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Ray Lewis and Snoop Dogg in Westminster

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Live from Snoop-minster: Pics & vids of Snoop Dogg in the hizzouse at Ravens camp here!

Posted on 06 August 2009 by Luke Jones

7:46 p.m. — Practice will get underway at 8:45 a.m. on Friday morning.  The team will have a special teams practice at 2 p.m. with special teams coordinator/assistant head coach Jerry Rosburg running the show.

Harbaugh will be attending the memorial service of former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.  The two men coached together in Philadelphia for a decade before Harbaugh became the head coach of the Ravens in 2008.

5:28 p.m. — Happy birthday to Frank Walker.  In honor of his 28th birthday, he was allowed to break the team huddle at the end of the afternoon practice.

How did he celebrate?  Walker worked on his conditioning by running laps around the field after practice.

5:19 p.m. — Just when we thought Marcus Smith’s weight fluctuation problem was settled, the wide receiver did not practice this afternoon, though he was running on his own out on the field.

With Smith having problems staying on the practice field and Clayton sidelined for the next few weeks, Kelley Washington and Justin Harper will both get looks at the No. 3 position.  Washington is a little more polished while running his routes, but Harper continues to stretch the field unlike any other receiver on the roster.

5:10 p.m. — Another interesting competition to watch this summer is the battle for the kick and punt returner jobs.

At this point in camp, Chris Carr is No. 1 on the depth chart at kick returner and punt returner, but we’ve seen a plethora of other players returning punts, including Ed Reed, Yamon Figurs, Jayson Foster, and Lardarius Webb.

Much like we’ve seen over the last couple years, Reed continues to lobby to return punts, but it’s hard to envision the coaching staff allowing him to do it on a consistent basis.

Webb has been more of a factor returning kickoffs

4:51 p.m. — The Snoop Dogg video of the “What Time Is It?” is here…

4:32 p.m. — In Gaither’s absence, rookie right tackle Michael Oher shifted over to the left side with Marshal Yanda lining up at right tackle.  David Hale (in for Ben Grubbs) and Chris Chester were the guards with Matt Birk at his customary center position.

Oniel Cousins lined up at left tackle for the second team.

4:29 p.m. — The other significant name not to practice was Tavares Gooden.  The inside linebacker was not participating at the very end of the morning session, but I asked him about it after practice (The interview is up in the WNST.net audio vault), and he downplayed it as simply getting some rest and allowing some other players to get some first-team reps.

While we have no official word on any injury, he did appear to be favoring his right leg as he walked up the steps and back into the McDaniel gym.

4:25 p.m. — The afternoon practice lasted a little over an hour, as the team completed what was little more than a glorified walk-through.  Players were dressed in shorts, helmets, and shells, and there was no contact.

Gaither did not practice but was out on the field for the afternoon session.  Right now, we’re speculating that it has something to do with his left arm or shoulder, but we have received no further word from the Ravens on any injury.  Harbaugh said after the morning practice that Gaither was not on the trainer’s report, but it looks like there’s a little more to this story.  We’ll see if he’s out on the field tomorrow morning.

2:55 p.m. — Tavares Gooden and Jared Gaither are not practicing this afternoon. Demetrius Williams is out on the field. Brendon Ayanbadejo is also on the field with a helmet but hasn’t participated as much.

12:13 p.m. — Harbaugh continues to allow his special teams roots to shine.  At the end of practice, Harbaugh sported a yellow helmet beanie over his cap and sprinted down with the kickoff team, earning the cheers of the crowd and his players.

It’s easy to see the passion that Harbaugh has for the game, and it’s contagious with his players.

12:06 p.m. — Domonique Foxworth made one of the finer defensive plays of the morning, picking off Flacco as he tried to get the ball to Marcus Smith.

Staying in the secondary, Frank Walker had a nice day, breaking up passes on several occasions.

12:03 p.m. — The kicking battle was fairly equal today, but I’d give the slightest edge to Hauschka.  Early in practice, both kickers were perfect in a series of attempts from inside 40 yards.  As they moved further out, Gano missed a 40-yard attempt but made one from 49.  Hauschka hit a field goal from 44 but missed from 54 yards out.

