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Live from Westminster: Suggs, Clayton do not practice

Posted on 03 August 2009 by Luke Jones

4:51 p.m. — One player I haven’t discussed too much is tight end Todd Heap.  The veteran has looked good out there with no lingering effects from the back injury apparent.  He looks quick getting in and out of his cuts and is hoping to once again become a major factor in the passing game.

“Todd has done a really good job in the offseason getting himself ready,” coach John Harbaugh said.  “He looks like he’s getting himself ready to have a really good season.  He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s got a lot of work to do betwen now and then, but he’s done well.”

4:45 p.m. — Dannell Ellerbe is a player to keep an eye on if you’re going to make your way out to Westminster.  An undrafted rookie inside linebacker out of Georgia, Ellerbe was considered a mid-round draft prospect before battling knee issues in 2008.  Ellerbe was 2nd team All-SEC in 2007.

He has been so impressive that he received a few reps with some of the defensive starters at the end of practice this morning.  While he clearly won’t challenge Ray Lewis or Tavares Gooden for a starting spot, he could be making a strong case for the 53-man roster, especially if he can perform well on special teams.

4:02 p.m. — One offensive lineman looking strong during camp is Oniel Cousins.  After largely being considered a disappointment last year, the 2008 third-round pick has impressed.  However, his kryptonite on the defense is linebacker Antwan Barnes.  Whenever the two face off, whether in individual drills or live 11-on-11 situations, Barnes seemingly gets the best of Cousins every time.

With Terry still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and on the PUP list, Cousins is making a charge for that third tackle spot behind Michael Oher and Jared Gaither.

3:56 p.m. — Just to recap the Ravens’ injury situations, the big names missing from this morning were Terrell Suggs (left heel) and Mark Clayton (left hamstring), both considered day-to-day.

Lamar Divens, Davon Drew (right ankle), L.J. Smith (hamstring), and Brendon Ayanbadejo (toe) were other significant players not practicing today.

Samari Rolle (groin/shoulder), Adam Terry (knee), and Yamon Figurs (foot) are still listed on the physical unable to perform list.

3:47 p.m. — The kick returner competition will also be another interesting battle to follow.  Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb appear to be the early favorites with Yamon Figurs still on the PUP list with a foot issue.

Carr fits the mold of a Jim Leonhard-like returner.  He won’t be a home run hitter back there, but he’ll field kicks cleanly and gain positive yardage.  Webb shows outstanding speed and returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week.  He has great instincts and will be interesting to watch when the Ravens get into the preseason schedule.

When you consider that both players can contribute to the secondary’s depth and Figurs is rather limited as a wide receiver, I think Figurs may have a difficult time winning this job, even when he finally is healthy.

3:40 p.m. — The afternoon practice is complete, as the Ravens focused on their special teams on the upper fields at McDaniel College.  The team spent a considerable amount of time working on kick return blocking assignments.

While these practices aren’t the most exciting to observe if you’re a fan, this is the area where those fringe players can stake a claim for a spot on the 53-man roster.

Moving to the kicking battle, Graham Gano had the opportunity to get the reps—with Steve Hauschka having the day off—and he did not disappoint.  Gano was perfect on five attempts, hitting from 33, 36, 45, 47, and 53 yards.  I spoke to him after the afternoon session, and he was really please with how he was hitting the ball.

12:48 p.m. — The highlight of the morning was a long completion to Demetrius Williams from Joe Flacco the sideline, drawing the loud cheers of the Westminster fans.  Defensive back Chris Carr was guarding closely, but Flacco dropped the ball right into Williams’ hands as he reached over the defender.

Another highlight came when the offense was practicing its goal line sets.  Willis McGahee took the hand-off to the right side and was met by Ray Lewis who wrapped him up and appeared to have the running back stopped.  McGahee kept fighting and crossed the goal line, giving the offense a touchdown on the final play of the drill.

Both Ray Rice and McGahee continue to impresse onlookers, as both men have run with strength in the early stages of training camp.

12:20 p.m. — Ben Grubbs was hobbling around toward the end of practice and was not participating in team drills.  He had previously been on the PUP list with an ankle injury.  Justin Bannan did not practice this morning, but the reason was not disclosed.  Brendon Ayanbadejo continues to recover from a toe injury but was not wearing a walking boot as he walked out to the field at the end of practice.

12:07 p.m. — I have some other injury notes to pass along.  Tight ends L.J. Smith and Davon Drew did not practice, as Smith continues to recover from a hamstring strain and Drew has a right ankle injury.  The rookie tight end Drew was walking with a significant limp today, so it may take some time for him to get back on the field.

Antwan Barnes suffered a mild concussion on Sunday morning, but he was back on the field practicing today.

Samari Rolle, Adam Terry, and Yamon Figurs are still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Jason Phillips was cleared to practice yesterday and is off the list.

11:52 a.m. — The morning practice has come to an end, and there were two notable absences from the field.

Terrell Suggs has a sore left heel and will be out for a short period of time.  Both Suggs and coach John Harbaugh told reporters after practice that the injury was not serious.  Harbaugh expressed little concern with Suggs missing some time, pointing out that he had three solid days of reps in a row before the heel flared up on Sunday.

Suggs had been seen walking through the hotel Sunday afternoon with a walking boot.

Mark Clayton also did not practice, still recovering from a hamstring tweak.  Harbaugh said the team will be extra cautious with it, citing Clayton’s history of hamstring issues.  It is not believed to be a major strain, but the training staff wants to play it safe for at least a couple days.

Rookie Paul Kruger took Suggs’ place on the starting defense while Demetrius Williams, who had his own hamstring issue yesterday, took Clayton’s place with the starting unit.

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Live from Westminster: Derrick Mason ends retirement, returns to Ravens

Posted on 01 August 2009 by Luke Jones

8:39 p.m. — I had to chuckle when I came across this on JOCKlife, the site that broke the news about Mason retiring on July 13.

While Baltimore will undoubtedly welcome back Mason with open arms, the way this “retirement” was initiated will leave a black mark on Mason’s great career.

