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Our Ravens/Packers “Slaps to the Head”

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Our Ravens/Packers “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 13 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Green Bay Packers 19-17 Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. James Ihedigbo

4. Lardarius Webb

3. Gino Gradkowski

2. Juan Castillo

1. Ray Rice (Two Slaps)

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Harbaugh takes responsibility for abandonment of running game

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Harbaugh takes responsibility for abandonment of running game

Posted on 30 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Head coach John Harbaugh was prepared for questions about the Ravens’ ugly 23-20 loss to Buffalo and the utter disappearance of the running game.

For those mystified over a measly nine rushing attempts — two in the second half — the blame fell squarely on the coach’s shoulders as he addressed the media on Monday. The number of rushes was a record low in the 18-year history of the franchise in Baltimore.

“That’s my call all the way. I just felt like we weren’t running the ball well enough to win the game running the ball,” said Harbaugh, who added that he respected differing opinions about the lack of rushing attempts. “Looking back on it, I feel the same way. After watching the tape, I feel we did exactly the right thing to try to win that game. So, no second-guessing myself on that. That was my decision, and that’s the way we went with it.”

The fact that Harbaugh and the Ravens were so willing to throw in the towel on their running game in favor of throwing 31 straight passes from the latter portion of the second quarter until there was 4:52 remaining in the game speaks volumes about their lack of confidence. The Ravens are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry through four games, and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice collected just 17 yards on five carries while backup Bernard Pierce gained seven yards on four attempts against the Bills.

The Ravens’ abandonment of the ground game came against a Buffalo defense that entered Sunday ranked 30th in the league against the run and had surrendered 182 rushing yards a week earlier against the Jets.

Baltimore’s inability to run the football has caused many to begin pointing fingers with the most scrutiny falling on second-year center Gino Gradkowski, who was given the task of replacing 15-year veteran Matt Birk this offseason. The 2012 fourth-round pick hasn’t been alone in his struggles as all five members of the line haven’t met expectations, but the responsibility of making the calls at the line of scrimmage has been an adjustment for everyone.

“It’s the difference between Gino and Matt with the calls, and we’re feeling that in there right now,” Harbaugh said. “Gino is a really smart guy, but Matt had been at it for a lot of years. So, that’s something that we’re working through. The rest of the offensive line — we’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to run block better.

“We’ve got to make decisions scheme-wise about what’s best for our guys to do, exactly what schemes those are. We’ve got to come off the ball in the run game a lot better than we’re doing, and we’ve got to be more physical with the inside part of our pass protection and give Joe [Flacco] more depth to the pocket and keep Joe more clean.”

The other individual receiving heat for the line’s poor performance has been new run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, who joined Harbaugh’s staff this offseason and unofficially moved ahead of offensive line coach Andy Moeller in the pecking order. Though he earned a sterling reputation for his work in Philadelphia for over a decade, the Ravens have struggled to pick up the adjustments made to the inside zone blocking schemes.

Many have opined that the Ravens’ personnel up front is better suited to run more of a man-power style, but Harbaugh downplayed the significance of any wrinkles added by Castillo to the team’s offensive line philosophy from previous seasons.

“It’s the same offense. We still run the same plays,” Harbaugh said. “We still have the same philosophy; there are always a few wrinkles. That’s why I brought Juan in, because I was excited about things I knew he was going to bring to the table and bring to our program. Those things are a part of what we’re doing. We’re not the same team we were two months ago, and we’re going to be a different team two months from now.”

No sugarcoating Dickson’s struggles

Tight end Ed Dickson’s struggles to catch the football continued Sunday as an contested pass from quarterback Joe Flacco clanked off the fourth-year player’s hands and into the arms of Bills safety Jim Leonhard in the second quarter.

Asked what the biggest difference was between Dickson now and the tight end who caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns during the 2011 season, Harbaugh wasn’t in the mood to mince words.

“That’s a long time ago, so I’m hard-pressed to make that direct comparison,” Harbaugh said. “The stats kind of speak for themselves that you’re alluding to. He’s not the same player right now that he was then, obviously.”

