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McClain’s status still up in air at start of Ravens training camp

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McClain’s status still up in air at start of Ravens training camp

Posted on 23 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Throughout the offseason, the Ravens expressed optimism that inside linebacker Jameel McClain would be ready to play by the start of training camp after suffering a bruised spinal cord that ended his 2012 season prematurely.

A day after the sixth-year linebacker was placed on the physically unable to perform list to begin camp, coach John Harbaugh acknowledged McClain hasn’t progressed as far as doctors anticipated he would by this time, leaving his status in question for the foreseeable future. McClain injured his neck in a loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9 and was placed on injured reserve later in the month.

McClain will turn 28 later this week and was in attendance for most organized team activities in the spring, but was limited to individual work on the side and didn’t take part in team drills.

“Jameel is a tougher one to predict because he’s got the back issue. It’s a spinal cord issue,” Harbaugh said Tuesday on the first day of camp open to media. “So, that just has to heal. Until that heals and we have proof that it’s healed, he’s not going to be out there.”

The top candidates in the inside linebacker mix include second-round selection Arthur Brown, who is fully recovered from sports hernia surgery, and former Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith, who was signed to a one-year deal in early June. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said this spring that McClain would be a starter when healthy but with his slower-than-expected recovery, the Ravens must now look more closely at other options should he not be ready for the start of the season.

McClain started 44 of the 45 games he played over the last three seasons, so the Ravens are still hoping to take advantage of his experience after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Dannell Ellerbe.

“Doctors had anticipated he would be out there at this time,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a little slower than we had hoped. When he’s ready, he’ll be out there. He’s going to continue to take some more tests. He’ll take some more tests [Wednesday], and we’ll have more for you on that on Thursday.”

In addition to McClain, Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was placed on the active PUP list to begin camp as he continues to rehabilitate his surgically-repaired shoulder. Harbaugh said Yanda is “doing great” and will be involved during individual periods and walk-throughs until he’s ready to return to the practice field on a full-time basis.

According to the Baltimore coach, no other players will be placed on the active PUP list due to health concerns, which is good news for cornerback Lardarius Webb after he took part in Tuesday’s practice in a limited role. The fifth-year defensive back worked on a limited basis throughout OTAs after working his way back from last October’s ACL surgery.

“We will bring him along as we see fit, but you saw him out there today,” Harbaugh said. “He’s doing well.”

Defensive tackles Haloti Ngata (knee) and Terrence Cody (hip surgery), linebacker Albert McClellan, and offensive lineman Antoine McClain took part in Tuesday’s practice to varying levels of participation, meaning each will avoid the PUP list after dealing with health concerns in the offseason.

Veteran tight end Ed Dickson was also present and working on Tuesday after he suffered a minor groin strain at the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

Harbaugh didn’t express great concern over wide receiver Jacoby Jones failing the team’s mandatory conditioning test on Monday, but he wasn’t offering any justification for the veteran, who is expected to have the inside track on the starting job opposite Torrey Smith in the first-team offense. Jones will retake the test on Wednesday when the rest of the veterans report to Owings Mills.

“I won’t make any excuses for him,” Harbaugh said. “He should pass it, but he’s battling. We’ll see — it’s up to him. It’s his job to do. That’s the facts. Facts are stubborn things.”

Jones was placed on the non-football injury list on Monday, which is a designation that can be used for any player who fails the conditioning test as well as for those who suffer an injury away from team headquarters.

Tuesday’s practice was reserved for quarterbacks, rookies, and select veterans coming off injuries.

Elam heavier in wallet, lighter on feet

Fresh off officially signing his rookie contract earlier in the week, first-round safety Matt Elam acknowledged he saved “a lot of money” by not hiring an agent to help complete the four-year, $6.767 million contract that includes a team option for a fifth year.

Elam relied on his older brother Abe Elam, who has also played in the NFL, as well as others who offered advice, ranging from those closest to him to attorneys to various NFL players currently in the league. The University of Florida product stands to save roughly $200,000 over the length of the contract by passing on formal representation.

Due to the NFL’s slotting system for rookie contracts, most of the drama has been eliminated from post-draft negotiations after years of holdouts and record-setting deals for top picks.

“I felt like I built the team that helped me learn a lot of things about a contract,” said Elam, who was complimented by Harbaugh for the way he handled negotiations. “I knew all the language and everything about the contract.”

