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Ravens place tenders on restricted free agents Webb, C. Williams, Ellerbe

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:55 p.m.)

With free agency set to begin at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the Ravens have tendered contracts to restricted free-agent cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams.

As anticipated, Webb will receive a first-round tender at a rate of approximately $2.74 million in an effort to keep the fourth-year cornerback in Baltimore for the 2012 season while a long-term extension is explored. Two years removed from a torn ACL suffered late in his rookie season, Webb had a team-high five interceptions during the regular season and grabbed three more in the Ravens’ two playoff games.

Williams will receive the second-round tender, which would pay him approximately $1.92 million for the 2012 season. Arguably the biggest surprise of the 2011 season, the former Tennessee Titans practice squad member started all 16 games at cornerback and recorded 77 tackles and 18 pass breakups.

Under the rules of restricted free agency, other teams may negotiate with each player and sign either to an offer sheet. However, the Ravens would then have one week to match the offer or to refuse and receive the corresponding draft pick matched with the tender originally offered to the player.

Much speculation persists that the New England Patriots, who own two first-round picks, could pursue Webb in free agency, but Monday’s move guarantees the Ravens would receive a first-round pick if they would choose not to match any potential offer made to the starting cornerback.

According to the Carroll County Times, the Ravens have also placed a second-round tender on linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and have elected not to tender oft-injured running back Matt Lawrence, who spent the last two seasons on injured reserve.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the fate of Ravens’ free agents

Posted on 08 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 12 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and seven exclusive rights free agents.

As of Thursday afternoon, the 2012 salary cap had yet to be set, but most reports indicate it will remain right around the $120 million used for the 2011 season. The Ravens are projected to have somewhere between $11 and $12 million in cap space, depending on what the final cap number will be.

Franchise tag

RB Ray Rice: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement with Rice or he will play for the $7.7 million salary mandated by the franchise tag for running backs.

Unrestricted free agents

G Ben Grubbs: LEAVES
Skinny: General manager Ozzie Newsome expressed optimism at the NFL Combine, but the Ravens won’t engage in a bidding war when Grubbs hits the open market. 

C Matt Birk: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens will meet with Birk’s agent Joe Linta next week and could sign the veteran to a cap-friendly, short-term deal to finish his career in Baltimore. 

LB Jarret Johnson: LEAVES
Skinny: Despite little depth at outside linebacker, the Ravens appear ready to move on and won’t be able to afford Johnson in a thin market for linebackers. 

LB Jameel McClain: LEAVES
Skinny: Assuming the Ravens do not strike a deal for Grubbs, some of that money could be allocated to retain McClain, but other teams historically throw too much money at Baltimore linebackers in the open market. 

DE Cory Redding: STAYS
Skinny: Though third-year defensive lineman Arthur Jones could step into the starting lineup, Redding might have more value to the Ravens than other potential suitors at this stage in his career. 

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo: STAYS
Skinny: With the lack of depth at inside linebacker and Ayanbadejo’s ability in pass coverage, the Ravens will hold onto the 35-year-old at a lower rate than the four-year contract he signed with the team in 2008. 

S Tom Zbikowski: LEAVES
Skinny: After four years serving primarily as a backup, the former Notre Dame product is looking for an opportunity to start elsewhere and doesn’t bring enough to the table as a special teams player to warrant overpaying. 

S Haruki Nakamura: STAYS
Skinny: In the same position as Zbikowski, Nakamura’s versatility as a defensive back as well as his special teams prowess will force the Ravens to pony up a little extra to keep him in Baltimore. 

OL Andre Gurode: LEAVES
Skinny: With the Ravens looking to select an interior lineman or two in April’s draft, the five-time Pro Bowl center will continue his career elsewhere. 

DT Brandon McKinney: STAYS
Skinny: A solid member of the defensive line rotation, McKinney won’t figure to draw a ton of interest on the open market, and the Ravens want to maintain their depth up front. 

TE Kris Wilson: LEAVES
Skinny: Adding a veteran tight end was a shrewd move after Todd Heap’s release last season, but Wilson’s spot will be assumed by a younger, cheaper option. 

LB Edgar Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: Injuries opened the door for Jones’ return last season, but he wouldn’t figure to fit into the team’s plans for the 2012 season. 

Restricted free agents

(The Ravens can offer a first-round, second-round, or low tender to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted.)

CB Lardarius Webb: STAYS
Skinny: Webb will receive the first-round tender worth roughly $2.75 million as the Ravens will explore a long-term agreement with the fourth-year cornerback. 

CB Cary Williams: STAYS
Skinny: A report indicated the Ravens will offer Williams a first-round tender, but the second-round designation (an estimated $1.9 million) saves money and would still deter teams from trying to pry away the biggest surprise of the 2011 season.

