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Ravens Draft Needs

Posted on 26 February 2011 by Michael Schwartz

The Ravens are getting old in many positions on offense and defense. The linebackers are young on one side but old on the other. Terrell Suggs is young and so is the inside linebacker they put next to Ray, but they don’t have a person who is playing next to Ray from week to week. Sometimes it is Jameel McClain and other times it’s Ellerbe. These two guys have been fighting for the job for a year or so and neither has secured it. Obviously, Ray Lewis is old and is going to have to retire sometime. This hurts me to say, because I can’t imagine a Ravens defense without Ray Lewis. I can’t imagine him not coming out of the tunnel on gameday and doing his dance to pump up his team and the crowd. Jarrett Johnson is also getting old and he has been an underrated outside linebacker since coming into the league. The Ravens attempted to address his position last year by drafting Sergio Kindle, but he fell down two flights of stairs and now has a head injury. He wants to come back, but doctors are not so sure. He would have also been a good pass rusher which the Ravens need. The Ravens can get a good linebacker in later rounds; it doesn’t have to be their first rounder. The linebackers will still be playing for a couple of years, but it is something that Ozzie and company must be thinking about.

The wide receivers on the Ravens are pretty old as a group. Boldin, Housh, and Mason all have 600 or more receptions in their career, but Housh and Mason are past their prime. Mason still runs great routes but doesn’t have the same explosiveness he had when he played on the Titans. Housh is not the best role model for the young players that the Ravens have. He gets called for stupid penalties, same with Mason, and he is a possession receiver. Boldin is a physical receiver but isn’t a deep ball threat, he is still in his prime and is someone who will be a Raven in years to come. The Ravens picked up Donte Stallworth in free agency after being suspended for one year. During training camp, he was the deep ball threat that the Ravens had been waiting for. However, when he went in, it was usually a reverse or a fake reverse to him. He wasn’t used as the deep ball threat that he was thought to be. The Ravens drafted David Reed and he was also supposed to have explosiveness. He was rarely used, and has been in some legal trouble as of late. There are many good receivers in this draft such as, Torrey Smith. He attended the University of Maryland, but he is an undersized receiver. He reminds me of Mark Clayton who never panned out as the Ravens planned.

The defensive line has a premier player in Haloti Ngata. He is an all pro and a tremendous player, he is very versatile and can plug up the hole with his sheer size. Cory Redding had injuries for parts of the year, and Terrance Cody is out of shape. He is young but he is overweight and needs to get into shape, because if he doesn’t then the Ravens should get a new nose tackle. The defensive line has had trouble getting to the quarterback for the last couple of years. They had 27 sacks in the 2010-2011 season and were led by outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs had 11 sacks and played his best games against a hated rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens tried to get good pass rushers in the draft, Paul Kruger and Kindle were supposed to be good at rushing the quarterback. Kindle is injured and Kruger is no longer a Raven. In the draft there are many young pass rushers, however, Ozzie doesn’t mind trading his first round pick for more picks.

The Ravens secondary is supposed to be their weakest spot, but they are not as bad as fans and analyst’s think. Ed Reed is old but the Ravens have players who have showed they could play safety such as, Zibikowski. He filled in for Reed for the first six games and did a great job, but he is not the playmaker that Ed Reed is. Reed is one of the best playmakers in the NFL and he is contemplating retirement. I don’t think Reed will leave for a year or two but if he does the Ravens have a replacement. The Ravens corners are young; they will get better with years to come. Webb has shown improvement since coming into the league two years ago. Washington is a good corner with great speed. He needs to develop the other aspects of an elite cornerback. Foxworth is the oldest corner but he is the best the Ravens have. He missed all of the 2010-2011 season, but will play next year, if there is a season. The Ravens secondary could use an upgrade at corner, but it is not going to come out of the draft. They can get somebody in free agency, because there are very good corners in the market.

I think that Ozzie is going to end up trading our first round pick and get a second and something else. He will probably draft a wide receiver with good explosiveness and hands. In later rounds he may look into a corner, but he will look for a player that can take over when Lewis is gone. Ozzie is one of the best people in the league at scouting players for the draft. The Ravens usually have good drafts, and that should continue this year.

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Caps Grind Out Win Over Thrashers

Posted on 14 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After a lackluster effort in Buffalo on Saturday night that led to a 3-2 overtime loss and the end of their six game winning streak, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday evening in front of another sellout at the Verizon Center. John Erskine scored the game winner on a point blast after the Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Matt Hendricks line forced a Thrashers neutral zone turnover. It wasn’t a pretty victory by any stretch of the imagination, but the Capitals grinded it out and as a result they are now 13-4-1 overall and lead the Southeast Division by nine points over second place Tampa, who lost to the Wild at home on Sunday.

This was a wild and sloppy affair primarily because both clubs played on Saturday night and then traveled to DC afterwards. As one would expect in the third game in four nights, there were things to like and not to like in Washington’s victory. Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

– The difference in this tilt was the Steckel line as he, Bradley, and Hendricks were on the ice for the fourth and fifth Capitals goals while not being on for a single tally against. Hendricks was also on for Steckel’s empty net goal. The trio, who were a combined +8 in the game, carried the play on their shifts and with the Washington top line looking out of gas the last 30 minutes, it was essential that the Caps get a victory via one of their other units. Steckel was also a monstrous 19-4 on face-offs and all three players logged at least 14 minutes of ice time as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau continued to send them out in the third period. I thought this was Steckel’s best game in over a year and reminded me more of the player who was excellent during the 2008-09 regular season and in the playoffs.

– Erskine not only tallied the game winner, but he was engaged in one of the best NHL fights I’ve seen all year with Eric Boulton. Both players exchanged big blows and the Caps received a power play as a result of the altercation being started by Boulton. #4 was officially named the game’s first star and his defensive partner Tyler Sloan had two assists. Both Erskine and #89 were plus two on the day.

