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Former NFL Safety Carpenter: Every Kid Has A Right to an Education…Why Not Get it For Free by Using Football?”

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Former NFL Safety Carpenter: Every Kid Has A Right to an Education…Why Not Get it For Free by Using Football?”

Posted on 29 June 2010 by Ryan Chell

Aaron Maybin
The year after the Super Bowl, current Buffalo Bills linebacker Aaron Maybin was a young kid in the Baltimore area looking for guidance.

He went to the Ravens annual training camp in 2001, and he was met there by a young and coming linebacker from the Ravens, Ed Hartwell, who had just been drafted by the Ravens in April’s draft.

He spent two hours talking with Hartwell, and he said that he learned so much from Hartwell and a ton of guidance came his way that he never forgot the moment and remembers it vividly to this day.

“Honestly speaking, he was one of those guys who when you met him he was so down to earth and humble, he was so willing to give his time and energy,” Maybin told Rex Snider on Monday’s show on WNST. ”

For a kid that was my age to have somebody willing to spend time with me, it really meant a lot. He probably doesn’t remember those two days, but to me I never forgot those two days…it was experiences like that that kept me on the straight and narrow path.”

Now Maybin and another former Maryland-area NFL player, former Falcons safety Keion Carpenter, are giving back and reciprocating that same advice that an professional football player gave to an up and coming kid.

Maybin, who played his college ball at Penn State and was selected by the Bills in last year’s NFL Draft, and Carpenter, who spent seven years in the NFL between the Bills and the Falcons, are hosting a summer camp for young boys for the second straight year. The camp will  not only teach kids the lessons of football, but to educate the young men and boys about the benefits of a college education, how to handle themselves on and off the field, and how to deal with issues that may lead a young man off the straight and narrow path.

“For us to have the opportunity to do that for the kids we’re working with now, we have a chance to impact lives,” Maybin said.

The camp is called the Commitment 4 Change Summer Football Camp, which is scheduled from July 5th to the 10th at Woodlawn High School, where Carpenter spent his prep days. Kids from ages of 7-17 are welcome to attend, and the cost is 250.00 dollars for the whole week.

Carpenter, whose foundation “The Carpenter House” is helping to sponsor the event, said that this camp is a great opportunity for a young kid wanting football to pay off for them both financially and personally, but especially when it comes to education.

“We’re trying to plant the seed , get you on the right track, so you can put yourself  in position to succeed in life,” Carpenter also told Snider on Monday. ” Not everyone is going to make it to the NFL, but every kid has a right to get an education, and why not get it for free by using football instead of football using you?”

Keion Carpenter

And that’s really what the camp is all about. While it has a football theme to it, Carpenter does want to emphasize that he wants the kids leaving on July 10th with more information about how to get to college and how to handle peer pressure instead of how to wrap up on a tackle.

Instead it’s all about teaching life lessons from guys who have been down that road before and know to how to fight those problems that come their way, or those who went down the wrong path and want to help others not make the same mistakes.

“There’s nothing better than getting on the job training in your field from people who have traveled the same path that you’re about to travel, “Carpenter told Snider.

“We can teach you the basic principles that will help you be successful in anything you try to do. The camp is more focused on those things, doing things the right way, being respectful, going to class…then football gets easy.”

One of the reasons why Carpenter said the camp is more weighted on the life lessons than the football is that Carpenter said that today’s generation of kids are “bigger, stronger, and faster”, and that they feel like it is their duty to provide guidance to make these kids more complete athletes physically and mentally so they do have a greater chance of making it to college and maybe living a dream as an NFL player.

“The beautiful thing Aaron and I are focusing on is the off the field things. The athletes are getting bigger,faster and stronger, but that’s not the thing holding them back from getting scholarships to college. We’re really focusing on putting the student back in front of the athlete.  We know that the kids in Baltimore and the state of Maryland are dealing with a lot of tough issues., and we’re really focusing with those issues. We can teach them what we know on the field, cause we’ve made it to the highest level.”

Carpenter and Maybin are also bringing in a bunch of current and ex-NFL players to also give their guidance to these young kids. One player in particular, Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick, who has had a much publicized fall from grace due to a dogfighting scandal, time in prison, suspension from the NFL to eventually winning the Ed Block Courage Award, is the type of guy that really can impart some knowlege to some kids looking for both football and life lessons.

Maybin in particular was quick to point out that Vick is a great example of learning a big lesson that they are going to emphasize at the camp: knowing who to hang out with and having positive influences around you to keep you on the straight and narrow path.

“You’ve got to have people around you that are going to open up your eyes to the things you can’t see,” Maybin said, “cause you can’t screen everything.

“I cant see every situation that I’m going to be in…but one thing I can do is have positive people around me that are going to keep eyes open and actually care about me that when they see a red flag, they say ‘Hey Aaron, that might not be the way to go’.”

And one of Maybin’s mentors, that former Raven in Hartwell, is also partnering with Maybin and Carpenter to help sponsor and get this event going as best he can.

“It’s going to be fun,” Hartwell said, who spent four years in Baltimore playing behind and next to Ray Lewis from 2001-2004.  “Not only coming down to help kids, but Baltimore is my old stomping grounds. I’m excited to get back in the community doing some things with Keion Carpenter and the rest of the fellas.”

But while this camp is much like a school or classroom session, Carpenter did want to emphasize that the kids are going to have fun, be able to get autographs from dozens of current and past NFL greats, and learn from a excellent staff of high school football coaches.

Carpenter actually had this camp at Towson last year, and next year it will be returning to a college setting next year as Stevenson University will host the third year of the camp. Carpenter would prefer to keep the camp on a college setting as best he can for the ability to show the kids what a college setting is like, and how appealing it can be.

“I’m trying to show you how to get that point,” said Carpenter. “We’re just going to keep exposing these kids to different things to plant that seed at a young age so they get on the fast track toward going to college.”

For more information, be sure to check out the website: www.c4c2010.eventbrite.com

Tune into Rex Snider’s show from 2-6 Monday through Friday here on 1570 WNST!

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Perhaps, Michael Vick Just Won’t Get It ….

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Perhaps, Michael Vick Just Won’t Get It ….

Posted on 28 June 2010 by Rex Snider

While I’m not a passionate fan of Michael Vick’s play on the football field, I have been quietly rooting for him since last season’s return.

To be honest, my hope in seeing him overcome his past has no real tie to football or athletic achievements, at all. I’ve really hoped he would leave his sordid transgressions and the associated lifestyle in the rear view mirror, while proving to himself and others that he is indeed a “CHANGED MAN.”

Better yet, I thought Michael Vick could motivate a growing generation of adolescents who’ve made poor personal choices in their young lives. Maybe, just maybe, his story and ultimate rise from self-destruction would help others in an inspirational way.

