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Ravens-Falcons Preseason Primer: What to watch

Posted on 31 August 2011 by Luke Jones

***Join us in the Purple Haze live chat beginning at 7:30 p.m. as we talk about the preseason finale and what to expect this season. For the quickest updates and analysis, follow WNST on Twitter and be sure to subscribe to the WNST Text Service.***

As the calendar turns to September, we’ve finally reached the light at the end of the preseason tunnel as the Ravens travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Thursday night.

Of course, interest isn’t exactly bubbling over in the final preseason game, but plenty of players will be fighting for their professional lives, whether with Baltimore or the 31 other NFL teams that will trim down their rosters to 53 on Saturday.

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It’s unknown how long the starters will play against the Falcons, but John Harbaugh and the coaching staff will at least give the revamped offensive line — particularly newly-signed left tackle Bryant McKinnie — a brief look in live-game action during the first quarter. The reins will then be turned over to veteran backups and rookies trying to stake their final claims as to why they belong among the 53 that will take the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11.

Series history

Thursday night marks the third time in four years the Ravens and Falcons will meet in the preseason finale and the seventh time in the last nine years they’ve faced off during the preseason. The Ravens hold a 4-3 edge in the preseason series between the two teams with five of those games being played at the Georgia Dome.

Baltimore and Atlanta have met four times in the regular season, splitting those games. The Falcons won the most recent contest, a 26-21 thriller that took place on a Thursday night in Atlanta last season.

Atlanta connections

Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth played for Atlanta in 2008, starting 10 of 14 games and grabbing one interception while defending 11 passes.

On the opposing side, the Falcons have two former Baltimore draft picks in fullback Ovie Mughelli and backup quarterback Chris Redman. Mughelli played his first four seasons (2003-06) with the Ravens while Redman, a former third-round pick, spent four seasons (2000-03) and made six starts in 2002 before going down with a back injury.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith was the Baltimore defensive assistant/defensive line coach and linebackers coach (1999-2002) and is the brother-in-law of former Ravens coach Brian Billick. Atlanta defensive backs coach Alvin Reynolds was the Ravens secondary coach during the franchise’s first three seasons in Baltimore (1996-98).

Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg held the same position with the Falcons in 2007.

Injury report

Most starters will only see brief playing time while key veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are unlikely to play at all in the final preseason game. However, the Ravens are still dealing with a few injuries where concern could linger into the first week of the regular season.

Right guard Marshal Yanda has returned to practice and is expected to see some playing time, but center Matt Birk’s status remains up in the air. The 35-year-old center returned to the practice field on Saturday after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery at the beginning of training camp. When asked earlier in the week if he wanted to play against the Falcons, Birk said his goal was to be ready for the Sept. 11 opener.

Receiver Lee Evans (left foot), cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring), and offensive lineman Mark LeVoir were all absent from practice this week.

Evans hasn’t participated in practice since the third preseason game against Washington and was seen in a walking boot during Saturday’s practice. Carr has battled a left hamstring injury, which has forced him to miss the last two preseason games while being an intermittent participant during practices.

LeVoir’s injury is unknown as the swing lineman missed practice on Monday and Tuesday.

7 Bubble Players to Watch

1. LB Tavares Gooden – The 2008 third-round pick has never lived up to expectations, battling injuries and a perception of being a soft player in his first three seasons with the Ravens. Having fallen behind Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, and Brendon Ayanbadejo in the fight for playing time next to Ray Lewis in the Ravens’ 3-4 base defense, Gooden has to hope his play in the nickel package as well as his special teams contributions are enough to earn one of the final spots on the roster.

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Ravens-Giants Notebook: Stallworth breaks foot, gone two months

Posted on 28 August 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Despite 243 total yards of offense in the first half and an impressive 24-10 thrashing of the New York Giants, the Ravens suffered a significant loss on Saturday night, losing wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth for the next two months due to a broken left foot.

Stallworth will have surgery immediately and a screw will be inserted in the foot with hope that the receiver can return after the bye in Week 8, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

“That’s really disappointing for him and for our football team, obviously,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll do what we do. We’ll step up and the next guy will play well.”

The injury was sustained when the receiver “just planted wrong,” according to teammate Derrick Mason.

With Stallworth working as the punt returner and fourth receiver, the Ravens will now lean more heavily on Tom Zbikowski and Mark Clayton for return duties and will look down the depth chart at Demetrius Williams, David Reed, and Marcus Smith for additional help in the receiving unit.

Passing offense thrives

Joe Flacco may have only played 34 minutes in Saturday night’s win over the New York Giants, but his right arm received a full night’s work as the quarterback threw 34 passes, completing 21 and accumulating 229 yards through the air.

“I like to play and come out and just throw the ball, throw the ball, and throw the ball some more,” Flacco said. “It was fun man. I had a great time, and I think everybody out on the field did.”

It was apparent offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wanted to see his passing offense find a rhythm after an uneven performance against Washington last Saturday. The Ravens decimated the Giants defense for 243 yards of total offense and 17 points in the first half. The offense turned the ball over once in the first half on a late interception thrown by Flacco.

“Our tempo with the no-huddle was good, and our ball protection was better,” Cameron said. “We stressed both this week.”

Flacco’s favorite target on Saturday night was Heap, who continues to have an impressive preseason with two rookie tight ends pushing him for playing time and the veteran avoiding the injury bug. Heap caught six passes for 69 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown catch to put the Ravens ahead, 17-0 in the second quarter.

“It was just a play where [Flacco] had faith in me to go get the ball,” Heap said. “I’m definitely glad to see it work. It’s a play where you have to body the guy up and make a play.”

Boldin-more

Though Anquan Boldin made his Baltimore debut two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers, Saturday night marked the first time the impact receiver was announced to the crowd in pre-game introductions, earning loud cheers from the 70,742 on hand at M&T Bank Stadium as the starting offense was announced.

The raucous crowd grew even louder when Boldin reined in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Flacco early in the second quarter. The Ravens hope it was the first of many this season as the new impact wideout will be leaned upon to help the passing offense reach new heights. The score put Baltimore up by 10, and the Ravens never looked back.

“We’re just starting to get comfortable with one another,” Boldin said about his relationship with his new quarterback. “For us, we considered the half a real game, and we tried to pick it up a little bit and get in sync because this is truly the first dress rehearsal that we’ll get before the regular season.”

Boldin finished his evening with four catches for 52 yards with the aforementioned touchdown grab. The former Arizona Cardinals receiver has also earned a reputation as a strong blocker during his career, displaying it Saturday night when he wrestled a defensive back to the ground during a run play.

“That’s always been a part of my game,” Boldin said. “I hate to see a running back break a run. He could have gone for 30 or 40 yards, but my guy makes the tackle. So that’s something I take pride in. I was in one of those situations where a guy put his hand on my face mask, that pissed me off a little bit, so I had to get him back.”

Field goal opportunities passed up

The kicking competition remains undecided with Saturday’s victory providing little clarity in the process.

The Ravens converted three fourth-down tries in the second quarter, passing on potential field goal attempts from 26, 53, and 48 yards. Billy Cundiff made the only attempt by either kicker on the night, a 25-yard field goal in the first quarter.

“We have confidence with this [offense] on fourth-and-short, and we’ll continue to be aggressive with those,” Cameron said after the first half.

Shayne Graham lined up for a 41-yard field goal late in the first half, but Mason was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the Ravens out of field-goal range and forcing the punting unit onto the field.

McGahee M.I.A.

Though completely healthy and dressed in uniform, running back Willis McGahee did not play in the third preseason game. The Ravens’ running game did not get much of a workout as a whole in the first half, with only 11 rushing attempts and four of them coming from Flacco.

“We just don’t need to play those [veterans] every single week,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we need to see what [McGahee] can do.”

Health update

In addition to Stallworth, the Ravens lost another receiver against the Giants when Clayton sustained a concussion on an illegal hit from safety Antrel Rolle in the second quarter.

“That’s obviously something to be careful with, but we’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “It shouldn’t be a long-term thing.”

Linebacker Ray Lewis left the game early in the second quarter and was icing his right knee on the bench in the first half. The 15-year veteran, however, told WNST.net’s Glenn Clark that it was “nothing” to be concerned over after the game.

Odds & ends

The Ravens now hold a 7-5 all-time record against the Giants in the preseason. The victory was the team’s seventh straight preseason win. … Giants receiver Victor Cruz’s 1-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter was the first defensive touchdown allowed by the Baltimore defense in the preseason. … Lardarius Webb was listed as inactive for Saturday’s game, but dressed in uniform and went through pre-game activity before the game. The Ravens’ other inactives were Jared Gaither, Terrence Cody, Oniel Cousins, Demetrius Williams, Eron Riley, Marcus Paschal, K.J. Gerard, David Hale, Daniel Sanders, Ed Reed, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Matt Lawrence.

