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Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

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Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even as the newly-signed Dallas Clark made the highlight play of Tuesday’s practice with a one-handed catch on a pass thrown behind him in the end zone, Terrell Suggs screamed out, “Calm down, there’s still only one white tight end!”

The 30-year-old linebacker was not only teasing the former Indianapolis Colt but making it clear that the Ravens haven’t forgotten their starting tight end. The injured Dennis Pitta was clearly on Suggs’ mind as he watched the 34-year-old Clark haul in Joe Flacco’s errant pass.

And while the Ravens are pleased with the addition of Clark to boost their depth at a banged-up tight end position, it was an interesting coincidence that coach John Harbaugh revealed after Tuesday’s practice that the Ravens haven’t placed Pitta on season-ending injured reserve yet because they’re unsure that he’ll definitely miss the entire season.

“We’ll put him on IR when we’re certain that he’s out for the year,” Harbaugh said. “We know it’s a serious injury, but when it came back that there was no ligament or cartilage damage, then that maybe gave us some hope. We’re going to wait and see how that bone heals over the first five weeks of the injury and see where we’re at.”

Sidelined since July 27 when he dislocated his hip trying to make a touchdown catch during practice, Pitta still has a difficult rehabilitation process of an estimated four months ahead but has at least a slightly better chance of returning by the end of the 2013 season due to positive MRI results. The Ravens initially said Pitta would be out for the rest of the season and wasn’t even a  candidate for the possibility to return.

Starting last year, the NFL began allowing teams to place one player on IR with a designation to return later in the season. This would likely be the course of action with Pitta if no other long-term injuries arise between now and Sept. 3, the earliest date a team can place one player on the reserve-injured list as “designated to return.” With this label, a player must miss a minimum of eight weeks of games but can begin practicing after six weeks, stipulations unlikely to be much of a factor for Pitta’s expected length of time needed to recover.

While it’s tempting to give Pitta the same treatment offered to linebacker Ray Lewis after he tore his right triceps last October, the designation can only be used for one player whether the individual would be able to return or not, meaning the Ravens could be dealing with a short-handed roster if they were to have another key player go down with a long-term injury early in the season. General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must weigh the best-case scenarios for Pitta against the realistic expectations in determining whether he has a good chance to not just return to action but perform at a high level.

Shipley getting starting nod

If any more evidence were needed to determine how close the battle for the starting center job is at this stage in the preseason, run-game coordinator Juan Castillo announced Tuesday that A.Q. Shipley would receive the start in Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski started in the preseason opener last week and appears to hold the slightest of edges over the newcomer Shipley, who spent last season in Indianapolis. Gradkowski is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart released by the Ravens public relations staff, but the pair have split reps with the starting offensive line throughout the summer.

“We need to have some separation,” Castillo said. “Somebody has to come to the top. The problem is that they’re both playing really well right now.”

Whoever prevails in the competition will be filling the large shoes of Matt Birk, who retired this offseason after 15 seasons in the NFL and winning his first Super Bowl championship.

Clark sporting No. 87

Clark had worn No. 44 in his nine seasons in Indianapolis and one season in Tampa Bay, but the veteran tight end didn’t even bother asking fullback Vonta Leach if he wanted to work out a deal.

Expressing much respect for the three-time Pro Bowl fullback, Clark instead elected to take No. 87 in what is a tribute to former teammate and good friend Reggie Wayne. The two played together for nine years in Indianapolis with Clark crediting Wayne for helping him a great deal in his career.

“One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with, so I told him last night that I got his number and he was pretty pumped about that,” said Clark, who joked that he’ll pretend to wear No. 44 as long as he doesn’t look down at his jersey. “I learned a lot from that guy, so I felt good about having 87.”

Practice attendance

Three players returned to the practice field on Tuesday as offensive lineman Ramon Harewood (knee) and cornerback Chykie Brown (undisclosed) each returned from ailments and linebacker Courtney Upshaw was back with the team after being excused for the last two days for the birth of his son.