There is just one “catch” ….. this anticipated story of a compassionate comeback needs to stay on track.

As recently as a couple weeks ago, things were looking very opimistic.

Today, I’m not so sure.

As the world now knows, Michael Vick celebrated his 30th birthday with a BIG BASH at a Virginia Beach nightclub, on Thursday night. It was promoted and advertised to the general public, via Facebook, Twitter and informal means.
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While some people might think that hosting parties and momentous celebrations are an expressed inclusion of our freedoms, many of us also realize that such events are an invitation to more than just dancing, drinking and eating birthday cake.

And, discerning between these two considerations is probably where Michael Vick screwed up.

I don’t care that he’s a convicted felon and federal parolee; I don’t simply assume he’s done something illegal. He’s paid his debt to society – he has every right to attend charity functions at Martins West, movie premieres in Hollywood and parties thrown in his honor.

However, a clearly distinct line distinguishes the difference between the “RIGHT” to do something, and whether it’s “RIGHT” to do something. I’m certain celebrities employ such decision making methods when considering their presence and involvement at events – both public and private in nature.

It doesn’t matter if they organize or host the event, if a BIG NAME is in attendance and something goes wrong, they’ll be forever tied to it. Just ask TMZ’s Harvey Levin …..

When is the last time this guy did something DUMB or ill-advised in a social setting?
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Good luck finding such an incident. You’ll likely search for days and still never find any smoking guns. And, there is a very plausible reason behind striking out on any quest in finding dirt on Peyton Manning – HE KNOWS BETTER.

Peyton Manning is aware of his image, reputation and obligation to an array of different people. The list includes …..
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His Team
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His Wife
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His Business Partners
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His Family’s Name
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I’m sure you see my point – even if you disagree. But, the names go beyond Peyton Manning. I’m confident this list of guys will not be arrested, accused of criminal conduct or attending a party where another attendee is SHOT, in 2010 ….. Drew Brees, Derek Jeter, Steve Nash, Donovan McNabb, Andy Roddick, Albert Pujols, Hines Ward, Tim Duncan, Jeff Gordon, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco …..

How about this ….. I can think of a list of guys who have endured legal troubles, while making some very poor choices in their respectives pasts. But, they’ve given us every reason to believe we won’t be seeing their name associated with crime and punishment, by year’s end. For me, the list starts with Ray Lewis.

It’s been a decade since Ray ran afoul of the legal system or found himself in a public meltdown of poor judgement. He’s way beyond such indiscretions – he values his reputation and image. He has plenty of company among those who’ve had troubles and overcame them, like ….. Kobe Bryant, Ricky Williams, Josh Hamilton, Kurt Busch, Bernard Hopkins, Brett Favre and Jamal Lewis.

Of course, the final group is those who’ve committed multiple transgressions. Arrested? Yes. Stupid decisions? Yes. Numerous occurences of one or both? Yes. These are the guys you’re most likely going to be hearing about during a BREAKING NEWS segment, early in the morning. This is where you’ll find Brandon Marshall, Elijah Dukes, Sidney Ponson, Marshawn Lynch, Mike Tyson, John Daly, Jeremy Mayfield, Cedric Benson, Allen Iverson, Matt Jones, Delonte West and Michael Vick.

Hey, it’s accurate.

Michael Vick may very well have intended to celebrate an innocent occasion, last Thursday. In fact, I’d be willing to bet on it. He doesn’t want to screw up – he doesn’t want to be out of a job – he doesn’t want to go back to prison. I honestly believe these things.

However, I also believe Michael Vick lacks the sensibility to dissect a proposed action or decision, while considering the ramifications of the FALLOUT if something goes wrong. That’s exactly what he should’ve done when the idea of his birthday party being held at a nightclub, and open to the general public was tabled.
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Why?

Well, there are a few reasons. Foremost, there is very little positive exposure to be gained in a nightclub environment. While nightclubs attract girls dressed in their sexiest wares, they also serve as a hotspot for people with checkered characters. Say what you will – Mike should be whoring himself to more “feel good” opportunities than President Obama, Tom Cruise and the CEO of BP, combined.

Another consideration is Michael Vick should not host, endorse or attach his likeness to ANY EVENT, unless he has direct control over it. I don’t care if a promoter really handled the party, its got the name MICHAEL VICK forever stamped to it. In the future (or in hindsight), he should celebrate his birthday with a party at home or in an establishment that can offer a respected reputation and a high degree of decorum.

If he wants to get CRAZEE and dance with some hotties, while fondling an expensive champagne bottle, he should have the party at home – and make all guests leave their cellphones at the door. Be assured, that’s what happens at Diddy’s house. And, he has much less to worry about than Mike does.

You don’t think Alex Rodriguez enjoyed the arrival of his 30th birthday? How about Ladanian Tomlinson? Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Shaq? They just make good decisions when it comes to enjoying themslves.

As we sit here today, Michael Vick has problems. He might not face any legal sanctions with his Probation Officer. But, I think that everything else is in limbo. I’d bet my HOUSE that a certain group of individuals are angry as HELL. They’ve attached themselves to Michael Vick and he has let them down. Of course, the most important one is obvious …..
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However, you can also include Jeffrey Lurie, Andy Reid, Tony Dungy and Arthur Blank. Each of them went to bat for him, helped him or had a HUGE part in giving him this most recent chance to make a living as a member of the National Football League.

What could they do differently, specifically ask “Michael, will you be celebrating your 30th birthday in a nightclub” ??? They should’ve expected that he would exercise better judgement. No doubt, they rightfully expected it from him.

With each passing hour, more and more details regarding the NIGHTLIFE of Michael Vick are surfacing. Welcome to the age of Twitter, Facebook and online tabloids. We now know Vick hosted parties in May, as well as April.

I wonder if dog fighting co-defendant, Quanis Phillips, attended those events. Probably not. Why did he attend this one? Well, it was held near his home. But, most importantly, he attended last Thursday’s party, because he could.

NOBODY and/or NO PLAN was in place to stop such a situation. And, if they did plan for it, they failed …. which is even worse, if you really think about it.

Thursday’s incident is a loud, distinct message to one of Michael Vick’s former endorsers, as if they have really considered resurrecting his marketability …..
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You can bet the folks in Beaverton, Oregon, are thinking one thing …. “MIKE AIN”T WORTH THE RISK.” And, if Nike is scared off, so is McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Visa and Under Armor. Like humans, corporations are known to forgive and reconcile, but they arguably take far less chances than people do.

Over the last few days, we’ve heard the typical “we will wait until all the facts are known before addressing the situation” line. It’s the SAFE thing to say …. and it may very well apply to the United States Justice Department’s role in the life of Michael Vick.

But, rest assured, NFL spokeman, Greg Aiello, was better off giving the politically correct statement, rather than saying “Roger is done with this experiment.”

