Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

Ngata not dwelling on uncertain future with Ravens

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Ngata not dwelling on uncertain future with Ravens

Posted on 17 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata made it clear Tuesday he hopes to finish his career right where it started with the Ravens.

Whether that happens or not will largely hinge on how well the 30-year-old performs in his ninth season in Baltimore.

Under contract through the 2015 season, Ngata carries the second-highest cap figure of any defensive tackle in the league at $16 million this year. His cap figure remains the same next season, but the Ravens would stand to save $8.5 million in space should they elect to part ways with him after the 2014 season, making it highly unlikely they’ll simply allow the defensive lineman to play out the final year of his deal.

General manager Ozzie Newsome explored a contract extension this offseason to lower Ngata’s cap figure and afford him the opportunity to finish his career in Baltimore, but the sides didn’t get far when discussing how much additional money would be included in a new deal. It’s a strategy the organization executed with linebacker Terrell Suggs, who signed a four-year extension earlier this offseason to lower his 2014 cap number in the process.

“I would love to be a Raven for life,” Ngata said. “If we can get something done, that’d be great. We’ll just let my agent and Ozzie take care of that business off the field.”

Trying to determine Ngata’s value is a tricky proposition despite the 2006 first-round pick coming off his fifth straight invitation to the Pro Bowl. Nagging injuries over the last three seasons have limited his offseason preparation and in-season production, leading many to believe Ngata isn’t the same player who continues to receive the accolades. He has typically started each of the last few seasons well before fading down the stretch when physical ailments begin hindering him.

In 15 games last season, Ngata collected 52 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks, his lowest sack total since the 2009 season after three straight campaigns in which he collected five or more. According to Pro Football Focus, Ngata ranked 18th among all defensive tackles in the NFL last season as he received his fifth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.

Telling reporters and coach John Harbaugh this is the healthiest he’s been in several offseasons, Ngata envisions himself providing a greater presence as a pass rusher than he did a year ago. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds, Ngata looks much like he did last year for the Ravens’ mandatory minicamp and did not attend the last three weeks of voluntary organized team activities.

“This year, I just tried to lose more body fat and just stay around the same weight,” said Ngata, who spent much of last offseason rehabbing the medial collateral ligament sprain that sidelined him in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII. “Towards the end of the season, I lost some strength, but [I'm] just trying to lose body fat and lean up a little bit more.”

A simple look at the last couple drafts indicate the Ravens are in the midst of rebuilding their defensive line. After selecting defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round of last year’s draft, Newsome took Florida State standout Timmy Jernigan in the second round this year as the pair will battle for the starting job vacated by free-agent departure Arthur Jones.

The Ravens envision Williams as a nose tackle, which would prompt defensive coordinator Dean Pees to slide Ngata back to the 3-technique tackle spot. However, Jernigan has a similar profile to Jones, which could keep Ngata at the nose position where he primarily played last season. Strong seasons from both Williams and Jernigan would enable the Ravens to take a strong stance as it relates to Ngata’s contract demands and future beyond 2014.

Jernigan is just one defensive lineman eager to soak up as much information as he can from the perennial All-Pro talent.

“It’s a blessing to play with another great defensive tackle,” Jernigan said. “It’s a defensive lineman’s dream to be able to play with a great player beside him. It definitely will take a whole bunch of pressure off me, and he’ll definitely be a great person to learn from.”

In the same way that Ngata learned from veterans such as Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce when arriving on the scene in 2006, the Ravens hope Ngata can help the likes of Jernigan, Williams, DeAngelo Tyson, Brent Urban, and Kapron Lewis-Moore take their play to the next level. Never one to be outspoken, the veteran acknowledged he might need to step outside his comfort zone to help lead such a young unit along with fellow veteran Chris Canty.

In reality, Ngata could find himself mentoring his imminent replacement with his future so cloudy beyond this season.

“Haloti is not going to change his personality,” Harbaugh said. “I have always felt like he was a great leader according to his personality. He works hard and he talks to the guys. He’ll continue to do what he’s always done. If he feels like he needs to talk a little more, it would be great.”

The biggest statement Ngata will need to make this season is with his play if he hopes to remain in Baltimore or at least put himself in optimum position for another payday on the open market if the Ravens deem his contract demands too expensive next winter.

No matter how much longer he remains with the Ravens, the league’s 12th-ranked defense from a year ago needs him to be a force in the trenches to take a significant step forward and get back to the postseason. And they’ll hope he recaptures his once-dominating form — and sustains it — with the benefit of a healthy offseason.

“I want to get better and better and try to at least get to double-digit sacks,” Ngata said. “That’s something I’ve never done. Hopefully, I can continue to get better and get to my goals.”

 

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Osemele biggest key to Ravens fixing offensive line

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Osemele biggest key to Ravens fixing offensive line

Posted on 04 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It was a year ago when the only question about Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was whether he would become a Pro Bowl left guard in his second season in the NFL.

The expectations were high for the 2012 second-round pick after his successful shift to left guard was part of a offensive line shuffle that helped catapult the Ravens in a run to their Super Bowl XLVII championship. Osemele had played admirably at right tackle during his rookie season, but his postseason work inside made most think he was ready to take off in his second year.

