Tag Archive | "Shayne Graham"

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Greatest Ravens by jersey number (1-20)

Posted on 25 August 2010 by Luke Jones

With Sports Illustrated releasing its list of all-time best NFL players by jersey number this week, I decided to look back at the 15-year history of the Baltimore Ravens to construct a list of the greatest players for Nos. 1-99.

Some jersey numbers provide for good debate (Sam Adams or Jarret Johnson for No. 95?) while other integers provide quite the challenge to simply produce a warm body (Who was your favorite No. 46 to suit up for the Ravens?).

Some choices are obvious, others might anger you, and a few will make you say, “Who?” but let the debate begin.

1 Randall Cunningham (2001)

There was really no other choice here. Some Ravens fans are still hollering for Brian Billick to replace Elvis Grbac with the veteran backup.

2 Anthony Wright (2002-05)

No one will forget Wright tossing four touchdown passes to little-used receiver Marcus Robinson, as the journeyman quarterback engineered the greatest comeback in franchise history against the Seattle Seahawks in 2003.

3 Matt Stover (1996-2008)

Never mind the fact that he’s the only player to sport the number 3 in franchise history. There is actually a Stover tribute video on YouTube.

4 Sam Koch (2006-present)

With apologies to the current Ravens head coach’s brother Jim, who played quarterback for the Ravens in 1998, the current Ravens punter is the clear choice for No. 4.

5 Joe Flacco (2008-present)

The franchise quarterback won three playoff games in his first two seasons in the league. Not a bad start.

6 Steve Hauschka (2008-09)

Yes, I’m well aware of this…

The only other option here was J.R. Jenkins, the kickoff specialist in 2002. On second thought, Jenkins really got some distance on those kicks!

7 Kyle Boller (2003-08)

I realize most have already clicked back on their browser window after these last two picks, but the former Cal quarterback is still the franchise leader in total passing yards.
Boller
I’m not sure you were aware, but I once heard he could throw the football through the uprights. From the 50-yard line. On his knees.

8 Trent Dilfer (2000)

Flacco may be the toast of the town in 2010, but he has some work to do before making anyone forget about this guy.
Dilfer

9 Steve McNair (2006-07)

Many remember his poor playoff performance against Indianapolis in January 2007 and his miserable final season in Baltimore, but his arrival in 2006 helped orchestrate the best regular season record (13-3) in franchise history.

10 Eric Zeier (1996-98)

A punting performance by Kordell Stewart in 2004 and the brief hero-worship of Stoney Case in 1999 earn bizarre mentions here, but Zeier had six 100-plus quarterback rating performances and three 250-yard games in his three-year career in Baltimore. Height (listed at 6-foot-1) prevented the Georgia quarterback from getting a legitimate chance as the starter.

11 Jeff Blake (2002)

The former Bengal is the clear-cut choice here, but no one will forget him chuckling with Steelers coach Bill Cowher moments after tossing an interception in the end zone in the final seconds of a loss at Pittsburgh in 2002.

12 Vinny Testaverde (1996-97)

One of the most maligned quarterbacks in NFL history, Testaverde still owns the finest passing season in franchise history when he threw for 4,177 yards and 33 touchdowns in 1996.

Tony Banks gets consideration here with his five touchdown passes in the Ravens’ thrilling 39-36 comeback victory over Jacksonville in Week 2 of the 2000 season, a pivotal moment in the history of the franchise. Things fell apart quickly for Banks before eventually being replaced by Dilfer several weeks later.

13 Eron Riley* (2009-present)

Research indicated no player has worn No. 13 in the regular season for the Ravens. Riley wears the number on the preseason roster and was a member of the practice squad a year ago.

14 Wally Richardson (1997-98)

The pride of Happy Valley, Richardson was the third-string quarterback for two seasons and threw for one yard on two career attempts in the NFL.

15 Dave Zastudil (2002-05)

The front office took heat for drafting “The Weapon” in the fourth round of the 2002 draft, but Zastudil was a quality punter for four seasons before signing with the Browns.

16 Yamon Figurs (2007-08)

Tremendous speed that produced two touchdown returns his rookie season, but Figurs could never put it to use as a receiver.

17 David Tyree (2009)

Shayne Graham immediately takes this distinction if he makes the 53-man roster next month, but receiver Matt Willis (2007) was the only other option for this number. Besides, you may remember Tyree for something else a couple of years before his brief stop in Baltimore…

18 Elvis Grbac (2001)

Other than Boller a few years later, no player faced the wrath of Ravens fans quite like Grbac. The former Pro Bowl quarterback came to town with intense pressure to lead a repeat in 2001, but Grbac had no chance when Jamal Lewis was lost for the season after tearing his ACL early in training camp.
Grbac
He went down in flames against Pittsburgh in the playoffs and retired a few months later, but name a quarterback who would have won with Terry Allen and Jason Brookins as his feature backs that season.

19 Johnny Unitas*

Yes, I’m well aware Johnny U never played a down for the Ravens, but did you really think I could put this guy on the list?
Mitchell

20 Ed Reed (2002-present)

A nanosecond-long nod goes to the Super Bowl-winning safety Kim Herring, but Reed is the easiest choice among the numbers previously worn by other players. The ball-hawking safety is unquestionably one of the greatest free safeties in the history of the game.

Next up: Find out which member of the Ring of Honor didn’t make the cut as I reveal the greatest Ravens for Nos. 21-40.

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Ravens Training Camp: The impressive and disappointing

Posted on 20 August 2010 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Live from Westminster: Ravens honor military at McDaniel

Posted on 17 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — With hundreds of military personnel on hand, the Ravens were back on the practice field Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the second preseason game against the Washington Redskins.

Players such as defensive tackle Kelly Gregg (below) signed autographs for uniformed military and their families for nearly an hour following a practice that lasted over two hours in the sweltering heat.

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“It’s just a real special day,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re real proud of what all the personnel in the military all across the country and overseas has done for us. We just can’t thank them enough for their service, for the sacrifices the families make.”

Offensive lineman David Hale was absent from practice with a “bruised” tailbone sustained after defensive tackle Haloti Ngata landed on top of him in a pass-rushing drill during Monday’s morning practice. The key reserve lineman has not yet undergone an MRI or CAT scan to determine whether the tailbone is fractured, according to Harbaugh.