As for the Eagles, did you expect them to say “Mr. Lurie is knee deep in trying to void Michael Vick’s contract.” Oh and “Jeff Garcia is visiting team headquarters, later this week.”

Perhaps, both Mr. Goodell and Mr. Lurie haven’t exercised such drastic measures. But, you can bet they’re not sitting on their hands while waiting for an outcome, either. Not a chance …..

They know what they need to know.

Michael Vick may never, EVER be involved in another incident of violence. He may never pose for another mugshot in his life.

But, he cannot be trusted to really think about a potential outcome to the hair-brained ideas of family, friends and cohorts. No doubt, he’s as spontaneously reactive to his cultural ideals as Paris Hilton is to shopping for shoes.

He’s evidently incapable of change. He is who he is …..

He just can’t be trusted to do the RIGHT thing.

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Monday’s PM Crab Cakes and Light Beer

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Monday’s PM Crab Cakes and Light Beer

Posted on 05 April 2010 by Chris Bonetti

Suggested Reading

SportingNews.com:  Outstanding TSN College Hoops columnist Mike DeCourcy suggests, “Don’t believe all the David-Goliath nonsense.” And you know what?  I agree, Mike.  In fact, not only will I take the Bulldogs and the 7.5 points, but I’ll pick Butler outright.  Just saying, the Monday night National Championship Game is the easiest big-time sports ticket to get your hands on.  You better believe all those West Virginia and Michigan State fans’ seats will be occupied with folks from Indy rooting for Butler.  If this game is tight with four minutes to go, it’ll be great to watch Duke’s Big 3 try to score against the stingy Bulldogs’ defense in front of a hugely pro-Butler crowd.  Butler has won 25 games in a row and hasn’t allowed any opponent in the Tournament to score more than 59 points.  If guard Shelvin Mack, who battled leg cramp issues, and center Matt Howard, who had concussion like symptoms, are ready to roll 100 percent with Gordon Hayward, Duke gets over that 60-point watermark, but it won’t be enough to prevent coach Brad Stevens’ team’s 26th straight win.

SI.com: College Basketball columnist, Andy Glockner breaks down tonight’s title tilt position by position in, “Title game matchup: Duke vs. Butler.”

NY Times: Kevin Armstrong takes a closer look at the off-court statistics of Duke and Butler in, “For Butler and Duke, a Very Public Affair.” They are the first two private schools to meet for the National Championship since Villanova-Georgetown 25 years ago.

USAToday.com: Bob Kimball dissects Tiger’s press conference from The Masters this afternoon in, “Tiger Woods speaks: Praises fans, apologizes to fellow pros on Tour”

ESPN.com: Sal Paolantonio looks back at McNabb’s career in Philadelphia in, “Eagles decide McNabb’s time is up.”

SI.com: A weekly must read, Peter King’s, “Monday Morning Quarterback: How the McNabb-to-Redskins trade impacts the rest of the NFL, draft.”

FanHouse: Kevin Blackistone unfortunately tells us about Matt James, an All American football recruit headed to Notre Dame in September, whom fell to his death while on Spring Break with friends in Panama City, FL this past weekend in, “An ‘Incredible future’ ends needlessly.”

ESPN.com:  Boxing columnist Dan Rafael says, “It’s time for Hopkins and Jones to retire,” after their bout this weekend in Las Vegas, won by Bernard Hopkins via unanimous decision.

Video of the Day

There’s been a lot of talk about DaSean Butler’s knee injury and its aftermath Saturday night with Bob Huggins consoling his senior, whom turned out to have a torn ACL and sprained MCL.  An odd sight sure… but a definite true sign of a coach’s compassion for his player.  I loved it; thought it was great.  However, I do have a HUGE problem with something.  The way Butler was carried from the floor was utterly UNACCEPTABLE!  How can a team physician and training staff not immobilize the knee in any way and allow two other players to carry their teammate of the floor with his leg just dangling, knocking against the ground with every step.  Jeez, further damage can be done so easily in that situation.  Unreal.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2dUjfAqTg4&feature=popt11us08[/youtube]

Tweets of the Day

The President of the United States, Barack Obama – BarackObama

Opening the 2010 baseball season with the first pitch at Nationals Park today.

The Trips Tab at WNST.net – WNST

News: Capitals Playoff Puck Bus now on sale via TRIPS tab: Join the WNST “Rock The Red” Baltimore crew for an “all… http://bit.ly/bBMlhb

The Trips Tab at WNST.net – WNST

News: Yankee Stadium bustrip for Wednesday, May 5 matinee now onsale: Miller Lite presents another WNST Orange Roa… http://bit.ly/dDqKYD

ESPN MLB Columnist, Jayson Stark – jaysonst

Nationals haven’t allowed 11 R on Opening Day since . . . well, last year . . . when they gave up 12 to Florida. Quite a tradition.

SI MLB Insider, Jon Heyman – SI_JonHeyman

just asked lasorda in lunchroom why padilla started today. “i dont know. you know how many people asked me that question?”

New York Times College Basketball Columnist, Pete Thamel – PeteThamelNYT

Just talked to a Butler official who said that the players went to their 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. classes today. Back for 12:30 film.

WNST NFL Correspondent, Chris Pika – BlogAndTackle

Butler-Duke tonight would be a game I’d like to see Jim Nantz lose his voice, and CBS go to the bullpen for Gus Johnson.

FoxSports.com College Basketball Columnist, Jeff Goodman – goodmanonfox

Fran Fraschilla, according to sources close to the situation, has withdrawn from the Iona opening.

SI.com NFL Columnist, Peter King – SI_PeterKing

I like the trade. Helps both teams. Lets Reid move on with kid he thinks could be ARodgers. Gives Shanny top-12 QB to play aerial game.

Former Ravens, Browns Scout and friend of WNST, Daniel Jeremiah – MoveTheSticks

Theory for the Eagles must be to let Kolb and the other young skill guys grow up together. That way they hit their prime at the same time

ESPN NFL Insider, Chris Pika – Adam_Schefter

McNabb has 3rd-highest winning percentage among active quarterbacks (83-45-1, .647) behind Manning (119-59, .669) and Brady (88-25, .779).