Instead, a debilitating back injury led to poor play and, eventually, season-ending surgery while the offensive line crumbled with too many question marks all over. Now recovered and participating fully during voluntary organized team activities this spring, Osemele sees no reason why the lofty goal of making the Pro Bowl should be any different as he returns from surgery to repair a herniated disk.

“That’s always going to be the expectation for me as a player,” Osemele said. “Knowing the ability that I have and my work ethic, I feel like I would be an underachiever if that wasn’t my goal.”

With uncertainty lingering at right tackle after the Ravens re-signed left tackle Eugene Monroe and acquired veteran center Jeremy Zuttah this offseason to reshape their offensive line, Osemele is the linchpin of the group as he is currently slated to be the starting left guard. However, his versatility leaves the door open for the third-year lineman to shift back to right tackle should 2013 draft picks Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen fail to play well enough to win the job and general manager Ozzie Newsome chooses not to sign a veteran.

Putting aside the right tackle battle, the Ravens are still putting plenty of faith in Osemele regaining the form of his rookie year, even after the positive reviews and the way he’s looked during spring workouts in which players practice in helmets, jerseys, and shorts. They know the true test won’t come until training camp when players are in full pads and experiencing full contact. The organization will then see how well Osemele holds up against the likes of hefty defensive linemen Haloti Ngata, Timmy Jernigan, and Brandon Williams in practices.

“As far as explosiveness, it’s hard to gauge that for any player, because we’re not hitting out here,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t think you can really evaluate the power that a guy has, but I don’t doubt that it’s in there with him if you just watch the way he moves. He looks good. He’s going to be a lot better than he was last year.”

The Ravens and Osemele hope his best play has yet to come as he initially sustained the back injury during his collegiate days at Iowa State. The combination of him and Monroe on the left side of the offensive line is formidable on paper as Monroe’s athleticism at the left tackle spot is complemented well by Osemele’s combination of power and agility from the interior.

But the recovering lineman acknowledged the changes he’s been forced to make in his training regimen after last fall’s surgery. He is no longer permitted to perform any lifting over his head or squats as he focuses more closely on core training and flexibility than he did in the past.

The preexisting back condition that he had managed for years worsened last offseason when he trained too hard with thoughts of the Pro Bowl on his mind. And it showed in his diminished performance that was limited to just seven games before he was placed on season-ending injured reserve and underwent surgery in November.

“I didn’t train very smart,” Osemele said. “It was definitely on me [and] the way that I had been training, obviously, without knowledge of how bad that it was and then throughout the season getting those multiple MRIs, and seeing the condition worsen and already being at a point where you have to [play] because you’ve been taking all the reps. I ate up all the reps and then couldn’t play to my ability.”

An offensive line that was already struggling took further lumps with Osemele sidelined as the undersized A.Q. Shipley filled in at left guard next to new starting center Gino Gradkowski, giving the Ravens major problems inside as their running game and pass protection could never get on track during a disappointing 8-8 season.

The question of what player will line up at right tackle isn’t one that figures to be resolved anytime soon, but Osemele’s return to the mix will ease the concerns of the entire organization. The Ravens saw more than enough during his rookie season to feel confident that Osemele can be an anchor of the offensive line as long as the back is no longer an issue.

He said Wednesday that he hasn’t felt this healthy and strong since his first year or two of college.

“He’s back to his usual self, running around,” Monroe said. “[He is] one of the best-conditioned guys on the field, just grinding and trying to get better. We are even having to slow him down a little bit because it has been a while since he played, and we have certain rules we have to follow right now. We’re just working together every day. I’m glad he’s right next to me, I really am.”

On Wednesday, Harbaugh reiterated the preference of Osemele staying at left guard next to Monroe while the Ravens solve the puzzle at the right tackle spot. Even if they don’t find a great answer at that position, there are plenty of ways for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to scheme help in protection to account for vulnerability on the right side.

One weak link on the offensive line can be overcome, but the Ravens cannot afford to be vulnerable at multiple spots like they were last season, making it critical that Osemele is once again the player that dominated defensive linemen in the 2012 postseason while helping the organization win its second Super Bowl title. He’s the most important variable in determining whether the unit makes substantial improvement or once again struggles this season.

Whether it’s ultimately at left guard or right tackle, Osemele needs to be a force.

“We can’t lock ourselves into saying one thing or another, because we just don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Harbaugh said. “[Osemele] gives us flexibility because he can move out to tackle, but I sure like the way he and Eugene look over on that left side. That’s the direction we’re heading right now and hopefully we can maintain that course.”

Wednesday OTA attendance

There were more veterans absent for Wednesday’s workout than at last week’s workout that was open to reporters as Ngata, linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith, defensive end Chris Canty, and guard Marshal Yanda were not on the field.

Ngata, Suggs, and Canty were the only veterans not present last Thursday.

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery) and offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf strain) remained sidelined as they continue to rehab injuries. Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) returned to the practice field after he’d been sidelined since his first week with the organization.

Running back Bernard Pierce (shoulder surgery) and rookie defensive end Brent Urban (ankle surgery) were once again practicing after undergoing procedures earlier in the offseason.