Dickson has dropped six passes this year with the Ravens hoping he would pick up the slack for the injured Dennis Pitta. His 6-foot-4 frame and good speed suggested he has the tools to be a quality NFL tight end, but his time appears to be running out in a free-agent year for the 2010 third-round pick.

“Ed just needs to go catch the ball,” Harbaugh said. “He needs to run fast, get open and catch the football, put it away and get up field. That’s all he needs to do. And if he’s thinking about anything besides that, he’s doing himself a disservice. If he’s lacking confidence for some reason, that’s on him. [If] you’ve got that kind of talent and those kinds of gifts, go play ball.”

Injury report

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Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

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Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even as the newly-signed Dallas Clark made the highlight play of Tuesday’s practice with a one-handed catch on a pass thrown behind him in the end zone, Terrell Suggs screamed out, “Calm down, there’s still only one white tight end!”

The 30-year-old linebacker was not only teasing the former Indianapolis Colt but making it clear that the Ravens haven’t forgotten their starting tight end. The injured Dennis Pitta was clearly on Suggs’ mind as he watched the 34-year-old Clark haul in Joe Flacco’s errant pass.

And while the Ravens are pleased with the addition of Clark to boost their depth at a banged-up tight end position, it was an interesting coincidence that coach John Harbaugh revealed after Tuesday’s practice that the Ravens haven’t placed Pitta on season-ending injured reserve yet because they’re unsure that he’ll definitely miss the entire season.

“We’ll put him on IR when we’re certain that he’s out for the year,” Harbaugh said. “We know it’s a serious injury, but when it came back that there was no ligament or cartilage damage, then that maybe gave us some hope. We’re going to wait and see how that bone heals over the first five weeks of the injury and see where we’re at.”

Sidelined since July 27 when he dislocated his hip trying to make a touchdown catch during practice, Pitta still has a difficult rehabilitation process of an estimated four months ahead but has at least a slightly better chance of returning by the end of the 2013 season due to positive MRI results. The Ravens initially said Pitta would be out for the rest of the season and wasn’t even a  candidate for the possibility to return.

Starting last year, the NFL began allowing teams to place one player on IR with a designation to return later in the season. This would likely be the course of action with Pitta if no other long-term injuries arise between now and Sept. 3, the earliest date a team can place one player on the reserve-injured list as “designated to return.” With this label, a player must miss a minimum of eight weeks of games but can begin practicing after six weeks, stipulations unlikely to be much of a factor for Pitta’s expected length of time needed to recover.

While it’s tempting to give Pitta the same treatment offered to linebacker Ray Lewis after he tore his right triceps last October, the designation can only be used for one player whether the individual would be able to return or not, meaning the Ravens could be dealing with a short-handed roster if they were to have another key player go down with a long-term injury early in the season. General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must weigh the best-case scenarios for Pitta against the realistic expectations in determining whether he has a good chance to not just return to action but perform at a high level.

Shipley getting starting nod

If any more evidence were needed to determine how close the battle for the starting center job is at this stage in the preseason, run-game coordinator Juan Castillo announced Tuesday that A.Q. Shipley would receive the start in Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski started in the preseason opener last week and appears to hold the slightest of edges over the newcomer Shipley, who spent last season in Indianapolis. Gradkowski is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart released by the Ravens public relations staff, but the pair have split reps with the starting offensive line throughout the summer.

“We need to have some separation,” Castillo said. “Somebody has to come to the top. The problem is that they’re both playing really well right now.”

Whoever prevails in the competition will be filling the large shoes of Matt Birk, who retired this offseason after 15 seasons in the NFL and winning his first Super Bowl championship.

Clark sporting No. 87

Clark had worn No. 44 in his nine seasons in Indianapolis and one season in Tampa Bay, but the veteran tight end didn’t even bother asking fullback Vonta Leach if he wanted to work out a deal.

Expressing much respect for the three-time Pro Bowl fullback, Clark instead elected to take No. 87 in what is a tribute to former teammate and good friend Reggie Wayne. The two played together for nine years in Indianapolis with Clark crediting Wayne for helping him a great deal in his career.

