Tag Archive | "LaQuan Williams"

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Ravens’ rookie receivers trying to grow on the fly

Posted on 21 October 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The cliches and jargon has been tossed around since the Ravens began training camp after releasing veterans Derrick Mason and Todd Heap in late July.

The passing game will be a work in progress, but the talent is there, they said.

The Ravens acquired veteran Lee Evans halfway through the preseason to provide a vertical threat and add experience to a very young group of receivers led by veteran Anquan Boldin. Evans, however, has been stricken with a left ankle injury since the third preseason game and hasn’t played since Week 2.

In his absence, Baltimore’s rookie receivers have collected just 11 receptions in five games, good for only 40.4 percent of quarterback Joe Flacco’s 89 completions this season. Ravens wideouts accounted for 50.9 percent of Flacco’s completions last year when Mason, Boldin, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh occupied the top three spots on the depth chart.

Despite the light production from the rookie group of Torrey Smith, LaQuan Williams, and Tandon Doss, the coaching staff still claims they’re seeing development through the first five regular-season games, even if it hasn’t translated on the field.

“Just tremendous growth,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Again, we get to see it more in practice and some of it doesn’t show up in a game because you haven’t had a chance to really see LaQuan [Williams] a lot or Tandon [Doss] a lot. But, those guys have really improved. [With] Torrey [Smith], I think it has been obvious.”

Williams has seen limited time as the Ravens’ No. 3 receiver since Cameron has used running back Ray Rice and two tight ends on the field as receivers in many cases. The undrafted free agent from Maryland has two catches for 18 yards on five targets. Doss has been a victim of possessing a similar set of skills to Boldin — a possession receiver with underwhelming speed but strong hands — and has yet to record a catch in three games.

Smith, the second-round pick from Maryland, struggled during the preseason and the first two weeks of the season — with some foolishly labeling him a bust after two games — before exploding for three touchdowns and 152 yards against St. Louis in Week 3 after receiving his first start in place of Evans. His 26.3 yards per catch average reflects his long-ball potential, but the rookie is looking to build on just nine receptions.

“That all comes with time,” said Smith, who admits receivers coach Jim Hostler is working with him on improving his technique. “We came in straight off the streets to NFL camp — not college, not high school. You’re playing with the best. I feel like I’m kind of up to speed. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be, but I’m able to produce thanks to our coaches and Anquan being a great help.”

Smith is gaining a greater understanding of the intricacies of the entire passing tree at the NFL level, expanding upon his ability to simply run go routes and working more effectively in the short and intermediate parts of the field.

“Torrey is improving each week on his different routes,” Flacco said. “Whether it’s coming across the middle or starting to run comebacks, they look better. The more comfortable they get with what they’re doing in this offense, the more they can focus on getting open and the little nuances of those routes — how to get open [and] not just run them to run them.”

One of the biggest criticisms of Smith in the early stages of the preseason was his inability to decipher how defenders were trying to play him. As a result, the former Terps receiver appeared hesitant in running routes, to the point it appeared he would occasionally give up on a pattern.

However, more game experience has led to an increased level of awareness in how defenses account for him.

“You can see that he can see coverages now,” Cameron said. “He is not getting surprised by coverages. He is pushing the defense, he is playing fast. I think you can see the mental growth. The physical part pretty much speaks for itself.”

Even with improvement, the Ravens need more production from their rookies to complement the efforts of Boldin, who turned in his first 100-yard receiving game of the season against Houston. Baltimore’s 13th-ranked passing game will continue to fluctuate from week to week unless Smith — or some combination of the rookies — provides more consistency.

And, as the Ravens quarterback puts it, that happens by playing without the fear of making mistakes.

“They have to go out there and have success,” Flacco said, “so that they can feel like they can go out there and do those things without thinking about the consequences of what happens if [they're] wrong.

“When you’re out there on the football field, just like really anything in life, if you’re thinking about the consequences and, ‘Hey, what happens if I do this wrong?’ you’re not going to operate. You’re not going to do as well as you would if you’re just out there playing free.”