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Wednesday’s PM Crab Cakes and Light Beer

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Wednesday’s PM Crab Cakes and Light Beer

Posted on 31 March 2010 by Chris Bonetti

The Swinging Bunt

Eagles falling apart in Philly.  You know, I guess I can understand the Eagles’ hesitance in trading Donovan McNabb.  Over the last decade the Philadelphia Eagles have been, if nothing else, one of the most consistent franchises in the National Football League.  Coming off a 3-13 record in ’98, team owner Jeffrey Lurie finally put in place the integral pieces of a puzzle that would result in 5 NFC East Titles, and 8 Playoff births over the next 12 years.  He hired Andy Reid as Head Coach, who in turn hired Jim Johnson as Defensive Coordinator, and the organization selected Donovan McNabb with the #2 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.  By 2001 Brian Westbrook was an undrafted rookie making an impact and the Eagles were on their way to 5 NFC Championship Games.  On January 18th, 2008 it seems the Eagles franchise officially began their rebuilding faze.  They lost 32-25 to the Arizona Cardinals that day in the desert and a tumultuous two year time span has ensued.  In the summer of ’09 Jim Johnson, after 40 years of service to the game of football, passed away after a bout with cancer and Brian Westbrook, due to continuous concussion issues, was released by the team this off-season after 10,000 yards and 66 TD’s combined rushing and receiving.  Andy Reid is still the head coach; and yes, he and McNabb are still attached at the hip… for the moment.  But as rumors, speculation, and proposed ‘front’-runners’ for McNabb’s services continue to emerge, it seems all the more likely his football marriage with Philadelphia appears headed for divorce.  It’s a shame, too.  If Jeffrey Lurie hadn’t decided to bring Michael Vick back into the league as his third-string quarterback and paid his $1.5M roster bonus this off-season, McNabb might stand in a better position with the only team he’s ever played for.  But as it stands now, Jeffrey Lurie, the man who facilitated bringing in the foundation of Reid, Johnson, McNabb, and Westbrook in the first place, may now have to hammer home the last spoke to break apart the final two, all by trading the best QB in Eagles franchise history.  Must be a tough trade trigger to have to pull.

Suggested Reading

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: “Steelers are no better than the Bengals.” Strong headline from Ron Cook, who’s not talking about talent, or even winning games, on the field.

Deadspin: Editor Will Leitch takes a look at Baltimore’s very own Orioles in, “The Stacked Deck.” While the title gives the impression of a very positive, upbeat write-up, Leitch comes to this by the end, “Is this what this new plan is leading to? A 78-win season in 2013? That’ll sell some tickets.”  Haha.

SI.com:  Thirteen Sports Illustrated Baseball Experts give their predictions for the 2010 season in their very appropriately named, “2010 MLB Preseason Predictions.” In case you’re wondering, Matusz was named as A.L. ROY on 7 of 13 ballots.

New York Post:  More Tiger details from David K. Li in, “The naked truth on tomcat Tiger.” Apparently we’ll have a long ‘Vanity Fair’ cover story on Tiger’s mistresses coming up very soon.  The Post scoops in for a preview.

Deadspin: Barry Petchesky looks at, “The (other) Least Desireable Gig in College Basketball.” I gave St. John’s a hard time, but it seems they ended up doing decently for themselves with Lavin.  Who does DePaul turn to?

Video of the Day

Who doesn’t love ‘Ridiculous Shots That Don’t Count’ videos?  Here’s Flip Murray’s from last night… pretty incredible.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=St2L0fvXYC0[/youtube]

Tweets of the Day

WNST Comcast Morning Show Producer, Glenn Clark – WNST

GMC: #Ravens vs. #Carolina 8/12 on #ESPN; @ #Skins Aug. 20 or 21; vs. #Giants 8/27 or 8/28; @ #Rams 9/2 in preseason

WNST NFL Correspondent, Chris Pika – WNST

Chris Pika: Former #Maryland hoops player/asst. coach Dave Dickerson is out as #Tulane head coach after 5 seasons, according to media reports.

New York Times College Basketball Columnist, Pete Thamel – PeteThamelNYT

Theme song from Indy: “Its the end of the world as we know it.” Jim Delany (Big Ten Commissioner) tells USA Today that expanded tourney “probable.”

ESPN College Basketball Insider, Andy Katz – ESPNAndyKatz

News conference at Pitt this afternoon to announce coach Jamie Dixon — getting an extension. Not leaving for Oregon as expected.

D1scourse Blogger, Patrick Stevens – D1scourse

So, if Carolina wins tomorrow, will the banner in the Dean Dome read “NIT champion” or “A-10 semifinalist”?

Baltimore Sun National Baseball Writer, Dan Connolley – danconnollysun #Orioles getting clubbed in 5th inn by Red Sox, 9-1. Lester has allowed 2 hits. Maybe both clubs are ready for the season

ESPN NFL Insider, Chris Mortensen – mortreport

Next QB Class: Washington’s Jake Locker, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett could all be top 5 picks in 2011.

ESPN NFL Insider, Adam Schefter – Adam_Schefter

Waiting on Donovan McNabb gives us something to do while we’re waiting on Brett Favre.

Sports Illustrated Soccer Columnist, Grant Wahl – GrantWahl

Wayne Rooney out 2-4 weeks w/ankle sprain. Could impact ManUtd in Prem/CL, but not England for WC. http://bit.ly/9sIbeJ

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Take 10 Minutes …..

Posted on 10 March 2010 by Rex Snider

I woke up this morning with a PLAN. That’s right, on the heels of writing my War & Peace-themed Ben Roethlisberger Blog, I was fired up to level some impassioned criticism toward the deserving souls who decided against suspending Carl Edwards and his vengeful personality.

I had a couple hours of “Me Time” and I was gonna use it with purpose for taking an impartial, but qualified swipe at a fitting and negligent recipient – NASCAR.

But, as always, I took a few minutes to read today’s newest blogs; I enjoy the work of others and its best to ensure we’re not broaching the same topics on the very same day. I’m glad I took the ten minutes …..

If you accept any advice from a guy like me, let this be the occasion. Grab your favorite refreshment – coffee, tea or soda ….. and open your mind and heart to the realities of humanity.

Oh yeah, and click on Nestor’s latest blog, “Let Me Tell You A Story About Michael Vick.”

Without divulging too much about the blog’s nature or making this a Cliff Notes version of Nestor’s heartfelt message, I’ll simply concede it caused me to experience an array of emotions. It’s not about touchdowns, awards or DOGS. In fact, its just a vivid reminder of LIFE’S fragility.

Last night, Michael Vick, faced the music for his sins, again. He withstood an organized demonstration against him, again. He showed contrition and a desire to mend broken bridges, again. He has done all these things, again and again and again.

Your mind is undoubtedly made up and nobody will change it. I’m not in the “Changing Minds” business, anyway.

Michael Vick has his supporters and he has a bevy of detractors. For the most part, the latter have merited a more prominent voice – a louder voice. But, they’re also encouraged with abundant media exposure, which has served as a prime promotional opportunity.

Yet, last night, one Michael Vick supporter stood out ….. even if he couldn’t stand up.

Dundalk’s Frank Vanik is in the fight of his life, against an enemy he can’t touch, feel or see. He’s battling Multiple Sclerosis. Better yet, he’s living with Multiple Sclerosis. Frank has been living with MS since his days as a student at Virginia Tech.

