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Early impressions from Ravens training camp

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Early impressions from Ravens training camp

Posted on 29 July 2012 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their first full week of training camp after Sunday’s day off, here are five early observations from the first few practices of the summer in Owings Mills.

1. Even if the Ravens are satisfied with Bryant McKinnie’s weight and conditioning, this story isn’t going to go away as quickly as the tackle would like.

His claim that he hurt his back in a fall may explain why his chiropractor contacted the team to let them know he wouldn’t be reporting to training camp on time, but coach John Harbaugh’s comments earlier this week suggest the Ravens are having a difficult time believing the explanation. While McKinnie may have felt embarrassed — especially knowing how closely his conditioning is being scrutinized — failing to talk to the organization himself makes it look like he’s hiding more than a minor back injury.

Plenty of speculation exists regarding McKinnie’s financial problems and how he mysteriously went silent on Twitter a week ago, but you have to wonder how much the Ravens are willing to put up with considering they were already uneasy about his conditioning earlier this offseason. Harbaugh’s hardline stance about Michael Oher being the left tackle until further notice is a loud message that McKinnie is on shaky footing with the organization.

Unlike the way in which Ed Reed’s arrival at camp immediately squashed the discussion that buzzed around the All-Pro safety for weeks, McKinnie won’t just waltz back into camp with all essentially being forgotten. What will help the 32-year-old, however, is the lack of a known commodity at the right tackle position when Oher is on the left side.

Even so, McKinnie has plenty to prove before the Ravens can entrust him with the left tackle job for the second year in a row.

2. It’s remarkable how much better the cornerback situation is from a year ago at this time.

More attention has been paid to outside linebacker and the battles at defensive end and on the offensive line, but the most entertaining competition of the preseason will be between Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith for the starting cornerback job opposite Lardarius Webb. Unlike most competitions where you’re typically desperate to see one player emerge as a viable starter, this is a win-win situation where both players are capable of holding down starting jobs in the NFL.

Smith may have gained a slight upper hand during organized team activities as Williams continued to recovery from offseason hip surgery, but the 2011 first-round pick was dinged up during Saturday’s practice to potentially even the playing field once again. It’s also important to remember Williams played with a torn labrum last season, which is remarkable to think about when you consider how critical hip movement is to the back pedal and changing directions.

While the Ravens certainly envisioned Smith as a starter when they made him their top selection two Aprils ago, they really cannot go wrong with either player as the starter, and the other will still receive plenty of playing time. Williams and Smith will again line up at the cornerback spots with Webb sliding inside to the nickel position to match up with slot receivers in passing situations.

Special teams ace Corey Graham has also been very impressive in coverage and looks like a solid bet to be the team’s dime back, which would push Danny Gorrer down the depth chart after he looked solid in limited opportunities last season. It’s quite a difference from a year ago when the Ravens were depending on banged-up veterans such as Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr to play significant roles before Webb and Williams emerged as starters out of training camp.

3. Don’t sleep on Albert McClellan as the Ravens sort out their outside linebacker situation.

While it’s assumed that Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw will line up as the starting outside backers against the Cincinnati Bengals to open the regular season, McClellan has received plenty of reps with the defense over the first few days of practice. His versatility to line up as a defensive end as well as play multiple linebacker positions makes him a valuable asset, and that’s not even taking into account that the 26-year-old led the team in special teams tackles last season.

The start to McClellan’s career hasn’t been dramatically different from that of inside linebacker Jameel McClain, though the former spent his first professional season on the practice squad. McClain also went undrafted and shined on special teams before eventually carving out a bigger defensive role for himself.

Upshaw clearly possesses more upside, but the rookie’s inexperience and need to get leaner may open the door for more opportunities for McClellan, who surprised everyone with his strong play filling in at inside linebacker when Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe were sidelined against the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night.