Though Elam gained extra money in his wallet, he elected to drop some weight before the start of training camp to be lighter on his feet as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL.

The 32nd overall pick told reporters he lost eight pounds over the summer and is playing at roughly 200 pounds to begin training camp.

“I just go out there and keep on improving to be the best I can be,” said Elam, who is expected to start at strong safety as a rookie. “People have high expectations for me. They want me to do great things, but I’ve got to live up to my own expectations.”

Flacco candid on first day of camp

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Ravens positional stock report entering training camp

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Ravens positional stock report entering training camp

Posted on 19 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

With players beginning to report to Owings Mills by the end of the weekend and the first full-squad workout less than a week away, training camp signifies the official start of the Ravens’ marathon journey to defend their Super Bowl championship from a year ago.

Coach John Harbaugh will undoubtedly be eager to learn which players report in better shape — Courtney Upshaw, anyone? — and which ones with preexisting injury concerns — Lardarius Webb and Jameel McClain among others — are ready to return to the practice field.

With that in mind, the time for pondering the upcoming season is nearly over as I predict whose stock will rise and which players will fall during camp and the preseason. I’ve made two selections from each position group, with some units obviously being more intriguing than others to watch this summer.

On Friday’s edition of The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction, I provided a more extensive breakdown of the offensive units and defensive units and Drew Forrester offered his own choices. You can listen to those segments HERE and HERE.

QUARTERBACKS
Rising: Joe Flacco
Falling: Caleb Hanie
Tip: The Ravens will rely on their franchise quarterback more heavily than ever in terms of both play on the field and leadership off it as Flacco will be working with the least-experienced group of wideouts he’s seen over his six seasons. Meanwhile, Hanie is the latest contestant in fans’ annual game of “Who Will Unseat Tyrod Taylor as Backup Quarterback?” with which I haven’t been impressed.

RUNNING BACKS
Rising: Bernard Pierce
Falling: Ray Rice
Tip: These choices seem too obvious, but they are simply a product of the Ravens wanting to get Pierce more involved in the offense while keeping Rice fresh for the latter portion of the season. The veteran will remain the feature back and Pierce the change of pace, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Rice receives fewer carries than in past years while posting a career high in receptions this season.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Rising: Torrey Smith
Falling: Jacoby Jones
Tip: We’ve discussed the merits of such names as Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson ad nauseam, but Smith becoming a receiver capable of making 70 or more receptions would be far more significant than predicting which other young receiver might make more than a token contribution on the field. Much has been made by Jones’ improved footwork from his time spent dancing this offseason, but I just don’t see him showing enough versatility to be an every-down receiver in the Baltimore offense.

TIGHT ENDS
Rising: Dennis Pitta
Falling: Billy Bajema
Tip: It will be fascinating to see how much offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell elects to use Pitta out of the slot and how that might impact his production as well as Ed Dickson as they approach unrestricted free agency next winter. Meanwhile, Bajema will have a tough time beating out Maryland product Matt Furstenburg and 2012 practice-squad member Alex Silvestro for the third tight end spot.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Rising: Kelechi Osemele
Falling: Bryant McKinnie
Tip: Entering his second year and finally able to focus on the left guard position, Osemele has made the free-agent departure of Ben Grubbs a distant memory, hasn’t he? I don’t anticipate McKinnie having any real issues in terms of his work ethic or keeping his starting job, but many have glossed over the reality that he’ll turn 34 early in September and has never been a very strong run blocker, two realities that are likely to be exposed over a 16-game schedule.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Rising: Chris Canty
Falling: Terrence Cody
Tip: One of the most overlooked aspects of the Ravens’ defensive struggles last season was the inability to find a suitable replacement for Cory Redding, which Canty will bring as an effective 5-technique player this season. Cody appears to be the easy choice in this unit after he was sidelined this spring while recovering from hip surgery and will be pushed by rookie nose tackle Brandon Williams in the defensive line rotation.

LINEBACKERS
Rising: Arthur Brown
Falling: Jameel McClain
Tip: With Brown expected to be 100 percent after undergoing sports hernia surgery this spring, he will have every chance to win one of the starting inside linebacker jobs. The Ravens and McClain have said all the right things in being optimistic that he’ll be cleared to play, but I remain skeptical until that day actually arrives and others such as veteran Daryl Smith and the emerging Josh Bynes will have the opportunity to close the gap in the meantime.

