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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 05 August 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 21 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

After witnessing disappointing performances in each of the Ravens’ first two preseason games, all eyes will be on the starting offense in the all-important third summer contest treated as the “dress rehearsal” for the season opener.

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half with some being pulled a little earlier and others receiving action in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers in a nationally-televised contest on Thursday night. Much attention will be paid to the wide receiver position where the Ravens have been unable to find trustworthy options beyond third-year wideout Torrey Smith to this point in the summer.

The Ravens also hope to gain further clarity in the competition for the starting center position between Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley after each started a game with the first-team unit in the first two weeks.

“This is going to be important. It’s going to be important the way we play,”  said coach John Harbaugh, who labeled last week’s first-half performance as being as poor as any he had seen in his six years in Baltimore. “We want to win every game, and I really am proud of the way our guys have found ways to win. But we also want to play well, and that means every little thing we look at, whether it’s run blocking or run defense or the way we make checks and adjustments, the decisions we make at quarterback. We want to play good, solid football.”

Thursday marks the sixth time the Ravens and Carolina have met in a preseason contest with Baltimore holding a 4-1 advantage. However, the Panthers enjoy a 3-1 edge in regular-season meetings despite the Ravens winning the last meeting between these teams in 2010.

The Ravens will see three familiar faces on the Panthers roster as safety Haruki Nakamura, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, and quarterback Derek Anderson all spent time in Baltimore to begin their respective careers.

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 15-7 in the preseason and have won 14 of their last 18 exhibition contests. Baltimore is 42-27 in all-time preseason play, winning eight of its last nine played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to produce an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. Cornerback Lardarius Webb and right guard Marshal Yanda have begun practicing on a full basis in recent days as Harbaugh described each as having a good chance to play in the third preseason game of the summer, but no decision had been made as of the final day of media availability this week.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring), WR Deonte Thompson (foot), LB Jameel McClain (neck), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: LB Adrian Hamilton (wrist)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)
PROBABLE: OL Ramon Harewood (knee), LB Bryan Hall (hamstring), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), WR Marlon Brown (knee), RB Anthony Allen (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. S Matt Elam

The first-round pick has chased veteran James Ihedigbo in the battle at strong safety all summer, but Elam appeared to close the gap last week, receiving some extensive time with the starting unit in addition to playing in sub packages. The hard-hitting safety finished with six tackles, including one for a loss, and has shown an impressive nose for the football throughout the summer.

Secondary coach Teryl Austin acknowledged Elam is still learning the finer intricacies of the Baltimore defense, but the Ravens aren’t at all unhappy with the 32nd overall pick of April’s draft. He may not start Week 1, but that’s probably a bigger credit to the play of Ihedigbo than an indictment on Elam’s development so far.

2. WR Aaron Mellette

The rookie from Elon has two touchdown catches on two targets in the preseason and is slowly climbing the depth chart to the point where he’s received extensive reps with the first-team offense over the last week of practices, which is both a compliment to him and a commentary on the alarming state of the wide receiver unit. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Mellette certainly has the size to play in the NFL and he’s shown more toughness in recent weeks to make catches in traffic in both practices and games.

He doesn’t fit the profile of a receiver who will line up in the slot, but Mellette is certainly putting himself in prime position to grab a spot on the 53-man roster. If he can be productive working with Joe Flacco and the starters on Thursday night, the Ravens might be looking at Mellette as a real contributor sooner rather than later.

3. C Gino Gradkowski

Gradkowski appeared to gain some separation last week after a disappointing outing from Shipley with the starting offensive line, but this battle is still a little too close to predict who will definitely be lining up with the first team against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 5. It appears that Gradkowski received more reps with the starters this week, which could be an indication of who the Ravens are leaning toward right now.

Neither player has risen significantly above the other, but Gradkowski has been steadier in the first two preseason games and was a fourth-round pick a year ago with the sole thought of becoming the heir apparent to the retiring Matt Birk. The biggest question is whether Gradkowski or Shipley is big enough to hold up against the beefier defensive tackles in the league, but the impressive guard combination of Yanda and Kelechi Osemele certainly quell concerns in that department.