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Friedgen’s Comments Were Hurtful, But Let’s Agree to Do Deeper Thinking Here

Posted on 01 October 2011 by Glenn Clark

I’ve allowed myself over 30 hours to drink up the comments made by former University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen on my radio show Thursday afternoon.

In that time, I’ve heard from Terrapins fans around the globe. I’ve seen the interview written about by national outlets like ESPN, CBS Sports, USA Today, New York Daily News, Yahoo! Sports, NBC Sports, Washington Times, Washington Post and more. I’ve been told the interview has been discussed on national and local radio shows, TV shows, message boards and more. I thank everyone who passed along the conversation via Facebook, Twitter and more traditional conversation.

The interview, which happened live Thursday on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net, can be heard here in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault. I wholly encourage you to listen to the entire interview, as the context can be lost in transcription.

Of course, here’s the part where I share with you the transcription again, courtesy of the Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens…

Clark: I think the one thing everyone wants to know is what are you up to right now?

Friedgen: Well, right now, I’m sitting on my deck looking over the marsh into the — reading a USA Today.

Clark: Not a bad life.

Friedgen: No, I’m enjoying it very much. I do miss our players. I don’t miss all the other stuff, but I do miss the players. I miss the interaction with them. I miss dealing with them. I’m a little bit surprised I don’t miss all the stuff that goes around.

Clark: Well, you did it —

Friedgen: Forty-three years. I may get back into it. I may have a couple other things that pop up. I may be back, so we’ll see.

Clark: Is it tough for you to watch? Have you sat down and watched any Maryland games or is it tough for you to do that. I know you love the kids, but I also know you’re a Maryland alum, and it’s got to be a little painful.

Friedgen: Well, it’s not painful because I watch it for the kids. I could care less about Maryland. I’ve burned my diploma. I’m flying a Georgia Tech flag right now.

Clark: [laughing] That’s hurtful coach. I don’t want to hear that. I’m a Maryland alum.

Friedgen: Well, they talk about Maryland pride. They didn’t show me a whole lot of Maryland pride, either getting the job or getting fired.

Clark: OK.

Friedgen: I had a unique experience. I couldn’t get the game last week so I had to go to a sports bar to watch it. I never knew all that stuff went on, people cheering for all this stuff. It was a whole new experience. My daughter came down this week. I went fishing with her. I’ve never done these things with my kids. She caught a 28-inch redfish. She was ecstatic. I never experienced some of this stuff. It’s like my whole life has changed. I’m kind of catching up on some things I probably should have done a lot earlier in my life but haven’t been able to do it.

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Yes, Ralph Friedgen DID Tell Me He Burned His Maryland Diploma…

Posted on 30 September 2011 by Glenn Clark

I was as caught off guard as you were Thursday afternoon.

Former University of Maryland Terrapins football coach Ralph Friedgen joined me on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net. My Executive Producer Ryan Chell had reached out to “The Fridge” earlier in the week to coordinate the interview after Baltimore Ravens WR Torrey Smith’s breakout performance against the St. Louis Rams.

Smith had told me in the locker room that while he was hearing criticism from fans and media during Training Camp and the start of the regular season he had reached out to Friedgen. He said Friedgen had helped him stay positive.

With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to chat with Coach Friedgen about Torrey, fellow former Terps WR LaQuan Williams and CB Domonique Foxworth, who the Ravens unfortunately just lost again for the season due to a knee injury.

I had no idea what to expect after I asked Friedgen my first question that wasn’t Ravens related.

Thankfully Patrick Stevens from the Washington Times transcribed the back and forth Thursday evening. You can listen to the entire interview HERE.

Clark: I think the one thing everyone wants to know is what are you up to right now?

Friedgen: Well, right now, I’m sitting on my deck looking over the marsh into the — reading a USA Today.

Clark: Not a bad life.

Friedgen: No, I’m enjoying it very much. I do miss our players. I don’t miss all the other stuff, but I do miss the players. I miss the interaction with them. I miss dealing with them. I’m a little bit surprised I don’t miss all the stuff that goes around.

Clark: Well, you did it —

Friedgen: Forty-three years. I may get back into it. I may have a couple other things that pop up. I may be back, so we’ll see.