CORNERBACKS
Rising: Jimmy Smith
Falling: Chykie Brown
Tip: After two disappointing campaigns to begin his NFL career, Smith will finally start to show more consistency at the cornerback position and he’ll need it to unseat Corey Graham as a starter opposite Lardarius Webb. Brown will remain a strong special-teams player, but his opportunities in the nickel package will dwindle with Webb and Smith both healthy this year.

SAFETIES
Rising: Matt Elam
Falling: Christian Thompson
Tip: The first-round pick Elam may not be a Pro Bowl player, but his skills in pass coverage to go along with his physicality will be an upgrade over Bernard Pollard in the Baltimore secondary. It didn’t speak well for Thompson, a 2012 fourth-round pick, that the Ravens drafted a safety in the first round, re-signed James Ihedigbo, and signed veteran Michael Huff in the offseason and that’s not even taking into account his four-game suspension to start the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

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Ravens agree to four-year deal with first-round safety Elam

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Ravens agree to four-year deal with first-round safety Elam

Posted on 18 July 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

With rookies scheduled to report to Owings Mills for the start of training camp on Sunday, the Ravens announced Thursday that they’ve agreed in principle to a four-year deal with first-round safety Matt Elam.

The contract will be officially signed when Elam arrives at the team’s facility along with the rest of the rookie class, quarterbacks, and injured veterans on Sunday. The 32nd overall pick from the University of Florida, Elam is the last of the Ravens’ 10 draft picks to ink his contract.

His deal includes an option for a fifth year and was never considered in doubt to be completed by the start of camp with the NFL’s slotting system that’s eliminated the past drama of rookie signings since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed two summers ago. Elam didn’t hire an agent, instead relying on his older brother and veteran NFL safety Abram Elam and other advisors for guidance in completing the rookie deal.

The slotted amount for the 32nd pick of the draft is worth a total of $6.767 million over the four years and includes a $3.3 million signing bonus. Elam’s 2013 cap number is projected to be $1.231 million.

The 5-foot-10, 210-pound safety is expected to compete with veteran James Ihedigbo for the starting strong safety job next to free-agent acquisition Michael Huff in the revamped Baltimore secondary. Elam played in 39 career games for the Gators, starting his final 26 contests and collecting 176 tackles, six interceptions, 24 tackles for a loss, and five sacks.

“We’re both interchangeable,” Huff said during spring organized team activities. “We can both play strong safety, free safety, we can both play the nickel. We can do it all, so that way, offenses don’t know who’s doing what before the snap. I think it will help the defense.”

While Huff faces the difficult task of following in the footsteps of future Hall of Famer Ed Reed at free safety, Elam is expected to bring a physical presence similar to departed strong safety Bernard Pollard, who punished opponents with big hits and often played closer to the line of scrimmage.

In his final season in Gainesville as a junior, Elam became the second safety in school history to be named a first-team All-American, with Reggie Nelson being the first in 2006.

In April, Elam became the ninth defensive player to be selected in the first round by general manager Ozzie Newsome in the 18-year history of the franchise. He will join linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and cornerback Jimmy Smith as former first-round picks selected by Baltimore who are on the current defense.

As the first of four straight defensive players — second-round inside linebacker Arthur Brown, third-round nose tackle Brandon Williams, and fourth-round outside linebacker John Simon being the others — to be selected by the Ravens at the head of their 2013 draft class, Elam understands expectations will be high to continue the tradition of great Baltimore defense despite an offseason full of changes.

“I don’t want anything given, because if it’s given, it’s not earned,” Elam said in late April. “With two great safeties leaving, I feel like it’s a great opportunity for me to come in and keep on improving and do the great things that they did and win championships and win games.”

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Which Ravens Rookie Will Have the Biggest Impact in 2013?

Posted on 11 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

The Ravens aced the 2013 NFL Draft. They added many talented, hard working players to the team. Many of these talented rookies are competing for jobs and all of them may get a chance to see the field in 2013.

But let me start off by clarifying the usage of impact in the title. Impact, to me, does not mean projecting or looking at the stat sheet. One’s impact can reach far greater than the stat sheet. Doesn’t that sound like the job description of a nose tackle?