11:59 a.m. — Justin Harper continues to impress on a daily basis.  Today, he battled for the football with Fabian Washington but wrestled it away for the reception.  Later in  practice, he beat Lardarius Webb for a long touchdown pass from John Beck.

Time and time again, we’ve seen Harper beat a plethora of defensive backs on the deep ball over the first two weeks of camp.

11:54 a.m. — The team spent some time early in practice working on the no-huddle offense.  On the very first play, Joe Flacco’s pass was batted up in the air and intercepted by Haloti Ngata.  Despite his massive size, Ngata is very active at the line of scrimmage as we saw last season.

Flacco rebounded after the miscue and completed a nice timing route to Derrick Mason.

The highlight of Flacco’s morning was a touchdown pass thrown to Kelley Washington on a nice fade route.  Washington worked out as the No. 2 receiver today with Clayton and Williams both missing from practice.

11:52 a.m. — Justin Bannan received the morning off since he is in the “Over 30” club.  Due to the Ravens needing him on the defensive line for practice, his off day is staggered from the rest of the veterans who were off yesterday.

11:44 a.m. — Grubbs will be out for a few days as he rehabs the ankle to get back on the field, according to Harbaugh.

11:42 a.m. — Samari Rolle worked out in shorts and a helmet this morning and appears to be working his way back to getting on the practice field.  He will sport a red jersey and will not participate in contact drills, much like Ed Reed.

11:21 a.m. — Jared Gaither limped off the field during the morning practice, but John Harbaugh said he was not on the trainer report after practice, so he should be fine.  Demetrius Williams did not practice this morning after suffering a mild concussion when he landed hard during drills yesterday.  Ben Grubbs sat out practice as he continues to deal with the same ankle issue that landed him on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp.

Harbaugh also said Mark Clayton’s injured hamstring will keep him sidelined for at least two or three preseason games.  He had some significant bleeding in the hamstring, according to Harbaugh.

11:03 a.m. — Snoop Dogg and Ray Lewis made their way over to the media area. It’s been quite the scene.

Ray Lewis and Snoop Dogg in Westminster

10:38 a.m. — Our favorite line so far about the Snoop Dogg appearance here: “It’s the Westminster Dogg Show!”

Ray and Snoop

10:34 a.m. — Snoop Dogg is apparently a guest of Ray Lewis this morning in Westminster. It has been said that he will not be meeting with the fans or the media. We’ll see how he sneaks off the field. Everyone here knows he’s here and he’s had way more eyeballs than anything on the field. And, we’re sure you’ve noticed, it’s not the greatest weather day here at camp.

Fabian Washington is back on the field after a minor tweak earlier in practice. Jared Gaither has limped off the field and Ben Grubbs did not practice this morning.

10 a.m. — First things first…Twitter is screwed up this morning. No one can get on to tweet the biggest news of camp: Snoop Dogg is standing on the sidelines, running between the raindrops. He played at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night and WNST.net’s own Ray Bachman was in hizzouse. Now Snoop is at McDaniel College.

Also: in an unrelated, non-celebrity note of football, cornerback Fabian Washington pulled up lame today and sat out for a few plays but is now back on the field.

I’ll be on every :30 after the hour today on AM 1570. Check out my reports from Snoop-minster!

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Getting down to 53: An early projection

Posted on 05 August 2009 by Luke Jones

We’re a week and a half into training camp, so I thought I would give my VERY early look at the 53-man roster.  Keep in mind, injuries are bound to occur and will change the makeup of the roster considerably.

The first preseason game will take place against the Washington Redskins next Thursday night, but here’s my roster projections based on my early observations in Westminster.

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 could keep in addition to the 53-man roster.