Clark: Is it tough for you to watch? Have you sat down and watched any Maryland games or is it tough for you to do that. I know you love the kids, but I also know you’re a Maryland alum, and it’s got to be a little painful.

Friedgen: Well, it’s not painful because I watch it for the kids. I could care less about Maryland. I’ve burned my diploma. I’m flying a Georgia Tech flag right now.

Clark: [laughing] That’s hurtful coach. I don’t want to hear that. I’m a Maryland alum.

Friedgen: Well, they talk about Maryland pride. They didn’t show me a whole lot of Maryland pride, either getting the job or getting fired.

Clark: OK.

Friedgen: I had a unique experience. I couldn’t get the game last week so I had to go to a sports bar to watch it. I never knew all that stuff went on, people cheering for all this stuff. It was a whole new experience. My daughter came down this week. I went fishing with her. I’ve never done these things with my kids. She caught a 28-inch redfish. She was ecstatic. I never experienced some of this stuff. It’s like my whole life has changed. I’m kind of catching up on some things I probably should have done a lot earlier in my life but haven’t been able to do it.
Wow.

I’m very aware that a number of Maryland fans are worked up about Friedgen’s response. Given everything that has transpired since December 2010 it is hard to blame him for his angst, but certainly difficult to stomach what he had to say.

I’ll let you decide what you think this time.

-G

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“Rating the Ravens” after 37-7 victory over Rams

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“Rating the Ravens” after 37-7 victory over Rams

Posted on 26 September 2011 by Ryan Chell

“Identity”.

That was the word of the day that Glenn Clark used earlier this afternoon on “The Nasty Purple Pre-Game Show” before the Ravens took the field against the 0-2 St. Louis Rams.

And while the Ravens may still  not know what they are offensively after their 37-7 blowout of the Rams, they have one thing in certain.

If they throw the ball to Torrey Smith, he will catch it.

And he will score.

Coming into the third game of the season, Smith-getting his first career start with veteran Lee Evans injured with a foot/ankle injury-had only been targeted once on the season so far from quarterback Joe Flacco.

Sunday took only two plays for Smith to finally get that first catch, as he caught a 74-yard touchdown from Flacco to help the Ravens jump out early 7-0.

And he wasn’t done.

Smith grabbed two more  end-zone passes in the first quarter to help the Ravens jump out to a 21-point lead, becoming the first NFL rookie since 1991 to have his first three passes be for six points apiece.

His 41-yard grab with 3:49 left in the first made it a two touchdown game, while his third grab-a 18-yard strike from Flacco-made it 21-0 in favor of the Ravens and put the Rams in hurry-up mode.

Overall, he finished with five catches for 152 yards.

Torrey Smith

Anquan Boldin-who has torched the Rams in his career (he has 1,064 career yards against STL coming into Sunday-most versus any opponent) when he was with the Arizona Cardinals-finished with 7 catches for 74 yards, and was the short option for Flacco in the passing game.

Ed Dickson also rebounded from a poor Week 2 showing against Tennessee to grab five balls for 51 yards.

Rating: A-

Quarterback

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco started 2011 on a great note in the Ravens’ week 1 victory against Pittsburgh, but no question took a step back in last Sunday’s loss to the Titans, completing 15-32 passes for only 197 yards and two interceptions.

Much like Torrey Smith’s inconsistency to start the season, Flacco found the rookie early for a 74-yard strike on his second pass of the game. He appeared to grow rhythm with Smith as the game went on finding him twice more for scores, but he also had several throws where he took advantage of Smith’s speed a little too much.

He also overthrew passes to Tandon Doss and Boldin, but that was usually with a defender in his face being forced to make a throw on the move or off his back foot.

He set career highs in passing yards and his longest touchdown pass Sunday. But again, like Torrey Smith, let’s see if Flacco can do it two weeks in a row-and next week versus Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie of the Jets.

Flacco had two fumbles on poor decisions on the run outside the pocket. Luckily, only one was a turnover. He might have more of those scenarios next week versus the Jets’ pass rush.

