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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Detroit

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down the preseason with a 30-9 win over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Solid in his preseason debut, Joe Flacco got rid of the ball quickly, which did disrupt the timing on a few throws. Such a strategy was hardly surprising in his first game back from a major knee injury, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this going into the season.

2. In 10 plays, Terrell Suggs registered two tackles and the Baltimore defense just had a different look and feel with him on the field. I’m not sure if that says more about the 33-year-old linebacker or the rest of the defensive personnel at this point.

3. He may not be ready for an every-down role, but rookie Matt Judon reinforced why he’s deserving of being a situational pass rusher in sub packages. He did impressive work against starting right tackle Riley Reiff and collected a sack, five tackles, and a pass defense.

4. Considered a threat to win the starting job entering the summer, Buck Allen was the last of the Ravens’ top four running backs to receive action and ran for just 15 yards on eight carries. Averaging only 1.9 yards per carry this preseason, he hasn’t impressed running between the tackles.

5. Injuries at safety gave Terrence Brooks the chance to go the distance on Saturday, but he dropped an easy interception and missed a couple tackles leading to big gains. He still hasn’t been able to put it all together despite looking the part on paper.

6. We’re now three games into the preseason and there are no signs that rookie Ronnie Stanley can’t handle protecting Flacco’s blindside after he more than held his own against Pro Bowl defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. It wasn’t a sexy pick, but Stanley is already looking like a gem.

7. A year ago at this time, Carl Davis looked like the early star of the 2015 draft class, but he continues to have a quiet preseason and failed to register a statistic in 18 snaps. His performance is especially concerning after he hit the rookie wall last year.

8. With the season-ending injury to Benjamin Watson, the coaching staff has to be watching Darren Waller and wishing he hadn’t drawn himself a four-game suspension. Other than a drop that led to an interception in the preseason opener, he’s flashed appealing upside at his new position.

9. Remembering his special-teams prowess, I never thought Anthony Levine was in real danger of not making the roster, but he added an interception and a sack on Saturday to go along with his late-game heroics in Indianapolis. Seeing him work as a dime back will be interesting.

10. The Ravens were wise not to risk playing Lardarius Webb due to back tightness since he’s had his healthiest summer in a few years. If he’s right physically, his tackling ability cannot be overlooked at the safety position and the Ravens can move him around a bit.

11. You couldn’t ask for more from Jeremy Butler in his quest to earn a roster spot, but it was interesting to note that he only participated in two plays on special teams. If he’s going to be active on game days, he’ll need to be a part of those units.

12. It was hardly surprising, but seeing Haloti Ngata recognized in the second half of Saturday’s game was still a special moment. Despite an unceremonious departure after nine years in Baltimore, the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and future Ring of Honor member deserved a big ovation.

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Depth being tested for Ravens before season even begins

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The returns of Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs and a 30-9 win over Detroit should have made Saturday a great night for the Ravens.

Instead, they were left with the familiar sting from the injury bug that bit them too many times in 2015.

Nothing really compares to the losses of a franchise quarterback and one of the top defensive players in franchise history — who both looked good in their first live-game action since last season — but injuries to veteran tight end Benjamin Watson and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon soiled what should have been a good feeling for the Ravens in the final real tuneup before the start of the 2016 season. Fortunately, the injuries come at positions where Baltimore has good depth, but you hate to lose play-making depth and potential before the season even kicks off, especially when coming off a 5-11 season in which there was a shortage of difference-makers on either side of the ball.

Watson suffered the more catastrophic injury as he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon on the first offensive play of the night, ending his first season with the Ravens before it even began. No one realistically expected him to duplicate his career season from a year ago in which he caught 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns, but the Ravens thought Watson would bring veteran leadership and dependability to the position after he had missed a total of four games in his last seven seasons.

“He’s been a great teammate and was really developing into a weapon for us,” said Flacco, who’s often leaned on tight ends in the passing game throughout his career. “I was really excited about getting to play with him this year. That’s going to be really tough on us.”

Without Watson, a once-deep tight end group looks more uncertain with Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta all having struggled to stay on the field to varying degrees and second-year options Darren Waller and Nick Boyle facing suspensions to begin the regular season. With Williams and Pitta currently sidelined, you wonder if converted wide receiver and former practice-squad member Daniel Brown will now find his way onto the 53-man roster to begin the year.