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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.

Elam praised

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RickyWagner

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Ravens T Wagner on right tackle nod: “I definitely have to earn it”

Posted on 30 May 2014 by Ryan Chell

After an 8-8 season in which the Baltimore Ravens fell short of defending their Super Bowl title, many of John Harbaugh’s players are coming into this week’s OTAs with a huge chip on their shoulders in an attempt to get back to the playoffs.

However, that attitude is nothing new for Ravens 2nd-year offensive tackle Rick Wagner, who is getting a crack at the team’s starting right tackle spot going into OTAs-the position vacated by former first-round pick Michael Oher, who left via free agency to sign a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Other candidates for the job include 2013 LG Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen, as well as undrafted rookie James Hurst.

Wagner, the team’s 5th round pick (168th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin, has had an uphill battle since he was drafted by the Ravens last April.  Despite a high grade, he fell farther than his initial draft projection despite playing four years at Wisconsin-including 39 starts and Outland Trophy consideration.

The off-season was a disappointing one not only for Wagner in terms of becoming a starting NFL tackle, but also seeing his team fail to play deep into January for the first time in the John Harbaugh era.

“It’s not a good taste to have in our mouths right now,” Wagner told Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” Thursday. “You can tell with the vets that they’re not used to that. “They’ve been making the playoffs for years here so we wanna get back and ultimately-that’s our number one priority.”

But behind the team goals, Wagner does find himself with a unique opportunity being tapped as the early candidate to start at right tackle for the Ravens going into training camp and ultimately in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals on September 7th-a situation he fought his entire rookie year to try and achieve.

“I’m really excited, ” Wagner told Clark after practice. “Last year, I practiced like I was going start Week 1 because you never know what will happen with injuries, but [this year], I’m just trying to get the playbook down first, which I’m already feeling confident with in these first couple OTAs.”

That determination fueled Wagner going into his rookie year, and he earned playing time out of it-playing 13 games for the Ravens in 2013 and starting two as John Harbaugh’s “swing tackle” in Jumbo, short-yardage, and goal line situations. 

Wagner said playing his rookie year really gave him an edge in his short NFL career getting acclimated to the changing pace of the professional game.

“It’s such a change from college,” Wagner said. “The speed is so much more amped up, and that’s the real difference. That really helped me out last year, and I’m ready to go.”

Wagner said it definitely put things on perspective when it came to his own work ethic.

“Every player in the NFL is the best player you’ve faced in college.  It’s just a whole new intensity you have to get used to.”

But even with that experience under his belt, Wagner still understands that he’s going to have to compete for the right tackle job and that he won’t have it handed to him.

“I definitely have to earn it,” Wagner said.  ”There’s nothing set until Week 1. I’m just gonna keep working and hope I earn that title.”

What’s he is getting used to in OTAs is lining up next to some new faces, including 3x All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda and getting line calls from a new center in former Buccaneeer Jeremy Zuttah.

Wagner said he owes so much to the two of them.

“It’s incredible to have him right next to me,” Wagner said of Yanda. “He helps me out every day and makes it so much easier when you have a vet like him next to you.”

And in regards to Zuttah, despite the center being in a Ravens uniform for two months, Wagner felt like with Zuttah’s knowledge and expertise, it feels like he’s been in the meeting rooms and on the field for years.

“We’re real comfortable already…it seems like he’s been here awhile,” Wagner said.  ”He’s a real athletic guy and he’s fit right in since the first day.”

Now it’s all about the whole group grasping this new scheme being implemented by incoming offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak. Despite the perceived complexity of a zone offense, Wagner though says it all comes down to execution despite the different terminology.

“Football is football,” Wagner said. “There isn’t really anything else we can do.”

What they do want to do is get back to establishing the running game to help out their quarterback in Joe Flacco.

“It’s a big emphasis. I’m really happy with the play-action stuff we have going this year-a lot different than last year.”

And while it’s been all business so far in camp, Wagner did say that he’s shared a few laughs so far seeing Flacco on some of Kubiak’s bootleg plays.

“He’s  a real athletic guy, and it’s good to see him getting out of the pocket and getting some runs going.”

WNST thanks Ricky Wagner for joining “The Reality Check!” Check out the entire conversation in the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault at WNST.net! 

 

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Harbaugh “very concerned” with Ravens’ off-field problems

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Harbaugh “very concerned” with Ravens’ off-field problems

Posted on 29 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens experiencing their most embarrassing offseason in recent memory, you could hardly blame head coach John Harbaugh for being happy to get his team back on the practice field.

Convening for the first week of organized team activities, the Ravens not only look to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the Harbaugh era but now face questions about leadership and a perceived lack of control at the top with four players being arrested over the last four months. Running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence case understandably garnered the most attention, but Harbaugh seemed to be speaking to a number of individuals when asked about dealing with such a tumultuous offseason following Thursday’s practice.

In addition to Rice, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, offensive lineman Jah Reid, and rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro were all arrested this offseason to bring further humiliation to an organization regarded as one of the finest in the NFL.