And, remember, I’m not John Harbaugh, nor will I ever claim to be.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Troy Smith, John Beck
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Though Smith and Beck will continue to battle for the No. 2 job, there are no other quarterbacks currently in camp to even compete.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
LOCK: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain
BUBBLE: Cedric Peerman, Jason Cook
LONGSHOT: Jalen Parmele, Matt Lawrence
Skinny: It will most likely come down to special teams in determining whether Peerman and Cook find their way on the roster. Cook would give the Ravens a backup fullback, but Cam Cameron could elect to use the tight end as a fullback in certain packages. The team could obviously choose to keep both, but we’ll see how it plays out in the preseason.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
LOCK: Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith
BUBBLE: Kelley Washington, Justin Harper, Yamon Figurs
LONG SHOT: Biren Ealy, Thomas White, Eron Riley, Ernie Wheelwright, Jayson Foster
Skinny: The team still could elect to sign another veteran receiver, especially with Mark Clayton out with a hamstring injury. Washington probably makes the team since he’s a strong special teams player, and Harper has been very impressive in the early stages of camp. Considering Figurs is no longer a lock to return kicks, his roster spot is in serious jeopardy. Riley could be a candidate for the practice squad.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
LOCK: Todd Heap, L.J. Smith
BUBBLE: Edgar Jones, Davon Drew
LONG SHOT: Isaac Smolko
Skinny: The fifth-round pick Drew has been a disappointment so far after failing the initial running test at the beginning of camp and then injuring his ankle. Drew has returned to practice, but he’s currently behind Jones on the depth chart.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Chris Chester, Michael Oher, Marshal Yanda, Oniel Cousins
BUBBLE: David Hale, Tre Stallings
LONG SHOT: Robby Felix, Stefan Rodgers, Bryan Mattison, Joe Reitz
Skinny: The Ravens will likely bring in a veteran tackle to replace Adam Terry who will miss the season with a knee injury. Hale has backed up Birk at center during camp, but Chester has the ability to play center in the event of an injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
LOCK: Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce, Justin Bannan
BUBBLE: Dwan Edwards, Brandon McKinney, Kelly Talavou, Lamar Divens
LONG SHOT: Will Johnson
Skinny: This unit is very deep, and the Ravens will inevitably have to part ways with a very talented player.

LINEBACKERS (9)
LOCK: Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Tavares Gooden, Antwan Barnes, Jameel McClain, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbadejo
BUBBLE: Jason Phillips, Dannell Ellerbe, Will VanDeSteeg, Prescott Burgess
LONG SHOT: Tony Fein
Skinny: This is another deep unit. I could envision the Ravens finding a mysterious “injury” with one or two of these young guys and stashing them on injured reserve.

CORNERBACKS (7)
LOCK: Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb, Samari Rolle
BUBBLE: Frank Walker, K.J. Gerard, Evan Oglesby
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Are you noticing a theme here at the defensive positions? Once again, the Ravens will have to part ways with some talented corners, but the numbers won’t allow them to keep everyone.

SAFETIES (4)
LOCK: Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Haruki Nakamura, Tom Zbikowski
BUBBLE: Derrick Martin
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Martin is giving himself a chance to make the roster by shifting over to work at safety, so the team could conceivably carry him on the roster if he proves effective at his new position. Otherwise, he’s squarely on the bubble at the cornerback position, too.

KICKER (1)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Graham Gano, Steve Hauschka
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: This battle will last through the entire preseason. Numerous Ravens officials have told me the four preseason games will carry the most weight. Both kickers have hit 50+ yard field goals during camp, but Westminster is a far cry from a Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium or Heinz Field.

PUNTER (1)
LOCK: Sam Koch
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Koch is one of the better punters in the league, and his ability to place the ball inside the 20-yard line is a major asset. He also runs a mean fake punt play. Just ask the Cowboys.

LONG SNAPPER (1)
LOCK: Matt Katula
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Katula is one of the most anonymous players on the team, because he does a great job. The Ravens hope it stays that way.

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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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Training Camp Preview: Five Burning Questions

Posted on 26 July 2009 by Luke Jones

With the eve of training camp upon us, the Baltimore Ravens—and their fans—have extremely high expectations entering 2009 after coming ever so close to the Super Bowl last season, falling to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship.

As with any offseason, the Ravens have undergone a number of changes to the roster and coaching staff.  These changes leave behind questions that must be addressed if the Ravens are to build upon last season’s 11-5 record.

Here are five burning questions to ponder as rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans report to McDaniel College on Monday with the rest of the roster arriving on Wednesday.

1.  Will Derrick Mason show up in Westminster?

It’s been almost two weeks since Mason announced his retirement, and the Ravens are still trying to figure it all out.  Most believe the “retirement” is driven by money, as Mason made it clear he was seeking a new deal earlier in the offseason.  His contract will expire following the season.

