Tag Archive | "Steelers"

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Mosley returns to practice as Ravens continue waiting on Steve Smith

Posted on 02 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Holding their first practice open to media since the bye, the Ravens welcomed back a key defensive player while continuing to wait on one of their top offensive contributors.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley practiced for the first time since injuring his hamstring in the second half of Baltimore’s Week 5 loss to Washington on Oct. 9. The 2014 Pro Bowl selection worked on a limited basis and was doing various agility drills during the portion of practice open to media.

“We felt like three weeks would be a good enough time to try to get back out there and test things,” Mosley said. “This whole time I’ve just been physical therapy, biking, and running on the turf. This is the actual [first] time to be really running and cutting and making moves. It felt pretty good.”

Wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle) was not present for Wednesday’s workout, leaving his status for Sunday’s critical meeting with Pittsburgh in question. The 37-year-old sprained his ankle in the first quarter of the Washington game and hasn’t played since then as the Ravens offense has continued to struggle in the midst of a four-game losing streak. With Smith enduring such a lengthy absence, one would think he would need at least a couple days of practice to get ready for a return to live-game action.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) was also absent on Wednesday and appears unlikely to play against the Steelers. The five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher has appeared in just two games this season in a frustrating recovery from offseason foot surgery.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot), return specialist Devin Hester (groin), and defensive backs Shareece Wright (hamstring) and Lardarius Webb (hamstring) were all present and working. Suggs and Yanda returned to the field during the bye-week practices after missing action in October.

The Ravens are hoping to have their entire starting offensive line on the field together for the first time since Week 3 after both Yanda and Stanley practiced fully on Wednesday.

“We’re excited about it. Everybody is working hard out there,” said Yanda, who missed his first regular-season action since the end of the 2012 regular season. “We’re just putting together a good game plan and getting ready to go out and have a good game on Sunday. That’s what it’s all about. We’re taking those steps toward Sunday.”

Tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) and linebacker Kamalei Correa (thigh) were absent during the portion of practice open to media. Correa appeared to leave the field with the injury during last Tuesday’s workout and did not participate in the Ravens’ final workout last week, but Gillmore appeared to be a full participant in bye-week activities, making his sudden absence more curious.

Baltimore signed tight end Nic Jacobs to the practice squad on Wednesday, a day after releasing running back Stephen Houston.

Meanwhile, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (knee) and running back DeAngelo Williams (knee) practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday. Roethlisberger is attempting to return less than three weeks after undergoing left knee surgery.

“We’re going to take it one day at a time,” Roethlisberger told reporters in Pittsburgh prior to Wednesday’s practice. “I don’t know anything new. We’ll go out today and see how it feels.”

Below is the first full injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), WR Steve Smith Sr. (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), CB Shareece Wright (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (bicep), CB Lardarius Webb (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Tavon Young (concussion)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G David DeCastro (non-injury), C Cody Wallace (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Ben Roethlisberger (left knee), RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Antonio Brown (hip), OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), DE Cameron Heyward (hamstring), S Shamarko Thomas (groin), WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder)

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Trade deadline passes without any action from Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The NFL trade deadline passed without the Ravens — or any other team — making a deal of significance on Tuesday.

After Monday’s surprising trade of New England linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland, the final hours leading up to the 4 p.m. deadline were unsurprisingly quiet. With just under $3 million in salary cap room, Baltimore wasn’t in a great position to make a significant move.

Former Raven Torrey Smith was rumored to be on the trading block in recent days, but the San Francisco wide receiver and University of Maryland product is staying put with the 49ers, who are off to a 1-6 start.

All attention now moves to the practice field with the Ravens welcoming Pittsburgh to town for a critical AFC North tilt on Sunday. Baltimore hopes to welcome several injured players back to game action this week, a list including linebackers Terrell Suggs (biceps) and C.J. Mosley (hamstring), wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle), and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot).

The first injury report of the week will be released on Wednesday.

The big story for the Steelers is the status of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee on Oct. 17. The 34-year-old practiced on a limited basis on Monday and did some light on-field work during Pittsburgh’s bye week.

“I thought it was generally positive,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “We hadn’t spent a lot of time analyzing it or talking about it at this juncture. Really, it’s been giving him the work and him taking the work. And he’s done a really good job with it.”