“I’m very concerned, always concerned,” Harbaugh said. “We talk to those guys all the time, and I’m disappointed in some of the silliness that’s going on. Guys are young, but … it’s not like you’re your 22- and 23-year-old buddies. You’re not in the same position that they’re in. You have to grow up faster than your pals, so you can’t go home and run around with your pals and think you’re in the same place that they’re in.”

A trimmer Rice was present and participating in Thursday’s practice less than a week after his public statements that were met with much negative reaction. The 27-year-old still awaits a potential fine and suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell after he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program last week to avoid prosecution on a third-degree aggravated assault charge in the state of New Jersey.

Harbaugh wasn’t present for Rice’s media session last Friday but acknowledged he’d read the statement and said he appreciated what the running back had to say.

“When he used the term, ‘failed miserably,’ that hit home with me,” Harbaugh said. “But like all those guys, it’s what you do going forward. That’s what everybody is going to take a look at it.”

Harbaugh acknowledged an increased effort to talk about off-field problems with players this spring and left the door open to making changes in the structure of training camp in terms of curfews and the structure for veterans if necessary.

Following the news of Taliaferro’s arrest in Williamsburg, Va. earlier this week, Harbaugh took some liberty in sending a message to the 2014 fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Taliaferro was arrested for public drunkenness and destruction of property, two misdemeanor charges, after punching out the window of a taxicab.

“We’ve had some conversations since what happened, but we also ran 18 full gassers out there together on Tuesday when we got back, and it was pretty hot,” Harbaugh said. “Was that punishment? No, I was going to do the workout anyway, but I needed some company. He needed to keep up with me.”

The Ravens can only hope the off-field headaches have come to an end with the structure of the third phase of the offseason training program upon players, but the front office and coaching staff will again hold their breath at the conclusion of their mandatory minicamp on June 19, which will leave roughly five weeks of free time for players before the start of training camp in late July. This is generally the time of year in which NFL teams are most concerned with players running afoul of the law.

Asked about alcohol being a common theme in players’ off-field issues, Harbaugh took the notion of drinking responsibly in public a step further by questioning whether highly-trained professional athletes are really helping themselves or their team by going out and consuming alcohol in the first place.

“Discipline is not like a light switch,” Harbaugh said. “You can’t just walk out of this building and all of the sudden turn it off and then go back here and turn it on. Football discipline is a way of life. Football discipline, life discipline — it’s all the same thing.”

Offensive line update

Much focus will be on the revamped offensive line throughout the summer as the Ravens try to improve the league’s 29th-ranked unit from a year ago.

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2015 fifth-round pick, center Jeremy Zuttah worked with the starting offense Thursday and has made a favorable impression with the coaching staff as the Ravens try to implement offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone-stretch blocking scheme. Zuttah is expected to replace incumbent Gino Gradkowski at the center position as Baltimore struggled up the middle last season.

“He’s smart — really smart, really mature [and] goes about his business in a mature way,” said Harbaugh about Zuttah. “I’m just very impressed with how smart he is. He’s very quick. He’s about 305, 306 pounds. He looks good physically in there. But he can move, so we’ll see. It’s going to be interesting to watch him play to see if he can prove himself.”

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Rice’s first public comments fall short with glaring omission

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Rice’s first public comments fall short with glaring omission

Posted on 23 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ray Rice was never going to win when he finally broke his silence on Friday.

Making his first public comments since a domestic incident in an Atlantic City casino in February forever changed his life, the Ravens running back wasn’t going to find words to brighten the opinions of the many who are justifiably angry and he may never improve the feelings of some. The parameters of declining to answer questions and scheduling the session on a Friday afternoon entering a holiday weekend created skepticism before Rice and his wife, Janay, ever stepped in front of cameras at the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills.

The missteps have already been picked apart, ranging from Rice fumbling with his phone to look at notes and offering an ill-suited analogy of getting up after being knocked down to his wife taking some responsibility for what happened — a public relations nightmare for a domestic violence incident — and the couple appearing distant with one another throughout the proceedings. What may have been a respectable desire to speak from the heart instead of reading a prepared statement was poorly executed as Rice has been known to occasionally ramble and speak in circles in his press conferences over the years.

But it was what he failed to say from the very beginning that ultimately doomed his first attempt to begin rebuilding his public image.

Oversight or not, Rice failed to directly and publicly apologize to his wife — the woman who sat next to him and in front of the entire world on Friday — while he expressed sorrow to others and spoke of his relationship with her growing stronger since the events of February 15. That’s not to assume the 27-year-old hasn’t apologized profusely to his wife in private, but if the goal of Friday’s event was to show his remorse and begin rehabilitating his image in the public eye, it needed to start with a direct appeal to the person impacted most by what happened at the Revel Casino.

Before apologizing to owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, or anyone else, Rice needed to show the world how much he loved the woman sitting next to him and how deeply sorry he was to her. Perhaps the intent was to present a strong and composed partnership between the two, but his lack of an immediate and personal apology to his wife at the beginning made the rest of his words ring hollow.

“As me and Janay wish we could take back 30 seconds of our life,” Rice said, “we definitely sit here today and tell you that we are better parents, we are better lovers, and we are also better friends throughout the situation. And as our families sit here today, we want to just thank you for encouraging us.”