8:00 p.m. — Earlier I had said the Ravens would need to make a roster move in order to place Mason back on the active 80-man roster, but they will not have to do this since they were at 79 players on the roster.

Sunday’s practices will take place at 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m.  Derrick Mason is expected to be on the field and practicing Sunday morning.  He will talk to the media after the morning session.

2:29 p.m. — The Ravens will take Mason off the reserve-did not report list and place him back on the active roster.  The Ravens placed Mason on the list in order to gain the roster spot on the 80-man limit.

We’ll let you know what that move is as soon as we find out.

2:16 p.m. — There will be no press conference today, but Mason will speak to the media after the morning practice tomorrow, according to Kevin Byrne.

2:03 p.m. — Mason will play under his existing contract, a significant note considering he was clamoring for a new contract earlier in the offseason.  The 35-year-old has one year remaining on the original five-year deal he signed with the Ravens in 2005.

1:56 p.m. — Mason made a statement to the Ravens’ official site saying this:

“It was a tough decision, but I think it was a good decision for me to come back,” Mason said. “I needed to evaluate my life, football and my career. The last several weeks thinking about it and talking with my family was an important time for me and them.

“I still have an intense fire inside me, and I want to play. My family and I wanted to finish it out the right way. I felt like I had left something undone, and I wanted to finish it. I believe this is a good example for my son and my daughter on how to be thoughtful and also follow through.

Mason’s return was anticipated by many, but it solidifies the Ravens’ concerns at the wide receiver position.  He will undoubtedly reclaim his spot as the No. 1 receiver with everyone else sliding down a spot on the depth chart.

1:47 p.m. — Derrick Mason will send a letter to the NFL today stating his intentions to return to the Baltimore Ravens.  According to the Ravens, Mason is very enthused to rejoin his teammates and play football.  He has been working out and will take the physical and conditioning test today, because he wants to practice tomorrow morning.

Mason called Steve Bisciotti this morning to tell the owner that he wants to return to the Ravens.

1:44 p.m. — It’s official.  Derrick Mason is back.

1:34 p.m. — Jamison Hensley is reporting Mason will end his retirement, according to a league source.

Mason is in Westminster and met with Newsome earlier.

1:25 p.m. — According to Mike Duffy’s Twitter account, Mason will give Ozzie Newsome an answer by the end of the day.

1:20 p.m. — Interesting Tweet from Jared Gaither:  “Ohh he back like jordan in 45.”

Could he be referring to No. 85?

1:18 p.m. — Reports are flying that Derrick Mason is in Westminster, as you received via the WNST text service.  According to The Sun, he met with Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh.

12:39 p.m. — The best news for Ravens fans from the morning practice is that there were no apparent injuries.

12:37 p.m. — While I’m passing on some funny moments, I thought I’d add one about Terrell Suggs.  With some NFL officials currently at camp to get some work, T-Sizzle thought he would lend a hand when Gano and Hauschka were kicking field goals.

He joined the two officials underneath the goal posts and helped them signal whether each kick was good or not.  The move drew major laughs from the large crowd on hand in Westminster.

12:35 p.m. — The funniest moment of the morning came after practice when Ray Lewis was signing autographs for the Ravens Rookies section filled with kids.  As he was signing, Flacco was doing an interview.  When several kids started yelling for Flacco, Lewis joined in, yelling for his quarterback to come over and sign with him.

Lewis really enjoyed interacting with the young Ravens fans and was one of the last players to leave the field in terms of signing autographs.  Flacco came over to give Lewis relief.

12:29 p.m. — Ray Rice continues to show excellent moves in the early going, and though Willis McGahee has looked strong in his reps, it appears the Ravens are really trying to establish Rice as the feature back.

Despite this, Cam Cameron emphasized yesterday that it will be a by-committee approach, much like last season.

12:27 p.m. — Both kickers are adjusting to the slope of the field at McDaniel College.  It’s causing kicks to hook left, according to Gano.

12:25 p.m. — The kicking battle gave a slight edge to Steve Hauschka this morning, as both Graham Gano and Hauschka for 3-for-4 in a series of consecutive kicks.  Gano’s miss came from 39 yards, and Hauschka missed from 48.  Later in the practice, Gano missed a 50-yard attempt wide left.

Special teams coach Jerry Rosburg said after practice that he sees the competition coming down to the final preseason game.  According to Rosburg, Hauschka has refined his technique considerably while Gano shows outstanding athleticism and foot-eye coordination.

Gano showed that athleticism when he caught returner Lardarius Webb at the 10-yard line on a long kickoff return.  I asked Gano about his speed after practice, and he claims to have run a 4.5 40-yard dash at Florida State.  Sounds like the making of a trick play there if Gano does win the placekicking job.

12:23 p.m. — We saw our first near-fight take place this morning when Haruki Nakamura picked off a Troy Smith pass.  As Nakamura returned the ball down the defensive players’ sideline, Smith gave him a little shot out of bounds.  Antwan Barnes and Terrell Suggs got up in Smith’s face, but the players were quickly separated and cooler heads prevailed.

12:17 p.m. — The Ravens have concluded their morning practice and made it through the session without any apparent injuries.  Trevor Pryce returned to the practice field after a scare yesterday morning.  L.J. Smith sat out again, still feeling the effects of a strained hamstring.  Defensive linemen Will Johnson also missed a second-straight practice.

The passing game was the focal point of the practice, with both the offense and defense turning in sterling plays.

The star of the morning was Dawan Landry who picked off Joe Flacco twice during 11-on-11 passing situations.  The second interception came after a poor decision by Flacco to throw off his back foot.

The morning was not a complete disappointment for Flacco as he completed a 50-yard pass to Demetrius Williams, beating Domonique Foxworth on the play.  Williams continues to show no ill effects from the Achilles issue that ended his 2008 season.

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Live from Westminster: Yanda practices, Reed wearing red jersey (no contact)

Posted on 31 July 2009 by Luke Jones

7:09 p.m. — The Ravens will practice on Saturday at 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m.  Both practices are open to the public.