The tragic murder of former teammate Steve McNair has also impacted the 35-year-old receiver and further complicates what would otherwise be viewed as a disguised holdout.

Mason is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and may not have been physically ready for the start of training camp anyway.  He wore a red jersey (non-contact) throughout OTAs.  If he does change his mind about retirement, his delayed return could actually be a positive for the health of his shoulder.

If Mason follows through with the retirement, the Ravens will have a difficult time replacing the 80 catches and 1,037 yards he supplied to the passing game.  Mark Clayton would figure to step into Mason’s role as the primary possession receiver with Demetrius Williams stepping into the other starting spot.

To bolster the receiving group, the Ravens signed veteran Drew Bennett on Friday.  The 6-5 wideout will compete with second-year player Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington for the third and fourth spots.

Regardless of how the rest of the receivers play, the coaching staff will not rest easy unless Mason jogs onto the field at McDaniel.

2.  Who will be the successor to Matt Stover?

The Ravens enter uncharted waters this summer with the prospect of not knowing who their kicker will be in Week 1 for the first time in the history of the franchise.

Stover is undoubtedly one of the better kickers in the history of the NFL (462 career field goals), but his declining range and inability to get distance on his kickoffs forced the Ravens to look elsewhere this offseason.

The battle between last season’s kickoff specialist Steve Hauschka and rookie Graham Gano will be one of the most competitive—and important—of the summer.  Hauschka shows more consistency, but the organization loves Gano’s leg strength.  Gano, the 2008 Lou Groza Award winner in college football, made a 60-yard field goal during OTAs.

Ravens fans have been spoiled with the consistency of Stover over the last 13 seasons.  An ineffective kicker can quickly ruin a team’s season, so the organization could turn back to Stover if Hauschka and Gano can’t do the job.

3.  Can Tavares Gooden fill the shoes of former Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott?

With Scott now playing for Rex Ryan in New York, the Ravens turn to Gooden to take his spot next to Ray Lewis at inside linebacker.  The third-round pick from last season spent most of 2008 on injured reserve with a hip injury.

Gooden looked good in OTAs, showing great speed and strength and is excited to play next to fellow Hurricane and idol Lewis.  Lewis will count on Gooden to take on blockers with the same ability as Scott, allowing the 34-year-old linebacker to pursue the ball carrier without being blocked.

The biggest concern with Gooden is his health.  In addition to last season’s hip injury, he battled concussion and shoulder issues at the University of Miami.  If Gooden gets hurt, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will look to Jameel McClain, veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo, or rookie Jason Phillips to fill the other inside linebacker spot.

4.  How will Willis McGahee respond to being demoted behind Ray Rice at the start of training camp?

McGahee has said all of the right things regarding the running back situation, but it will be interesting to see what kind of shape he’s in when reporting to camp this week.  After admitting he didn’t show up to training camp in optimum condition last season, McGahee battled knee, eye, and ankle injuries in his most disappointing season as a pro.

Despite the surprising story of Le’Ron McClain and the play of Rice in 2008, this offense would benefit immensely from a McGahee closely resembling the one that rushed for 1,207 yards in 2007.  Knowing he would likely be cut following another disappointing season, McGahee will need to show an urgency in playing for a job next season, whether it’s with Baltimore or another NFL team.

With the coaching staff insisting that McClain will primarily play fullback this season, the opportunities will be there for both Rice and McGahee to receive plenty of carries.

It’s no secret that the coaching staff would like to see Rice emerge as the every-down back, but McGahee’s combination of size and speed—when healthy—will make it impossible to keep him off the field.

5.  Will Joe Flacco take the next step after a successful rookie campaign?

Though everyone is focusing on the wide receiver position, the biggest factor in determining how far the Baltimore offense to go is Flacco.

The young quarterback surprised everyone after being thrown into the starting spot last season, leading the Ravens to their second conference championship appearance.

Despite getting off to a tough start,—one touchdown and seven interceptions in his first five games—Flacco rebounded to post an 80.3 quarterback rating.  In his final 11 games, Flacco threw for 13 touchdowns and only five interceptions as he became more comfortable in Cam Cameron’s offense.