Even with the harsh criticism over what transpired Friday, Rice is fully capable of rehabilitating his image, but that won’t happen overnight. His actions over time and how they impact his wife, family, and others close to him will be the deciding factor while his words on Friday — awkward as they were — carry little weight in the big picture.

Some may eventually forgive him and others will not, but Rice has the ability to make things right in his own life by simply following through on his vows of being a better husband, father, and role model. If he does that in the coming years, lingering criticism from the outside world won’t really matter.

The image of Rice dragging what appeared to be his unconscious fiancée from an elevator will never disappear — reports swirled on Friday afternoon that the seventh-year running back is expected to receive a multi-game suspension from the NFL — but the details about what preceded the events in that disturbing video may never fully come to light.

“There were a lot of tears shed, but me and Janay can truly say that we’re in a better place,” Rice said. “Hopefully, one day, I’ll gain back everyone’s trust to let you all know that we’re still the same people, and I’m still the same person. I really treat my job as a very special job, and I failed miserably. But I wouldn’t call myself a failure, because I’m working my way back up.”

Rice only needs to look to former teammate and close friend Ray Lewis as a notable example of rebuilding one’s image and regaining that trust.

It can be done, but his first attempt to begin that process on Friday was an obvious setback.

The other missteps were always going to be picked apart, but his failure to publicly and directly apologize to his wife from the very beginning was the colossal gaffe that will be difficult to forget.

 

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Taking a look at the 2014 Ravens roster prior to OTAs

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Taking a look at the 2014 Ravens roster prior to OTAs

Posted on 20 May 2014 by Luke Jones

With the NFL draft and rookie minicamp now in the rear-view mirror, the Ravens’ 90-man offseason roster has taken shape with a 2014 class of rookies and select veterans added to the mix over the last few months.

Baltimore will conduct its first of three weeks of organized team activity workouts next week before completing the offseason workout program with a mandatory three-day minicamp June 17 through June 19. Of course, the roster remains very fluid until the start of the regular season, but the Ravens now have a decent idea of the 90 players they’ll be bringing to training camp beginning in late July.

With that in mind, it’s time to take an early look at the 2014 roster, which includes plenty of mainstays as well as a number of newcomers head coach John Harbaugh hopes will make a difference in helping the Ravens rebound from their first non-playoff season of his tenure a year ago.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. As we eventually move into the preseason, I’ll provide updated looks as well as actual projections of who’s in and who’s out during the different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Keith Wenning, Nick Stephens
Skinny: The sixth-round selection of the Ball State product Wenning signals that Taylor’s time is likely short as the backup quarterback in Baltimore.
Player to watch: Wenning throws an accurate deep ball and was on the Ravens’ radar as a developmental backup option throughout the pre-draft process.
Player to worry: Taylor will need to have a strong preseason to show other teams he can at least remain a viable backup option after his rookie contract expires at the end of the 2014 campaign.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Cierre Wood, Kyle Juszczyk, Shaun Chapas
Skinny: There are still too many unknowns to determine whether the Ravens wind up having one of the deepest backfields in football or continue to have major issues running the football for the second consecutive year.
Player to watch: Taliaferro is the prototypical one-cut runner the Ravens are looking for in Gary Kubiak’s system despite outside concerns about the fourth-round pick coming from an FCS program.
Player to worry: Pierce won’t be 100 percent from offseason shoulder surgery until training camp and put forth a worse yards per carry average than Rice despite most attention falling on the three-time Pro Bowl back last year.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Deonte Thompson, Aaron Mellette, Michael Campanaro, LaQuan Williams, Gerrard Sheppard, Jace Davis, Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Butler
Skinny: If Steve Smith experiences a renaissance in his new surroundings, this can be one of the team’s most productive units, but that might be asking too much of a 35-year-old wide receiver.
Player to watch: Mellette spent the 2013 season on injured reserve with a knee injury, but the Ravens remain high on his future as an NFL receiver.
Player to worry: Thompson will struggle to make the 53-man roster after a disappointing 2013 season and an arrest earlier this offseason that certainly didn’t put him in the organization’s good graces.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels, Crockett Gillmore, Nathan Overbay, Phillip Supernaw
Skinny: With the third-round selection of the blocking-minded Gillmore, the Ravens have no concerns at the tight end position, which often thrives in Kubiak’s system.
Player to watch: Gillmore will see plenty of opportunities as a traditional tight end in the base offense, but the Ravens like his upside as a receiver as well.
Player to worry: Overbay was a late addition to the practice squad in 2013 but couldn’t have liked the Ravens signing Supernaw, a former Texans tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen, Will Rackley, James Hurst, Reggie Stephens, Parker Graham, David Mims, Brett Van Sloten
Skinny: Right tackle remains this unit’s biggest question mark, but Osemele returning as good as new from back surgery could be the X factor in determining how much the line improves from a disastrous 2013 season.
Player to watch: Wagner is currently projected to be the starting right tackle and the organization has more faith in him than most outsiders realize.
Player to worry: Reid has been a major disappointment as a 2011 third-round pick and could find himself off the roster by the end of the summer with the veteran Rackley being added to the mix at guard on Monday.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (13)

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Rookies try to make strong first impression with Ravens

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Rookies try to make strong first impression with Ravens

Posted on 17 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With most attention on the 2014 draft class as the Ravens gathered for their rookie minicamp this weekend, a number of former college players were trying to take advantage of what might be their only shot to catch on in the NFL.