4. FB Kyle Juszczyk

The Harvard product got off to a slow start during camp and virtually became a forgotten man after the return of Vonta Leach, but the Ravens have been using Juszczyk in more creative ways over the last week or two of practice, occasionally lining him up at tight end and even putting him in the slot. He’s shown consistent hands and could be viewed as a third tight end and H-back if offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is willing to be creative with the fourth-round selection.

Juszczyk’s work on special teams might be his best opportunity to see playing time in his rookie season and the Ravens are using him in all phases of Jerry Rosburg’s units. He is also working as the lead blocker on the kickoff return team, which could spell trouble for Anthony Allen’s security on the 53-man roster if the Ravens prefer newcomer Delone Carter or Bobby Rainey for the No. 3 running back job.

5. TE Dallas Clark

The 34-year-old tight end has caught nearly everything thrown his way in practice and has looked much like the player who used to torment the Ravens as a member of the Indianapolis Colts years ago, but we’ve yet to see him in live-game action. Clark looks smaller than his listed 6-foot-3 height and 252-pound weight — but with apologies to Ed Dickson, who is more of a straight-line route runner — he might be the best option the Ravens have in trying to replicate Dennis Pitta’s role in the offense.

The Ravens plan to use Clark and veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley extensively in Thursday’s preseason game to see if they can be the elixir for their woes in the passing game. If not, concerns will only grow with the regular-season opener just two weeks away.

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Leach’s return provides insurance for uncertain offensive identity

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Leach’s return provides insurance for uncertain offensive identity

Posted on 31 July 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. — Believe it or not, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t immediately get on the phone with fullback Vonta Leach to grovel and beg for him to return after the disappointing season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta last weekend.

As was the case with newly-signed veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, the Ravens were already having discussions about bringing Leach back after releasing the three-time Pro Bowl selection less than two months ago. Newsome simply never panics, regardless of how troubling the loss of Pitta was to a passing game already facing major question marks at wide receiver with the offseason departure of veteran Anquan Boldin.

But the bruising blocker Leach’s return on a two-year deal is a critical insurance policy to have when you don’t know what your passing game is going to look like or whether it will be effective enough to win games consistently. The Ravens undoubtedly have a franchise quarterback who proved his worth with one of the finest postseason runs in NFL history, but Joe Flacco needs someone to catch the ball, too.

The combination of Pitta’s injury and the re-signing of Leach to a two-year deal have prompted many to suspect that the Ravens will lean more heavily on their running game, which features Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and impressive backup Bernard Pearce. On paper, it’s difficult to disagree that the running game appears to be more of a sure thing than a passing attack that features Flacco and speedy third-year wideout Torrey Smith but not many proven commodities after that.

In the Flacco era, the Ravens have gradually moved away from a run-first mentality to open up a passing game that remained stagnant for more than a decade before the University of Delaware product arrived in Baltimore in 2008. The Ravens ran the ball 57.76 percentage of the time in Flacco’s rookie season, 47.85 percent in 2009, and 49.80 percent in 2010.

Since those first three seasons, their running play percentage has dropped out of the league’s top 10 with 45.76 percent in 2011 (13th in the NFL) and just 44.22 percent of their 2012 offensive plays (15th in the league).

With Boldin and Pitta now out of the picture, are the Ravens poised to return to their once-familiar profile of relying heavily on their running game and a revamped defense to lead them to victories?

“We don’t know,” Leach said. “Like I said, we never know what our identity is going to be until after training camp. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays. People are going to have to step up – that’s just always been the motto around here. ‘Next man up.’”

That motto has been uttered repeatedly over the years, most recently last season when the likes of Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Lardarius Webb went down with long-term injuries but were replaced admirably by Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Corey Graham. But Pitta’s loss reaches beyond backup tight end Ed Dickson because of an underwhelming group of wide receivers that include only two known commodities in Smith and a deep-ball threat in Jacoby Jones.