Concerns exist that it might be a long-term injury, a potential damaging blow given Hale’s versatility for an offensive line already dealing with the absence of Jared Gaither for the remainder of the preseason.

“I really don’t know,” said Harbaugh when asked if Hale’s injury might be season-ending. “We haven’t gotten an MRI yet, so I wouldn’t be writing that yet.”

Center Matt Birk missed his third straight practice with tightness in his neck. The 13-year veteran has not practiced since the preseason opener last Thursday. Birk started training camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing an elbow procedure in the offseason.

“[Birk’s] going to be a guy we’re going to be very judicious with throughout training camp and even throughout the season,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think a lot of practice is what he needs. He’s up there [in years]. When you play on the offensive line that many years, you want to be smart with those guys and how many contact reps they take.”

Ngata returned to practice after sitting out the latter portion of Monday’s practice following the collision with Hale. The Pro Bowl tackle appeared to be favoring his left wrist but showed no signs of injury on Tuesday.

Also back at practice was offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, who walked off the field with a member of the staff toward the end of practice after a skirmish with linebacker Jameel McClain earlier in the Monday morning workout. Cousins managed to get into another scuffle Tuesday, this time with linebacker Edgar Jones despite it being a lighter shells-and-shorts workout. The third-year tackle, who continues to fill in for Gaither at right tackle, has earned a reputation for mixing it up with teammates in his brief career.

“I don’t know, they might be coming after me,” said Cousins, drawing laughter from media members. “For some reason, everybody’s always trying to fight with me, I don’t know why. We’re just out there having fun. I don’t know, it’s just a practice. It’s hot and everybody’s out there getting after it.”

Cornerback Chris Carr was a limited participant during Tuesday’s practice, doing individual work but sitting out full-team drills. In addition to Hale and Birk, tight end Davon Drew (hamstring), defensive back Marcus Paschal (leg), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), offensive linemen Daniel Sanders (arm) and Stefan Rodgers (arm), and offensive tackle Jared Gaither (back) did not practice.

Stay right here for more (time-stamped below) and visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from Harbaugh, Cousins, quarterback coach Jim Zorn, and tight end Todd Heap’s conversation from the field with Rex Snider.

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8:45 p.m. — The daily installment of the kicking competition brought similar results to what we’ve seen throughout the summer.

Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham were each perfect on five attempts, with both men connecting from 48 and 51 yards. The Ravens will likely alternate kicks between the two as they did in the preseason opener against Carolina.

8:35 p.m — The star of Tuesday’s practice—on and off the field—was veteran tight end Todd Heap, who made three spectacular catches while looking like the tight end who made consecutive Pro Bowls in 2002 and 2003.

Heap made a leaping, one-handed catch over the middle early in practice and beat cornerback Travis Fisher on a sideline route for a long gain. The 10-year veteran finished off his finest practice of the summer with a catch in the back of the end zone over cornerback Brad Jones.

Following practice, Heap signed autographs for military personnel for nearly 45 minutes before joining Rex Snider on AM 1570 WNST. You can hear the conversation in its entirety in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault.

While Heap shined on Tuesday, rookie David Reed’s struggles continued as the receiver dropped two passes, one of them leading to a Cary Williams’ interception on a pass thrown by Troy Smith.

After an impressive start in Westminster, Reed has struggled to catch the ball consistently, leaving his status in doubt with Demetrius Williams performing well in his efforts to grab the fifth receiver spot on the roster. Expected to be a contender to return kicks, Reed has not received many opportunities during special teams practices.

8:15 p.m. — Tuesday’s practice provided more confirmation for a possible shift in the team’s depth chart at inside linebacker.

Tavares Gooden—practicing without the red non-contact jersey—lined up next to Ray Lewis in the starting defense, another indication that Jameel McClain has lost the stronghold he enjoyed through the first three weeks of training camp. Dannell Ellerbe took reps with the starting defense on Monday as McClain worked at outside linebacker with the second unit.

Much of the defensive work, however, came in nickel and dime packages, and Gooden is considered the strongest of the three in pass coverage.

Needless to say, it will be interesting seeing who lines up with the starting unit in the team’s second preseason game against the Redskins on Saturday night.

8:05 p.m. — John Harbaugh responded to cornerback Lardarius Webb’s comments from Monday that expressed he did not want to play in the preseason and wants to be cautious in returning from an ACL injury sustained late last season. Webb’s rehab is ahead of schedule and could be activated from the PUP list in the near future.

“I think we are going to be cautious with [Webb],” Harbaugh said. “If he can play in the preseason and we feel very comfortable there’s not going to be a setback, we’ll do it. If we think there’s any possibility of a setback—reasonable possibility—we’ll probably just save him [for the regular season].”

Webb has worked out regularly on the side field during training camp, working on conditioning and agility to strengthen his surgically-repaired right knee.

Running back Matt Lawrence (knee) and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps) remain on the PUP list but were running on the side during Tuesday’s practice. Neither player has been very active during practices in Westminster, and Ayanbadejo was just recently cleared to begin running full-speed.

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Live from Westminster: Injuries mount on offensive line

Posted on 16 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. – After receiving some well-deserved time off since the preseason opener last week, the Ravens were back on the practice field Monday morning but saw several players go down with injuries.

Offensive lineman David Hale was carted off the field with an apparent chest/rib injury after a collision with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata during linemen drills in the latter portion of practice. Ngata sat out the remainder of practice with a left arm issue, but the injury did not appear to be serious.

Oniel Cousins also walked off the field gingerly with a member of the training staff and did not return. Earlier in pratice, he had a scuffle with linebacker Jameel McClain, but there was no word whether the injury was a result of the fight.

With Jared Gaither out another two to three weeks with a small tear in his back, Cousins is the “logical choice” to take his place at right tackle, according to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. With Cousins leaving the field, his replacement was Tony Moll, who only returned to practice on Saturday after a concussion sidelined him for two weeks.

“I don’t think you’re ever comfortable [with your offensive line],” Camerson said about the uncertainty with the first unit. “You really aren’t, because you know you’re one or two [lost] players away from really having to rebuild something.”