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Live from Westminster: Cody passes conditioning test, vets checking into hotel

Posted on 28 July 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Good afternoon from McDaniel College as the Ravens have wrapped up their second day of partial-squad workouts with the biggest news being the debut of rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody who passed his conditioning test earlier this morning and participated fully in the morning workout.

This was obviously good news to coach John Harbaugh, who expressed pleasant surprise when learning the 350-pound tackle had passed the test. Rookie cornerback Prince Miller also passed the conditioning test and practice while the status of the other members of the PUP list remained unchanged for the morning session.

As for action on the field, it was another light, non-contact workout with players practicing in shells and shorts. Harbaugh will give the afternoon off to selected veterans already in camp as we await the arrival of the remaining veterans this afternoon.

Check back here throughout the day for updates (time-stamped below) and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates from the field.

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5:30 p.m. — The Ravens have wrapped up the afternoon practice as the veterans continue to check into Westminster for training camp.

Most selected veterans who reported on Monday were given the afternoon off with the exception of a few practice squad players and the four quarterbacks on the roster.

In what might qualify as the first minor injury issue occurring at practice, defensive tackle Terrence Cody appeared to be suffering from a cramp in his right calf at the conclusion of practice. Members of the training staff with icing his lower leg, and the big man eventually walked off the field, albeit gingerly.

Receiver Marcus Smith had an impressive afternoon, snagging a bullet from Joe Flacco in the back of the end zone during a red zone drill. Smith is recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the preseason last year.

Backup quarterback Troy Smith threw what would have been a “pick-6” to rookie linebacker Albert McClellan at the goal line during the same red zone drill. McClellan has been impressive in the first two days of non-contact practice but doesn’t figure to factor into the team’s plans with an already deep linebacker unit.

We’ll next see the Ravens in action on Friday morning with the first full-squad workout at 8:45 a.m. Thursday is a team administrative day with all activity closed to the media and public.

2:45 p.m. — We’re counting down the minutes until the 3:30 workout, and I’m getting ready to head out to the field. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates. Perhaps a few of the veterans will stop by the upper fields at McDaniel College for a brief visit?

2:40 p.m. — Updating the status of Matt Birk, the veteran center has been placed on the PUP list after a minor elbow procedure earlier this offseason. It had previously been speculated Birk was dealing with a neck issue.

He isn’t expected to be on the PUP list for very long.

2:15 p.m. — As we await the start of the afternoon practice at 3:30, the veterans are beginning to trickle into the team hotel. Some to arrive already include Rice, Donte’ Stallworth (who was given a ride by the Pro Bowl running back), Antwan Barnes, Chris Chester, Tom Zbikowski, Ben Grubbs, and new impact receiver Anquan Boldin.

The arriving veterans will take their physicals this afternoon after checking into the Best Western.

12:45 p.m. — Given his time in Philadelphia and the Bengals appearing to be the biggest roadblock to the division title, Harbaugh was asked about his thoughts on the Bengals signing Terrell Owens to a one-year contract on Tuesday.

“I really like T.O.,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s a really good player. He’s a guy that we enjoyed being around for a couple years in Philly. I have a lot of respect for him. Obviously, it makes [Cincinnati] better.”

Marvin Lewis will have his hands full in Cincinnati with Owens joining flamboyant wideout Chad Ochocinco in the Bengals passing offense. It has the makings of a compelling reality TV show despite the headaches it may create for the former Ravens defensive coordinator.

“Marvin doesn’t need our sympathy,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughs from the media. “He’s not looking for it.”

12:40 p.m. — As mentioned before, it was another light day of practice this morning, but I thought I’d pass along a few notes of interest from the workout:

Matt Birk was on the field but did not participate as reports indicated he has been placed on the PUP list with a neck issue. He and Oniel Cousins (recovering from throat surgery) stood by the offensive linemen throughout practice.

During red zone drills (non-contact), rookie tight end Dennis Pitta was flagged for offensive pass interference after pushing off against Miller.

Receiver Mark Clayton—now battling for the No. 3 or 4 spot on the depth chart after starting for several seasons—caught a deep touchdown pass from Joe Flacco in the highlight play of the morning.

Backup quarterback Marc Bulger continues to be in more of a learning mode as he did not take too many reps during passing drills. Bulger, however, did work on plays later  during a walk-through portion of practice.

12:28 p.m. — Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has just walked into the Best Western in Westminster, announcing his arrival at training camp.

12:25 p.m. — Though we’ve discussed the conditioning test for the last few days, Harbaugh finally explained what the test entails this morning after practice.

“It’s basically six [150-yard runs] in 25-yard intervals,” Harbaugh said. “Every position has a time, and then there’s a designated rest time that’s based on how long it takes to recover. It’s pretty well thought out.”

In other words, the time for a defensive tackle like Cody is not the same as the expectation for a defensive back such as Domonique Foxworth.

12:10 p.m. — Cody obviously expressed relief at the conclusion of his first practice after being cleared to play.

“It felt good [passing the test],” he said. “It was hard at first when I came in yesterday. I knew about the test, but I didn’t quite know how to run it.”

The 350-pound tackle failed the conditioning test on two occasions on Tuesday. Cody admits he still needs to improve his conditioning during training camp.

“It’s pretty good, but I can get better,” he said. “There’s always a lot of room for improvement. That’s what I had a talk with [Harbaugh], and it’s just I can get a lot better before the season starts.”

Despite some ribbing from defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and a few teammates on Tuesday, Cody received plenty of report as he prepared to take the conditioning test Tuesday morning.

“They weren’t too hard on him,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “That’s a tough task.”

11:55 a.m. — While John Harbaugh expressed a desire for rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody—who claims to be right around his listed weight of 349 pounds—to shed a few more pounds before the start of the regular season, it was clear how pleased the head coach was with Cody passing the test early this morning before the 8:45 workout.

“I have to admit I was surprised this morning,” said Harbaugh, who rarely shows such candor when talking about a player’s health or conditioning.

Harbaugh reiterated this morning he wasn’t terribly surprised Cody had failed the test, admitting it poses a challenge to new players, veterans and rookies alike.

“It’s more demaning than most teams I’d say.”

As stated above, rookie free agent Prince Miller also passed the conditioning test, but veteran cornerback Walt Harris, who failed the test on Tuesday, did not practice on Wednesday morning, an indication he has yet to pass it.

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Getting down to 53: The final days of training camp

Posted on 18 August 2009 by Luke Jones

We’re in the final week of training camp in Westminster, but the Ravens do not need to make any cuts until Sept. 1, when they must trim the roster to 75 players.  The team must then narrow down to the regular season number of 53 by Sept. 5.

For those begging for help at the wide receiver position, the late cut dates mean any veteran receiver that could possibly shake free and help the cause in Baltimore probably won’t be available until right before the regular season.

I’ve listed the number of players I predict the Ravens to keep at each position in parentheses. This list does not include the practice squad of eight players the Ravens will keep in addition to the 53-man roster.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Troy Smith, John Beck
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Cleo Lemon, Drew Willy
Skinny: It’s been an interesting week regarding quarterbacks, but Cam Cameron made it clear the Ravens are still committed to Beck as the No. 3 guy.  Smith’s play in the preseason has further cemented his status as the backup to Flacco.

RUNNING BACKS (5)
LOCK: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain
BUBBLE: Jalen Parmele, Matt Lawrence, Cedric Peerman
LONGSHOT: Jason Cook
Skinny: Parmele is a favorite of Cameron, and Lawrence impressed during the preseason opener last week.  Peerman appears to currently trail these two on the depth chart.  Despite being the only other fullback behind McClain on the roster, Cook appears to be a candidate for the practice squad at this point.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
LOCK: Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Kelley Washington
BUBBLE: Justin Harper, Yamon Figurs, Jayson Foster
LONG SHOT: Biren Ealy, Bradon Godfrey, Eron Riley, Ernie Wheelwright
Skinny: Losing Marcus Smith for the season is a major blow to the special teams units, an area in which the second-year receiver thrived.  Williams’ inability to remain healthy continues to frustrate the staff.  Harper has a ton of potential but is very inconsistent.  Foster has put his name into consideration with a good performance against the Redskins and an ability to make plays during practice.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
LOCK: Todd Heap, L.J. Smith
BUBBLE: Edgar Jones, Davon Drew
LONG SHOT: Isaac Smolko
Skinny: Drew continues to be very quiet on the practice field.  Jones is a good special teams player and has played some H-back during camp.  His ability to play linebacker if needed makes him a valuable commodity on the 53-man roster.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Chris Chester, Michael Oher, Marshal Yanda, Oniel Cousins
BUBBLE: David Hale, Tre Stallings, Joe Reitz
LONG SHOT: Robby Felix, Stefan Rodgers, Bryan Mattison
Skinny: The team should definitely look to add a veteran tackle, because Cousins is too inconsistent as the third tackle, but he’s improved from last season. Hale’s ability to play both guard and center will likely land him on the roster.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
LOCK: Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce, Justin Bannan
BUBBLE: Dwan Edwards, Brandon McKinney, Kelly Talavou
LONG SHOT: Will Johnson, Nader Abdallah
Skinny: Edwards and McKinney are the favorites to land the final two defensive line spots on the roster.