With an entire offseason and training camp to prepare as the starting quarterback, Flacco should have the confidence to offset the adjustments opposing defenses will make in 2009.  With the coaching staff planning to use the tight ends more frequently in the passing game, Flacco will need to improve his ability to throw to the middle of the field.

There’s no question that the wide receiver position will affect Flacco’s development, but the young quarterback can also reciprocate in the development of young receivers such as Clayton and Smith.  Though many will continue to beg for a big-play receiver such as Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin, Flacco will have more influence over the passing game than any outside receiver could bring.

If Flacco takes a leap toward becoming an elite quarterback in the NFL, the Ravens become a dangerous Super Bowl contender.

*****

Don’t forget that WNST.net is your source for Ravens training camp coverage.  We’ll be bringing live reports, audio, video, blogs, and Twitter updates throughout the summer at McDaniel College.

You can find me on Facebook or drop me an email at luke@wnst.net.

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Training Camp Preview: 5 Under-the-Radar Players

Posted on 21 July 2009 by Luke Jones

With only a week to go until the first practices for the Ravens’ quarterbacks, rookies, and select veterans, it’s time to consider what players flying beneath the radar could play a major part in the 2009 season.

Undoubtedly, injuries will occur, and the coaching staff will look to the next man waiting to step into a larger role.  One can simply look back to last season to see how critical it is to have these types of players.

Fullback Le’Ron McClain, safety Jim Leonhard (now with the New York Jets), and guard Chris Chester were little more than afterthoughts entering training camp but went on to make major contributions to an 11-5 season that ended with the Ravens coming up short in the AFC Championship.

Who are this season’s players currently flying under the radar that could be key contributors this season?

Here are five names to keep an eye on this summer:

1.  Chris Carr

Though this free-agent signing lacked the local appeal of Domonique Foxworth (Maryland and Western Tech) or the pedigree of Matt Birk (six Pro Bowl selections), Carr will play a critical role with special teams and the secondary.

The fifth-year defensive back provides exceptional return ability, an area in which the Ravens struggled outside of the departed Leonhard.  In his three seasons in Oakland, Carr became the Raiders’ all-time kick return leader with 4,841 yards (24.1 avg).  In 2008, his only season with the Tennessee Titans, Carr ranked fourth in the NFL with a 28.1 kickoff return average.

In addition to his return skills, Carr will provide more depth in the secondary, a plus considering the Ravens’ projected starters, Fabian Washington and Fabian Washington, lack the experience of last year’s Week 1 starters Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister.  Along with Rolle and Frank Walker, Carr can provide starting experience should Washington or Foxworth falter.

Carr recorded 31 tackles and one interception in 2008.

2.  Marcus Smith

With the sudden retirement of No. 1 receiver Derrick Mason and no major acquisitions imminent, the coaching staff will look to Smith to emerge in the passing game.  The 2008 fourth-round selection saw playing time in six games but did not record a reception during his rookie season.

Smith has good size—6-1 and 215 pounds—but will need to show more consistent hands to give the passing game a boost.  His experience playing running back at the University of New Mexico gives him more ability to run after the catch than most receivers, and his blocking ability is a strength.  He was also a solid contributor on special teams in 2008.

The coaching staff became more impressed with Smith’s efforts toward the end of OTAs this offseason.

Regardless of whether Mason returns in 2009 or follows through with his retirement, Smith will need to provide another option for Joe Flacco and the passing game.  With Mason, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents following the season, Smith has a distinct opportunity to secure a future role in the Ravens’ offense with a strong 2009 campaign.

3.  Antwan Barnes

After showing much promise in his rookie season in 2007, Barnes’ sophomore campaign was largely quiet, recording only five tackles from scrimmage and no sacks in 13 games.  The former Florida International standout missed the entire postseason with a shoulder injury.

Even before the injury, Barnes was receiving less playing time than the surprising rookie free agent Jameel McClain.  With McClain shifting to inside linebacker this offseason, Barnes will have the opportunity to contribute more in new coordinator Greg Mattison’s defense, especially as a rush end in passing situations.

