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Nelson Cruz and Steve Smith: An Oriole and a Raven searching for redemption

Posted on 26 April 2014 by johngallo

One man wants to forget his past; the other is motivated by it.

One man is sorry for the mistake he made; the other is adamant he did nothing wrong to be sent packing.

One makes a living hitting home runs; the other earns his paycheck scoring touchdowns.

One was a strike away from winning a World Series in 2011; the other was denied a championship on a field goal with four seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Nelson Cruz, the Orioles’ designated hitter and outfielder, and Steve Smith, who Ravens fans want to be the second coming of receiver Anquan Boldin, hope their futures in Baltimore are as bright as their pasts. Cruz made the All-Star Game twice as a Texas Ranger, while Smith was named All-Pro twice as a Carolina Panther.

Two players, two sports, two careers that took unlikely turns, yet both are connected by a single word in Baltimore: redemption.

Turbulent, yet successful pasts

Nelson Cruz is off to a strong start in Baltimore, as he led the Orioles in homers (6), runs batted-in (23), runs scored (16) and on-base percentage (.391) through 22 games. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cruz’s time in Texas was over following the 2013 season, when he turned down the Rangers’ one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer after serving a 50-game suspension last season for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy in connection with the sport’s investigation of the Biogenesis of America, an anti-aging clinic in Florida.

Smith’s 13-season run in Carolina was marred by punching two teammates – receiver Anthony Bright during a film room meeting in 2002 and defensive back Ken Lucas at a training camp practice in 2008 – and highlighted by leading the squad to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance in 2004. It ended in March when the Panthers felt he was no longer worth a $7 million hit to their salary cap.

Cruz, 33, is from Monte Cristi, a poor city in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic, where he worked in his uncle’s shop as a mechanic from age 10 to 16. He played professionally for three seasons in the Dominican Republic after signing as an undrafted free agent by the Mets in 1998. In 2000, he arrived in the U.S. after being traded to Oakland – not bad for a teenager who grew up idolizing Michael Jordan before falling in love with baseball.

Smith, 34, is from inner-city Los Angeles, where he never took the SAT while becoming an all-California Interscholastic Federation receiver at University High School. He took the bus to his $5.75 an hour job running the cash register and sweeping floors at Taco Bell, where worked from his junior in high school until he left nearby Santa Monica College. That’s where he and teammate and future All-Pro receiver Chad Johnson had college recruiters flocking to the junior college. Smith earned a scholarship to the University of Utah, where he dominated the Mountain West conference en route to being drafted in the third round (74th overall) by the Panthers in 2001.

Both have traversed the country en route to Baltimore, which represents where they hope to find redemption, yet could be the last place they ever play.

Think about it: What team will sign Cruz if he flops as an Oriole after putting up amazing numbers that could have been the result of using performance-enhancing drugs? What team will sign Smith if he can no longer get open as he did so effortlessly when he was among the NFL’s best receivers as a Panther?

Cruz’s road to Baltimore included stops in Oakland, Milwaukee and Texas, where he highlighted his eight years in as a Ranger by belting six homers and driving in 13 runs en route to being named the most valuable player of American League Championship Series in 2011. His six homers and 13 RBIs are major league records for a championship series. The Rangers lost the World Series to St. Louis in seven games, after being a strike away from a title-clinching win in Game 6.

“Whatever happened in the past, I look to move forward and have a great year with the Baltimore Orioles,” Cruz said at his press conference, where he was joined by eight Oriole teammates after signing a one-year, $8 million deal with February.

Smith had just one stop as a professional, Carolina, where all he did was set more than 30 career, single-season and single-game team records on offense and special teams, including becoming the franchise’s career leader in total touchdowns (75), receiving touchdowns (67), receptions (836) and receiving yards (12,197).

“Steve Smith has been one of the NFL’s finest receivers for over a decade and has been the face of the franchise for a large part of the team’s history,” Carolina General Manager Dave Gettleman told the team’s website after waiving Smith. “This was not an easy decision. As a team, we made a step forward last year; however, we are also a team in transition, which is a part of the NFL.”

Steve Smith is adjusting to life as a Raven by attending voluntary workouts, where he’s jelling with teammates, learning the playbook and developing a hatred for Baltimore’s biggest rival. (Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)

When he was released, the five-time Pro Bowler vowed he’d make the Panthers pay, claiming they’ll be “blood and guts everywhere” when he plays them. The teams meet in Week 4 on Sept. 28 at M&T Bank Stadium.