Fortunately, head coach John Harbaugh said Dixon’s left knee injury does not look “overly serious,” but that doesn’t mean the 2016 fourth-round pick won’t miss some valuable time. It certainly didn’t look good when ex-Raven and Detroit defensive tackle Haloti Ngata buckled Dixon’s left knee making a tackle at the 1-yard line late in the first half, but a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Sunday will hopefully confirm the optimism expressed by the Ravens after the game.

Terrance West has received much of the attention for his improvement this summer, but the rookie Dixon looks like the running back most capable of hitting a home run whenever he touches the ball, a trait the Ravens have consistently lacked in the backfield since Ray Rice was in his prime. Dixon was the first young back to see action behind veteran starter Justin Forsett on Saturday, gaining 41 yards on six carries and catching one pass for nine yards before leaving the game just before halftime.

Dixon leads all Ravens running backs with 107 yards on 22 carries in the preseason and has displayed a different level of explosiveness from West, Forsett, or Buck Allen and shows surprising physicality for a 5-foot-10, 212-pound back, making his injury all the more disappointing for a team needing to get off to a fast start in 2016.

“It hurts seeing him go down because he’s in our room every day,” said West, who also had a good night with 43 rushing yards on seven carries against the Lions. “Everybody wants to play, but at the same time we care about each other. To see him go down, it hurts all of us.”

To be clear, these injuries won’t ruin the season as there are other options at each position to help pick up the slack.

But on a night when the Ravens were celebrating the much-anticipated returns of Flacco and Suggs, things just got more difficult again.

And, deep down, Harbaugh probably couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.”

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Ravens-Lions preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 26 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Our longest look at Ravens starters in the preseason will be our only look at some in Saturday’s game against Detroit on Saturday night.

The much-awaited return of starting quarterback Joe Flacco will be the dominating story in the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, but head coach John Harbaugh would like to see a good showing from his starting units that likely will still be without the likes of Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Elvis Dumervil. For a team that did more minor tweaking than overhauling after a 5-11 season, many questions remains.

“Either we’re going to be good or we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “It’s what we do, not what we say. We can talk about it all we want. I have reasons for optimism, and I have reasons for pessimism. It’s just going to matter how well we coach, how well we play.

“You have to do your part. Your part is to get better. Your part is not to stay the same. If you stay the same, you’re getting worse. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. You never stay the same. Your goal has to be to come out here and get better, and it’s hard to do.”

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half before giving way to younger players and fringe veterans fighting for roster spots. It will be a good opportunity for Flacco to get his first live-game reps with veteran newcomers Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace, who have played very little in the preseason and have yet to register as much as a catch between them.

The Ravens will see a number of old friends across the field on Saturday night. Not only will five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata be making his return to M&T Bank Stadium, but fellow Super Bowl XLVII champions Anquan Boldin and Josh Bynes and former assistant coaches Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin will be on the opposing side.

Flacco was asked whether he’d ask the 345-pound Ngata before the game to take care of him should the two meet in the pocket during Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think so,” said the 31-year-old quarterback as he laughed. “It will be interesting to see him. I’m used to seeing him over there [on defense during practices], but it will be interesting seeing him in some other colors for sure.”

Saturday marks the fourth time that these teams have met in the preseason with the Ravens holding a 2-1 edge to go with their 3-1 advantage in all-time regular-season meetings. Baltimore has built a 22-12 record in preseason games during the Harbaugh era.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release 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 ahead of Saturday night’s game against Detroit.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), S Matt Elam (knee), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (ankle), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed), G John Urschel (contusion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), DT Brandon Williams (undisclosed), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Maurice Canady (hamstring), TE Darren Waller (jaw), CB Jerraud Powers (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Saturday night

LB Matt Judon

With other edge defenders expected to be sidelined against the Lions, the rookie fifth-round pick has a great opportunity to etch out a role as a rotational pass rusher if he can build on what he’s done in the first two preseason games against tougher competition on Saturday. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have spoken highly of Judon’s combination of size and quickness, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against first-team blockers. The Ravens need someone to emerge as an impact pass rusher behind Suggs and Dumervil, and Judon has propelled himself into that conversation.

RB Buck Allen

The second-year back had a 19-yard touchdown reception in the preseason opener, but he’s carried the ball 10 times for only 20 yards and has no other receiving yards beyond that score. Allen has clear ability as a receiver out of the backfield, but you’d like to see him show more as a runner between the tackles after he averaged an unspectacular 3.8 yards per carry as a rookie. With Terrance West showing improvement as a rusher and rookie Kenneth Dixon looking like a potential change-of-pace back, the 2015 fourth-round pick is still waiting to make a statement of his own this summer.

