as it relates to making the postseason. For now, the Ravens are saying all the right things about their outlook.

“I like our team a lot. I would go so far to say I love our team,” Harbaugh said. “I love the way they work. I love the way they treat one another. I love the way they bleed with one another. I believe in this football team. There’s no question in my mind that this team is destined for some very special things. But now you have to do it.”

Sunday will be the Ravens’ initial chance to begin proving it to those who aren’t convinced.

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Bovada gives Flacco, Rice long odds to lead league in yards

Posted on 12 August 2014 by WNST Staff

Courtesy of Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV).

 

Stats Leaders

Who will lead the League in Passing Yards in the 2014 Regular Season?  

Drew Brees                               11/4

Peyton Manning                        11/4

Aaron Rodgers                          7/1

Matthew Stafford                      15/2

Tom Brady                                12/1

Matt Ryan                                 16/1

Andrew Luck                             18/1

Jay Cutler                                 20/1

Tony Romo                               20/1

Philip Rivers                              22/1

Nick Foles                                25/1

Eli Manning                               33/1

Carson Palmer                          66/1

Ben Roethlisberger                    66/1

Robert Griffin III                         75/1

Sam Bradford                           100/1

Andy Dalton                              100/1

Joe Flacco                                100/1

Josh McCown                           100/1

Matt Schaub                             100/1

Ryan Tannehill                           100/1

Russell Wilson                          100/1

Colin Kaepernick                       150/1

Johnny Manziel                         150/1

Cam Newton                             150/1

Alex Smith                                250/1

 

Who will lead the League in Rushing Yards in the 2014 Regular Season? 

Adrian Peterson                        4/1

LeSean McCoy                          9/2

Jamaal Charles                          7/1

Marshawn Lynch                        12/1

Arian Foster                              16/1

Alfred Morris                             16/1

Matt Forte                                 18/1

Eddie Lacy                               18/1

Doug Martin                              20/1

Zac Stacy                                 20/1

Montee Ball                               25/1

DeMarco Murray                        25/1

Giovani Bernard                        33/1

Chris Johnson                           33/1

C.J. Spiller                                33/1

Ryan Mathews                           40/1

Le’Veon Bell                              50/1

Andre Ellington                         50/1

Toby Gerhart                             50/1

Stevan Ridley                            50/1

Trent Richardson                       66/1

Bishop Sankey                          66/1

Ben Tate                                   66/1

Frank Gore                                75/1

Rashad Jennings                       75/1

Joique Bell                                100/1

Reggie Bush                             100/1

Steven Jackson                        100/1

Maurice Jones-Drew                  100/1

Ray Rice                                   100/1

 

Who will lead the League in Receiving Yards in the 2014 Regular Season?              

Calvin Johnson                         13/5

Dez Bryant                                15/2

Julio Jones                               8/1

Demaryius Thomas                    8/1

Antonio Brown                          16/1

A.J. Green                                16/1

Brandon Marshall                      16/1

Alshon Jeffery                          20/1

Andre Johnson                          25/1

Jordy Nelson                            28/1

Victor Cruz                                40/1

Larry Fitzgerald                         40/1

Pierre Garcon                            40/1

Jimmy Graham                          40/1

T.Y. Hilton                                 40/1

Vincent Jackson                        40/1

Keenan Allen                             50/1

Randall Cobb                            50/1

Julian Edelman                          50/1

DeSean Jackson                       50/1

Jeremy Maclin                           50/1

Cordarrelle Patterson                 50/1

Emmanuel Sanders                   50/1

Torrey Smith                             50/1

Roddy White                             50/1

Michael Floyd                           66/1

Mike Wallace                             66/1

Wes Welker                               66/1

Marques Colston                       75/1

Michael Crabtree                       75/1

Percy Harvin                             75/1

Dwayne Bowe                           100/1

Eric Decker                               100/1

Mike Evans                               100/1

Rob Gronkowski                       100/1

Hakeem Nicks                           100/1

Golden Tate                              100/1

Sammy Watkins                        100/1

Reggie Wayne                           100/1

Kendall Wright                           100/1

 

Miscellaneous Props

Odds to Win 2014 NFL Comeback Player of the Year        

Robert Griffin III                         5/1

Aaron Rodgers                          6/1

Julio Jones                               6/1

Rob Gronkowski                       7/1

Eli Manning                               10/1

Percy Harvin                             15/1

Arian Foster                              25/1

Chris Johnson                           25/1

Clay Matthews                           25/1

Demarcus Ware                         25/1

Doug Martin                              25/1

Von Miller                                 25/1

Matt Schaub                             25/1

Michael Crabtree                       25/1

Trent Richardson                       25/1

C.J. Spiller                                33/1

Hakeem Nicks                           33/1

Jeremy Maclin                           33/1

Maurice Jones-Drew                  33/1

Michael Vick                             33/1

Ray Rice                                   33/1

Reggie Wayne                           33/1

Darren McFadden                      75/1

 

Who will be the 1st coach fired?               