Others not practicing included offensive linemen Matt Birk (elbow) and Daniel Sanders (arm), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), tight end Davon Drew (hamstring), and defensive backs Marcus Paschal (leg) and Chris Carr (hamstring). Carr has not practiced since making a surprise appearance against the Panthers on Thursday night.

Linebacker Tavares Gooden was limited for the second straight practice as he deals with back soreness after taking an awkward hit from the side in the first preseason game. The third-year backer sported a red mesh top over his jersey and did not partake in any live contact in the morning session.

Check back right here (time-stamped below) for updates throughout the day and visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Cam Cameron, Greg Mattison, Jerry Rosburg, Dawan Landry, Lardarius Webb, and Cary Williams as well as Thyrl Nelson’s conversation with Mark Clayton immediately following the morning practice. As always, remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates straight from the field in Westminster!

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1:45 p.m. — Monday was another big day for the kickers as Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff were perfect on all attempts.

Cundiff connected for a long 58-yard field goal but also hit from 20, 38, 46, and 52 yards. Graham was 4-for-4 and made kicks from 20, 38, 46, and 52 yards. Cundiff is currently kicking with the first field goal unit, but it appears both kickers are strongly in contention for the job after only one preseason game.

The inside linebacker competition has heated up after a disappointing showing by Jameel McClain against Carolina. Dannell Ellerbe appears to have closed the gap as he, McClain, and a limited Tavares Gooden (see above) took reps next to Ray Lewis and the starting defense.

1:35 p.m. — Cornerback Lardarius Webb continues to rehab his surgically-repair ACL after suffering the injury late last season. The second-year play has been doing agility and conditioning work for most of training camp but still doesn’t have a timetable for his return to the practice field.

“No time limit,” he said. “We’re coming. We don’t want everybody to know [when] I am coming back.”

When pressed whether he would return to action before the preseason ended, Webb indicated he preferred taking extra time to insure the knee is ready for games that actually matter.

“I’m hoping it’s not [returning in the preseason],” Webb said. “For what? I’m still like seven months [removed from the injury]. We still have a lot of work to do. We have to make sure it’s right before I come back on.”

Webb remains on the active physically unable to perform list along with safety Ed Reed (hip), linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps), and running back Matt Lawrence (knee). If Webb starts the season on the reserve PUP list, he would miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

When he returns to action, Webb is expected to contend for a starting spot at cornerback, a position at which the Ravens are extremely thin after the loss of Domonique Foxworth at the start of training camp.

“I think with an ACL, every time you work [the knee], afterwords, you might have a little soreness, but it’s always going to be soreness,” Webb said. “It’s not the knee; it’s just soreness from work. But no, it feels great.”

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Live from Westminster: Gaither to miss 2-3 more weeks with back ‘tear’

Posted on 14 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — What originally started as an innocent case of back cramps has transformed into a long-term concern for offensive tackle Jared Gaither and the Ravens.

Gaither will miss another two to three weeks with what’s being described as a “small tear” in his back, according to coach John Harbaugh. The tear continues to cause the spasms Gaither has experienced since July 30 when he was carted off the field during the first afternoon practice for veteran players.

“He’s got something in his back,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a very small tear. I don’t know the medical term for it. It’s not a serious thing, but it’s going to keep him out a couple weeks until it settles down.”

After briefly returning to practice for four days after missing the first weekend of workouts in Westminster, Gaither has not practiced since August 5 and missed the team’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.

Gaither has now seen at least two back specialists, including one in California who made the diagnosis earlier this week.

“[Gaither’s] going to have to work as hard as he can,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to try to work it out. I wouldn’t hold my breath for two weeks, three weeks through camp here and we’ll see where we’re at at that point.”

Third-year tackle Oniel Cousins has played in Gaither’s place on the right side with the first offense and started against the Panthers on Thursday.

Stay right here for updates (time-stamped below) and check out the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Mark Clayton, and Haruki Nakamura.

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8:25 p.m. — In addition to Gaither, others missing from practice included cornerbacks Chris Carr and Marcus Paschal, center Matt Birk, and offensive lineman Daniel Sanders, who had his left arm in a sling during practice.

Offensive tackle Tony Moll (concussion) and defensive back K.J. Gerard (hamstring) returned to practice. Cornerback Fabian Washington (knee) was a full participant in Saturday’s practice after sitting out Thursday’s game as a precautionary measure.

There was no change to the active physically unable to perform list, which includes safety Ed Reed (hip), cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee), running back Matt Lawrence (knee), and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps).

7:40 p.m. — With John Harbaugh canceling both practices on Sunday, it’s no shock the players were taken aback, given the head coach’s workmanlike, no-nonsense reputation. The team will be back on the practice field on Monday at 8:45 a.m. and will have a special teams workout at 2:00 p.m.

“They were a little bit surprised,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughs from reporters. “They didn’t say much, they didn’t really respond. I think they were looking for the catch, they were waiting for the ‘but.’

“The truth is I don’t think it’s a reward, it’s where we’re at right now. It’s a reward, I guess, in the sense that they’ve earned it. We’ve worked really hard throughout training camp—coaches and players—and I think the best thing for us is a little recovery time. We pack a lot of work in every single practice. I like where we’re at right now as a football team, and, really, the best thing for us is to give them a chance to get a jump-start on their legs.”

Sunday’s cancellation leaves only four days of training camp practices before the Ravens break camp on Friday, a day before their second preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Saturday night.

“Just grateful for [the time off],” said receiver Mark Clayton, who admitted many players thought the coach was joking when he gave the news. “I know we’ll take advantage of it, rest up, and come out Monday and give it everything we’ve got.”

7:35 p.m. — Despite missing a 50-yard field goal against the Panthers on Thursday night, veteran Shayne Graham rebounded on Saturday afternoon by connecting on all five attempts, including one from the same distance he missed in the preseason opener.

Billy Cundiff missed wide left from 50 yards but connected on his other five tries during the afternoon practice.

John Harbaugh still sees the competition as being wide open despite some recent struggles from Graham, including his miss against the Panthers.

“It’s too early to say. They’ve both done well. I think [Graham’s] kick in the game was a tough one. He wants to make that kick, but it was a tough kick.”

7:25 p.m. — As for the afternoon practice itself, it was a sloppy day for the passing offense as numerous receivers dropped passes, something we haven’t seen very often in an otherwise crisp training camp for the revamped passing game.