– The Caps third tally, that gave them their first two goal lead of the contest, was a thing of beauty. Alexander Oveckhin (1 goal, 1 assist) took the puck down the left wing boards and he made an absolutely perfect saucer pass in the slot to a streaking Alexander Semin. #28 then faked Atlanta starter Chris Mason to the ice and deposited the puck behind him on the backhand. The Caps top line had a super first period to give Washington a 3-1 lead but after that the unit struggled, especially on the power play (more on that in a moment). That first period was, by far, Washington’s best of the season and it was the first time all year they notched more than one goal in the opening stanza (h/t Capitals Media Relations Department).

– Washington continues to score goals as a result of players going to the net. Eric Fehr set up a superb screen on Mike Green’s blast (1 goal, 1 assist), Hendricks goal came on the rebound of another Green shot, and Erskine’s game winner had both Bradley and Hendricks going to the cage distracting goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who came on in relief of Mason. It is essential that the Capitals continue to score this way as that is what is needed to win in the playoffs.

– Special teams, especially the Caps power play, were not good on Sunday. Green’s first period marker was with the man advantage but after that the Capitals failed to score on two additional power play situations. They gave up Bryan Little’s shorthanded tally, his second goal of the game, that tied this one at four after Erskine’s fight. They also yielded another shorthanded breakaway on that same power play but Atlanta shot the puck wide.  The big problem on the last two Washington power plays were the work of the point men, who showed terrible on ice awareness. Ovechkin was absolutely careless on the fourth goal and he tried to skate into two Thrashers. Green and John Carlson also struggled and did not do a good job of covering for the other point man. The Thrashers were one for two with the power play scoring on a five on three advantage.

– Michal Neuvirth stopped only 23 of 27 shots and he was the victim of a couple weird bounces and poor play by his defensemen. The second Atlanta goal came after Andrew Ladd blew by Carlson and when his partner, Karl Alzner came over to challenge, Andrew Ladd fired the puck on net from a bad angle short side. It was not clear if the puck hit Alzner’s stick but the bottom line on that play was #30 gave up his post too soon. One goal that was not his fault was the first Little tally that made it 4-3. Marcus Johansson, who skated well in the 3rd period, was outworked below the goal line by Anthony Stewart allowing Atlanta to center the puck. Jeff Schultz and Green then failed to cover the slot which provided Little the space he needed to bang the puck by #30. Overall there was a lot of sloppy d-zone coverage by Washington, but in the third period the Caps dominated and they out shot Atlanta, 13-7, with Neuvirth not allowing anything to get by him.

– In summary, the game was not pretty and a very busy November schedule is likely contributing to the sloppiness. The second period was downright awful for DC and Boudreau was clearly not happy with it.

“It wasn’t very good. We made mental mistakes. It was ugly, but the good thing is they righted the ship. We talked about not wanting to beat teams 6-4. We want to shut teams down,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach on the second period and his team’s mentality.

“I think for the rest of the month and maybe even into early December, the schedule is pretty tough. There’s a lot of traveling, we play at home one night and then hit the road or we are the road and coming back home. In that time you don’t get a lot of practice and that can start to show a bit with us; we can get a bit loose out there. We just need to get a good practice in, tighten things up and get back to the way we were doing things earlier,” said Sloan on part of the cause for the uneven play.

Notes: The Hershey Bears knocked off the Binghamton Senators, 8-3, at the Giant Center and Mathieu Perreault had six assists in the victory (first AHL player to do so since 2005 – h/t John Walton). Goalie Semyon Varlamov, down on a rehab assignment, made his first start this year in the AHL and stopped 21 shots. Varly is expected to stay down in Chocolatetown for more work this week because he claims he is not 100% healthy yet (h/t @timleone)…Boudreau cancelled Monday’s practice so the Caps won’t be back on the ice until Tuesday…the face-off battle was a tie with each team winning 37 draws…Washington out shot Atlanta 33-27…Next up for the Capitals are the Sabres at the Verizon Center on Wednesday at 7pm.

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Semin Hat Trick Leads Caps in OT Win

Posted on 23 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After losing two straight games to the Boston Bruins and struggling to score goals, everyone expected the Washington Capitals to break out against the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. After all, Atlanta had played Friday night at home (and got blown out by Tampa Bay) while the Caps sat plus the Thrashers were one of the worst teams in the NHL in penalty killing. But for the Caps these days, nothing is coming easy, but after trailing 2-1 going into the third period they rallied to take a 3-2 lead on an Alexander Semin hat trick, promptly gave up the tying goal with 32 seconds left to Evander Kane, before Tomas Fleischmann won it in overtime backhanding home an Eric Fehr blast that Thrashers goalie Chris Mason (40 saves) could not handle. It was a huge win for the boys in red, white, and blue and the battered Caps are now 5-3. They don’t play again until Wednesday and they need that rest with all of the injuries they have.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Capitals eighth straight home victory over Atlanta:

– The analysis can’t totally begin until we fully comprehend how banged up this Washington hockey club is right now. Defenseman Tom Poti is out day to day and therefore Mike Green, who is nursing an upper body injury, had to dress but he would only play on Caps power plays logging just 5:32 of ice time. Therefore, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had to go with five defensemen throughout the rest of the contest. In net, Semyon Varlamov, who was 4-0 against the Thrashers in his career, re-injured his groin so Michal Neuvirth (29 saves) got the start and Dany Sabourin was recalled from Hershey. Up front things aren’t much better as Marcus Johansson sufferred a hip flexor in Boston and with Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon still hurt GM George McPhee recalled Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle from Hershey to play against the Thrashers. So a team that had lost two in a row and were finding it hard to light the lamp was going to have to dig deep to get a victory on Saturday, and they did outshooting Atlanta 44-32.

“It was good. I would have liked to have him more. I wasn’t nervous about him at all. We made the decision before the game that we would see how Mike is; if he is comfortable we will play him more, but the intent was to play him on the power play,” said Boudreau on the play and ice time given to Green on Saturday.