Pitta was being groomed to replace Boldin in the slot, serving as Flacco’s go-to target on third down and an excellent red-zone option as he was over the last two seasons. It wasn’t unreasonable to predict a Pro Bowl season for Pitta playing a hybrid role of wide receiver and tight end in a contract year

Yes, Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the front office have spoken glowingly all offseason about the potential of Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, David Reed, LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, and seventh-round wide receiver Aaron Mellette, but anyone fully confident in that group of players is taking a significant leap of faith based on a handful of cameo appearances in regular-season games for a few and only practice and preseason reps for the rest of the bunch.

The truth is no one really knows exactly what the offense is going to look like in coordinator Jim Caldwell’s first full season in charge. Make no mistake, the Ravens won’t be conjuring Woody Hayes’ “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy with Flacco under center, but the sixth-year quarterback may not receive his wish to throw the ball at will with so few targets to trust.

The question would then become whether the current offensive line that includes four starters from Super Bowl XLVII — the center spot is up for grabs with Gino Gradkowski the favorite over A.Q. Shipley — is up to the challenge of more run blocking and the physicality it involves.

Even the Ravens admit the offense is a work in progress, not knowing exactly who will be most involved. Newsome is always monitoring the market for potential trades and signings, but the prevailing thought is that it’s unclear whether there’s anyone available that’s undoubtedly better than what they already have and fits their need for a receiver who can work the middle of the field. As a result, Baltimore is content with continuing to evaluate their young wide receivers with the option of adding a veteran pass-catching target before the season opener on Sept. 5.

“We haven’t made any determination three or four days into training camp what our offensive personality is going to be,” Harbaugh said. “You always have to build your offense around your players. And you have to see how your players work together and what they do well individually and who emerges. The fact that [the Pitta injury] happened this early is probably something that makes it a little bit less difficult in that sense.”

In the days following Pitta’s injury, Dickson has impressed lining up at tight end and occasionally in the slot, making several long receptions and catching nearly everything thrown his way. However, the fourth-year tight end has struggled with catching the football consistently at different points in his young career, which is one reason why Pitta eventually supplanted him as the primary tight end in the second half of the 2011 season.

Just as they viewed Boldin’s departure, the Ravens won’t lean too heavily on Dickson alone to replace Pitta’s production, but the 126 receptions, 1,590 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns that Pitta and Boldin combined to provide last year will have to come from somewhere.

Finding that right combination won’t be easy and the Ravens understand that while reminding everyone that the month of August is just beginning. This is the time to see exactly what you have in Dickson and their young receivers while understanding they have Leach and a heavier reliance on the running game as a fallback plan.

“You have to prove out here in practice each and every day that you’re the guy, and you can get the job done,” Dickson said. “It was high expectations for the whole group, and that’s just the standard.”

But there’s no guarantee that individuals from a group of unproven candidates will ultimately emerge.

And that’s what makes Leach’s return just a bit more comforting this week.

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Baltimore Ravens 2013 Season Preview Part One

Posted on 05 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

Baltimore’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII was bittersweet. The Ravens had a reason to celebrate but it must also be put into perspective. Ray Lewis will never play for the Baltimore Ravens again. Neither will Ed Reed.

Many fan favorites are gone from Baltimore. Guys like Bernard Pollard, Carry Williams, and Anquan Boldin weren’t just great players. They were tempo setters. They brought intangibles to the team that personified the Ravens playing style and can’t be replaced.

Even with all the departures, the Ravens still stand a chance to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Don’t forget, they still have number five and 27 in the backfield. The Ravens offense will live and die by Flacco and Rice this season. Both are highly regarded by their peers and are a dangerous duo when Rice is involved in the passing game.

Even though Rice remains, the heart and soul of the offense is gone. Anquan Boldin will be wearing a 49ers jersey this season and will be greatly missed. In my opinion, the Ravens received too little for Boldin who is worth much more than a sixth round draft pick. Experts say he was getting old and could not separate but what does it matter if he still catches everything thrown his way?

In the coming season, the Ravens will replace Boldin’s production with Dennis Pitta. Pitta should play a hybrid position in 2013 between tight end and wide receiver. He will line up in the slot more often, which will allow more opportunities for Ed Dickson to be a pass catching threat. Don’t forget that Dickson can be a dangerous weapon when utilized. Before Pitta broke out in the 2012 season, Dickson had nearly 60 catches and 528 receiving yards.