Fullback Le’Ron McClain and receivers Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason dropped passes on three of four plays at one point during 11-on-11 drills. One defender shouted, “More carries, not more catches!” after McClain dropped a short pass out of the backfield, a jab at the fullback’s comedic campaign to receive more carries in the Baltimore offense this season.

It was, however, an impressive afternoon for rookie tight end Dennis Pitta who made two impressive catches during 11-on-11 work. Pitta caught a Marc Bulger pass over safety Dawan Landry in the back of the end zone and later made a diving, juggling catch to earn cheers from the Westminster crowd.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe lined up on the inside with the starting defense, perhaps signifying a change in the depth chart after the preseason opener.

Jameel McClain received the start next to Ray Lewis on Thursday and had been the starter through the first couple weeks of camp but was out of position and missed tackles on several occasions against the Panthers.

McClain worked at outside linebacker with the second defense for most of the afternoon practice. The other contender for the starting inside linebacker position, Tavares Gooden, was not very active during the team portion of practice.

7:05 p.m. — The other big news of the day was the Ravens parting ways with veteran long snapper Matt Katula. The Ravens re-signed cornerback Brad Jones, who was with the team during the OTA schedule, and waived Katula, leaving rookie Morgan Cox as the only long snapper on the 80-man camp roster. Cox handled all long-snapping against Carolina in the preseason opener on Thursday.

“We wanted to see [Cox] in a game situation,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been doing a real good job throughout the offseason and throughout training camp, but you never want to make a move until you know [he can do it] in a game. He did a nice job, and we feel comfortable he can be our snapper, so we’ll go with the younger guy.”

Harbaugh said Katula’s issue with elbow tendinitis last season did not factor in the decision and the veteran was healthy. Katula had been the Ravens’ long snapper since 2005 when he unseated veteran incumbent Joe Maese during training camp.

That’s life in the NFL as a long snapper.

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What should be expected from the Ravens against Carolina?

Posted on 12 August 2010 by Domenic Vadala

The Ravens open their preseason schedule tonight against the Carolina Panthers at M & T Bank Stadium. I’ve always thought that NFL fans had a love/hate relationship with preseason football. I know people that get all “stoked” up for heading out to training camp every year to see what the team looks like. Yet when it comes to the actual preseason games, most people don’t have that same enthusiasm. Speaking for myself, I have absolutely no desire to spend a day at training camp. As Allen Iverson infamously told us years ago, “…it’s just practice!” I have no problem with preseason games, as at the very least it’s a football game in a real stadium, against another team, with refs, play calls, fans, hot dogs, etc. Understandably, some people don’t want to go to the games because the starters don’t play the entire time, and thus in their opinion the “product” is watered-down. I suppose I could understand that to a certain degree, however…it’s still football people!

So with that in mind, what can be expected from the Ravens tonight? John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that the starters would get approximately the first quarter of the game on both sides of the ball. Speaking for myself, I’ve always liked to see the starters play for a quarter in week one (of preseason), the first half in week two, three quarters in week three, and perhaps for one series in the preseason finale. One would think that one quarter would give starters on both sides of the ball approximately two series’ in the game. Everyone always prefaces preseason talk with comments to the effect of, “…our goal is not to get anyone hurt.” NFL teams are scheduled to play 20 games, with the slate being wiped clean after the first four. The goal in all 20 of those games should be first and foremost to win, but also not to get anyone injured.

The fact is that the Ravens come into this game a bit nicked up. They’ve already lost Domonique Foxworth for the season with a torn ACL. Jared Gaither and Chris Carr will likely not see action merely as a precaution. Cornerback Fabian Washington is also coming off of a torn ACL, and might play tonight however he also might be a late scratch. The Ravens will also have Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff split the kicking duties tonight, with each player taking a turn to kick field goals/PAT’s, and kick-offs. Let us not forget that last year the Ravens cut ties with former kicker Matt Stover and named Steve Hauschka their full-time kicker. Hauschka went made nine out of thirteen attempts, however he was cut in November after he missed a key field goal in a game. So the kicking battle might be one that’s closely watched this season seeing that the Ravens dropped a probable hall-of-fame kicker which ultimately bit them in the rear in 2009.

Offensively I suppose that if the Ravens can put at least one TD on the board you could call it a success. I would also throw in perhaps a “big play” (20 yds plus) for them to truly come away from the game happy. With the addition of Anquan Boldin, the Ravens now have two major threats in their arsenal at wide receiver, and a confident young QB in Flacco to get them the ball. As I said in a previous column, that in itself might cause teams to “zone up” on the Ravens more often, which will open up space underneath for Tood Heap to get open. So if the first quarter constitutes two offensive drives, I’d like to see the Ravens perhaps open the game with a big play in their first drive, and cap their second off with a touchdown. On defense, we know that they’ll stuff the run without much trouble. However last season the secondary was a huge question mark, and with Foxworth out you can bet that the Panthers will be looking to throw the deep ball a few times and see if they can pick up some yardage downfield.

I will admitt…I’m looking forward to seeing Jimmy Clausen get some reps for Carolina. Luckily for him that will probably come well after the likes of Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata are safely on the sidelines. I think that Clausen has a chance to be a star in the NFL, and I’ll even admitt that I think it’s a mistake for coach John Fox not to start Clausen as a rookie. I used to be of the mindset that when you drafted a QB out of college you should grant him the luxury of holding the clipboard for a few years and letting him learn behind a veteran quarterback. However with college football becoming bigger and bigger, the rookie QB’s of today are much more polished than those of even ten or fifteen years ago. I highly doubt that Panthers’ fans are thinking that Matt Moore is going to take them to the promised land, so why not start Clausen? Nevertheless, whether you like preseason or not, it’s football one way or the other people…enjoy it!

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Live from Westminster: Gaither, Carr likely out for preseason opener

Posted on 10 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — As the Ravens complete their last two-a-day before Thursday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers, it was apparent the intensity level picked up even with a shells and shorts workout with no contact.

Ray Lewis and the starting defense jawed with offensive players during 11-on-11 drills as both sides prepare to face a different opponent across the line of scrimmage on Thursday night.