Rating: B+

Running Backs

Despite the big lead, Ray Rice was not used as much as you would think, only carrying the football eight times for 79 yards. However, he still had a good day adding 83 receiving yards to his total. Props to Rice for making the most out of limited touches.

Ricky Williams

After only contributing a turnover last week, backup Ricky Williams showed a lot rebounding and running the football versus the Rams. He finished with five carries for 42 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard run with 2:23 in the first quarter that set up Flacco’s third touchdown pass that made it 21-0 in favor of Baltimore.

Rating: B

Offensive Line

This was a unit that struggled last week with Pro-Bowl caliber guard Ben Grubbs out of the lineup, and the Ravens found themselves in a similar situation Sunday. However, instead of putting Mark LeVoir in place of Grubbs, coach John Harbaugh and the recently re-instated Andy Moeller decided to put C/G Andre Gurode at left guard and deactivated LeVoir.

While Gurode had issues early versus former Ravens DT Justin Bannan, he and his mates in Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie held down the Rams aggressive defensive line for much of the game. Give credit to the Ravens “hogs” for making blocks down field and helping open up the running lanes for the running backs and the wide receivers in the short passing game.

And for giving Flacco the time to hold onto the ball and find Smith down the field three times for six.

However, Michael Oher continues to struggle even at the right tackle position. Rams DE Chris Long and LB Chris Chamberlain had their way with Oher for two sacks and a fumble on back-to-back plays on the Ravens second-to-last drive, and Oher was flagged for both a holding and illegal hands to the face in pass protection.

Oher will have more leeway on the right side as opposed to Flacco’s blindside, but he can’t be this vulnerable every game otherwise opposing defensive coordinators will continue to pick on him.

Rating: B-

Defensive Line

Terrell Suggs

This unit feasted on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, and with good reason being up 21-0 early after the first quarter. With banged up running backs in Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams coming in as game-time decisions, the game fell on the 2nd-year quarterback and the Ravens realized this.

The Ravens had five sacks of Bradford, three of them coming from Pernell McPhee, Terrell Suggs, and Cory Redding.

Interesting to note were the leading tacklers in linebackers Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain, and Suggs. Both Arthur Jones and Terrence Cody got significant snaps, and allowed the linebackers to flow to the ball-carrier.

Haloti Ngata-fresh off his new contract-showed that the Ravens put their money in the right place, manhandling former Ravens center Jason Brown for much of the second half, and he even topped it off with a touchdown off a forced fumble/sack from Ray Lewis.

Rating: A

Linebackers

Ray Lewis

As previously noted, Sunday was the first time this season that cornerback Lardarius Webb did not lead the team in tackles. Ray Lewis finished with ten tackles and a sack/forced fumble. Fellow ILB Jameel McClain was second in tackles with five and also recorded a sack of quarterback Sam Bradford.

After struggling versus Tennessee in coverage from short yardage to the intermediate passing zones, the Ravens linebackers did a good job of making sure running backs Cadillac Williams and Steven Jackson didn’t make contributions in the passing game. They patrolled the middle well versus the versatile tight end Lance Kendricks and receiver Mike Sims-Walker, but they will be tested much more next week versus the Jets.

Rating: B+

Secondary

Cary Williams

In a way, this unit struggled a bit. Rams receiver Brandon Gibson got behind CB Cary Williams for the Rams’ lone score in the third quarter-34 yards. Williams was also flagged earlier in the second quarter for pass interference on 6’5” Danario Alexander, but the drive ended after Lardarius Webb’s “fair catch” interception with 6:21 left in the quarter.

Webb played better in coverage by playing on top of the receiver, and safety Ed Reed played within the realm of the defensive scheme after jumping routes versus Tennessee in Week 2.

Haruki Nakamura’s injury-which is rumored to be a torn PCL-ligament in his knee-could be devastating to a unit already thin at the cornerback and safety positions.

Rating: B+

Special Teams

Billy Cundiff missed two 51-yd field goals-one of which came with a high-snap from center Morgan Cox. He did bear down after the two early misses, connecting on his next three attempts. This was the second game of three without David Reed, who suffered a shoulder injury last week vs. Tennessee, and the Ravens only got two looks out of LaQuan Williams at the kick return position.