CB Will Davis

While Shareece Wright and Jerraud Powers have struggled in the preseason, Davis is trending upward as he has looked healthier and quicker since struggling early in camp. The Ravens knew he had the ability to play on the outside, but he held up surprisingly well playing some slot cornerback against Indianapolis, which is something worth monitoring moving forward. The organization obviously thought enough of Davis to send a seventh-round pick to Miami last year, so it will be interesting to see if the 2013 third-round pick will climb the depth chart as he moves further away from knee surgery.

G Vlad Ducasse

The seventh-year veteran isn’t a lock to make the team, but the other options in the competition at left guard lack experience while he’s started 22 games over his career. His performance against the Colts wasn’t quite as stellar as it was against Carolina, but Ducasse figures to improve his chances with a strong showing against the Lions while third-year guard John Urschel is expected to be sidelined again. The Ravens don’t have great depth at tackle, but Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis have the ability to play outside, meaning a guard like Ducasse could receive the nod over a reserve tackle like De’Ondre Wesley.

CB Tavon Young

A hamstring injury sustained in the preseason opener slowed a fast start to his first training camp, but Young figures to have a chance to show what he can do at the nickel spot while veterans such as Powers and Kyle Arrington are likely to be sidelined against the Lions. Despite only being 5-foot-9, Young has shown a nose for the football and impressive confidence for a rookie cornerback. At the very least, the Ravens are looking for him to be a major contributor on kickoff and punt coverage units and potentially as a kick returner, which remains an unsettled position on this current roster.

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Za’Darius Smith, Steve Smith not expected to play for Ravens on Saturday

Posted on 25 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Quarterback Joe Flacco will make his much-anticipated return to the field against Detroit on Saturday, but the Ravens are expecting to be without several key figures for the “dress rehearsal” before the start of the 2016 season.

Veterans recently returning from injury such as wide receiver Steve Smith and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were never considered sure bets to play against Detroit, but second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was absent from Thursday’s walk-through with a sprained ankle.

“Za’Darius has a little ankle issue that he had yesterday in practice,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s not a major thing. I doubt he’ll play. There’s no sense putting him out there with a sprained ankle.”

Harbaugh said Suggs was “fine” despite not being present for Thursday’s light practice, but his absence leads one to believe his status could be in doubt for the third preseason game. The 33-year-old rush linebacker returned to the practice field on Aug. 15 after an 11-month absence due to a torn left Achilles tendon and expressed interest last week in getting some live-game reps in the preseason.

Dumervil and Steve Smith were both present for Thursday’s walk-through, but they only returned to the practice field in the last few days.

“He’s not playing in this game, at least that I know of,” said Harbaugh about the 37-year-old Smith, who tore his right Achilles tendon less than 10 months ago. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll decide [he wants to play] tomorrow.”

The potential absences of Za’Darius Smith, Suggs, and Dumervil would open the door for rookie edge defender Matt Judon to receive action against Detroit’s first-team offense. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees said this week that they’d like to evaluate the fifth-round pick against tougher competition after he collected two sacks and nine tackles over the first two preseason games against second- and third-team offenses.

Harbaugh wouldn’t officially rule out second-year receiver Breshad Perriman from Saturday’s game, but he’s all but guaranteed to sit out against Detroit after only returning to practice on Tuesday.

“We’ll see. It’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll let me know. We’ll meet on that this afternoon — docs and trainers — and see where he’s at with that. He hasn’t gone full speed in practice, as you know, but today’s not a full-speed practice for anybody, so we’ll just have to see.”

Others unlikely to play on Saturday after extended absences from practice include nose tackle Brandon Williams (undisclosed), guard John Urschel (contusion), tight ends Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed), cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Jerraud Powers (undisclosed), and safety Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed).

Players definitely out for Saturday’s game include running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), safety Matt Elam (knee), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle). Taliaferro remains on the physically unable to perform list while Elam and Kaufusi are candidates to be placed on injured reserve at the end of the summer.

Tight end Darren Waller (jaw) and cornerback Maurice Canady (hamstring) both returned to the field to participate in Thursday’s walk-through after exiting the second preseason game early with injuries.

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One-time Raven and Gilman grad still making mark in Baltimore

Posted on 05 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Strive to be the owner, not just a player.

That’s one of the key messages former Ravens linebacker and Gilman grad Brandon Copeland tries to convey when speaking to youth who are aspiring to be professional athletes. The Detroit Lions linebacker wants kids to know that their options stretch beyond the dream of playing professional football.