4. There isn’t a wide receiver with better hands on the team than Tandon Doss.

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Winning Time Is Now Time For The Ravens

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Winning Time Is Now Time For The Ravens

Posted on 15 July 2012 by Robert Testoni

It is very easy to get caught up in the minutia of the Ravens off-season. None of that really matters until 7 PM on September 10th against the Cincinnati Bengals. I guess I do not find any injuries, contract issues, players who talk, too worrying because the Ravens have one of the top 3 organizations in the NFL. That being said; when I looking at the season ahead, I start with 10 wins automatically and work my way from there.

It is going to be difficult to match the 12-4 record last year because the schedule, on paper, is more difficult. We trade the NFC West for the East, and since we finished in first, welcome New England and Houston. Not to mention a visit for a Raven nemesis, Peyton Manning and his new team, the Denver Broncos on December 16th. (Frankly, I don’t think he will make the trip to Baltimore because of injury) A trip to Kansas City, other than the Barbeque, and Negro League Hall of Fame is never any fun, and flying to San Diego the week after playing in Pittsburgh is a recipe for disaster.

For all the harassment Joe Flacco takes, he is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. With the league rules being what they are, the offense should be fine. The Ray Rice issue will be resolved, but either way, he isn’t going to sit out the entire year and cost himself 7.7 Million. Keep an eye on Bernard Pierce. He is a bruising running back with good deceptive 4.49 speed; ask Maryland. Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will play a major role in the red zone again this year, and Torrey Smith has a full year underneath his belt. It is not like this offense was horrible last year; they scored 378 points, fourth best in the conference.

The Terrell Suggs injury, although damaging, isn’t the end of the world. If anything, this organization has drafted and signed free agent s well. As I responded at Hooters during the semi finals of the Baltimore Sports Media Superstar contest, a combination of Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger, and Sergio Kindle need to seal that edge of the line and get pressure on the quarterback. If they cannot do that to a reasonable level, this could be a long year. This has become a quarterback driven league and he only way to combat it is by moving him off his spot. Sacks are great, quarterback pressures is the real stat. Our defensive backfield is as good is at has been since the Super Bowl era of Chris McAlister, Duane Starks, Rod Woodson, and Kim Herring. The only other concern I have is the pass coverage of our linebackers. Ray Lewis is great, but his pass coverage is below par at this point. He needs come off the field on passing situations, but that is assuming we have someone better, and I do not think that is the case. All this being said, the success of this defense will rest on the front line and how quickly they can get into the backfield. Pernell McPhee, Halota Ngata, and the aforementioned players on the other side of the line need to create havoc, plain and simple!

The one thing about Baltimore that cannot be overstated is how great our home field advantage M&T Bank Stadium has been over the years. In fact, since Joe Flacco has been our signal caller, the Ravens are 27-5 in regular season home games. In that time period only New England has a better home record in the AFC.

Looking at the rest of the division, Pittsburgh is always formidable, but with Todd Haley taking over the offense, and wanting to run more, they could take a step back until a comfort level is reached. Cleveland is still in a rebuilding mode. They must take a page out of the Baltimore Orioles playbook. Everyone is all over Cincinnati and with good reason. I really like Andy Dalton, and A. J. Green, but are they still owned by Mike Brown? Enough said!

All in all and with limited injuries, I look at the Ravens going 11-5, winning the AFC North and getting another home game in the playoffs. I think a bye is going to be more difficult to accomplish, as New England, and Houston have easier divisions to navigate. With the bad taste in my mouth (it was not the chicken wing I was eating) from last year, I am chomping at the bit for this season to get going. Come on September 10th!!!

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The Two Most Important Positions for the Ravens in 2012

Posted on 12 July 2012 by jeffreygilley

With 28 seconds left in the 2012 AFC Championship, Joe Flacco faced a second down with one yard to go.  Well, you know what happened next.  Lee Evans dropped a pass in the front corner of the end zone to end a season that was filled with tremendous promise and frustration for the Ravens.

So, what should Ravens fans be looking forward to in 2012?  As always, there is a fair amount to be excited about.  From young players like Courtney UpShaw, to savvy veterans like Ray Lewis, the Ravens always have an abundance of talent to rely on.