“One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with, so I told him last night that I got his number and he was pretty pumped about that,” said Clark, who joked that he’ll pretend to wear No. 44 as long as he doesn’t look down at his jersey. “I learned a lot from that guy, so I felt good about having 87.”

Practice attendance

Three players returned to the practice field on Tuesday as offensive lineman Ramon Harewood (knee) and cornerback Chykie Brown (undisclosed) each returned from ailments and linebacker Courtney Upshaw was back with the team after being excused for the last two days for the birth of his son.

Players not practicing included defensive tackle Marcus Spears (hamstring), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed), tight ends Ed Dickson (hamstring) and Pitta, cornerback Chris Johnson (undisclosed), linebacker Jameel McClain (neck), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee).

Harbaugh revealed that Spears has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury that’s kept him out of action since the first preseason game, but the coach expects Spears to return soon but wouldn’t specify a timetable, making it unlikely he’ll play Thursday against the Falcons.

Odds & ends

The Ravens practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts in what amounted to an extended walk-through without any contact on Tuesday. … Clark made it clear that he has plenty of work to do — studying his playbook and working on the field — in order to pick up the Baltimore offense, regardless of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell from their days together in Indianapolis. “You do your best learning out here, making the mistakes and looking like an idiot and just causing a whole big ruckus and just being in the wrong position. That’s the only way you can truly learn how to play football.” … Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley received some first-team reps in his second practice since signing a one-year deal with the Ravens, executing a nice double move faking an inside slant before catching a touchdown pass during an 11-on-11 session. … Baltimore will have a walk-through on Wednesday that will be closed to media in preparation for their second preseason game.

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After years together in Philadelphia, Spagnuolo happy to be reunited with Harbaugh

Posted on 13 June 2013 by Tim Horsey

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You seem like you are the least-stressed coach in the NFL.

That was one of the many things noticed about Steve Spagnuolo during his first chance to address the media after the final day of mini-camp for the Ravens. After three dreadful seasons at the helm of the St. Louis Rams and another year coordinating a Saints defense that gave up the most yards in a single season in NFL history, Spagnuolo seems at ease in his new role with the Super Bowl champs.

“It’s been a tough two years, but I’m focusing forward, and I’m excited. To me, the way I look at this is this is a privilege to be a part of a great organization.”

Spagnuolo said that he is not happy with the way things worked out at his last two stops, but that he has learned from them.

“I’ll tell you what, people say this all the time, and it’s true: You learn more from the setbacks than you do really from the successes.”

Spagnuolo’s official role with the Ravens is senior defensive assistant, a role that he says will essentially be “an extra set of eyes.”

“You can never have enough eyes with some kind of experience to kind of give some feedback or an idea or something that we might have done, or I saw somebody else do that I worked for. I worked for some great people: [New York Giants head coach] Tom Coughlin, [Kansas City Chiefs head coach] Andy Reid.“

Harbaugh and Juan Castillo, the Ravens run game coordinator, were also part of Reid’s staff in Philadelphia. Spagnuolo mentioned how excited he was to rejoin some old friends on a new coaching staff.

“You leave each other, and you hope someday that you are back together. God-willing in this business, you can do that. It’s great. It’s great every day…I remember we used to test each other. I’d watch him coach, and he’d want the feedback. And, I’d ask him to watch me coach and give feedback. We’ve been doing that for years. It’s great to be with him.”

Before becoming the head coach of the Rams in 2009, Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. In New York, Spagnuolo rolled through a bevy of talented defensive lineman, including future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan and Pro Bowlers Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He would often put his four best pass rushers, usually four defensive ends, all on the line at the same time to create mismatches in what came to be known as the NASCAR formation.

Behind these high-pressure schemes and talented pass rushers, the Giants defeated the then unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, launching Spagnuolo into the limelight as one of the premier defensive coaches in the NFL.

And although that group Spagnuolo had in Big Blue was extremely talented, he says that this current group in Baltimore has all of the pieces to be even better.

“I had little visions of the Giants’ front that I happened to be privileged to be working with. They are good all the way around… This is as good as looking football team that I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about physically and stout.“

He specifically pointed to Chris Canty and Terrell Suggs as two pieces who are going to be key to the pass rush.