“Let’s set our dreams high. You know there’s a guarantee that football won’t last forever,” said Copeland, who graduated with an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and interned on Wall Street. “Let’s set ourselves up so that no matter what, we’ll be able to provide the lifestyle we want for ourselves and our families.”

Fulfilling a dream to give back to his local community, Copeland will host Beyond the Basics, a free football camp open to kids in grades seven through 11 at Utz Field in Patterson Park on Saturday, July 9. Online registration is available at www.bcopeland.com with same-day registration taking place at 8:30 am before the camp takes place from 9 a.m. to noon.

In addition to traditional drills and activities you’ll find at many football camps, the day will focus on teaching young players other practice and training methods to use individually before their season begins. A speed trainer and a strength and conditioning coach will be on hand for instruction.

A group of current and former Ravens including Torrey Smith, Jameel McClain, Jeremy Butler, and Carl Davis are scheduled to attend to help out, but other volunteers include fellow Gilman products and NFL players Darius Jennings and Cyrus Jones as well as friends and former teammates of Copeland who are serving in other career fields. It is Copeland’s hope that the latter individuals can leave as big of an impression as the NFL players on hand for the camp.

“My biggest goal with the kids is we’re all in our volunteer t-shirts and having fun and playing with the kids,” said Copeland, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2013 but was released at the end of that preseason. “The kids are going to say, ‘Oh man, this one guy is cool. This guy must play for [some NFL team].’ Then, they’ll come to find out this guy’s a lawyer. Maybe a kid says, ‘Maybe I’ll start looking into law school a little bit.’

“My thing is giving kids role models outside of the box of [only] an NBA player or an NFL player or a professional athlete.”

In addition to the on-field activities, MedStar Orthopaedics is providing a date for campers to receive free physicals while Under Armour and Living Classrooms have also made extensive contributions.

The grandson of former Baltimore Colts defensive end Roy Hilton, Copeland provides his own inspirational story that can be a lesson to his campers. Despite spending much of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 on the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans, the 6-foot-3, 248-pound linebacker was released in September and remained unsigned for the remainder of the 2014 season. After taking part in last year’s veteran combine — which wasn’t held this offseason — Copeland was one of only two participants to make a 2015 regular-season roster and would appear in all 16 games as a reserve with the Lions last season, collecting 14 tackles and a half sack.

Though his Ivy League education left him prepared to move on from football, Copeland wasn’t ready to relinquish his dream of playing in the NFL.

“I was counted out. I was the underdog. I sat at home for a whole year unemployed,” said Copeland, who described himself as a late bloomer both physically and as a football player. “I went to the vet combine. It was my last straw. I remember the first thing they told us, ‘Most of these scouts think that they’re here for no reason.’ Fortunately, I came out of it with a few job offers. I work every single day to keep it going.

“I’m going to go home and give back and try to at least say what’s on my heart to the kids while I have this platform today.”

Unlike many camps that are open to younger ages, the 24-year-old chose to focus on junior high and high school kids who are facing more immediate pressure to make good choices for the future.

While he is using football as the fun hook to get their attention, Copeland wants kids to know there’s an entire world out there beyond what may or may not happen for them on the field over the next few years.

“They’re at a very impressionable age,” Copeland said. “They’re at the age range where you’re either setting up your life or hurting your potential. Football for me in high school was a means to an end, not the end-all, be-all. There are other things in this world besides football.”

Register online for Beyond the Basics at www.bcopeland.com

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Ngata trade proved to be winner for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Luke Jones

There is plenty to question about the offseason that preceded a disappointing 5-11 campaign for the Ravens in 2015.

But the decision to trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata proved to be a good one.

Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens were never going to allow Ngata to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to keep him. The organization attempted to work out an extension like it did with Terrell Suggs a year earlier, but the sides didn’t come to an agreement before the 2006 first-round pick was traded to Detroit in the final moments before free agency began on March 10.

It turns out that the Ravens were probably fortunate not to extend Ngata. As Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey used to say, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

The trade was praised by many at the time, but the possibility of Ngata producing another Pro Bowl season and the Ravens struggling mightily up front was still there.

Ngata wasn’t awful in Detroit, but he hardly played at a Pro Bowl level as he registered a career-low 24 tackles in 14 games and dealt with hamstring and calf injuries. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 39th-best interior defender in 2015 while Brandon Williams was 21st and Timmy Jernigan 49th. The production certainly didn’t warrant the $8.5 million base salary he was paid by the Lions, who were desperate to fill the void left behind by four-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh.