“When you look at the Ravens, they’ve had an amount of great success with integrating older players and younger players and fusing them together and understanding the right combination,” Smith told the Ravens’ website after signing a three-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million. “That part is very intriguing to me and also brings a challenge that I’m up for….They are getting an old guy in age, but a young guy’s spirit and work ethic.”

What’s next?

Where would the Orioles be right now without Cruz? Maybe not 11-11 and in second place in the American League East following a loss to the Royals on April 25. Cruz leads the team in homers (6), runs batted-in (23), runs scored (16) and on-base percentage (.391). His .588 slugging percentage is tied with Steve Clevenger, who has played in seven games compared to Cruz’s 21.

“Nelson is a great hitter,” catcher Matt Wieters told reporters after Cruz blasted two homers during a 10-8 win over Toronto on April 23. “I always had trouble calling pitches against him so I’m glad he’s on our team. He’s a huge addition to the middle of our lineup.”

“We all know what he’s capable of,” Manager Buck Showalter said of Cruz after the game.

Meantime, Smith is adjusting to life as a Raven by attending voluntary workouts, where he’s jelling with teammates, learning the playbook and developing a hatred for Baltimore’s biggest rival.

“My dislike 4 @steelers will grow everyday I’m in the #caste,” Smith tweeted.

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The Injury Bug

Posted on 29 July 2013 by timjones60

Training Camp hasn’t even been in session for a week with most teams and already several players have been bit by the injury bug. The Ravens own Dennis Pitta is out for the season with a fractured and dislocated hip. Right up I-95 the Eagles lost Receiver and Return Specialist Jeremy Maclin to a torn ACL. And finally out in the mountains the Broncos are trying to talk retired center and former Colt Jeff Saturday to make a return due to the loss of their starting center Dan Koppen. The bug has bitten hard so far this season with SEVEN confirmed season ending injuries in less than a week.

Another interesting take is that we haven’t even reached the first preseason game which will take place this Sunday. Players seem to go down more often in the first couple of days of camp, but when players are going full speed in game type situations, injuries could be abundant.

The NFL has confirmed over 80 players have started the season with an injury, and multiple Ravens are on that list. Now these injuries aren’t likely going to change the outcome of this seasons teams. But the teams will be forced to adjust and how they adjust is how teams could lose out on playoff hopes.

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Schedule-gate 2013: We’re not all going to get everything we want

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Schedule-gate 2013: We’re not all going to get everything we want

Posted on 20 March 2013 by Glenn Clark

“You play games on holidays all the time, including Rosh Hashanah. Just move the game to Wednesday.”  

I’ve talked myself into and out of writing about this about ten times in the last couple of days.

For some reason, a simple issue related to scheduling has turned into a referendum related to singular support of one of Baltimore’s two major professional sports teams. Once again, we’ve drawn a line in the sand and said “either you’re with the Orioles or you’re with the Ravens. No other way around it.”

It reminds me of how most people view social, economical and political issues in this country. You HAVE to support the beliefs of one side of the political spectrum or the other. There’s no room for discourse. Personally, I side sometimes with liberals (I am fully supportive of marriage equality) and other times with conservatives (Rand Paul had every right to know whether or not the President would be willing to kill American citizens on American soil).

Unfortunately, if I were to side with one political party or the other, I would find myself ostracized for not simply toeing the party line. This week has somehow because a week of talking points and finger pointing without any willingness to completely discuss all aspects of the issue and accept there may be a little bit more to be accomplished than playing a blame game.

We know the situation. Because the Ravens won the Super Bowl, the NFL intended to extend to them the recent tradition of opening the following season at home. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the Orioles are scheduled to host the Chicago White Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, making the game an impossibility because the Ravens share the downtown Camden Yards Sports Complex.

Somehow instead of working proactively to try to solve the problem, the two sides have instead reached excruciating levels to make sure the appropriate level of blame was placed in one direction or another.

The bad news for those who have supported the Ravens in this battle is that the people who point this out the holiday hypocrisy are absolutely right to do so. The NFL has claimed the Jewish holiday as the reason they don’t want to move the season opener back to Wednesday, as they did a year ago to not go head to head against President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Some fans have gone to an extremely ignorant level to make this point. I have stated that personally-I, Glenn Clark, would provide that no league play ANY games on any particular holiday. That’s a one man grandstand and as a caller reminded me this week, “that ship has already sailed.” The league plays on holidays.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft made it apparent at the league’s meetings in Phoenix he expected his team to be the opponent in the opener in Charm City. It has lead some to believe that this is simply the league kowtowing to Kraft because he’s Jewish. I’m not really going to even bother responding because the real answer isn’t particularly relevant.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Your Monday Reality Check-Shouldn’t Rice & Flacco deals have been done by now?