5:45 p.m. — Domonique Foxworth had a nice play in the afternoon, breaking up a pass intended for Demetrius Williams.

Foxworth signed a huge contract to come to Baltimore, so the expectations are high for the fifth-year player.

5:40 p.m. — Defensive linemen Trevor Pryce and Will Johnson and receiver Marcus Smith did not practice this afternoon.  Pryce had his foot stepped on in the morning and was even carted off the field, but he should be back to practice as early as tomorrow.  Johnson has a right leg issue, and Smith sat out with cramps.

5:25 p.m. — Despite the rain delay, the Ravens did make it outside to the lower field for practice this afternoon.  Several hundred people hung around to watch the workout despite the terrible storm that came through Westminster in the 2 o’clock hour.

There were two major highlights in the afternoon.  The first was Dawan Landry swiping a Troy Smith pass and returning it for a touchdown.  He looks to be 100 percent healthy and has not shied away from contact in the early going.

The second occurred during punt return drills when Ray Rice broke free and was off to the races.  The second-year back figures to be mostly used at running back, but he definitely shows an ability in the return game should he be needed.

2:45 p.m. — I’m currently in the Best Western hotel waiting out a severe storm.  The team is currently conducting a walk-through and is hoping to go outside at 3:15 p.m if the weather improves.  The area is currently under a tornado watch.

2:20 p.m. — Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron spoke to reporters after practice and talked about the progress of Joe Flacco.  He said that Flacco simply needs to focus on the little things that will make him an elite quarterback.

Cameron went on to say that Flacco will be expected to do much more in his second year as starting quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens.

As far as any wrinkles in the playbook, the Ravens ran some plays out of the pistol formation, a shotgun look in which the running back lines up behind the quarterback.  The offense ran the option out of this formation a few times.

2:17 p.m. — In case you’re debating whether to come out to Westminster for the afternoon practice, it is currently pouring as I look out the window of the team hotel.  Looks like it will be a wet afternoon, but I’ll be out there giving you all the updates!

2:09 p.m. — Regarding Ed Reed, Harbaugh explained they do not want to take a chance with Reed’s shoulder and neck.

“Ed knows how to tackle.  He’ll pick his spots a little bit that way, but we want to be smart.”

2:06 p.m. — The coach’s best comments were about Terrell Suggs, who did not participate in Harbaugh’s first training camp last season.

“Yeah, ’55’ is in shock right now.  This is his first training camp in awhile, so he’s feeling his way around.  We’ve assigned a couple of veterans to ‘Sizzle’ to make sure he knows where to go and how to get there.”

Funny stuff from the Ravens head coach.

2:01 p.m. — Harbaugh was very impressed with the huge crowd in Westminster to watch the Ravens’ first full-squad workout.

“I don’t know how many [fans] were here, but the place is absolutely stuffed…Guys are excited about that.  It makes it fun to get out here.  We have great fans.  It’s been a good day so far.”

1:54 p.m. — Michael Oher was the starting right tackle with the first-team offense and was very impressive.  At 6-4 and 310 pounds, Oher is a menacing figure and manhandled defenders on several occasions.  His strength appeared to be run blocking, and he will need to improve his pass blocking technique, but that’s just an early observation after the morning practice.

Overall, you can easily see why the Ravens were so enamored with the rookie tackle.

1:21 p.m. — Just a couple injury updates to pass along to you.  As I reported on The Bob Haynie Show, Trevor Pryce was carted off the field, but it turned out he simply got stepped on, according to John Harbaugh.

L.J. Smith failed to practice again, still bothered by a hamstring tweak he sustained on Tuesday.

1:17 p.m. — It was good seeing Dawan Landry out on the field, going live.  His recovery from last season’s neck injury went well, but you just never know how the neck will respond until he starts going live again.  So far, so good.

With Reed not participating in any live contact, Haruki Nakamura lined up at free safety next to Landry in 11-on-11 live situations.

1:13 p.m. — Tavares Gooden looks to be in excellent condition and simply flies to the football.  He lined up as the starting inside linebacker next to Ray Lewis, and he definitely looks like he belongs.  In an early drill, he filled a hole and stood up Willis McGahee at the line of scrimmage.

If Gooden can play with discipline and not overpursue, he’ll be a youthful asset at the linebacker position.

1:10 p.m. — A battle at kicker is rarely an exciting story, but the showdown between Graham Gano and Steve Hauschka will be crucial this summer.  Gano has the early lead, as he was perfect on all of his attempts.  Hauschka struggled, missing two kicks.  Ravens officials tell me the real evaluation between the two kickers will take place during the team’s preseason games.

1:08 p.m. — Former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders is here and has sat in on the Ravens’ team meetings.  It’s expected that Saunders will join the coaching staff as an offensive consultant.

It will be interesting to see how involved he is with the Ravens’ offensive game plan.

1:06 p.m. — Willis McGahee is off the PUP list and looks very strong.  One of the highlights of the morning was a collision between him and 350-pound defensive tackle Kelly Talavou.  The running back won the battle.

He and Ray Rice shared time with the first-team offense.

12:50 p.m. — Mark Clayton struggled today, dropping a couple passes and being called for pass interference, pushing off Frank Walker during 11-on-11’s.

Staying with the wide receivers, Justin Harper continues to impress, catching a touchdown pass from John Beck with Domonique Foxworth in coverage.

Freshly-signed wideout Biren Ealy made the catch of the day, snagging a one-handed catch with Lardarius Webb covering.

12:42 p.m. — Ray Lewis spoke to reporters after practice and has shed 15 pounds, wanting to be lighter to maintain speed.

He feels blessed to be in his 14th year with the Ravens and still feels a strong passion for the game.

The defensive line is very deep according to Lewis.  He’s happy to have Kelly Gregg back out there in front of him.

12:36 p.m. — The Ravens have completed their first full-squad practice this morning before a lively crowd at McDaniel College.  It was clear to see Ravens fans were waiting for the big names to arrive here in Westminster.

The big news of the morning was Marshal Yanda practicing.  There had been concerns that Yanda would not take part in training camp while still recovering from the severe knee injury sustained last season against Indianapolis.  Yanda did not participate in 11-on-11 live drills, but he practiced individually with his fellow offensive line mates.