LINEBACKERS (10)
LOCK: Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Tavares Gooden, Antwan Barnes, Jameel McClain, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbadejo
BUBBLE: Jason Phillips, Dannell Ellerbe, Prescott Burgess
LONG SHOT: Tony Fein, Will VanDeSteeg
Skinny: Ellerbe’s knee sprain was a disappointment considering how much he’s impressed over the last two weeks.  Burgess has been around for a couple years, but will it be enough?

CORNERBACKS (6)
LOCK: Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb, Samari Rolle, Frank Walker
BUBBLE: K.J. Gerard, Evan Oglesby, Derrick Martin
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Rolle’s health continues to be a concern.  Walker is probably safe because his physical style is much different than the other pure cover guys in the secondary.  Considering how many talented, young linebackers are currently on the roster, I predict the Ravens will go with 10 backers and only six corners.  If they go with seven corners, Gerard, Oglesby, and Martin are all in the mix.  Martin has seen reps at both safety and corner this summer.

SAFETIES (4)
LOCK: Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Haruki Nakamura, Tom Zbikowski
BUBBLE:
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: No drama at this position.  These four are locks.

KICKER (1)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Graham Gano, Steve Hauschka
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: It’s been a very close race so far, with Hauschka possibly holding the slightest of edges.  There are still three preseason games to clarify the picture.

PUNTER (1)
LOCK: Sam Koch
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Koch practiced some field goals this week to be prepared in an emergency situation.

LONG SNAPPER (1)
LOCK: Matt Katula
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Ngata is the backup field goal snapper, and McGahee is the No. 2 long snapper for punts.  Let’s hope neither has to be called into action.

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Live from Westminster: Gaither returns to practice, Divens placed on IR

Posted on 15 August 2009 by Luke Jones

3:45 p.m. — The afternoon special teams practice lasted about an hour with the only news being the absence of returner Chris Carr.  He did not practice this afternoon and was walking very gingerly, suggesting he’s dealing with some type of leg issue.

Carr walked off the field with trainer Bill Tessendorf in the closing minutes of the morning session.

1:27 p.m. — The Ravens will hold a special teams practice at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon.  Tomorrow morning’s practice has been CANCELLED.  The team will have a full-squad practice on Sunday afternoon at 2:45 p.m.

1:23 p.m. — Unofficially, Steve Hauschka was two of four in field goal attempts.  Hauschka made attempts from 20 and 41 yards but appeared to miss from 47 and 51 yards.  Both of these attempts were very close, and it was difficult to tell.  There were no officials standing underneath the goal posts, so I was just judging from my spot on the sideline.  I guess I need to hire my own personal referee to help me with this part of the blog!

Hauschka appears to have a slight edge over Graham Gano at this point, but there are three preseason games remaining before any decision needs to be made.

12:48 p.m. — Harbaugh had a blue work shirt with the name “John” on it this morning, symbolizing how he wants his team to work hard just like an average person works hard at a regular job for a living.  It was amusing seeing the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens wearing a shirt you’d typically see worn by a plumber or electrician.

Harbaugh is really big on slogans and symbolism for his football team.

12:44 p.m. — A couple other health-related notes to pass on about the morning practice.  Demetrius Williams did practice but had an ice pack on the right hamstring during the final moments of practice.  He’s battled the nagging injury for most of camp.

Chris Carr left the field with trainer Bill Tessendorf shortly before practice concluded.  There are no specifics on any potential injury at this time.

12:32 p.m. — Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe did not practice this morning.  There is no word on any injury.

Ellerbe has been one of the surprises of camp, taking reps with the first-team defense at times and gaining serious consder

12:29 p.m. — At the very end of practice, Joe Flacco brought the fans to their feet when he scrambled around while trying to find a receiver but finally found his way to the end zone on his feet.  He spiked the football after scoring, gaining a loud cheer in the process.

Not to be outdone, Troy Smith connected with Matt Lawrence for a touchdown, scoring for the second-team offense.

12:27 p.m. — Receiver Kelley Washington had one of the highlights of the morning, making a long, one-handed touchdown reception, beating Fabian Washington on the play.

12:24 p.m. — Ray Rice continues to impress with his ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield.  During 7-on-7 drills, he made a nifty one-handed grab.

Another lesser-known running back, Matt Lawrence, continues to make a name for himself after an impressive performance against the Redskins.  Lawrence beat Oglesby on a long pass reception.

Both Lawrence and Jalen Parmele—a player liked by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron—clearly appear to be ahead of sixth-round pick Cedric Peerman on the depth chart.  Peerman hasn’t had a bad camp, but he’s done little to really stand out among his peers at the running back position.

12:09 p.m. — Cornerback Evan Oglesby dropped a sure interception thrown by Troy Smith this morning.  For a player like Oglesby trying to make the 53-man roster, you want to make every possible play you can to impress the coaching staff.

12:06 p.m. — Terrell Suggs and Mark Clayton were both absent from practice, though I saw both players out on the field working on some light conditioning.  Despite Suggs not practicing in two weeks, no one really seems too concerned about his status for the regular season.  He is not wearing any boot or apparent brace for the injured heel.

Clayton is expected to miss at least one or two more preseason games as he recovers from a hamstring injury.

Marcus Smith made an appearance during practice on crutches.  He is out for the year with a torn ACL and will undergo surgery next week.  Doctors must wait for the swelling to subside before repairing the knee.

You have to feel badly for Smith.  While fans tend to view professional athletes as little more than millionaires, these guys are human beings, and it has to be incredibly frustrating to put in so much work throughout the offseason, only to tear up your knee in the preseason opener.  Smith will not only be a loss at the receiver position, but he is one of the best special teams players on the team.  He was a great gunner on the punt team, so the Ravens will need someone else to step up in his absence.

12:04 p.m. — The offensive line had some struggles with the snap count when they worked from their own 1-yard line this morning.  L.J. Smith jumped once and then several members of the offensive line committed a false start on the following play.  This could not have made Harbaugh happy after seeing his team commit nine penalties on Thursday night—one of the few negatives you can take from the game.

Yamon Figurs had a great morning, catching two long passes from Troy Smith, beating Frank Walker for a touchdown and grabbing a 33-yard pass against Evan Oglesby.  These are the types of practices Figurs needs to have to improve his standing with the organization.  He is one of those veterans who suddenly finds himself squarely on the bubble.

12:00 p.m. — Ed Reed did not wear the red jersey during the full-squad workout this morning, no surprise considering he played against the Redskins.

11:58 a.m. — Jared Gaither returned to the practice field this morning after sitting out Thursday night’s preseason opener.  It was more of a precautionary move to keep the big left tackle out, as he continues to battle soreness with the strained trapezius muscle.

Marshal Yanda also practiced this morning after sitting out Thursday’s game.

11:55 a.m. — John Harbaugh wanted his players to quickly forget the impressive 23-0 victory over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night, and he proved it by holding one of the longest practices of the summer this morning.  Practice lasted two hours and 20 minutes.

I have a few roster notes to pass along.  Quarterback Drew Willy has been re-signed to the 80-man training camp roster.  You may remember Willy was on the roster during OTAs and was signed after the draft.  He played his college ball at the University of Buffalo and knows the offensive system better than any other quarterback the team could sign at this point.

John Beck’s injured throwing shoulder does not have a tear, but there is still no set timetable on his return.  He obviously did not practice this morning.

If Beck must miss an extended period of time, the Ravens could be interested in quarterback Cleo Lemon.  The veteran quarterback tried out for the team after the morning practice.

