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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 21 July 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh enters new territory this summer in trying to guide the Ravens to a bounce-back season after missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure a year ago.

The seventh-year head coach is coming off his most difficult offseason in not only revamping his offensive coaching staff but dealing with the arrests of five different players, painting the organization in a more negative and embarrassing light than it’s faced in quite some time. Of course, the Ravens are hopeful they’ve made the necessary changes to rebound from an 8-8 season and return to the postseason playing in what appears to be a wide-open AFC North.

As rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans coming off injuries officially take the practice field in Owings Mills on Tuesday, here are five questions — of many others, quite frankly — to ponder:

1. Will different automatically translate to better for the Ravens offense? If so, how much better?

The easy answer is the 29th-ranked offense in 2013 couldn’t be much worse, so it’s no profound statement to say the unit will be improved under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will bring a stronger emphasis on running the football. The real question is how much better the Ravens will be after averaging a league-worst and franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Kubiak has an excellent reputation dating back to his days with Mike Shanahan in Denver, but quarterback Joe Flacco’s adjustment to a West Coast offense centered around timing, excellent footwork, and shorter throws — not regarded as his biggest strengths — will be interesting to watch after he showed encouraging improvements as spring workouts progressed. Of course, the Ravens hope the free-agent signings of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in addition to a fully-recovered Dennis Pitta will provide the quarterback with consistent weapons he sorely lacked beyond wideout Torrey Smith last season.

Steve Smith was the standout acquisition of the offseason and has been praised for the leadership and swagger he’s already brought to the offense, but he has plenty to prove as a 35-year-old receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three straight years. Daniels figures to be a clear upgrade as the No. 2 tight end behind Pitta, but he played in only five games last season and must prove he can still gain separation entering his ninth NFL season.

The ultimate factor in determining how high the offense can climb will be the improvement of the offensive line with new center Jeremy Zuttah and the return of left guard Kelechi Osemele from season-ending back surgery. Zuttah will be an improvement over Gino Gradkowski with his physical style of play and will be a leader by example in the trenches, but you wonder if there will be some growing pains in making line calls with the veteran having spent more time at guard during his career. Osemele was impressive during spring workouts, but the Ravens need to see his surgically-repaired back hold up during the daily rigors of camp and the third-year lineman had to alter his workout practices as a result of the procedure.

And, of course, the Ravens still aren’t sure who will line up at right tackle, with Rick Wagner the favorite entering camp.

The offense will look quite different, but will there be enough improvement for the Ravens to climb back among the AFC’s elite?

2. How does maligned offensive line coach Juan Castillo fit with the Kubiak system?

After all the hand-wringing over Castillo and calls for him to be dismissed after the offensive line’s woeful 2013 campaign, the hiring of Kubiak all but eliminated that chatter. However, his seat will heat up again very quickly if his unit doesn’t produce immediately in 2014.

Players have dismissed any notion of growing pains last season, but it was clear the coexistence of Castillo and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller wasn’t a good fit. The bigger question this year will be how effectively Castillo implements Kubiak’s brand of stretch outside zone blocking that has produced a plethora of 1,000-yard running backs over the years.

Castillo demands a lot from his his unit before, during, and after practices, which made him a favorite in Philadelphia for so many years, but Harbaugh will have a difficult time sticking with his longtime colleague if the offensive line gets off to another slow start in 2014.

3. How many younger players are ready to make the jump to become standouts?

It’s no secret that the Ravens have undergone quite a transformation since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but a major key in rebounding from last year’s 8-8 finish will be the emergence of younger impact players, something there wasn’t enough of in 2013.

Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith took sizable leaps last season, but others such as Osemele, safety Matt Elam, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, running back Bernard Pierce, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams must become more dynamic players if the Ravens are going to bounce back in a significant way.

Entering 2014, how many great players — not good or solid ones — do the Ravens currently have? Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata might still be considered great around the league but are on the wrong side of 30 and not as dominant as they were a few years ago.