Jason Garrett                            2/1

Dennis Allen                              4/1

Joe Philbin                                7/1

Doug Marrone                           8/1

Rex Ryan                                  10/1

Gus Bradley                              12/1

Mike Smith                                12/1

Marvin Lewis                             20/1

Ron Rivera                                20/1

Tom Coughlin                            25/1

Jeff Fisher                                25/1

Marc Trestman                          33/1

Mike Tomlin                              33/1

 

Will any Quarterback break the single season Passing yards record in the 2014 Regular Season?  (Note: The record is 5,477 by Peyton Manning in 2013)

Yes                  3/1

No                    1/4

 

Will any Player record 2000 or more Receiving yards in the 2014 Regular Season?              

Yes                  5/1

No                    1/8

 

Will any Player record 2000 or more Rushing yards in the 2014 Regular Season? 

Yes                  6/1

No                    1/10

 

Will any Team go 16-0 in the 2014 Regular Season?          

Yes                  33/1

 

Will any Team go 0-16 in the 2014 Regular Season?          

Yes                  33/1

 

Will a team win the Super Bowl going 19-0?        

Yes                  125/1

 

Will any player break the single season sack record in the 2014 Regular Season?

Yes                   15/1

No                    1/30

 

SPECIALS – Will Peyton Manning lead the league in Passing Yards, win MVP and Broncos win the Super Bowl?    

Yes                  40/1

 

SPECIALS – Will Johnny Manziel win rookie of the Year and the Browns make the playoffs?          

Yes                  25/1

 

SPECIALS – Will Calvin Johnson lead the league in Receiving Yards and the Lions win the NFC North?        

Yes                  15/1

 

SPECIALS – Will both the Jaguars and Raiders make the playoffs?              

Yes                  66/1

 

SPECIALS – Will both the Broncos and Seahawks miss the playoffs?          

Yes                  14/1

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Ravens welcome Boldin, 49ers to practice fields in Owings Mills

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Ravens welcome Boldin, 49ers to practice fields in Owings Mills

Posted on 09 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Taking part in joint practices for the first time in the 19-year history of the franchise, the Ravens welcomed the San Francisco 49ers to their training facility Saturday for the first of three practices following their 23-3 win in the preseason opener.

Both head coaches preached the need to take care of the other team in terms of practicing smart and not wanting to cause injuries while putting in the necessary work. The Ravens escaped the preseason opener in great shape from a health standpoint as cornerback Lardarius Webb (back), guard Will Rackley (back), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (active physically unable to perform list – hip) were the only players not taking part in Saturday’s practice, meaning no players missed practice time due to injuries sustained in Thursday’s game.

Safety Brynden Trawick left the field while appearing to be favoring his back and didn’t return before the conclusion of practice. Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen also appeared to be banged up at one point but remained on the field.

“It definitely makes things a little different,” said quarterback Joe Flacco prior to the first joint practice. “I’m sure when we first go out there, we’ll be feeling each other out a little bit and seeing what kind of tempo there is and all that.”

The 49ers offense appeared to get the best of the Baltimore defense in 11-on-11 team work with former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin making several catches in a red-zone period and fellow wideout Stevie Johnson making an acrobatic sideline grab with Jimmy Smith in tight coverage. Veteran receiver Kassim Osgood also lost safety Matt Elam and cornerback Chykie Brown in coverage for a long completion.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs appeared to struggle to create pressure off the edge while matched up against Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley.

Meanwhile, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith continued his impressive summer with a number of challenging catches against the 49ers secondary, including an over-the-shoulder grab on a deep ball down the seam.

Head coach John Harbaugh said the teams intend to practice in full pads all three days, but they will not conduct live drills in which they tackle to the ground.

“We want to take care of the Ravens,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We want to be safe out here, and we need them to do the same for us. That’s the kind of environment where iron sharpens iron. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for good practice work. These aren’t games out here.”

Harbaugh brothers call out media

The Ravens and 49ers made it out of Saturday’s workout without any fights of note as outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and 49ers fullback Will Tukuafu appeared to get heated at one point before order was quickly restored.

Each Harbaugh brother preached to their respective teams about the importance of remaining focused during practices and the consequences of getting into scuffles with the opposition. However, both spoke about the media’s tendency to focus on fights and skirmishes in practices instead of the football side of things.

“What’s interesting to me — and what’s a real indictment on you as the media — is the fact that Jimmy Smith was asked about it, and he said when he sees these things on TV, all he ever sees is fights,” John Harbaugh said. “What does that tell you? How about a little self-check?

“We’re probably going to have 99 percent all great, positive things, but if there is a little shoving match out here, I’m quite sure that that’s what will be on these cameras, and it’ll be countrywide, and that’ll be everybody’s take on how it went, right? Because that’s how it is all the time. We’re going to look for the positive; you all can look for the negative — as usual.”

Flacco sees preseason opener as “good foundation”

After an opportunity to view the film from the strong opening drive on Thursday in which the starting offense traveled 80 yards on 10 plays to score a touchdown, Flacco echoed how encouraged he was to see the offensive line perform at a high level.