Should Roethlisberger not play, backup Landry Jones would make his second straight start. Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that the Ravens would prepare this week as though the starter would play and added that the Steelers offensive system doesn’t change dramatically with Jones under center anyway.

On Tuesday, the Ravens released running back Stephen Houston from their practice squad. With Lorenzo Taliaferro being activated in Week 7, Baltimore has four running backs on its 53-man roster, diminishing the need to keep Houston in the organization.

After placing star running back Jamaal Charles on injured reserve, Kansas City worked out former Ravens running back Trent Richardson on Tuesday, according to ESPN. The former first-round pick of the Browns was released by Baltimore early in training camp after struggling to stay healthy this spring and undergoing knee surgery.

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Fresh off their bye, Ravens have no choice but to get well quickly

Posted on 31 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to work Monday aiming to start anew.

Using a much-needed bye week to get their bodies and minds right after a winless October, they won’t have long to wait to set the tone for the second half of the season. Playing two games in a five-day period is always a challenge, but those contests are against familiar AFC North foes — a de facto first-place Pittsburgh team that could be without Ben Roethlisberger followed by winless Cleveland — both at M&T Bank Stadium.

It certainly could be worse from a scheduling standpoint with the Ravens able to get a head start on the game plans for both opponents during the bye.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the good timing of the condensed stretch, but the urgency is clear if the Ravens want to make something out of the remainder of the 2016 season.

“I want to knock some of this disappointment off,” said Harbaugh as Baltimore still carries a four-game losing streak. “This is something you carry around with you. It’s not what you want. It is not the goal. The goal is to win these games and have the kind of record that you think reflects how hard you have worked.”

Despite falling to 3-4 after a 3-0 start in September, the Ravens and their fans have cited the wide-open nature of the division with the Steelers sporting the only winning record as reason for optimism. A win on Sunday propels Baltimore into a first-place tie with a chance to then move back over .500 against the woeful Browns just four nights later.

It gets tougher after that for the Ravens, however, while the schedule softens for both the Steelers and second-place Cincinnati.

Baltimore’s remaining nine opponents sport a .522 winning percentage with the four road foes — Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati — owning a combined .683 mark. The challenging second-half schedule was why so many opined that the Ravens needed to win at least five of their first seven games, but that potential margin for error is long gone.

Meanwhile, the Steelers’ remaining schedule sports a winning percentage of just .396 with their five road opponents a combined 13-25-1. After a Nov. 13 meeting with the NFC East-leading Cowboys at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh has just one more game on its schedule against a team currently above .500.

If the Steelers can tread water until Roethlisberger returns to good health — a big if with three of their next four games on the road — they are the consensus favorite to win the division, making Sunday’s game even more crucial for the Ravens.

The Bengals have stumbled out of the gate to a 3-4-1 start, but their eight remaining opponents have combined for a .458 winning percentage and their four road opponents are just 12-18. Cincinnati hasn’t looked nearly as formidable as it did a year ago, but each of its four losses has come against a first-place team.

Winning the division is always the goal, but that’s especially true in a year in which the AFC West currently holds three teams with just two losses each, making that division the mid-season favorite to claim the two wild-card spots. Of course, there’s plenty of football to be played across the league, but counting on enough mediocrity elsewhere to sneak in as a 9-7 wild card could be a particularly tricky recipe this season.

That’s why the Ravens must win the next two games to not only eliminate the foul taste of October from their palates but to begin stacking enough wins ahead of a brutal final month that features road games against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. The last two road defeats to the New York Giants and New York Jets were painful enough, but Harbaugh made it clear on Monday how critical the next two contests in the Ravens’ home building are.

“We need to win these games,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where they are being played. We needed to win the two on the road the last two weeks; we didn’t. We need to win these at home.”

The remainder of the season depends on it.

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Suggs, Yanda return to practice as Ravens hit bye week

Posted on 25 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With improving their health one of their biggest objectives during a much-needed bye week, the Ravens welcomed a pair of Pro Bowl players back to practice on Tuesday.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps) and right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) were present and working during the portion of the workout open to media. Suggs suffered a torn left biceps in the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants, an injury that kept him out of Sunday’s 24-16 loss to the New York Jets.

The 34-year-old intends to return for the Nov. 6 meeting with Pittsburgh as the Ravens try to snap a four-game losing streak to get their season back on track. The six-time Pro Bowl pass rusher played with a right biceps tear late in the 2012 season, giving him experience dealing with the injury.