The team also signed receiver Bradon Godfrey, a rookie out of Utah and Paul Kruger’s former teammate.  Godfrey is 6-3 and 197 pounds—very skinny legs.  He had been signed by the Atlanta Falcons earlier in the offseason.

The Ravens also placed defensive tackle Lamar Divens on injured reserve with a hip injury.  Divens was competing for a roster spot on a very deep defensive line and could not get healthy during training camp.

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Ravens spank Redskins in preseason opener

Posted on 14 August 2009 by Luke Jones

In a thoroughly dominating performance, the Baltimore Ravens upended their neighbors to the south, beating the Washington Redskins, 23-0.

Though the starting unit failed to put the ball in the end zone, quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense moved the ball consistently against the Redskins’ defense.  Flacco finished his night going 9 of 15 for 103 yards.

His longest pass came on a 34-yard completion to Ray Rice out of the backfield.  Rice and Willis McGahee both looked strong running the ball, combining for 48 yards on only nine carries.

“I thought they ran hard,” coach John Harbaugh said.  “You know they got the ball north and south.  It’s good to see the checkdowns [from the quarterbacks].”

Despite moving the ball deep inside Washington territory twice, the Ravens had to settle for two Steve Hauschka field goals.

“The three penalties in the first half hurt us,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said.  “We can correct those.  We held the ball and moved the ball early, but we have to score touchdowns, not field goals.  Ball security was good, and we’ve worked hard on that.”

The Ravens finally found the end zone at the end of the first half when backup quarterback Troy Smith hit a wide-open Justin Harper for a 19-yard touchdown.  Harper had dropped two passes before redeeming himself on the scoring play.

“I thought that was pretty tough coverage,” Smith said.  “It was a key catch he made.  Harper can catch anything that he puts his mind to.”

The Ravens finished the night with 500 total yards, including 399 in the air.  Smith finished with 200 passing yards while John Beck added 105.

The defense—regardless of whether it was the first-, second-, or third-string unit—dominated the Washington offense throughout the night, holding the Redskins to only 11 first downs and 196 yards of total offense while forcing two turnovers.  It was a stellar debut for new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was presented the game ball by Ray Lewis at the end of the game.

Jameel McClain led the team in tackles with six while Tavares Gooden added five stops.

“I don’t think we’ve skipped a beat,” defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said.  “The goal is to always get off the field as fast as possible.  It makes things that much better when you see your offense drive the ball and get first downs.”

The black mark on an otherwise satisfying performance was the number of penalties committed throughout the night.  The Ravens had nine penalties, costing themselves 70 yards in the process.  Harbaugh voiced his displeasure with the miscues after the game.

“We have to find a way to work it out,” Harbaugh said.  “All types of penalties.  And that’s probably the most disappointing thing.”

First-round pick Michael Oher had a stellar debut at right tackle, despite sustaining a gash on his forehead early in the game.  After receiving two stitches he returned to the field and even took some reps with the second offense.

“He’s ready to play,” Rice said.  “He’s physical.  He got out there and got a jump on people.  He just needs to continue to get better each game.”

In the second half, the defensive dominance continued as Paul Kruger and Tom Zbikowski added sacks and Derrick Martin picked off a Colt Brennan pass in Baltimore territory.

Rookie running back Cedric Peerman added a seven-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Ravens up by 23 points.

Despite the positive outcome of the preseason opener, the Ravens took another hit at the wide receiver position, as Marcus Smith went down with a serious knee injury.  Harbaugh speculated that the injury involves the ACL.  Smith will have further examination on the knee.

Smith was in the mix to compete for the third or fourth receiver spot on the roster, but his season now appears in jeopardy.

In the kicking game, Hauschka gained the upper hand, making field goals from 21 and 37 yards.  Graham Gano hit a 39-yarder in the third quarter but missed a 28-yard attempt as time expired.

Harbaugh savored the win but emphasized how much improvement is needed between now and the regular season opener on Sept. 13.

“It was a good start, and obviously we have a whole lot of work to do.  Our guys realize that.”

The team will take tomorrow off before returning to Westminster for practice on Saturday morning at 8:45 a.m.  The practice is open to the general public.

Injury Updates:

In addition to Smith going down with a knee injury and Oher sustaining a cut on his forehead, safety Haruki Nakamura suffered a stinger and Beck left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury to his throwing shoulder.

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Live from the Purple Crab Cake: Ravens blank Skins, 23-0

Posted on 13 August 2009 by Luke Jones

11:11 p.m. — Just a few injury notes to pass along.  John Harbaugh confirmed that Marcus Smith sustained a severe knee injury in tonight’s game, speculating that it could be an ACL.

Troy Smith re-entered the game late in the fourth quarter after John Beck had an undisclosed injury.  Harbaugh does not believe the injury is serious.

Safety Haruki Nakamura suffered a “stinger” but should be fine.

10:35 p.m. — Gano misses a 28-yard field goal as time expires.  Tough break for the rookie in the kicking competition.  Final score:  Ravens 23, Redskins 0.

10:28 p.m. — Troy Smith is back in at quarterback.  This is definitely an interesting development.

After Jason Cook recovered a fumble, Matt Lawrence just picked up 14 yards and a first down.

10:26 p.m. — The Redskins continue to look terrible offensively and are in danger of being shut out.

Ernie Wheelwright nearly blocked the punt.

10:24 p.m. — Paul Kruger just picked up the sack on Brennan, showing great speed off the edge.

I’ve been singing his praises during training camp, so it’s nice to see him deliver in his first preseason game.

10:19 p.m. — Beck just completed a 64-yard pass to little Jayson Foster.

Peerman scores the touchdown from seven yards out, as he made a nice cut to get into the end zone.

Ravens 23, Redskins 0

10:12 p.m. — Just to give you a picture of how much better the depth in the secondary is, Frank Walker, a starter in the AFC Championship game, is playing in the fourth quarter of a preseason game.

This is no knock on Walker, but it shows how deep the secondary is, and the team still awaits the return of Samari Rolle.

10:06 p.m. — On first down, Beck is nearly picked off by defensive end Jeremy Jarmon.

He then hits Peerman on second down for a gain of six yards.

Harper just dropped another pass on third down.  He needs to use his hands to catch the ball instead of trying to trap it with his body.

The Ravens go for it on fourth down, and Beck throws one at the feet of Ernie Wheelwright.  Washington takes over at their own 38-yard line.

10:00 p.m. — Beck just completed a 13-yard pass to sixth-round pick Cedric Peerman, but it’s seven yards shy of a first down.

Sam Koch punts it down to the six-yard line, leaving the Redskins with poor field position to start another drive.

9:58 p.m. — We’ve reached the end of three quarters, and the Ravens hold a comfortable 16-0 lead over the hated Redskins.

9:55 p.m. — Cousins was just called for a holding penalty and continues to have a tough night.

The Ravens definitely need to explore a veteran option at the tackle position to back up Jared Gaither and Michael Oher.

9:54 p.m. — John Beck is now at the helm for the Ravens offense.

Smith finished 12 of 28 for 188 yards and a touchdown.  While the completion percentage isn’t very good, Smith did a great job running the two-minute drive on the team’s lone touchdown of the night at the end of the first half.

9:51 p.m. — Colt Brennan is sacked by Tom Zbikowski on third down, forcing a Redskins punt.

9:44 p.m. — Derrick Martin just picked off Colt Brennan.  The former corner is adjusting to the safety position, and the interception will certainly help his case for a spot on the 53-man roster.

9:41 p.m. — Cam Cameron was not satisfied with his starting offense settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.

“The three penalties in the first half hurt us.  We can correct those.  We held the ball and moved the ball early, but we have to score touchdowns, not field goals.  Ball security was very good, and we’ve worked hard on that.”

9:39 p.m. — Greg Mattison had some halftime thoughts on his defense.

“The turnover at the end of the second quarter was big, and our offense took it right down the field for the touchdown.  Before that, we were sound.  We need more pressure on the quarterbacks, especially in passing situations.”

9:36 p.m. — The action is moving quickly in the second half, as the Ravens begin a drive at their own 23-yard line.  Jalen Parmele is shaken up, and we have an injury timeout.

9:33 p.m. — Here are a few quotes about the Ravens’ performance in the first half:

Flacco:  “It felt great to be out there.  As an offense, everything felt really good.  I was happy with the way our receivers and running backs were moving.  Our line did a heck of a job for being their first time out there.”

Kelly Gregg:  “It was a little nerve-racking, but it’s really great to be back.  I was just soaking everything up.  There were a few butterflies, but it was a lot of fun to be out here pounding again with the guys.”