John Harbaugh shed some light on who we won’t see in the first preseason game, and there were no real surprises in what he said. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither missed his fifth straight day of practice as he continues to suffer from back spasms between his shoulder blades. With Gaither making the transition to the right side, there is much concern over the amount of time he’s missed during training camp.

“I don’t think he’ll be able to play because he hasn’t practiced enough,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if the injury is going to hold him out, but it’d be hard for him to play with the little bit of practice he’s had.”

Cornerback Chris Carr missed his third straight day of practice after limping off the field with a left hamstring injury at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The starting corner is improving, but the Ravens are likely to hold him out of the preseason opener, leaving Travis Fisher likely to start at cornerback.

“Carr could play, it’s a matter of whether we decide to put him out there or not,” Harbaugh said.

Fabian Washington continues to increase his workload in practice, but his status will be a game-time decision on Thursday. Coming back from an ACL injury last season, Washington sat out practice on the new surface at M&T Bank Stadium as a precautionary measure. Considering the fragile state of the defensive backfield, one would think the Ravens play it safe with Washington, too.

“He’s ready to go, it’s just a matter of whether we want him to go,” Harbaugh said. “I think we’ll take him out there in pregame and see how much work we get done, and we’ll just decide. But we’re not going to push it, I can tell you that.”

A new question mark was created Tuesday morning when left guard Ben Grubbs walked off the field with an injury. While the injury was not specified, Harbaugh described it as “not major” but was unsure whether Grubbs would play against Carolina.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata returned to practice after being stricken with back spasms Monday. He expects to play in the preseason opener. Others returning to practice included offensive linemen Ramon Harewood and Stefan Rodgers and wide receiver Demetrius Williams. Cornerback Prince Miller was also back on the field after two days away to witness the birth of his daughter.

In addition to Carr and Gaither, defensive back Marcus Paschall and offensive linemen Tony Moll and Dan Sanders were also missing from the morning session on Tuesday. The four players remaining on the PUP list are running back Matt Lawrence, safety Ed Reed, cornerback Lardarius Webb, and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Stay right here throughout the day for updates (time-stamped below) and follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates right from the field. Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Tom Zbikowski, and Jameel McClain as well as Thyrl Nelson’s chat with Chris Chester immediately following morning practice!

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1:25 p.m. — A couple highlight plays from the morning session included Donte’ Stallworth’s long touchdown catch from Marc Bulger, beating cornerback Cary Williams on the play. Stallworth has received more work with the second offense the last two days, but continues to be very impressive during training camp.

Receiver Justin Harper also caught two long touchdowns during passing drills, but we’ve seen that countless times over the last two summers in Westminster.

Early in the 11-on-11 session this morning, the Ravens worked on some trick plays including a reverse to Anquan Boldin, making it highly unlikely we ever actually see it in the regular season. If Cam Cameron does have some trick plays up his sleeve, we’re certainly not going to see them in a public forum at McDaniel College.

The special teams practice this afternoon gets underway at 2:00. Wednesday’s walk-through is closed to both the public and media.

12:45 p.m. — Linebacker Bart Scott might be a distant memory in Baltimore, but it appears the Ravens may have found a similar personality—at least off the field—at the inside linebacker position next to Ray Lewis. Jameel McClain has been the biggest surprise of training camp after leapfrogging  Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe for the starting inside linebacker job, albeit in early August.

McClain, a third-year former rookie free agent from Syracuse, spoke at the podium following practice and showed off a keen sense of humor to the Baltimore media. Formerly a special teams standout and occasional pass-rush specialist, the young linebacker is eager to showcase his skills in the starting defense.

“I knew I belonged [in football] the day I came out of my mother’s womb,” McClain said. “I was born to play this game. I’m born to go out there and hit somebody and play with a high intensity and a lot of rah-rah. It’s not like I came here wide-eyed like, ‘Man, I don’t deserve this.’ I understand that you have to work for everything in life. I’m my biggest critic and my biggest fan, so it’s for me to put in the work all the time.”

He credits a productive offseason with his strength and speed coaches as the best explanation for his heightened stature with the defense. McClain is also focusing exclusively at inside linebacker as opposed to several different positions in his first two seasons in Baltimore

“Just getting the opportunity to go out there and now knowing the defense and getting the chance to settle in and more so focusing on one or two positions has been able to slim down my load a little bit,” McClain said.

You can check out McClain’s entire interview at the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault.

12:28 p.m. — Billy Cundiff won Tuesday’s battle against Shayne Graham in the kicking competition. Graham noticeably struggled, unofficially going 1-for-4 and missing from 35, 52, and 57 yards. His wide-left miss from 35 even drew the heckling of his teammates as one defensive player said, “Shayne, that was disgusting!”

Cundiff was 5-for-6 unofficially with successful tries from 46, 47, and 52 yards to his credit.

The two will alternate kicks for the preseason opener despite John Harbaugh initially saying on Monday they would each take a half against the Panthers.

“That’s what [special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg] wants to do,” said Harbaugh, who did not know which kicker would go first. “He feels like it will keep both of those guys in the game for the whole game and give them a fair amount of reps, so we’re looking forward to that.”

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Ravens notebook: Carr, Mason leave practice as record crowd attends

Posted on 07 August 2010 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A record crowd of 17,861 watched a Ravens training camp practice at M&T Bank Stadium, but they couldn’t have felt any better about the team’s cornerback problems after Saturday afternoon’s workout.

Cornerback Chris Carr, now a starter after the loss of Domonique Foxworth, left practice with an undisclosed injury, which appeared to be a hamstring issue. Carr would not comment on the injury, deferring questions to coach John Harbaugh.

“I’m not sure,” said Harbaugh when asked about the defensive back’s status. “I don’t have a report yet on that. I’m not sure.”

That clears things up.

Fellow starting cornerback Fabian Washington also sat out despite being dressed to practice. Washington has been in and out of practice over the last week as he continues to work his way back from an ACL injury a season ago. With both projected starters—along with Lardarius Webb who is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list—sidelined on Saturday, the Ravens had Travis Fisher and Cary Williams working with the starting defense.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason also left practice with what he described as a bruised knee. The 36-year-old missed two days of practice with a right ankle injury earlier this week before returning on Friday.

“I just banged my knee a little bit,” Mason said. “It wasn’t critical [that] I came back in.”

Mason iced the knee after leaving practice and expects to participate in the Ravens’ next workout on Sunday afternoon.