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Your Monday Reality Check-Shouldn’t Rice & Flacco deals have been done by now?

Posted on 04 June 2012 by Glenn Clark

It was as if there were some in the sports broadcasting universe that wanted to remind me that the Baltimore Orioles have been struggling mightily as of late.

Sure, they’re just one game out of first place at the time I type this, but the Birds sadly appear to be in a downward spiral that unfortunately most of us expected.

I’ve been a regular “Baltimore expert” for SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio since the channel’s inception, and I rotate having conversations with hosts about the O’s and the Baltimore Ravens. When I received a call last week asking me to appear on the channel, I assumed the conversation would go in the direction of the O’s, as I’ve made about four Orioles-related guest spots already this season.

But when the producer asked me if I’d be interested in talking some Ravens football, I was admittedly caught off guard. “It’s still baseball season” I thought. Just one night later I received a call from another producer on the channel, also asking me to make an appearance to discuss the Purple & Black.

So on both Friday & Saturday night of this past weekend I found myself talking Ravens football across the country on SXM. It was perhaps the single greatest reminder that in Charm City, a “June Swoon” is a great reminder that Training Camp isn’t particularly far away.

As the 2011 football season ended, there were two main narratives surrounding the defending AFC North Champs. One was surrounding the pending free agency of RB Ray Rice. The other surrounded the future of QB Joe Flacco, who was set to enter the final year of his rookie contract. The Ravens’ season ended 132 days ago in Foxborough (at least as of the time I wrote this) and yet seemingly little progress has been made regarding either situation.

It leads to the question (at least for me), “what’s taking so long to get this stuff done?”

ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio said in a recent appearance on “The Reality Check” (an excellent afternoon radio program on AM1570 WNST.net) that Rice’s agent Todd France was dead set on getting a deal similar to contracts given to Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (seven years, $100 million with $36 million guaranteed) or Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson (four years, $53 million with $30 million guaranteed). The Ravens are believed to be more interested in a deal similar to those recently given to Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (five years, $45 million with $20.76 million guaranteed) or Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (five years, $43.5 million with $20.75 guaranteed).

On top of that, a source with knowledge of talks revealed to me in recent weeks the Rice camp has a desire to see the running back’s deal exceed the overall value of Flacco’s.

A Carroll County Times report this weekend indicated the Ravens “aren’t anywhere close” to getting a deal done with Flacco. Flacco’s negotiating ability has been limited by the fact that contracts signed by quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning this offseason have been less than overwhelming financially. Manning landed a five year, $96 million deal, but if he’s healthy the Denver Broncos believe him capable of being Peyton Manning. The highlights of other QB contracts this offseason have been San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith (three years, worth up to $33 million with with $16.5 million guaranteed) and Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Flynn (three years, $26 million with $10 million guaranteed).

Neither deal is helpful to Flacco’s agent Joe Linta, although despite all of the goofy conversation nationally about Flacco’s standing against other National Football League quarterbacks, there simply could not be any argument either of those two quarterbacks have accomplished as much as Flacco. Humorously, Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s deal is up a season after Flacco’s. There had been rumors the Chicago Bears were interested in getting a new deal done with QB Jay Cutler, a decision that could have been helpful in figuring out the parameters of a Flacco contract.

Remember when I asked “what’s taking so long to get this stuff done?” Yeah, I’m aware that I’ve essentially answered my own question.

In both of my chats on SiriusXM this weekend I was asked what expected would ultimately happen with these situations. It was remarkably difficult to answer.

(Continued on Page 2)

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Harbaugh to be honored with Civilian Service Award

Posted on 22 May 2012 by WNST Staff

On Wednesday, May 23, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno will present Outstanding Civilian Service Awards during a program honoring those who have passionately supported the U.S. Army. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will receive one of the distinct honors.