Yes, the Ravens will lean on the likes of veterans Steve Smith, Daniels, and Zuttah to upgrade their respective positions, but substantial improvement in 2014 will only come if the draft classes of 2012 and 2013 are ready to make a larger impact than they did a year ago. And if the likes of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan can bring immediate impact as rookies, Baltimore will be that much more dangerous.

Simply put, the core of this roster needs younger and more dynamic talent to emerge.

4. What can we expect out of Ray Rice?

Even putting aside the ongoing saga of when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will finally make a ruling on a suspension for the embattled running back, it’s difficult to project what kind of player Rice will be entering his seventh season and coming off the worst year of his career.

The 27-year-old was noticeably leaner and faster during spring practices, but it’s difficult to measure elusiveness — or any ability to break tackles — when players aren’t participating in full-contact drills. Much like we ponder about the entire offense, it’s not difficult to envision Rice being better at a lighter weight and with a better offensive line in front of him, but it’s fair to ask if his days as a game-changing back are over.

It will also be fascinating to see if Kubiak views Rice as an every-down back or is more eager to continue to hand opportunities to the likes of Pierce, veteran newcomer Justin Forsett, or rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro even after the sixth-year back returns from his anticipated suspension. Rice split time with Forsett working with the starters this spring — Pierce was still limited returning from offseason shoulder surgery — but it’s difficult to gauge how much of that was Forsett’s experience in Kubiak’s system as well as the Ravens preparing for the suspension.

5. Is the commitment to winning strong enough top to bottom on the roster?

You never like to make generalizations about what’s currently a 90-man roster when referencing five specific players being arrested during the offseason, but it’s fair to question the overall commitment when your players make up more than 25 percent of the NFL’s total number of reported arrests since last season.

Most already expected Harbaugh to have a tougher training camp following the first non-playoff season of his tenure in Baltimore, but the poor off-field behavior lends even more credence to the head coach working his players harder than in past summers.

Make no mistake, there are countless individuals on the roster who are fully dedicated to winning, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the Ravens will be under the microscope in not only how they conduct themselves off the field but how they perform on it this season. The poor choices of several individuals unfortunately drew that scrutiny for the entire roster as critics question the organization’s leadership and overall character.

“We have good, really good guys,” Harbaugh said on the final day of mandatory minicamp last month. “Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, the less inclined you are to do anything to jeopardize that.”

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

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Flacco offseason noise meaningless in big picture

Posted on 02 June 2014 by Luke Jones

In case you haven’t heard by now, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t organize offseason workouts with teammates and has apparently doomed the Ravens’ 2014 season almost two months before training camp begins.

At least that’s what some might have you believe as critics have used this revelation to question the seventh-year quarterback’s commitment to the organization after the worst season of his career in 2013. Or, maybe it’s just the latest example of the overkill of NFL coverage when there simply aren’t enough topics of substance to discuss in the offseason.

I’ll take some level of responsibility for the overreaction to Flacco not organizing informal workouts with teammates after I initially asked Dennis Pitta in early March if he’d talked to his best friend on the team about the tight end’s new contract and whether they planned to get together with other teammates to throw in the offseason. It was a question stemming from sheer curiosity and an effort to spice up what was otherwise a relatively mundane press conference following the announcement of Pitta’s five-year, $32 million contract five days earlier.

The reaction snowballed from there as many used Pitta’s initial response as a springboard to criticize Flacco for not eating, breathing, and sleeping football for all hours of the day and all days of the year.

Truthfully, the outcome of Flacco and his teammates refraining from getting together does nothing to significantly move the meter on where the Ravens’ fate will fall during the 2014 season. Yes, an argument could be made that it could provide a stronger rapport away from the Owings Mills facility, but the lack of any working knowledge of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system as well as an inability to contact coaches would have resulted in little tangible productivity.

Flacco must play better than he did in 2013 as the quarterback acknowledged again last week that he did a poor job of protecting the football in throwing a career-high 22 interceptions for the league’s 29th-ranked offense. Should that improvement come, it will be about putting in extensive preparation with Kubiak and taking advantage of better offensive personnel.