Having Pitta in a hybrid role would also allow the Ravens to utilize versatile rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell could have a lot of fun with Juszczyk who played fullback, running back, and tight end at Harvard last season. His versatility will cause matchup, spelling, and pronunciation nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, the Ravens defense will cause many of them this season. This defense has the ability to be one of the best in franchise history. Possibly the best Baltimore has seen since 2006. If you have followed the team closely, that must be music to your ears.

The main point behind my argument is this. The Ravens are younger, faster, more athletic, and extremely versatile.

The trio of Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata will be a lethal combination. All three players are elite at their respective positions and can take over games by themselves. Just think of all the fun they will have!

Ngata is so dominant that he will occupy blockers on the inside. In turn, other defensive lineman like Arthur Jones and Chris Canty will have an easier path to the quarterback. Suggs and Dumervil will then face less blockers on the outside but will also open things up for Ngata, Canty, and others when offenses are forced to put more attention on them. So in a way, offenses will have to pick their poison when facing the Ravens defense.

Despite the promise I see for the Ravens, a tough season still lies ahead. Thanks to the Orioles, the Ravens are forced to open on the road against Denver. Unless Jacoby Jones and Joe Flacco have another miracle up their selves, I don’t see this game ending well.

Following a tough opening game, the Ravens return home to face the Browns and Texans in consecutive weeks. If the Ravens do not perform well, the season could easily start with two losses to the Broncos and Texans. Following the Texans, the schedule gets progressively tougher. There are weaker teams on the schedule but the Packers, Steelers, Bears, Vikings, and Patriots will test Baltimore to their limits.

The Ravens have many factors in their favor for the 2013 season. Their recent dominance over the AFC North indicates they should win the division yet again. In addition, Joe Flacco is better than most of the quarterbacks the Ravens will face this year. The only quarterbacks better than Flacco on the Ravens schedule are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning. Flacco is also very good in clutch situations so the Ravens will have an advantage over 13 teams they will face at the most important position on the field.

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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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Ravens rookies getting feet wet in Owings Mills this weekend

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Ravens rookies getting feet wet in Owings Mills this weekend

Posted on 03 May 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Chosen by the Ravens to begin working toward a third championship in franchise history, a collection of rookie draft picks and free agents took the practice field in Owings Mills for the first time on Friday.

But before any of these first-year players can entertain thoughts of how big their respective roles will be during the 2013 season and beyond, simple tasks such as lining up in the huddle correctly or even finding the locker room must be mastered in their first mandatory minicamp. Adjusting to the speed of an NFL practice is challenging enough, but diving headfirst into a playbook more complex than any encountered in college will be a chore players won’t master for quite some time.

It’s all about baby steps, starting with first-round safety Matt Elam and finishing with the undrafted rookies trying to gain favor with head coach John Harbaugh and the rest of the staff in their first weekend together.

“You just take a couple of minutes at a time. I know we have lunch, so that’s what I’m looking forward to right now,” said fourth-round linebacker John Simon as he laughed. “Then, we have meetings, so [I'm] not getting too ahead of yourself and just slowly getting through the day – putting your focus into everything.”

Following an offseason filled with free-agent departures, retirements, and difficult releases, the Ravens view this draft as a pivotal step in replenishing a championship team with young talent ready to play immediately, whether it be as a starter or a key reserve. This is especially true on the defensive side of the football where the Ravens lost six key contributors and already view Elam as well as second-round inside linebacker Arthur Brown as projected starters against the Denver Broncos in Week 1.

Unlike other organizations plagued with prolonged spells of losing or lukewarm success, the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII title brings instant credibility in getting rookies to buy into their message with no questions asked. Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome and his scouts have made a point to identify high-character players with team-centric goals that take precedent over personal accolades.

Understanding the organization’s way of doing things can’t be learned overnight, but the message is clearly expressed from the moment rookies walk into the building.

“I walked into the locker room and the first thing I saw was, ‘Team. Team. Team,’” Brown said. “That was definitely comforting to me, just recognizing that it is all about the team. I come from a school that definitely focuses on a team effort, so really just seeing that from the coaching staff and the other players is definitely what I am all about.”