Ed Reed practiced in a red jersey, signaling no contact for the All-Pro safety.  Considering Reed’s shoulder and neck issues dating back to last season, this is not an entirely surprising move.

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Live from Westminster: Oher signs, Mason placed on reserve/did not report list

Posted on 29 July 2009 by Luke Jones

11:54 p.m. — As I’ve discussed earlier—both in the blog and on the training camp reports—the delay in Oher’s signing was likely based on the slotting system that exists for signing draft picks.

With the 21st pick (Cleveland’s Alex Mack) and the 28th pick (Buffalo’s Eric Wood) signing contracts already, it gave some basic parameters for the Oher deal to get done.  Oher is only the sixth first-round pick to sign a contract.

We’re still waiting to hear the official terms.

11:02 p.m. —  John Harbaugh’s statement to the Ravens’ official site about the signing of Michael Oher:

“We knew Michael wanted to be here.  He said that many times.  Ozzie [Newsome] wanted him to be here, and his agent [Jimmy Sexton] wanted him to be here too.  The agent wanted to make sure he did the right thing by Michael, and we wanted that.”

10:48 p.m. — With the signing of their first-round pick, the Ravens have become one of the first teams in the NFL to sign all of their 2009 draft picks.  Others to sign all of their picks include Chicago, the New York Jets, and Pittsburgh.

10:01 p.m. — The Ravens just announced that they’ve signed Michael Oher to a five-year contract. More to come…

6:03 p.m. — A reminder that tomorrow is a team administrative day as the veterans get settled into Westminster.  The team’s activities are closed to both the public and media, so we won’t get our first look at the entire team until Friday.

Several of the veterans reporting today came out to the field during the afternoon practice to greet coaches and teammates.  These players included Ed Reed, Haruki Nakamura, Jarret Johnson, and Marcus Smith.

5:57 p.m. — Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs were working out individually, hitting the hand-held pads after practice.  Yanda is still wearing a bulky brace on his surgically-repaired knee but looked good getting out of his stance.

5:55 p.m. — I learned this afternoon that Joe Flacco did not miss a single offseason workout.  It’s definitely an impressive feat for the starting quarterback and has to make Ravens fans feel good.

5:53 p.m. — There were no apparent injuries in the afternoon, though I did see Demetrius Williams having his right leg stretched out by the training staff in the closing minutes of practice.  It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an injury, but it’s something to keep an eye on come Friday morning.

5:48 p.m. — The Ravens have wrapped up practice for the day.  The four workouts over the last two days were very similar, resembling what you see during OTAs.

The defensive players spent quite a bit of time working on alignments, using trash cans as offensive linemen.

Mark Clayton shined during 7-on-7 drills, reining in a pair of nice catches with Fabian Washington all over him.  The Ravens’ new No. 1 receiver by default has been very consistent in the first two days of workouts.

The coaching staff really seemed to be working on Washington this afternoon.  The starting cornerback has been recovering from neck and shoulder issues dating back to last season.

Justin Harper, continuing to impress, hauled in another long throw from Troy Smith.  As I mentioned in the morning, he has easily been the best of the lesser-known receivers including Eron Riley and Jayson Smith.

2:19 p.m. — Harbaugh talked a little bit about the death of former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.  The two coached together for a decade in Philadelphia.

The Ravens coach expressed sadness, calling Johnson a “football dad” of his.  Harbaugh believes Johnson was a defensive pioneer and suggested there should be a coordinator wing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Harbaugh reminisced about Johnson’s desire for his players to tackle like “an arrow through snow” and mentioned how many techniques that the Ravens use are methods taken from Johnson.

2:00 p.m. — I predict that Lardarius Webb will quickly become a fan favorite here in Baltimore.  He met with reporters after practice this morning and told a story about media relations director Chad Steele giving him some fashion advice and suggested the rookie defensive back cut his hair—he has long dreadlocks.  Webb replied that he wanted to wait until all of the kids were wearing fake dreadlocks in honor of him.

Harbaugh expects Webb to be a huge part of the Ravens’ special teams but also said the team will have to limit his reps, depending on how much he plays on defense.

1:43 p.m. — More and more veterans are beginning to file in, as I just saw Ray Rice and Trevor Pryce walk through the lobby of the Best Western.  Other players making an appearance include Haloti Ngata and Haruki Nakamura.  I did learn that several players living in the area checked in this morning but will not return to Wesminster until their physicals at 3:00 p.m.

12:07 p.m. — Veterans are set to report this afternoon for their physicals at 3:00 p.m.  I just saw Haruki Nakamura walk through the lobby not too long ago.

Though veterans will be here this afternoon, they will not participate in this afternoon’s practice.  The public’s first chance to watch the entire squad will be on Friday morning.

11:47 a.m. — The wide receivers worked on ball control by carrying a football attached to a bungee cord.  The players started at the goal post and had to carry the ball to the goal line while maintaining control of the ball.

11:40 a.m. — Some of the highlights of 7-on-7 drills included a long completion from Joe Flacco to Justin Harper and a long touchdown pass from Troy Smith to Harper.

The Ravens’ seventh-round pick in 2008, Harper spent the entire season on injured reserve with a knee injury.  At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Harper has good size, but he will need to showcase his ability to coaches to stick on the regular season roster.

Today’s showing was a good start.

11:23 a.m. — The tempo of the practice was similar to yesterday with the players dressed in shorts and no full-go contact taking place.

It was interesting seeing Harbaugh instruct during the special teams portion of practice.  He demonstrated the proper technique to use as a gunner on punts.  Even if you’re not familiar with the head coach’s pedigree as a special teams coordinator in Philadelphia, it was clear to see where his roots lie.

11:19 a.m. — The only injury to report really dates back to yesterday.  L.J. Smith tweaked a hamstring and was held out of morning practice as a precaution.  He did not participate in drills and stood on the sideline without a helmet.

John Harbaugh did not seem concerned with the injury.