Tune into “The Reality Check” with Glenn Clark Monday as we look at the plays that made a difference Sunday! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!




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Ravens-Rams: Five gameday predictions

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Ravens-Rams: Five gameday predictions

Posted on 24 September 2011 by Luke Jones

Looking to rebound from a shocking 26-13 defeat in Tennessee last week, the Ravens travel to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis to take on the 0-2 Rams. Sunday will mark the fifth meeting between St. Louis and Baltimore with the series being tied, 2-2. The Ravens will look to break the pattern of the home team winning each of the previous four games in the series history.

Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 12-4 in games immediately following a loss. Baltimore has won eight straight games after a defeat and has not lost consecutive games since 2009 when the Ravens fell to the Patriots, Bengals, and Vikings in the month of October.

As for me, going 0-for-5 in my predictions last weekend doesn’t make me feel any better about my prognosticating ability, but it’s safe to say very few saw what was coming last Sunday — especially the Ravens. At the very least, it provides for good comedy as I’ve been wrong in picking the Ravens’ first two games.

Here are this week’s five predictions for what to expect against the Rams …

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1. Any production in the passing game will be far more about Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta than the Ravens’ trio of rookie wide receivers. While the coaching staff and Joe Flacco would love to see one or some combination of Torrey Smith, LaQuan Williams, and Tandon Doss step up in Lee Evans’ absence, the Ravens are more likely to use two tight ends in an effort to run the ball effectively and control the clock. Smith still plays without confidence and is thinking too much on the field while the slower Doss will be active for the first time. Don’t be shocked if Williams actually has the most productive day of the three. However, Flacco will prefer going to Dickson and Pitta underneath, and Cam Cameron may elect to split out one of his tight ends from time to time.

2. Ray Rice will pass the century mark on the ground. After being stymied on the ground against the Titans last week, Rice goes against the worst run defense in the NFL with the Rams allowing 177.5 rushing yards per game. With so many question marks at receiver and needing to create manageable third-down situations, the Ravens will be committed to the ground game as Rice and Ricky Williams should get plenty of touches. Keeping the Rams high-tempo offense off the field will be a priority, so controlling the tempo on the ground will be paramount.

3. Baltimore will improve its third-down efficiency on both sides of the football. The Ravens offense was only 3-for-10 on third down against the Titans, mainly due to their inability to run the football to create third-and-short situations. Defensively, Baltimore allowed the Titans to convert seven third downs in 17 tries, most of those coming in the second half when the Ravens were trying to mount a comeback. With the St. Louis linebackers struggling in pass coverage, Rice, Dickson, and Pitta will be used plenty on third down to move the chains.

4. Sam Bradford and the Rams will have some success running the no-huddle offense before Ed Reed turns the tables late in the game. It’s hard to envision the second-year quarterback carving up the Ravens’ 28th-ranked pass defense in the way that Matt Hasselbeck did a week ago, but the Rams have shown the ability to move the ball between the 20s before shooting themselves in the foot in the red zone. The 6-foot-5 Danario Alexander and 6-foot-2 Mike Sims-Walker don’t bring the same threat as Kenny Britt, but the Ravens cornerbacks will struggle matching up against them if the defense is unable to create pressure. The Rams won’t use the no-huddle the entire afternoon, but the Ravens will have some problems against it before Reed picks off a pass in the fourth quarter. The future Hall of Fame safety has been doing it to young quarterbacks for years, and Bradford will only become the latest victim.

5. The Ravens get the job done in St. Louis, but the 21-17 victory won’t be an easy one. It’s funny how one game changes the dynamic of how a team is perceived. A week ago at this time, the Ravens could seemingly do no wrong while many are now fearing a second straight loss this week against the Rams and the possibility of being 1-2 with the New York Jets coming to Baltimore next Sunday night. With injuries continuing to hamper the Ravens early in the season, they’ll run the ball effectively and play bend-but-don’t-break defense to earn a close victory on the road.