The challenge now will be continuing to progress as the first unit receives more extensive snaps in the second and third preseason games. Flacco completed four of five passes for 52 yards before most of the starting offense was pulled after running back Bernard Pierce plunged into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown.

“We ran the ball really well and protected really well,” Flacco said. “There is a lot to build on. I think we built a good foundation there. I think each week from here on out, we have to keep showing that improvement and building off what we did.”

Boldin not dwelling on past

Making his return to the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills, Boldin seemed at peace with his former team’s decision to trade him to San Francisco last offseason and spent the early portion of practice greeting old teammates and staff members.

John Harbaugh quipped that he still blames general manager Ozzie Newsome for dealing Boldin away for a sixth-round pick before acknowledging it was a difficult business decision stemming from a tight salary cap. The 33-year-old receiver enjoyed the opportunity to visit his old neighborhood on Friday and has been appreciative for continued support from Ravens fans following the trade.

“I got a chance to see a lot of people I haven’t seen since the trade,” Boldin said. “It’s always good to see those people. I built a lot of relationships in my three years here.”

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Like, ERMAGERD, did you SEE the Ravens’ first possession?!?!?!?!?

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Like, ERMAGERD, did you SEE the Ravens’ first possession?!?!?!?!?

Posted on 08 August 2014 by Glenn Clark

BALTIMORE — I had the-umm-we’ll call it “opportunity” to check out some Diet Football from the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

It was neat. It looked kinda like football, it sounded almost like football, it even smelled a little like football.

Of course, we all know better. (We DO all know better, right?) That’s what makes the excitement of the team’s first offensive possession so frustrating.

I mean, just going back and READING the first possession is fun.

“Ray Rice six yard run. Joe Flacco to Dennis Pitta for 14 yards. Joe Flacco incomplete. Rice for five yards. Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a slant for 12 on 3rd and 5. Flacco to Kyle Juszczyk over the middle for 17. Bernard Pierce seven yard run. Flacco to Steve Smith underneath for nine yards. Rice off left tackle for six more. 49ers offsides. Pierce two yards for a touchdown.”

It’s like play-by-play porn. It was a 10 play, 80 yard, 4:59 box of magic goodness. For a second you kinda didn’t even care that it was the preseason. You just wanted to high five the person closest to you and say “DUDE I TOLD YOU GARY KUBIAK WAS GOING TO COME IN HERE AND FIX EVERYTHING! LET’S DO SOME JELLO SHOTS, BRAH!”

Just me? Sorry. I get carried away some times.

“It was nice”, Flacco said at halftime. “It felt good to get out here in a game-type situation and feel the nerves of a real game. I enjoyed being out there and doing it for real, and I thought we did pretty well. We moved the ball methodically, with precision and got it in the end zone.”

Nice? NICE? I’m going to need a little more enthusiasm out of you, Joe. It was a damn masterpiece! My snarky friends and I are going over to Steelers message boards tonight with the hashtag “LarryBrownMustDie” and start saying things like “You guys…I’m starting to wonder if maybe we should be worried about the Ravens. Did you see how well their first offensive series went now that they have Gary Kubiak?”

We’ll be doing it ironically, of course.

Things couldn’t possibly have gone better in the first view we had of the Gary Kubiak offense. There have been a multitude of opinions about the impact the former Houston Texans head coach could have on this team. Some have believed that Kubiak would be the perfect fit for a team that has historically been built on the running the ball. Some of wondered whether or not the Ravens have the offensive line and running backs to make his system work. Flacco’s role in a Kubiak offense has been hotly debated and we still didn’t know if the team had enough quality skill position players to make it work.

For a handful of plays, it all looked perfect. The O-Line blocked and the running backs ran (en route to over 200 yards rushing as a team for the night), Flacco was crisp in finding multiple targets, the receivers ran all sorts of routes using all parts of the field. It was as if Kubiak himself had walked up and whispered sweetly into your ear “it’s going to be okay.”

Every time we’ve wanted to believe this organization has turned a corner offensively things have seemingly blown up quickly. When we’ve thought a new quarterback, new receiver, new tackle or new coordinator would stabilize the unit we’ve instead been met with inconsistently a season, month, week or even a play later.

Ravens fans WANT to believe in that first drive desperately, and understandably so.

But alas, preseason. It doesn’t mean the offense won’t be adequate-or even quite good. It doesn’t mean the team hasn’t made great strides already in Kubiak’s system. It just means we don’t know. You simply can’t read much into ANYTHING you see in the preseason because it’s truly “diet football”. Nothing that happens is a real indication of what’s exactly going to happen when the football becomes real, but it’s not a guarantee it can’t be either.

Head coach John Harbaugh offered the best possible perspective at the end of the game.

“It was a good start for the offense” Harbaugh said after besting his younger brother Jim again. “To come back and answer and move the ball and execute like that, it’s a good first drive of the preseason.”