11:12 a.m. — Regarding the 10 players placed on the active PUP list (tackle Lou Saucedo was waived last night), rookie tight end Davon Drew and defensive tackle Lamar Divens practiced this morning after passing the pre-camp conditioning test.  Both players participated in the morning workout.

Willis McGahee initially came onto the field with helmet, indicating there was some chance of him practicing this morning.  However, he soon returned to the training room and came out to the field without his helmet.  He participated in some individual drills and worked on his conditioning, but he is not allowed to participate in team drills, as per the rules of being on the PUP list.

11:07 a.m. — The morning practice has concluded, and the biggest news to come out of Westminster is the announcement that the Ravens are placing Derrick Mason on the reserve/did not report list.  The designation comes as no surprise since Mason announced his retirement over two weeks ago.  Mason has not filed any paperwork with the league office, leaving the door open for his return.

With Mason on this list, it means he will not count against the current 80-man roster limit but is eligible to return to the team at any time.  The Ravens still hold onto the veteran receiver’s rights.

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Live from Westminster: Ravens waive Sypniewski & sign WR Biren Ealy

Posted on 27 July 2009 by Luke Jones

8:32 p.m. – Ealy’s dismissal from the New Orleans Saints stems from an arrest back in May.  You can read about it here.

5:57 p.m. – If you’re on the WNST text service, you just learned the Ravens have signed wide receiver Biren Ealy.  Having only one career catch, I’m not sure Ealy would be the signing to “replace” Drew Bennett, but he is another warm body here in Westminster.

Ealy played his college football at Houston and played four games with the Tennessee Titans in 2007.

5:42 p.m. – Willis McGahee just walked into the lobby of the Best Western, joining veterans Samari Rolle, Adam Terry, and Antwan Barnes among the select veterans reporting today.

McGahee looks to be in good shape, but we’ll get our first look at the former Hurricane tomorrow morning on the field.

He was second behind Ray Rice on the depth chart during OTAs, as he was recovering from offseason knee surgery.

As I type this, I just saw Kellly Gregg walk through the door.

5:14 p.m. – Lardarius Webb is really excited to get going and says that the sore hamstring that plagued him during OTAs is now 100 percent.

He mentioned how much he’s learned from just observing Ed Reed—his hero growing up—and how he’s looking forward to playing with him.

4:01 p.m. – Ozzie Newsome was overheard in the hotel lobby shooting down any chance of Michael Vick becoming a Raven.

“We have a quarterback,” he said.  “We have three quarterbacks.”

3:17 p.m. – The John Harbaugh press conference was very brief.  It will be available in the WNST audio vault shortly.

* Harbaugh described Bennett’s condition as an “arthritic” knee.  The veteran receiver just didn’t think he could do it anymore.

* There are some “irons in the fire” regarding the wide receiver position.  Harbaugh said the Ravens would be adding a receiver but did not name anyone specifically, speculating that it could be a veteran or a young player.

* Regarding Michael Oher’s contract status, he said the rookie right tackle wants to be in camp on time but understands his agent needs to get the best deal possible for him.  Harbaugh pointed out that very few first round picks have signed contracts and how the slotting process delays negotiations.

The deal should happen “pretty soon” according to Harbaugh.

* Harbaugh insists that Quinn Sypniewski—waived earlier today—is still in the team’s plans, but the organization could not afford to keep him on the 80-man training camp roster.

The surgery on Sypniewski’s injured knee did not work last season, and he is recovering from another procedure.

* Harbaugh said the team would make decisions on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list tomorrow but would not disclose any players who would be on the list.

2:20 p.m. – I just spoke to third-round pick Lardarius Webb, and he’s very excited to finally be at training camp.  He actually spent the last month here in Baltimore, continuing to train and work out at the Ravens’ facility.

2:10 p.m. – If you’re looking for another person who isn’t sure of Derrick Mason’s status for this season, look no further than his quarterback Joe Flacco.

Flacco today said he spoke to Mason last week, and the 35-year-old receiver did not “sound too sure” about the prospects of returning to the Ravens.

I’m sure we’ll hear more about the Mason situation this afternoon when Harbaugh speaks to the media.

1:48 p.m. – The news of Quinn Sypniewski being waived is not very surprising given the state of his surgically-repaired knee that cost him the entire 2008 season.  The young tight end had experienced some setbacks this offseason in getting the knee back into football shape.

With Todd Heap, L.J. Smith, Edgar Jones, and rookie Davon Drew in the fold, the Ravens have plenty of capable tight ends to compete this summer.

1:12 p.m. – Other players making their way to Westminster include Paul Kruger, Jason Phillips, Jason Cook, and Graham Gano—who was sporting a new buzz cut.

I had the chance to talk to Gano about his battle with Steve Hauschka for the kicking job.  He’s confident and says he’s kicking better than he ever has right now.  The interview is available in the WNST audio vault.

12:06 p.m. – I just had the chance to chat with John Harbaugh in the lobby.  He will make his official statement about Drew Bennett at 3:00 p.m., but he was surprised to hear about the veteran receiver’s retirement.

Bennett’s decision seems to be completely about the poor health of his knee.

Harbaugh confirmed that he met face-to-face with Derrick Mason last week.  There had been some confusion in the media over whether their discussion was over the phone or in person.

11:47 a.m. – The players are starting to trickle in slowly.  I just spoke to sixth-round pick and running back Cedric Peerman.  He’s refreshed and ready to go for his first training camp as an NFL player.

Antwan Barnes has also walked through the lobby, the first “select” veteran to make an appearance.

10:59 a.m. – I’m here at the Best Western in Westminster, waiting for the Ravens rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans to report for training camp here at McDaniel College.

It’s been a very quiet morning with the only noteworthy appearance being made by assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, walking through the lobby.

The news on everyone’s mind is obviously the surprising retirement of veteran wide receiver Drew Bennett two days after signing a contract with the Ravens.  The announcement leaves the Ravens exactly where they were two weeks ago when Derrick Mason announced his own retirement.

John Harbaugh will speak to the media at 3:00 p.m., and the wide receiver position will surely be the hot topic of discussion.