LB Dannell Ellerbe: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens could roll the dice and offer the low tender ($1.25 million) to the inconsistent linebacker, but that would mean they wouldn’t receive a pick (Ellerbe was an undrafted free agent) if they declined to match a potential offer sheet.

RB Matt Lawrence: LEAVES
Skinny: Even with little depth at running back behind Ray Rice, there’s no way to justify even offering the low tender to the oft-injured running back entering his fourth season.

Exclusive rights free agents

(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

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Sizing up the Ravens’ 2012 free-agent class

Posted on 26 January 2012 by Luke Jones

In the aftermath of the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship on Sunday, the finality of the season coming to an abrupt end was accompanied by the all-too-familiar feeling knowing that same team will never be together again.

The reality of the NFL’s offseason brings substantial change to all 32 teams — some more than others — and forces players to say goodbye to others for the final time as teammates.

“It’s tough to really think about that,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know which guys it’s going to be, so it’s tough to be in our shoes and go through that. You finally just take it for what it is, and before you know it, you hope you had a good relationship with everybody on the team and said as much as you could say to that guy. We hope we can bring as many people back as we can.”

While other moves will be made — cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans are the strongest candidates to be cut despite being under contract for the 2012 season — the Ravens have 13 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and four exclusive-rights free agents entering the offseason. I’ve included the entire list with a brief thought on each player’s potential future in Baltimore.

Two dates to keep in mind as the offseason begins are the March 5 deadline to designate a franchise player and the start of free agency on March 13 at 4:00 p.m.

Unrestricted free agents

RB Ray Rice
2011 stats: 16 starts, 2,068 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns
Skinny: Rice isn’t going anywhere as the Ravens will either use their franchise tag on the Pro Bowl back or sign him to a long-term deal, though the latter would certainly create more cap space for 2012.

G Ben Grubbs
2011 stats: 10 starts, first Pro Bowl selection
Skinny: The Ravens clearly would like to bring the left guard back, but with Marshal Yanda receiving a sizable deal a few months ago, can the organization afford to invest so much money in the guard position?

C Matt Birk
2011 stats: 16 starts
Skinny: After 14 seasons in the league, Birk may decide to retire, but the Ravens could elect to go with the slightly-younger Andre Gurode or look to the draft for the center position.

LB Jarret Johnson
2011 stats: 16 starts, 56 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks
Skinny: With Johnson on the wrong side of 30, it might be time to part ways with the veteran linebacker, but the Ravens lack a logical replacement on the current roster with the disappointing development of 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle and the limitations of pass rusher Paul Kruger.

LB Jameel McClain
2011 stats: 16 starts, 81 tackles, one sack, one interception
Skinny: The former undrafted free agent credits Ray Lewis for his growth, so you have to wonder if McClain becomes the next Baltimore linebacker to receive an inflated contract elsewhere.

DE Cory Redding
2011 stats: 15 games (11 starts), 43 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks
Skinny: Before an ankle injury slowed Redding over the final month of 2011, he was having his best season in years, but the Ravens could elect to go with younger — and cheaper — defensive lineman Arthur Jones at this position.

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo
2011 stats: 16 games, 27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, nine special teams tackles
Skinny: The 35-year-old intends to play in 2012 and expects to be back with the Ravens, but the nickel linebacker may not be on the same page as Baltimore in terms of a contract to make his return feasible.

S Tom Zbikowski
2011 stats: 14 games (four starts), 16 tackles, one sack
Skinny: Largely a forgotten man after Bernard Pollard wrestled away the strong safety job early in the season, it appears Zbikowski will likely try to find a new home where he can start.

S Haruki Nakamura
2011 stats: 15 games, three tackles, nine special-teams tackles
Skinny: In a similar position to Zbikowski, the Ravens will likely make a harder push to keep Nakamura due to his exceptional ability as as special teams player.

OL Andre Gurode
2011 stats: 13 games (five starts)
Skinny: Signed as an insurance policy behind Matt Birk, the 10-year veteran wound up being needed at left guard for an injured Grubbs and could be the short-term replacement at center next season.

DT Brandon McKinney
2011 stats: 12 games, 14 tackles
Skinny: A regular part of the rotation along the defensive line, it’s hard to envision teams beating down McKinney’s door, but the Ravens may try to go younger and cheaper than the six-year veteran.

TE Kris Wilson
2011 stats: 15 games, four special teams tackles
Skinny: His touchdown catch in the divisional round was his claim to fame, but the veteran’s competent special teams ability may not be enough to keep him in Baltimore next season.

LB Edgar Jones
2011 stats: nine games, three special teams tackles
Skinny: Though he was active all nine games after being signed in early November, there’s a reason why Jones was unemployed when the Ravens were looking for special-teams depth.

Restricted free agents
(The Ravens can offer a tender attached to a draft pick and then have the right to match any offer from an opposing team and would receive that team’s draft pick if they choose not to match it.)