BUT….?

“But, you know what, don’t read too much into it. We’ve got lots of work to do…”

And against our wishes, we’ll have to do just that.

-G

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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 05 August 2014 by Luke Jones

With two weeks of training camp in the books and the Ravens making final preparations to take on the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener Thursday night, there’s a new batch of takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. We’ve witnessed a quieter Joe Flacco this summer.

This development won’t please fans and critics clamoring for a more vocal quarterback entering his seventh season as Flacco has refrained from trash talking with Terrell Suggs like we saw last summer and hasn’t been very vocal with the rest of his offensive teammates during practices open to media. Those around him have downplayed his quieter demeanor, insisting he’s focusing on fine-tuning his grasp of Gary Kubiak’s system. The new offensive coaching staff has emphasized Flacco having better footwork and getting rid of the ball quickly, two requirements in Kubiak’s West Coast offense. Flacco has been steady but unspectacular in practices to this point, but it’s all about the games that count for the signal-caller at this stage of his career.

2. Matt Elam has yet to stand out in his transition to the strong safety position.

Much attention has been paid to the free safety spot as well as the lack of cornerback depth in the Baltimore secondary, but the 2013 first-round pick hasn’t stood out after moving to the more natural position he played at the University of Florida. In fairness to Elam, there aren’t many full-contact periods in practices for him to genuinely show off his physicality, but he’s made few plays in coverage and hasn’t looked the part of a rising impact defensive player. During Monday’s practice, Elam was spelled by special-teams standout Jeromy Miles on a few occasions, but it remained unclear whether the second-year safety was dealing with a physical concern or the coaching staff was trying to create a little more urgency in Elam by throwing Miles into the mix.

3. Torrey Smith is emerging as a leader in the final year of his rookie contract.

So much focus has been placed on the leadership of Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, and Haloti Ngata since Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed departed, but Smith’s quiet leadership has emerged over the last couple years. He was responsible for gathering teammates to support Rice during his recent press conference and simply carries himself with a maturity that suggests a leader by example. Assuming a contract extension isn’t reached before the start of the season, it will be interesting to see how Steve Smith and a healthy Dennis Pitta impact Smith’s production after his first 1,000-yard season. The University of Maryland product has had a strong camp, making spectacular catches and showing more consistency than in the past. General manager Ozzie Newsome shouldn’t pay Smith like an elite receiver, but his value shouldn’t be underestimated, either.

4. Owen Daniels has struggled to get separation in his first training camp with the Ravens.

The signing of Daniels to a one-year deal was an obvious move given his familiarity with Kubiak’s offensive system, but the 31-year-old hasn’t stood out in practices, struggling to gain separation against linebackers in coverage. Both Daniels and fellow tight end Dennis Pitta thrive in finding open windows in zone coverage, but the former will need to show a little more against man coverage to have the kind of impact the Ravens are looking for. The former Houston Texan was limited to five games due to a broken leg last season, but the Ravens won’t need him to play 75 snaps a game with Pitta ahead of him on the depth chart. You hope his slow start is more about pacing himself than a sign of declining skills like the Ravens saw with Dallas Clark last year.

5. After a very quiet rookie year, Kyle Juszczyk is a sleeper to watch in Gary Kubiak’s system.

A year ago at this time, the Ravens had re-signed Vonta Leach because of Juszczyk’s inability to hold up as a blocker, but his second training camp has been far more encouraging. Listed at 248 pounds, the Harvard product looks stronger and has held up better when engaged as a blocker, but Juszczyk has also shown some explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield as he displayed in catching a touchdown matched up against Miles in Annapolis Monday night. Kubiak has compared Juszczyk’s skill set to former Texas fullback James Casey, who caught 34 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. It would be a stretch to expect that much production from the 2013 fourth-round pick, but he’s made some nice plays when given chances in practice.

6. Keith Wenning is beginning to look more comfortable in his first training camp.

For the most part, the Ball State quarterback has looked like any other underwhelming third-string quarterback the Ravens have invited to camp in recent summers, but he put on a show in Annapolis, throwing several beautiful deep balls for touchdowns in team drills. It would be a major stretch to expect Wenning to challenge incumbent backup Tyrod Taylor based on what we’ve seen in the first two weeks of camp, but Wenning’s preseason performance could make for a difficult decision when it comes to finalizing the roster. The Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on the 53-man squad since 2009, but it might be difficult to get Wenning through waivers and to the practice squad if he has more nights like he did Monday in preseason games.

7. Barring injury, the first unofficial depth chart is unlikely to change by the start of the season.

There were few surprises on the first offensive depth chart of the summer as Rick Wagner being listed at right tackle was the only note of interest but wasn’t the least bit surprising. On the defensive side, second-year lineman Brandon Williams is listed as the starting nose tackle with Ngata sliding to the 3-technique defensive tackle spot, which should allow him to take on fewer double teams and provide more opportunities to make plays. Unsurprisingly, rookie first-round pick C.J. Mosley was listed as the starting weakside inside linebacker next to Daryl Smith while Arthur Brown is his backup. Darian Stewart being listed as the starting free safety isn’t surprising based on the struggles of third-round pick Terrence Brooks, and there’s little to suggest that’s changing anytime soon.