Will the Ravens now turn their efforts toward D.J. Hackett?  The former Seahawk and Panther was among four receivers who tried out on Friday—along with Bennett, former Lion Chris Hannon, and rookie Justin Brown.

Hackett was also scheduled to try out back in May along with Kelley Washington, Jerry Porter, and Tab Perry but chose to try out with the Houston Texans instead.  The Ravens decided to go with Washington.

Hackett’s best season came with Seattle in 2006 when he caught 45 balls for 610 yards and four touchdowns

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Notes from Ravens Rookie Camp

Posted on 16 June 2009 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ newcomers have a final opportunity this week to get acclimated to the NFL before reporting to McDaniel College for training camp on July 27.

The offseason OTA schedule concludes this week with a rookie camp, allowing coaches to work more closely with the team’s six draft picks and numerous rookie free agents vying for a regular season roster spot. 

“It’s obviously a different atmosphere and tempo because the vets aren’t here,” coach John Harbaugh said.  “It’s a little slow.  We take a little more time between reps.  I don’t want to say it was more teaching, because there is a lot of teaching when the [veterans] are here, too.  But it was a little more fundamentally-oriented, a little simpler with the calls, but they did a good job.”

The rumors circulating about Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall were a hot topic at the training facility in Owings Mills.  The disgruntled receiver wants to be traded, and the receiver position is an area of concern with Derrick Mason (shoulder), Mark Clayton (foot), and Demetrius Williams (ankle) all slowed by injuries this offseason.

Earlier in the offseason, the Ravens explored a trade for Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin, but the Cardinals’ reported asking price of a first- and third-round pick and Boldin’s demands for a new contract proved too steep.

Marshall’s contract expires after this season, so a new deal would be needed.  The Pro Bowl receiver has grabbed 206 receptions in the last two seasons.

We’re interested in anybody that can help our team,” Harbaugh said.  “You know [Marshall] plays for the Broncos, and he’s under contract. So he’s not a guy that we’re considering or concerned with right now. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

His off-the-field issues are also a concern, including a pending misdemeanor battery charge.  Marshall has had several run-ins with the law since beginning his NFL career in 2006. 

“[A player’s] background matters,” Harbaugh said.  “We want to bring guys in here that are what we consider ‘Ravens.’ Any player that we bring in here, we’ve got to be convinced that he’s a man of integrity, a high-character guy and that our players can respect him in the locker room. That’s going to be true whether it’s in a draft or free agency or any guys we choose to re-sign. We look at that real hard because we think those are the type of people that you win with, and we’re never going to compromise on that.”

– Veteran tight ends Todd Heap and L.J. Smith have been slowed by injuries during OTAs, leaving plenty of reps for rookie Davon Drew.

The fifth-round pick, who signed a three-year contract last week, will most likely contribute on special teams but has impressed coaches with his route-running ability.  He credits Heap and Smith in helping him adjust to the NFL.

“Definitely when you’re just standing around those guys–veterans that have been doing it–that’s something that makes you want to be just like them,” Drew said.  “I look up to those guys.  Anytime I have a question or something, they help me out and sometimes when I don’t even ask them things, they just come up and give me tips or pointers.  I’m appreciative of the situation I’m in.”

– Former Maryland Terp and rookie receiver Isaiah Williams faces an uphill battle making the regular season roster, but he jumped at the chance to become a Baltimore Raven. 

Despite having discussions with other teams including the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and San Diego Chargers, the undrafted rookie signed with the Ravens only 20 minutes after the April draft ended. 

“I just felt this was the best place for me,” Williams said.  “It’s close to where I went to school, so it’s something I’m used to and real familiar with.  I love it.”

The 6-3 receiver has good speed but never lived up to lofty expectations at College Park, catching 64 passes for 902 yards and five touchdowns in his Maryland career. 

Williams has been slowed with a hamstring injury this week.

 – Be sure to join WNST tonight at The Barn at 7:00 p.m. to meet many of the Ravens rookies including Michael Oher, Paul Kruger, Lardarius Webb, and others.  It will be a great time getting to know the rookies and enjoying $1.75 Miller Lite.

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WNST notes from Ravens passing camp

Posted on 09 June 2009 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are holding their last full-squad voluntary passing camp this week before wrapping up the OTA schedule with rookie camp next week.

This week’s workouts are focused on game planning for their three AFC North opponents.  Coaches and players have discussed opposing personnel and simulated game-week preparation for the rookies and newcomers.  The team focused on Cincinnati Monday, Cleveland today, and will examine the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday.

Coach John Harbaugh borrowed this approach from his days with Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

–  Todd Heap continues to make his way back from a back injury suffered at the end of last season.  Harbaugh is encouraged with the veteran tight end’s work this week, particularly on Monday.

“Todd seems like he’s really come along,” Harbaugh said.  “He did more yesterday probably than he did today.  I think he was a little bit sore from the workload yesterday, but that’s a good sign.  Once you get to the point where the injury’s not causing the soreness and the workload’s causing the soreness, now you can start working your way to where you need to be.  Significant progress, and hopefully, he can do a little bit more tomorrow.”

Despite the Ravens’ interest in drafting tight end Brandon Pettigrew (selected by the Detroit Lions) and the free agent signing of L.J. Smith, Heap still figures to be a major part of the Ravens’ passing attack if healthy.

One of the biggest goals for Cam Cameron’s offense will be to expand the passing game in the middle of the field and not to rely so heavily on sideline routes to Derrick Mason.

“Our expectations for Todd are to be the player he’s always been and even better,” Harbaugh said.  “All of the things he did last year sometimes get undersold…all the things in the blocking area; we want to definitely expand [his role] in the passing area.  We want to control the middle of the field with our passing game, and Todd Heap’s got to be a big part of that.”

– Receiver Marcus Smith continues to impress during offseason OTAs after failing to catch a pass during his rookie season.

The 6-1 receiver from New Mexico was a fourth round pick in 2008 and played running back for two years in college, giving him the instincts to run after the catch that many receivers lack.