Players not practicing included defensive tackle Marcus Spears (hamstring), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed), tight ends Ed Dickson (hamstring) and Pitta, cornerback Chris Johnson (undisclosed), linebacker Jameel McClain (neck), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee).

Harbaugh revealed that Spears has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury that’s kept him out of action since the first preseason game, but the coach expects Spears to return soon but wouldn’t specify a timetable, making it unlikely he’ll play Thursday against the Falcons.

Odds & ends

The Ravens practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts in what amounted to an extended walk-through without any contact on Tuesday. … Clark made it clear that he has plenty of work to do — studying his playbook and working on the field — in order to pick up the Baltimore offense, regardless of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell from their days together in Indianapolis. “You do your best learning out here, making the mistakes and looking like an idiot and just causing a whole big ruckus and just being in the wrong position. That’s the only way you can truly learn how to play football.” … Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley received some first-team reps in his second practice since signing a one-year deal with the Ravens, executing a nice double move faking an inside slant before catching a touchdown pass during an 11-on-11 session. … Baltimore will have a walk-through on Wednesday that will be closed to media in preparation for their second preseason game.

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McClain does Ravens favor in wasting no time with latest arrest

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McClain does Ravens favor in wasting no time with latest arrest

Posted on 22 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Perhaps the Ravens should thank troubled linebacker Rolando McClain for not waiting until after this weekend’s draft to show his true colors yet again.

After meeting with general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh less than two weeks ago to learn what was expected of him in receiving an opportunity to join one of the model organizations in the NFL, McClain found trouble once again by being arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in his hometown of Decatur, Ala. on Sunday night. The former Raiders linebacker — released earlier this month with his old team carrying $11 million in dead money this season just to be rid of him — showed how much he thought of the second chance awarded by the defending Super Bowl champions.

Even if the move appeared to go against everything the Ravens try to do in adding high-character players, the financial risk was minimal and Newsome made it very clear where McClain stood when asked about the 2010 first-round pick last week. A $700,000 base salary that included $400,000 in incentives based on playing time — none of the money guaranteed — reflects that the Ravens weren’t expecting much.

“Rolando is just getting an opportunity to come and make our 53-man squad,” Newsome said bluntly. “That’s it.”

To this point, all the Ravens have invested in the 23-year-old is time and an opportunity; he’s already proven to be unworthy of either.

But the timing of McClain’s latest run-in with the law reaffirms the Ravens’ need to address their inside linebacker position. By no means was it a position Newsome and the front office planned to neglect after McClain’s addition, but his projected status to man one of the Ravens’ starting inside positions in their base 3-4 system would have made it easier to focus on other positions of need such as offensive tackle, wide receiver, and safety.

The temptation would have been there to forgo an inside linebacker if players of similar stature at other need positions remained on their draft board, but not anymore.

“You always look at need. We say best player available, but you have to factor need into the equation,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said last week. “If the best player available is a quarterback in the first round, we’re not going to take him. You have to look at the best player available based on need. Obviously, if you have three players that are next to each other in your sequence and one player is a big need and the other players aren’t needs — even if the other players may be ahead of that one player that is a need — you’re going to flip your list because they’re all close.”

The Ravens shouldn’t waste any more time on McClain after he spit in the face of the gift handed to him by Newsome and Harbaugh. Details of his Sunday arrest remain vague and McClain is certainly entitled to due process as it relates to his legal standing as a citizen, but the fact that he even put himself in such a position again is enough reason to warrant the termination of his contract.

After veterans such as Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed exited amidst speculation that their opinionated locker-room presence was at least partially the reason why they were jettisoned, allowing McClain another chance sends a message to the rest of the locker room that such off-field conduct will be tolerated. The Ravens shouldn’t expect all players to be perfect — the prize of their free-agent class, Elvis Dumervil, doesn’t have a spotless reputation — but a headache like McClain who’s proven to be no better than a solid two-down linebacker to this point in his career simply isn’t worth the hassle and sleepless nights spent wondering what he’s doing.