CB Lardarius Webb
2011 stats: 16 games (15 starts), 68 tackles, five interceptions, sack
Skinny: With another season like he had in 2011, Webb will be looking for a large payday and deservedly so.

CB Cary Williams
2011 stats: 16 starts, 77 tackles, two forced fumbles
Skinny: Easily the most pleasant surprise on the Baltimore defense, Williams will battle 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith for a starting corner job in training camp.

LB Dannell Ellerbe
2011 stats: nine games (three starts), 17 tackles
Skinny: The third-year linebacker always leaves you wanting more but could find himself in position to compete for a starting role depending on how the Ravens address the inside linebacker position this offseason.

RB Matt Lawrence
2011 stats: Did not play (injured reserve)
Skinny: Though a competent special-teams player when he’s been healthy in his three-year career, you have to think the Ravens are ready to cut ties with the injury-plagued back.

Exclusive-rights free agents
(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

LS Morgan Cox
2011 stats: 16 games
Skinny: There’s no reason to think the Ravens are displeased with Cox’s performance as the long snapper.

CB Danny Gorrer
2011 stats: 11 games, three tackles, four pass breakups
Skinny: Considering he was pushing Chris Carr for the No. 4 corner spot by season’s end and was strong on special teams, Gorrer should have no reason to think the Ravens won’t bring him back.

LB Sergio Kindle
2011 stats: two games
Skinny: The Ravens will bring Kindle back, but he’ll need to make major strides in the offseason and training camp to make the 53-man roster again.

LB Albert McClellan
2011 stats: 16 games (one start), seven tackles, 12 special teams tackles
Skinny: He drew a start for the injured Ray Lewis on Thanksgiving night and is one of the best special teams players on the team, making his return a certainty.

 

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Live from Owings Mills: Ravens place Lawrence on IR to get down to 80 players

Posted on 30 August 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Needing to trim down their roster to 80 players by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, the Ravens have placed running back Matt Lawrence on Injured Reserve with a concussion.

Plagued by knee issues the last two seasons, this marks the third straight year the Ravens have placed Lawrence on IR. Given the timing of the move, it’s likely the Ravens will eventually reach an injury settlement with Lawrence, freeing him to explore other options.

Receiver Lee Evans (left foot) was not practicing for the third straight day, making it highly unlikely for the 30-year-old to make an appearance in the Ravens’ final preseason game in Atlanta on Thursday night. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron downplayed the significance of the injury on Monday, saying the Ravens expect Evans to return “pretty quick.”

Cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring), offensive lineman Mark LeVoir (undisclosed), and interior offensive linemen Justin Boren were also absent from the portion of practice open to the media. Carr and LeVoir were both missing for the second straight day.

With the roster now down at 80 players, the Ravens have until Saturday to trim the roster to 53 players for the start of the regular season.

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Live from Owings Mills: Evans, Carr missing from practice field on Monday

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Live from Owings Mills: Evans, Carr missing from practice field on Monday

Posted on 29 August 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Entering the final week of the preseason, the Ravens were again without starting wide receiver Lee Evans as they took the field on Monday afternoon.

Evans was seen in a walking boot during the open portion of practice on Saturday after catching three passes for 60 yards and a touchdown against Washington last Thursday. The injury is not considered serious despite Evans missing his second straight practice. The 30-year-old receiver missed the final three games of 2010 with a left ankle injury, the same foot secured in the boot on Saturday.

Rookie Torrey Smith was taking reps with the starting offense in Evans’ place.

Also missing from the practice field was cornerback Chris Carr, who continues to work his way back from a left hamstring injury. Carr pulled up lame while trying to cover Evans on a fly route two weeks ago and has missed the last two preseason games against Kansas City and Washington. The 28-year-old defensive back went through pregame warmups on Thursday before sitting out against the Redskins. Carr was present and working out during the open portion of practice on Saturday.

Offensive lineman Mark LeVoir (undisclosed) and running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed) were also missing from the opening portion of practice open to the media. Lawrence practiced in shorts on Saturday while the rest of the team was in full pads.

For the second straight practice, the Ravens had their entire starting offensive line present and working as Bryant McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, and Michael Oher try to establish as much continuity as they can prior to the Sept. 11 opener against Pittsburgh.

With the Ravens out of training camp mode, only the first 30 minutes of practice is open to the media, making it possible the aforementioned players could still arrive on the field during the later portions of practice.

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Live from Owings Mills: Evans in walking boot, not practicing

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Live from Owings Mills: Evans in walking boot, not practicing

Posted on 27 August 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the final week of the preseason upon us, the Ravens returned to the practice field with their projected starting offensive line working together for the first time.

However, a new injury concern appeared as receiver Lee Evans had his left foot in a walking boot and was not participating in the portion of practice open to the media. He was walking around and even stood on his left foot without any apparent limp or discomfort.