“We’ve always thought Marcus was going to be a really good player,” Harbaugh said.  “He’s physical, he’s tough, and he’s a hard worker.  That’s a good place to start…I’m excited about Marcus.”

–  Harbaugh will join New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, and former NFL head coaches Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden on a tour of the Persian Gulf at the end of the month.

The Ravens regularly invite military service members to the complex in Owings Mills, and Harbaugh is honored to receive the opportunity to visit with active military personnel.

“I think I’m going to learn more and enjoy it more probably than [the troops will], for sure,” Harbaugh said.  “What am I going to say to them?  I’m looking forward to what they have to say.  It’s going to be a neat trip.”

The head coach jokingly downplayed the significance of being invited on the trip in only his second year in the NFL head coaching fraternity.

“Maybe I’m just one of the guys who said yes.  Who knows?  It’s going to be a great opportunity to go with some neat coaches, too.”

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Looking ahead to training camp

Posted on 08 June 2009 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles in last place and owning the second-worst record in baseball, Baltimoreans are obviously looking ahead to the Ravens reporting for training camp on July 27—only seven weeks away.

The team holds another passing camp this week, as we continue to focus on several key positions.

As we look ahead to 2009, key departures include linebacker Bart Scott (New York Jets), center Jason Brown (St. Louis), safety Jim Leonhard (Jets), cornerback Chris McAlister (unsigned), offensive tackle Willie Anderson (retired), Lorenzo Neal (Raiders), tight end Dan Wilcox (unsigned) and defensive end Marques Douglas (Jets).

In addition to selecting six players in this year’s draft, the Ravens have added cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth (Atlanta) and Chris Carr (Tennessee), center Matt Birk (Minnesota), tight end L.J. Smith (Philadelphia), quarterback John Beck (Miami) and receiver Kelley Washington (New England).

With so many new veterans and rookies in the fold, training camp in Westminster, Md. figures to host several key positional battles as the Ravens prepare for their opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 13.

The following is a look at five key positional battles—in no particular order—to watch during training camp at McDaniel College.

1.  Inside Linebacker

The departure of Scott leaves a gaping hold next to Ray Lewis at the other inside linebacker position.  Scott did the dirty, physical work of taking on blockers, leaving the veteran Lewis free to pursue the ball carrier.  The younger Scott was also stronger in pass coverage than Lewis.

Second-year player Tavares Gooden looks like the safe bet for Scott’s replacement in the starting defense, but this may not be a foregone conclusion.

The 2008 third-round pick is a health risk after spending most of last season on injured reserve with a hip injury.  He also had a history of concussions and shoulder problems at the University of Miami.

At the team’s earlier minicamps, Gooden appeared bigger and faster, a good sign for coordinator Greg Mattison’s defense. He has reportedly been spending time at Lewis’ home, watching film and gaining wisdom from the 34-year-old linebacker.

If Gooden does not get the nod on the inside, another option could be second-year linebacker Jameel McClain.  The undrafted free agent from Syracuse emerged last year to grab a spot in training camp and worked his way up the depth chart, earning significant playing time as the season progressed.

McClain finished the season with 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks and was a strong contributor on special teams.  His biggest challenge will be adjusting to the inside after playing outside linebacker last season and defensive end in college.

Fifth-round draft pick Jason Phillips (TCU) is a gritty and physical linebacker, but he would be a long shot to grab the starting spot as a rookie.  The organization could also look to Brendon Ayanbadejo, but his value on special teams would be hard to sacrifice with other options at inside linebacker.

2.  Backup Quarterback

A quarterback controversy is brewing in the Charm City; only for once, it’s not over who will be starting under center—Joe Flacco has finally stabilized the position for the Ravens.  The real battle will take place between incumbent backup Troy Smith and newly-signed John Beck, a former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

Smith found moderate success running the Ravens’ version of the Wildcat formation—the “Suggs” package—at times last season, but his size (6’0″) makes it difficult for him to spot receivers in the pocket, forcing him to move outside. The 6’2″ Beck is a more traditional drop back passer.

Beck has strong ties to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (Miami’s head coach in 2007) and would figure to have a strong grasp on the playbook, improving his chances to overtake Smith for the backup spot.

The Ravens will once again try to use Smith’s athleticism, so he figures to be the No. 2 quarterback (the No. 3 can only enter the game if the starter and backup are injured).  However, a long-term injury to Flacco might cause the coaching staff to play the more traditional quarterback Beck.

Smith oozes with confidence, but he failed to grab hold of the starting job last preseason before suffering a tonsil infection, opening the door for Flacco to become the team’s starter in his rookie season.  This factor might weigh on coach John Harbaugh’s mind as he decides who will back up the talented Flacco.

3.  Kick/Punt Returner

With the departure of Leonhard to the Jets, the Ravens must find a new punt returner and try to stabilize the kick return position.

Newly-signed defensive back Chris Carr had a good season with the Titans and would likely be the top candidate for the job.  He averaged 28.1 yards per kick return (fourth in the NFL) and 10.1 yards on punt returns.

If injuries in the secondary would force Carr into the starting lineup, several in-house candidates are presently on the roster.

Yamon Figurs began last season as the primary kick and punt returner, but it’s clear he is not a favorite of the current coaching staff.  Figurs appeared hesitant in returning kicks and struggles holding onto the ball at times.  He is currently recovering from foot surgery and will need to have a strong preseason to stay on the roster.

Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb, a third-round pick, returned kicks at Nicholls St. and will compete for the job.

Tom Zbikowski returned kicks at the end of last season but did not provide much of an impact.

Sixth-round pick and rookie running back Cedric Peerman also returned kicks at the University of Virginia, but the team would figure to allow Peerman to focus his efforts competing at the running back position.

Carr would figure to have the upper hand, but strong training camp performances would certainly blur the competition a great deal.

4.  Kicker

For the first time in the history of the franchise, the Ravens are uncertain who will be their kicker on Opening Day.  Matt Stover was not re-signed but is on general manager Ozzie Newsome’s speed dial if the other options do not work out.  Harbaugh continues to speak with the veteran kicker regularly.