“I come from an era where this is just a bump in the road,” said Suggs, who will wear an apparatus on his left arm similar to the one worn by Ray Lewis in the 2012 playoffs. “It may be season-ending for somebody else, but it is not season-ending for a Raven. I played through it before. It was always the plan. Last time I tore it, I missed the first game, came back, and struggled through the second game. Then, I slowly but surely got it back.”

Despite returning from his second Achilles tendon injury in a four-year period, Suggs leads the Ravens with five sacks and has provided the only semblance of a pass rush from the edge with Elvis Dumervil limited to just two games this season. Suggs is also an underrated defender against the run as the Ravens allowed a season-high 155 yards on the ground without him in Week 7.

Suggs acknowledges the pain tolerance involved in playing with the injury, but he doesn’t want to go to injured reserve unless he absolutely has to after missing 15 games last season. The 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year remains optimistic about the Ravens reversing their current woes with veteran players returning from injuries after the bye.

The 3-4 Ravens trail the Steelers by just one game and are tied with Cincinnati in the AFC North.

“We are getting a lot of the pieces back, and that can change a season,” Suggs said. “We are definitely banking on getting our veteran guys back. It all starts with the guys that we have now. That is why we are all here working. We are going to continue to work. We have a tremendous amount of fight; we are warriors. There isn’t any quit in us.”

Yanda was taking part in his first practice since injuring his shoulder in the Week 5 loss to Washington. Specifics about the injury remain unclear, but Yanda hadn’t missed a game since the end of the 2012 regular season, leading one to wonder how serious the ailment is and how it could hinder him the rest of the year.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) was once again practicing after missing his fourth straight game on Sunday. The rookie first-round pick has now worked on at least a limited basis in every practice open to media dating back to Oct. 13.

The entire offensive line group being on the practice field was an an encouraging sign for a Ravens offense that was held to an embarrassing 42 yards in the second half of the Jets loss. Baltimore has already used five different starting combinations along its offensive line this season.

Ten players remained absent from Tuesday’s practice, a list including Dumervil, wide receivers Steve Smith (ankle), Kamar Aiken, and Devin Hester (thigh), running back Terrance West (ankle), tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive backs Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and Shareece Wright (hamstring), and inside linebackers C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and Albert McClellan.

The Ravens also welcomed back safety Matt Elam and have appointed him as their one player designated to return from IR. The 2013 first-round pick underwent knee surgery in August and could carve out a depth role in the secondary with veteran Kendrick Lewis being placed on IR over the weekend and Webb leaving Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

Despite the disappointing start to Elam’s career, coaches expressed optimism about his performance in the spring and summer before he injured his knee in the second preseason game.

“He was really, really playing very well and moving very well [before the preseason injury],” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “The only thing we need to see is now take it to the field in live action. Based on everything he did on the [practice] field and getting himself ready physically and mentally, he did everything he was supposed to do. Now we just have to hope we’re back there again, and we’ll see when he takes it to the field.”

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Reynolds reaches out to enemy lines for NFL advice

Posted on 06 May 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Before the draft, new Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds sought advice from a former NFL player who understood the transition he’s currently going through.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers great Hines Ward began his career at the University of Georgia playing quarterback and running back before finally excelling at the wide receiver position. And after racking up 1,000 catches and more than 12,000 receiving yards in 14 NFL seasons, Ward was a valuable source of information for Reynolds.

After being drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round of last weekend’s draft, however, the former Navy quarterback knew he might receive flak for fraternizing with a former member of Baltimore’s AFC North rival.

“I know that’s like a cardinal sin in this building,” said Reynolds as he laughed. “We got to talk before the draft — to ease anybody’s mind. I talked to him, because in his college experience, he did play wide receiver, but he also played quarterback [and] running back. He was all over the place, so he had to adjust to the new role of being a permanent wide receiver. He gave me some tips and tricks and things to work on to perfect my craft.”

The Ravens have already said that they envision Reynolds as a slot receiver and a contributor in the return game. Though making it clear that he’s willing to play anywhere to succeed at the NFL level, the 21-year-old acknowledged it has been an adjustment realizing he would no longer be a quarterback after setting the FBS record with 4,559 rushing yards at the position.