I’ve never met Frank. But, in reading Nestor’s blog, I kinda got to know him. He’s a better man than me.

And, last night, Frank showed up at the Ed Block Courage Awards to support his fellow alum, Mike Vick. Frank obviously didn’t fret at the protesters, as he proudly displayed a wardrobe of Hokies paraphernalia. He was there for Michael, plain and simple …..

How fitting, huh?

As Michael Vick has made it a daily mission to repent and seek a fresh start, he has encountered enemies at every turn in the road. He just keeps his chin up and absorbs the beating he’s undoubtedly expected. It’s part of the deal and I’m certain he knew what awaited him, at Martins West.

While the embattled Eagles quarterback probably assumed his detractors would attack in bullying style, I’d bet he probably didn’t expect anyone to show up and defend him. Quite fittingly, the ally who attended the event can’t raise a fist to anyone. But, he was there.

Today, Michael Vick will continue to absorb his lumps from sports fans around the NFL nation. The folks associated with the Ed Block Courage Awards will take a beating, too. They’re easy targets and it’s the popular thing to do.

Hey, at least Mike showed up. It was a more sincere effort than Tom Brady made.

In fairness to Brady, I don’t know why Baltimore didn’t fit into last night’s travel schedule. He is the father of a newborn and this is his off-season.

I scanned the web for any trickling of information that might shed light on Tom Brady’s whereabouts. Maybe, he had a genuine reason for skipping last night’s event – regardless of a cause so noble as helping abused children.

But, the truth is Michael Vick showed up and a guy like Tom Brady didn’t. It is what it is …..

I’m sort of indifferent toward the entire Michael Vick saga. I understand the emotional response from people, but I also see a guy who’s paid his debt to society. Ot, at least I thought so …..

Evidently, Michael Vick has an insurmountable debt with many people. He’s cast in the same heap with the likes of Osama Bin Laden and other heathens. For those people, Michael Vick will never dig out of his hole. That’s a reality.

Aside from all the goodwill that envelopes an event like the Ed Block Courage Awards, some folks are just bent on citing and exploiting negativity. It’s their very nature.

Yet, last night’s BIG STORY cannot be overshadowed by PETA or any other radical group of hate spewers. Good always prevails in the end.

And, no, I’m not talking about Michael Vick.

Indeed, I’m talking about Frank Vanik. He had every reason to stay home and relax on a chilly, March night. Instead, he chose to do a good thing ….. and support a fellow alum who needed a helping hand.

My day is starting out right. Thanks, Frank …..

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Blog & Tackle: Second chance for Stallworth

Posted on 17 February 2010 by Chris Pika

All eyes will certainly be on wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth and the Baltimore Ravens after the club signed him Wednesday – a second chance for a man whose horrible personal decision cost another man his life less than a year ago.

The football move to add depth to the wide receiver corps is a good thing for a Ravens team in need of playmakers. He was 21st among wide receivers from 2005-09 in yards per reception (14.8) and 11th among WRs in average yards after the catch (5.3) over the same five-year period. Stallworth is not a No. 1 receiver any more, but he will be someone opposing defenses will have to account for.

Stallworth has had a lot of personal accounting to do over the last year.

He was convicted of second-degree DUI manslaughter in the death of Mario Reyes in March 2009. He admitted to drinking the night of the accident, and received a sentence of 30 days in jail, 1,000 hours of community service, two years of house arrest and 10 years probation. He also lost his Florida driving privileges for the rest of his life.

He served just 24 days in jail – a sentence that angered many of those who fight for tougher drunk-driving laws – and he avoided a civil lawsuit by reaching a financial settlement with the Reyes family. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the 2009 season, and he was reinstated the day after Super Bowl XLIV.

So, Stallworth was eligible to return to work, and the Ravens have given him an opportunity to re-prove himself.

I worked around Stallworth during his first four seasons in the NFL with New Orleans (2002-05). I won’t say I knew him well outside of the locker room, but I had plenty of conversations with him about football and his career after practices and games. You also get a real sense about a player by watching him interact with his teammates and coaches when the media isn’t around.

Stallworth was well-liked in the locker room, and he worked hard on the practice field. He’s had a lot of injury issues (hamstring, heel) during his career, and his prep work before practices and games was painful to watch as his hamstrings were stretched to the limit like a track athlete’s would be before a meet (Stallworth ran track and jumped in high school).

The early-entry to the NFL (he was drafted No. 13 overall out of Tennessee after his junior year) battled those injuries in his first two seasons to start just 10 games among the 24 he played, although he had eight TD catches as a rookie in 2002.

The next two seasons he caught fire, with 767 yards and five TDs in 2004 and 945 yards and seven TDs in 2005 during the club’s disastrous 3-13 Katrina season. In August 2006, he was traded to Philadelphia, and later was fourth on the team in receptions for the Patriots during their undefeated regular season in 2007. He battled injuries again in 2008 with Cleveland, and his numbers tumbled.

Stallworth’s one-year signing does not present a significant risk to the Ravens. As ESPN’s Adam Schefter points out, both Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, and Stallworth is the only veteran WR under contract in Baltimore right now. He still has the burst of speed and good hands to be effective as a possession receiver for Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense. He has been working out, and obviously the Ravens looked at both the football player and the person before offering him a contract.

I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone what to think of the Ravens signing Stallworth, especially in light of his conviction. But I can say this from my perspective: He is a very thoughtful person who seems to “get it” about the game and life. I read the quotes from Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, and all spoke about his horrible decision, and the consequences for both the Reyes family and for the man who chose to drink and drive.

Stallworth has to live with that result each day, and while he paid a financial sum, he can never repay the emotional debt to Reyes’ family.

“I will never get that morning back,” he said in the Ravens’ press release. “It weighs on me every day and will for the rest of my life. What I can do is move forward, try to be a better person, try to convince others not to do what I did and warn others about the dangers of drinking and driving. I have to show otherwise that what happened doesn’t reflect who I am. I have to prove that, and, hopefully, I’m on my way to doing that.”

Maybe the prevalent “it will never happen to me” mentality in locker rooms or the local bars might come to a momentary pause when hearing Stallworth’s message.

“I will make the best of it, and some people may listen to me because I will be playing,” he said. “I hope I can do some good in delivering a message that could help someone or prevent someone from doing what I did.”

If anyone thinks twice and doesn’t climb behind the wheel after a couple of drinks because of Stallworth’s fatal mistake, that will be the most important unseen catch of his career.

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The NFL Isn’t a Passing League Just Yet

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The NFL Isn’t a Passing League Just Yet

Posted on 14 January 2010 by Thyrl Nelson

Despite the proclamations of many, the NFL still looks to be a running league, at least once playoff time rolls around.