In addition to working out draft picks, signed rookie free agents, and a few veterans previously on the practice squad or returning from injury, Baltimore invited 22 players to take part in rookie camp to not only fill out a full practice routine but take a look at any potential additions to the 90-man offseason roster. The most notable among them was wide receiver Jerry Rice Jr., the son of the Hall of Famer regarded by most as the greatest wideout in NFL history.

“He is a really good athlete. He doesn’t have his dad’s size, but he sure has his athleticism,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “When you watch him run, he runs a in a real similar way. And the other thing is he has that West Coast offense down. He has probably had that playbook since he was in the cradle.”

The former UCLA receiver is undersized at 5-foot-10 and caught only nine passes for the Bruins before transferring to UNLV for his senior season in which he caught 11 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, making the likelihood of the Ravens signing him a long shot. However, Rice caught several passes on Saturday and took one slant to the end zone during non-contact 11-on-11 team drills.

Of course, watching his father play for years in San Francisco made him familiar with the offensive attack the Ravens will be using under new coordinator Gary Kubiak. The 22-year-old has also dealt with living in the shadow of his father without allowing it to take away from who he is as a person.

“It’s something I’ve been born with since the beginning; I don’t know any better,” Rice said. “You can take it two ways. You can either burden yourself or take it as a challenge. I definitely take it as a challenge. Why not strive to be the greatest? You only get one chance to do this. Why not try to do your best?”

While Rice’s tryout was a feel-good story in an otherwise mundane weekend in which many of the players participating won’t even make it to the remainder of organized team activities, Harbaugh was complimentary of a number of the Ravens’ draft picks including first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley and fourth-round running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. Third-round tight end Crockett Gillmore was one of the most impressive players on the field as he showed good hands in catching several passes.

Mosley was vocal while running the defensive huddle, and most expect him to immediately start next to veteran Daryl Smith in the 3-4 base defense.

“The first impression is that he seems very comfortable in a defense,” Harbaugh said. “He understands the game very well. He’s been really well-coached, obviously, down [at Alabama]. That was a big plus coming out.”

Harbaugh made it clear that there was no time to ease the rookies into action with the draft taking place two weeks later this year.

The mental preparation of learning an NFL system understandably takes time, but the physical rigors of playing at the next level were felt by the rookies immediately, according to the head coach.

“We go right at it as much as we can,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not real football. It’s not tackling and all that, but we try to throw a bunch on them mentally and really physically as well in terms of the running. Lorenzo Taliaferro told me that he had never been so sore in his life without hitting. I said, ‘Yeah, we run a lot in the NFL.’”

Lewis-Moore ready to show he belongs

The Ravens selected Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore in the sixth round of the 2013 draft fully knowing that his rookie year would essentially be a redshirt season after he suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game that January, but they’re hoping to reap the fruits of that long-term investment beginning this season.

Now 16 months removed from the injury and taking part in this weekend’s rookie camp, Lewis-Moore is out to prove why he was a well-regarded NFL prospect and to find his place in the defensive line rotation.

“I don’t have to relearn too much. We’re all football players and the game comes back to us pretty quick,” said Lewis-Moore, who briefly practice on a limited basis for a three-week period last season. “The first practice, I was a little rusty with my technique, but the afternoon practice was better. It’s going to be really competitive.”

The 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive lineman collected 40 tackles and six sacks in his senior season to help lead the Fighting Irish defense to the national championship game against Alabama.

Other veteran players taking part in rookie minicamp included tight end Matt Furstenburg, wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard, quarterback Nick Stephens, and lineman Cody Larsen, who were all members of the 2013 practice squad.

Injury report

Fourth-round defensive end Brent Urban (offseason ankle surgery) and sixth-round wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring strain) were present but did not participate in Saturday’s practice.

Third-round safety Terrence Brooks was excused from the team as he and his fiancée welcomed the birth of their son on Friday, but Harbaugh complimented the former Florida State defensive back’s work from earlier in the week.

The Ravens coach also said that left guard Kelechi Osemele (back surgery) was participating fully in the offseason training program and that running back Bernard Pierce (shoulder surgery) should be ready to go by the start of training camp.

“[Bernard's] been allowed to move around a little bit, but we just can’t risk him falling on it right now and getting a setback,” Harbaugh said. “So, you’re probably looking at training camp for him, which shouldn’t be an issue as long as you don’t get a setback.”

Two more draft picks sign

The Ravens announced the signings of second-round defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and Urban to their rookie contracts on Saturday afternoon.

The only draft picks who remain unsigned were Mosley and Brooks despite the draft only being completed last weekend.

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Ravens’ 2014 draft may prove strong, but immediate questions remain

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Ravens’ 2014 draft may prove strong, but immediate questions remain

Posted on 11 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Assessing the Ravens’ 2014 draft now is akin to judging a gift based solely on its wrapping paper.