In fact, Reynolds didn’t even learn that he’d work as a running back at the East-West Shrine until reading an article listing him at the running back position.

“When I got invited to the Shrine game, I saw that I wasn’t a quarterback anymore, and I was like, ‘Well, this is fun,'” said Reynolds, who scored more touchdowns than anyone in NCAA Division I history. “I was like, ‘This is an opportunity to pursue the dream at the next level,’ and I’m embracing it with everything I can. [There have] been several guys that have come before me that have been able to make the transition successfully, so I’ve been trying to model my game after them, talk to them, and just hear what they have to say.”

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Reynolds has worked extensively with former Pro Bowl selection Brian Mitchell to learn the finer points of the return game. He wouldn’t be the first college quarterback to succeed as an NFL return specialist as Antwaan Randle El did it for the Steelers and New England’s Julian Edelman has thrived as both a receiver and returner more recently.

Reynolds even thinks his experience running the triple-option offense at Navy will better prepare him for his new role as a return specialist.

“I think there are some similar traits that you have to have on that level as a punt returner,” Reynolds said. “You have to be able to make quick decisions; you have to be quick in tight spaces, make a move and make somebody miss. Every day in practice, anytime we ran an inside run as a quarterback, we were making the safety miss, making the safety miss. That was something that coaches always ingrained in the quarterback’s head.

“Making that first guy miss and trying to make a play is what I was doing for the last four years.”

The Ravens love Reynolds’ character and athleticism, but he knows the transition won’t be easy as he’ll be competing with a deep group of receivers who have many more years of experience playing the position than he does.

But if his career at Navy was any indication, Reynolds will embrace the opportunity to succeed at the next level. He certainly doesn’t plan on allowing his work ethic to be questioned along the way.

“Every position has a technique that you have to perfect,” Reynolds said. “Guys have spent 10 [or] 15 years perfecting these techniques, and I’m a newborn in this position. I just have to work extremely hard — twice as hard as the next man — to get used to the position [and] get better at the technique.”

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Five questions about the Ravens’ 2016 schedule

Posted on 15 April 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 schedule is officially set for the Ravens and below are five questions to ponder:

1. What will the Ravens’ record be at the bye?

I’ll abstain from predicting Baltimore’s record when the draft hasn’t even taken place yet, but it is interesting to note that six of the Ravens’ first seven games will come against non-playoff teams from a year ago. However, this is a bit deceiving as the New York Jets finished with a 10-6 record in 2015 and the Oakland Raiders may have the best young roster in the league after adding even more talent this offseason.

Still, I’m not sure I’ll like the Ravens’ chances of getting to the playoffs if they’re anything less than 5-2 by the time they hit their Week 8 bye, especially when they play road games at New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati in a four-week span to close the regular season.

2. Has a team ever played back-to-back road games at the same venue?

We’ve seen Week 17 opponents meet in the first round of the playoffs in the same stadium, but I’m curious to know how many times a team has played road games against the New York Giants and the New York Jets in consecutive weeks. At least the Ravens should be very familiar with MetLife Stadium by around 4:15 p.m. on Oct. 23.

No, I’m not interested enough to do the research to find out if and when it’s happened before, but I’d gladly thank you if you are willing to do the work.

3. What will the “Color Rush” uniforms look like for the Ravens-Browns game on Nov. 10?

The Color Rush uniforms we began seeing for Thursday games last year will return, so it will be interesting to see what that might look like for the Ravens. Truthfully, the all-black uniforms are no longer special at this point, so what about purple jerseys and purple pants for that nationally-televised game?

Let’s hope the mustard-colored pants from last year never see the light of day again.

Would Cleveland wear orange jerseys and orange pants to go with orange helmets or would the Browns sport an all-brown getup? Remembering how ugly their new uniforms looked last year, do we really want to know?

4. How do we feel about the Ravens playing in the afternoon on Christmas Day?

It’s probably just me being a whiny sportswriter — to be clear, I do love my job — but do we need multiple NFL games on Christmas? It was one thing for the Ravens to play on Christmas night 11 years ago, but an afternoon game is intrusive for many people wanting to celebrate the holiday with their families — in Pittsburgh or Baltimore.

Do you really want Aunt Edna bugging you about when you’re ever going to get married or have kids while you’re trying to watch Joe Flacco drive the Ravens the length of the field in the fourth quarter?