Supporters of McClain’s signing pointed to the dysfunctional atmosphere cultivated by Oakland over the years, but that doesn’t provide an excuse to be a bad citizen. Newly-signed safety Michael Huff spent the first seven years of his career with the inept Raiders, but you didn’t see him build such a rap sheet or receive a suspension for conduct detrimental to the organization like McClain did last year.

The Ravens spent their offseason adding solid character veterans such as defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to help complement a locker room that lost a significant amount of leadership following Super Bowl XLVII. A marginal player like McClain only threatens to disrupt a winning culture by sending the wrong message to the rest of the team already assembled in Owings Mills.

He simply isn’t worth the headache, a possibility the Ravens acknowledged with such a small investment in the former Alabama standout and confirmed by his inability to stay out of trouble before even taking part in his first practice with his new team.

Anyone’s deserving of a second chance, but McClain wasted no time in showing he’s not committed to the Baltimore Ravens.

That’s why Newsome will focus this week on finding the inside linebacker who is.

And he can thank McClain for the ungrateful reminder.

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Will the Ravens defense improve in 2013?

Posted on 01 April 2013 by jeffreygilley

Four weeks ago, everyone outside of Baltimore was skeptical of Ozzie Newsome. First, Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers. Shortly after, Paul Kruger signed with the Browns and Dannell Ellerbe left for Miami. Ellerbe was viewed as the top priority for the Ravens but the Dolphins were willing to pay more for his services.

But that was just the beginning. Other key players including Carry Williams Ed Reed also joined other teams. Bernard Pollard is also no longer part of the team. Pollard was released and has since signed with the Tennessee Titans.

All of these players were critical to the Ravens regular and postseason success. Despite that, I believe the defense will be better. But then again, it’s not difficult to improve when the Ravens ranked in the high teens and low 20’s in most defensive categories.

Despite these losses, can the Ravens defense improve in 2013? The short answer is yes. The reason? Versatility.

All of the free agents the Ravens have signed this offseason have the ability to play multiple positions. Chris Canty and Marcus Spears can play almost every position on the defensive line and Michael Huff can play any position in the secondary.

The additions of Canty and Spears give the Ravens a scary rotation along the defensive line. Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones will also be vital parts of that rotation. Even Deangelo Tyson could get playing time.

With Canty, Spears, McPhee, Tyson, and Jones in a rotation at the 3-4 defensive end and defensive tackle spots, Haloti Ngata can play more nose tackle, which is his favorite position.

Add Elvis Dumervil to that equation and I would be shocked if the Ravens don’t come close to leading the NFL in sacks. Dumervil and Suggs will consistently command attention on the outside. In turn, opportunities will open up for Ngata, McPhee, and the rest of the Ravens defensive lineman on the inside.

The only question mark for the Ravens defense to me is the secondary. With Carry Williams departure to Philadelphia and Lardarius Webb’s return from injury, Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham might have to play larger roles this season.

Inside linebacker could be viewed as another area of need but the additions to the defensive line should help the middle of the defense. The Ravens could also look to the draft for a young inside linebacker. Candidates would include Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, or Florida linebacker Jon Bostic in the later rounds.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Can the “regression” talk regress now?

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Your Monday Reality Check: Can the “regression” talk regress now?

Posted on 25 March 2013 by Glenn Clark

Two of my absolute favorite people on the face of the planet are WNST.net’s own Luke Jones and Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole.

I really mean that. They’re not just two of my favorites in the business, they’re two of my favorites in the world. I love to talk shop with those guys, I love to chat about the world in general with them and I love getting the chance to spend time with them socially.

(This type of statement always leads to a “BUT….”, right? Not exactly this time.)

Both Jason and Luke joined me on “The Reality Check” during the first week of NFL free agency and separately brought up the same word, a specific word that has been repeated to me by a number of callers and e-mailers over the course of the last couple of weeks.