Ray Rice talking about Michael Oher:  “He’s ready to play.  He’s physical.  He got out there and got a jump on people.  He just needs to continue to get better each game.”

9:24 p.m. — On 3rd and 15, Smith throws it away.

Graham Gano makes the 39-yard field goal, making the score 16-0.

9:22 p.m. — Smith with a 37-yard completion to Yamon Figurs who keeps his feet in-bounds.  Figurs will need more plays like that to solidify a spot on the 53-man roster.

On 3rd and 5, Smith hits Lawrence for a gain of 11, moving the chains and setting the Ravens up at the Skins’ 16-yard line.

9:20 p.m. — The second half is underway, and the Ravens begin the drive deep in their own territory.

Smith has really been impressive and just threw a first-down completion to Harper.  It’s clear these two have a solid chemistry.

Oniel Cousins gets called for holding, pushing the ball back to the 15.

9:09 p.m. — We’re still trying to find out more about Marcus Smith

Flacco was 9 of 15 for 103 yards.  A solid outing and hopefully enough to sil

9:01 p.m. — Cartwright rushes for 5 yards to close out the half.  Ravens lead, 13-0.

8:58 p.m. — Smith with a great pump fake and throws the 19-yard touchdown pass to Harper.  These two have hooked up repeatedly in Wesminster, and they find the same magic tonight.

Hauschka’s extra point makes the score 13-0.  The Ravens have thoroughly dominated this one.

The drive covers 10 plays, 69 yards, and lasts 107.  You have to be impressed with Troy Smith’s work in the two-minute drill.

8:57 p.m. — On 3rd and 4 from the 32, Smith hits a slant to Harper who makes the catch for the first down and takes it to the 19.  Smith spikes the ball with 19 seconds remaining.

On the next play, Smith tries to hit Harper in the end zone, but it falls incomplete.

8:55 p.m. — Orakpo gets in there again and hits Smith as he tries to throw.  I’m very impressed with the rookie from Texas.

Smith then completes a 14-yard pass to Lawrence, and the Ravens have the ball at the Washington 38 yard-line.

8:54 p.m. — After Smith completes passes to Edgar Jones and Matt Lawrence, the Ravens are all the way up to their own 48.  The Ravens use their final timeout with 59 seconds remaining in the half.

8:53 p.m. — On 3rd and 6 from the 30, Collins does not get the snap off in time and is called for a delay of game.

Now, 3rd and 11 from the 35, Collins completes a pass to Keith Eloi who then gets stripped by Tom Zbikowski.  The ball is recovered by Dwan Edwards.

8:47 p.m. — Fred Davis fumbles the ball after making the catch.  Prescott Burgess forced the fumble.  The Redskins recover at the Baltimore 34, and we’ve reached the two-minute warning.

8:43 p.m. — The Redskins are finally moving the ball after Malcolm Kelly makes a nice catch on third down with Chris Carr defending.  Kelly again snatches one for a gain of seven, setting up 2nd and 3 from their own 48.

8:41 p.m. — Thank goodness we can finally stop talking about the silly Michael Vick to Baltimore rumors.  Vick has signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

8:39 p.m. — Harper fails to bring another pass in on third down.  The Redskins are getting some heavy pressure on Troy Smith.  Cousins is having a difficult time blocking Orakpo, the Redskins’ first-round pick.

The Washington offense takes over at their own 11-yard line.  You know Jim Zorn wants to see a positive drive here.

8:36 p.m. — It’s nice seeing Michael Oher back in the game after suffering a nasty gash to the forehead.

Smith just lofted a nice touch pass to L.J. Smith for a gain of 35 yards.  A healthy L.J. Smith would give the Ravens a nice duo at the tight end position.

8:34 p.m. — The Ravens force the Redskins to go three-and-out, as the second-team defense is now in for the Ravens.

Lardarius Webb returns the 55-yard Hunter Smith punt to the 24.

8:31 p.m. — On third down, Cousins had a difficult time trying to block Brian Orakpo and gets called for holding.  The pass falls incomplete, and the Redskins decline the penalty.

After the punt, the Skins will start at the 22.

8:27 p.m. — Justin Harper can’t come up with a low—but catchable—pass from Smith.  He has blazing speed but needs to show the ability to catch the ball in traffic.

On second down, Smith throws high but Harper cannot rein it in with a defender ready to unload on the young receiver. It certainly isn’t a good start for Harper, a guy whose praises I’ve been singing over the last few weeks.

The Ravens take their second timeout on 3rd and 10.

8:26 p.m. — Troy Smith is your new quarterback.

Flacco finishes 9 of 15 for 103 yards.  A steady preseason debut that hopefully silences some critics.

Campbell was 3 of 6 for 38 yards.

8:25 p.m. — Barnes and Ellerbe combine on the tackle on the kickoff.

Todd Collins is the new Redskins quarterback.  Barnes almost picked off a pass in the flat intended for Eddie Williams.

On third down, Haruki Nakamura punches the ball away from Hagans, forcing another Washington punt.

Carr has some trouble fielding the punt but recovers and returns it to the 32-yard line.

Injury update: Washington’s Lorenzo Alexander has an abdominal strain, and his return is questionable.

8:21 p.m. — After a short pass to McGahee fails to pick up the first down, Hauschka makes the 36-yard field goal.  He’s 2-for-2 tonight.

Not a bad drive from the Ravens, but the Smith drop really hurt.  The drive lasts 14 plays and spans 71 yards.  It took 6:36.

8:19 p.m. — Flacco completes a third-down play to Marcus Smith, picking up the first down.

McGahee displays some nice moves in the open field as he picks up 16 yards.

Flacco with a beautiful pass over the defender that’s dropped by Smith.  That’s a ball that needs to be caught.  After another incompletion to Williams, it brings up 3rd and long from the 26-yard line.

8:13 p.m. — The quarter ends with a five-yard completion to Rice coming out of the backfield.

At the end of the first quarter, Ravens lead the Skins, 3-0.

8:12 p.m. — Flacco’s screen pass to Rice is blown up for a loss after Ben Grubbs could not block Byron Westbrook in the open field.

On 3rd and 9, Flacco hits Washington for a gain of 15 and a first down.  Nice start for the new Raven.

8:09 p.m. — On first down, Flacco hits Mason for a seven-yard gain on the quick out.  Le’Ron McClain lining up in the slot two plays in a row.

Kelley Washington catches a 16-yard pass, moving the chains.  The former Bengal and Patriot has been impressive in camp.

Rice picks up seven yards on first down, as the Ravens are all the way up to their own 40.

8:04 p.m. — On 3rd and 7, Antwan Barnes nearly sacks Campbell, forcing the incompletion.

During the punt return, Jameel McClain is called for holding and will move the Ravens back to their own 10-yard line.  You just know special teams penalties drive Harbaugh crazy.

8:02 p.m. — The Redskins will begin their second drive at their own 23.  Campbell completes a 15-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El.  The Ravens didn’t get much pressure up front on the play.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed already appear finished for the night.

8:01 p.m. — Flacco’s pass is broken up by DeAngelo Hall on third down, intedned for Mason.

Steve Hauschka hits the 21-yard field goal, and the Ravens take the 3-0 lead with 6:15 remaining in the first quarter.  The highlight of the drive is the 34-yard completion to Rice coming out of the backfield.

You have to be pleased with the Ravens’ opening drive.  It lasted 13 plays, covered 67 yards, and took 5:47 off the game clock.

8:00 p.m. — Oher has been taken to the locker room with a gash on his forehead.  It appears he will need stitches after taking a shot to the head just a few minutes ago.

Joe Reitz has checked in at right tackle for the Ravens in Oher’s absence.

7:58 p.m. — After the timeout, the Ravens give it to McGahee straight up the middle for the first down.  Michael Oher comes off the field bleeding.

On 2nd and goal, Flacco cannot connect with Mason and throws it out of the end zone.  On 3rd and goal from the 3, Washington takes their first timeout.

7:52 p.m. — Willis McGahee has checked in at running back and takes the hand-off for a gain of five yards.  Despite Rice’s strong showing in training camp, the coaching staff is pleased with McGahee’s work in Westminster also.

Flacco keeps it on 3rd and 3 and takes a pretty good hit but comes up just short of the first down.  It will be 4th and 1, and John Harbaugh will use a timeout to ponder what to do.

7:48 p.m. — Rice just caught a short pass over the middle and galloped 34 yards to the Washington 17.  The 5-7 back provides so much versatility in the backfield, and it’s easy to see why the Ravens are so high on the former Rutgers star.

After Rice rushes for two yards, Kedric Golston is slow to get up for Washington.