There was no word of an injury suffered against Washington on Thursday, and Evans spoke to reporters following the game with no apparent discomfort. Considering the cautious way in which coach John Harbaugh handles injuries, it’s unlikely the Ravens would have wanted Evans anywhere near the practice field on Saturday if the injury were serious.

Evans missed the final three games in Buffalo last season after injury his left ankle, the same foot on which he wore the boot. He has six receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown in two preseason games with the Ravens since being traded from the Bills in exchange for a fourth-round pick on Aug. 12.

Newly-signed left tackle Bryant McKinnie was receiving his first action with the starting line as Michael Oher moved to the right tackle position. Prior to practice, McKinnie said he currently weighs 370 pounds and wants to get his weight down to 355 for the regular season.

Also returning to the practice field was veteran center Matt Birk, who was working for the first time since undergoing knee surgery near the beginning of training camp. Birk wore a support on his left knee while working with the starting offensive line during positional drills.

Right guard Marshal Yanda was also dressed in full pads and appeared to be working at full strength after practicing three times on a limited basis and sitting out the Redskins game earlier this week.

Cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring) and receiver James Hardy (hamstring) were also taking part in practice after sitting out Thursday’s game.

Running back Matt Lawrence was practicing in shorts while the rest of the team wore full pads on Saturday afternoon.

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Ravens 10-Pack: Baltimore feeling Super at 4-1

Posted on 12 October 2010 by Luke Jones

Even with the daunting task of traveling to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots this Sunday, you have to feel good about the Ravens’ 4-1 start and the early lead atop the AFC North with the first month of the season already in the books.

With three of the first four on the road (two of them division games), you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought the Ravens would fare better than they have after road victories against the Jets and Steelers. And when you take a look around the rest of the league, the Ravens’ accomplishments look even more impressive.

Parity is a word all-too-familiar to NFL fans, but the notion seemed to be waning over the last few seasons with the regular-season success of the 2007 Patriots and extended runs at perfection by the Colts and Saints last year. However, with the 1972 Dolphins uncorking the champagne before Columbus Day — with no 4-0 teams in the NFL since 1970 — and only eight teams sporting one loss through the first five weeks of the season, 2010 appears up for grabs in mid-October.

Are the Ravens the best team in the NFL?

Being this early, who cares? But it’s difficult to argue any team has looked better than Baltimore.

If the Ravens can beat New England (3-1), it will mark just the second 5-1 start in franchise history, the other coming in the 2000 season.

However, for some perspective, at the time of the 5-1 start, Tony Banks was the starting quarterback and the Ravens had just won their second straight game without scoring a touchdown.

Things changed very quickly — in a bad way — before a historic run began and Trent Dilfer and the Ravens found themselves holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of January.

1. Since taking over as head coach in 2008, John Harbaugh has shown the uncanny ability to take care of business against inferior teams, home or away.

In 37 regular season games under Harbaugh, the Ravens have never lost to a team that finished the season with a losing record. As unimpressive as that might sound to the casual observer, you’ll find a “bad” loss by a playoff-caliber team nearly every week in the NFL.

Of course, the opposite argument can be made that the Ravens have fallen short too many times against quality opponents — especially last season when they struggled to get to the playoffs at 9-7 — but winning the games you’re supposed to win and holding your own against winning teams will put you in an enviable position.

The postseason.

Time will determine whether their Week 2 loss in Cincinnati breaks the string, but the Harbaugh-led Ravens have managed to avoid the unwarranted defeats the team suffered in previous seasons.

2. All eyes will be on Bill Belichick and the Patriots in their first game since trading disgruntled receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings and re-acquiring former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. The removal of Moss will undoubtedly impact the New England offense, but how much?

Expect a little gadgetry on Sunday as Tom Brady deciphers where everyone fits in the post-Moss era.

Of course, Belichick had an extra week to figure it out with the Patriots’ Week 5 bye, and his record in New England coming off the bye week is an impressive 8-2, including seven straight wins. But before we write off the Ravens at Gillette Stadium and bow to the genius of Belichick, we should remember that four of the last six have come against the Buffalo Bills.

Not to belittle an impressive feat, but game-planning against a team led in recent years by the likes of Dick Jauron and Mike Mularkey is a bit easier than facing the team that blasted you in the playoffs just nine months ago.

In the Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 2-1 when playing teams coming off their bye week. All three games were last season, which included wins against Cleveland and Denver as well as a road loss to Cincinnati.

3. Putting aside the obvious threat of Brady to Wes Welker, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s biggest concern might be a pair of rookie tight ends.

Through the Patriots’ first four games, Welker leads the team in receptions (26), but not receiving yards. That distinction belongs to Aaron Hernandez (18 catches for 240 yards) despite being the second tight end drafted (fourth round) by New England in April. Rob Gronkowski, a second-round selection, has posted modest numbers (six catches for 62 yards) but was an impressive talent eyed by the Ravens leading up to the draft.