Gaither absent again

Offensive tackle Jared Gaither failed to practice for the second straight day as he continues to deal with back spams between his shoulder blades. The Ravens sent him to a back specialist, with the initial feedback indicating the injury is not serious. Gaither was limited in practice on Thursday before sitting out the last two days.

The right tackle, who lost approximately 30 pounds before training camp began, is having difficulty lining up in a three-point stance, according to Harbaugh.

“It’s just something he’s got to fight through,” Harbaugh said. “It’s unfortunate because he’s competing for that spot, and you’ve got to stack practices. That’s what the competition is all about.”

Despite Gaither’s tepid relationship with the organization and his desire for a new contract, Harbaugh stood by the tackle’s work ethic and desire.

“[Gaither’s] a hard worker. We just have to get him on the field and get him going and he’s going to be fine. That’s what we’ve got to try to do right now.”

Kicking Contenders

Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham moved the kicking competition to M&T Bank Stadium after mostly going kick for kick in their first week of practices in Westminster.

Cundiff was unofficially 7-for-9 on field goals while Graham was a masterful 10-for-10 on Saturday afternoon.

The battle has been extremely even to this point in camp, with both performing consistently unlike the up-and-down battle between Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano last summer.

“We know it’s going to be a tough decision,” Harbaugh said. “We just kind of put it on the back burner. We don’t have to make that decision yet, so we don’t want to. You see them everyday, they’re both kicking very well.”

Harbaugh expects teams to contact the Ravens later in the preseason in hopes of acquiring one of the two. The coach believes the decision will be a difficult one.

“My gut feeling is [the choice is] going to be a gut feeling.”

Walking Wounded

In addition to Carr, Mason, Washington, and Gaither, others not participating in the Saturday afternoon workout were guard David Hale (undisclosed), tackles Tony Moll (concussion) and Stefan Rodgers (ankle), defensive backs Marcus Paschal (leg) and K.J. Gerard (hamstring), and tight end Davon Drew (hamstring).

Running back Willis McGahee returned to practice after sitting out with swelling in his right knee on Friday.

The four players on the Physically Unable to Perform list (Webb, safety Ed Reed, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, and running back Matt Lawrence) did not participate.

Ayanbadejo told WNST.net there is still no timetable for his return from a torn quadriceps injury sustained last season.

Changes at M&T Bank

While rookies benefited most from the special practice at M&T Bank Stadium, young players and veterans alike had to get used to some changes at their home stadium.

This was the first time the Ravens have played on the new field turf installed in the spring. Initial feedback from players was positive, as veterans cited how much softer it was than the turf that had been used since 2003. Several players commented on how hot the turf felt to their feet, but a warm August day certainly contributed to that.

“When I first got on it, I wondered if it was going to be supportive enough, but it felt pretty good,” quarterback Joe Flacco said about the new playing surface. “Your feet were a little bit hotter than they are out in Westminster, but it was good. I enjoyed it.”

The fans in attendance also enjoyed the brand new high-definition video boards displaying a far crisper picture than the original screens.

“They were sweet,” Harbaugh said. “They looked very good. I caught myself looking up there every now and then.”

A New Tradition

The record crowd attending practice left a lasting impression on owner Steve Bisciotti and Harbaugh as both were pleased with the turnout and believe it will become an annual event in August.

“[Bisciotti] came out on the field there when we were doing one of our drills and he basically said, ‘This is a tradition now. We’re doing it because it was so good,'” Harbaugh said. “You felt it out there. It’s great for our team to get out there on the field, but it’s so good for the fans.”

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Live from Westminster: Over-30 club given day off as Ehrlich visits practice

Posted on 05 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — It was another day of training camp with another celebrity sighting at McDaniel College.

While the hoopla from Wednesday’s visit from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Hall of Famer John Madden was absent, former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich attended practice with his family. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Senior VP of Public & Community Relations Kevin Byrne joked they expected Gov. Martin O’Malley to visit on Friday after seeing Ehrlich in Westminster.

As for the morning practice, it was an “over-30” day as veterans 30 or older were given the morning off as has become the custom with Harbaugh’s camps. This group included Todd Heap, Derrick Mason (ankle), Walt Harris, Travis Fisher, Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg, and Ray Lewis. Safety Ed Reed (hip), linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quad), and center Matt Birk (elbow) would also fall into this group, but the three remain on the PUP list.

Quarterback Marc Bulger provided a scare when he injured a finger taking a snap in the morning session and went inside with a member of the training staff. However, Bulger returned to the field and the injury is not considered serious, according to Harbaugh.

“He took a snap on the finger,” Harbaugh said. “It’s nothing major; it’s not broken. He should be fine.”

Tackle Oniel Cousins (throat surgery) returned from the non-football illness list to practice for the first time on Thursday morning. The third-year tackle had a cyst removed from his throat a few weeks before training camp.

The Ravens still have five players on the physically unable to perform list, which includes Reed, Birk, Ayanbadejo, running back Matt Lawrence (knee), and cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee).

Stay right here for more updates throughout the day (time-stamped below) and check out the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Billy Cundiff, and Shayne Graham as well as quarterback Troy Smith’s conversation with Thyrl Nelson immediately following the morning practice.

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5:25 p.m. — The afternoon practice was largely a walk-through as players practiced in shells and shorts in the sweltering heat of Westminster. The “over-30” club against sat out with other starters, including receiver Anquan Boldin, taking it easy during the afternoon session. Cornerback Fabian Washington did not practice as he continues to receive periodic rest.

The Ravens will be back on the field Friday morning for an 8:45 workout. The afternoon session will be a special teams practice at 2:00.

1:40 p.m. — This nugget of information brought a smile to my face as the Ravens are conducting a vote of whether to adapt the Baltimore Colts fight song (with new lyrics) as their new fight song.

As a third-generation Baltimore football fan, I cannot endorse this move enough as the Ravens fight song has never caught on in the Charm City as fans continue to hold the old Colts song in high esteem.

Here’s the link at BaltimoreRavens.com: http://blogs.baltimoreravens.com/2010/08/05/vote-on-the-ravens-fight-song/

1:35 p.m. — Joe Flacco has had a fantastic start to training camp in Westminster, but this morning was not the third-year quarterback’s finest outing as he tossed several interceptions during passing drills and 11-on-11 sessions.