The citation that will be presented to Harbaugh by Gen. Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, will read:

“For outstanding service to the United States Army, Soldiers, families, veterans and military communities. Your visit to Iraq and your initiatives to show thanks to service members for their service through appreciation days, opportunities to attend Baltimore Ravens practices and games and to meet team members have improved morale and created a sense of pride and appreciation among our servicemen and women. Through your visits to military installations, you have increased morale, inspired leadership and created a mutual sense of respect and appreciation between the U.S. Army and the National Football League. Your voluntary efforts to purchase, package and send care packages around the world have had direct, positive impacts on our deployed Soldiers living in austere conditions. Your selfless, outstanding contributions have improved the health and readiness of the United States Army.”

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Your Monday Reality Check-Umenyiora? Crabtree? Sure, make the call

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Your Monday Reality Check-Umenyiora? Crabtree? Sure, make the call

Posted on 07 May 2012 by Glenn Clark

As first reported by the NFL Network, the Baltimore Ravens hosted former Houston Texans WR Jacoby Jones for a visit Sunday.

Jacoby Jones became an interesting name for Ravens fans after the NFL Draft, as the Texans’ selection of DeVier Posey made it appear as though the veteran receiver could become expendable for the team. He obviously was, as the team took only days to part ways with Jones.

Perhaps adding Jones to the mix would be a good idea for the Ravens. He’s been in the league for five years, but has only spent the last three seasons getting significant reps as a wide receiver. His numbers aren’t spectacular (31 catches, 512 yards and two touchdowns in 2011), but they’re certainly serviceable for a complementary receiver. The Ravens clearly need depth, as behind starters Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin they have just four combined career receptions (all belonging to LaQuan Willams) from a group that also includes Tandon Doss, David Reed, Phillip Livas, Rodney Bradley, Patrick Williams and 6th round pick Tommy Streeter.

As much as the Ravens may have needed a playmaker type, they clearly needed depth at the position in general. Jones could bring that, and could also bring experience in the return game. Despite his two fumbles against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011 NFL Playoffs, he has four TD returns (3 punt, 1 kickoff) in his career.

An even more intriguing name that has loosely been discussed amongst Ravens fans is the name Michael Crabtree. The San Francisco 49ers wide receiver has been a hot topic after the team drafted Illinois WR AJ Jenkins in the first round of the NFL Draft. In addition to Jenkins, the team has added veteran free agent receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss this offseason, leading to some speculation that the team could be prepared to move on from Crabtree after selecting him with the 10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

I want to reiterate that the rumors surrounding Crabtree have been thinly veiled. While a National Football League source told me he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Ravens had interest in trading for Crabtree, no true source has been able to confirm that actual interest exists. However, in my chat with CBSSports.com NFL writer Clark Judge (who is honestly amongst the absolute best in his line of work) last Friday on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net, the Crabtree-Ravens conversation came up…

JUDGE: “Hey one other question for you, are you serious about taking that caller’s suggestion and trying to acquire Michael Crabtree?”

ME: “No, I don’t think that’s realistic at all. I was trying to play devil’s advocate.”

JUDGE: “The thing about Crabtree is that they would probably be willing to give him away because while he’s young, he’s an underachieving diva. A second rounder? I’d probably give him away for a fourth rounder.”

ME: “If they were willing to give him away for a fourth rounder, I’d be willing to have the conversation.”

JUDGE: “I wouldn’t want him on my team.”

It should be made clear that Judge didn’t report to me that the Niners were interested or willing to trade Crabtree away for a fourth round pick. He simply said that HE would be willing to do that if he were making the calls for San Fran. (The chat is available here in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault.)

I’ll say again what I said to Clark Judge. If the San Francisco 49ers were willing to trade Michael Crabtree away for a fourth round pick, I’d have the conversation. I’m aware that Crabtree has yet to fully live up to his potential as a Top 10 pick and has certainly had “personality issues” that stem back to his lengthy rookie holdout. I’m also aware that the former Texas Tech standout has become more and more productive in each of his three years in the league and his best year (2011) coincided with the year his quarterback (Alex Smith) finally moved into the “credible” category of NFL signal callers.

Let me stress, I’d have the conversation. But it’s important to point out again that this is not a fantasy football league. This is the NFL.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve already gotten about a hundred messages via email/Facebook/Twitter/text/Pony Express that said something along the lines of “well Glenn, you got what you wanted.”

To at least an extent, the people sending those messages have been right. After pounding on the desk of the studio at 1550 Hart Rd. in Towson for months (if not years), the Baltimore Ravens acquired a size receiver in the NFL Draft.