Enter Brandon Williams. Williams was drafted 94th overall in the 2013 draft and was brought to Baltimore to help improve the interior of the Ravens defense. The former Missouri Southern State Lion is a small school prospect who will compete with Terrence Cody for the starting nose tackle spot.

Cody had a rough 2012 season. He was consistently thrown around at the line of scrimmage and showed little power in the upper or lower body. As a result, the Ravens defense suffered immensely. The unit finished 17th in total defense but it seemed worse than that.

Ma’ake Kemoeatu was signed by the Ravens in the offseason and played well in stretches but was also pushed around on a routine basis. For a three-four defense to function properly, the nose tackle must eat up blockers at the line of scrimmage. Neither Cody or Kemoeatu were able to keep blockers off linebackers which in turn impacted the entire defense.

Brandon Williams may be a rookie but he is a better option than Cody at this point. There was been talk about using Haloti Ngata at nose tackle but Ngata’s real strength lies in his versatility to lineup anywhere along the line of scrimmage.

The thought of Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata playing together is awesome. Together, they block out the sun and will be able to keep blockers off the Ravens young linebackers.

Sure, there are other rookies like Matt Elam and Arthur Brown who have the opportunity to start but the nose tackle position is what makes a three-four defense work. If the nose tackle struggles, the entire defense struggles.

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Harbaugh looking forward to seeing McKinnie go to work

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Harbaugh looking forward to seeing McKinnie go to work

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the day when the Ravens were wrapping up their mandatory rookie minicamp, coach John Harbaugh answered questions about the return of his starting left tackle and oldest player on the roster.

After agreeing to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $7 million to remain in Baltimore on Thursday, Bryant McKinnie, 33, is expected to come to town this week to finalize the contract and begin offseason workouts. His return means the Ravens have now retained four of five starters from their Super Bowl XLVII offensive line, with only 15-year veteran Matt Birk departing due to retirement.

The Ravens had publicly entertained thoughts of moving second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele to left tackle, but a new contract for McKinnie means Baltimore can keep Osemele at left guard, solidifying another position that would have been a question mark had the 2012 second-round pick made the position change.

“Having Bryant back is a big plus for us. We were hoping that would be the case,” Harbaugh said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him next week and getting him in here and going to work. We want our line to be as strong as it can possibly be and that makes us stronger.”

Harbaugh, run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, and other members of the organization kept in touch with McKinnie throughout the offseason, even when it appeared they had little interest in bringing back the 2002 first-round pick. The Ravens’ involvement in negotiating with McKinnie spiked after they were unable to come away with a left tackle of the future in last weekend’s draft and saw San Diego and Miami make contract offers to his agent Michael George.

Asked if he’s been pleased with what McKinnie has told him in terms of his activity and conditioning level this offseason, Harbaugh spoke in generic terms since he hasn’t seen the left tackle since the end of last season. Specific details of McKinnie’s deal hadn’t been reported as of Sunday afternoon, but it’s believed there will be some incentives related to workouts and playing time.

There was plenty of speculation that McKinnie found his way into Harbaugh’s doghouse last season as he didn’t start a game until the playoffs, but the Baltimore coach reached out to the 354-pound lineman earlier this offseason to make it known that he wanted McKinnie to stay with the Ravens in 2013.

“I’m always pleased with conversations with Bryant McKinnie,” Harbaugh said. “I enjoy talking to Bryant. He’s one of my favorite guys. He’s a sterling conversationalist. We talk a lot about stuff, a lot of different things — a broad range of topics. I always enjoy that. I think he does as well.”

Spagnuolo’s role a work in progress

Sunday marked the first time Harbaugh commented publicly on the hiring of former St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo as a senior defensive assistant, and it appears his role will remain fluid as the offseason moves into training camp and the start of the regular season.

The pair spent seven seasons working together as assistants for the Philadelphia Eagles before Spagnuolo moved on to become the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and ultimately the head coach in St. Louis from 2009 through 2011. Spagnuolo spent last season as the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints but was fired after his unit finished last in yards allowed and 31st in points surrendered.

“His accomplishments speak for themselves. I think it adds to an already very strong staff and just makes us that much better,” Harbaugh said. “The more great coaches and great players that we can build into what we’re doing, the better we’re going to be. He’ll build into the defensive side, he’ll assist where needed, and I think we’ll build that in as we go. He can really work with any position, so it’s a big plus for us.”