If he plays well in 2014, no one will remember that Flacco didn’t toss around the football with teammates at an undisclosed location in late March or early April. And if the quarterback plays poorly, heavy criticism will be there no matter what he did or didn’t do in the offseason.

In the same way that some critics squawk about veterans skipping voluntary organized team activities in the spring, these stories are only discussed when we’re more than three months away from real games being played and have little bearing on wins and losses by season’s end.

Reed back in Baltimore

Sunday was just another reminder of how good it is to see former Ravens safety Ed Reed maintain a strong relationship with Baltimore as he participated in cornerback Lardarius Webb’s charity softball game at M&T Bank Stadium.

There easily could have been hurt feelings when the Ravens allowed Reed to depart via free agency last year without even putting up a fight to keep him, but the sides remained amicable as the veteran safety returned for the visit to the White House as well as the Super Bowl ring ceremony last summer. It’s only a matter of time before the Ravens honor Reed with a one-day contract — if that’s what he wants, of course — to allow him to retire with the organization that drafted him in 2002, and we’ll see him in the organization’s Ring of Honor as soon as his playing days are over.

Many have called for the future Hall of Fame safety to retire, but there’s no reason why the 35-year-old shouldn’t try to continue playing if there’s a team who wants him and he’s healthy enough — a big question — with the nerve impingement in his neck and past hip issues. His play on the field is a far cry from what it once was as one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, but his leadership and football intelligence could still be assets for a team envisioning the right role for him at this late stage in his career.

As for Reed having a position in the Ravens organization after his playing days are over, it might be too soon to immediately hire him as an assistant coach, but the reputation he gained for mentoring young players late in his career as well as his vast knowledge for the game are talents the organization would be wise to use in some capacity.

Offensive line depth chart crowded

The development of the offensive line will continue to be a major storyline in the preseason as the Ravens decide who will be lining up at right tackle, but a simple look at the depth chart suggests some household names could be on the chopping block at the end of the summer.

The Ravens currently have 11 offensive linemen who either have extensive NFL experience or were drafted by the organization in recent years, a list that includes Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen, and Will Rackley. That group does not include rookie free agent tackle James Hurst, who is held in high regard and was considered a sure draft pick by many experts before he fractured his leg in North Carolina’s bowl game in late December.

Of course, depth doesn’t mean quality depth as the Ravens will determine whether Wagner or Jensen can cut it at right tackle or elect to move Osemele from left guard to tackle and explore the possibility of a veteran like Rackley at the left guard spot. General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh have also left open the possibility of adding another veteran tackle such as Eric Winston.

Regardless of how it plays out, holdovers from recent years such as Reid, Gradkowski, and Shipley should be looking over their shoulder this summer as it’s clear there is plenty of competition in an effort to improve what was an awful line a year ago.

Elam praised

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Harbaugh “very concerned” with Ravens’ off-field problems

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Harbaugh “very concerned” with Ravens’ off-field problems

Posted on 29 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens experiencing their most embarrassing offseason in recent memory, you could hardly blame head coach John Harbaugh for being happy to get his team back on the practice field.

Convening for the first week of organized team activities, the Ravens not only look to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the Harbaugh era but now face questions about leadership and a perceived lack of control at the top with four players being arrested over the last four months. Running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence case understandably garnered the most attention, but Harbaugh seemed to be speaking to a number of individuals when asked about dealing with such a tumultuous offseason following Thursday’s practice.

In addition to Rice, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, offensive lineman Jah Reid, and rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro were all arrested this offseason to bring further humiliation to an organization regarded as one of the finest in the NFL.

“I’m very concerned, always concerned,” Harbaugh said. “We talk to those guys all the time, and I’m disappointed in some of the silliness that’s going on. Guys are young, but … it’s not like you’re your 22- and 23-year-old buddies. You’re not in the same position that they’re in. You have to grow up faster than your pals, so you can’t go home and run around with your pals and think you’re in the same place that they’re in.”