Competing with Cody

Third-round pick Brandon Williams admits to having a chip on his shoulder after hearing the doubts about his NFL potential coming from Division II program Missouri Southern State, but the 335-pound defensive lineman couldn’t help but smile when asked about the opportunity he’s received in Baltimore.

Newsome made no secret about his team’s need to get stronger at the nose tackle position after Terrence Cody and Ma’ake Kemoeatu struggle at the spot throughout the 2012 season. The Ravens invested free-agent money in veteran defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to strengthen the defensive line but waited until the second day of the draft to identify Williams as a viable option at nose tackle.

And with Cody entering the final year of his rookie contract and failing to live up to expecations, Williams sees a golden opportunity to etch out a key role in the defensive line rotation.

“I love it. It’s great being here competing,” Williams said. “[Cody will] make me better; I’ll make him better. It’s just a team thing and a [defensive] line thing. We both can feed off of each other’s energy and play.”

Of course, with the Ravens’ extensive depth at defensive end, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata could see more time playing inside, but there’s no disputing the opportunity that Williams has to make his mark in his first professional season.

No replacing Ray

Brown has heard the comparisons to the incomparable Ray Lewis since before the Kansas State linebacker was even drafted by the Ravens as his possible replacement, but the second-round pick is taking it all in stride.

Understanding there’s no way he can put himself in the conversation with one of the greatest defensive players in league history, Brown is looking forward to learning from the many remaining veterans influenced by the future Hall of Fame linebacker as well as crossing paths with Lewis himself. Expectations will be high after the Ravens moved up six spots in the second round to take him after suffering the losses of both Lewis and free-agent departure Dannell Ellerbe this offseason.

“The way I look at it is [there's] no replacing Ray Lewis,” Brown said. “He is still a part of this team. He has had a major impact on so many of guys that are already here. Really, I am just an addition looking to fulfill my role and be an impact player.”

Brown’s biggest competition for a starting job alongside Jameel McClain appears to be fourth-year linebacker Rolando McClain, who carries severe baggage from his days in Oakland as well as an arrest earlier this month that took place less than two weeks after he was signed to a one-year contract. His troubles coupled with Brown’s selection have led many to wonder whether the 2010 first-round pick will even make it to training camp as a member of the Ravens.

Taking the Harvard baton

In addition to answering questions about a potential competition with Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, fourth-round selection Kyle Juszczyk of Harvard has been asked about his connection with retired Ravens center Matt Birk, who attended the same Ivy League school.

Juszczyk and Birk are both represented by agent Joe Linta and kept in touch over the last month as the former learned his draft fate. In addition to clarifying the pronunciation of his name — saying it’s like “you ‘use’ a ‘check’” — the rookie fullback shared Birk’s advice in preparing him for what to expect in the locker room as a Harvard product.

“On draft day he texted me, congratulated me [and] told me he thought I’d do well,” Juszczyk said. “He apologized and said, ‘Guys in Baltimore don’t think Harvard guys are too smart anymore –- sorry about that.’”

Even in retirement, Birk’s sense of humor can still be felt in Owings Mills.

Simon on Meyer

Simon received arguably the best compliment of any of the Ravens’ 10 draft picks when Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said he would name his son after the Buckeyes defensive end after he served as a two-time captain in Columbus.

Projected to play outside linebacker in Baltimore’s 3-4 system, Simon was appreciative of his college coach’s words — even if they were uncharacteristic based on his perception of Meyer.

“He never really said it to my face, so I’ve never actually heard it, but I’ve heard other people talk about it,” Simon said. “He’s a blunt person. He tells it like it is. For him to say something like that about myself, it’s special to me and I respect the hell out of the guy. It means a lot.”

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Ravens assigning numbers, handing out contracts to rookies

Posted on 02 May 2013 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens welcoming their new batch of rookies to Owings Mills for their mandatory minicamp this weekend, they got down to business with signing some of their 10 draft picks from the Class of 2013.