With the Ravens’ selection of defensive end-linebacker Paul Kruger in the second round of this April’s draft, Barnes will need to show more versatility to fit into the team’s long-term plans.  Barnes has shown a good motor and an ability to rush the passer but has been slow to learn the other skills needed in a 3-4 outside linebacker.  Despite his one-dimensional play on defense, Barnes has demonstrated strong special teams play, recording nine special teams stops in 2009.

4.  Kelley Washington

After signing Washington after a tryout during OTAs, the Ravens hope the veteran can bring some depth to a thin receiving group.

Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round of the 2003 draft, Washington has never realized the potential he showed at the University of Tennessee when he caught 70 passes for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns as a 22-year-old freshman (he spent four years playing minor league baseball before enrolling at Knoxville).  A neck injury in 2002 hurt his draft status, and he has never shown consistent playmaking ability at the professional level.

Washington spent four years in Cincinnati and the last two with the New England Patriots, recording 73 catches, 896 yards, and nine touchdowns in his career.  His best season came in 2004 when he caught 31 balls for 378 yards and three touchdowns.

Largely forgotten as a receiver during his time in New England (only one reception in 24 games), Washington was applauded for his strong special teams play.

Much like Smith, the 6-3 Washington will have the opportunity to provide another receiving option for Flacco, especially with the unknown status of Mason.

5.  Brandon McKinney

A complete unknown when the Ravens signed the defensive tackle in October of last season, the massive McKinney was a strong contributor in short-yardage and goal-line packages, recording 19 tackles in 11 regular season games with the Ravens.  A fourth-year player originally signed by the San Diego Chargers, McKinney also played in all three postseason games, making three stops.

The Ravens have created a tradition of finding low-profile players who pay big dividends on the defensive line, including the likes of Lional Dalton, Kelly Gregg, and Justin Bannan.  McKinney can add his name to that list with another strong showing in 2009.

With Gregg, Bannan, and Trevor Pryce all 30 or older, McKinney brings youth and more size (6-2 and 324 pounds) to the Ravens’ defensive line rotation.

*****

WNST.net and AM 1570 WNST is your place to turn for full training camp coverage.  We’ll be providing live updates, interviews, audio, video, and blogs from McDaniel College.

luke@wnst.net

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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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No receivers, but Ravens still upgrade passing game

Posted on 26 April 2009 by Luke Jones

The 2009 NFL Draft has come and gone with Ozzie Newsome adding six new players to a team that reached the AFC Championship game last season, despite a passing offense that ranked 28th in the league.

Not one was a wide receiver.

Despite fans and national pundits clamoring for the Ravens’ need to improve the receiving corps of Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams, Newsome did not find a receiver to his liking.  However, the Ravens did succeed in upgrading their passing game—not to mention the entire offense—by drafting offensive tackle Michael Oher from Ole Miss with the 23rd overall pick.

Not expected to be on the board at No. 23, the Ravens not only drafted a great story but a huge, young upgrade at right tackle.  While not a flashy pick (I’ll refrain from using the term “sexy” since it’s become the overused adjective of the weekend), Oher will provide a bigger boost to the passing game than any rookie wideout would have.

A rookie receiver rarely makes a dramatic impact in his first season—just ask Pro Bowlers Roddy White (29 catches in 2005) or Wes Welker (0 in 2004).

Though Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt could blossom into stars one day, it’s unlikely to happen in 2009.  If the Ravens are looking to improve their Super Bowl chances this season, upgrading the right side of the offensive line was a far better choice.

The biggest key to improving the passing game is maximizing the development of the Ravens’ second-year quarterback.  Giving Joe Flacco more time to throw will bring far more success than simply adding another receiver to the mix—unless that receiver had been Anquan Boldin, but the salary cap made that next to impossible.

Last season, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron regularly had to use max protection, leaving only two receivers running routes on passing plays.  In the process, it virtually eliminated Todd Heap from the passing offense—a major weapon in the Ravens’ arsenal.  The selection of Oher will minimize the need to keep Heap at the line of scrimmage to pass block.

Injuries have affected Heap’s ability to create separation in the open field, but he can still be an effective receiver—don’t forget, he still made the biggest catch of the year in the Tennessee playoff game.