A trimmer Rice was present and participating in Thursday’s practice less than a week after his public statements that were met with much negative reaction. The 27-year-old still awaits a potential fine and suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell after he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program last week to avoid prosecution on a third-degree aggravated assault charge in the state of New Jersey.

Harbaugh wasn’t present for Rice’s media session last Friday but acknowledged he’d read the statement and said he appreciated what the running back had to say.

“When he used the term, ‘failed miserably,’ that hit home with me,” Harbaugh said. “But like all those guys, it’s what you do going forward. That’s what everybody is going to take a look at it.”

Harbaugh acknowledged an increased effort to talk about off-field problems with players this spring and left the door open to making changes in the structure of training camp in terms of curfews and the structure for veterans if necessary.

Following the news of Taliaferro’s arrest in Williamsburg, Va. earlier this week, Harbaugh took some liberty in sending a message to the 2014 fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Taliaferro was arrested for public drunkenness and destruction of property, two misdemeanor charges, after punching out the window of a taxicab.

“We’ve had some conversations since what happened, but we also ran 18 full gassers out there together on Tuesday when we got back, and it was pretty hot,” Harbaugh said. “Was that punishment? No, I was going to do the workout anyway, but I needed some company. He needed to keep up with me.”

The Ravens can only hope the off-field headaches have come to an end with the structure of the third phase of the offseason training program upon players, but the front office and coaching staff will again hold their breath at the conclusion of their mandatory minicamp on June 19, which will leave roughly five weeks of free time for players before the start of training camp in late July. This is generally the time of year in which NFL teams are most concerned with players running afoul of the law.

Asked about alcohol being a common theme in players’ off-field issues, Harbaugh took the notion of drinking responsibly in public a step further by questioning whether highly-trained professional athletes are really helping themselves or their team by going out and consuming alcohol in the first place.

“Discipline is not like a light switch,” Harbaugh said. “You can’t just walk out of this building and all of the sudden turn it off and then go back here and turn it on. Football discipline is a way of life. Football discipline, life discipline — it’s all the same thing.”

Offensive line update

Much focus will be on the revamped offensive line throughout the summer as the Ravens try to improve the league’s 29th-ranked unit from a year ago.

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2015 fifth-round pick, center Jeremy Zuttah worked with the starting offense Thursday and has made a favorable impression with the coaching staff as the Ravens try to implement offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone-stretch blocking scheme. Zuttah is expected to replace incumbent Gino Gradkowski at the center position as Baltimore struggled up the middle last season.

“He’s smart — really smart, really mature [and] goes about his business in a mature way,” said Harbaugh about Zuttah. “I’m just very impressed with how smart he is. He’s very quick. He’s about 305, 306 pounds. He looks good physically in there. But he can move, so we’ll see. It’s going to be interesting to watch him play to see if he can prove himself.”

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Ravens handing of Rice reeks of arrogance

Posted on 25 May 2014 by Tony Wisniewski

You can only talk your way out of things so much; and eventually even the unwise get wise to theatrical circles of rhetoric.

Ray Rice spoke to the public on Friday afternoon and shared exactly what anyone would expect from a guy trying to repair his image and place a stop-loss on the fallout from an embarrassing and very public domestic violence issue with his then-fiancee’, now wife.

Rice had a case of the “sorries” as he sat on the big stage and spoke to fans by using and abusing the local media via a proverbial dog-and-pony-show out at Owings Mills.  No questions, no comments, no additional information to be had.

Rice, fumbling through his phone, said exactly what he wanted to say; exactly what the Ravens wanted him to say.  Some have openly questioned the confusing strategy used by the Ravens PR team, led by Kevin Byrne.  But after listening to Byrne’s conversation with Nestor Aparicio on WNST.net via  The Happy Hours, anyone who wants to see through the smoke-screen will see that the plan and strategy was to make this situation look like it was one of unrehearsed sincerity.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the strategy, from a PR standpoint, was to make it look like there was, in fact, no strategy.