Fabian Washington dropped a sure interception on a pass intended for Dennis Pitta in the end zone, but free safety Tom Zbikowski—who continues to be an early star in Westminster—capitalized on his opportunity to intercept Flacco, taking it to the end zone for a touchdown.

Following the play, we saw our most entertaining celebration of the summer as Chris Carr placed the football down and Zbikowski attempted a short field goal. It was no good.

Amusing as it was, we won’t have to worry about Zbikowski tossing his name into the kicking competition after that display.

Flacco was also picked off by cornerback Marcus Paschal in the morning workout.

12:50 p.m. — We saw a rare hiccup in an otherwise tight kicking competition as Billy Cundiff struggled, missing kicks from 32, 43, and 48 yards unofficially. Cundiff converted his other attempts including a 35-yarder during 11-on-11 periods.

Cundiff and veteran Shayne Graham have both performed well in Westminster, unlike last summer when Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano struggled mightily for periods of time during camp.

It is believed Graham has the inside track on the kicking job, but both kickers are putting themselves in good position for a job, whether with the Ravens or another NFL team.

“I feel for the most part I’ve been hitting the ball well,” Graham said after Thursday morning’s workout. “I think I’ve had one day when I wasn’t happy with the way things ended up. That’s going to happen.”

Graham praised the Ravens coaching staff for simulating more game situations than other teams he’s played for in the past. Of course, the four preseason games will create a clearer picture in the competition than practice kicks sailing through the uprights at McDaniel all summer.

12:40 p.m. — Expectations are high for rookie tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta after the Ravens selected the two in the third and fourth rounds respectively. Both have shined at times, but Dickson has played exceptionally well, catching nearly every ball thrown his way and created separation in routes against linebackers and safeties.

Todd Heap is still on top of the depth chart, but Dickson could conceivably push the veteran for playing time as the season progresses and he grows more comfortable in Cam Cameron’s offense.

“You try not to put an expectation on a guy because it’s usually limiting,” Harbaugh said of Dickson. “You say, ‘This guy’s better than we thought he was going to be,’ but gosh, we hoped he was going to be great. Ed’s played really well, but he’s got to sustain it. It’s tough. We’re just starting camp, basically, so he’s got a lot of work to do.”

Dickson has worked with the first team in two-tight end sets as well as spelling veteran Todd Heap on occasion.

12:30 p.m. — After a slow start to the morning workout, the team conducted a fairly extensive live session with most the first-team units going against the second-team units.

At one point, after the second-team offense ran successfully against the starting defense on successive plays, Harbaugh was very unhappy and let his defense know about it.

“That was our first defense getting their [butts] kicked!” shouted Harbaugh after another first-down run during the live session. “That was our second-team offensive line!”

Needless to say, Harbaugh wasn’t too thrilled when he was asked about it after practice, citing his preference not to discuss what’s said on the field.

“You don’t see a lot of things,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of coaching a football team. We’ve got a lot of guys working hard. We’re a tight-knit group and that’s the way it’s got to be. [Reporters] don’t need to know everything.”

12:20 p.m. — The Ravens worked out a few cornerbacks after practice with only Chris Hawkins from LSU (and formerly of Jacksonville) confirmed. Whether or not the Ravens choose to sign any of these nondescript guys, it won’t do anything to address concerns at the position.

12:15 p.m. — Several other players were limited during practice including offensive tackles Michael Oher and Jared Gaither. Oher had his right ankle taped at two different points during practice and was limited in the latter portion of the workout.

Gaither participated in individual drills but did not participate during 11-on-11 activity as he stood on the field with his helmet off. Of course, Gaither previously missed two days of practice with what was labeled “cramps” in his back last weekend.

Offensive lineman Stefan Rodgers also limped off the field during practice. He had previously missed time after suffering a lower leg injury.

Defensive back K.J. Gerard (hamstring) and tackle Tony Moll (concussion) failed to practice again.

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2010 Ravens Training Camp Preview: 10 Purple Questions

Posted on 27 July 2010 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens begin their 15th training camp at McDaniel College in Westminster, expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations in 2010.

From the acquisition of impact receiver Anquan Boldin to the continued maturity of quarterback Joe Flacco, prognosticators across the country have earmarked the Ravens as serious contenders to raise the Lombardi Trophy at Cowboys Stadium in early February.

Despite the loud optimism for this Ravens team, many questions remain unanswered, as is the case with any of the 32 teams in late July.

In honor of this year’s 10th anniversary of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV victory, I pose 10 questions as the men in purple report to McDaniel College this week:

1. What’s the deal with Ed Reed?

Reed’s name has created buzz throughout the offseason dating back to his uncertainty of whether he would return following the Ravens’ playoff loss in Indianapolis. Since then, the All-Pro safety has declared his intention to return, but when we’ll see him on the field is anyone’s guess.

After undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, Reed declared himself at only “35 percent” as late as last week in comments to various media outlets. Speculation persists that Reed will begin the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list and miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

In addition to his health, Reed’s relationship with the organization is on shaky ground after the veteran safety expressed his displeasure with the team’s amount of support during his recovery. Reed also shared his desire for a new contract several weeks ago when he spoke to Drew Forrester on The Morning Reaction and has repeated the sentiment several times since.

Regardless of Reed’s shaky standing with the team, his uncertain health with the hip and lingering nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder may force the Ravens to turn to newly-acquired veteran Ken Hamlin or third-year safety Tom Zbikowski to fill Reed’s void in the defensive backfield.

His health will be monitored closely over the next four weeks, as has been the case during the last two summers at McDaniel College.

2. Will Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb be ready to go on September 13th?

Reed’s status will grab the headlines, but the health of Washington and Webb could prove equally critical as the two corners—both recovering from ACL injuries—will compete for the starting job opposite Domonique Foxworth in the Baltimore secondary.

Washington appears to be further along in his recovery, but both are candidates to begin training camp on the active-PUP list (eligible to come off the list at any point during camp). In the meantime, Chris Carr will receive reps as the other starting corner.

Slow recoveries for either Washington or Webb would open the door for new acquisitions Travis Fisher and Walt Harris to compete with Cary Williams (suspended for the first two regular season games) and Marcus Paschal for the final cornerback spots on the 53-man roster.