The Ravens have struggled covering the intermediate middle of the field in recent years, so the inside linebacker corps of Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain, and Dannell Ellerbe will need to keep a close eye on these rookie targets.

4. As much as we lamented the absence of Matt Stover a season ago, let’s tip our caps to Billy Cundiff. His ability to boot the football deep into the end zone on kickoffs is an underappreciated factor in the Ravens being 4-1.

His four touchbacks against the Broncos on Sunday matched the total number by Baltimore kickers all of last year.

Whispers of Stover will not dissipate — if they ever do — until we see Cundiff make a 47-yarder to win a late-season game, but the distinct upgrade on kickoffs cannot be overlooked.

As great as Stover was with the game on the line, fans easily forget his kickoffs barely traveling inside the 10-yard line, often setting up the opponent with good field position.

5. Plenty has been said about Cam Cameron’s choice to use Haloti Ngata at tight end on Sunday’s opening drive and the near-disaster that followed with the defensive tackle down on the field.

I offer you three names: James Jones (1996), Herman Arvie (1996), and Jonathan Ogden (1996 and 2003), three linemen who all registered touchdown catches with the Ravens.

The difference in this case? Cameron and Harbaugh have too many offensive weapons at their disposal to risk losing one of the greatest defensive players in the game today. Why spend draft picks on two tight ends to complement Todd Heap and then risk your best defensive player trying to be too cute?

Ngata playing offense was a fun spectacle until we saw what nearly happened with the Ravens’ season flashing before the eyes of 71,000 people at M&T Bank Stadium.

Lesson learned — hopefully.

6. It was natural for questions to arise whether the Ravens had any interest in bringing back Antwan Barnes after he was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles last week, but  Harbaugh promptly shot down the idea on Monday. (Update: Barnes signed a contract with the San Diego Chargers on Wednesday afternoon)

In three years with the Ravens, the linebacker-defensive end managed only five sacks and sealed his fate last October when he whiffed on a tackle of Cedric Benson that led to a 28-yard touchdown run and an eventual loss to the Bengals.

Barnes is too small to provide help at defensive end, where the Ravens need a consistent pass-rush threat, and not athletic enough to play linebacker on every down. If they didn’t want him before the season, what would have changed a month later?

“I haven’t had a conversation with him,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “We don’t really have a roster opportunity right now for that. We wouldn’t be opposed to it. Antwan’s a good person, a good player. Obviously, he’s done some good things here. But, right now, there’s no way roster-wise we could pull that off.”

In other words, “Thanks, but no thanks — we’ve moved on.”

7. If all goes to plan and you believe the recent comments made by Harbaugh, Sunday will mark the final game before All-Pro safety Ed Reed returns to the 53-man roster after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list.

During training camp, I said Tom Zbikowski would do an adequate job at free safety in Reed’s absence, and the third-year safety has done just that. So with the Ravens currently having the second-best pass defense in the NFL (behind only the New York Giants), the question must be asked:

How well will Reed fit into the secondary when he returns to the starting lineup?

The Baltimore defense no longer plays the exotic, aggressive schemes of Rex Ryan, but employs a conservative, “bend, but don’t break” style under Mattison. Reed has always gambled in the defensive backfield, at times leaving teammates out to dry in coverage while also making some of the greatest plays in NFL history.

With the 32-year-old returning from hip surgery, it will be interesting to see whether Reed takes a more conservative approach in coverage or returns with a bigger chip on his shoulder to prove he’s still one of the best defensive players in the league and deserving of the new contract he so desperately wants. If Reed proves to be a lesser player than he was prior to the hip procedure but plays with the same aggressive style, the secondary could be more vulnerable to the big play.

That said, it is hard to doubt a player who will one day be enshrined in Canton.

8. Speaking of injured players, you have to wonder how long the Ravens will continue to wait for Jared Gaither to return. Other than being a limited participant in one practice a couple weeks ago, the offensive tackle has been out with a thoracic disc injury since training camp.

With roster decisions looming with Reed and fellow PUP list members Brendon Ayanbadejo and Matt Lawrence, Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh may need to pull the plug on the projected starter at right tackle.

The improved play of Marshal Yanda at right tackle and Chris Chester at right guard has eased concerns on the right side of the line. Cohesion upfront is difficult to develop, so Gaither’s potential return would require another period of adjustment, something the coaching staff might be uncomfortable with later in the season.

Keep in mind, Gaither has not played right tackle regularly since the early part of his collegiate career at Maryland, so this isn’t a savvy veteran who can step right in to his regular position when healthy.

If Gaither does not make significant progress by the bye week, his season will likely come to a disappointing end.

9. Much has been said about the return of the three-headed running attack and the 2008-like feel to Sunday’s win over the Broncos, but don’t expect it to last.