Considering the fact that Rice was previously taking 100-percent of the heat and criticism for his misstep, it’s pretty savvy for the Ravens, from an organizational view, to deflect and deter at least some of the negative attention from him.

It’s shrewd, it’s savvy, and it reeks of the utmost arrogance.

The truth is that the Ravens can pretty much do whatever they really want to do.  The majority of fans will blind themselves by the purple lights and chalk something like this up to something of a crusade against poor Ray Rice.

But the truth is, Rice doesn’t deserve sympathy and the fans don’t deserve to fall victim to a PR move that completely deters and derails their attention away from the questionable illegal actions from one of its local heroes.

Rice should have made a statement without a phone.  He should have apologized without having to “think” and “remember” what to say via some sort of note-taking app.  And, he should have had the respect and decency to stand up and act like a man by taking questions from the same group of media members who have virtually created the love-affair between he and Baltimore by giving him nothing but thanks and praise during the “good times.”

But Rice didn’t do that.  He opted to allow the Ravens to construct a strategy that made him look like an emotionally-drained victim worthy of everyone’s immediate forgiveness.

If it wasn’t bad enough to have Rice babble and wallow in his own pity-party about his family’s disappointment, the Ravens and Byrne went on to frame him as a victim who was too embarrassed to face women at work and too ashamed to even go to the team’s gym during regular hours.

What’s more is the savvy move to use Rice’s wife–who was truly the victim–as a pawn who publicly apologized for her role in the situation that took place in Atlantic City.  It comes across like the typical “he hits me, but he loves me” mentality, which is even more troubling on so many levels.

The Ravens set this up in the way they wanted this to be set up.  Have no doubt, when camp training camp begins later this summer, there will still be lingering questions from reporters and fans alike, who just want to get to the bottom of what the heck happened that night in Atlantic City.  And everyone deserves answers, because it’s not just Rice’s personal situation and hardship, it involves everyone who has any sort of interest and connection to the Ravens and the city of Baltimore.

It involves the fan who now has to take ridicule from opposing fans.  It involves the parents who have to explain why their son or daughter can’t wear his or her number-27 jersey to school.  It involves the guy who has to watch an accused wife-beater run the ball for the team he loves.

The Ravens’ choice to do it this way was arrogant; and when it comes to this type of rhetorical strategy, not everyone is fooled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rice’s first public comments fall short with glaring omission

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Rice’s first public comments fall short with glaring omission

Posted on 23 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ray Rice was never going to win when he finally broke his silence on Friday.

Making his first public comments since a domestic incident in an Atlantic City casino in February forever changed his life, the Ravens running back wasn’t going to find words to brighten the opinions of the many who are justifiably angry and he may never improve the feelings of some. The parameters of declining to answer questions and scheduling the session on a Friday afternoon entering a holiday weekend created skepticism before Rice and his wife, Janay, ever stepped in front of cameras at the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills.

The missteps have already been picked apart, ranging from Rice fumbling with his phone to look at notes and offering an ill-suited analogy of getting up after being knocked down to his wife taking some responsibility for what happened — a public relations nightmare for a domestic violence incident — and the couple appearing distant with one another throughout the proceedings. What may have been a respectable desire to speak from the heart instead of reading a prepared statement was poorly executed as Rice has been known to occasionally ramble and speak in circles in his press conferences over the years.

But it was what he failed to say from the very beginning that ultimately doomed his first attempt to begin rebuilding his public image.

Oversight or not, Rice failed to directly and publicly apologize to his wife — the woman who sat next to him and in front of the entire world on Friday — while he expressed sorrow to others and spoke of his relationship with her growing stronger since the events of February 15. That’s not to assume the 27-year-old hasn’t apologized profusely to his wife in private, but if the goal of Friday’s event was to show his remorse and begin rehabilitating his image in the public eye, it needed to start with a direct appeal to the person impacted most by what happened at the Revel Casino.