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Steve Smith’s expectations realistic in coming to Ravens

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Steve Smith’s expectations realistic in coming to Ravens

Posted on 23 July 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith has talked plenty about motivation this offseason but is also grounded in reality as he officially begins his first training camp with the Ravens on Thursday.

Understandably having a chip on his shoulder over being released by the Carolina Panthers after spending the first 13 seasons of his career in Charlotte, the 35-year-old wide receiver is looking to prove he still has plenty left in the tank to help the Ravens, but there are no predictions of a 1,300-yard season or a return to the Pro Bowl. His motivation is shaped by perspective with an eye toward the end of his career knowing nobody wins the battle with Father Time.

“You can never perform at as high a level at 35 that you did at 25,” Smith said. “My job is to go out there and catch what’s catchable and have fun doing it. [I don’t want to] really concern myself too much on the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘Should I be here?’ or ‘Should I be there?’ The things that I’ve experienced in my career, honestly, they’re not going to get any better, and the reason why is because my perspective is different. Hopefully, I will accomplish better things statistically, but I’m living the dream.”

It’s difficult to predict what to expect from Smith in terms of production on the field as his yards per catch average has decreased from 17.6 in 2011 to 16.1 in 2012 to 11.6 last season, which was his lowest mark since 2007. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound wideout has depended on speed on the outside for much of his career, but he will need to reinvent himself as more of a possession receiver to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s offensive system while Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones provide two stronger outside options in the vertical passing game.

The University of Utah product turned in an excellent spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running crisp shorter routes whether working outside or in the slot. Smith downplayed how long it will take to build a rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco — simply explaining he’ll catch anything that should be caught — but also recognizes he doesn’t have to be the primary focus of the passing game like he was for more than a decade with the Panthers.

“I understand there are going to be times when I’m the premier receiver,” Smith said, “and there are times that I need to clear through for Torrey or Jacoby or Marlon [Brown]. You have to be able to be efficient in any offense; you’ve got to understand in every play what your role is.”

Of course, the Ravens’ motivation in signing Smith to a three-year, $11.5 million in March went beyond the number of passes he’ll catch as the offense lacked vocal leadership and swagger last season following the trade of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. Smith has already shown he isn’t afraid to stir the pot as he mixed it up with cornerback Lardarius Webb during last month’s mandatory minicamp.

He’ll need to be productive on the field to authentically establish himself as a leader, but the early returns suggest both sides of the ball have benefited from his competitive fire during practices. It’s a reputation that was well known to the Ravens long before the veteran stepped foot in Owings Mills this spring.

“We get another defensive guy playing offense with Steve coming over,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is one guy last year [who defensive coordinator] Dean Pees told us not to anger, and it was a preseason game. The goal was to do our time and get out of there. It’s great to have him on our team.”

Smith’s ability to rebound from an underwhelming 745-yard season a year ago will go a long way in determining whether the Ravens can substantially improve their 29th-ranked offense in 2013. He doesn’t need to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but the veteran will be asked to catch shorter passes and help move the chains on third down, an area in which the Ravens ranked only 20th last season.

The longtime Panther knows his career is winding down but thinks he’s found the ideal place to fit his personality.

“I’m lucky to even be here,” Smith said. “After you hit 35, you should be with a walker and all that stuff. I’m just happy to be playing ball and have the opportunity to play in a conference where it’s smash-mouth football, and I’m going to fit in perfectly [with] that.”

Pierce, Reid ready to go

The Ravens will conduct their first full-squad workout on Thursday morning and enter the summer with a short injury report as running back Bernard Pierce and offensive lineman Jah Reid both participated fully in Tuesday’s workout.

Pierce has now been cleared after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery while Reid was sidelined with a calf injury in the spring.

“These two days they both looked good. They both looked fine; they have no problems,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There are some full-speed-type drills out there, not contact, but the speed of it, and they had no problems. We’ll work them through the first two days. Thursday and Friday are both full speed, but they’re not full contact, so that’ll be another chance for them to take the next step that way. I don’t anticipate any problems.”

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody is the only veteran with a clear injury concern entering camp as he’s still recovering from offseason hip surgery. Harbaugh said the fifth-year lineman is progressing, but there is no clear target date of when he’ll return to the practice field.

Dumervil grateful for opportunity provided by Bowlen in Denver

With Wednesday’s news of Pat Bowlen stepping down as owner of the Denver Broncos due to Alzheimer’s disease, Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil offered his support after spending the first seven seasons of his career in Denver.

“He helped impact my life [and] my family for generations to come,” Dumervil said. “He was a great guy. He always asked about my health, and when I was out for the year [in 2010], we talked a bit. He was always great to me, and I was always grateful for that. When I heard about the news, it was a sad day for that.”