– After a good first couple of shifts by the Capitals, sparked by the Perreault-Semin-Brooks Laich line, the Thrashers dominated the first period and initial portion of the game. Atlanta outshot the Caps 13-4 in the opening stanza and scored first on the power play. John Erskine took a boarding penalty and when Neuvirth couldn’t handle Anthony Stewart’s shot from the right wing corner, something #30 struggled with a few times on Saturday, Andrew Ladd outworked Karl Alzner in front of the Washington net and put the biscuit in the basket. The Caps appeared to be in a fog for much of the first two periods giving up 27 of the 32 shots they allowed and if not for Neuvirth they might not have been able to come back.

“I don’t know [what happened]. I knew they [Atlanta] were going to come out and be very good. They played really well, skated really well; they didn’t give us much of a chance to breathe. But it is really difficult to keep that pace up and we got a little momentum off a power play and were able to move it forward,” explained Boudreau on the Caps slow start on Saturday night.

– Neuvirth, who is the team’s MVP the first eight games this season, really kept Washington in this one despite the problems he had with shots from the right wing boards. #30’s breakaway stop on Jim Slater with the Thrashers leading 2-1 in the second period was one of those saves that are game changers. After that huge save, and the stupid charging major and game misconduct that Dustin Byfuglien took on Neuvy trying to rattle the young goalie, the Capitals started to play with more intensity and resemble the squad that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. Of course, they still aren’t finishing plays well enough to hit that level yet, but most of the players were exhibiting the intensity and energy necessary to start getting there.

– Intensity and energy is exactly what Perreault (2 assists, 9-5 on face-offs, +3) brings to the lineup and is the primary reason I thought he had made the team out of training camp, only to be sent down, mostly because of the Capitals ability to do so without having him go through waivers. #85 was the right player to pair with Semin tonight because he isn’t afraid to go to the boards and corners to get the puck for #28. Semin, to his credit, was outstanding all evening and played strong on the puck. That line, which included Laich, is the other reason the Caps got victory #5. Laich still isn’t producing at the level #21 expects as his hands are failing him, but he is getting there and with Perreault up for an extended period that could help get him going as well.

“(Semin) is such a good player. He makes the job easier for me on the ice and hopefully we can get some more games like that. We bounced back in the second and third periods. We felt the emotion on the bench. Everyone wanted to really win tonight,” said Perreault on playing with #28 and the mood of his squad.

– As for the Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble line, well they are just not producing and look out of sync. Knuble appears a step slow right now, Backstrom seems to be battling the puck, and Ovie’s problem is he is not continuing to move his feet on his shifts. The Great #8 is in the right position to get scoring chances or make the big hit but when the opportunity presents itself he is coasting or gliding on his skates instead of continuing to churn his powerful legs. Case in point, he was incorrectly called for goalie interference late in the third period but that situation never happens if Ovie keeps skating when he corrals the puck in the offensive zone. In fact, had he turned on his jets he likely would have scored and ended the tilt right then.

– Special teams were once again a problem for DC on Saturday night. They allowed a power play goal and the second tally, Kane’s first of two goals, came 11 seconds after John Carlson exited the box (high sticking). On that goal there were five Caps around Kane yet he somehow was all alone in front of Neuvirth to bang home a pass from Rich Peverly from behind the cage. Both Erskine and Tyler Sloan incorrectly abandoned the front of the net and Carlson left Kane as well. It was shoddy defense and something that needs to be corrected. The power play moved the puck better with Green out on the ice but Ovechkin struggled at his point early on. The 2009-10 regular season number one unit went 0 for 3 and is now 4 for 33 this season (h/t @PckhdsThghts). Perhaps it is time to move Ovie down low and go with just defensemen on the points, preferably Carlson and Green, and put Poti, when healthy, in the mix on the second unit?

– There are alot of guys struggling to score on the club and the Caps had only two goals in their last 77 shots at one point tonight, both of which came as a result of goalie misplays (h/t @VogsCaps), but that game winning goal by Flash has to do wonders for his confidence and for Fehr as well. Those two guys are ones that Boudreau and McPhee expect to take their game to the next level this season but so far it has not happened. Flash just doesn’t seem to want to consistently pay the price in front of the net, on the boards, and in the corners and he was the lone weak link on face-offs on Saturday, going 2-6. Simply put, he needs to play bigger if he is going to stay in the NHL. As for Fehr, I just can’t put my finger on it, he should be doing better and one way for him to get going is to continue to use his powerful shot and get to the front of the cage more consistently.

Notes: The Caps handily won the face-off battle 41-23 with Dave Steckel going 13-3…Washington’s three game road trip starts Wednesday in Carolina and takes them to Minnesota on Thursday and then on Hockey Night in Canada at the Calgary Flames on Saturday…the next home game is Wednesday, November 3rd against the Toronto Maple Leafs…Down on the farm, Braden Holtby won his 3rd straight start stopping 17 shots in a Bears 5-1 victory over the Adirondack Phantoms. Hershey plays the Phantoms again on Sunday at 5pm at the Giant Center and tickets are available. There were three fights in the second period on Saturday night so the Sunday matinee should be an entertaining tilt.

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Caps Lethargic in Season Opening Loss

Posted on 08 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The start of the Washington Capitals 2010-11 season began with a thud on Friday night as the Caps sleep-walked through a 4-2 loss in Atlanta to the Thrashers, a team they beat all six times last year. Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 27 shots, was about the only bright spot for Washington and it was his stellar play in net that kept this from being a blowout.

This game had a bizarre and scary opening sequence as Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec motioned with his left glove to the bench during a stoppage in play and then collapsed to the ice. Pavelec was carted off on a stretcher and a 20+ minute delay ensued and the latest news out of Hotlanta is the goalie regained consciousness and his vital signs are normal. He will be kept in the hospital overnight.

Here are the highlights (lowlights??!!) and analysis on an awful performance by the Caps:

– Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau should start the post game by checking the vital signs of his team because it was hard to find a pulse from pretty much anyone on his entire club. I cannot name one Washington Capitals skater who had a good game on Friday. Only Neuvirth in net was ready for this tilt against a team that had lost eight straight to the Caps.