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Live from Owings Mills: Grubbs, Evans not working again in Ravens’ final practice for Rams

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Live from Owings Mills: Grubbs, Evans not working again in Ravens’ final practice for Rams

Posted on 23 September 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens make final preparations for their trip to St. Louis to face the 0-2 Rams on Sunday, it’s becoming increasingly likely they will be without a critical part of their passing game and an anchor along the offensive line.

Wide receiver Lee Evans (ankle) and left guard Ben Grubbs (toe) were not working for the third straight day in the portion of practice open to the media on Friday. Grubbs was present on the field, but the fifth-year lineman did not have a helmet as he watched from the sideline. Evans was nowhere to be found as he continues to deal with an ankle injury that’s plagued him since the third preseason game.

With Evans’ availability for Sunday in doubt, the Ravens will turn to their rookie wideouts to make contributions in the passing game. Torrey Smith is expected to start, but is looking for his first catch as a professional as he fights confidence issues in finding his place in Cam Cameron’s system. Fellow rookies LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss also figure to receive some opportunities in certain formations. Doss has been inactive in each of the team’s first two games while Williams has mostly been used in special teams.

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Cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring) was practicing again after working on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday. Assuming he has no setbacks, Carr is expected to play in the team’s nickel package after coach John Harbaugh expressed concern with Domonique Foxworth’s health and ability to contribute. On Thursday, Foxworth echoed those frustrations, indicating he is still experience significant discomfort with his surgically-repaired knee that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season.

With kick returner David Reed sidelined until after the bye week, the Ravens will turn to some combination of Lardarius Webb and Torrey Smith in the kickoff return package. Both have received reps in the portions of practice viewed by the media.

Unsurprisingly, cornerback Jimmy Smith was absent from practice as his ankle is still in a walking boot. The 2011 first-round pick is not expected back until after the bye week, and his return could still be a period of time after that.

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 September 2011 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will take on the Tennessee Titans franchise for the 17th time in the regular season. The teams are deadlocked at 8-8, though Baltimore holds the 2-1 edge in postseason meetings. Baltimore is 4-4 when playing on the road in the regular season against Tennessee.

Of course, the two are old rivals from the now defunct AFC Central. Since NFL realignment took place in 2002, the Ravens are 3-3 against Tennessee in regular-season games.

Without further ado, here are five predictions for what to expect in Week 2 …

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1. A pick-six gives the Ravens their first defensive touchdown of the year. Perhaps the only stat more surprising than Pittsburgh’s seven turnovers in the Ravens’ 35-7 win last week was that none of those takeaways resulted in defensive touchdowns with the Baltimore defense’s reputation for turning turnovers into instant points. Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tossed 34 interceptions over his last two seasons with Seattle and likes to take chances from time to time. With the Titans likely falling behind as the game progresses, Hasselbeck will be forced to take more chances in the passing game. Cornerback Cary Williams was a seventh-round draft pick by the Titans in 2009 and would be an appropriate candidate for a defensive score against his old team.

2. Joe Flacco throws a touchdown pass to a rookie wide receiver. With Lee Evans’ left ankle continuing to be an issue, you have to wonder how effective he’ll remain as a decoy in stretching the opposing defense. Teams aren’t going to respect a deep threat without the breakaway speed. The Ravens need bigger contributions from receivers not named Anquan Boldin currently on the roster, as no other wideout caught a pass against the Steelers. The return of second-year player David Reed throws another name in the equation, but Torrey Smith is the best bet to break through against a Tennessee pass defense that ranked 29th in the NFL last year.

3. The Ravens only lead by one score in the third quarter. Head coach John Harbaugh was defiant on Friday when dismissing the notion of a letdown in Tennessee. Despite posting a 5-3 road record in 2010, the Ravens won on the road by more than one possession only twice last season. Road blowouts just don’t happen very often in the NFL, no matter how confident fans — and media members — might be. With the Titans playing their home opener and their fans remembering Baltimore’s past postseason triumphs at LP Field, it figures to be a hostile atmosphere that could boost Tennessee early in the game. A big play or two from Chris Johnson or Kenny Britt certainly wouldn’t hurt the Titans’ chances, either.