Like it or not, the Ravens’ current profile is a pass-first team that runs the ball efficiently. The dominating 233-yard rushing performance against Denver was more the effect of a comfortable lead than some epiphany for Cameron.

Of Joe Flacco’s 97 completions through five games, 50 have been for under 10 yards, looking a little like the “running” game of the Patriots with Brady under helm. However, his 6.6 yards per attempt (the lowest of his career) needs to increase for the offense to continue growing.

Despite the profile change — which really began last season — the ability to pound the football looms large when the elements grow harsh, and the Ravens will use it when appropriate.

10. Ranking 19th in the league in total offense (328.2 yards per game) and tied for 17th in points scored (18.4 per game), the Baltimore offense has room for improvement with Cameron and Flacco trying to distribute the ball to keep a plethora of talented players — and egos — happy.

As well as the defense has played, it hasn’t done its counterpart any favors in the turnover department with only three takeaways and a -6 turnover differential, both last in the AFC.

Nothing gives an offense more confidence than starting drives on a short field, and a few more turnovers might be the serum the offense needs to excel. Fortunately, the defense and kick coverage has played well enough to win the field-position battle in most instances, but the turnover differential must improve if the Ravens are to take a step toward elitism, offensively and as a team.

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Ed Reed to begin season on PUP, miss first 6 weeks

Posted on 03 September 2010 by Luke Jones

After months of speculation regarding his status for the start of the 2010 season, Ed Reed will be placed on the reserve physically unable to perform list, meaning the Ravens will be without their All-Pro safety for at least the first six weeks of the regular season. The decision was first reported by the NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora on Friday night.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old Reed missed all of training camp and the preseason after undergoing hip surgery to repair a torn labrum in the offseason. Despite occasionally doing agility and conditioning work in Westminster, Reed described his surgically-repaired hip as only “35 percent” in late July before training camp started.

Given the Ravens’ depth at the safety position with Tom Zbikowski performing well in Reed’s place in the preseason and reserve Haruki Nakamura also making plays in the secondary, the organization will choose the safe route despite Reed reportedly campaigning to play sooner.

“This is a slow process,” Reed told WNST.net’s Drew Forrester on The Morning Reaction in early July. “I don’t want to come back and have another injury and then be out for the whole season, maybe even a career. I’m going to take my time with this one and hope everyone can bear with me on this one, and we’ll see what happens.”

Reed injured the hip last season, forcing him to miss four games before returning to the field for the final week of the regular season and the playoffs. The safety made 50 tackles and had three interceptions in 12 games, earning his sixth invitation to the Pro Bowl.

The decision to place Reed on the reserve PUP list likely means the team will elect to keep veteran safety Ken Hamlin or young defensive back K.J. Gerard — or possibly both — to join Nakamura as the backup safeties. Zbikowski will now be expected to occupy the free safety position next to Dawan Landry in the starting lineup for at least the first six games of the season.

When placed on the reserve PUP list, a player must miss the first six weeks of the season but does not count against the 53-man roster. After this time, there is a three-week window during which the player may return to practice (without counting against the 53-man roster) and can be activated as early as Week 7. A decision must be made within the frame of the three-week period to either activate the player or keep him on the PUP list for the remainder of the season.

The earliest Reed could return would be against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 24.

Reed becomes the third player on the roster to be placed on PUP to begin the regular season, joining linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and running back Matt Lawrence, who were given the same designations earlier this week.

Injured rookie linebacker Sergio Kindle remains unsigned after fracturing his skull a few days prior to training camp. He would be eligible for the PUP list when he agrees to terms on a contract with the Ravens.

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Ravens-Giants Purple Haze chat now!

Posted on 28 August 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will try to win their third straight preseason game this evening as they host the New York Giants at 7:30 p.m. The third preseason game is widely-regarded as the most critical of the four preseason contests, so we can expect extensive playing time for the starting units.

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Glenn Clark and I are live from the press box at M&T Bank Stadium for all pre- and post-game coverage at WNST.net. We’ll have the Purple Haze chat open for business at 7:30 to talk about tonight’s preseason action, and you can expect a number of WNST.net personalities to chime in throughout the game. It’s the newest and best way to enjoy the game other than actually being at the stadium yourself!

If you haven’t done it already, remember to sign up for the WNST Text Service to receive all breaking news including injury updates prior to tonight’s game. It’s our best feature at WNST.net, and it’s free! As always, you can get the quickest updates and quips by following us on Twitter (@WNST)!

Stay right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading up to the start of the Purple Haze chat at 7:30 p.m.!

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7:00 p.m. — Interestingly enough, cornerback Lardarius Webb is dressed and going through pre-game activity. He was listed as a scratch tonight, but as we saw with Chris Carr in the preseason opener against Carolina, the preseason inactive list is not official like the one we see in the regular season.

We’ll continue to monitor Webb’s status as we get closer to game time.