– It was a lazy and practically brainless effort by the boys from DC. They routinely turned the puck over or missed assignments leading to Atlanta goals and scoring chances. The first Thrashers tally was off of a horrible giveaway by Tomas Fleischmann up the center of the ice, the second goal was the result of an Alexander Ovechkin giveaway on the left wing boards, the third was on a penalty shot by Evander Kane (2 goals) on a questionable call but that was set up by an Alexander Semin soft play in the defensive zone, and the fourth and final lamp lighter for Atlanta ping ponged by Neuvirth off of the leg of Karl Alzner. However, that doesn’t happen if Matt Hendricks stays with his man off of the defensive zone faceoff.

– Ovechkin had a nice assist on Mike Knuble’s goal in the 3rd period that cut the Thrashers lead to 3-2 and gave Washington some hope but overall he was just terrible in game one of 2010-11. He did not appear to be skating hard and lacked energy. When your team captain is doing that it is difficult to criticize the other guys on the ice for doing the same.

– Atlanta is clearly a better team than in 2009-10 and they have some new players and a new coach in Craig Ramsey. But let’s be serious, if the Caps put out a better effort and played smarter hockey there is no way the Thrashers can hang with them. The bottom line is Washington took a page out of a Dr. Seuss book on Friday night and the performance could be summed up with three words: Stink, Stank, Stunk.

Fortunately for the Caps they can get right back on the ice on Saturday night and turn things around quickly as they take on the New Jersey Devils at 7pm at the Verizon Center.

Notes: Brooks Laich had the first tally of the game for Washington on Chris Mason on a pretty passing play right after Pavelec left the ice…20 year old Marcus Johansson was 1-7 in faceoffs. He skated well but was easily pushed off the puck below the circles at both ends…Washington was 0 for 3 on the power play and it looked as bad as it performed in the playoffs last April.

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Caps Lose in Shootout to Blues, 4-3

Posted on 14 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals will head to the Olympic Break with a three game losing streak after falling to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in the shootout on Saturday night. All three losses have come on the road this week and two were after regulation time had ended. The good news is the Capitals have a 13 point lead in the Eastern Conference with 20 games remaining. The Caps overall record is now 41-13-8 (90 points) and they have a one point margin over the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy. Washington is next in action on Wednesday, March 3rd at Buffalo.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

On the Caps recent 14 game winning streak they were relatively healthy but now the injuries are adding up. Tom Poti (groin), Jason Chimera (groin), and John Erskine (upper body) were not available for this contest and things got worse when Blues stiff, Cam Janssen, elbowed Matt Bradley to the head along the boards at least a second after the puck was gone early in the first period. It was an absolute cheap shot and Janssen, who has yet to register a point this season, should get a big suspension. “The Professor” apparently is woozy but not seriously hurt so it looks like the Caps just lost him for the last 54 minutes in St. Louis. Guys like Janssen really don’t belong in the NHL but some GM’s and coaches still sign and play those type of guys. In addition, the officials, who were wildly inconsistent all evening, called Quintin Laing for an instigator and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when it appeared that he dropped his gloves almost at the same time as Janssen. The unsportsmanlike conduct call was a result of Laing wearing a visor (another rule that doesn’t really work well). Don Van Massenhoven likes to be visible and his partner Ian Walsh was just as bad in this contest. The quality of officiating and some of the ridiculous rules are the biggest problems in the NHL now.

“The rule has got to change. You’ve got to watch the game and know the game and make the right call. I don’t even think it was an instigator, quite frankly. In my opinion he turned around and the guy is ready to fight and you have to know that we’re their standing up for our guy but at the same time that was a pretty dirty hit. [The hit] was the instigation but the rules aren’t there yet so you can’t make them up, but it was a bad hit,” said Caps Coach Boudreau on the play that cost him Bradley for the game plus Laing for 19 minutes.

This game featured some outstanding goaltending from both Jose Theodore (33 saves) and Chris Mason (31 saves). Theodore thwarted at least three clean breakaways and Mason made a super stop on Mike Knuble (2 goals) in the third period and several great saves in overtime.  It is easy to see why Team Canada has made Mason as their alternate goalie for the Olympic games in Vancouver. As for Theo and the Caps, they lost when David Perron scored the only shootout goal, in the fourth round, after he hit the post and then the puck banked into the net off of Jose, similiar to how #60 lost a shootout in New York last season. The Caps had a tough week as far as getting bounces and Saturday was no exception. The third Blues goal was going to be an easy clear but the puck somehow caromed away from Shaone Morrisonn before he could dump it out of the zone and a couple of passes later an Erik Johnson shot deflected off of Laing and by Theodore. #60 continues to play well and if he keeps up this level of performance he could very well be the guy who opens the playoffs for Washington in goal.

“I thought we had some chances but their goalie was really good tonight, he had to make some tough saves in overtime. The save he made on Ovie off the face-off, I don’t think he saw it, but when goalies are in the zone they make those saves and Jose was great, I thought Jose was great tonight,”” said Boudreau on the goaltending.

After giving up six goals in each of the last two contests, the Caps did a better job in their own end, although in addition to the three breakaways there were several other two on one rushes for St. Louis. USA World Junior hero, John Carlson, was called up from Hershey with Erskine ailing and Boudreau went with defensive pairs of Mike Green-Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier-Karl Alzner, and Carlson-Morrisonn. Tyler Sloan was scratched. Carlson got burned by Paul Kariya at neutral ice and it led to an odd man rush goal by T.J. Oshie. The first Blues goal came in close by Patrick Berglund. Alzner was whistled for two minors while #74 received one. It appeared the zebras were picking on the younger guys because some of those calls, especially the last one on King Karl, were pathetic. Did I say the officiating was awful again?

“Yeah, I thought the power play goal there wasn’t much you could do. I thought Carly [Carlson] had played a really good game but he got caught on the 2 on 1 and Schultzie on the first one might have had the back door but he didn’t block out, but other than that I thought we played pretty good, they got a lot of shots on the power play,” commented Boudreau when asked if his team’s defensive play was better than the previous few contests.