Meanwhile, the Ravens drafted outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith with the fourth-round pick they received from Detroit and used their new fifth-round selection to trade up a few spots in the second round to take tight end Maxx Williams. Time will tell whether these players will make major contributions after mostly-quiet rookie seasons that did finish on high notes, but the potential value alone trumps what Baltimore might have gotten from Ngata in 2015.

If we’re being honest, the Ravens probably missed the 345-pounder to some degree as the run defense ranked 12th in the NFL and allowed 4.0 yards per carry after finishing fourth and surrendering just 3.6 per attempt in 2014. His primary replacement Jernigan shook off a slow start to play well in the second half of 2015, but he was stronger as a pass rusher than as a run-stopping defender at Ngata’s old 3-technique spot.

Ngata would have made the defensive line more stout, but his expensive presence hardly would have transformed the Ravens from a 5-11 team into a 10-6 playoff contender. If the Ravens had signed him to an extension last winter, we’d also be wondering how much football he has left in the way we’re now asking about his longtime teammate Suggs, who will be coming off his second Achilles tendon tear in four years and carries a $7.45 million cap figure for 2016.

The 32-year-old Ngata has expressed desire to re-sign with Detroit, but he is not committed to playing beyond 2016, which should make Ravens fans feel even better about the organization not signing him last winter. Given the issues Baltimore has with its salary cap, the fewer contracts awarded to aging players near the end of their careers, the better.

It became apparent over the course of the 2015 season that the Ravens need to get younger at several key spots, something they’ve done along the defensive line without significant drop-off. Ngata was one of the best players in the 20-year history of the franchise, but parting ways with an aging defensive tackle was the right call with only minimal short-term fallout.

Little went right for the Ravens in one of the most disappointing seasons in team history, but the Ngata trade has already proven to be a winner without even knowing what Smith and Maxx Williams will offer in the future.

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Nov 11, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch (4) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium.  Baltimore defeated Oakland 55-20.  Mandatory Credit: James Lang-US PRESSWIRE

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Ravens thoughts on Koch, safety position, Ngata

Posted on 14 July 2015 by Luke Jones

At a time of year when you pray for peace and quiet while counting down to the start of training camp, the Ravens made positive news last week by signing veteran punter Sam Koch to a long-term extension.

Despite being the second-longest tenured player on the team behind Terrell Suggs, the 32-year-old’s future had been under scrutiny the last couple offseasons due to a high salary cap figure for a punter, but general manager Ozzie Newsome showed how much the organization valued Koch by inking him to a five-year, $16.25 million extension that runs through the 2020 season. The 2006 sixth-round pick was coming off arguably the best season of his career in which he led the NFL in net punting with a 43.3 yard average.

Koch will receive good pay for however long he remains in Baltimore — the structure of the contract would make it fairly easy to cut him as early as the conclusion of the 2016 season if desired — but the deal still ranks outside the top five for punter contracts in total cash and guaranteed money. Remembering that the salary cap has increased by more than $23 million since 2011 makes Koch’s deal much easier to swallow considering his consistency.

While more attention has understandably fallen on the future of 2013 Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker — who is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2015 season — Koch has long been a respected member of the locker room that extends beyond his reputation for executing directional kicks as well as any punter in the league. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg passionately summarized Koch’s value to the Ravens after the veteran failed to make the Pro Bowl last December despite winning the fan vote:

I think the fans got it right. The fans prove to be more informed than the experts in this particular regard, in my opinion. Sam has his team as the No. 1 net punt and No. 1 gross punt team in the league if you’re looking just at numbers – which I’m assuming people did – and that’s hard to do. It’s hard to do both. And other numbers that jump out at you – he’s one of the lowest numbers in percentage of returned balls, one of the lowest numbers in percentage of yards returned, one of the highest percentage of inside-the-20 punts in the league.

Besides that, he’s probably – and I don’t have numbers to back it up – but I suspect that the numbers would back me up to say he’s probably the best holder in the history of football. He has held for three Pro Bowl kickers since he has been here. This last year, he held for three different snappers, actually four counting Haloti [Ngata]. What more does a guy have to do? I guess that’s the way I look at it. And this is meant as no disrespect for the two outstanding players that made it, but the reason we do what we do is because Sam can do it. And the season he has had has been phenomenal. He went through an offseason where he got some undeserved criticism that was thrown out there and some people swallowed it and then spit it back up. His family endured that, and all Sam did is work and take care of his family.