“You can’t coach that height. He puts his hands up, man. There’s not a coach in the world that can take a six-foot guy and do that. He’s been very impressive to me,” when referring to the 6’7” Canty.

And when he talked about Suggs, he mentioned his fun-loving, joker style that Ravens fans have come to know and love (for the most part), but he also praised the former Defensive Player of the Year.

“He put his uniform [on] and came out there. I looked at [senior vice president of public and community relations] Kevin [Byrne] and I’m laughing, saying ‘Wow. That’s what they’re supposed to look like.’ He is one of those blue-chips prospects in this league. He’s an elite player.”

Along with Canty, a slimmed down Suggs, and talented players like Elvis Dumervil and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens pass rush should be one of the most feared units in the entire league, which would be a significant improvement from last year’s squad, who finished tied for 15th in the NFL with 37 sacks.

With success in Baltimore, Spagnuolo could see his name be brought back up in conversation as a future head coach in the league, something that he is still striving for. When asked if he was looking to get back into head coaching, he had a very direct answer, one different from the lengthy answers he gave when asked other questions.

“Oh yes, yes, deeply. “

You could sense right away that this is a man who, even if he seems relaxed, is dying for another chance to get back at the helm of a football team and redeem his reputation. But he realizes that to get to that point, he needs to do his best in his current job in Baltimore.

“I listened to [Dick Vermeil] speak one time, and his advice to young coaches, any coach was, ‘Be the best at whatever job you have right now.’ So, I’m trying to be the best that this particular position and let the rest take care of itself.”

And if he can do that, it will not only be a positive for his personal future, but also for the future of a transitioning defense in Baltimore.

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Yanda sidelined until training camp after offseason shoulder surgery

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Yanda sidelined until training camp after offseason shoulder surgery

Posted on 11 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens convened for the start of their mandatory three-day minicamp on Tuesday, a critical piece of their offensive line was nowhere to be found as Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was absent from the field.

Coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose the exact ailment from which Yanda is recovering, but The Sun reports that the seventh-year lineman underwent offseason shoulder surgery. Yanda was present for the Ravens’ trip to the White House and the ring ceremony last week but will not return to the practice field until training camp as he continues to rehab.

“We expect him back by camp to some degree,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s done a great job. Marshal Yanda has done a great job with the rehab. He’s right on schedule, probably ahead of schedule. He’s doing really well.”

Yanda missed two games last year after suffering an ankle injury against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9 but recovered to play in all four of the Ravens’ postseason games en route to the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship. Two years ago, Yanda suffered chest and leg injuries in the penultimate game of the regular season but played the following week as he helped the Ravens clinch a division title and first-round bye in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

He was elected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons and is not only regarded as one of the toughest players on the team but also as one of the best guards in the NFL.

The long-term prognosis for Yanda doesn’t appear to be concerning, but the 28-year-old would be eligible to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list should he not be ready to practice by late July. Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood split time filling in for Yanda as the starting right guard on Tuesday.

Ngata feeling “80 percent”

Speaking to reporters in Owings Mills for the first time since he sprained the MCL of his left knee at the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata declared himself to be 80 to 85 percent of where he needs to be after spending much of the offseason rehabbing the injury.

Ngata did not need to undergo surgery, but the eighth-year defensive lineman acknowledged feeling frustrated after dealing with a plethora injuries over the last two seasons, including knee, shoulder, thigh, and ankle ailments at different points. He just began running a few weeks ago after rehabbing the knee injury that knocked him out of the second half of Super Bowl XLVII.

“It’s been real tough,” Ngata said. “Especially towards the end of the season, it just limited me. What I wanted to do was be an explosive player, and not being able to really come off or getting off blocks as well … It definitely was tough towards the end of the season, but you just fight through it, and we got a Super Bowl out of it.”

Much was made of Ngata’s noticeable weight gain last season as he played with 10 extra pounds after complaining of wearing down during the latter half of the 2011 season. Ngata doesn’t appear lighter than he did at the end of last season, but Harbaugh didn’t express concern over the defensive tackle’s level of conditioning with training camp roughly six weeks away.