The NFL has become a passing league. You don’t have to look too deeply to find evidence of that. Quarterbacks are piling up unprecedented numbers, referees are calling penalties downfield much more tightly, and every so-called expert fit to offer an opinion seems to agree that the NFL, and football leagues at all levels for that matter, is becoming a passing league.

 

The question though is, are they quite there yet? Fans in Indianapolis, Arizona, New Orleans and even San Diego are sure hoping so. If the league favors the passing game these days, there are few teams better equipped than those to air it out and run it up. And with 3 of this weekend’s games being staged in domes, and the other in sunny San Diego, there’s virtually no chance that conditions are anything but ideal for primed offenses to open things up this weekend.

 

In terms of getting to the playoffs, a strong passing game may be the key, or at least a big part of the formula. Seven of the top eight passing offenses from this season qualified for postseason play, and 5 of those remain alive into this weekend’s action. That’s partly because 4 of those teams earned byes for the first round of the playoffs – a testament to their success no doubt – but among those who played only Dallas managed a win.

 

New England’s 3rd ranked pass offense fell to a Ravens club that finished the season 18th in passing yards, and only completed 4 passes themselves on Sunday. The sixth ranked Cowboys advanced as well, against the 10th ranked Eagles, and in doing so out rushed Philadelphia nearly 3 carries to 1. The 7th ranked Packers fell to the 12th ranked Cardinals in a shootout for the ages, and the Cards may consider themselves lucky to have escaped a game that most conceded would boil down to who had the ball last. It’s probably still worth mentioning though, that with a 17 point lead early, and a 31-10 lead just after halftime, Arizona probably wins easily if they use Beanie Wells and his 6.5 yards per carry for the game, more than 14 times. This weekend, the 2nd ranked Colts, 4th ranked Saints, 5th ranked Chargers and 8th ranked Vikings will try to join the Cowboys in reversing the run first trend.

 

When you look at running stats, the trend remains the same, where the Jets (1st), Ravens (5th) and Bengals (9th) are the only top 10 running offenses to gain entry to the playoffs without a top 10 passing game too. (The Saints and Cowboys are 6th and 7th respectively, but also boast top 10 passing offenses) But again in last weekend’s action we saw 3 of 4 games go to the team who ran the ball better during the season, and arguably all 4 went to the team better equipped and more committed to running the ball in their playoff games. (Make your own determination on what decided that Packers / Cardinals game)

 

If you’re looking for a read on this debate, from an offensive standpoint, this weekend’s games couldn’t provide a better “boxer vs. puncher” analogy, especially in the AFC. On Saturday the Jets will take a #1 running game and a #31 passing game to San Diego, where conditions should be ideal for anything, to face a Chargers offense ranked 5th in passing and 31st in rushing. On Sunday the Ravens will take the 5th ranked rushing offense and 18th ranked passing offense to see a Colts offense that ranks 2nd in passing, but 32nd (that’s last) in rushing.

 

On the NFC side the offensive match ups might be a little trickier than the numbers may bear out. When the Cardinals travel to New Orleans on Saturday, they’ll be offensively overmatched on both sides, at least statistically. The Saints pass offense ranks 4th in the league to the Cardinals at 12th, but the Saints also boast the 6th ranked rushing offense, while the Cardinals come in at 28th. In Sunday’s match up, Dallas brings the 6th ranked passing offense and 7th ranked rushing offense, the Vikings come in at 8th in passing and 13th in rushing.

 

While the Saints look better equipped in both ways offensively, the Cardinals have found some rhythm in their running game since expanding the role of Beanie Wells, still with the fear that either of their backs could put the ball on the carpet at any time, Arizona looks like they actually feel safer with Kurt Warner and the passing game, and probably have more top end talent in the passing game than New Orleans if not their depth, especially if Boldin is healthy. The Saints look like they can beat you offensively any way they choose, but also seem to have lost momentum over the seasons closing weeks.

 

While the Cowboys have the edge statistically over the Vikings in both offensive phases of the game, it’s tough to argue that there’s a more dangerous back in football than Adrian Peterson, and despite his down year offensively, a fresher Peterson for the playoffs could become a scary proposition if the Vikings choose to lean on him. The passing edge favors Dallas statistically too, but in a much closer fashion, whether you’d rather have Brett Favre or Tony Romo quarterbacking your playoff team may be a no-brainer, but both have been known to make some pretty curious decisions in crunch time, usually though, in Favre’s case they work.

 

While the AFC games seem clear cut offensively, with one team looking to run and the other to pass, in the NFC, it may come down to which team is better able, or better equipped to be the dominant clock controlling ground game on game day.

 

On the defensive side of things, the argument may look much different. As it pertains to regular season rankings and making the playoffs, 7 of the top 10 run defenses earned playoff berths, and four of them remain as week 2 approaches. However, in this weekend’s match ups, Green Bay and the leagues top ranked rushing defense lost to the Cardinals, ranked 17th against the run, although run defense was of little consequence in that match up, as both teams looked utterly off balance and unprepared when faced with the few rushing attempts they did see. And the 7th ranked Bengals rush defense lost to the 8th ranked Jets, in what was statistically a push going in, and was basically a push for the day too, with Bengals equaling the Jets’ yardage total, but in less attempts, for a better average, but less time of possession.

 

The 5th ranked Ravens run defense disposed of the 13th ranked Patriots, in a game where running and run defense was clearly the deciding factor, and the 4th ranked Cowboys run defense took out the 9th ranked Eagles, in a game where the Cowboys ran 35 times for 198 yards and 2 TD and the Eagles managed just 13 attempts for 56 yards and no end zone trips.

 

Of the top 10 pass defenses for the regular season, only 4 earned spots in the playoffs, and all 4 also had top 10 run defenses as well. Over the weekend it held up like this, the 1st ranked Jets and 8th ranked Ravens predictably disposed of the 6th ranked Bengals and 12th ranked Patriots, but the 23rd ranked Cardinals beat the 5th ranked Packers and made them look like anything but a top 5 pass defense, and 17th ranked Eagles lost to the 20th ranked Cowboys’ pass defense.

 

In this weekend’s match ups, the Ravens bring the 5th ranked run defense and 8th ranked pass defense against an Indy team that will look to test that highly ranked yet somehow highly maligned Ravens’ secondary. The Colts’ run defense, for their part, ranks 24th in the league, and may have benefited a lot from the Colts’ prolific winning streak and ability to force teams into catch up mode. As for their pass defense, the Colts come in at a middle of the road 14th. This one seems simple to figure out, the Ravens will try to run, and the statistics say that they should be able to. The Colts will look to pass, big surprise, and although it looks statistically like they might have some problems, and the Ravens secondary seemed to go to another level in Foxboro on Sunday, I’ll still believe that when I see it.