7:46 p.m. — Flacco’s first-down attempt is batting in the air at the line of scrimmage by Andre Carter.  The ball helplessly falls incomplete.

On second down, Ray Rice shows good speed getting to the edge and picks up six yards.

Kelley Washington lines up as the No 3 receiver on third down before Demetrius Williams catches a slant for an 11-yard gain.  It’s nice seeing Williams on the field and contributing.

7:44 p.m. — The Ravens’ offense will start their first drive of the season from their own 30-yard line.  It will be interesting to watch how well Oniel Cousins performs in Jared Gaither’s absence.

Cousins has had a strong training camp so far.

7:43 p.m. — On 3rd and 6, the Ravens bring the pressure as Campbell throws incomplete, intended for Marques Hagans.

Chris Carr is back deep to return the punt.

7:39 p.m. — The Redskins’ opening play results in a first down in a swing pass to Ladell Betts.

Two plays later, Jason Campbell completes an 11-yard pass to Cooley.  Skins moving the ball well early.

7:39 p.m. — Dannell Ellerbe immediately makes his presence known by bringing down Rock Cartwright.

7:37 p.m. — The Redskins win the toss and elect to receive.

Steve Hauschka will handle all kicking duties in the first half.

7:36 p.m. — Ravens’ captains are Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Kelly Gregg, Matt Birk, Justin Bannan, and Trevor Pryce.

7:27 p.m. — The starting offense is being introduced to the customary U2 song “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Ray Rice is the first player announced, and Micheal Oher received a nice ovation from the home crowd.

Derrick Mason is the last player announced, and it’s clear the Ravens’ faithful are glad to have him back after a brief retirement.

7:18 p.m. — Tonight’s referee will be Walt Anderson.  Rounding out the officiating crew is Scott Dawson, Phil McKinnely, Byron Boston, Jimmy Buchanan, James Coleman, and Billy Smith.

7:12 p.m. — Looking around the lower bowl of M&T Bank Stadium, there’s a sprinkling of Skins fans but not as many as I thought there would be.

The Ravens are going back to their locker room after warming up.  Fifteen minutes until kickoff!

7:08 p.m. — I’m a bit surprised to see Ed Reed out there tonight after wearing the red jersey for most of training camp.  I figured the Ravens would hold him out until the second or third preseason game.

Mason will play despite dislocating a finger only two days ago.

I’d be surprised if we see Reed or Mason for longer than a series or two.

7:02 p.m. — Oniel Cousins will start at left tackle in Gaither’s place.  Defensively, Paul Kruger will take Terrell Suggs’ spot with the first defense.

Ladell Betts will get the start at running back and Devin Thomas will line up at receiver for Washington.  On the defensive side of the ball, Fred Smoot will start at corner and Kedric Golston will take Haynesworth’s spot at defensive tackle.

6:58 p.m. — The Ravens announced they have waived receiver Thomas White.

6:56 p.m. — The Ravens have released their inactives for this evening, and they include Terrell Suggs, Mark Clayton, Jared Gaither, Marshal Yanda, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Samari Rolle (PUP), Lamar Divens, and Biren Ealy.

Sitting out for the Redskins will be Carlos Rogers, Clinton Portis, Anthony Alridge, Reuben Riley, Jeremy Bridges, Randy Thomas, Santana Moss, and Albert Haynesworth.

6:40 p.m. — The Ravens specialists are out on the field, and Ed Reed is dressed and appears to be playing.

Reed’s status throughout training camp has been a mystery with him sporting the red non-contact jersey for most practices.

6:16 p.m. — Still no word on the scratch list.

The Ravens will be dressed in all white tonight.

5:46 p.m. — Tonight marks the first time the Ravens have opened the preseason at home since 2007 when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 29-3.

This will be the fifth preseason meeting between the Ravens and their hated neighbors to the south.  The preseason series is tied, 2-2.

In the series that really matters, the regular season, Baltimore enjoys a 3-1 all-time lead.  The most recent meeting was last season’s 24-10 victory for the men in purple on a cold Sunday night in December.

5:24 p.m. — Derrick Mason is out on the field working out and catching passes.  It seems like Mason may attempt to play, but I still suspect we won’t see him for long.

5:19 p.m. — I’m live at M&T Bank Stadium, watching a handful of players warm up—kicking around a soccer ball, no less!—after a heavy rain just passed through the area.  The sun has just peaked out as I type this.

Kickoff is just over two hours away, and we’ll update you on the injury report as soon as we get word.  At this point, Mark Clayton (hamstring) and Terrell Suggs (heel) are the only players ruled out for the game, but there are several players whose status is unknown including Marshal Yanda, Derrick Mason, Demetrius Williams, Todd Heap, Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Trevor Pryce, and Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Stay with us throughout the game, as we’ll be offering analysis, providing injury updates, and answering your questions here at WNST.net!

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Ravens-Redskins: Keys to the Game and Players to Watch

Posted on 13 August 2009 by Luke Jones

While Ravens fans undoubtedly are excited for tonight’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins, maintaining enthusiasm for an exhibition game can be difficult.  Despite paying regular season ticket prices,—and that’s another issue entirely—we’ll likely see Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, and the rest of the starters for a quarter at most.

And let’s face it; few will remember the outcome of this one by this time next month.

Keys to the Game

1. Health

The ultimate goal of any preseason game is to keep players healthy. The Ravens are already dealing with injuries at wide receiver and the offensive line, so they won’t want to add to the list.

The team certainly wants to play well in their first live-game action but not at the expense of any key players. Regardless of the game’s outcome, coming out of it healthy will be a victory in itself.

Expect a vanilla game plan on both sides of the ball.

2. Establish the run

While Ray Rice appears to have the inside track at the running back position, the Ravens will continue to use a by-committee approach with Rice, Willis McGahee, and fullback Le’Ron McClain sharing carries.

Rice will get the start but expect offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to give some carries to McGahee and McClain with the first team. The coaching staff certainly wants to improve the passing game in 2009, but this team will clearly maintain their run-first approach this season.

Pay attention to rookie Michael Oher’s work at right tackle. His run blocking has been very impressive during training camp, so we’ll see how well it carries over against the Redskins.

3. Completions

Cameron has emphasized a desire to see the quarterbacks complete more passes than last season, whether it’s a 25-yard strike or finding a running back in the flat.

Depending on who’s available on the offensive line and at wide receiver, expect the Ravens to use plenty of two-tight end sets and maximum protection to keep Flacco upright. The offense wants to establish a good tempo, so look for more conservative passing early and perhaps a shot or two down the field before Flacco exits after a quarter.

With the Ravens’ top three receivers banged up, tonight is a golden opportunity for Kelley Washington, Justin Harper, and Marcus Smith to establish themselves as viable options for Flacco. L.J. Smith will also need to have a good night, as Todd Heap is battling tightness in his lower back.

4. Defensive Intensity

Ravens fans are anxious to see new coordinator Greg Mattison’s imprint on a defense that ranked second overall in 2008. With the departure of Bart Scott to the New York Jets, Tavares Gooden is the top candidate to take his place next to Ray Lewis.

Gooden flies to the football and is a tremendous athlete, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy. After missing most of 2008 with a hip injury and undergoing sports hernia surgery in the offseason, he’s pushed through some soreness in training camp but has performed very well as a member of the starting defense.

Ray Lewis probably won’t play much longer than a series, but he’ll undoubtedly have his defense flying to the football in the early stages of the game. Even with Mattison’s intention to run more base defense, the Ravens will strive to pressure Jason Campbell and the other Washington quarterbacks.

5 (really 6) Players to Watch

1. Justin Harper

The 2008 seventh-round pick has been one of the early stars in Westminster this summer after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. Harper has beaten just about every defensive back on the roster for long completions at some point during training camp, but performing in game situations is another story.

Harper needs to prove he can catch the ball in traffic, as he has a tendency of trying to make catches with his body instead of his hands.

2. David Hale

After being regarded as a disappointment in his rookie season, Hale has proven to be one of the most versatile offensive linemen on the team during camp, lining up at center, guard, and even tight end during tackle-eligible plays.

Hale will definitely see some reps with first unit but will probably play a good portion of the game. Considering the Ravens will probably keep three reserves for the regular season, a versatile—and effective—Hale would be a valuable depth guy to have

3. Lardarius Webb

The Nicholls State rookie has been very impressive in Westminster, both in the secondary and as a kick returner. He shows good football instincts and is very active in the special teams units.