“He’s in good shape. He’s fine,” Harbaugh said. “He’s right where he needs to be at this time. He’s doing well.”

With the offseason signings of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, Ngata will not be asked to play defensive end this year and will instead play inside at nose tackle and defensive tackle where he feels he can take better advantage of interior linemen with his strength and quickness.

Ngata didn’t offer any predictions or specifics when asked about a specific weight goal he has in mind for this season, but the Ravens privately hope he’ll be in better condition than he was last season.

“We’ll see what it is. I definitely just want to come in in great shape,” Ngata said. “After this minicamp, these next five weeks are going to be really important for me to make sure I’m in really good shape to come in and participate in camp.”

The four-time Pro Bowl selection signed a five-year, $61 million contract early in the 2011 season and carries an $11.5 million salary cap number for 2013.

Leach’s presence will be missed

With the official release of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach on Tuesday, there was plenty of talk about how the veteran will be missed not only on the field but in the locker room.

Leach was scheduled to make a $3 million base salary and was released when he and the Ravens were unable to work out a restructured contract.

“Vonta [Leach] has been as much of the heart and soul of this team as anybody since he’s been here,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been a great leader. He’s been a tremendous performer. I’ve never had more fun with a player since he’s been here, personally as a coach, than I have had with Vonta.”

Attention will now turn toward rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is expected to inherit Leach’s starting role despite possessing different skills than the traditional blocking back. Teammates are looking forward to the versatility the fourth-round pick can provide at the position after gaining a reputation as an excellent receiver out of the backfield at Harvard.

Juszczyk caught a team-high 52 passes for 706 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season.

“I would just say his athleticism and the ways you can use him,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Catching the football, blocking, running the football, lining him up in diesel formations and having him run routes. Obviously, we’re going to have to wait to see when we put on the pads in training camp to get a good sense for what he does with that kind of stuff.”

The Ravens began shying away from using Leach on a regular basis as the offense became more pass-heavy last season, but that doesn’t mean the 31-year-old’s departure and Juszczyk’s increased presence will dramatically change Baltimore’s plans on the offensive side of the ball.

“It doesn’t,” run-game coordinator Juan Castillo said. “[Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery] is working with Kyle to get him so he can learn our schemes. He’s a rookie. He’s been working hard to learn our schemes. He should be able to do a good job once he gets some experience.”

Slimmer Suggs

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Castillo’s addition continues collaborative effort among Ravens coaches

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Castillo’s addition continues collaborative effort among Ravens coaches

Posted on 26 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Praising a team effort not just among his players but also with his coaches, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made a key addition to his staff earlier this week that was lost in the excitement of the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance in 12 years.

Former Eagles defensive coordinator and longtime offensive line coach Juan Castillo was hired as a consultant for the remainder of the season and will serve as the Ravens’ run-game coordinator next season, a new position that will aid offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. Harbaugh announced that Caldwell would remain as the coordinator after being elevated to the position following the firing of Cam Cameron on Dec. 10.

Castillo will be working with a running game that finished 11th in the league by averaging 118.8 yards per game on the ground.

“He’ll be kind of a lead coach in terms of the run game and organizing the run game for us,” Harbaugh said. “Of course, he’ll work closely with Jim and all the coaches. Who’s in charge of what? Guys work together on a staff. Coach Caldwell’s done a great job of making that point time and time again. That’s true on the defensive staff, too.”

The decision to bring in Castillo isn’t surprising considering Harbaugh worked with Castillo for 10 years in Philadelphia, with Castillo serving as the Eagles’ offensive line coach and the Baltimore head coach serving as special teams coordinator and a secondary coach under Andy Reid. Castillo was promoted to Eagles defensive coordinator in 2011, but his tenure in that role turned into a disaster as Philadephia’s star-studded defense underachieved dramatically and the longtime assistant was fired on Oct. 16, 2012.

Reid was dismissed after the Eagles finished 4-12 in his final season. Castillo received opportunities to coach for several other teams but his familiarity with Harbaugh led to him joining the Baltimore staff at an ideal time.

“Juan is a tremendous football coach. He had lots of opportunities,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been coaching in the National Football League, both sides of the ball, obviously, with a lot of responsibility. Highly knowledgeable, great teacher. I had a chance to work with him for 10 years in Philadelphia, so I know this man very well.”