In the 6th round of the Draft, the Ravens selected Tommy Streeter, a 6’5″ wide receiver from the University of Miami. Combined with impressive speed (Streeter posted an impressive 4.40 forty time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis), Streeter seemingly adds a more unique dynamic to Cam Cameron’s offense in 2012. Streeter’s size presents an immediate matchup problem in the red zone (and specifically in the end zone) that the team simply didn’t have in their receiving corps in 2011.

Well…mostly anyway.

You see, the Ravens actually DID briefly have a receiver like that in 2011. If you’ll remember, the Ravens acquired former Buffalo Bills WR James Hardy late in the 2010 season in hopes he could make the team out of Training Camp. Nagging injury issues and a lockout later, Hardy couldn’t crack the 53 and the lack of a size receiver played a role in the Ravens finishing 18th in the NFL in red zone offense.

So Streeter solves all of those problems, right? Right?

As I was also quick to point out, simply being tall wasn’t the only desirable attribute in a new Ravens receiver. Clarence Moore was tall. Randy Hymes was tall. Even Marc Lester was tall. The Ravens not only needed a tall receiver, they needed a receiver who could catch the ball and become a consistent threat in a National Football League offense.

While I liked the team’s decision to draft Streeter, I will admit that I don’t believe the Ravens (and 31 other teams) passed on him for five and a half rounds because they were TOO worried about how good he was. There have been questions about Streeter’s hands, as well as his overall ability to develop into a consistent standout receiver. Those questions may or may not be fair, as the former Hurricanes star could show 31 teams they made a mistake in the coming seasons or they could show one particular team they made the wrong decision to take him even as late as the sixth round.

I guess that’s basically the entire point of this week’s column. After the NFL Draft, analysts attempt to identify “winners” and “losers” from three days of selecting players. Some of these players will go on to outstanding pro careers, others will leave little in the way of a legacy at the NFL level and others still will never play in even a single NFL game.

So do I think the Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft? Yeah…I guess. I guess the Baltimore Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft.

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Perhaps Trade Good Business, But Ravens Need Good Players

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Perhaps Trade Good Business, But Ravens Need Good Players

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — I almost thought about just re-posting the column I wrote two years ago.

I DEFINITELY thought about writing nothing at all.

But after the Baltimore Ravens traded their first round pick in the NFL Draft to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for the Vikes’ 2nd and 4th round picks Thursday night, I had a few thoughts cross my mind.

After making the trade, General Manager Ozzie Newsome described the decision as “good business” for the Ravens. He might very well be correct. According to the famous Jimmy Johnson trade chart, the Ravens’ 29th overall pick was worth 640 points. The two picks acquired by the Ravens (35th and 98th overall) are worth a combined 658 points. Based on the chart alone, the trade really does appear to be “good business.”

Let’s drag this out a little bit though. The combined value of having the 129th-160th picks in the Draft (or ROUGHLY the entire 5th round) is 1,093.5 points. The 14th pick in the first round of the draft is 1,100 points. The value is almost exactly the same.

So with that in mind-which would you rather have? Would you rather have the 14th pick in the NFL Draft or the entire 5th round in the NFL Draft?

Don’t think about this TOO much. I don’t think there’s really a correct answer here.

The point I’m trying to drive home is that the acquisition of an additional pick or the breakdown of picks based on a numerical chart does not guarantee a selection in the draft is necessarily “good business.”

The last time the Ravens traded out of the first round was in 2010, when the team famously dealt the 25th overall pick in the first round of the Draft to the Denver Broncos for the 43rd, 70th and 114th overall picks in the Draft. The team would go on to select LB Sergio Kindle with the 43rd pick, TE Ed Dickson with the 70th and TE Dennis Pitta with the 114th. While Kindle has been almost a complete non-factor in the two seasons since the deal (and it is hard to imagine him becoming much more than that), Dickson and Pitta have established themselves as capable contributors at the pro level.

The player selected in the 25th spot was now New York Jets QB (and Special Teamer?) Tim Tebow. At first blush, the deal appears to have been “good business” indeed for the Baltimore Ravens.

But if we step back even a bit more, it’s worth identifying some of the players selected between the 25th and 43rd spot in the 2010 Draft. The list includes New England Patriots Pro Bowl CB Devin McCourty and TE Rob Gronkowski, as well as players like New Orleans Saints CB Patrick Robinson (4 interceptions in 2011), Miami Dolphins DL Jared Odrick (6 sacks in 2011), Detroit Lions RB Jahvid Best (over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 6 combined TD’s in 2010 before an injury shortened 2011 campaign) and other promising young players.