For Ravens fans unhappy about only having two prime-time games in 2016, this one practically counts as a third since it will be a nationally-televised game on NFL Network.

5. Why are the Ravens finishing the regular season in Cincinnati again?

Many are complaining about the Ravens now having 10 of their last 11 Monday night games on the road when they travel to New England on Dec. 12, but going to Paul Brown Stadium to conclude the regular season for the fifth time in six years is ridiculous.

Imagine the uproar if the Ravens had to go to Heinz Field for Week 17 every year. How irritated would Pittsburgh be to go to Baltimore or Cincinnati to conclude the season on an annual basis?

The Bengals’ losing past still resonates with many, but they’ve beaten the Ravens five straight times and are the only team in the AFC North to have made the playoffs in each of the last five years. The Monday night thing is quirky, but at least Baltimore has had plenty of prime-time home games over that time.

The Ravens shouldn’t have to go to Cincinnati for the final week every year.

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Ravens add much-needed diversity to passing game

Posted on 15 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked in early January whether the Ravens needed more speed in the passing game, Joe Flacco answered carefully while making his stance clear.

“I don’t know if it’s something that it needs, but you see what speed does,” the veteran quarterback said. “It does a lot for football teams. You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there.”

The Ravens took a step to copy Pittsburgh’s formula on Tuesday by signing former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace to a two-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million.

Not only does the union provide the Ravens another vertical threat to pair with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but it provides Wallace the chance to get his career back on track after setting new lows in receiving yards (473) and touchdowns (two) last year. Playing the last three seasons with quarterbacks in Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater who aren’t known for their arm strength, the 29-year-old sees the strong-armed Flacco as the perfect passer for his skill set.

“I always loved his deep ball ever since I was in Pittsburgh watching Torrey [Smith] catch them,” Wallace said. “I was like, ‘Man, this guy gets like eight of them in a row!’ I need me some of that.”

After Perriman missed his entire rookie season due to a right knee injury suffered on the first day of training camp, the Ravens can hardly afford a repeat of 2015 when they lacked a speed receiver to stretch the field and create more space for Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken on short-to-intermediate routes. Baltimore finished eighth in passing offense, but the unit ranked 30th in yards per attempt (6.6), reflecting its inability to push the ball down the field.

Now, the Ravens hope the addition of Wallace and Perriman’s healthy return will bring more diversity to the passing game and better utilize Flacco’s strengths.

Head coach John Harbaugh is excited about the potential of his top four receivers and how it might impact opponents’ preparation for his offense.

“It’s going to cause people some problems,” Harbaugh said. “You have some considerations back there on defense. If you’re going to put your defense over one guy or another guy and leave some pretty talented guys open on the other side, that’s going to create some problems for defenses.”

The Ravens may lack a true No. 1 option with Steve Smith turning 37 and coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, but Wallace doesn’t need to be a 1,200-yard receiver for the Baltimore passing game to thrive in 2016. The key is having wideouts who bring different skills to the table, whether you’re factoring in Steve Smith’s toughness and experience, Aiken’s reliable hands, or the high-end speed of Wallace and Perriman.

On paper, it could be the most talented group of pass-catchers the Ravens have had since the 2012 season that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII, and it should fulfill Flacco’s desire to have more speed on the outside.

Both Baltimore and Wallace hope their partnership will be the right fit. The Ravens need to replace the big-play ability they were missing after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure, and last year showed that they couldn’t count solely on the unproven Perriman to do it when he has yet to complete as much as a full-contact practice in the NFL. Wallace is out to prove he’s still capable of being the playmaker he was with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and isn’t just the guy who signed a mega contract with the Dolphins three offseasons ago and was all but forgotten in the Vikings offense last year.

“I’ll show everybody. I’ve been taking a lot of heat for about three years in a row,” Wallace said. “We’ll see about that though. I promise I’ll get the last laugh. Hopefully we can get where we want to get, and that’s to the championship.”