But, as of today, there has not been much for Ravens fans to cheer about and it all started with Terrell Suggs.  Suggs tore his ACL earlier in the offseason.  Some mystery still surrounds the injury but that doesn’t matter to me.

What matters to me are the linebackers that will be assigned to take Suggs’s place.  Notice, I did not say replace because no one on the Ravens roster can replace Suggs.

Courtney UpShaw, Paul Kruger, and Sergio Kindle will be assigned to take Suggs’s place at outside linebacker.  What is interesting about these three players is that they were all drafted for one reason.  That was to provide a pass rushing threat opposite Terrell Suggs but Kruger and Kindle have not been able to make a sizeable impact.  While each of these players is capable, it will be interesting to see how they play without Suggs on the field.

Kruger, Kindle, and UpShaw have potential but that only gets you so far in today’s NFL.

Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee had 12.5 sacks combined last season but what will happen when Suggs is not on the field commanding double teams?  Beating double teams is one of the hardest things to learn when transitioning from college to the NFL and even from High School to college.

Therefore, the outside linebackers will be the Ravens biggest weakness throughout 2012, especially with the evolution of the tight end.  These young linebackers are going to have to cover at some point and the Ravens will be going up against some of the NFL’s best tight ends.

These tight ends include Jermaine Gresham, Brent Celek, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Moeaki, Jason Witten, Owen Daniels, Heath Miller, Antonio Gates, and Fred Davis.

This weakness will be most evident against the Pittsburg Steelers, a team the Ravens face twice in three weeks.  Ben Roethlisberger is the hardest quarterback to tackle in the NFL and there is a big difference between Dean Pees telling his young linebackers how tough it is and actually executing.

If you watched Ron Jaworski’s quarterback countdown on Ben Roethlisberger, one statistic should scare Ravens fans the most.  When Big Ben was playing in a three tight end set last season, Big Ben completed 75 percent if his passes.  Expect the Steelers to put more tight ends on the field to force Kindle, UpShaw, and Kruger to fight through more double teams.

Albert McClellan is a name to keep an eye on for the outside linebacker position.  McClellan played middle linebacker last season against the San Francisco 49ers due to Ray Lewis’s injury.  McClellan totaled four tackles and helped limit Frank Gore to only 39 yards rushing.  McClellan played defensive end Marshall and totaled 19.5 sacks in three years at Marshall so he has some pass rush ability.

I don’t mean to downplay the Ravens outside linebackers but I think it is important to be realistic.  Sergio Kindle has potential but has struggled to get on the field because of an injury.  Kindle has also had trouble learning the playbook throughout his time in Baltimore.

Both T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans were additions to the Ravens in the last two off seasons.  Evans showed great chemistry with Flacco in the preseason and T.J. caught a game-winning pass against the Steelers two years ago.  But, both receivers failed the team in the biggest moments.

Enter…Jacoby Jones.  Jones is one of three Houston Texans that have been brought in over the last two seasons.  Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach being the other two.  Leach and Pollard have been very good players for the Ravens thus far and hopefully, Jacoby Jones can follow suit.

Jones’s presence helps Anquan Boldin the most.  This is because Boldin now lacks the speed that is necessary to have a significant impact on the outside.  Boldin can now move to the slot where he is much more effective.  This will also help Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta because Boldin will command a lot of attention on the inside.

When the Ravens put Jones and Smith on the outside, the defensive backs will be forced to back up to prevent the big play.  This will help Joe Flacco beat cover two defenses, a defensive set he struggled with early in his career.

His struggles against the cover two was because the Ravens lacked a deep threat and to beat a cover two defense, you have to be able to stretch the field and challenge safeties.

This is why players like Troy Polamalu had so much success against Joe Flacco early on.  They were able to roam free because they did not have to worry about receivers outrunning the cornerbacks.

So, when Flacco starts hitting Dickson, Pitta, Boldin, and Rice underneath, the opponents will start bringing their defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage.  Joe Flacco will now be able to take shots down the field more often.  Play-action passes will be deadly in Baltimore’s offense this season.