Offensively, Knuble notched two power play goals (Caps went 2 for 6) from in front of the cage sandwiched around Alexander Semin’s wicked top shelf wrister. Semin added an assist and had a super game. Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point for the first time in 10 games (January 26 versus the Islanders) in just over 25 minutes of ice time. Green added two assists and now has 14 goals and 46 assists in 57 games to lead the NHL in scoring by defenseman. With Chimeara out and Chris Bourque sent back to Hershey, Boudreau switched up his second and third lines, putting Tomas Fleischamnn on the left wing, but after Bradley was injured and Laing given all of those PIMs the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner had to go most of the way with just 10 forwards.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle 43-28 and Dave Steckel was his usual dominant self going 7-2. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post reported today that he heard Caps GM George McPhee is interested in another defenseman and a forward, likely a center (no surprise there). No trades can be made until March 1 due to the Olympic roster freeze and the final deadline is March 3rd at 3pm. Semin, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Brendan Morrison, in that order, were all stopped by Mason in the shootout.

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Alex Ovechkin Named NHL 1st Star of the Week

Posted on 18 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

From the NHL and the Washington Capitals:

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, St. Louis Blues goaltender Chris Mason, and Minnesota Wild left wing Guillaume Latendresse have been named the NHL ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Jan. 17.

FIRST STAR – ALEX OVECHKIN, LW, WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Ovechkin led all scorers with 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) for the week, helping the Capitals (30-12-6) move into first place in the Eastern Conference by winning three of four games. He began the week by recording two assists in a 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jan. 12. The following night he notched one goal as the Capitals defeated the Florida Panthers 5-4 in a shootout. On Jan. 15, Ovechkin recorded one goal and a career-high four assists in a 6-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He closed the week by notching a penalty-shot goal and one assist in a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Jan. 17. Ovechkin leads the Capitals in scoring and ranks second in the NHL with 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) and leads the League in plus-minus with a +28 rating.

This is Ovechkin’s second “First Star of the Week” selection of the season and the 12th time in his five-year career he has been either Player of the Week or one of the three stars (three stars began in 2006-07). He was also named the Second Star for the month of October.

Other Caps Notes: As expected, defenseman John Carlson was returned to Hershey after practice on Monday so he could travel to Portland, Maine to play in the AHL All Star Game on Tuesday night. According to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post injured defenseman Brian Pothier is still not healthy enough to be in the line-up but John Erskine appears ready to play on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. In addition, Tarik mentions in his Capitals Insider blog that GM George McPhee is mulling over whether to bring up defenseman Karl Alzner. Alzner now has enough games played in Hershey to be eligible to be sent down and play during the Olympic break in February.

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A Glorious Festivus Day for Ravens

Posted on 10 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It was a super day for the Baltimore Ravens franchise as they put on a first quarter clinic en route to a 33-14 whipping of the New England Patriots on their home turf in the opening round of the NFL Playoffs. There were lots of firsts for the Ravens on Sunday, as chronicled by Drew in this blog, and a city that seemed a little bit skeptical of this team’s ability to win in the post season will no doubt be going purple crazy all week as Baltimore gets ready to head to Indianapolis. We have several days to analyze that matchup and as Glenn mentioned in his blog, there are things that need some correcting. However, for tonight, this blog is just going to primarily talk about the positives (my dad would call this the anti-Phil Jackman blog – and Phil you know I still love ya!):

– I don’t think I am going out on a limb in declaring this the best performance by the team all season. They defeated an elite club that has a one of the best QB’s in the NFL by lining up and just physically beating the Patriots in nearly every aspect of the game. New England had the deer in the headlights look after Ray Rice went 83 yards on the game’s opening play from scrimmage followed by the Terrell Suggs sack and fumble of Tom Brady that set up the Ravens second touchdown. It was smash mouth Ravens football, no doubt.

– After the game Ray Lewis, who was outstanding with 13 tackles and a sack on Sunday, praised defensive coordinator Greg Mattison for coming up with a great game plan. Mattison, however, said that it was not his schemes, it was the players execution that did the job. Whatever the case, the Baltimore defense was the most aggressive it has been all year and clearly that style fits the personnel. New England only had 196 total yards, wow! Charlie Frye threw for 180 yards on the Ravens in the 1st half alone in last week’s victory in Oakland. #52 talked in the post game about disguising the blitz until the last second for fear of Brady recognizing it and checking off, something the 3-time Super Bowl Champion excels at. Well today, #12 had no clue what was coming most of the time and he played like it. Mattison felt that the team could generate pressure rushing just four players and for the most part he was right. If there is one thing I would like to see less of, it would be the three man rush. The NFL rules are set up so much for the offense that if you give the receivers time to get open they either will or likely draw a penalty.

– Speaking of penalties, Baltimore only was flagged 3 times for a total of 15 yards! That was incredible focus and discipline by a team that has struggled to maintain its composure in several instances this year. Yes, the team was winning so it was easier to stay in control, but mentally that may have been the best the squad collectively has executed all year. Not a single personal foul or pass interference infraction was whistled on the Ravens today.

– Did the offense remind you a bit of the 2000 Ravens in Tennessee? Baltimore only threw the ball 10 times and Joe Flacco completed just four passes (but two were huge ones to Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton to keep second half drives going). But when you get an early lead after an 83 yd scamper why not keep pounding the ball like the Ravens used to do with Jamal Lewis? The rushing totals were 52 carries for 234 yards, a 4.5 yard per carry average. The backs were good and the offensive line was flat out dominant. It is clear that a healthy Jared Gaither at left tackle plays a huge role in offensive success.

– The much maligned secondary was superb today forcing 3 interceptions and holding Randy Moss to 5 catches for 48 yards (and most of those came in garbage time). Dominique Foxworth, Frank Walker, and Dwan Landry might have had their best games of the season. The pressure put on Brady certainly helped and having a healthier Ed Reed at safety contributed as well. Ravens fans can only hope that #20 continues to progress physically this week because they will need his smarts against Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and company. Reed even had a good lateral today to Landry on his INT that put the Ravens in the red zone.