He’s a great husband and a father, an outstanding member of his community. This is a model for pro athletes. If anybody wants to look at a pro athlete, I say, ‘Look at Sam. Be like Sam.’ His teammates have an enormous amount of respect for him. The thing I think has happened here is, because he’s such an unassuming team man – that he doesn’t seek attention for himself – that I think he has been overlooked for a number of years. Certainly not by us, not by his teammates – he is not being overlooked. We are passionate in our support of Sam Koch, because he’s such an outstanding man and an outstanding player.

Is Rosburg partial to the only punter he’s known in Baltimore? Of course, but his words tell all you need to know as to why the Ravens felt it was important to lock up their veteran punter.

Of course, the bigger challenge will be signing Tucker, but the franchise tag is almost certain to be in play if the sides don’t strike a deal by next February.

Safety concerns

The Ravens were able to augment their depth at the cornerback position with the additions of veteran Kyle Arrington and fourth-round rookie Tray Walker this offseason, but safety remains a concern as they enter training camp later this month.

Newsome made a modest commitment to veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis with a three-year, $5.4 million contract, but only time will tell whether he represents an upgrade from Darian Stewart, who wasn’t exactly stellar in his lone season in Baltimore last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Lewis graded out as the 27th-best safety among those playing at least 50 percent of team snaps while Stewart was 23rd, but the Ravens believe Lewis has better ability to play deep coverage — an area in which the pass defense struggled dramatically a year ago.

Strong safety Will Hill could be the wild card for the Ravens secondary if he can build on his 2014 campaign in which he graded out as the 14th-best safety in the league, per PFF. Head coach John Harbaugh challenged the 25-year-old Hill to keep himself out of trouble this offseason after he was suspended three times in his first three years in the NFL, resulting in him being jettisoned by the New York Giants last year.

Baltimore will knock on wood hoping no news is good news with Hill as his continued emergence would mean less reliance on the disappointing Matt Elam or the rehabbing Terrence Brooks to begin the 2015 season. Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, Hill would not only solidify his standing in the starting defense with a strong season, but he’d put himself in line for a nice payday despite the tumultuous beginning to his professional career.

Ngata story

The winner of this year’s Ravens-related topic that isn’t remotely a story might have been the recent comments made by Haloti Ngata about his new defense in Detroit.

Apparently, the five-time Pro Bowl selection saying he had “never been a part of a defense like this” meant he was trashing his former team as if he’s supposed to walk on eggshells in describing his new surroundings. Many of those stirring up controversy failed to mention that Ngata will be playing in a base 4-3 front for the first time in his NFL career and — wait for it — will have different teammates than the ones with whom he played in Baltimore, very much making it a defense he’s “never been a part of” before.

If you need further evidence to dismiss the notion that Ngata was out of line in expressing admiration for a non-Baltimore defense, Detroit finished ahead of the Ravens in total defense and points allowed in 2014.

While I wouldn’t describe the separation between Ngata and the Ravens as harmonious after contract talks broke down this winter, each side ultimately made a business decision the other respected. The veteran spent nearly a decade in Baltimore, rarely ever used the media to draw attention to himself, and has expressed nothing but respect for his former organization since the March trade, making last week’s created controversy absurd.

Yes, it’s a slow news time in the NFL, but there was nothing to see there at all.

 

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Detroit squashes tampering speculation from Bisciotti comments

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than a day after Steve Bisciotti made seemingly harmless comments about the future of former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, his new team squashed any possibility of tampering charges being filed.

Addressing season-ticket holders in a conference call on Wednesday, Bisciotti said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the five-time Pro Bowl selection re-signing with the Ravens next offseason after he was traded to the Detroit Lions last month. This raised a few eyebrows as some suggested the comments could qualify as tampering, especially in light of the ongoing saga between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots over All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.

“He could be a free agent a year from now, and we may be watching the second coming of Haloti Ngata,” said Bisciotti, pointing to the 2006 first-round pick only being under current through the 2015 season. “Who knows? I’d never give up hope that we couldn’t get him back.”

Reflected in a statement released by the Lions on Thursday afternoon, the Ravens reached out to Detroit to clarify comments Bisciotti was making to fans about a player who had just spent nine years in Baltimore. It appears Detroit understands Bisciotti was simply stating the obvious in answering a fan’s question and sharing that the sides had no hard feelings.

Of course, it helps that the teams share a good relationship with former Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell serving as Lions head coach and former secondary coach Teryl Austin now Detroit’s defensive coordinator. Had the words been about a former player playing for Pittsburgh or New England, the response might have been different.