So how will the Ravens finish the season?  The schedule is brutal which should make obtaining a high playoff seed unlikely.  The secondary will be tested early with the Bengals, Eagles, and Patriots being the first three opponents.

I see the Ravens winning the division once again.  There has been a lot of hype surrounding the Bengals but they are a young team and I don’t trust a team that young against some of the NFL’s elite teams.

 

 

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Can Kindle Make an Impact?

Posted on 29 June 2012 by jeffreygilley

Sergio Kindle is an awesome talent but has yet to get on the field because of a fractured skull he suffered in July of 2010.  Kindle was projected as the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the 2010 draft but fell to the second round because of character issues.

Like many Ravens fans, I was elated when the Ravens picked Kindle.  He has a great first step and plays with a high motor and level of passion the Ravens covet in their players.

What is really interesting about Kindle being drafted is that Rob Gronkowski went one pick before Kindle to the New England Patriots.  The Patriots and Ravens shared needs in that draft.  They both needed outside linebackers and tight ends.  If the Patriots had passed on Gronkowski and picked Kindle instead, I believe Gronkowski would be a Raven.  The Ravens later addressed their tight end need when they drafted Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively.

It is amazing to me that Kindle has remained on the roster for so long.  I believe that teams like the Patriots would have cut Kindle a long time ago because of the mystery surrounding his injury, his inability to get on the field, and his struggles learning the playbook.

The Ravens have shown a lot of faith in Kindle for keeping him on the active roster for two years.  They must envision him making a sizeable impact for the Ravens in the years to come.

Kindle does have a great opportunity to make an impact this season.  With the injury to Terrell Suggs, Kindle could have an opportunity to win the starting outside linebacker position.  He will have to compete with Paul Kruger and Courtney UpShaw, the projected starters for this upcoming season.

Even with Paul Kruger and Courtney UpShaw, I believe Kindle has an advantage over Kruger for the starting job.  He has more athletic ability and in my opinion, is better at stopping the run then Kruger.

Now, how could I say that if Kindle hasn’t gotten any playing time?  If you look at his college career, Kindle played a very similar role as Suggs does for the Ravens.  They moved Kindle around at Texas so he was never in the same spot all the time.  Kindle was also a monster when it came to stopping the run.  Kindle registered 34 tackles for loss in three years at Texas contrasting to Kruger who only registered ten and a half.

If Kindle does not get the starting linebacker job, he can still make an impact on special teams and in pass rushing situations.

Kindle will have a lot of competition this summer.  According to reports, Kindle has learned the playbook, which was one of his biggest obstacles.  I think Kindle will make an impact this year.  No one is really expecting him to which means he wont be double teamed if he comes in for passing downs.

I think Kindle is up for the challenge this year and will have five or more sacks in limited playing time.

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More Questions Than Answers for the Ravens

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More Questions Than Answers for the Ravens

Posted on 25 May 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

#1 – What’s going to happen with Ray Rice?

 Not only has Ray Rice been one of the best pound-for-pound bargains in all of football during his time as a Raven, but unlike many other running backs in similar situations last season Rice played things quiet and trusted that the team would take care of him. Whether or not they do remains to be seen, and whether or not they should is debatable. Running backs come and go quickly in the NFL, but by most accounts Rice has been “special” and is perhaps worth the risk. Either way expect him to play in 2012, but history hasn’t been kind to players who hold out of camp. A bad season for Rice under the franchise tag could be disastrous for him and for the Ravens.

 

#2 – Who’s playing on the offensive line?

 

This question is actually a myriad of different questions. Who fills Ben Grubbs spot at LG? How much does Matt Birk have left in the tank? Can we pencil in Bryant McKinnie at LT? Are Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda still the right side? And where do Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, Gino Gradkowski and Ramon Harewood fit into the picture? The answers to all of these questions could represent the beginning or the end of any offensive hopes the Ravens will have in 2012?

 

#3 – Do they have enough at wide receiver?