Given the 53-year-old Spagnuolo’s impressive resume aside from working with an overmatched New Orleans defense a year ago, it will be interesting to see how closely he works with defensive coordinator Dean Pees and whether his longstanding relationship with Harbaugh may put him in line to be the eventual replacement for the 63-year-old.

Elam impresses early

Sunday offered the media’s first glimpse at first-round safety Matt Elam in a Ravens uniform and the University of Florida product didn’t disappoint, showing good speed and nearly picking off a pass during 11-on-11 drills.

Harbaugh even pointed to some of the leadership traits Elam exuded with the Gators that already were carrying over to the practice field in Owings Mills this weekend.

“Matt really picked things up quickly. He really did a nice job of communicating in the back end, which is not usual for a rookie,” Harbaugh said. “Most rookie defensive backs — even all defensive players — have a tough time with the communication part of it because they’re not confident enough to make the calls. He’s smart. He picked it up quickly, he jumped right back there and made the calls with force and played fast. He looked good.”

Odds & ends

Sunday featured an impressive moment for the Towson Tigers football program as quarterback Grant Enders — invited to try out this weekend — connected with wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard on the final play of Sunday’s practice. However, Enders was also the quarterback nearly picked off by Elam in 11-on-11 drills. “Enders and Sheppard looked really good in this camp,” Harbaugh said. “They are NFL-quality guys.” … Former Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg caught a touchdown from University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, who also tried out this weekend. … Second-round linebacker Arthur Brown of Kansas State showed impressive quickness dropping into coverage and blanketed running backs and tight ends running routes on a handful of plays. … Harbaugh said the Ravens are interested in bringing in another kicker who can handle punting and placekicking duties to share reps with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch during training camp.

 

 

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Ravens assigning numbers, handing out contracts to rookies

Posted on 02 May 2013 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens welcoming their new batch of rookies to Owings Mills for their mandatory minicamp this weekend, they got down to business with signing some of their 10 draft picks from the Class of 2013.

The drama of rookie contracts has largely been eliminated since the introduction of a new system with the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, so signings have become mere formalities with holdouts and delayed negotiating now things of the past. The contracts of drafted rookie players are set at four years — first-round contracts contain an option for a fifth season — with rookie free agents receiving three-year contracts. While contract figures aren’t slotted with a fixed amount, each team is given a rookie cap figure by which to abide.

According to The Sun, the Ravens have reached four-year agreements with fourth-round fullback Kyle Juszczyk, fifth-round offensive lineman Ricky Wagner, sixth-round defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, sixth-round center Ryan Jensen, seventh-round wide receiver Aaron Mellette, and seventh-round cornerback Marc Anthony.

In addition to handing out contracts to six of their 10 draft choices, the Ravens officially assigned jersey numbers to each player and can be seen below:

S Matt Elam – No. 31
LB Arthur Brown – No. 59
NT Brandon Williams – No. 98
LB John Simon – No. 47
FB Kyle Juszczyk – No. 40
OL Ricky Wagner – No. 71
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore – No. 67
C Ryan Jensen – No. 77
WR Aaron Mellette – No. 80
CB Marc Anthony – No. 36

The Ravens have also issued No. 51 to troubled linebacker Rolando McClain, which will lead many to wonder whether we’ll actually see the 23-year-old linebacker suit up in Baltimore. The second-round selection of Brown certainly clouded McClain’s future even more than it already was following an arrest two weekends ago.

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Ten thoughts on Ravens’ 2013 draft picks

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Ten thoughts on Ravens’ 2013 draft picks

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Because I refuse to put a grade on a draft that needs a couple years in order to truly be evaluated, I instead offer a thought on each of the 10 selections the Ravens made in the 2013 NFL Draft this weekend.

Some are serious, others are not, and you can guarantee you won’t find a silly letter grade attached to any of them.

1. Round 1 – S Matt Elam, Florida
Thought: The Ravens are over the moon for Elam, but you do wonder if his propensity for the big hit will draw untimely penalties in the same way Bernard Pollard would.

2. Round 2 – LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Thought: No one will ever be Ray Lewis, but Brown’s skill set provides the Ravens with a complete linebacker who’s strong in pass coverage, something they were severely lacking.

3. Round 3 – DT Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State
Thought: It’s great that the 335-pounder can walk on his hands, but that act of athleticism is too reminiscent of Kyle Boller being able to throw a football through the uprights while on a knee at the 50 for me to really care.