6:55 p.m. — The Giants have an equal number of inactive players this evening. Receiver Ramses Barden, quarterback Jim Sorgi, safety Michael Johnson, cornerback Terrell Thomas, running back D.J. Ware, cornerback Aaron Ross, tight end Travis Beckum, linebacker Chase Blackburn, center Shaun O’Hara, guard Kevin Booth, receiver Sinorice Moss, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and defensive lineman Chris Canty will all sit out tonight’s contest against the Ravens.

Rich Seubert will slide over to center in place of O’Hara and Guy Whimper will play left guard. Defensively, Rocky Bernard will replace Canty at defensive tackle, Bruce Johnson will take Thomas’ place at cornerback, and Jonathan Goff will start at MLB. Keith Bulluck is expected to play, however.

6:35 p.m. — If you’re on the WNST Text Service, you would already know the Ravens inactive list for this evening!

Thirteen players will not play this evening, including Lardarius Webb, Jared Gaither, Terrence Cody, Oniel Cousins, Demetrius Williams, Eron Riley, Marcus Paschal, K.J. Gerard, David Hale, Daniel Sanders, and the three remaining members of the PUP List (Ed Reed, Brendon Ayanbadejo, and Matt Lawrence).

Tony Moll will again be at right tackle with Gaither and Cousins sidelined, and Tom Zbikowski will receive the start at free safety with Reed still on the PUP list.

6:00 p.m. — Several players dealing with injuries were out on the field going throughout workouts earlier as we await to learn their status for tonight’s game.

Receiver Demetrius Williams was doing some agility work after not practicing the entire week. He sprained his ankle during last Saturday’s victory over the Redskins.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb was doing extensive work with secondary coach Chuck Pagano, though it is doubtful the Ravens would want Webb to play so soon after coming off the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Receiver Eron Riley (back) was also working out on the field.

5:40 p.m. — The Ravens will try to improve their preseason mark to 3-0 and win their seventh straight preseason game. The team holds an all-time 34-23 record in preseason play and is 17-12 at home.

Tonight marks the 12th time the Giants and Ravens have met in the preseason. Baltimore holds a 6-5 series lead in the preseason. The teams last met in a preseason contest on Aug. 19, 2007, a game in which the Giants won 13-12.

5:25 p.m. — The NFL will experiment with an eighth on-field official for tonight’s game, one of four preseason games the league is using as a test study. The deep judge will not be used in the regular season and is solely intended to provide the NFL Competition Committee with video and feedback for future consideration.

The “deep judge” will be positioned in the defensive backfield, opposite the back judge on the head linesman’s side of the field. His primary job is to watch eligible receivers.

Of course, the official crews are also adjusting to the newly-positioned umpire, who is now in the offensive backfield. Umpires were previously positioned behind the defensive line but have been moved because of safety concerns after several umpires were seriously injured in recent years.

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Ravens Training Camp: The impressive and disappointing

Posted on 20 August 2010 by Luke Jones

Another Westminster training camp has concluded with the Ravens now focusing their attention to the final three games of the preseason before the 2010 regular season gets underway against the New York Jets on Sept. 13.

Saturday night’s meeting with the Washington Redskins will be a key audition for  bubble players as coach John Harbaugh has already stated how important the second preseason game is for evaluating rookies and reserve veterans fighting for a roster spot.

Much will change before the initial cutdown to 75 players takes place on Aug. 31 and the final cut to 53 on Sept. 4, but here’s a breakdown of players—by position—who impressed and disappointed in Westminster.

QUARTERBACKS
Impressed: Joe Flacco is an easy choice after a strong camp with his new offensive weapons. The third-year quarterback still must prove he can read and throw to the middle of the field, but Anquan Boldin and a strong group of tight ends will certainly help.

Disappointed: Troy Smith knew his standing in the organization changed dramatically after the acquisition of Marc Bulger, and the former Heisman Trophy winner did nothing to push the veteran for the backup job. Smith lacks size and was too erratic in Westminster. He will stick as the No. 3 quarterback, but his performance made the Ravens look very wise for signing Bulger.

RUNNING BACKS
Impressed: Hard to go with anyone but Ray Rice at this spot despite Willis McGahee looking solid and healthy as well. Rice looked to be in mid-season form the first day veterans reported to Westminster. It will be another Pro Bowl season for the third-year back if he remains healthy.

Disappointed: Not his fault, but Matt Lawrence’s chance of making the 53-man roster continues to diminish as he remains on the physically unable to perform list. He is a capable special teams player when healthy, but this summer’s roster is too deep.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Impressed: Everyone assumed Mark Clayton would be cast aside in the offense when the Ravens acquired Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, but the former starter had a strong training camp, catching everything thrown his way. Stallworth was the logical choice as the No. 3 receiver, but Clayton received more reps in three-wide sets over the final two weeks of camp.