4. Ray Rice eclipses 100 rushing yards for the second straight week. The Titans allowed 163 yards on the ground last week in Jacksonville while the Ravens ran for 170 against Pittsburgh’s stout run defense. Rice accounted for 107 of those on 19 carries before giving way to backup Ricky Williams late in the game. With Evans not 100 percent and left guard Ben Grubbs doubtful with a toe injury, Baltimore may remain more conservative than normal. Then again, if you can run all over an opposing defense and control the clock, it’s far more intelligent than it is conservative when playing on the road.

5. The Ravens pull away in the second half, winning 27-10. Say what you want about the Titans playing the Jaguars close in a road game, but the unheralded Luke McCown was making the start only days after starting quarterback David Garrard was released by Jacksonville. The Baltimore ground game will wear down an underwhelming Tennessee defense in the second half and win this one comfortably. While it’s true the Ravens must keep Johnson off the edge and Britt in front of them, the pair’s big-play ability won’t be enough to keep the Titans from falling to 0-2. Baltimore improves to 2-0 to stay atop the AFC North.

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With preseason complete, Ravens still filled with unknowns entering Steelers week

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With preseason complete, Ravens still filled with unknowns entering Steelers week

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Luke Jones

Any answers we hoped to uncover on Thursday night were history when coach John Harbaugh elected to rest most of his starters on both sides of the ball in a 21-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason finale.

With the coaching staff not wanting to risk any injuries on the fast turf at the Georgia Dome, left tackle Bryant McKinnie and the new-look offensive line didn’t even receive as much as a cameo appearance against Atlanta despite suggestions otherwise. The decision means the first time we’ll get a look at McKinnie and veteran center Matt Birk in live-game action will be against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11.

It’s a scary proposition, but the Ravens will hope practice reps against the vaunted Baltimore defense as well as veteran moxie will be enough to prepare McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Birk, Marshal Yanda, and Michael Oher for the likes of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and the brutal Pittsburgh defense. As offensive coordinator Cam Cameron put it earlier this week, the Ravens have no other choice but to be ready in a critical battle in Week 1.

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The preseason finale managed to create even more doubt at the backup quarterback position after rookie Tyrod Taylor left the game with a left shoulder contusion in the first quarter, leaving Hunter Cantwell to struggle through an ugly offensive performance. Aside from it being painfully clear Cantwell might not even be an option as a third-string quarterback, the Ravens will be forced to bring in another quarterback with Taylor’s status not being known for next weekend.

The Ravens also received little clarity in decided who would be the No. 3 receiver, in large part due to Cantwell being forced into action. However, David Reed didn’t do himself any favors in dropping two passes and being flagged for a questionable offensive pass interference call in the end zone late in the first half. Torrey Smith made two catches for 12 yards before leaving the game early in the second half with apparent leg cramps.

Despite the ugly nature of Thursday’s encounter, the Ravens can also take a few positives away from the win over Atlanta. Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith turned in his steadiest performance of the preseason, making five tackles and deflecting a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Jason Phillips to set up the Ravens’ first score of the game. Smith was flagged for a horse-collar tackle, but continues to show the impressive combination of speed and toughness that made him the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft.

Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee continued an outstanding preseason by continuing to create pressure in the backfield, making it a near certainty that he factors into defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s plans as a rotational pass rusher earlier than expected. He and Paul Kruger (one sack) will be relied upon to help boost an underwhelming pass rush from a year ago that recorded a franchise-low 27 sacks.

And rookie receiver LaQuan Williams made a final bid to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with a 33-yard punt return against the Falcons and showed improved effort in special teams, something Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg mentioned earlier this week. Whether he makes the final cut or the Ravens try to stash him away on the practice squad, the former Maryland and Poly product has been one of the biggest surprises of the summer and has taken advantage of every opportunity awarded to him.

All that aside, the Ravens now put the preseason behind them, shifting their focus to their biggest rival while still trying to find the answers to a number of key questions.

Will the offensive line be able to gel quickly enough to hold up against the Pittsburgh pressure? Is McKinnie “football” ready? Will Birk’s knee hold up without any live-game action after surgery?

With Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr less than 100 percent, are Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams ready to be starting cornerbacks in the NFL?

Are the Ravens ready to play — and beat — a Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers squad for the first time since 2006?