 

Torrey Smith was a pleasant surprise last season, but whether he can refine his route running and improve his hands still remain to be seen. He’s now a proven field stretcher but will need to add to his game in order to be a bona fide playmaker. Anquan Boldin was worse than expected last season, but was also injured, He’ll need to be more like the Anquan Boldin of old to lead these Ravens forward on the offensive side of the ball. And beyond those two the questions are even bigger. Is Jacoby Jones a wide out or a just a special teamer? Will Tandon Doss be ready to play in 2012? Who is Tommy Streeter and if he’s any good, how did the Ravens get him so late? Before we start comparing Joe Flacco to the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, let’s make sure he has some weapons that he can rely on.

 

#4 – Are the tight ends good enough?

 

Ed Dickson is big and athletic enough but has struggled with his hands. Dennis Pitta has very good hands but may not be big or athletic enough to impose his will on defenders, as modern tight ends are prone to do. Until one or the other shows marked improvement the Ravens will hesitate to use the middle of the field in the passing game, where coincidentally the best offenses all seem to have fantastic weapons. And who is Lamont Bryant?

 

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Ravens Draft Anti-Report Card

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Ravens Draft Anti-Report Card

Posted on 02 May 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

Just as quickly as we could get excited about it, the NFL draft is gone, and our football attentions are turned back to scandal, controversy and other typical off-season business. Thank goodness.

I, like most, have had more than my fill of “expert analysis” regarding the world’s biggest crap shoot, and will mostly reserve judgment until we see these guys on the field, and in some cases over the months and years to come.

 

Forget about knee-benders and waist-benders, shuttle drill and forty times, as now we can again to talk football. The undeniable (yet inconvenient) truth is that none of us can possibly know how any of these guys will transition into the NFL…but we’ll see.

 

That said, whether or not the Ravens actually found real and usable talent in this year’s draft is debatable. What’s not debatable though is that lines have been drawn in the sand, messages sent, and competitions created for a few key positions on this roster, and that has to bode well for the Ravens in general.

 

For example, the Ravens first pick (albeit in the second round) Courtney Upshaw may or may not be a productive player. I (probably unfairly) look at the Alabama defense as a system, and like the Ravens, the production in that system doesn’t necessarily translate into others. Again, that’s my own hang-up, and as it’s an Alabama defender that Upshaw will be looking to succeed, he seems as viable a candidate as any. More importantly though, he’s just a candidate. The Ravens already had decent candidates in Paul Kruger and (to a lesser degree) Sergio Kindle, so now they have a competition…may the best man win. It seems a safe bet that among those three, at least one good football player should emerge. If more than one emerges…all the better.

 

The Bernard Pierce pick sets the stage for a battle of sorts between he and Damien Berry and Anthony Allen. Given the status of Ray Rice negotiations they might need to find options urgently. If a peaceful accord with Rice is reached (ideally) there’s a battle to back him up and for a between the tackles presence.

 

Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood, Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski could all find themselves fighting for a single position on the offensive line. If more than one proves their worth this year, the Ravens may be empowered to make additional moves.

 

Asa Jackson’s picture should probably be on the nightstands and in the weight rooms of both David Reed and LaQuan Williams. And anyone who thought hey had claim to the special teals roles vacated by Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura and Chris Carr had better take notice of Christian Thompson.

 

June 1st, and then the early days of camp will provide the chance to find plenty of additional talent, jettisoned to make room for the draft day bounties of other teams too, and not only have the Ravens proven adept at playing that market, they also enjoy a reputation that makes them attractive to those types of players.

 

I won’t pretend to know what’s in the heart of any man, especially an unproven 20-22 year old; anyone who will is asking to be wrong. I will suggest however that the battles shaping up for the Ravens most key positions look to be deep and interesting, making the likelihood of finding a few good football players pretty high. That much I would take to the bank.