“We appreciate both the Ravens’ professionalism and the context in which Mr. Bisciotti’s statements were made,” the statement read. “We consider the matter to be a non-issue.”

With much debate about tampering in the current climate of NFL free agency and with the Patriots-Jets spat, it’s nice to see common sense prevail as an owner’s words to fans about one of the greatest players in franchise history shouldn’t be viewed in the same light as illegal negotiating through back channels, which is what the rule is really in place to prevent.

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Pasadena native Gaia (Gilman) gets Penn State football honor

Posted on 13 April 2014 by WNST Staff

Penn State Blue Squad Topples White, 37-0 in 
Front of 72,000

Chiappialle runs for 63 yards, two scores as Blue defeats White on 70 degree day in Beaver Stadium

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.; April, 12, 2014 – Spring arrived in Happy Valley in full force for the annual Penn State Blue-White Game presented by AAA, as an estimated 72,000 fans watched the Blue squad defeat the White squad, 37-0, inside a sun-drenched Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The crowd of 72,000 was third-largest in Blue-White Game history, trailing only 76,500 in 2009 and 73,000 in 2008. The temperature hit 70 degrees as the huge crowd took in Coach James Franklin’s first Blue-White Game.

After the return of the players’  pre-game autograph session opened the day, the team took to the field and made what Franklin called “great progress” in the locker room after the contest. The first-year Nittany Lion mentor expressed that he was pleased with the strides the squad made during the 15-practice spring session, but made a point that there was still ample of work to do before the team opens fall camp in August to begin on-field preparations for the Aug. 30 opener vs. UCF in the Croke Park Classic.

After Sam Ficken’s (Valparaiso, Ind.) 26-yard field goal opened the scoring for the Blue team with 9:26 left in the first quarter, sophomore running back Cole Chiappialle (Beaver Falls) piled up some points late in the second quarter. 



Chiappialle carried the ball five times for 32 yards and two scores over the final three minutes of the half. After a punt, Chiappialle covered the final nine yards to paydirt to push the Blue team ahead, 10-0, and following Ryan Keiser’s (Selinsgrove) interception of D.J. Crook (West Barnstable, Mass.), he jolted 23 yards over the left side to make it 17-0 heading to the locker room.

Chiappialle finished with nine carries for a game-high 63 rushing yards and added two catches for 17 yards.

The defense was on point for the Blue team, as well, recording four of the five turnovers in the game (3 INT, 1 Fumble). Keiser, Trevor Williams (Baltimore, Md.) and Matthew Baney (State College) all grabbed interceptions, while Keiser forced a fumble that Jesse Della Valle (Pittsburgh, Pa.) recovered. Adam Cole (Belle Vernon) recovered a fumble to account for the only turnover forced for the White squad.

Baney’s interception opened the scoring in the second half, as the junior rumbled for 28 yards to cross the goal line and push the Blue team ahead, 23-0.

A bit of trickery caught the White squad’s defense off guard late in the third quarter when wideout Eugene Lewis (Wilkes-Barre) found Matt Zanellato (Burke, Va.) down the right side line for a 56-yard touchdown pass. Lewis came in motion and freshman quarterback Michael O’Connor (Ottawa, Ontario) pitched the ball to the speedy receiver. After a few steps, Lewis stopped and connected with Zanellato, who was wide open behind the defense for a 56-yard scoring strike. Akeel Lynch (Toronto, Ontario) capped the scoring with a three-yard touchdown run with 25 seconds late in the game to account for the 37-0 final score.

All four quarterbacks on the roster completed passes in the game, led by O’Connor’s 81 yards on 11-of-16 passing for the Blue team. Crook completed 10-of-17 passes for 68 yards for the White team.

Eight different receivers caught passes for the Blue Team and 10 White squad receivers grabbed catches. Kyle Carter (Bear, Del.) led the Blue side with four grabs and DeShawn Baker (Philadelphia) grabbed a pair of catches for eight yards to pace the White contingent. Zanellato’s 68 yards on two catches led all receivers.

On defense, the Blue’s C.J. Olaniyan (Warren, Mich.) led all players with five tackles, including 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. Keiser forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and came away with three stops, as well. Cornberbacks Da’Quan Davis (Baltimore, Md.) and Devin Pryor (San Bernardino, Calif.) each had four stops to lead the White, with Davis recording four solo stops.