 

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 21 July 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh enters new territory this summer in trying to guide the Ravens to a bounce-back season after missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure a year ago.

The seventh-year head coach is coming off his most difficult offseason in not only revamping his offensive coaching staff but dealing with the arrests of five different players, painting the organization in a more negative and embarrassing light than it’s faced in quite some time. Of course, the Ravens are hopeful they’ve made the necessary changes to rebound from an 8-8 season and return to the postseason playing in what appears to be a wide-open AFC North.

As rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans coming off injuries officially take the practice field in Owings Mills on Tuesday, here are five questions — of many others, quite frankly — to ponder:

1. Will different automatically translate to better for the Ravens offense? If so, how much better?

The easy answer is the 29th-ranked offense in 2013 couldn’t be much worse, so it’s no profound statement to say the unit will be improved under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will bring a stronger emphasis on running the football. The real question is how much better the Ravens will be after averaging a league-worst and franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Kubiak has an excellent reputation dating back to his days with Mike Shanahan in Denver, but quarterback Joe Flacco’s adjustment to a West Coast offense centered around timing, excellent footwork, and shorter throws — not regarded as his biggest strengths — will be interesting to watch after he showed encouraging improvements as spring workouts progressed. Of course, the Ravens hope the free-agent signings of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in addition to a fully-recovered Dennis Pitta will provide the quarterback with consistent weapons he sorely lacked beyond wideout Torrey Smith last season.

Steve Smith was the standout acquisition of the offseason and has been praised for the leadership and swagger he’s already brought to the offense, but he has plenty to prove as a 35-year-old receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three straight years. Daniels figures to be a clear upgrade as the No. 2 tight end behind Pitta, but he played in only five games last season and must prove he can still gain separation entering his ninth NFL season.

The ultimate factor in determining how high the offense can climb will be the improvement of the offensive line with new center Jeremy Zuttah and the return of left guard Kelechi Osemele from season-ending back surgery. Zuttah will be an improvement over Gino Gradkowski with his physical style of play and will be a leader by example in the trenches, but you wonder if there will be some growing pains in making line calls with the veteran having spent more time at guard during his career. Osemele was impressive during spring workouts, but the Ravens need to see his surgically-repaired back hold up during the daily rigors of camp and the third-year lineman had to alter his workout practices as a result of the procedure.

And, of course, the Ravens still aren’t sure who will line up at right tackle, with Rick Wagner the favorite entering camp.

The offense will look quite different, but will there be enough improvement for the Ravens to climb back among the AFC’s elite?

2. How does maligned offensive line coach Juan Castillo fit with the Kubiak system?

After all the hand-wringing over Castillo and calls for him to be dismissed after the offensive line’s woeful 2013 campaign, the hiring of Kubiak all but eliminated that chatter. However, his seat will heat up again very quickly if his unit doesn’t produce immediately in 2014.

Players have dismissed any notion of growing pains last season, but it was clear the coexistence of Castillo and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller wasn’t a good fit. The bigger question this year will be how effectively Castillo implements Kubiak’s brand of stretch outside zone blocking that has produced a plethora of 1,000-yard running backs over the years.

Castillo demands a lot from his his unit before, during, and after practices, which made him a favorite in Philadelphia for so many years, but Harbaugh will have a difficult time sticking with his longtime colleague if the offensive line gets off to another slow start in 2014.

3. How many younger players are ready to make the jump to become standouts?

It’s no secret that the Ravens have undergone quite a transformation since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but a major key in rebounding from last year’s 8-8 finish will be the emergence of younger impact players, something there wasn’t enough of in 2013.

Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith took sizable leaps last season, but others such as Osemele, safety Matt Elam, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, running back Bernard Pierce, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams must become more dynamic players if the Ravens are going to bounce back in a significant way.

Entering 2014, how many great players — not good or solid ones — do the Ravens currently have? Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata might still be considered great around the league but are on the wrong side of 30 and not as dominant as they were a few years ago.

Yes, the Ravens will lean on the likes of veterans Steve Smith, Daniels, and Zuttah to upgrade their respective positions, but substantial improvement in 2014 will only come if the draft classes of 2012 and 2013 are ready to make a larger impact than they did a year ago. And if the likes of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan can bring immediate impact as rookies, Baltimore will be that much more dangerous.

Simply put, the core of this roster needs younger and more dynamic talent to emerge.

4. What can we expect out of Ray Rice?

Even putting aside the ongoing saga of when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will finally make a ruling on a suspension for the embattled running back, it’s difficult to project what kind of player Rice will be entering his seventh season and coming off the worst year of his career.

The 27-year-old was noticeably leaner and faster during spring practices, but it’s difficult to measure elusiveness — or any ability to break tackles — when players aren’t participating in full-contact drills. Much like we ponder about the entire offense, it’s not difficult to envision Rice being better at a lighter weight and with a better offensive line in front of him, but it’s fair to ask if his days as a game-changing back are over.