Before apologizing to owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, or anyone else, Rice needed to show the world how much he loved the woman sitting next to him and how deeply sorry he was to her. Perhaps the intent was to present a strong and composed partnership between the two, but his lack of an immediate and personal apology to his wife at the beginning made the rest of his words ring hollow.

“As me and Janay wish we could take back 30 seconds of our life,” Rice said, “we definitely sit here today and tell you that we are better parents, we are better lovers, and we are also better friends throughout the situation. And as our families sit here today, we want to just thank you for encouraging us.”

Even with the harsh criticism over what transpired Friday, Rice is fully capable of rehabilitating his image, but that won’t happen overnight. His actions over time and how they impact his wife, family, and others close to him will be the deciding factor while his words on Friday — awkward as they were — carry little weight in the big picture.

Some may eventually forgive him and others will not, but Rice has the ability to make things right in his own life by simply following through on his vows of being a better husband, father, and role model. If he does that in the coming years, lingering criticism from the outside world won’t really matter.

The image of Rice dragging what appeared to be his unconscious fiancée from an elevator will never disappear — reports swirled on Friday afternoon that the seventh-year running back is expected to receive a multi-game suspension from the NFL — but the details about what preceded the events in that disturbing video may never fully come to light.

“There were a lot of tears shed, but me and Janay can truly say that we’re in a better place,” Rice said. “Hopefully, one day, I’ll gain back everyone’s trust to let you all know that we’re still the same people, and I’m still the same person. I really treat my job as a very special job, and I failed miserably. But I wouldn’t call myself a failure, because I’m working my way back up.”

Rice only needs to look to former teammate and close friend Ray Lewis as a notable example of rebuilding one’s image and regaining that trust.

It can be done, but his first attempt to begin that process on Friday was an obvious setback.

The other missteps were always going to be picked apart, but his failure to publicly and directly apologize to his wife from the very beginning was the colossal gaffe that will be difficult to forget.

 

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Rice: “I’m working every day to be a better father, a better husband”

Posted on 23 May 2014 by WNST Audio

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Ray Rice, wife scheduled to meet with media on Friday

Posted on 22 May 2014 by Luke Jones

After learning earlier this week that he will not be prosecuted for a domestic violence incident that took place in New Jersey earlier this offseason, Ravens running back Ray Rice is ready to break his silence.

The 27-year-old is scheduled to address the media at the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon and will be accompanied by his wife, Janay, according to a team release. Rice was accepted into a pretrial intervention program earlier this week, which means he will avoid going to trial and will not face any prison time for third-degree aggravated assault.

The Ravens are scheduled to begin their first session of organized team activity workouts next week and would like to avoid media attention focusing solely on Rice’s case, making Friday’s press conference logical from a timing standpoint. However, Rice and the organization still await word from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on any potential fine or suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

Rice has yet to speak publicly about the incident that occurred at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City on February 15. He and his then-fiancée were both initially charged with simple assault-domestic violence before the grand jury indicted Rice on a more serious charge and dismissed the charge against Janay Palmer in late March. The original police report said Rice and Palmer struck one another with their hands and the former rendered his fiancée unconscious.

The couple were married a day after the indictment.

 

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Rice avoids prosecution with acceptance into intervention program

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Rice avoids prosecution with acceptance into intervention program

Posted on 20 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Ravens running back Ray Rice officially learned Tuesday he’s been accepted into a pretrial intervention program that will allow him to avoid prosecution for a domestic incident occurring in an Atlantic City casino in February.

The program could allow the 27-year-old to clear his record of charges after he pleaded not guilty to one count of third-degree aggravated assault earlier this month. After entering his plea and applying for the program, the prosecutor offered a plea deal that included probation with no jail time and anger management counseling, making it all but certain at the time that Rice would not be going to prison.

“After considering all relevant information in light of applicable law, it was determined this was the appropriate disposition,” acting Atlantic County prosecutor Jim McClain said in a statement on Tuesday.

Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence at the Revel Casino on Feb. 15 after allegedly striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer — the pair have since married — and rendering her unconscious. Palmer was arrested for allegedly striking Rice, but the simple assault-domestic violence charge against her was dismissed by the grand jury while Rice was instead indicted for third-degree aggravated assault, a charge that potentially carried a prison term of three to five years.

It remains to be seen whether Rice will be disciplined by the NFL as he could be fined and suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

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Rice pleads not guilty, prosecution offers plea deal including no jail time

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Rice pleads not guilty, prosecution offers plea deal including no jail time

Posted on 01 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Ravens running back Ray Rice pleaded not guilty to third-degree aggravated assault on Thursday and learned he will not receive any jail time stemming from a February incident at an Atlantic City casino.

The 27-year-old applied for the pretrial intervention program, which allows certain defendants — often first-time offenders — to avoid formal prosecution. The prosecutor offered a plea deal that includes probation with no jail time and anger management counseling.

Though nothing is official, these developments during an arraignment hearing in Mays Landing, N.J. mean Rice will not be serving any time in prison. A third-degree aggravated assault charge carries a prison term of three to five years, but Rice would accept the prosecution’s plea deal should he not be approved for the pretrial intervention program.

Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence at the Revel Casino on Feb. 15 after allegedly striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer — the two have since married — and rendering her unconscious. Palmer was also arrested for allegedly striking Rice, but the simple assault-domestic violence charge against her was dismissed by the grand jury.

It remains to be seen how the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell will view Thursday’s news as Rice is still subject to league discipline.

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Rice uncertainty won’t impact Ravens’ draft plans at running back

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Rice uncertainty won’t impact Ravens’ draft plans at running back

Posted on 30 April 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2014 NFL draft may only be a week away, but the Ravens’ intentions at the running back position were clear long before running back Ray Rice got into trouble in Atlantic City back in February.

The 27-year-old is scheduled to be arraigned for third-degree aggravated assault in New Jersey on Thursday, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh knew several weeks before the incident between Rice and future wife Janay Palmer allegedly took place that the Ravens would be looking for help at the running back position. With Rice’s legal situation unresolved and the NFL possibly levying a suspension, Baltimore is almost certain to make a significant addition at the position between now and the start of the season.

But that decision had more to do with Baltimore’s 30th-ranked running game and league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average than Rice’s status for the start of the 2014 season.

“We’ll deal with Ray when that time comes,” Newsome said. “But, in talking with John all the way back to when we went to Jupiter to spend time with [owner Steve Bisciotti], we’ve been talking about adding one, maybe two running backs to our team. And this was before the incident that happened in Atlantic City. We felt like we needed to add some depth at that position coming out of the 2013 season.”

The Ravens signed veteran Justin Forsett earlier this month, but a running back will likely be a target on either the second or third day of next week’s draft. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was complimentary of Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Auburn’s Tre Mason, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, and Jeremy Hill of LSU, who are all projected to go in the second or third round. Baltimore has also met with Hyde, Boston College’s Andre Williams, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, and Towson’s Terrance West.

With new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak implementing a new system, the Ravens will be looking for a natural fit to thrive in a zone blocking scheme.

“You’ve got guys in that second round, third-round area. You’ve got some good later-round picks, too,” DeCosta said. “I think the draft is such at that position where you can get a guy in any round – second through seventh – that can help you play some good football.”

Ravens trading back in first round?

Many pundits have labeled this year’s draft class as one of the deepest in years, and the Ravens seem to support that sentiment as DeCosta claimed they have roughly 180 players they consider to be “draftable,” which is up from the typical 140 to 150 they have on their board in a given year.

With so many talented players available, many have wondered if the Ravens would consider moving back from the 17th overall pick if the right deal comes along, and Newsome confirmed Wednesday that he’s already received calls to do just that.