Given his wealth of knowledge working along the offensive line, Castillo figures to be a major asset for current offensive line coach Andy Moeller. The former Eagles assistant will also alleviate some pressure on Caldwell in terms of the running game, so he can continue to work closely with quarterback Joe Flacco.

Castillo’s role will be more clearly defined when this season ends and the Ravens get into the offseason.

“It’s an opportunity for us to improve our football team, the overall talent pool that we have here whether it’s player or coach,” Harbaugh said. “We try to get better — you either get better or you get worse — so we add him into our staff, which I think already is just a great stuff. It makes us better and that’s the whole idea.”

Suggs saving best for late

A simply look at the stat sheet tells you how much more of an impact linebacker Terrell Suggs is providing in the postseason after an injury-riddle season that included offseason Achilles tendon surgery and a torn biceps suffered in December.

Limited to only eight games in the regular season, Suggs finished with 22 tackles and two sacks. However, the 30-year-old has emerged in the postseason by posting 19 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in three wins over Indianapolis, Denver, and New England.

Suggs is regaining his explosiveness in the latter portion of the season and played his strongest game of the season in Denver, collecting 10 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in the Ravens’ 38-35 double-overtime win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

“We haven’t monitored or charted his explosive ‘quotient’ so far, but he is getting better,” Harbaugh said. “He’s becoming quicker, faster, more explosive, stronger, all those things. You can tell that it’s healing. He’s just playing more like a normal, 100-percent Terrell Suggs would play.”

With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick providing a challenge as both a runner and passer, Suggs’ ability to set the edge as well as to provide pressure in the pocket will be critical in slowing the zone-read attack from the pistol formation.

Best birthday ever

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Ravens not looking to “replace” Lewis — because they can’t

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Ravens not looking to “replace” Lewis — because they can’t

Posted on 22 January 2013 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens begin preparations to play in Super Bowl XLVII, the finality has set in about inside linebacker Ray Lewis playing his final game on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

The 37-year-old will offer his final pre-game speech prior to the game and, presumably, dance for the final time in front of the entire world as the Ravens seek their second NFL championship and first since Jan. 28, 2001. However, questions and concerns continue to exist about the daunting task of replacing Lewis’ impeccable leadership.

In addition to being regarded as one of the best defensive players in NFL history, Lewis is considered one of the greatest and most emotional leaders the sport has ever seen. Regardless of what happens against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, how do the Ravens fill that enormous void?

“He’s a guy who is ‘The Raven,’” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We respect him. When he speaks, everybody stops, everybody hears him. He’s kept this team together. He’s kept this organization together in so many ways, and we are all in this together. We want to go win this thing.”

The reality is that the Ravens won’t do anything differently to replace Lewis, in terms of his play on the field or his leadership. The talk in recent drafts of needing to find an “heir apparent” such as Dont’a Hightower or Vontaze Burfict or Manti Te’o has always been amusing in the sense that you never knowingly find a Hall of Fame player. Yes, someone will assume his position next season, but the Ravens will use the same approach they use for any other position on the field in looking for the right player at the right price or value, whether it comes via free agency or the draft.

Even more interesting is the discussion over how Lewis’ leadership will be replaced in the locker room. Candidates certainly exist such as quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, or even linebacker Terrell Suggs, but the Ravens cannot and will not alter their approach or ask any one individual to change who they are.

Lewis’ absence will be felt throughout the organization, and no one will replace the immense impact he provides in the same way. The post-Lewis era needs to be cultivated organically in the sense that the Ravens have other players they feel can be leaders — even if that leadership won’t include the same demonstrative theatrics or impassioned speeches.

The reality is the Ravens already have other leaders in their locker room, including players who have been drafted over the years and even free-agent signings. Flacco and Rice are leaders in a different sense than Lewis despite only completing their fifth season. General manager Ozzie Newsome has also combed the market in recent seasons for free agents who have provided leadership qualities in different areas such as center Matt Birk, defensive end Cory Redding (now with the Indianapolis Colts), and Pollard.