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Great news on saving lives and “An Evening of Heroes: Champions and Survivors” is set for May 19th

Posted on 04 March 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Great news on saving lives and “An Evening of Heroes: Champions and Survivors” is set for May 19th

I got an email on Thursday afternoon from our friends and partners at There Goes My Hero with an update on our work from last year’s 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit Tour and our other Baltimore area swabbing events. I’d like to share it with you:

 

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It’s very gratifying to see the fruits of our labor and the real, life-saving “scoreboard” that’s starting to mount with There Goes My Hero in just the first full year of our efforts to pay forward the incredible generosity of my wife’s 22-year old donor from Germany. We’re still a few months away from being able to meet the man who has saved Jenn’s life twice since June 2014, but we’re already generating the warmth and pride that comes with doing our part to help others in the future.

Last year, we honored Chuck Pagano, Dick Cass and Brenda Frese for their stories and the bravery of their families through the journey of saving lives on the Thursday before the Preakness. When the event was over, my friends and family and sponsors all asked if we were planning on making it an annual event. I always dream big but – honestly, how do you top that head table of heroes?

Pagano survived leukemia and has now coached my wife through two battles with the same disease.

Cass saved a college friend’s life with a kidney a decade ago.

And many are familiar with Frese’s son, Tyler, who battled leukemia for much of his childhood and is now a healthy, happy little boy running around chasing the Lady Terps on another March journey.

But I have since learned that inspiration is all around us. We just need to look for it!

When Jenn survived her first cancer battle, Ravens Director of Player Engagement Harry Swayne grabbed me in the hallway in Owings Mills. “Did you know James Trapp had the same battle as your wife,” he told me. Sure, enough, the Ravens special teams captain in Super Bowl XXXV was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and had his life saved by a bone marrow transplant from his sister, who was a perfect match.

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Trapp is now the Assistant Director of Player Engagement for the Buffalo Bills and his head coach that day in Tampa is my WNST business partner Brian Billick, who bought part of our company to benefit the Living Classrooms Foundation. I knew we had the foundation of something special if I engaged some of his teammates from that 2001 Super Bowl win.

Back in August, I saw John Harbaugh and Billick together on the field in Owings Mills as the old championship coach was addressing the newer championship coach’s team and I saw them embrace. I’m pretty sure the two have never been publicly seen in the same place at the same time. And they certainly have never been engaged in that kind of setting and forum to compare and contrast their mutually loved Baltimore championships.

Three weeks later, Jenn and I saw this on HBO’s Real Sports:

I reached to Ma’ake in January, once my wife was getting better after spending most of three months in Johns Hopkins fighting leukemia again, and he and his brother are excited to be joining us on May 19th the Baltimore Harbor Hotel to raise awareness for There Goes My Hero.

By the way, Ma’ake said that Dick Cass was one of the first people to call him to give him some comfort that he’d be OK after the procdure to save Chris’ life.

Then, there was the call to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, whom I’ve strangely befriended along life’s twisted highway. I wrote about it when I did a mini-series on our 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit Tour last summer. You can read my whole “back story” with Tomlin here.

Tomlin text me back immediately: “I’m two feet in…”

He then mentioned something about needing security. LOL!

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So, on Thursday, May 19th we’ll all gather – fierce foes on the football field and the stands but united for an evening of civility to discuss the journey and paths of these six men: coaches, heroes and survivors. Obviously, the Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore rivalry will set a backdrop. But remember: there’s a story of a Raven saving a Steeler on stage with us, a brother giving a kidney to save a brother’s life. And a sister who saved a brother. And the audience will be peppered with people like my wife, who’ve had their lives saved by complete strangers.

That’s what this is all about!

I hope you join us and bring along some friends for “An Evening of Heroes: Survivors and Champions.

We hope to make this an annual event to benefit There Goes My Hero every third Thursday of May.

Tickets are on sale now. We have discounted single tickets through THIS MONDAY ONLY!!! Regular price will be $150 each but it’s just $125 for the early birds who want to commit to joining us.

If you are a business owner, I’m sweetening the pot with a free month of gold-level advertising on WNST.net & AM 1570 for all local shops who buy tables.

And if you have any questions or need me: nasty@wnst.net always finds me via email. Save the date and help us save more lives via our friends at There Goes My Hero.

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Ravens-related thoughts from divisional round

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens fans undoubtedly took satisfaction from watching Pittsburgh lose to Denver in the divisional round on Sunday, but you couldn’t help but be in awe of the Steelers’ speed at the wide receiver position.