Steve Hauschka was the team’s kickoff specialist in 2008 and made one of two field goal attempts.  He has a big leg, but trying a long field goal before the half is quite different than kicking a game-winning 42-yarder when the pressure is on late in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens signed rookie free agent Graham Gano from Florida State to compete for the job. Gano won the Lou Groza Award in 2008, awarded to college football’s best kicker.  He made 24 of 26 attempts last season with the Seminoles, hitting five of seven from 50 or more yards.

While a battle at kicker isn’t going to capture the city’s attention, it is crucial to stabilize the position entering the season.  If neither Hauschka nor Gano can win the job in the preseason, look for Stover to return for his 14th season with the Ravens.

5.  Right Tackle

This position would have been the featured battle of training camp had veteran Willie Anderson not announced his retirement several weeks ago.

First-round pick (23rd overall) Michael Oher of Ole Miss is a tremendous talent at 6-5 and 309 pounds.  His story was well-chronicled prior to the draft, and the Ravens appeared to snatch up another highly-talented player in the later stages of the first round.

Oher has performed well in OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and has picked up the offense quickly, according to the coaching staff.

With veteran tackle Adam Terry continuing to battle an ankle injury, the job appears to be Oher’s to lose.  Terry would be the ideal backup for both Oher and left tackle Jared Gaither since he has experience playing both positions in the NFL.

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How the draft shapes the current roster

Posted on 27 April 2009 by Luke Jones

We’re exactly three months away from rookies and quarterbacks reporting to McDaniel College in Westminster for the start of training camp.  With the 2009 NFL Draft complete and the names of undrafted free agent signings beginning to leak, we will start to get a better idea of how the training camp roster will look.

Much can change between now and July 27, but here is a look at the Ravens’ selections and how they affect the competition at their respective positions.  Listed in parentheses is the projected number of players kept at the position.  Since undrafted free-agent signings are not officially announced until minicamp, I have excluded them from the current breakdown.

Round 1 (23rd overall):  Michael Oher (Mississippi), OT


Locks:  Jared Gaither, Michael Oher

Bubble:  Willie Anderson, Adam Terry, Oniel Cousins

Longshot:  Joe Reitz, Tre Stallings

Analysis:  The selection of Michael Oher immediately transforms offensive tackle from a position of weakness to one of depth.  Gaither is firmly entrenched on the left side, so the real battle will take place on the right side between Anderson and Oher.

While Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta currently envision Anderson as a mentor for the rookie, he could be released to clear cap room if the Ravens pursue other veteran free agents that could be released before training camp.  Cutting Anderson would reportedly clear close to $3 million from the cap.

If Anderson remains on the team, Terry and Cousins would figure to battle for the last tackle spot.  Terry has the edge in experience, but Cousins can play both guard and tackle and was the team’s third round pick last year.  He is raw but promising.


Round 2 (57th overall):  Paul Kruger (Utah), OLB/DE

Round 5 (137th overall):  Jason Phillips (TCU), ILB


Locks:  Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Tavares Gooden, Paul Kruger, Jason Phillips, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jameel McClain

Bubble:  Antwan Barnes, Edgar Jones

Longshot:  Prescott Burgess

Analysis:  Though the Ravens hope Kruger can put on the necessary weight to eventually move to defensive end when Trevor Pryce retires, he will likely be a hybrid-rush end in his rookie season.

Phillips will provide depth at inside linebacker after the departure of Bart Scott.  The Ravens envision him eventually becoming the replacement for Lewis in the starting lineup in a few years.  In the mean time, he will push Gooden for playing time at the other inside spot.

Despite showing much promise in his first two seasons, Barnes will need to show more versatility to make the 53-man roster.  He has great speed off the edge but fell behind McClain in the rotation last season.  Jones will be moved back to linebacker with the signing of L.J. Smith and selection of Davon Drew at tight end.  He must continue to contribute heavily on special teams to stay on the roster.

Burgess appears to be a longshot with the drafting of Phillips.  As always, special teams play will figure heavily in deciding the final spot or two.


Round 3 (88th overall):  Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State), CB


Lock:  Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, Samari Rolle, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb

Bubble:  Frank Walker, Derrick Martin

Longshot:  Anwar Phillips, Evan Oglesby

Analysis:  The selection of Lardarius Webb further increases the likelihood of Walker being cut to clear cap room in case a veteran free agent shakes loose at another position.  Releasing Walker would reportedly save $1.6 million against the cap.

Martin missed most of last season with a shoulder injury but showed promise in 2007, making three starts and grabbing two interceptions.  He would be a cheaper alternative to Walker.

Phillips and Oglesby do not figure to seriously challenge for a roster spot after the signings of Foxworth and Carr pushed them further down the depth chart.

The team could elect to keep an extra corner if they view Carr or Webb as a primary returner over Yamon Figurs.


Round 5 (149th overall):  Davon Drew (East Carolina), TE


Lock:  Todd Heap, L.J. Smith

Bubble:  Davon Drew, Quinn Sypniewski

Longshot:  Isaac Smolko, Edgar Jones

Analysis:  Heap and Smith are obviously safe, so the real battle will be between Drew and Sypniewski.  The Ravens like Drew’s potential, as he’s only spent a few seasons as a tight end.  He could eventually develop into an H-back in the offense.  Sypniewski showed promise in his first two seasons but missed all of last season with a knee injury.

Jones will have to make the team as a linebacker and special teams contributor.  Smolko will be little more than training camp depth.


Round 6 (185th overall):  Cedric Peerman (Virginia), RB


Lock:  Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, Cedric Peerman

Bubble:  None

Longshot:  Matt Lawrence, Jalen Parmele

Analysis:  McClain figures to play more regularly at fullback in 2009, but he will still get carries in short-yardage situations and the fourth-quarter jumbo formation.  Peerman provides more depth at running back, allowing Cam Cameron to move McClain back to the more traditional fullback spot.

The team has reportedly signed undrafted free agent Jason Cook, Oher’s teammate at Ole Miss and described as a traditional power fullback.  Veteran Lorenzo Neal does not fit in the team’s current plans, but that could change in August.

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