Only time will tell how many of their nine selections will pay dividends in 2014 and beyond. Even assistant general manager Eric DeCosta acknowledged recently that the evaluation process is as much art as it is science — and luck — with a number of variables ranging from talent and intelligence to health and work ethic determining how successful a player will be.

But the initial reaction to what the Ravens accomplished over the weekend and how it specifically relates to the 2014 season? Underwhelming and redundant.

It has little to do with questioning the quality of players they selected as much as it felt like a repeat of the 2013 draft with an overwhelming emphasis on defense — at the same positions — for a second consecutive year. After selecting a safety (Matt Elam), an inside linebacker (Arthur Brown), and a defensive tackle (Brandon Williams) with their first three picks last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome grabbed an inside linebacker (C.J. Mosley), a defensive tackle (Timmy Jernigan), and another safety (Terrence Brooks) with his first three selections over the weekend.

“You never know what kind of shape the draft is going to take,” DeCosta said Saturday evening. “We go into it blind, and this just ended up being really a draft about substance. We got guys that we think are going to be here for a long time and are going to help us win games. They’re guys in the fourth quarter that should be big-time players for us over time.”

It would be unfair to strongly doubt the talents of Mosley or Jernigan — two players viewed as top 20 talents by more than a few draft pundits — or the potential of Brooks to become defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ starting free safety as early as this coming season. But it is reasonable to question what the selections of Mosley and Jernigan mean for Brown and Williams, two players many expected to step into starting roles this season.

Of course, the Ravens would privately tell you they’ve found the eventual successors for veterans Daryl Smith, Haloti Ngata, and even Chris Canty after grabbing 5-technique defensive end Brent Urban with their first choice on Day 3 of the draft. But that doesn’t sound like dramatic improvement for this season as the Ravens try to bounce back from an 8-8 record and the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

While no one would confuse the league’s 12th-ranked defense with the 2000 Ravens a year ago, it was the offense that was the biggest culprit that needed major reconstructive surgery this offseason.

It’s true that the Ravens have already worked to address the league’s 29th-ranked offense with the hiring of new coordinator Gary Kubiak, the free-agent additions of 35-year-old receiver Steve Smith and 31-year-old tight end Owen Daniels, and the trade for Tampa Bay center Jeremy Zuttah, but the need for a right tackle and the desire for another impact pass-catcher virtually went untouched this weekend. Yes, the Ravens will always take the best talent available, but the fact that they’ve taken only one offensive player in the first three rounds in the last two years — out of a total of seven choices — is concerning for that side of the football.

Third-round tight end Crockett Gillmore has encouraging upside, but many consider him more of a developmental prospect than someone ready to contribute this year behind Dennis Pitta and Daniels. And while the organization thinks fourth-round running back Lorenzo Taliaferro could be one of the steals of the entire draft, the 230-pound back will need to prove his accomplishments at FCS school Coastal Carolina will translate to the next level.

Are those additions enough to not just improve but dramatically improve what was an abysmal offense a year ago?

“We’re all laughing because the whole board was stacked toward the offense,” said Newsome at the conclusion of the third round. “But Eric has made the comment several times that we’re being contrary — everybody else in this league is drafting offensive players and we’ve been drafting defensive players. But it was stacked more toward the offensive side, but the way it fell for us, it’s been the defensive players.”

Truth be told, the Ravens are higher on second-year linemen Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen than most assume as the former is currently projected to be the starting right tackle with the season just under four months away. But considering the albatross that was the offensive line for a franchise-worst running game a year ago, Penn State guard John Urschel being the lone lineman selected by Newsome — in the fifth round — understandably raises eyebrows.

And even after their other defensive additions, the Ravens’ decision not to draft a cornerback after the free-agent departure of Corey Graham will also put more pressure on Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson as they compete for the No. 3 corner spot.

That’s plenty of dependence on former late-round draft picks who’ve made little impact in their time with the Ravens.

“We need to give these young guys a chance,” Newsome said. “I think guys should fail on the field, so we’re going to give these guys the opportunity to fail on the field. That way we know whether they can [play] or not. But we feel real good about them. And the other aspect of that, bringing in a new set of coaches, and they’re getting a chance to put their eyes on them, and they feel good about the young guys that we drafted last year.”

That message sounds contradictory to how some now view the 2013 selections of Brown and Williams after Mosley and Jernigan were picked in this year’s draft. There’s no shame in acknowledging Mosley and Jernigan as superior prospects on their board, but it’s only natural to wonder if the Ravens feel they whiffed on last year’s class more than they lead on.

Make no mistake, the draft should always be about the long run, but that doesn’t prohibit a team from immediately improving its prospects for this season, which leaves this weekend with questions still unanswered.

The truth is the Ravens won a Super Bowl based largely on offense two years ago but have been more committed to improving the defensive side of the ball ever since. And though the defensive-minded Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens’ tireless dedication to defense doesn’t appear to mesh with what the league has become as DeCosta even pointed out over the weekend.

“We’ve added a nice influx of young defensive talent,” DeCosta said. “We’ve always been known as a team that has prided itself on defense. This is a blue-collar community, and I think they’re going to enjoy watching these guys play.”