– Special teams were fairly solid. Tom Zbikowski’s 30 yard return after New England cut the Ravens lead to 27-14 put the ball near midfield and on the shorter grid the Ravens drove for the score that put the nail in the coffin in this one. Sam Koch punted well with two good kicks that pinned the Pats inside their own 20 yard line and even Matt Katula’s long snaps were better allowing kicker Billy Cundiff to hit on both of his field goals and all three PATs.

– The Ravens came out as healthy as you can be after 17 weeks of football and tight end Todd Heap’s back injury appears to be minor. So could a team that has been banged up so badly since starting 3-0 finally be getting healthier in some key areas (see Gaither and Reed)? One has to hope that is true and Flacco will likely have an easier time getting his aching hip loose in a dome instead of the freezing north east.

– All in all it was a very good day to be affiliated with the Ravens and somewhere heading south on I-95 at 1000pm on Sunday night there are two full buses of very happy people who decided to go on the WNST road trip to Gillette Stadium. Those people, and any other Ravens fan who attended the game in person, are truly great for showing such faith in a team that many thought would get beat today, including myself. As anyone that has traveled with WNST knows, WNST bus trips, whether to a Ravens game, a Caps or Bears hockey game, or to a horse race, is a ton of fun. I’m sure this weekend to Indianapolis will be no exception so sign up, if you can. By the way, it was great to hear Ravens Coach John Harbaugh mention and praise the support the team received from the Ravens fans who attended the contest today. So how about we more than double that for next week’s Saturday night contest and get at least five WNST buses going to Indy?

Happy Festivus! (que the Ravens Mania music now…)

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Hey John: You can’t be 4-4 and seriously talk playoffs

Posted on 09 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Just judging from the sheer volume of social media I consumed all day yesterday, the fan base here is in “quit on the 2009 season” mode. The lofty expectations following a rookie campaign for John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco that ended in the AFC Championship Game led all of us in the Charm City to feel as though this year would somehow be better.

Well, we’re halfway through the race and things haven’t gone according to the best laid plan.

The Ravens have lost four of their last five, including yesterday’s turd in Cincinnati. The team, overall, just hasn’t been as good as advertised in many ways. The Bengals have now embarrassed the Ravens twice in four weeks en route to sole possession of the AFC North lead and have earned the right to crow.

While yesterday’s loss certainly felt like more of a beatdown than the final score — and we’ll get to Steve Hauschka’s missed kick in a minute — the NFL only counts one thing en route to a playoff berth in the tournament: wins. And right now, at 4-4, this isn’t going to get it done.

I could make excuses for all of the other three losses — and losing in the waning seconds on the road to New England and Minnesota doesn’t make you a bad team. But the pair of losses to the Bengals has been illuminating, especially when you consider Marvin Lewis’ recipe for building a team with a 6-2 start.

The Bengals have just about everything you’d want — a world-class quarterback with a world-class wide receiver and a running back who runs like Jamal Lewis with a line that’s got a nasty streak. On defense, they’ve built through a young linebacking corps (sound familiar?) and a pair of first-round cornerbacks who allow the safeties and linebackers to play hardball with the pass rush. Oh, yeah — they also arguably have the best kicker in the sport.

The Ravens, as was in full display yesterday, are sorely lacking in various departments but especially the ability to get off the field consistently on 3rd down on defense. It’s been a defensive franchise for the better part of 11 seasons. All good things must end and the 2009 defense is not up to “Play Like a Raven” standards.

Is that Greg Mattsion’s fault? Is that because of the clear falloff at the cornerback position? Is it not having Rex Ryan? Is Bart Scott missed that much? Is Ed Reed OK? Will Haloti Ngata be injured all year?

The entire secondary was beaten in coverage during the first half and the penalties were dreadful. All over the field. Ray Lewis is still the Ravens best player when Ngata is not dressed and that speaks volumes.

The first three losses were “excused” in my opinion. Yesterday, however, did a lot to expose the Ravens as a team that’s pretty good but not a serious playoff contender, especially not with that secondary and lack of pass rush.

Sure, Haloti Ngata’s absence needs to be factored into the equation in the Bengals debacle, but the Ravens have sufficient depth at that position and I’m not sure Ngata would’ve been a difference maker in the outcome yesterday in Cincinnati.

As for the offense, Joe Flacco just was not good enough yesterday, nor was the offensive line, which played its worst game of the season. Penalties? All over the place and ill-timed. Productivity? How about making their first third-down conversion in the fourth quarter? That’s just putrid, unacceptable and not worthy of the NFL playoffs.

They didn’t run well. They didn’t pass well. They were out of sync all day and Flacco looked bewildered during his short stints in the first half. Flacco has now dropped five straight to teams led by Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.

Derrick Mason and Ray Lewis declined to comment after the game yesterday but I’m sure they’ll have something to say on Wednesday at The Castle.

Harbaugh did his usual tap dance around any tough questions from the media — (memo to John: denying that the team doesn’t tackle well is laughable at this point) — but it’s easy to do what you want when you’re in the AFC Championship Game and things are going better than advertised.

But when the team is a disappointing 4-4 at the turn and the one decision that’s truly pinned to Harbaugh’s special teams badge of expertise — the banishment of kicker Matt Stover in the offseason — costing the team team parts of two of the losses, the questions are only going to get tougher around the head coach and around Steve Hauschka.

This team was supposed to go to the playoffs. This team was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. The “upgrades” of the offseason were well-calculated and the draft went well. The Ravens and the fanbase were not prepared to be swept by the Bengals and be 4-4 at the turn.

All eyes will now turn to Cleveland, where the Ravens most certainly will awaken eight days from now at 5-4. Right? We can only hope…

The Ravens have amassed four losses and haven’t yet seen the Steelers, the Colts or a frigid December night at Lambeau Field and a West Coast trip to the zoo in Oakland in early 2010. There’s a lot of football left to be played.

The Ravens will sort this out on the field. They need to go 6-2 to have a chance. They need to go 7-1 to be assured of a spot.

If they do it, they’ll be good enough. If they lose two more times to the Steelers, they’ll be playing golf on Jan. 4th and deservedly so.