The drama of rookie contracts has largely been eliminated since the introduction of a new system with the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, so signings have become mere formalities with holdouts and delayed negotiating now things of the past. The contracts of drafted rookie players are set at four years — first-round contracts contain an option for a fifth season — with rookie free agents receiving three-year contracts. While contract figures aren’t slotted with a fixed amount, each team is given a rookie cap figure by which to abide.

According to The Sun, the Ravens have reached four-year agreements with fourth-round fullback Kyle Juszczyk, fifth-round offensive lineman Ricky Wagner, sixth-round defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, sixth-round center Ryan Jensen, seventh-round wide receiver Aaron Mellette, and seventh-round cornerback Marc Anthony.

In addition to handing out contracts to six of their 10 draft choices, the Ravens officially assigned jersey numbers to each player and can be seen below:

S Matt Elam – No. 31
LB Arthur Brown – No. 59
NT Brandon Williams – No. 98
LB John Simon – No. 47
FB Kyle Juszczyk – No. 40
OL Ricky Wagner – No. 71
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore – No. 67
C Ryan Jensen – No. 77
WR Aaron Mellette – No. 80
CB Marc Anthony – No. 36

The Ravens have also issued No. 51 to troubled linebacker Rolando McClain, which will lead many to wonder whether we’ll actually see the 23-year-old linebacker suit up in Baltimore. The second-round selection of Brown certainly clouded McClain’s future even more than it already was following an arrest two weekends ago.

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Interesting post-draft roster decisions with early look at 2013 Ravens depth chart

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Interesting post-draft roster decisions with early look at 2013 Ravens depth chart

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Luke Jones

With the 2013 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens can now begin looking at the offseason roster with a clearer picture of what they’ll have when they travel to Denver for the Sept. 5 season opener.

Of course, there will be a few more additions or subtractions of some consequence between now and the start of training camp in late July, but any drastic changes are unlikely with the Ravens holding just under $4 million in salary cap space.

The Ravens will likely use some of that remaining cap room to address offensive tackle after only coming away with Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner in the fifth round of the draft. The Badgers left tackle will likely be moved inside to guard as it’s not believed that his feet are quick enough to handle the position at the next level, meaning Kelechi Osemele is still in line to be the team’s starting left tackle if the season were to begin now.

The obvious veteran still on the free-agent market is left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has remained in touch with the Ravens this offseason but visited with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The 33-year-old McKinnie told WNST.net in a text message that the only post-draft contact he’s had from the Ravens came with run-game coordinator Juan Castillo and right tackle Michael Oher.

A CBSSports.com report said McKinnie is also scheduled to visit with the San Diego Chargers, but the 11-year veteran provided his own update on the visit with the Dolphins on Monday afternoon.

“Just finished a good day of meetings & workouts!” McKinnie wrote on his official Twitter account. “This was the gear of choice 4 2day! Nothing final…”

Even if McKinnie signs elsewhere and Osemele ultimately receives the nod to protect quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside, you’d expect the Ravens to at least add another veteran tackle since Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood would then factor heavily into the competition for the starting left guard spot. With no other additions, Oher would clearly be the replacement for Osemele in the event of an injury, but that would open a huge hole on the right side of the line.

Fullback is another interesting position to watch after the Ravens drafted Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk with their second fourth-round pick on Saturday. All things being equal, you wouldn’t expect the rookie to supplant three-time Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, but the veteran’s hefty cap figure puts him at the top of the list of potential cuts should an opportunity to add a pricier veteran arise between now and the start of the season.

Newsome was asked following the conclusion of the draft what Jusczcyk’s selection meant for Leach’s future, but the Ravens executive didn’t exactly provide a guarantee that Leach would be opening running lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in 2013. Baltimore won’t cut Leach for the sake of simply saving $3 million in cap space, but if they need more cap space to address another need such tackle or wide receiver, the Ravens won’t hesitate to give Jusczcyk the starting job.

“We want to make decisions based on how guys perform out on the football field,” Newsome said. “We’re going to get Kyle in here, and the thing we like about Kyle other than his ability to play on the offensive side is we expect him to be a very good special-teams contributor. Could there be a place for both of them? Yes, there could be, because as John and I try to put our 53-man squad together, we want to keep the best 53 players.”