Four Nittany Lions were recognized for their spring practice efforts at halftime. Junior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel (West Branch, Mich.) was presented the Jim O’Hora Award, as the redshirt junior switched from defensive end to defensive tackle during the spring. Redshirt sophomore Brian Gaia (Pasadena, Md.) transitioned from defensive line to offensive guard and earned the Red Worrell Award. Junior defensive end Deion Barnes (Philadelphia) was selected by the coaching staff as the recipient of the Frank Patrick Memorial Award.

Franklin and his staff added a fourth award, Coaches Special Team Award, which was presented to Ficken.

The Worrell Award is presented to the offensive player whose spring contribution is most worthy of special tribute. The prize was first presented in 1958 and is named in the honor of the late Red Worrell, a high school All-American from Centerville HS who was tragically electrocuted in an accident after an exceptional season on the 1957 Nittany Lion freshman team. Past Worrell Award winners include former offensive coordinator Fran Ganter, Lydell Mitchell, Mickey Shuler, Steve Smith, Kyle Brady, Bryant Johnson, Rodney Kinlaw, Graham Zug, Matt Stankiewitch and Ty Howle, the 2013 recipient.

The defensive award is named in honor of Jim O’Hora, a long-time Penn State assistant coach who was a member of the coaching staff for 31 years. Loyalty and attitude especially characterized Jim O’Hora and has typified many of the previous winners, including Walker Lee Ashley, Andre Collins, Michael Haynes, Anthony Adams, Tim Shaw, Michael Mauti, Jordan Hill and Stephon Morris, along with Jordan Lucas and C.J. Olaniyan in 2013. The O’Hora Award was first presented in 1977.

The Frank Patrick Memorial “Total Commitment” Award goes to junior class squad members who consistently follow through with their responsibilities in all facets of the football program and do so in exemplary manner. This includes academic pursuits, off-season preparation, in-season commitment, demeanor and community service. Jeff Hartings, Wally Richardson, Justin Kurpeikis, Bryan Scott, Robbie Gould, Josh Hull, John Urschel and the 2013 duo of Miles Dieffenbach and Mike Hull are among the previous recipients. Patrick was a member of the Lions’ coaching staff from 1949-73.

Urschel, who won the James E. Sullivan Award Friday night in Orlando as the nation’s top amateur athlete, presented the Patrick Award to Barnes.

Franklin and nine other head coaches will be participating in the 17-stop Penn State Coaches Caravan, starting May 1 at the Pegula Ice Arena on the University Park campus and ending May 22 in Erie. Franklin is scheduled to appear at all 17 events. More than 4,500 Penn State alumni and fans have registered during the initial three weeks. For all the Coaches Caravan event dates and locations, go to alumni.psu.edu/events/coachescaravan. 

Penn State returns 41 letterwinners and 15 starters (7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist) and will host Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State (Nov. 29), Ohio State (Oct. 25), Northwestern (Sept. 27-Homecoming) and Maryland (Nov. 1) during its 2014 Big Ten home schedule. The Nittany Lions will play a trio of 2013 Top 10 teams this fall.

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Towson musters almost no offense in loss to Penn State

Posted on 13 April 2014 by WNST Staff

TOWSON, Md. – Freshman Mike Lynch scored the Tigers’ (8-4, 2-2 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)) only goal as No. 19 Towson fell, 8-1, to Penn State (5-6, 1-2 CAA) Saturday evening at Unitas Stadium.

Turnovers plagued the Tigers in the first half, as Towson had only two possessions that did not end in a turnover. The Nittany Lions’ wings controlled the ground balls off the face-offs, and PSU was able to extend its possessions through careful passing and judicious shot selection.

Lynch’s goal at 54.7 seconds left saved the Tigers from their first shutout since March 26, 1970. Mike Sutton(2g) and TJ Sanders (2g) led PSU in scoring.

“Congratulations to Penn State,” said Head Coach Shawn Nadelen. “They came out and played a terrific game. They brought their best to the field, and we didn’t.”

Penn State held a 5-0 lead at the half after Sutton tallied a pair of goals – the only two goals scored in the second quarter. Sutton’s second goal was extra-man, snapping the Tigers’ 169:16 streak of holding opponents scoreless on man-up chances.

Towson struggled in the second half against Penn State’s press, committing eight total turnovers in the final two quarters. Penn State committed just eight turnovers for the game. Both Towson’s Tyler White and PSU’s Austin Kaut finished the game with 11 saves each.

Towson returns to action on Saturday, April 19 at 7 p.m. when the Tigers host Drexel. Towson’s senior class will be honored before the game in a brief ceremony. Fans are encouraged to wear black to “black out” Unitas Stadium.

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