Disappointed: The Ravens loved what they saw out of David Reed during the OTA schedule, but the rookie failed to adjust to the quicker speed of training camp. Considered a sure-handed receiver coming out of Utah, Reed dropped countless passes and was not been given much of a look as a kick returner. Demetrius Williams is clearly ahead of Reed in the battle for the fifth receiver spot.

TIGHT ENDS
Impressed: Ed Dickson looked more like an established—not to mention explosive—veteran than a rookie on the upper fields at McDaniel College. The 6-foot-4 Dickson has tremendous size and great speed for a tight end. His versatility will be a welcome addition when the Ravens use him in two-tight end sets and at H-back on occasion. On a side note, Todd Heap had an excellent camp, showing he’s still capable of producing when healthy.

Disappointed: Already facing an uphill battle to make the roster after the drafting of Dickson and Dennis Pitta, Davon Drew was not able to stay on the field this summer. Drew showed more consistency than he did last season as a rookie, but it’s difficult to make the team when you’re never on the field. He’ll need to get healthy and make an impact in the remaining preseason games.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Impressed: Fellow guard Ben Grubbs earns more notoriety, but Marshal Yanda was ferocious in Westminster, proving he’s all the way back from the horrific knee injury he suffered two seasons ago. Yanda anchored and stood up Terrence Cody during a 1-on-1 drill in one of the highlights of the summer, just a couple plays after the 350-pounder had blown up the highly-regarded Grubbs.

Disappointed: Showing up 30 pounds lighter without the coaching staff’s approval and injuring his back on the first day of full-team workouts made Jared Gaither a slam-dunk choice. Not only are there concerns whether he’ll be ready by Week 1, but he’s missed valuable time to adjust to the right tackle position.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Impressed: He got off to a slow start while adjusting to playing with the 15 extra pounds he gained in the offseason, but Paul Kruger became a force on the defensive line, off the edge and even sliding to the inside in the nickel package. If Kruger can replicate what he showed in Westminster over the last two weeks, the Ravens will have another factor in the pass rush.

Disappointed: None. This is the deepest unit on the team. The only disappointment on the defensive line is the reality that the organization will have to cut a couple of talented players due to numbers.

LINEBACKERS
Impressed: His performance in the Carolina game aside, Jameel McClain was the biggest surprise of camp over the first three weeks, working at inside linebacker with the first defense. McClain played the run well and showed competence in pass coverage, but it did not carry over against the Panthers in the preseason opener. The competition for the starting job next to Ray Lewis is still wide open. Antwan Barnes earns an honorable mention.

Disappointed: The likely favorite to win the second inside linebacker spot prior to camp, Dannell Ellerbe came to Westminster out of shape and trailed McClain and Tavares Gooden for much of the way. Ellerbe improved his standing as the weeks progressed, but it was apparent how unhappy the coaching staff was as Ellerbe worked with the second defense in Westminster.

CORNERBACKS
Impressed: Expected to be brought back slowly, Fabian Washington provided a much-needed lift to the secondary when he returned to the field during the first week of camp. Washington appeared quick and made more plays as the weeks progressed. He will see his first game action against the Redskins on Saturday night and will be relied upon to be the team’s top corner, even if he’s nowhere near a true No. 1.

Disappointed: The injury to Domonique Foxworth is most appropriate here, but the brief eight-day stint of Walt Harris takes the cake in this department. He was unable to show he had anything left in the tank despite a solid career. And it’s tough labeling the likes of Doug Dutch and Chris Hawkins as disappointments if you never had any expectations to begin with.

SAFETY
Impressed: While no one compares to Ed Reed, Tom Zbikowski eased concerns at the position with a very strong showing in Westminster. Zbikowski is faster and showed a strong nose for the football this summer after doing an adequate job in Reed’s place for four games last season. Despite not knowing the status of its future Hall of Famer, this unit of safeties looks very sound with Zbikowski and Dawan Landry anchoring the secondary.

Disappointed: Though labeling him a disappointment is bit strong, Ken Hamlin has done little to challenge Zbikowski for the free safety position, partly because the latter was excellent in practice. Hamlin was solid, but unspectacular, running with the second defense. The former Cowboy has great size (6-foot-2) but needs to show a stronger special teams presence to stick around when Reed returns to the field.

SPECIALISTS
Impressed: Yes, he’s younger, cheaper, and healthier, but the Ravens clearly loved what they saw from Morgan Cox to have jettisoned veteran Matt Katula two days after the preseason opener. Fans can only hope we won’t hear his name again all season.

Disappointed: Though he’s kicked reasonably well, the Ravens certainly wished Shayne Graham had seized early control of the competition with Billy Cundiff. Until the final two days of camp, Cundiff had outperformed the former Bengal by a slight margin. Graham struggled with field goals outside 45 yards in Westminster but kicked better during the practice at M&T Bank Stadium. The smart money is still on Graham to be the kicker, but the battle has been closer than most people thought.

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