“If we move back four, five or six spots, we might still have the opportunity to get one or two of those players and get the additional pick,” Newsome said. “That’s how we look at it. Can we pick at 17? We’ll be prepared to pick at 17, but also we’ll be entertaining trades to be able to move back if we have to, if we want to.”

Newsome admitted it would be difficult for the Ravens to move up to draft a player in the first round since they only have four picks they’re permitted to trade. Baltimore dealt its fourth- and fifth-round choices to Jacksonville last fall to acquire left tackle Eugene Monroe and traded its seventh-round selection to Indianapolis for offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley last spring.

The Ravens have a total of four compensatory picks — a third, two fourths, and a fifth — but those selections cannot be traded.

“I could probably say if one or two players start getting really close to us, we’d be clamoring trying to go up and get them,” Newsome said. “I can just say, I know John, I know Eric and I know [director of college scouting Joe Hortiz], and we’ll be telling Steve that we need to go get this player because we feel like he can impact us that much.”

2007 trade that wasn’t to be

Newsome confirmed a report that surfaced earlier this week about the Ravens nearly pulling off a trade in 2007 to select quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame before the Cleveland Browns ultimately made a deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Ravens held the 29th overall pick and began discussing the quarterback as he fell in the first round, even calling Quinn and his agent Tom Condon to gather information. However, the Browns were willing to pony up their second-round pick and 2008 first-round choice for the 22nd pick while the Ravens simply stayed put and settled for left guard Ben Grubbs, a five-year starter and one-time Pro Bowl selection in Baltimore.

“What happened is we were in the midst of making a trade – a trade with the team that ended up making the trade to Cleveland – and Cleveland offered more than we did, which was [then-general manager Phil Savage],” Newsome said. “Phil offered more than we did. And so, they ended up drafting Brady Quinn, and we did not get him, because what Dallas and Jerry [Jones] wanted in the trade from the other team, we did not feel like we should go up to that level.”

While no one knows how Quinn might have fared had he landed in Baltimore, the Fighting Irish product and Ohio native was a flop in Cleveland where he made only 12 starts and threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Quinn said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday that he’d never spoken to the Ravens during the pre-draft process but often thinks how his career might have turned out differently had they pulled off the trade instead of the Browns.

Ravens fans can only breathe a sigh of relief seven years later as the organization selected quarterback Joe Flacco a year later.

Looking at cornerbacks

Most attention has gone to obvious needs at the right tackle and free safety positions in the early rounds, but the Ravens have yet to add a cornerback to fill the void of veteran Corey Graham departing via free agency.

Newsome and Harbaugh have both complimented the potential of young cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson, but neither has extensive experience. Hortiz estimated that as many as 12 cornerbacks will be drafted in the first three rounds with Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, and Texas Christian’s Jason Verrett among the candidates to go in the first round.

“We’ve always felt you can’t have enough corners,” Newsome said, “especially when you’re in a league now where it’s a passing league with people putting three or four receivers in the games. You don’t have too many corners.”

Auburn guy sticks up for Alabama

In the wake of Rolando McClain’s latest retirement and left tackle prospect Cyrus Kouandjio’s medical concerns at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the University of Alabama has received plenty of scrutiny in terms of how reliable their players are at the NFL level, a sentiment that doesn’t sit well with Newsome.

Ironically, it was Hortiz, an Auburn alum, who defended Newsome’s alma mater during Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference.

“These guys, they may fail physicals or be question marks, but they are tough players,” Hortiz said. “They play through injuries, and they play in the NFL. Last year, the running back in Green Bay (Eddie Lacy) failed physicals, and he was rookie of the year. These Alabama guys, they get beat up; they play through it. [Ravens linebacker] Courtney Upshaw had a bad shoulder, and he’s a rugged, tough guy.

“I hate to hear the Alabama guys get beat up [in the media] so much – and I’m an Auburn guy – because all they do is play through pain, and they have such a mental and physical toughness. They get in the NFL and they do the same thing. Sorry to strike a nerve, but I’ve just been hearing it so much.”

 

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