 

As stated above, San Diego will probably be looking to air it out against the Jets and will have their work cut out for them. It’ll be cut out for them no matter how they choose to attack a Jets defense that ranks 1st against the pass and 8th against the run. If the Jets defense does what they’re capable of, then this one could fall to rookie Mark Sanchez, or more likely the Jets running game. For their part, the Chargers rank 20th against the run, so they’ll have their work cut out for them there. The rookie Sanchez will have to deal with a San Diego pass defense that ranks just outside of the top 10 statistically at 11th, but who may have to load up the box in an effort to stop the Jets’ prolific running game.

 

On the NFC side, in what looks to be a shootout, Arizona is obviously utterly under equipped to deal with an offense like the Saints’. The Cards pass defense ranks 23rd in the league, and their run defense isn’t much better coming in at an unimpressive 17th. It looks like Sean Payton and Drew Brees will have their choice of how to attack the Cards’ defense, and if you saw them last week, it’s tough to argue that this Arizona team is ready for an offense like the Saints. Defensively the Saints come in ranked 23rd against the run, despite playing much of the season from far ahead. And like the Cardinals, the Saints’ pass defense is even worse ranking 26th in the league. Like Brees, Kurt Warner should have his choice of how to go after the Saints defense, but seems less likely to rely on the running game if it’s close. This may be another case of whichever team scores last wins, but the Saints didn’t look good before they elected to shut down, if they take time to get warmed up, this one could start like the Cardinals’ last game. We may get to see if they learned anything about running the clock from that one.

 

And in the other game, the Cowboys with the 20th ranked pass defense and 4th ranked run defense have a pretty clear game plan. They have to hope that their highly regarded run defense can minimize Adrian Peterson, and will have to take their chances against Brett Favre. If the Vikings decide to lean on Peterson though, Dallas may find out just how good he is, which could open up things for Favre and the passing game. The Vikings defense, ranked 7th against the run and 19th against the pass, will hope they have what it takes to minimize the damage from Dallas’ three headed backfield, and will have to hope that Tony Romo lives up to his reputation for making mistakes in crucial moments.

 

So whether or no the league has gone fully to a passing league, just yet at least, is still debatable, but this weekend’s games should provide an interesting case study in what wins playoff games, particularly in the AFC. I’ll stick with defense and running, until it’s proven otherwise, and last weekend’s games seem to support that notion. That’s playoff football; right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog (1/7/09)

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog (1/7/09)

Posted on 07 January 2010 by Jack McManus

9:48-

Jim Nantz who will call the Ravens-Patriots playoff matchup this weekend comes on with Drew. Nantz invites Drew to see him before the game. He talks about the teams’ previous game that was the Raven’s first loss of the season. Nantz next explains how the league has turned into an offensive league. He states that through the draft and hiring decisions the Ravens have adjusted well to this change. After talking to Harbaugh, Nantz says that the coach believes that team is better at every aspect of the game.

nantz

9:31-

Sean Salisbury now joins Drew. He says that he is looking forward to a hard-hitting, good game between the Ravens and the Patriots. Drew tells Sean that he is sticking with his Super Bowl pick of the Chargers over the Packers in the Super Bowl. Drew states that he thinks the winner of the Green Bay-Arizona game will defeat the Saints. Sean agrees that a physical team could take down the Saints.

game

9:13-

Devin Barclay is the next guest. He is a Maryland-native and was the kicker for Ohio State this past college football season. Barclay is a former professional soccer player. After his short career, he walked on at Ohio State and began to kick field goals. He talks about the pressure of playing for such a prominent national power house, like the Buckeyes. He next discusses why his soccer career did not pan out. He states that one thing can never determine one’s career. He explains that a multitude of factors led him to step away from the sport when he did.
barclay

9:00-

Steve from Pimlico calls in. He brings up the fact that a team’s quarterback makes or breaks the coach. He gives the example of Bill Belichick before and after Tom Brady was the starting QB.

8:30-

Drew talks about a comment Mike Paskoff made on his blog this morning. Mike then calls in and the two get in a heated discussion. They talk about Drew’s decision to lose a game on purpose

8:09-

Brian Billick makes his weekly appearance. He begins by discussing the excitement of wild card weekend and the uncertainty for some head coaches. He next talks about the Cleveland Browns’ situation. The team is carrying some momentum into the offseason by winning its last four games. Brian explains that he is not sure what direction Mike Holmgren will take with coach Eric Mangini. Drew reminds Brian that the Buffalo Bills play the Ravens next season. Brian responds that he believes the Bills will find a top young coordinator to the head coach. Before he leaves, Brian says that Dallas will beat Philly, Green Bay will beat Arizona, the Ravens will beat New England, and New York will beat Cincinnati.

billick

7:31-

Jalen Parmele of the Ravens joins Drew early this morning. He starts off by talking about how it is exciting for him to able to make a name for himself in the NFL. He also states that he hopes to be a part of the mix for the kick returning job next year. Next, Parmele explains how the game this upcoming weekend will be special, since it is his first ever playoff. He also discusses the difference between returning punts and kicks. He states that he has not returned punts since high school. On the topic of preparation for the Patriots, Parmele says that the team is doing  essentially the same thing as the other weeks.
parmele

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog(11/17/09)

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog(11/17/09)

Posted on 17 November 2009 by Jack McManus

9:32-

A caller brings up the struggles of the offensive line in the last few games. Drew believes that the team’s guards did not have good games last night. With matchups against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis coming up, the line needs to step up.

mathis

9:18-

A caller compares the Ravens offense to that of the Philadelphia Eagles. Both teams rely on a small running back to carry much of the load. This could very well be due to John Harbaugh’s long tenure under Andy Reid. Drew thinks the team over-relies on Ray Rice. This makes that team too easy to plan for.

 rice

9:06-

Tommy Polley is now on with Drew to talk some football. Polley talks about his participation in games that are simply very boring, like the one last night. He moves on to the Ravens’ improved talking last night. You must take whatever you can from a game like that. Polley next talks about playing against Peyton Manning. He states that he learned that football is more of a mental game than it is a physical game.

polley

8:50-

Pete from Downtown is the next caller. He explains that the Ravens will not be prepared to play the Colts on Sunday. He blames this on the coaching. He thinks the team should protest the people coaching the team, similar to what the Browns did last night.

harbaugh 

8:36-

A caller points out the fact that the Ravens were out of timeouts halfway through the first quarter. Drew does not understand what the coaching staff was looking at on the early challenge.

8:23-

Merton now joins from way over in Indianapolis. He asks if the Baltimore fans heard the 50 million people turning their TVs off. He states that the Ravens do not belong on the same field as Peyton Manning and the Colts. He leaves us by telling Baltimore that the curse of Robert Irsay will not go away until the city builds a statue of him in front of the stadium.