4. Round 4 – DE John Simon, Ohio State
Thought: The Jarret Johnson comparisons have already been made, but did Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer mean “John” or “Simon” when he said he’d name his son after the new Ravens outside linebacker?

5. Round 4 – FB Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard
Thought: General manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t dismiss the idea that the Ravens could keep both Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach and Juszczyk on the 53-man roster this year, but it wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the idea either.

6. Round 5 – OL Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
Thought: The Ravens technically drafted a left tackle on Saturday, but Wagner’s feet aren’t quick enough for the position at the next level, meaning he’ll likely find a home at guard or right tackle with the Ravens.

7. Round 6 – DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame
Thought: Still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the BCS title game, Lewis-Moore is one to watch for 2014 after being a co-captain and four-year starter for the Fighting Irish.

8. Round 6 – C Ryan Jensen, Colorado State-Pueblo
Thought: Raise your hand if you had never even heard of Colorado State-Pueblo — who brought back football in 2008 after a 24-year hiatus — let alone this offensive lineman prior to Saturday afternoon.

9. Round 7 – WR Aaron Mellette, Elon
Thought: You’ll continually be reminded he’s a seventh-round pick from an FCS school, but it’s difficult not to be intrigued with the 6-foot-2, 217-pound frame and eye-popping production (210 catches and 30 touchdowns in the last two seasons).

10. Round 7 – CB Marc Anthony, California
Thought: You have to feel good for Anthony making it to the NFL after putting up with years of jokes about Cleopatra, Jennifer Lopez, and being a Grammy award-winning singer.

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Even with questions, it’s easy to root for new Ravens safety Elam

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Even with questions, it’s easy to root for new Ravens safety Elam

Posted on 26 April 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens appear absolutely thrilled with their first-round selection Matt Elam of Florida.

The 21-year-old safety was a player the Ravens had been targeting all along to add to their defense, but Elam’s addition doesn’t come without questions. His 5-foot-10 height isn’t ideal for matching up with the monstrous tight ends taking over the NFL and his brutally-physical style of play will make some wonder if he’s a young version of Bernard Pollard — complete with the propensity for drawing flags — but a deeper look into his history and motivation for landing where he is today makes him easy to root for.

Dealing with the murder of his 12-year-old sister when he was 8 and then coping with an older brother facing the same fate less than a decade later would have been enough to send just about anyone down the wrong path. Instead, Elam channeled that emotion to work even harder to realize his dream of playing in the NFL.

“It was just me understanding that I’m tired of the frowns and the tears and the funerals and things like that,” said Elam, who grew up in a rough neighborhood in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.. “I was like, ‘I’m going to turn this around. I’m going to do this the right way. I’m going to turn the frowns into smiles. I’m going to make sure my family is happy. I’m going to make sure the happiness overcomes all the tragedy and adversity.”

A decision by his mother to send Elam to another school — he attended William T. Dwyer High in West Palm Beach — to avoid getting in trouble also aided as he eventually enjoyed a standout career with the Gators and was selected with the 32nd overall pick of the NFL Draft on Thursday night. The positive influence of his older brother and current NFL player Abe also kept Elam focused on improving his life and bringing that joy to his family.

It makes his slight stature and questions about his pass coverage seem a little less important as no one really knows how Elam’s skill set in the SEC will translate to Sundays in the NFL. The Ravens seem convinced that it will.

Elam seems to hope you’ll doubt him after he admits having a chip on his shoulder after two safeties — Kenny Vaccaro of Texas and Eric Reid of LSU — were taken before him in the first round. His background makes it easy to see how he might use such perceived slights as motivation.

“A lot of kids my age that have been through the same thing lost siblings and took it negatively and didn’t use it as motivation [or] make it positive,” Elam said. “I used it as positive energy and things like that. I feel like it helped me, growing through that thing helped me.”

His heartfelt story aside, it’s fair to ask questions about Elam’s height as he’ll occasionally be matched up with receivers or tight ends more than a half-foot taller than him. Elam displayed good ball skills in college and appeared competent in coverage when he wasn’t playing in the box to stop the run.

It remains to be seen how the Ravens will use him as defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Elam will be asked to learn both safety positions as well as the nickel spot for certain packages. He could emerge as a Swiss army knife that the Ravens can use all over the field, but it’s clear his physicality stands out, evident by the highlight-reel hits he turned in on a weekly basis in Gainesville.