All interesting questions, with the answers coming sooner rather than later.

The preseason is finally behind us.

And real football is about to begin.

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Mocking The 53: A Look At Roster Ahead of Preseason Finale

Posted on 30 August 2011 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The Baltimore Ravens travel to the Georgia Dome to meet the Atlanta Falcons Thursday night, the final opportunity for players on the roster “bubble” to impress Head Coach John Harbaugh and coordinators Cam Cameron, Chuck Pagano and Jerry Rosburg.

As I am no longer the Ravens beat reporter here at WNST I have deferred to Luke Jones for most of our coverage during Training Camp. I have had the chance to get out to 1 Winning Drive this week, so I decided I would bring back “Mocking The 53″ to get a look at how the team may trim the roster from 80 players to 53.

As I’ve explained before, the team does not have a certain number of players they keep at each position, so I have never done this breakdown by position. Instead, I offer what is more like a “power ranking” of players from 1-80.

Keep in mind, GM Ozzie Newsome is likely to make an addition or two (a veteran backup quarterback-perhaps still Marc Bulger namely) before either Saturday’s cut day or the team’s opener September 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.

1. DT Haloti Ngata
2. QB Joe Flacco
3. LB Terrell Suggs
4. RB Ray Rice
5. WR Anquan Boldin
6. S Ed Reed
7. LB Ray Lewis
8. G Ben Grubbs
9. G Marshal Yanda
10. CB Jimmy Smith

Whether or not Smith is a starter on September 11 is the only issue in this group. All of these guys are clearly on the team and significant contributors.

11. OT Michael Oher
12. WR Lee Evans
13. FB Vonta Leach
14. DE Cory Redding
15. P Sam Koch
16. TE Ed Dickson
17. S Bernard Pollard
18. K Billy Cundiff
19. DT Terrence Cody
20. LB Jarret Johnson

Like the first group, the players in the group above are all safely on the roster and are expected to be significant contributors.

21. CB Cary Williams
22. S Tom Zbikowski
23. C Matt Birk
24. OT Bryant McKinnie
25. CB Chris Carr
26. S Haruki Nakamura
27. TE Dennis Pitta
28. RB Ricky Williams
29. LB Jameel McClain
30. WR Torrey Smith

There’s no drama in this group either. McClain still appears to be the frontrunner for the other starting ILB job, while the team has remained steadfast in their support of Torrey Smith despite struggles. There’s a chance he’s not the third receiver on September 11, but he’s absolutely safe on the roster.

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Harbaugh not revealing Ravens’ plans for playing time against Atlanta

Posted on 30 August 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The fourth preseason game is typically reserved for younger players and veterans squarely on the bubble, with starters making little more than a cameo appearance — if that.

However, given the unprecedented nature of the 134-day lockout and the lack of a regular offseason, teams may elect to play starters more extensively. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn’t tipping his hand one way or the other in terms of his plans for the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

So, how long should we expect to see the Baltimore starters?

“We’ll see. That’s what I think about it.”

With the Ravens signing Bryant McKinnie last week and veterans Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda just returning to the practice field on Saturday, concern exists over how quickly the offensive line can gel as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town for the season opener on Sept. 11. Harbaugh is weighing his options in balancing live-game reps for the line with keeping everyone healthy in the final preseason game.

Thursday marks the last chance for rookies such as former Maryland receiver LaQuan Williams and veterans on the bubble such as linebackers Prescott Burgess and Tavares Gooden to make an impression with the coaching staff. For players fitting into these categories, the trip to Atlanta could be for their professional lives in some form or another.

“A great opportunity for the young guys, no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll be playing, obviously, a majority of the game. This is where guys get a chance to get on tape and live NFL action and prove to us and the rest of the league what they can do.”

Harbaugh would not budge from his stance, but the fourth-year coach acknowledged the need to vary his typical stance for the final preseason game.

“It is a little different,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how we’re going to handle it. It’s to be determined. We talked about it, we’re figuring it out, but it’s different. That’s why it’s not just so cut-and-dry like it usually is.”

Apparently not.

Hear more from Harbaugh as well as rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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