Troubled inside linebacker Rolando McClain remains with the Ravens as of Monday afternoon, but you have to wonder how much shorter his leash became after the selection of Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown. Considering the Ravens traded up in the second round to select Brown in fear of another team taking him before their scheduled pick at 62nd overall, you’d expect that coach John Harbaugh envisions him to be a starter from Day 1.

To this point, the Ravens have said all the polite things about McClain’s latest arrest on April 21 and his right to due process, but the need to keep an average player with such baggage diminished greatly after adding one of the top inside linebackers in this year’s draft class. You have to wonder if McClain will even make it to training camp at this point, or whether he’ll be able to keep himself out of trouble between now and then.

“He is one of the 90,” Newsome said on the final day of the draft. “We’re going to make the determination, starting Sunday, who we think is going to be on our top 53. We’ll start making those decisions. It’s going to be some tough decisions, but as of right now, Rolando is still a part of our football team.”

Below is an all-too-early look at the 2013 depth chart, which doesn’t include undrafted rookie free agents until the full list is officially announced by the Ravens. High draft picks such as Matt Elam and Brown are viewed more favorably than lower-round selections like Ryan Jensen and Aaron Mellette in terms of where they rank on the current depth chart. In many cases, roster holdovers from previous seasons have been given the nod over rookies with the full understanding that some — if not many — will be supplanted.

Teams are allowed to have a maximum of 90 players on their offseason roster.

Projected post-draft 2013 depth chart

Offense
QB: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Caleb Hanie
RB: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen, Bobby Rainey, Damien Berry, Lonyae Miller
FB: Vonta Leach, Kyle Juszczyk
WR: Torrey Smith, David Reed, LaQuan Williams, Aaron Mellette
WR: Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, Tori Gurley
TE: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Alex Silvestro
LT: Kelechi Osemele
LG: Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood, Antoine McClain
C: Gino Gradkowski, Ryan Jensen, Reggie Stephens
RG: Marshal Yanda, Ricky Wagner, Jack Cornell
RT: Michael Oher, David Mims

Defense
DE: Chris Canty, Pernell McPhee, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore
NT: Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Brandon Williams
DT: Arthur Jones, Marcus Spears, Swanson Miller
Rush: Terrell Suggs, John Simon, Michael McAdoo
Will: Arthur Brown, Rolando McClain, Albert McClellan, D.J. Bryant
Mike: Jameel McClain, Josh Bynes, Bryan Hall, Nigel Carr
Sam: Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Hamilton, Spencer Adkins
LCB: Lardarius Webb, Chykie Brown, Chris Johnson, Marc Anthony
SS: Matt Elam, James Ihedigbo, Christian Thompson
FS: Michael Huff, Emanuel Cook, Omar Brown, Anthony Levine
RCB: Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, Asa Jackson

Special Teams
K: Justin Tucker
P: Sam Koch
LS: Morgan Cox
KR: Jacoby Jones, David Reed, Deonte Thompson
PR: Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Lardarius Webb

 

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Ten thoughts on Ravens’ 2013 draft picks

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Ten thoughts on Ravens’ 2013 draft picks

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Because I refuse to put a grade on a draft that needs a couple years in order to truly be evaluated, I instead offer a thought on each of the 10 selections the Ravens made in the 2013 NFL Draft this weekend.

Some are serious, others are not, and you can guarantee you won’t find a silly letter grade attached to any of them.

1. Round 1 – S Matt Elam, Florida
Thought: The Ravens are over the moon for Elam, but you do wonder if his propensity for the big hit will draw untimely penalties in the same way Bernard Pollard would.

2. Round 2 – LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Thought: No one will ever be Ray Lewis, but Brown’s skill set provides the Ravens with a complete linebacker who’s strong in pass coverage, something they were severely lacking.

3. Round 3 – DT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State
Thought: It’s great that the 335-pounder can walk on his hands, but that act of athleticism is too reminiscent of Kyle Boller being able to throw a football through the uprights while on a knee at the 50 for me to really care.

4. Round 4 – DE John Simon, Ohio State
Thought: The Jarret Johnson comparisons have already been made, but did Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer mean “John” or “Simon” when he said he’d name his son after the new Ravens outside linebacker?