The word is “regression.” If you were playing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the moderator would tell you the word was of latin origin and could be defined as “a trend or shift toward a lower or less perfect state.” Perhaps the word could be used in a sentence along the lines of “After losing the players the Baltimore Ravens have lost thus far, we can expect regression from the team in 2013.”

That was essentially how both guys (and others) used the word over the last few weeks.

(You’re now CERTAIN there’s going to be a “BUT…” coming, aren’t you?)

I had to start every discussion about the term that I’ve had both on-air and off since the offseason began by accepting that Luke, Jason and everyone else who has suggested the Ravens are going to “regress” in 2013 are…well…probably right. I’m sorry. It had to be said.

They’re right because the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012 and it will be very difficult for them to win the Super Bowl again in 2013. Any scenario that doesn’t involve the Ravens hoisting a third Vince Lombardi Trophy would technically mean they had “regressed” from where they were last season.

(Okay, now it’s time.)

BUT…I was never REALLY willing to accept the notion of “regression” for the Ravens at any point. Sunday’s signing of former Denver Broncos pass rusher Elvis Dumervil re-inforces that belief, but it absolutely did not establish it. I just hope the addition of Dumervil will force others to similarly push aside the notion of “regression” in 2013.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ed Reed resolution coming at this week’s league meetings?

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Ed Reed resolution coming at this week’s league meetings?

Posted on 17 March 2013 by Luke Jones

It looked to be a foregone conclusion last week that Ed Reed would be walking away from the Ravens after 11 years, but the free-agent safety never shies away from keeping everyone guessing.

Leaving Houston without a contract agreement after a two-day visit, Reed may determine his 2013 destination this week at the league meetings in Arizona as the Ravens and Texans are reportedly scheduled to meet with his agent David Dunn. It remains unclear how much the Ravens are willing to offer the 34-year-old, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has remained in touch with Reed’s representation since a meeting with the safety before the start of free agency.

It’s similar to how the Ravens handled the free agency of Ray Lewis — who was also represented by Dunn — following the 2008 season when the linebacker briefly flirted with the idea of joining another team before learning his value wasn’t as high as he hoped and he re-signed with Baltimore. Reed is believed to be seeking a salary approaching the $7.2 million base salary he earned last season, but his decision to leave Houston without a contract is an obvious sign the Texans’ offer wasn’t where he wanted it to be.

Or, he’s simply not ready to pull the trigger in leaving the Ravens behind just yet.

“Four years ago, we went down this same road with Ray,” Newsome told USA Today. “Dave always does a very good job of keeping us in the loop. That doesn’t mean that Ed will come back, and it doesn’t mean that he will leave.”

While some have opined that the Ravens are suddenly jumping back into the Reed sweepstakes, it’s unlikely that Newsome would enter into a bidding war for the nine-time Pro Bowl safety. The Ravens determine a value for each and every player on their roster and rarely deviate from that price, evident by their hardline approach in wanting to slash Anquan Boldin’s 2013 $6 million base salary by $2 million before ultimately dealing him to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick.

A potential Reed return will be far more about him wanting to finish his career with the Ravens and realizing the money may not be dramatically better somewhere else. It just doesn’t seem likely that Newsome would offer him a sexy contract because other teams are potentially in the mix and such a move wouldn’t jive with how the Ravens have handled their offseason in essentially sending the message that they’re starting over on defense after the departure of five starters from the Super Bowl XLVII team.

But as Newsome told USA Today, the Ravens want to be careful in how quickly they make the transition with their defense and Reed’s return — at Baltimore’s price, of course — would provide much-needed leadership as well as an opportunity for the future Hall of Fame safety to mentor an understudy to eventually take his place.

Dumervil in Ravens’ price range?

The unexpected availability of Broncos free-agent defensive end Elvis Dumervil was sure to spark interest from any team looking to improve its pass rush and there is “serious interest” from the Ravens, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Dumervil played outside linebacker in a 3-4 system under former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels and would certainly more than fill the void left behind by Paul Kruger, but it’s difficult to imagine the Ravens having the financial means to be serious players for the 29-year-old with several other areas to address including wide receiver, left tackle, inside linebacker, and safety.