It will also be fascinating to see if Kubiak views Rice as an every-down back or is more eager to continue to hand opportunities to the likes of Pierce, veteran newcomer Justin Forsett, or rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro even after the sixth-year back returns from his anticipated suspension. Rice split time with Forsett working with the starters this spring — Pierce was still limited returning from offseason shoulder surgery — but it’s difficult to gauge how much of that was Forsett’s experience in Kubiak’s system as well as the Ravens preparing for the suspension.

5. Is the commitment to winning strong enough top to bottom on the roster?

You never like to make generalizations about what’s currently a 90-man roster when referencing five specific players being arrested during the offseason, but it’s fair to question the overall commitment when your players make up more than 25 percent of the NFL’s total number of reported arrests since last season.

Most already expected Harbaugh to have a tougher training camp following the first non-playoff season of his tenure in Baltimore, but the poor off-field behavior lends even more credence to the head coach working his players harder than in past summers.

Make no mistake, there are countless individuals on the roster who are fully dedicated to winning, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the Ravens will be under the microscope in not only how they conduct themselves off the field but how they perform on it this season. The poor choices of several individuals unfortunately drew that scrutiny for the entire roster as critics question the organization’s leadership and overall character.

“We have good, really good guys,” Harbaugh said on the final day of mandatory minicamp last month. “Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, the less inclined you are to do anything to jeopardize that.”

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Kubiak in learning mode as much as Ravens players this spring

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Kubiak in learning mode as much as Ravens players this spring

Posted on 10 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens trying to revamp the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense from a year ago, the focus has fallen on quarterback Joe Flacco and his teammates trying to learn Gary Kubiak’s system this spring.

But as players try to grasp the terminology and master the precision and timing of the West Coast offense, the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator is doing plenty of his own learning during organized team activities. Kubiak spent the offseason learning as much as he could about his new personnel, but the former Houston Texans head coach is using spring practices to determine players’ strengths and weaknesses within his system.

The current objective is more about experimentation than perfection with the start of the season still three months away.

“I think that’s been my challenge right now as a coach — to watch,” Kubiak said. “I’m throwing the kitchen sink at them, and then I have to kind of watch and see what sticks and what they do best. When we come back for [training] camp, I’ll probably have to cut some things down, but they’ve been very receptive. We have plenty of time from a teaching standpoint, plenty of time on the field.”

Of course, Kubiak hasn’t started with a clean slate in terms of learning his players as he’s been reunited with wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who had a strong relationship with the coach in Houston. General manager Ozzie Newsome also added tight end Owen Daniels and running back Justin Forsett, two former Houston Texans with experience playing in Kubiak’s system.

Those players have acted as a tutoring system for the likes of wide receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith, tight end Dennis Pitta, and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce as they try to grasp a new playbook.

“There are a few people in each place that kind of know the way I’ve done things and how I do things,” Kubiak said. “Jacoby has been a big asset, Owen’s been a big asset with Dennis, and Justin’s been a big asset with Ray. I think the way things got situated before we got to work has been a big positive.”

The vision of Kubiak’s West Coast attack has been evident during OTAs as the passing game has been centered around shorter routes based on timing, quite a shift from the emphasis on the vertical passing game that existed under former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in Flacco’s first five seasons. The deep ball will still be a factor with Flacco’s arm strength and speedy options such as Torrey Smith and Jones on the outside, but Steve Smith and Pitta will be the focal points in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

The 35-year-old Smith will be of particular interest during training camp as the Ravens view him as more of a possession receiver, which is a departure from his reliance on speed and playing outside throughout his career.

The timing and precision of Kubiak’s system requires quarterbacks to have exceptional footwork, making that one of the biggest points of emphasis for Flacco this spring beyond the mastery of the playbook and learning the responsibilities of every other player on the field. That focus has allowed Kubiak to develop a new appreciation for the seventh-year quarterback, who isn’t exactly known around the league for his mobility.

“I knew he had a big arm, but I had no idea how good of an athlete he is,” Kubiak said. “[He is] a very good athlete. The things we like to do, [moving] around, the zone-pass schemes that we like to run, I think fit to a lot of his strengths. We just need to continue to get better at them. But his progress and where he’s at right now, I couldn’t be happier.”

The Baltimore offense remains a work in progress with questions still surrounding the state of the offensive line as the right tackle position remains up for grabs and new center Jeremy Zuttah continues to adjust to his new surroundings. The group appears promising on paper, but offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s ability to teach Kubiak’s zone-blocking system will be scrutinized after a 2013 season that was nothing short of disastrous in terms of line play.

As Kubiak pointed out on Tuesday, plenty of time remains to work out the details — like how to handle the running back position with Rice all but guaranteed to be suspended to start the season — but the Ravens are using spring practices to mold a vision of what the offense will look like with new pieces and a new philosophy in place.