5. Round 4 – FB Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard
Thought: General manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t dismiss the idea that the Ravens could keep both Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach and Juszczyk on the 53-man roster this year, but it wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the idea either.

6. Round 5 – OL Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
Thought: The Ravens technically drafted a left tackle on Saturday, but Wagner’s feet aren’t quick enough for the position at the next level, meaning he’ll likely find a home at guard or right tackle with the Ravens.

7. Round 6 – DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame
Thought: Still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the BCS title game, Lewis-Moore is one to watch for 2014 after being a co-captain and four-year starter for the Fighting Irish.

8. Round 6 – C Ryan Jensen, Colorado State-Pueblo
Thought: Raise your hand if you had never even heard of Colorado State-Pueblo — who brought back football in 2008 after a 24-year hiatus — let alone this offensive lineman prior to Saturday afternoon.

9. Round 7 – WR Aaron Mellette, Elon
Thought: You’ll continually be reminded he’s a seventh-round pick from an FCS school, but it’s difficult not to be intrigued with the 6-foot-2, 217-pound frame and eye-popping production (210 catches and 30 touchdowns in the last two seasons).

10. Round 7 – CB Marc Anthony, California
Thought: You have to feel good for Anthony making it to the NFL after putting up with years of jokes about Cleopatra, Jennifer Lopez, and being a Grammy award-winning singer.

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Taking a look at new Ravens from Draft Day 3

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Taking a look at new Ravens from Draft Day 3

Posted on 27 April 2013 by WNST Staff

The Baltimore Ravens added seven new players on the final day of the 2013 NFL Draft.

In the 4th round (129th overall pick), the Ravens selected Ohio State DL John Simon. Here’s a look at Simon from the Buckeyes’ 2012 win over Nebraska…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPAWU1Oc1iw

And a look at the OSU pass rusher from their 2012 win over Penn State…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpCJe4Djy_w

And here’s Simon campaigning to get on the cover of the EA Sports NCAA Football video game…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_jCllrixIk

We saw Brandon Williams’ arms Friday night, his new teammate’s are pretty impressive as well.

Simon received high praise from OSU coach Urban Meyer (courtesy of Eleven Warriors)…

Also in the 4th round (130th overall), the Ravens selected Harvard FB/TE Kyle Juszczyk. Here he is in action from Senior Bowl week…

And an overall career highlight package for the Crimson H-Back…

Juszczyk shared his excitement via Twitter…

Where he had previously shared his disbelief about how much someone was charging for his autograph…

In the 5th round (168th overall), the pick was Wisconsin OL Ricky Wagner. Here’s a look at Wagner from the Badgers’ 2011 loss to Ohio State…

In the 6th round (200th overall), the Ravens went with Notre Dame DL Kapron Lewis-Moore. Here’s Lewis-Moore’s performance in the Fighting Irish’s 2012 win over USC…

Based on this magazine cover, I think we can guess Lewis-Moore has a pretty good personality…

He also seemed quite upbeat despite ACL surgery after the Orange Bowl…

Lewis-Moore had a fun interaction with ESPN’s Rick Reilly…

In the 6th round (203rd overall), the Ravens brought Colorado State-Pueblo Center Ryan Jensen to the team. Here’s a highlight package from the 2011 season…

The CSU-Pueblo team did a “Harlem Shake” video last year…

Jensen Tweeted out a photo earlier this month of a quote that you might be familiar with as a Ravens fan. It’s one of John Harbaugh’s favorites…

In the 7th round (238th overall), the Ravens selected Elon WR Aaron Mellette. Here’s a career highlight package for Mellette…

And some highlights from the Phoenix’s 2012 loss to North Carolina…

Someone is going to have to let him know that his hat (and any friendship with Duke’s Ryan Kelly) is now completely unacceptable…

With their final 7th round pick (247th overall), the Ravens selected California CB Marc Anthony.  We were all thinking the same thing.

Turns out it was a different guy.

Here are some highlights from Cal’s 2012 loss to Stanford…

Hear from Simon, Juszczyk, Wagner, Lewis-Moore and Mallette in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault at WNST.net.

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