Playing without arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger still threw for over 300 yards against the Broncos’ top-ranked pass defense thanks to a 154-yard receiving day from Martavis Bryant as well as contributions from the speedy trio of Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Markus Wheaton. Having caught just one pass in the regular season, the rookie Coates caught two passes for 61 yards to show off the speed that Pittsburgh barely even used in 2015 after taking him in the third round out of Auburn.

That collection of speed nearly overcame a depleted running game that was without DeAngelo Williams as Bryant’s 40-yard run in the first quarter helped set up the Steelers’ lone touchdown of the game. Of course, speed isn’t everything — just ask Pittsburgh’s colossal 2014 third-round bust Dri Archer — but you could easily understand why Joe Flacco cited the AFC North rival’s offense when asked at the end of the season whether he believes the Ravens need to add more speed to the passing game.

“You see what speed does. It does a lot for football teams,” Flacco said. “You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference. It helps.”

If the Ravens want to close the gap with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North, they must find more speed at the receiver position in addition to hoping that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is fully recovered from the partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cost him his entire rookie season. Watching the Steelers on Sunday was just a reminder that Baltimore was playing a different game in 2015 with receivers incapable of consistently gaining separation or running away from anyone.

The combination of Kamar Aiken and a returning Steve Smith — Jeremy Butler also showed some promise late in the season — should leave the Ravens in good shape in terms of possession receivers, but general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find another high-end speed guy to go with the unproven Perriman, whether that player comes via free agency or the draft.

When asked at the season-ending press conference, Newsome made it very clear that he would like to add another receiver or two this offseason. Fans will just hope one will make a substantial impact unlike the late-round picks over the last several drafts who’ve been nothing more than roster filler.

The Ravens have an abundance of No. 5 and No. 6 options, but they need to aim higher when looking for a wide receiver this offseason.

Up-and-down Sunday for ex-Ravens

While former Ravens such as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, Dwan Edwards, Darian Stewart, and Owen Daniels helped their respective teams move closer to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, ex-Raven Fitz Toussaint wore the goat horns for the Steelers.

The running back’s fumble with 10 minutes to play not only ended a potential scoring drive, but it was the catalyst for Denver’s only touchdown drive of the game in a 23-16 final. Even as Ravens fans took delight in watching Pittsburgh lose, you couldn’t help but feel for the 2014 rookie free agent from Michigan who was very emotional after the game.

Toussaint has received more postseason carries (31) than regular-season rushing attempts (24) in his first two NFL seasons and had 118 total yards in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati, but Sunday is a day he’ll surely want to forget despite scoring his first NFL touchdown in the first quarter.

Coverage linebackers

It’s almost unfair to compare most linebackers to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina, but the Ravens need to find a way to improve their pass coverage with that positional group.

Still one of the better coverage linebackers in the league when the Ravens signed him three years ago, Daryl Smith clearly floundered in that department to the point that second-year linebacker Zach Orr was replacing him in the nickel package late in the season. More concerning, however, were the continued struggles of C.J. Mosley in pass coverage in his second season.

After Mosley became the first rookie to make the Pro Bowl in franchise history, many concluded he would be the next great Ravens defensive player, but 2015 didn’t go as smoothly for him. To his credit, the Alabama product overcame a slow start to play better as the season progressed, but he must improve in pass coverage if he’s to take his game from good to great.

Nod to Manning

This item isn’t related to the Ravens, but I find myself becoming an unabashed supporter for Peyton Manning at this late stage of his career.

You don’t have to be an NFL scout to recognize he’s a shell of his former self physically, but he also wasn’t responsible for a number of dropped passes from Broncos receivers that would have made for a very respectable day against Pittsburgh if some had been secured.

We all break down in various ways as we get older — the man underwent multiple neck surgeries in 2011 and still threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and won the MVP two years later at age 37 — but instead of laughing over Manning’s decline, I appreciate seeing one of the greatest players in NFL history trying to use his incomparable football intellect and years of experience to overcome a once-powerful arm that won’t cooperate anymore. After years at the top of the mountain, Manning has strangely become the underdog trying to hold on at the end of his career.

Even if you’re not rooting for him, that fight still deserves respect.

Manning and the Broncos look like the least likely of the four remaining teams to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara next month, but I’ll be happy for him if he’s somehow still standing in the end — even if everyone will obnoxiously remind you over and over that it was more about Denver’s stout defense than him.