Allowing Heap to focus on his pass-catching ability would go a long way in taking attention away from Mason in the intermediate passing game.  His best days are certainly behind him, but a healthy Heap can still be an above-average tight end in the NFL.

The other factor in improving the passing game will be the contributions of Williams and Marcus Smith.  We’ve seen the vast potential of Williams since his rookie season in 2006 when he caught 22 passes and two touchdowns.

Injuries have been the biggest hurdle for the 6-2 receiver.  If—and clearly, it’s a major if—Williams can remain healthy, he represents a deep threat in the passing game and a bigger impact than any other rookie receiver the Ravens could have realistically chosen in the late-first round.

Smith could also provide a boost to the passing game.  Despite failing to catch a pass last season, the 2008 fourth-round selection possesses good size (6-1, 215 pounds).  The appeal of a newly drafted receiver is understandable, but reading Smith’s draft profile from last year would probably excite fans just as much as any receiver in the middle rounds of this year’s draft.

Before labeling Smith as a bust and writing him off, let’s see how a full offseason working with Flacco can help in his development.

Newsome claimed for weeks that he was comfortable with the receivers currently on the roster, and he appeared to be telling the truth.  Upgrading the position should continue to be a priority between now and July, but it’s clear the Ravens did not feel the receivers in this draft were really an improvement over anyone they already had.

The real concern lies beyond this season.  Mason, Clayton, and Williams are all unrestricted free agents following the season.  It’s unlikely that Mason will return, considering his demands for a new contract and the team’s’ silence on the issue, but Clayton and Williams will need to prove their mettle this season to factor into the team’s future plans.

Regardless of what happens with the team’s wide receiver situation beyond this year, Oher is a safe bet to anchor the right side of the offensive line for the next ten years, providing the protection for Flacco to take the next step in becoming an elite quarterback.

Perhaps the Ravens’ franchise receiver of the future is already on the roster; White certainly looked like a bust until Matt Ryan turned him into a Pro Bowl receiver last season.  Maybe Flacco does the same thing with Clayton, Williams, or Smith this season.

One thing is certain:  the Ravens are building for long-term success on the offensive line—a strategy that will leave the team competitive for years—even if they lack star power at wide receiver.

Keep in mind, before the acquisition of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady won with pedestrian receivers because of a dominant offensive line.  Dynamic receivers are entertaining, but line play wins championships.

Certainly, wide receiver will continue to be a position to try to improve, but Oher was a better investment for Flacco’s growth than the gamble of a rookie receiver.

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Harbaugh says this will be fun game to watch,Ravens not flexible

Posted on 14 November 2008 by caseywillett

Here are some news and notes from Friday’s media session:

-Coach Harbaugh said he thinks this is a game people are looking forward to watching, ” you have two teams that do play good fundamentally sound football. Two teams that like to run and two teams that like to stop the run, and two teams that are going to need the passing game probably to make a difference in the game. So it will be a fun game to watch.”

-Derrick Mason went through practice this morning although as Coach Harabugh pointed out not at full speed. Mason was a little sore after practice and will be a game time decision on Sunday. He is listed as questionable on the Friday injury report.

-Willie Anderson did not practice this morning, but is trying to get ready to play on Sunday. I still would be suprised if Anderson plays on Sunday. The Ravens have the luxury of having Adam Terry back now to fill in for Anderson. Anderson has been listed as questionable on the Friday injury report.

-Marcus Smith could see some playing time on offense soon, and in particular this week if Derrick Mason can not go or is limited against the Giants. Smith has made some big strides in picking up the offense and earning his way onto the field. Terrance Copper who was injured during the Texans game on Sunday is out with a shoulder/neck injury for this week against the Giants.

– For fans wondering about the Ravens and possibly how the flex schedule might change their game next week, no need to worry. The Ravens – Eagles game will not be changed next week. It will remain a 1p.m. game. The only change for week 12 is that Carolina vs Atlanta has now  been moved to 4:15. Teams have to be notified no later than 12 days prior to that weekend, if their game is going to be changed.