3. Is Joe Flacco ready to take the next step into stardom in his third season?

Entering his third season as starting quarterback and fully recovered from leg injuries that hampered him last season, Flacco is expected to take the next step in developing into one of the finer quarterbacks in the league.

The offseason acquisitions of Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth and the re-signing of veteran Derrick Mason give Flacco a plethora of weapons in the passing game in addition to the dependability of Ray Rice coming out of the backfield.

Flacco was criticized last season for checking down so often and avoiding the middle of the field, but the excuse of not having sufficient weapons will no longer be in play.

In order for the offense to grow, he will be expected to do even more in the passing game.

4. How quickly can Sergio Kindle recover from his accident in Austin?

While the details surrounding the accident remain sketchy, Kindle’s injury on Thursday night creates a nightmarish start to his NFL career with the Ravens, as the young linebacker will miss all of training camp with a fractured skull.

Kindle was expected to back up linebacker Jarret Johnson and provide a legitimate pass rushing threat on third down for the Baltimore defense, so the Ravens can only hope he makes a speedy recovery and eventually contributes to a pass rush that struggled to pressure the quarterback in 2009.

Unfortunately, it sounds more like a matter of if—not when—he can return to contribute before season’s end. It’s a major blow to the Baltimore defense but paves the way for Antwan Barnes, Jameel McClain, and Paul Kruger to become bigger factors in passing situations.

5. How prepared is Terrell Suggs to rebound from a disappointing 2009 campaign?

It was no secret that the organization was unhappy with Terrell Suggs’ 2009 campaign after he signed a $62.5 million contract last July. The linebacker arrived in Westminster out of shape and injured his heel on the third day of full-team workouts, sidelining him for the duration of training camp.

This translated into a sluggish season for the talented linebacker, which included a career-low 4.5 sacks and an MCL injury due to a low block from former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.

Harbaugh voiced his displeasure with Suggs’ absence through much of the OTA schedule, so it will be interesting to see what kind of shape the linebacker is in when he reports to McDaniel College this week. A healthy, motivated Suggs is needed if the Ravens hope to pressure the quarterback and help mask would could be a depleted secondary to begin the season.

With Kindle’s unfortunate accident, it becomes even more crucial for Suggs to return to his previous Pro Bowl form.

6. Can Michael Oher and Jared Gaither pull off the flip-flop at offensive tackle?

There’s little doubt that Oher can handle the left tackle spot after filling in for an injured Gaither last season, but questions remain over the health and mental state of the new right tackle.

It’s no secret that Gaither wants a new contract, as the tackle delayed signing his restricted free agent tender until early June. Gaither also battled a foot injury through much of the OTA schedule, missing valuable reps as he makes the transition to right tackle—a position he hasn’t played since his days at the University of Maryland.

Should Gaither struggle to adjust to right tackle, it may force the Ravens to shuffle around other players into the right tackle spot or force them to abandon the switch and return Oher to the right side of the offensive line.

7. Will Shayne Graham (or Billy Cundiff) be able to silence the memories of Matt Stover?

The Ravens inked former Bengals kicker Graham to a one-year contract in hopes of finally silencing fans who clamored for Matt Stover last season as the Ravens struggled in the kicking game with Steve Hauschka.

Cundiff returns after being signed mid-season to replace Hauschka, but most believe Graham has the inside track for the job despite missing two critical kicks against the New York Jets in a playoff loss last season.

We’ll inevitably be tracking every kick from the fields of McDaniel College as we did last season with Hauschka and Graham Gano, but the kickers’ performance in the four preseason games will hold the most weight in determining who’s kicking for the Ravens in September. Unlike last summer, however, both Graham and Cundiff bring more experience to the table, providing more confidence that special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg can choose a viable solution in the kicking game.

8. How much longer will Troy Smith be a Raven after the acquisition of Marc Bulger to back up Flacco?

Several players, including Flacco and Reed, have voiced their support for Smith as the backup, but the fact remains Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens have invested $3.8 million in Bulger to be the backup behind Flacco.

While Smith has said all the right things to this point, he has to see the writing on the wall as he’s now relegated to No. 3 quarterback duties. The problem for Smith is none of the other 31 teams have shown a strong interest in acquiring his services after he expressed a strong desire to start for another team at the end of last season.

As of now, Smith will compete with John Beck for the third spot, but it remains very possible that Smith finds himself on another roster before training camp ends.

Needless to say, the Ravens don’t want an unneeded distraction in the locker room, but it appears Smith’s supporters will continue to sing his praises, likely contributing to his departure at some point.

9. Can “Mount” Cody help form a brick wall in the middle of the Baltimore defense?

The 350-pound rookie will need to keep his weight at a manageable level, but the coaching staff was thrilled with his athleticism and strength during OTAs. Coupled with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, it’s no secret Newsome envisioned a brick wall in the middle of the Ravens defense reminiscent of the tandem of Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

Cody will begin his rookie season backing up Kelly Gregg, but if the big man is as good as advertised and maintain his conditioning, it won’t be long before Ngata and Cody form a 700-pound monster on the inside—that will also keep blockers away from Ray Lewis.

With Kindle’s rookie season now in serious doubt, Cody becomes the most likely (and needed) draft pick to make a serious impact in 2010.

10. Will the aging Ravens defense continue to fight off Father Time?

While three defensive starters over the age of 30 may not sound like a big deal, it is when two of them are Ray Lewis (35) and Reed (31). The other starter Kelly Gregg (33) will battle Cody for playing time while Trevor Pryce (35) remains a key member of the defensive line rotation.

Reed’s health issues are well-documented (see question 1) and may not have much time left despite his desire for a new contract.

Lewis continues to be an enigma at the inside linebacker position where even the greatest of all time typically retire by their early 30s. He lacks the speed he had in the prime of his career, but his cerebral approach and leadership are invaluable to the Baltimore defense.

Newsome has drafted young talent to supplement the veterans on the defensive side of the ball, but injuries to these key veterans likely prevents this unit from being great as it has been for so many years.

Of course, the Ravens are banking on having a more explosive offense, so simply having a good—not great—defense might be enough to take Baltimore deep into the playoffs. If the defense’s elder statesmen can fight off Father Time for one more season, they’ll have a chance to play for a ring in early February.

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