The Ravens picked up Kindle, Dickson and Pitta but could have had Gronkowski.

This “which would you rather?” argument is nearly as compelling as the earlier one presented. In the spirit of full disclosure, the Ravens have said Gronkowski failed a physical before the 2010 Draft that took him off their board.

The 2010 deal could perhaps prove to ultimately be known as “good business” or it could ultimately be known as the year the Ravens missed on a chance to get one of the more dynamic players in the National Football League. Moreover, two of the players selected between the time the Ravens traded out of the 25th pick and ultimately selected with the 43rd pick in 2010 went on to help a Pats team eliminate the Ravens in the 2012 AFC Championship Game and prevent the Purple & Black from reaching their first Super Bowl in over a decade.

So while we’re quick to accept the idea that trading out of the first round with talented players still on the board like LB Courtney Upshaw, WR Stephen Hill, OL Peter Konz and OT Jonathan Martin was “good business” for the Ravens Thursday night, let’s tell the whole story and paint the entire picture. Trading out of the first round MIGHT have been good business for the Ravens.

It MIGHT be looked upon as the time the Ravens missed out on a future superstar like Vikings S Harrison Smith, San Francisco 49ers WR AJ Jenkins, New York Giants RB David Wilson or (perhaps) Indianapolis Colts LB Upshaw.

As the headline of this column suggested, the Baltimore Ravens may have pulled off “good business” by dealing out of the first round, but the more important need for the team is to acquire good players. If the Ravens acquire good players with the 35th and 98th picks this year, the deal will ultimately prove to truly be good business.

If the Ravens instead miss out on those picks, the deal will be known more as the year where a team looking to make the next step towards a Super Bowl title failed to acquire good players.

You’ll probably tell me I’m being negative. I’d like to think I’m just being realistic.

-G

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Your Monday Reality Check-Size Matters And I Won’t Stop Saying It

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Your Monday Reality Check-Size Matters And I Won’t Stop Saying It

Posted on 23 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

Remember the guy who scribbled what (at least looking back on it) was nearly a love letter to San Diego Chargers WR Malcom Floyd last summer?

Remember the guy who pounded on the desk for days during his first full week as host of “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net about how much he wanted to see the Baltimore Ravens add Floyd to their receiving corps for 2011?

Remember the guy who received ridicule for not being excited (and frankly showing a level of discontent) after the Ravens failed to acquire Floyd and instead dealt for Buffalo Bills WR Lee Evans?

The name’s Glenn Clark. It’s good to talk to you again. In case you were wondering, I haven’t stopped bitching about the need for the Ravens to add size to their receiving corps.

After a relatively quiet start to the 2012 NFL Offseason, the Ravens will absolutely add players this week. The Ravens have eight picks in this weekend’s NFL Draft, and will have the opportunity to address both depth and need over the course of the weekend. Fans and analysts have debated the order of the team’s needs, largely agreeing that Offensive Line, Interior Linebacker, Pass Rusher, Running Back, Safety, Wide Receiver and Kick/Punt Returner tend to make up the list.

I don’t particularly care what order the Ravens use to rank their own needs. As we all know, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and company won’t suddenly move away from the “best player available” philosophy that has worked so well for them in recent years.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that at some point during the course of the weekend the team will draft at least one receiver.

My rallying cry will remain the same. When they do, they need to find a receiver who can get up and get the football.

In 2011, six of the top seven total offenses in the National Football League included a significant contributor (either at WR or TE) who stood at least 6’5″ or taller. The other team (the Philadelphia Eagles) had a 6’4″ TE target in Brent Celek.

The Baltimore Ravens have two tight ends (Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson) who are both listed at 6’4″ but who have been unable to establish themselves as legitimate red zone threats at the pro level. This has at least something to do with why the Ravens managed to score TD’s on just 50% of their trips to the red zone in 2011, a mark good enough for only 18th in the NFL.

(The lack of a singular red zone receiving target isn’t necessarily the ONLY reason why the Ravens have struggled to score TD’s in the red zone, but it’s hard to fathom mutual exclusivity here.)

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Your Monday Reality Check-I Got A Nice Reminder Sunday

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Your Monday Reality Check-I Got A Nice Reminder Sunday

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Glenn Clark

It’s been a tough start to National Football League free agency for Baltimore Ravens fans.