 

 

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Perhaps Trade Good Business, But Ravens Need Good Players

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Perhaps Trade Good Business, But Ravens Need Good Players

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

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

I DEFINITELY thought about writing nothing at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-G

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Ravens trade first-round pick to Minnesota Vikings for 35th and 98th picks

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Ravens trade first-round pick to Minnesota Vikings for 35th and 98th picks

Posted on 26 April 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite a number of rumored targets still available when the 29th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft came around, the Ravens elected to trade out of the first round entirely.

Baltimore traded its first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for their second-rounder (35th overall) and a fourth-round selection (98th overall). It’s the second time in three years the Ravens have traded their first-round pick.

“We had a couple teams call us, and we had several players that we liked that are still available for us tomorrow,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said following the end of the first round. “To be able to pick up that 98th pick from Minnesota, we think is just going to be another good player or we can take that pick to move up in the second or the third to get another good player.”

The Vikings used the 29th pick to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith while the Ravens passed on such available names as Alabama defensive end Courtney Upshaw, Wisconsin center Peter Konz, Georgia guard Cordy Glenn, Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin, and Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.

The good news for Baltimore is none of those names came off the board in the final four picks of the first round, meaning the Ravens will be guaranteed a choice of at least three of those five — assuming they don’t have their eyes on someone else — when they pick at No. 35 on Friday.

Baltimore discussed the possibility of trading up for a couple players, but the price proved too costly, according to Newsome. One of the Ravens’ top targets, Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower, was selected by the New England Patriots with the 25th overall pick after a trade with Denver.

“You can’t control what’s going to happen, and as long as I’m here, hopefully I’m picking 29, 30, 31, or 32,” Newsome said. “Then, when you watch the board come off the way it did today, to have the ability to go back and acquire another player and still get a player that you probably would have taken at your [original] pick is good business for us.”

The Ravens now have nine total picks in the final two days of the draft, including two in the second, fourth, and fifth rounds.

In 2010, Newsome traded the 25th overall pick to Denver in exchange for three draft picks that were used on linebacker Sergio Kindle and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. The Broncos used the first-round selection on quarterback Tim Tebow, who is now with the New York Jets.

The second and third rounds of the draft will be held on Friday night, beginning at 7 p.m.

Analysis: There are a couple basic ways of viewing the Ravens’ decision to move out of the first round. On one hand, director of player personnel Eric DeCosta described this as a “depth draft” earlier this month and the Ravens clearly haves several needs, both for 2012 and over the next few seasons. The trade adds a second fourth-round pick to the equation and another lottery ticket to hit in the middle rounds as Newsome did with Dickson and Pitta following the 2010 trade.

The five names mentioned about were all considered legitimate possibilities for the Ravens at the 29th pick, meaning they would get good value for any of those selections.

On the other hand, the skeptics can say Newsome and the front office didn’t think highly enough of any of the aforementioned names to fear the possibility of losing them, meaning they’re not really getting a “great” player. If you subscribe to the idea that the Ravens coveted Hightower or one of the other pass rushers such as Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, it’s fair to say they failed to secure one of “their guys” when they really wanted them.

As is always the case with the draft, we simply won’t know until all the picks are in and these players take the field for the 2012 season and beyond.

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Ravens ink five exclusive rights free agents as offseason workouts begin

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Ravens ink five exclusive rights free agents as offseason workouts begin

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Luke Jones

In what was nothing more than a formality, the Ravens announced they have signed five exclusive rights free agents as they opened the doors to their Owings Mills facility for offseason workouts on Monday.

Long snapper Morgan Cox, cornerback Danny Gorrer, linebackers Sergio Kindle and Josh Bynes, and offensive lineman Justin Boren signed contracts as players began reporting for voluntary workouts.

Exclusive rights players have two or fewer accrued seasons in the NFL and do not have any negotiating rights.

Quarterback Joe Flacco also reported to the team’s facility on Monday as the Ravens continue to discuss a long-term contract with his agent Joe Linta. As expected, running back Ray Rice did not report for offseason workouts on Monday and remains nowhere close to a long-term agreement.