8:19-

Another caller brings up the Ravens’ recent struggles. He believes that Marvin Lewis must have figured out how to defeat the Ravens. He explains that ever since the team’s first loss, every other team has taken the same strategy and it has been effective.

8:03-

A caller blames the fact that the Ravens struggle to start off games on the team’s struggles on 3rd down. In order to fix that the Ravens need to be more dedicated to running the football. Another caller supports this point. He hopes that the team will change the game plan. The use of different backs will hopefully catch their opponents by surprise.

7:43-

Another caller talks about how the Ravens got Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain more involved in the offense. Drew thinks that the team is still too predictable on offense by not utilizing these two players. Someone else calls in and agrees with this point. He states that other teams seem to mix up their running backs more effectively than the Ravens.

7:40-

A caller talks with Drew about the impact of last night’s game. Drew explains that the only way to take the game is as “a win is a win.” The caller states that the Ravens have had too much difficulty in the passing game right now.

7:30-

Glenn is joining us this morning to talk about the Ravens Browns game last night. He and drew discuss the kicking situation. Drew will not make any excuses for any kicker missing a field goal less than 40 yards. However, he does not think the team makes a change because of the short week. Glenn agrees, but states that at some point Steve Hauschka must prove he can make points.

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Blog & Tackle: How I see Ravens-Browns

Posted on 16 November 2009 by Chris Pika

The stars aligned for the Ravens on Sunday as the Steelers lost to the Bengals, throwing Pittsburgh into the Wild Card race with two meetings with Baltimore still to come.

All that’s left for the Ravens to do is get through tonight’s game at Cleveland to move into a group of 5-4 teams in the AFC with Jacksonville and Houston, just one game back of the Steelers and resurgent San Diego, which hold the two Wild Card spots as of now.

Join us for a special Monday Night Purple Haze at 8 pm ET. Nestor Aparicio and Glenn Clark will be in Cleveland to provide news and notes, and other WNST folks will add analysis. Click here to join in (If you don’t know what the Purple Haze is, check out the archives on that page to see what we do each and every week).

Monday night road games are some of the toughest on players in the NFL. If you are the Monday night home team, you could either stay at home in your own bed, or go to a hotel Sunday night and meet in your facility like a regular Monday would be on a normal week.

For the road team, the routine is fly to the city on Sunday, watch the late games, have meetings and dinner, then off to bed. Monday might might have more meetings, but the players are told to stay off their feet as much as possible, and it’s a long wait until the first buses leave for the stadium four hours before the game. It’s a lot of sitting and waiting to play.

A lot of that can lead to lethargic play, especially early in the game. Coaches have to monitor the energy level of themselves and the players to make sure they are in the right frame of mind when they get to the stadium.

Everyone knows Cleveland’s struggles. Some would say the Browns are a bad team. No team in the NFL is bad. Most of the 53 players on the Browns roster could play for other squads. It’s fair to say they are a struggling team, but they have a lot of pride, just as the Ravens do.

The Browns know the fan unrest, including a planned sit-out of the opening kickoff. Front-office troubles with the firing of George Kokinis have added to the misery. But the message from Eric Mangini to his team is a simple one. “We’re on national TV against a team that went to the AFC title game last year. We can ruin their season, and show the fans that we are better than our record. Have pride, and take the fight to the Ravens.”

The best way to beat a struggling team is to get up early and keep the foot on the gas for the entire 60 minutes. If the Browns score first, like Minnesota and Cincinnati have done to Baltimore in recent weeks, the pressure begins to grow. The longer they hang around, the more confidence they gain, and more any mistakes by the Ravens could be magnified. In short, the Ravens have to treat Cleveland like they would if it was Pittsburgh.

Hopefully the Ravens won’t look back at this game like Philadelphia (Oakland), Green Bay (Tampa Bay) and Denver (Washington) have in recent weeks. Beware of a wounded team in the spotlight. On to the breakdown:

Ravens offense: We’ve seen large doses of Ray Rice both running and catching the football as leads the team in rushing yards and receptions. Tonight would be perfect to get the ball into the hands of Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain as the stretch run begins. Get back to basics: run the ball and control the line of scrimmage. Efficient drives that get 7s, not 3s and continually wear down the Cleveland defense. Opponents lead the NFL in total runs at the Browns left (50 plays) and right guard (74) spots. Cleveland is in the bottom quarter of the league in yards allowed to runs to left end, left tackle, up the middle, right tackle and right end, and not far from that to left and right guard. You get the picture: run the ball effectively, especially to the outside.

When Flacco wants to pass the ball, he will be more effective on shorter throws. As Cleveland tries to shore up the run, they are susceptible to passes thrown between the secondary and the linemen. The Browns give up 7.8 yards on passes thrown short left (32nd in the NFL) and 9.3 yards on short middle (31st). But he will have to get the ball out quickly as Cleveland will try to blitz a bunch to help out a beleaguered secondary. Look for Todd Heap to find his way into that soft spot for big catches.

Ravens defense: Brady Quinn is back in as the Browns starter as Cleveland has to evaluate what they have in him going forward, especially with a top-five pick in next year’s draft looming. Does Mangini go the Vince Young route with him by throwing safe passes? Consider this: the Browns offense has failed to score a TD in the five games, and no Cleveland back has been in the end zone since last Nov. 17. Without decent playmakers for Quinn to go deep with against a Ravens secondary that has struggled at times, the Browns will have to try to run the ball. Jamal Lewis, who is expected to retire at the end of the season, will try to put together a huge effort against his former club.

Patience is the key for the Ravens. Stifle Lewis and put pressure on Quinn, who is completing close to 60 percent of his passes. Three-and-outs are boring to watch for the national TV audience, but we might see a lot of those from the Browns.

Special teams: Here is where the Ravens have to be careful. Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs is one of the best return men in the league (16.4 avg on punt returns and 27.7 average on kickoff returns). The Ravens need the field to be as long as possible each time the Browns get the ball. Containing Cribbs is a high priority for the Ravens. Baltimore has its own weapon on kick returns in Ladarius Webb, who is averaging 28.2 per return. He’ll have a chance to give the Ravens good field position at either the start of the game, or the second half, and hopefully not any time else.

PREDICTION: The goal here is to demoralize the Browns as soon as possible. Solid running that tires Cleveland up front will help that cause. Baltimore has to find the end zone, not kick field goals early. Cleveland could potentially go no-huddle with Quinn to quicken the pace and not allow the Ravens to catch their breath on defense. If Baltimore slows down Lewis and Cleveland sees a lot of third-and-long spots, the Ravens should grind out a victory that won’t be pretty, but effective to raise the record to 5-4. Ravens 24, Cleveland 10.

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