“That’s my challenge right now. Finding out what we do best and making sure I don’t overload them,” Kubiak said. “But I did think it was very important that we challenge them mentally as well as physically, especially throughout the course of OTAs. I told them that. I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to throw a lot at you. We need to go make some mistakes, but let’s go make them hard. We’ll figure it out and make sure on opening day we’re doing what we do best.’”

Tuesday practice attendance

With the Ravens in the midst of their final week of voluntary OTAs, a number of veteran players were absent from the field on Tuesday including linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith, defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty, and offensive linemen Eugene Monroe and Marshal Yanda.

Others missing from practice included defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery), offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf strain), and wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Jace Davis.

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

Posted on 02 June 2014 by Luke Jones

In case you haven’t heard by now, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t organize offseason workouts with teammates and has apparently doomed the Ravens’ 2014 season almost two months before training camp begins.

At least that’s what some might have you believe as critics have used this revelation to question the seventh-year quarterback’s commitment to the organization after the worst season of his career in 2013. Or, maybe it’s just the latest example of the overkill of NFL coverage when there simply aren’t enough topics of substance to discuss in the offseason.

I’ll take some level of responsibility for the overreaction to Flacco not organizing informal workouts with teammates after I initially asked Dennis Pitta in early March if he’d talked to his best friend on the team about the tight end’s new contract and whether they planned to get together with other teammates to throw in the offseason. It was a question stemming from sheer curiosity and an effort to spice up what was otherwise a relatively mundane press conference following the announcement of Pitta’s five-year, $32 million contract five days earlier.

The reaction snowballed from there as many used Pitta’s initial response as a springboard to criticize Flacco for not eating, breathing, and sleeping football for all hours of the day and all days of the year.

Truthfully, the outcome of Flacco and his teammates refraining from getting together does nothing to significantly move the meter on where the Ravens’ fate will fall during the 2014 season. Yes, an argument could be made that it could provide a stronger rapport away from the Owings Mills facility, but the lack of any working knowledge of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system as well as an inability to contact coaches would have resulted in little tangible productivity.

Flacco must play better than he did in 2013 as the quarterback acknowledged again last week that he did a poor job of protecting the football in throwing a career-high 22 interceptions for the league’s 29th-ranked offense. Should that improvement come, it will be about putting in extensive preparation with Kubiak and taking advantage of better offensive personnel.

If he plays well in 2014, no one will remember that Flacco didn’t toss around the football with teammates at an undisclosed location in late March or early April. And if the quarterback plays poorly, heavy criticism will be there no matter what he did or didn’t do in the offseason.

In the same way that some critics squawk about veterans skipping voluntary organized team activities in the spring, these stories are only discussed when we’re more than three months away from real games being played and have little bearing on wins and losses by season’s end.

Reed back in Baltimore

Sunday was just another reminder of how good it is to see former Ravens safety Ed Reed maintain a strong relationship with Baltimore as he participated in cornerback Lardarius Webb’s charity softball game at M&T Bank Stadium.

There easily could have been hurt feelings when the Ravens allowed Reed to depart via free agency last year without even putting up a fight to keep him, but the sides remained amicable as the veteran safety returned for the visit to the White House as well as the Super Bowl ring ceremony last summer. It’s only a matter of time before the Ravens honor Reed with a one-day contract — if that’s what he wants, of course — to allow him to retire with the organization that drafted him in 2002, and we’ll see him in the organization’s Ring of Honor as soon as his playing days are over.

Many have called for the future Hall of Fame safety to retire, but there’s no reason why the 35-year-old shouldn’t try to continue playing if there’s a team who wants him and he’s healthy enough — a big question — with the nerve impingement in his neck and past hip issues. His play on the field is a far cry from what it once was as one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, but his leadership and football intelligence could still be assets for a team envisioning the right role for him at this late stage in his career.

As for Reed having a position in the Ravens organization after his playing days are over, it might be too soon to immediately hire him as an assistant coach, but the reputation he gained for mentoring young players late in his career as well as his vast knowledge for the game are talents the organization would be wise to use in some capacity.

Offensive line depth chart crowded

The development of the offensive line will continue to be a major storyline in the preseason as the Ravens decide who will be lining up at right tackle, but a simple look at the depth chart suggests some household names could be on the chopping block at the end of the summer.

The Ravens currently have 11 offensive linemen who either have extensive NFL experience or were drafted by the organization in recent years, a list that includes Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen, and Will Rackley. That group does not include rookie free agent tackle James Hurst, who is held in high regard and was considered a sure draft pick by many experts before he fractured his leg in North Carolina’s bowl game in late December.

Of course, depth doesn’t mean quality depth as the Ravens will determine whether Wagner or Jensen can cut it at right tackle or elect to move Osemele from left guard to tackle and explore the possibility of a veteran like Rackley at the left guard spot. General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh have also left open the possibility of adding another veteran tackle such as Eric Winston.

Regardless of how it plays out, holdovers from recent years such as Reid, Gradkowski, and Shipley should be looking over their shoulder this summer as it’s clear there is plenty of competition in an effort to improve what was an awful line a year ago.

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