And if that happens, John Harbaugh’s gonna have a lotta ‘esplainin’ to do at that postseason press conference while he sits next to Steve Bisciotti and the Steelers and Bengals are still playing football…

Things like:

What really happened in the decision to replace Matt Stover with Steve Hauschka?

What really happened with Chris McAlister and how did we get sold that Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr are upgrades?

Why all the penalties?

Where is the pass rush?

Where is Willis McGahee?

Where is the urgency on offense when the team is down two scores with three minutes left?

Of course, Harbaugh doesn’t really like the tough questions but they’re coming. It’s a tough job. It’s been a lot of fun, this honeymoon of riches and a great start to his era in Baltimore. Getting to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie head coach indeed buys you a hall pass for a while.

I have a feeling a lot of that ended yesterday, with a sweep to the Bengals and a 4-4 record at the turn.

But, as Brian Billick would no doubt tell him, these Monday mornings aren’t a whole lot of fun when the town gets disappointed and the team plays poorly.

And someone has to answer the questions…

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Jonathan Ogden chats with Kelly Gregg

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Live From Westminster: Mason dislocates finger, causes a scare

Posted on 11 August 2009 by Luke Jones

4:06 p.m. — With Harbaugh not revealing any plans on which injured players will suit up and play on Thursday, here are some thoughts on the players in question.

Demetrius Williams will play if he feels good during the team walk-through tomorrow.  He’s pushed through a hamstring issue for most of camp.

Todd Heap’s lower back has tightened up over the last couple days, but there’s still a chance he’ll play.  Heap had not missed a practice before sitting out yesterday.

Jared Gaither is still bothered by the shoulder/neck issue, but he took part in plenty of live reps yesterday morning.  He wants to play on Thursday, but it’ll depend how he feels during the walk-through.

Derrick Mason suffered a dislocated finger this morning during practice.  I’d be surprised if he plays, and if he does, I’ll predict he’s nothing more than a decoy.

Ben Grubbs continues to battle an ankle issue dating back to the offseason.  He participated in the early portion of practice today, but David Hale took his place at left guard.  He’s questionable.

Marshal Yanda was given the day off today and is far ahead of schedule compared to where most people predicted he’d be at this point.  However, the team has emphasized they want to take it slow with Yanda.  He’s questionable.

Trevor Pryce has a foot issue, and his status is unknown.  It did not appear serious, so we’ll see how the veteran defensive end is feeling by Thursday.

Terrell Suggs (heel) and Mark Clayton (hamstring) will not play and have not practiced since Aug. 2.  Clayton has been on the field the past two days doing some light conditioning work.

Honestly, the only injury to really be concerned with at this point is Clayton’s.  As much as Ravens fans want to beat Washington, a preseason game on Aug. 13—even against the hated Redskins—is meaningless in terms of wins and losses.  The goal is to get these players ready for Sept. 13.

I suspect that most of these players would be playing if it were the regular season.

4:00 p.m. — In preparation for their preseason opener against the Washington Redskins on Thursday night, the Ravens will hold their walk-through on Wednesday.  The walk-through is closed to both the media and general public.

3:30 p.m. — Chris Carr is still listed as the No. 1 punt and kick returner and looks very fluid while returning kicks.  After watching him work in Westminster, it’s easy to see how he became the Oakland Raiders’ all-time leader in kickoff returns.

3:27 p.m. — The special teams practice lasted an hour and 15 minutes, and the focus of the afternoon was the punt and kick return teams.

Sam Koch was booming his punts and looks to be in mid-season form.  He continues to use the rugby-style kick for placing punts inside the 20-yard line.

Steve Hauschka did an outstanding job kicking off, consistently kicking the ball inside the 5 with great hang time.

Rookie Paul Kruger received praise from John Harbaugh on several occasions.  It looks like the second-round pick will be a major part of the special teams units this season.

1:56 p.m. — As expected, Derrick Mason’s injury appears to be a dislocation and not a broken finger. He’s probably doubtful for Thursday night at this point and it looked painful when it happened.

1:46 p.m. — Today was Baltimore football alumni day at training camp, and we saw a number of Baltimore Colts including Art Donovan, Lenny Moore, Jim Mutscheller, and John Mackey.

Among the former Ravens was wide receiver Michael Jackson (taking us back to the early days of the purple!) and future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.  We had a chance to chat with J.O. for a short time, and you can check that out in the WNST.net audio vault.

Ogden spent some time catching up with his former teammates on the sideline during practice.
Jonathan Ogden chats with Kelly Gregg

1:38 p.m. — It’s been a very quiet camp for Ray Lewis, but the 34-year-old linebacker has been very active on the field, talking to the offense and competing as he always does.  Lewis came into camp trimmer this season, wanting to maintain his speed as he begins his 14th season with the Ravens (hard to believe, isn’t it?).

Here’s a shot of No. 52 working on his hands at the jugs machine.
Ray Lewis

12:51 p.m. — Graham Gano appeared to have a much stronger leg this morning and kicked with much more confidence.  Unofficially (there were no officials underneath the goalpost, so it was difficult to confirm a few), Gano hit field goals from 35, 43, 47, and 51 yards.  He did appear to miss one from 38 yards, but it was very close—again, no official underneath the goalpost.

Steve Hauschka appeared to have the morning off after taking most of the reps yesterday.

12:48 p.m. — With the finger injury to Derrick Mason, there’s a good chance Harper will be starting on Thursday night, and the young receiver made another long catch this morning.  Troy Smith lofted a 30-yard pass to Harper who beat Walker on the play.

12:31 p.m. — Despite all of the injury updates, there were some highlights this morning I wanted to share.  Domonique Foxworth had an impressive pass breakup in the end zone as Mason tried to make the catch.  Foxworth has been very steady in the secondary, and I am eager to see him play on Thursday night.

Chris Carr picked off Troy Smith this morning during passing drills.  Carr continues to work as the Ravens’ nickleback in passing situations.  He’s only 5-10, but he tends to play with a pretty physical style—a good thing as long as it’s within the rules of the game.

Yamon Figurs beat Evan Oglesby for a long completion from John Beck.  In order for Figurs to make the 53-man roster, he will need to show the same playmaking ability in the four preseason games.