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Ravens better hope losing doesn’t stick with continuity

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Owner Steve Bisciotti’s description of his reaction to the 2015 season best summarizes the reaction to Thursday’s “State of the Ravens” press conference.

“Disappointed, yes. Mad, no.”

Any Ravens fan demanding a pound of flesh was probably going to be unhappy. Successful organizations don’t panic, and it would have been wrong for Bisciotti to do anything drastic in response to eighth-year coach John Harbaugh’s first losing season and the organization’s first since 2007.

But that doesn’t mean the Ravens are only a couple minor tweaks away from being back in the playoffs a year from now, either, and that’s where the tone of the decision-makers fell a little flat after a nightmare season that began with lofty expectations.

“I don’t really think that a lot has to be done,” Bisciotti said. “One thing that I’m proud of is that we all view continuity as a strength. Continuity doesn’t stem from laziness. It comes from confidence, and I believe in these guys. I have a lot of faith that we’ll get it straightened out. I hope we don’t have as many injuries, and I hope we have a whole lot more turnovers. I think those kind of differences would get us back to where we want to be.”

Going 8-8 is one thing, but seasons of double-digit losses don’t just happen without some issues stretching beyond injuries and that shortage of takeaways that has been a trend for several seasons now. The Ravens lacked play-makers at key positions long before an absurd run of injuries midway through the season cost them quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and others. Baltimore was 1-6 at a time when the only missing players of great significance were linebacker Terrell Suggs and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

Those injuries certainly hurt, but they shouldn’t bring a free fall in the standings for a balanced and talented football team.

Harbaugh said Thursday that he does not plan to make any changes to his coaching staff beyond the departure of linebackers coach Ted Monachino to Indianapolis. Of course, some tweaks could always be made in the coming weeks, but it was fair to wonder whether some different voices needed to be injected after a disappointing 5-11 season.

Instead, the status quo will prevail.

Asked about his secondary, general manager Ozzie Newsome spoke about the impact the move of Lardarius Webb to safety could have without mentioning his $9.5 million salary cap figure next year, which would make him one of the most expensive — and unproven — safeties in the game. The lack of  play-making safeties has been one of the organization’s biggest weaknesses since the departure of Ed Reed three years ago, and pointing to Webb as the answer seems shaky at best.

Bisciotti discussed the dramatic impact of Suggs’ absence on the defense, but the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year will be 34 in October and is coming off his second Achilles injury in less than four years. The collapse of the unit without him is a compliment to his talents over the years, but the Ravens banking on him to be the Suggs of old would be unwise, if not reckless.

Left tackle, cornerback, pass rusher, and wide receiver were all mentioned as positions to address, but the Ravens’ cap situation will hinge on the potential reworking of Flacco’s contract and there are only so many high draft picks to go around.

Those four positions are arguably the most critical ones on the field after the quarterback in today’s NFL, and the Ravens are either lacking options or have substantial question marks at all of them.

That sounds like a lot that needs to be done.

“We need to augment our team, but John and his staff do a very good job of developing players, and we depend on that,” Newsome said. “You need to have some players that when the game is on the line, they have the ability to make a play. We will be trying to add some of that to our team, but a lot of that can be done through development.”

Harbaugh’s decision to keep his coaching staff intact reflects that confidence, but it will be up to Newsome to find high-impact talent starting with the sixth overall choice of the draft, Baltimore’s earliest pick since 2000. The Ravens will see special play-makers like Antonio Brown and A.J. Green on display when AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati face off in the postseason while they watch the playoffs from home for the second time in three years.

The Bengals in particular have been a problem as they’ve won five straight over the Ravens.

“If we get all of our players back, I think we’ll close that gap,” Bisciotti said. “If we have a good draft, if we do well in free agency, we can compete with them. But that’s a stain — Cincinnati beating us as frequently as they have recently.”

Plenty of ifs.

No, Bisciotti, Newsome, and Harbaugh didn’t flinch or show panic on Thursday, but you hope that there’s more urgency beneath the surface than they expressed publicly after a 5-11 campaign.

There’s a fine line between confidence and complacency in what you do.

Their actions in the coming months and the results in 2016 will determine which one it was for the Ravens brass on Thursday.

After all, success on the field is far more important than winning a press conference.

Even if the message wasn’t all that inspiring on Thursday.

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