Tight end Kris Wilson, center Andre Gurode, and linebacker Edgar Jones are the only remaining unrestricted free agents from last year’s team who remain on the open market. Cornerback Cary Williams and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe have yet to sign the second-round tenders the Ravens extended to them as restricted free agents.

Williams is not expected to sign his tender for a few more weeks, and the Ravens remain in long-term contraction negotiations with the starting defensive back.

In other news from Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement with former Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans on a one-year contract. In an injury-plagued lone season in Baltimore, Evans made just four receptions after the Ravens traded a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills last August.

 

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Harbaugh envisions Kruger at outside linebacker for Ravens

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Harbaugh envisions Kruger at outside linebacker for Ravens

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After longtime linebacker Jarret Johnson signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, the Ravens began the process of finding his replacement at the strong-side linebacker position.

Pass rush specialist Paul Kruger is the consensus choice among options currently on the roster, and coach John Harbaugh confirmed that notion at the NFL owners’ meetings in Florida on Tuesday. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Kruger struggled to find a role on the defense in his first two seasons before becoming a regular contributor in passing situations last season.

“I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the ‘Sam’ linebacker job,” Harbaugh said. “I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost [Johnson], I went back and watched all of Paul’s tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we’d be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well.”

The 26-year-old Utah product collected 5 1/2 sacks while playing in all 16 games last season after struggling to simply avoid the inactive list in his first two seasons. Kruger had only one sack and five tackles over 20 games in 2009 and 2010 as the coaching staff evaluated whether he was better suited for defensive end or linebacker.

He and rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee became mainstays of the defensive line on third down last season as the pair combined for 11 1/2 of the Ravens’ 48 sacks. Now, new defensive coordinator Dean Pees will take a long look at Kruger as the replacement to the run-stopping, blue-collar Johnson, who started every game at strong-side linebacker over the last five seasons.

“Obviously, he’s a very good pass rusher,” Harbaugh said. “I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it.”

Kruger’s ability to play the run and to drop in pass coverage remains a mystery after limited opportunities in his first three professional seasons. The Ravens will look hard at the draft if a prospect such as Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw or North Carolina’s Zach Brown is available early, but with other positions to address and limited cap space to potentially add another veteran linebacker, Kruger may find himself in position to be the starter when the preseason begins.

“He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it’s been done for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you want out of one of your players.”

Of course, Harbaugh’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt when you remember we’re four months away from the start of training camp. The coach is clearly going to show as much faith as he can in players currently on the roster without dwelling too much on hypothetical additions down the road.

The other player mentioned by some as a potential candidate to replace Johnson is 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle, but Harbaugh didn’t exactly speak about him in the same encouraging terms as he did with Kruger. Active for only two games last season, Kindle more closely resembles a player fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster than a viable starting option after the slow recovery he endured from a fractured skull just days before the start of the 2010 training camp.

While it’s true that Kindle has never had the benefit of a full offseason program at the team’s Owings Mills facility, it’s clear he has plenty of work to do before the Ravens can afford to keep him on the roster for a second straight season.

“If he comes back and becomes a player in the NFL, it’s going to be an unparalleled accomplishment,” Harbaugh said. “You know what? We think it can happen, and we’re going to know by the end of training camp.”

Cundiff competition

Ever since kicker Billy Cundiff missed a last-second 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship game into overtime, fans and media alike have pondered how the Ravens should handle the kicker position next season.

As he did when he spoke to WNST.net at the NFL Combine last month, Harbaugh reiterated that he fully expects Cundiff to handle kicking duties again this fall. However, the Ravens are looking to create some competition for the incumbent kicker in the preseason.

Whether the Ravens choose to add a veteran or sign a rookie following the draft, Harbaugh sees no reason why they shouldn’t explore every avenue to get better — while clearly maintaining faith in the 2010 Pro Bowl selection.

“I say that so I’m not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker,” Harbaugh said. “I would anticipate Billy [being] our kicker for the opening game of the season. I think he’ll have a great preseason. I think he’ll have a great season next year, but everybody gets competition and he’s no exception.”

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