Some members of the organization view Webb as a potential shutdown corner in the future, so we’ll get our first look at the defensive back in a game situation. He has one of the key intangibles that make a quality cornerback—resiliency. When he has been beaten in coverage during camp, he shakes it off and responds by making a strong defensive play almost immediately thereafter.

4. Dannell Ellerbe

Perhaps the most impressive undrafted rookie on the roster, Ellerbe has received some first-team reps at linebacker when Gooden missed practice last week. His draft status plummeted last season due to a knee injury at the University of Georgia.

Ellerbe was a second-team All-SEC player in 2007 and led the Bulldogs in tackles. He brings an impressive football intellect for a rookie and is a hard hitter in the traditional inside linebacker mold.

He and Jameel McClain are the top candidates behind Gooden in the inside linebacker competition.

5. Steve Hauschka/Graham Gano

All eyes will be on both kickers tonight as they get their first true test in the battle to replace Matt Stover as the Ravens placekicker. Both have performed well during camp, with Hauschka likely holding the slight edge at this point.

Hauschka will handle all kicking duties in the first half with Gano auditioning in the second half of tonight’s game.

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Live from Westminster: Practicing in the heat, no celebs in the morning

Posted on 10 August 2009 by Luke Jones

4:53 p.m. — Harbaugh was wearing what appeared to be a new shirt this afternoon at practice.  The phrase “Mighty Men of Baltimore” appears on the front.  This was a phrase Harbaugh began using last season, and I’ve even seen one or two players wearing the same shirt walking through the hotel lobby this afternoon.

4:22 p.m. — The team will hold their last full day of workouts tomorrow (8:45 a.m. full squad and 2:00 p.m. special teams) before the first preseason game against Washington on Thursday night.  Both practices are open to the public.

The Ravens will have a walk-through on Wednesday, but it is closed to both the media and the general public.

The team will then be back to practice in Westminster at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday.

4:19 p.m. — Ed Reed again sported a white jersey in the afternoon session, as he did yesterday, but I wouldn’t read too much into it since there was no contact.  Reed was wearing the red jersey this morning.

4:17 p.m. — Jerry Rosburg and the special teams spent a good portion of practice working with the hands team unit.

While we’ve mainly focused on the field goal side of the kicking game, kickoffs and onside kicks will clearly factor into the competition.

4:16 p.m. — In Williams’ absence, Justin Harper took most of the reps starting opposite of Derrick Mason with the first offense.

When the Ravens ran three-receiver sets, Mason, Harper, and Kelley Washington lined up with the first team.

4:09 p.m. — The afternoon practice was a brief, hour-long workout, as the coaching staff tried to keep the exposure to the Westminster heat at a minimum.

The players practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts with Todd Heap (back), Demetrius Williams (right hamstring), Jared Gaither (left shoulder/neck), Willis McGahee, and Ernie Wheelwright getting the afternoon off.

Mark Clayton (hamstring) walked out to the field near the end of practice, but I did not observe him doing any running.

Prescott Burgess left the field early in practice and was holding the right shoulder/chest area.  There was no real contact this afternoon, so it’s unclear what happened to him.

Another player to watch on Tuesday morning is Trevor Pryce.  He appeared to have some type of issue with his foot for a brief time in the morning, but he then returned to practice.  I don’t want to call it an injury at this point, but we’ll see if the veteran defensive end is out there tomorrow.

2:01 p.m. — Being brand new to the Baltimore media, it was an absolute honor talking to Vince Bagli this morning.  He was out in the sweltering heat watching the Ravens practice this morning, but he was in good spirits as always.  At 82 years old, Vince still looks great and was excited for the new football season to kick off.

1:43 p.m. — The afternoon’s full-squad practice will take place at 2:45 p.m. and is open to the public.  If you’re coming out to McDaniel College, please bring plenty of fluids and sunscreen.  I just looked at the updated Westminster forecast, and they’re predicting temperatures in the low- to mid-90s.  It actually looks a little better than this morning when they were predicting triple-digit temperatures.

1:24 p.m. — Le’Ron McClain will undoubtedly remain a big part of the running game despite being moved back to fullback. In the first live play of the morning, McClain rushed for 6 yards against the starting defense and looked quick hitting the hole. The coaching staff wants to see him drop a few more pounds by the start of the regular season, but he has looked good in the first two weeks of camp.
Le'Ron McClain warms up on Monday morning

1:22 p.m. — Despite the brutal heat this morning, the Ravens continued to show why they’re one of the finest organizations in the NFL, staying after practice to sign autographs for the Ravens fans in attendance.  Here’s a shot of Chris Carr talking to some of the Ravens Rookies this morning:
Chris Carr signs autographs in the heat

1:15 p.m. — Ray Rice spoke to the media after practice—available in the audio vault at WNST.net—and talked about his increased role with the starting offense.  Rice took most of the starting offense’s reps this morning with Willis McGahee mostly working with the second offense.

Rice continues to look smooth catching passes out of the backfield, but McGahee continues to work hard.  Cameron complimented McGahee’s work ethic—quite a change from last season when the coaching staff was questioning his dedication.

1:12 p.m. — Fabian Washington had the defensive highlight of the morning, picking off a Joe Flacco pass inteded for Kelley Washington.

Despite some concerns over Flacco’s interceptions during training camp, Cameron defended his quarterback, even saying he’d be concerned if Flacco wasn’t throwing interceptions.  This is the time for Flacco to experiment, with his own limits and his receivers’ abilities.

Cameron even shared a story dating back to his time in San Diego with quarterback Philip Rivers.  He recalled Rivers throwing interceptions on four consecutive throws but assured head coach Marty Schottenheimer that Rivers was fine.  The Chargers quarterback then threw a touchdown pass and has had a very promising start to his NFL career.

1:07 p.m. — Steve Hauschka received most of the field goal attempts today, as it was obvious Graham Gano was dealing with a tired leg on Saturday.  Hauschka was unofficially four out of six this morning, missing attempts from 40 and 54 yards.  Hauschka made field goals from 49, 44, and 39.

Gano made field goals from 40 and 49 yards but also missed from 54 yards.  Both kickers came up short from 54 yards, as previously reported.

12:45 p.m. — Marcus Smith had a rough morning, dropping a few passes, as he continues to fight Justin Harper and Kelley Washington for playing time with the starting offense.

With Mason and Williams lining up as the starting receivers, Washington and Harper are receiving most of the reps at the No. 3 spot with Smith mostly working with Troy Smith and the second team offense.

Smith will surely get plenty of opportunities in the preseason games, but, for right now, he appears to trail Harper on the depth chart.

12:40 p.m. — With Heap sitting out practice, L.J. Smith and Edgar Jones shared reps at tight end with the starting offense.  Smith continues to work his way back from the hamstring tweak he sustained at the beginning of camp.  He’s looking more comfortable in the offensive system and has been more active in the passing game in recent days.

An unlikely player to line up at tight end was offensive linemen David Hale.  The Ravens were working on some tackle-eligible plays this morning, and Hale even ran a pass pattern at one point.  Flacco did not throw it to him.

I would expect the Ravens to continue to show many of the unbalanced line looks we saw throughout the 2008 season.  Michael Oher has lined up next to Jared Gaither on several occasions, and it will be interesting to see how well these two can open up the running lanes while working side-by-side.

12:22 p.m. — With Demetrius Willliams sidelined for a good portion of practice, it gave Kelley Washington and Justin Harper a chance to line up with Derrick Mason in the starting offense.

Washington continues to impress, as he is able to play any of the receiver positions.

The key for Harper is his ability to catch the football in traffic.  He has proven over and over that he can stretch the field against any defensive back on the roster, but the coaching staff wants to see him go over the middle and catch the football.  This will be one of the more interesting players to watch during the four preseason games.

12:16 p.m. — One of the more positive notes from the morning was the improving health of the starting offensive line.  Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, and Michael Oher all practiced without incident, a good sign with the preseason opener against the Redskins just three days away.

Cameron spoke glowingly about new center Matt Birk, calling him an outstanding leader.  The young offensive linemen have really responded to Birk’s veteran presence.

Considering Chris Chester is the next longest-tenured linemen on the roster—and only in his fourth season himself—Birk’s presence is an absolute necessity.  And, oh yeah, the six Pro Bowl appearances are also a plus.

12:13 p.m. — Players resting on a knee was a common scene this morning, as you can see here with Domonique Foxworth and Dawan Landry.
Foxworth and Landry rest in between reps.

11:55 a.m. — Todd Heap sat out practice with what Cam Cameron described as some tightness in his lower back.  Heap battled a back injury—sustained against the Titans in the playoffs—for most of the offseason.  I spoke to Heap after practice, and he did not seem concerned and described it as more of a precautionary measure taken by the coaching staff.