– Here is the rest of the Ravens injury report from Friday:

Questionable:

Willie Anderson (ankle)

Derrick Mason (shoulder)

Ed Reed (thigh)

Samari Rolle (neck)

Dan Wilcox (thigh)

Tom Zbikowski (thigh)

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Ravens – Browns

Posted on 02 November 2008 by caseywillett

Today the Ravens will not be seeing the same team that they saw earlier in the season. This is a Browns team that has gotten healthier and also some confidence with a couple of wins over the Giants and Jaguars recently.

Here are a couple of things to look for today:

Airing it out : I look for the Browns to go after this Ravens secondary. With no Chris McAlister, or Samari Rolle, and with Braylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth, and Kellen Winslow Jr., among others leading the air attack for the Browns, it could be a long day for the Ravens secondary. It will all come down to the defensive line and linebackers putting pressure on Derek Anderson and not allowing him to sit there and pick the secondary apart. If I am the Browns, I challenge the Ravens to throw the ball on me. As crazy as it sounds, with out Demetrius Williams, I would sell out to stop the run offense of the Ravens and see what Flacco and this offense can do in the passing game.

Who stops running first ? :Will it be Jamal Lewis and the Browns or the Ravens three headed monster in the backfield ? The Ravens are known around the league as the team you just can not run against. How soon do the Browns give up on the run game and just try to attack the defense vertically ? Do they attack through the air to try and open up the run game ? For the Ravens they have three backs they can throw at you,and the Browns have gotten a lot better at stopping the run. If you are the Browns, do you just go after Joe Flacco and see if he can beat you with Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Todd Heap, and either Ernie Wheelwright, Marcus Smith, or Terrance Copper ?

Limited returns :The return game will be big for both of these teams today. Josh Cribbs is one of the elite return guys in the NFL. Sam Koch has done a nice job of pinning guys deep this year and will need another solid performance today against a guy like Cribbs. Cribbs can change a game in a hurry with either a touchdown or a long return giving his offense a short field. For the Ravens they need either Jim Leonhard, or Yamon Figurs, to get them big returns for their offense. You do not want to have to ask the Ravens offense to go 60-70 yards every drive, especially on the road.

The Ravens have had a couple of nice wins recently, but I think today is a tall task for them and the Browns are the healthier team right now.

My prediction Browns 26- Ravens 16

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News and notes from 1 Winning Drive

Posted on 30 October 2008 by caseywillett

Here are some news and notes from 1 Winning Drive:

– There is no new news today as it relates to the status of Chris McAlister for this week or for the rest of the season. Rex Ryan said he is hopeful that McAlister will be able to play again this season and that he has surprised him before with not having much practice then being there on game day. McAlister missed his second day of practice this week today.

– The Ravens defense have really enjoyed the offense controlling the football the way that they have in the time of possession category. Currently with the Ravens are currently number one in the NFL in time of possession. Rex Ryan mentioned how the defense enjoys the extra time on the sideline and knows they are a good defense, but are a lot better when they are sitting on the sideline watching the offense work.

– Samari Rolle could potentially return to play against the Cleveland Browns this Sunday. There is not any concern about Rolle being rusty due to not having played in a while because of his injury. The last team that Rolle faced was the Browns in week 3. Rex Ryan pointed to how smart of a player Rolle is as to also another factor why the time away will not hurt him. Rolle wore the red non-contact jersey today during practice.

-It was mentioned today to Cam Cameron that Adam Terry had mentioned he was hopeful that he would play on Sunday. Cam’s response was, “he is more than hopeful, he better play. We anticipate him playing in several roles.” Cameron would not however reveal if that is going to be at guard or tackle.

– With Demetrius Williams being out for the rest of the year, Cam Cameron pointed out that this is an oppurtunity for guys like Ernie Wheelwright, Marcus Smith, and Yamon Figurs, to step up and contribute to the offense.

– Haloti Ngata is not the only defensive players that Cam Cameron has plays drawn up for on offense. Cameron says he was suprised by Rex Ryan when he showed up to the Ravens. Ryan told Cameron that he could take any of the defensive guys he wanted to help with the offense. Cameron said he has plays drawn up for about 8 or 9 of the defensive guys.

-Dan Wilcox and Derrick Martin were both not present at practice this afternoon. Wilcox has missed that last two days. Wilcox tweaked his hamstring last week versus the Raiders.

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