In addition to Denver being interested in bringing back Dumervil since their renegotiated deal fell through after a fax machine fiasco on Friday — that resulted in the termination of agent Marty Magid — the Patriots and the Titans have also been named as teams with potential interest in the defensive end’s services. The reality is Dumervil’s new representation — reported to be Tom Condon and Ben Dogra — will not only be looking to recover the $8 million per year the pass rusher had agreed to accept from the Broncos but also to make their mark by fetching more money for their client if possible.

Those realities wouldn’t suggest the Ravens are a realistic candidate to sign Dumervil, who collected 20 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons.

What about the nose?

In an otherwise disappointing start to free agency with the Ravens seeing their roster gutted, Newsome has fulfilled his promise to address the defensive line by adding veteran defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears this past week.

Those signings leave the Ravens stacked at defensive end as the veterans join Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, but nose tackle remains an area of concern after Terrence Cody and veteran Ma’ake Kemoeatu struggled to control the line of scrimmage as opposing teams had plenty of success running up the middle in 2012. Kemoeatu is an unrestricted free agent not expected to return and Cody has one year remaining on his rookie contract, leaving many to believe Baltimore will be looking for help in April’s draft.

One option the Ravens might consider is to move All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the nose tackle spot, a position he’s played in the past. Canty, Spears, and Jones are all defensive ends perfectly suited to play in a 3-4 front, but the Ravens would appear to have a surplus if Ngata is to continue playing the 3-technique tackle spot in which he lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will use multiple fronts and the Ravens love to rotate linemen into the lineup to keep everyone fresh, but you have to think the Ravens have something up their sleeve for their defensive line or they wouldn’t have signed two veteran defensive ends after designating Jones with a second-round tender. Spears also dabbled at the nose tackle spot occasionally for the Dallas Cowboys, but Ngata would appear to be the best candidate to move.

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Ravens agree to two-year deal with former Cowboys DE Spears

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Ravens agree to two-year deal with former Cowboys DE Spears

Posted on 15 March 2013 by Luke Jones

While losing starters virtually everywhere else on their defense, the Ravens continued to get stronger along the defensive line by agreeing to a two-year deal with defensive end Marcus Spears on Friday.

Multiple outlets are reporting the deal is worth a total of $3.5 million. The 30-year-old lineman was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday after signing a five-year, $19.2 million contract in 2011.

As soon as Spears hit the market, the Ravens showed immediate interest as general manager Ozzie Newsome declared a need to improve the defensive line at the end of the season. Spears is the second defensive end to be signed by the Ravens this week after former New York Giant Chris Canty was signed to a three-year deal on Tuesday.

“Spears, like Canty, can play multiple positions along the line,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He brings a lot of snaps and big game experience to us. We like the way Marcus plays. He will fit in with the Ravens way of playing.”

Spears never lived up to his billing as a first-round pick of the 2005 draft but played eight seasons in Dallas, accumulating 226 tackles and 10 sacks. Last season, the former LSU standout collected 25 tackles and one sack in 15 games, one of which he started.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees now appears to have a surplus of defensive ends, which makes you wonder if defensive tackle Haloti Ngata might be moving to nose tackle, a position where he has plenty of experience. Canty and Spears appear to be more traditional defensive ends in a 3-4 base scheme — though the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Spears has occasionally played some nose tackle in the past — and would rotate with Arthur Jones, who received a second-round tender as a restricted free agent earlier this week. In that scenario, Pernell McPhee would continue to be used in mostly passing situations like he was in the postseason.

“The base of a good defense is to be good along the defensive line,” Newsome said. “We didn’t play to our standards last season, partly because of injury. With the expected better health of players like Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee and the additions of Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, we have a chance to improve.”

Given the Ravens’ lack of depth at the linebacker position and sudden surplus of defensive linemen, others have speculated that Baltimore should consider moving to a 4-3 defense, but the organization has given no indication such a change is coming.

 

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