Heap had not missed any practice time before this morning and has looked healthier than he did last season.

As reported earlier this morning, Demetrius Williams was seen with an ice pack on his right leg and sat out the second half of practice.  Williams has pushed through a hamstring issue for most of camp, and Cameron gave him credit for playing through it.  The offensive coordinator said they wanted to give Williams some rest in the conditions and wanted to be careful with the receiver’s health.

11:51 a.m. — The morning practice has concluded as the players are certainly trying to escape the heat for a few hour before getting back on the field at 2:45 this afternoon.  Hydration was the buzz word for this morning, as John Harbaugh built in a few water breaks into the morning practice.

The overall pace was slower than normal, but that’s to be expected with the sweltering conditions.

10:48 a.m. — Much to the dismay of the local media, there were no celebrity sightings at this morning’s practice.

10:14 a.m. — It looks like Todd Heap has an ice pack on his back. He’s resting on one knee.

9:58 a.m. — Shaky day of long-field goal kicking:  Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano both come up short from 54 yards.

9:45 a.m. — Demetrius Williams resting on the cart. He looks to be getting ice on his right leg.

9:26 a.m. — The notable missing players today are Mark Clayton, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Terrell Suggs. Also, Todd Heap has not been very active so far this morning. He’s been resting on one knee with L.J. Smith and Edgar Jones taking the reps at tight end with Joe Flacco and the first unit.

9:19 a.m. –The heat is already taking its toll. Several players are doing the “one knee” thing between plays. Also, Ed Reed is back in the “red” no contact jersey this morning.

8:51 a.m. –Cam Cameron, Greg Mattison and Ray Rice will meet the media at the end of the practice today. It’ll be interesting to hear their thoughts about the progress of the team over the first two weeks of camp, especially given the defense’s daily domination of the offense.

The entire offensive line is dressed and ready to practice today. It’s toasty out here!

8:42 a.m. — It’s a boiler out here in Westminster this morning and the morning practice is closed to the public and open only to the sponsors and suite holders. There have been a myriad of rumors regarding more celebrities appearing at McDaniel College today but nothing could top Snoop Dogg’s appearance in the mist last week. (Or could it?)

With the Michael Oher movie trailer making the rounds and Sandra Bullock’s involvement, there have been rumors about an appearance. Others have opined that Tim McGraw could be involved. They are the co-stars of the Oher movie “The Blind Side,” which is set to be released Nov. 20.

Obviously, at this point these are just rumors and we’ll keep you in the loop as to the facts.

What’s more important is hydration out here today as the temperature is expected to get to three digits on the main field. As you know if you’ve been to Westminster, there’s not much shade out here.

Follow our Tweets and we’ll continue to keep you in the loop via our live blog.

Just two more days of practice and the Redskins will be here on Thursday night.

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Live from Brawl-minster: Ravens get chippy in heat, Harbs cancels p.m. practice

Posted on 08 August 2009 by Luke Jones

1:47 p.m. — As fans continue to wonder about the status of Terrell Suggs and Samari Rolle, Harbaugh is not providing much clarity on either player.

“No, nothing really new on that.  They’re both just rehabbing, and that’s where we’re at.”

Suggs injured his heel on Sunday, and Rolle is the only player remaining on the physically unable to perform list.

1:41 p.m. — Harbaugh did not seem upset nor surprised with the morning practice skirmish.  He simply reiterated his preference for the battles in between the whistles.

“We’ve had a lot of scuffles before the whistle gets blown, I can tell you that,” Harbaugh said.  “Those are the scuffles we’re most interested in.  The other ones are irrelevant.  We don’t mind them.  We don’t want them.  We don’t not want them.  We don’t care about them.  The ones before the whistle gets blown—those are the ones that matter.  Our guys have had plenty of those.”

Here are Harbaugh’s comments on the Michael Oher calf situation:

“It doesn’t look serious.  He pinched it, as Bill [Tessendorf] put [the injury report] in there.  It may be a little bit of a calf sprain.  It will be a rehab issue for a little while.”

12:32 p.m. — A few reminders if you’re planning on heading out to Westminster in the next few days.

This afternoon’s practice has been cancelled.  The next practice will take place tomorrow afternoon at 2:45 p.m.  It is open to the public.

Monday morning’s practice is CLOSED to the general public.  The team will have an open practice at 2:45 p.m.

Monday morning’s practice will be open to the media, so WNST.net will have all of the Ravens updates you want and need.

12:30 p.m. — Brendon Ayanbadejo was working out on the other field during practice.  He’s still recovering from a sprained toe.

Suggs walked out to the field for the final moments of practice, wearing sneakers and still limping slightly.

12:27 p.m. — We saw our daily long touchdown to Justin Harper this morning, as Troy Smith threw a deep one to the second-year receiver.  Harper beat Evan Oglesby on the play.

While Harbaugh is pleased with Harper’s ability to stretch the field, he still wants more consistency out of the 6-3 receiver.  He wants Harper to make the tough catches in traffic, an area in which he’s struggled.

12:24 p.m. — Ray Rice continues to show great moves in the open field.  This morning, Rice caught a pass in the flat and put a tremendous move on Jason Phillips, leaving the rookie in the dust.  Rice continues to get the majority of the first-team reps at running back, but McGahee is still right behind him.

McGahee was seen with an ice pack on his left knee yesterday morning, but he was back out there today with no apparent problems.

12:21 p.m. — Tight end L.J. Smith appears to be finding his way in the Ravens’ offense.  He caught several passes today and seems to be regaining his speed after tweaking a hamstring at the beginning of training camp.

If healthy, Heap and Smith have the potential to be a pretty formidable duo at tight end, a major help to Flacco with the uncertainty at the wide receiver position.

12:16 p.m. — As previously reported, it was an ugly day offensively.  Dropped passes and interceptions were the story of the morning before the big fight.  In addition to Walker, Chris Carr also picked off Flacco.

Despite the rough morning, Flacco did have some nice throws including a nice 17-yard out pattern to Marcus Smith (who was playing Mason’s position with the starting offense) and a long, beautiful touchdown to Smith later in practice.  Considering Smith has had a quiet starting to training camp, it was good for him to make some plays this morning.

12:14 p.m. — Cornerback Frank Walker had another good day, breaking up several passes and picking off Joe Flacco during 11-on-11 drills.  Walker is the most physical corner on the roster and has the ability to play bump-and-run coverage, unlike most of the Ravens’ cover corners.

12:09 p.m. — It was an “over 30” day off for Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg, Trevor Pryce, and Matt Birk.

Harbaugh gave a few injury updates after practice.  Oniel Cousins sustained a sprained left ankle, but the head coach said he should return soon.  Terrell Suggs (heel) and Samari Rolle (shoulder/neck) continue to rehab their respective injuries, but Harbaugh did not update when the two will return.

Oher suffered a right calf strain or “pinch” as Harbaugh described it.  The coach did not seem concerned about the injury, but Oher did not return to practice.

12:03 p.m. — It was a difficult day for Gano, but his morning ended in triumph.  After missing kicks from 35, 48, and 53 yards, Gano had a 36-yard attempt with the afternoon off riding on it.  The rookie kicker hit it, and Harbaugh cancelled the afternoon practice to reward his team for all of its hard work.

Gano’s leg was tired today, according to Harbaugh.  He came up short from 53 yards, a distance he had easily been making throughout training camp.

Gano did make field goals from 43, 47, and 51 in addition to his 36-yarder at the end of practice.

10:49 a.m. — John Harbaugh cancelled the afternoon practice today in his post-practice comments. More to come…

10:38 a.m. — Well, we had our first skirmish/melee of training camp in the heat this morning as the offense and defense knocked heads in a team-wide shove-around (apparently started by Paul Kruger and Joe Reitz) with various players involved, including Chris Chester, Jameel McClain & Jared Gaither. It’s hard to say what caused it, but the defense was shoving the offense around pretty good for the second day in a row.

Other morning notes: Michael Oher had a right calf cramp and left practice early. In general, the offense was sloppy and unproductive through much of the morning practice, in front of the usual large weekend crowd here in Westminster. Lots of dropped passes and interceptions.

Perhaps the fight helped matters. After the mini-brawl, the offense looked more focused and was more productive.

Tavares Gooden got limited reps early but didn’t participate later in practice. Jared Gaither was back and took plenty of live reps.

Graham Gano struggled early in the practice (plenty were talking about Matt Stover) but he hit a 36-yarder to end the morning session.

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