The Ravens will never look or feel the same way following Super Bowl XLVII, but that doesn’t mean the organization is obsessing over what to do in a life without Lewis. The transformation must happen naturally, just like it did with Lewis over the years after he was initially a 21-year-old rookie who entered a locker room that included veteran leaders such as Rob Burnett, Pepper Johnson, Eric Turner, and Vinny Testaverde in the spring of 1996. He didn’t become the leader that he is now overnight, and Lewis would be the first to tell you that.

“Everybody knows what kind of a player he is and what he has meant to this team and this organization,” said Birk, who could also be playing his final NFL game in New Orleans. “There is probably not another leader like him. There’s no one like him, someone that means as much as he does to this team. Everything that he has been through, being here from Day One and the way he plays and the emotion and the passion that he plays with.”

There’s simply no replacing Lewis, and the Ravens will continue to do things the way they always have and they’ll be just fine in the long run — even if it will never look the exact same way.

Caldwell staying as coordinator

The announcement by coach John Harbaugh at the end of Monday’s press conference that he would be retaining his entire coaching staff and, more notably, Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator was hardly surprising as the Ravens won the AFC Championship.

The dramatic improvement of the Baltimore offense and quarterback Joe Flacco in the postseason made it easy to decide that Caldwell would be Harbaugh’s guy for the 2013 season.

The Ravens haven’t made any dramatic changes to what they do offensively, but Caldwell has offered a new voice, a calming presence, and an open line of communication with fellow assistants and offensive players. The former Indianapolis coach has taken very little credit, citing the execution and hard work of players and the tireless efforts of the rest of the offensive coaching staff as the explanation for the offense’s improved consistency.

Unlike former coordinator Cam Cameron who had a reputation for wanting things done his way and for not being receptive to suggestions from others, Caldwell has welcomed feedback from his players and other assistants, in part because of his lack of experience having never been an offensive coordinator prior to being elevated on Dec. 10.

He has identified the need to highlight Flacco’s strengths by being aggressive in the vertical passing game and moving the pocket to neutralize potent pass rushes. The Ravens have also used the middle of the field more effectively in the passing game, which was first evident when they scored 33 points against the New York Giants in Week 16.

If for no other reason, Caldwell deserved to remain as offensive coordinator because of the outstanding play of Flacco, who was the best quarterback in the AFC in the postseason and is on the cusp of joining a select group of NFL quarterbacks if the Ravens can topple San Francisco. It remains to be seen what type of stamp Caldwell will put on the offense with a full offseason of work, but his efforts are a significant reason why the Ravens are making plans for a trip to New Orleans.

McPhee finally making impact

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Ravens keeping Caldwell as coordinator, hire Castillo as consultant

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Ravens keeping Caldwell as coordinator, hire Castillo as consultant

Posted on 21 January 2013 by Luke Jones

Concluding his weekly Monday press conference less than 24 hours after the Ravens’ 28-13 victory in the AFC Championship, coach John Harbaugh made two announcements regarding his staff for the upcoming 2013 season.

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will remain in that position next season after resurrecting a Baltimore offense that was sputtering in the month of December. Replacing Cam Cameron on Dec. 10, Caldwell has been credited for creating an open line of communication with both players and fellow offensive assistants that has catapulted the unit to terrific production, specifically from quarterback Joe Flacco in the postseason.

“It was a move that was the best move at the time we felt,” said Harbaugh while reflecting on the decision on Monday. “That was the best thing for our football team. All the contributions and all the work that had gone into what we’d done before that had gotten us to that point and put us in position to move on from there. To me, it all goes kind of together in total.”

The news was hardly surprising after the Ravens advanced to their first Super Bowl since Jan. 28, 2001.

Harbaugh also announced former Eagles defensive coordinator and offensive line coach Juan Castillo has been hired as a consultant for the remainder of this season and will serve as the Ravens’ run-game coordinator next season. Harbaugh and Castillo spent 10 years together coaching in Philadelphia, so it makes sense for the latter to join the Baltimore staff.

It was interesting to note that Harbaugh made the announcements at the end of his press conference, which prohibited media from asking questions regarding the coaching moves.

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