“The guy can run, the guy can cover, and — most of all — he can hit,” Pees said. “What I like most about him watching him on film is there is a dying art in college football in the secondary, and it’s called tackling. This guy has that heart.”

That description will immediately make Ravens fans think of Pollard, who was popular for his violent collisions but also guilty of infractions with the NFL’s commitment to cracking down on blows to the head of defenseless receivers. Pro football is a changing game and there is at least some question whether Elam’s wild-man approach will sit well with officials and commissioner Roger Goodell.

However, the Ravens don’t seem too concerned and Elam believes he is fundamentally sound with his approach to attacking would-be receivers and ball carriers.

“I feel like I won’t let up a bit. I’ll just rely on my technique,” Elam said. “Like I said, I’ll improve every day in practice, and I feel like it won’t be a problem. I’ll rely on my technique. It won’t slow me down a bit.”

The truth is no one really knows whether Elam will emerge as the next great safety in the Baltimore secondary or simply become a solid defensive back with limitations due to height and a reputation for going overboard in the same way Pollard did. His cover skills looked strong enough in small doses at Florida, but will he be able to hang with tight ends and wide receivers that look like power forwards at the next level?

That remains to be seen, but the simple fact that Elam sat in front of media and answered questions about his NFL career was a victory in and of itself after everything he’s been through.

It would have been easy to take his life in a darker direction, but Elam elected to push past tragedy and attack his goals in the same way he does the opposition. With that in mind, the questions he faces seem quite trivial.

But Elam is taking nothing for granted with his opportunity to join the defending Super Bowl champions.

“Growing up, I had to work through things,” Elam said. “My parents and my brother always made me work at it – made me earn things. Like I said, I don’t want anything given, because if it’s given, it’s not earned.”

 

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Let’s just call this “Matt Elam Web Junk”

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Let’s just call this “Matt Elam Web Junk”

Posted on 26 April 2013 by Glenn Clark

As we get to know the Baltimore Ravens’ first round pick (#32 overall), Florida S Matt Elam, there’s a lot of fun stuff to be found.

I’d first suggest you click over here for a good compilation of Elam highlights we found on YouTube in order to get a better feel for the former UF strong safety as a player. I would also suggest you read this VERY significant longform story from Fox Sports Florida about the amount of tragedy Elam has had to overcome in his life and why he wore #22 in Gainesville.

Perhaps the best Matt Elam-related image I can share is this GIF of him celebrating teammate Louchiez Purifoy by…well…tackling him?

My next favorite Elam GIF would be this interaction with LSU WR Odell Beckham after a hard hit. Elam thought he hit Beckham with the CM Punk-style “Go To Sleep”, but Beckham hit right back with the John Cena “You Can’t See Me”.

I was a bit stunned that I couldn’t find a GIF of Elam’s HUGE hit on Louisville RB Jeremy Wright in the Gators’ Sugar Bowl loss. So I quickly made one.

Elam showed his fire against Florida State, where apparently there is a good amount of history of bad blood.

Elam is on Twitter (@ElamVsElo). Unfortunately the first Tweet he sent after being picked by the Ravens didn’t tell us anything other than the fact that he is doing some promotional work with Tide. (Elam did hold a conference call with the Baltimore media that you can hear here.)

There is some other gold over at Elam’s Twitter account however. From the world of “more random than Random House” category, Elam had a Draft party scheduled for Friday night in Palm Springs with fellow former Gator Jon Bostic and…former Towson Safety Jordan Dangerfield??? (We’re guessing he might not make the party…he’s scheduled to be introduced to the Charm City media at a 3pm press conference Friday.)

Elam made an appearance on the NFL Network show “NFL AM” ahead of the NFL Draft. While he was there he hung out with teammate-to-be Jacoby Jones and former Ravens CB Deion Sanders…

A Florida fan made an Elam meme that we’re certainly hoping will be true in his NFL career…

Elam is already receiving praise from Brian Billick, a man who knows a thing or two about drafting a good safety.

Ravens fans might also be surprised to see that even ESPN’s Skip Bayless (who many Baltimoreans view as a nemesis) is on board with the Elam pick.

Here’s some REALLY high praise of Elam from CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco.