Even for the most realistic fan of the Purple And Black (I’d like to think of myself in that group), it’s impossible to be excited about a six day span that has seen five players (LB Jarret Johnson, DL Cory Redding, G Ben Grubbs, S Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura) depart, just one free agent (C Matt Birk) return and no free agents added to the roster.

The realistic Ravens fan knew this could be coming. Between them, the five players share just one Pro Bowl appearance (Grubbs was invited to Hawaii this season as an injury replacement) and all were able to cash in on the open market. The Ravens, having spent significant money during the regular season to extend would-be free agent DT Haloti Ngata decided none were “cornerstone” players and wouldn’t overpay to keep them.

The Ravens are instead working to spend a boatload of money to extend QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice, both players they do believe are “cornerstone” parts of the organization.

The realistic fan also knows the Ravens still have work to do in free agency before the process is finished. It was revealed this week that return specialist (and part time Wide Receiver) Ted Ginn Jr. visited Owings Mills last week. The team could still look to find help along the Offensive Line and at Linebacker as well, and could even add another Safety at some point.

Additionally, the realistic fan is aware that the upcoming NFL Draft is likely to help shape the 2012 season for the defending AFC North champs, with some players (like WR Torrey Smith and DE Pernell McPhee) not likely to fully develop into contributors until after the season has started.

AND the realistic fan knows the 2012 season will also be defined in part by the continued development of young players. Entering the 2011 season, the team’s secondary was considered to be one of the bigger question marks about the roster. Just months later, the CB trio of Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith represents one of the more solid units in football.

Yet even the most realistic Ravens fan still agonizes over the thought “can enough be done to get this team over the hump and into a Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years?”

A reasonable level of concern is understandable at this point. In addition to the pre-existing question marks facing the team (uneven O-Line play, lack of a size receiver, age and injury related decline from defensive playmakers, Special Teams issues), there are additional depth issues created by the first batch of free agent departures.

It’s an uneasy time for Ravens fans.

The majority of Ravens fans have not swayed far from reality in how they’ve viewed Week 1 of the actual NFL offseason. As can be expected, some have gone off the deep end entirely. The reminder I got Sunday could serve as a nice “reality check” itself for fans in both groups. It’s probably something you already know about.

I assume you’ve heard that free agent quarterback Matt Flynn agreed to a three year, $26 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. As the deal involved only $10 million of guaranteed money, most analysts agreed it was a particularly fair and perhaps very good deal for a team that is trying to improve on a third place finish in the NFC West last season.

I actually think the deal was a great move for the Seahawks. In fact, just days ago during our weekly “Free Advice” segment on “The Reality Check” (weekdays 2-6pm on AM1570 WNST.net for the one of you that doesn’t listen already) I encouraged the Seahawks to pull the trigger on the move. I can only assume my endorsement was the final approval the team needed to get the deal done.

But the facts about Flynn don’t change. The quarterback was believed to have so little pro talent coming out of LSU that he slid to the seventh round of the NFL Draft. While they’ve been impressive, he’s made only two starts with the Green Bay Packers as is still mostly an unknown commodity.

An unknown commodity who has $10 million guaranteed coming his way.

You see, the Seahawks are in a place where they had to make a significant move that could backfire. Matt Flynn might be more Rick Mirer than Matt Hasselbeck in the Emerald City, which could possibly doom Pete Carroll’s tenure.

Yet if the team didn’t pull the trigger, they could face a reality that involves more Tavaris Jackson. That would almost certainly doom Carroll to a sub .500 record until he was dismissed.

The Seahawks had to pull the trigger partly due to desperation. It’s a feeling the Baltimore Ravens have experienced in the past with mixed results. It’s a feeling that Baltimore Ravens fans should enjoy not experiencing this year.

The Ravens haven’t been able to accomplish much during free agency, but they haven’t had to. They’re not a desperate organization seeking a single fix to exit mediocrity. They’re a superior organization merely looking to make a few moves to reach “the next level.”

The Ravens have a quarterback. The Ravens have talented players at other offensive skill positions. The Ravens (still) have one of the best defenses in the league.

Desperation isn’t a word General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Head Coach John Harbaugh and Owner Steve Bisciotti even have to consider. Neither do Ravens fans.

It’s a significantly better place to be. I appreciated the reminder.

Carry on.

-G

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