Maybe so, but fans will also continue to hold their breath about the offense until the Ravens prove otherwise.

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C.J. Mosley’s great, but Ravens’ draft class will be defined by who they take next

Posted on 09 May 2014 by johngallo

It’s a great start. But one player rarely makes for a great draft class.

It’s not surprising the Ravens took C.J. Mosley, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound inside linebacker out of the University of Ozzie Newsome, I mean Alabama.

What’s not to like: He runs a 4.63 40-yard dash and can jump 35 inches. He was one of the best linebackers available in the draft – one so good the Ravens would have picked him as high as No. 10, if you believe Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta.

“There’s no question in my mind that he’s going to be ready to play from Day 1,” Newsome, the general manager, said.

Mosley won The Butkus Award in 2013, given to the nation’s top college linebacker, after posting 108 tackles, forcing a fumble and defending five passes for the Crimson Tide.

“He’s the one guy that you can’t find anyone to say anything bad about him – how reliable, accountable and dependable he is on and off the field,” Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said.

Coach John Harbaugh agreed.

“You’re going to love him,” he said. “You’re going to love his work ethic. You’re going to love his personality. He’s going to be in here Monday ready to go to work.”

Mosley is the sixth inside linebacker on the roster, but he was simply too good to ignore.

“We know we got better as a football team because of the way C.J. plays,” Newsome said.

Yes, Baltimore should be better with Mosley, but whether the Ravens can transform from a mediocre, 8-8 team to one that makes the playoffs will be determined by who they add with their final seven picks.

The Ravens have the Nos. 48 (second round), 79, 99 (third rounds), 134, 138 (fourth rounds), 175 (fifth round) and 194 (sixth round) picks, so they have plenty of chances to fill glaring weaknesses.

Here are three areas the Ravens must address:

Offensive line: If the season started tomorrow, who would start at right tackle? Raise your hand if you had Ricky Wagner, a fifth-round pick who played in all 16 games with two starts as a rookie last year. Upgrading an offensive line that was terrible in protecting Flacco and just as bad in creating holes for Ray Rice is critical if the Ravens are going to return to the playoffs. The Ravens have been superb at picking offensive linemen in the first round. Ogden (1996) played in 11 Pro Bowls and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, while Ben Grubbs (2007) made one. The odd man out: Oher, who never lived up to his lofty expectations and signed with the Titans during the offseason.

Options:

Rounds: 2-4: Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA, 6-4, 307; Cyrus Kouandijo, Alabama, 6-7, 332; Morgan Moses, West Virginia, 6-6, 312; Jack Mewhort, Ohio State, 6-6, 309; Antonio Richardson, Tennessee, 6-6, 236; Cameron Fleming, Stanford, 6-5, 323; Billy Turner, North Dakota State, 6-5, 315; Michael Schofield, Michigan, 6-7, 301.

Rounds 5-6: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill, 6-5, 298; Justin Britt, Missouri, 6-6, 325; Seantrel Henderson, Miami, 6-7, 331; Matt Patchan, Boston College, 6-6, 302.

My pick: Richardson.

Safety: The Ravens’ bolstered the position by signing former St. Louis Ram Darian Stewart in free agency. Stewart played in 13 games (six starts) last season, when the 5-foot-11, 216-pounder made 36 tackles. The Ravens need someone to replace James Ihedigbo, who signed with Detroit during the offseason. The Ravens drafted Matt Elam in the first round last year as they try to find the next Ed Reed, a future Hall of Famer and former defensive player of the year who made eight Pro Bowls.

Options:

Rounds 2-4: Brock Vereen, Minnesota, 6-0, 199; Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin, 6-0, 211.

Rounds 5-6: Craig Loston, LSU, 6-1, 217; Vinnie Sunseri (recovering from torn ACL), Alabama, 5-11, 210; Ahmad Dixon, Baylor, 6-0, 212; Tre Boston, North Carolina, 6-0, 204.

My pick: Loston.

Running back: Rice, Bernard Pierce and Bernard Scott – that’s the Ravens’ depth chart at the position right now. If the Ravens enter the season with that Holy Trinity of Mediocrity, Flacco might have to throw until his arm falls off if the Ravens are to make a deep run in the playoffs. Rice, Pearce and Scott combined for 373 carries for 1,110 yards – an average of 2.9 yards per carry – and six touchdowns. If that happens this season, the Ravens will have a really high draft pick in 2015.

Options:

Rounds 2-4: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State, 6-0, 230; Bishop Sankey, Washington, 5-10, 209; Tre Mason, Auburn, 5-9, 207; Jeremy Hill, LSU, 6-1, 233; Andre Williams, Boston College, 5-11, 230; Terrance West, Towson, 5-9, 225; Devonta Freeman, Florida State, 5-8, 206; Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona, 5-9, 207.

Rounds 5-6: Charles Sims, West Virginia, 6-0, 214; Lache Seastrunk, Baylor, 5-10, 201; Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern, 5-9, 209; James White, Wisconsin, 5-9, 204; De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon, 5-9, 174

My pick: Thomas.

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