That’s probably about it for tonight. I’m sure we’ll find more tomorrow. Thanks for playing along and welcome to Charm City, Matt.

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Ravens select Florida safety Elam with 32nd pick of first round

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Ravens select Florida safety Elam with 32nd pick of first round

Posted on 25 April 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Addressing one of their biggest needs with the final pick of the first round, the Ravens chose Florida safety Matt Elam with their first selection the 2013 NFL Draft.

Elam played strong safety as a two-year starter for the Gators but is considered versatile with his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage in run support as well as the necessary agility and speed to match up in pass coverage. General manager Ozzie Newsome said Elam not only addressed a need but was the highest-remaining player on the Ravens’ draft board.

“I think I’m going to bring a lot of competitiveness,” Elam said in a conference call with local media. “I’m going to bring a lot of energy. I know they’re expecting me to do great things. I’m going to work hard.”

Elam says he’s admired the Ravens over the years while following the Hall of Fame career of Ed Reed, who signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent earlier this offseason. However, he admitted he didn’t expect to wind up in Baltimore after the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals showed plenty of interest in the weeks leading up to the draft.

The 21-year-old told reporters he met with the Ravens’ brass at the scouting combine in February but did not have a private workout or visit with Baltimore. The Ravens had extra knowledge of Elam as current secondary coach Teryl Austin served as the Gators’ defensive coordinator during the safety’s freshman year in 2010.

Despite inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Kevin Minter both being available, the Ravens tabbed Elam as their first-round pick shortly before midnight on Thursday evening. Newsome told reporters following the first round that the Ravens had some conversations earlier in the evening about moving up or even trading out of the round, but the phones were silent when they were on the clock and they ultimately stayed put after trading their original first-round pick in two of the previous three drafts.

“The thing that we all like about Matt is the speed,” Newsome said. “He’s probably one of the better tacklers that we’ve seen play the position. The other thing is he enjoys practicing and enjoys playing football.”

He is the second safety to be taken in the team’s first-round history — Reed was selected with the 24th overall pick of the 2002 draft — and both hailed from schools in the state of Florida.

At 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, Elam does not possess great height, but his physicality and instincts caused many draft experts to link him with the Ravens as a good fit. His 4.54-second 40-yard dash time suggests he has enough speed to match up against tight ends and receivers lined up in the slot as well as to play effectively in deep zone coverage.

“I just feel like my size really doesn’t matter, because when you turn on the film, I’m a great competitor,” Elam said. “I am flying around, I am hitting guys, I am hitting guys bigger than me, so I feel like size really doesn’t matter. I feel like [if] you turn on the film, it tells it all. I feel like I competed well, and I will compete well because of the heart I have and how I work.”

In his final two seasons at Florida, Elam collected 154 tackles, including 22 behind the line of scrimmage, and six interceptions. He became only the second safety in school history to be named first-team All-American by the Associated Press in 2012, joining Reggie Nelson (2006). Elam was also a unanimous first-team all-SEC selection as a junior last season.

Elam was regarded by most as a mid-to-late first-round selection with his slight stature being his only clear drawback. He is used to the limelight after being recruited by the Gators as the top high school safety in the country in 2009.

“I talked to my wife this afternoon and she said, ‘Who do you hope to get?’ and [my answer] was Matt Elam,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I couldn’t be more excited about it. He’s just a good guy who loves ball and he just can’t wait to get started.”

Safety became one of the Ravens’ greatest positional needs following the decision to release strong safety Bernard Pollard and the free-agent departure of Reed. Elam is expected be paired with free-agent pickup Michael Huff as the starting safeties for the Baltimore defense.

While the departures of Reed and Pollard were unpopular, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the Ravens have upgraded their pass coverage in the back end of the secondary, which was considered a priority despite winning the Super Bowl. Elam may not bring an intimidation factor to the same degree as Pollard, but his skills in pass coverage could mean an immediate upgrade with more upside for the long haul.

The story of Elam’s journey to the NFL is heartbreaking but inspiring as the Florida native has overcome the tragic murders of two siblings — his 12-year-old sister when he was only 8 and an older brother in 2008 — as well as the death of his father in 2011. He wore No. 22 at Florida because it was his late sister’s favorite number.

Elam’s older brother Abe has played in the NFL with Dallas, the New York Jets, Cleveland, and Kansas City.

 

 

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