Figurs also got into an altercation with Frank Walker on the sideline during 11-on-11 drills.  Figurs hauled in the pass and was then thrown to the ground by Walker.  The two players took swings at one another, but the fight was quickly separated and cooler heads prevailed.

12:29 p.m. — Ed Reed once again tossed away the red jersey this morning and was sporting the white one like his fellow defensive mates, but don’t read too much into it.  When asked about it, Harbaugh said Reed wears the white during non-contact days, so quarterback Joe Flacco cannot pick him out in the secondary as easily as he does in the red shirt.

Harbaugh would not reveal any new information on Reed’s status, so it’s a mystery whether he’ll play against Washington on Thursday night.

12:24 p.m. — The Ravens continue to run single-back sets with Le’Ron McClain lined up on the wing as a tight end and often going in motion.  I imagine we’ll see this look on Thursday night, especially with Heap’s uncertain status.  McClain has also shown an improved ability to catch passes coming out of the backfield so far this summer.

12:17 p.m. — Harbaugh was very tight-lipped when asked which injured players would play on Thursday night, saying the media could probably figure it out.  With that being said, I would predict we’ll see an offensive line (going left to right) of Oniel Cousins, David Hale, Matt Birk, Chris Chester, and Michael Oher.  Gaither had returned to practice yesterday, but it appears the shoulder/neck is still bothering him, and the team will also bring Yanda along very slowly.  Grubbs may see some reps, but I would think Hale gets most of the time with the starting unit at left guard.

Defensively, we’ll have to wait and see on Pryce’s status, but Dwan Edwards took his place on the defensive line today.  Rookie Paul Kruger will take Terrell Suggs’ spot in the starting lineup, but we’ll see Antwan Barnes get some time at the position.

12:15 p.m. — Despite several players missing practice this morning, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo once again practiced and took reps with the second-team defense.  He has been slowed by a toe injury since the beginning of camp and just recently began working out with the team.  While he’s still not 100 percent, he looks much better moving around on the field than he did last week.

12:11 p.m. — Ravens fans will continue to hold their collective breaths as we wait for further news on Derrick Mason.  Harbaugh did not sound too concerned, but Mason will have an x-ray taken on the finger, and I’ve heard some rumblings about it possibly being dislocated.

If Mason and Williams cannot play on Thursday, the Ravens would likely start Kelley Washington and Justin Harper at wide receiver—a scary proposition if it were the regular season.

12:00 p.m. — If Tuesday’s practice is any indication of who will be suiting up for the Ravens on Thursday night, quite a few players will be missing from the starting lineup.  Jared Gaither, Marshal Yanda, Trevor Pryce, Todd Heap, and Demetrius Williams did not practice this morning.  Heap and Williams were dressed to practice, but they did not participate in any team drills and observed most of the practice from the sidelines.

Cornerback Fabian Washington sat out the latter portion of practice with Frank Walker taking his place in the lineup.  Washington has battled tendinitis in his knee for the last week.

Left guard Ben Grubbs practice and took reps in the early portion of practice, but David Hale took his place on the line, and Grubbs was not present at the end of practice.  It will be interesting to see if Grubbs plays on Thursday night, as he continues to deal with the same ankle issue that landed him on the PUP list at the start of training camp.

11:04 a.m. — John Harbaugh just met with the media and said that Derrick Mason will get his hand X-rayed but he didn’t seem too concerned. More to come…

10:15 a.m. — Derrick Mason just left the field with trainer Bill Tessendorf. He appears to have jammed some fingers on his right hand. More to come…

10:01 a.m. — David Hale also getting reps at left guard. Ravens are going to be careful with Ben Grubbs’ ankle.

9:53 a.m. — Yamon Figurs and Frank Walker get into a little altercation on the sideline after the catch.

9:31 a.m. — Art Donovan, Lenny Moore and some other Baltimore Colts are at camp today. Jonathan Ogden also!

9:18 a.m. — L.J. Smith is taking the first team reps. Todd Heap is dressed to practice but not doing much.

9:10 a.m. — Demetrius Williams is not doing much so far.



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Derrick Mason’s return to Ravens was never in doubt at WNST

Posted on 01 August 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

In what has not been a surprise to us – if you go back to Monday July 13th’s blog vault you’ll see we can confirm this — Derrick Mason will in fact play for the Ravens this season, ending his temporary “retirement” from the Ravens and the NFL.

Three weeks ago, it took us about 45 minutes after Mason announced his “retirement” via his agent’s sports website, to begin predicting that Mason would play in 2009 but somehow it’s a major “news” story today. This was in no way a huge upset/surprise/shocker for anyone using common sense and their “sniffer” for facts.

The amount of money at stake, Mason’s lack of true leverage (he would’ve had to refund money to the Ravens if he didn’t play) and the fact that he attended virtually every camp in the offseason and is in world-class shape all were clues that we would be seeing Mason in a purple sweater on Sept. 13 when the Kansas City Chiefs come to town.

So, while others may take the credit for “breaking” the story today we’ve felt all along that it would be a major upset if Mason didn’t play in 2009.

Just this morning I told a friend that if it were a horse race I’d pay no more than 2-to-5 — or .40 cents — if he winds up playing. Even a bet that bad would’ve been a lousy one!

I’ve been told Mason has had some personal issues he’s had to resolve this summer, even above and beyond his situation with the tragedy of Steve McNair and his own contract-extension wishes.

In the end, this was a bit of a stare down — albeit with complications — about money and reward and desire.

No one sensible really ever expected that Mason wouldn’t play.

It’ll be good to have No. 85 back in the fold.

Here’s what baltimoreravens.com is reporting:

“Mason came to the team’s training camp hotel in Westminster, Md., to meet with general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh.

He also called Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti earlier today to inform him of his decision.

Mason is sending a letter to the NFL stating his intentions.

He will take a physical either later this afternoon or early tomorrow morning.

The Ravens anticipate that Mason will be on the field sometime Sunday, although like all Ravens, he will have to pass a running test.”

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