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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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GAMEDAY: Five compelling Ravens to watch tonight

Posted on 12 August 2010 by Luke Jones

With the pregame buzz of a nationally-televised game inevitably wearing off shortly after the actual game begins (the first preseason game always provides that letdown, doesn’t it?), fans must channel their focus on individual standouts among many with no chance of making the 53-man roster in early September.

Stars such as Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, and Ray Rice will only be making cameo appearances, but the stakes are much higher for lesser-known players yet to make their name popular in the Charm City. A few are battling for starting positions while others are simply contending for a spot on the 53-man roster, with the Ravens or one of the other 31 teams in the National Football League.

Below is a list of five players to watch in tonight’s game against the Carolina Panthers. A couple of familiar names are trying to enhance their stature while the others have stood out in training camp and can improve their position for making the squad—in Baltimore or elsewhere—with strong performances in the preseason.

1. LB Jameel McClain

We all expected a battle between Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe for the inside linebacker spot next to Lewis, but McClain has emerged as the biggest surprise of training camp. The third-year linebacker was a special teams standout in his first two seasons with the Ravens, but he’s taken an overwhelming majority of the reps with the starting defense while Gooden and Ellerbe have worked with the second team.

McClain is beginning to draw comparisons to former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott in that both went undrafted, played multiple positions in college, and earned their money via special teams in the infancy of their respective careers. McClain can play all four linebacker positions in the Ravens’ 3-4 scheme, but he credits being able to focus on the inside spot as a major factor for his new-found status as a defensive starter.

Of course, being a starter in training camp doesn’t mean he’ll start in September, but it’s apparent how far McClain has progressed from the summer of 2008 when he was a nondescript linebacker-defensive end trying to make the team. His steady play in all aspects of the game makes him a valuable asset to the defense.

“That’s what [McClain] is, he’s consistent,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s physical between the tackles. He’s solid in pass coverage.”

2. OT Oniel Cousins

The 2008 third-round draft choice has drawn the ire of many in his brief opportunities to play in his first two seasons, but this is a critical preseason—and season—for Cousins. With Jared Gaither’s status up in the air, physically and contractually, tonight will be a valuable first step for Cousins to alleviate concerns at the right tackle position and convince the coaching staff he can eventually be an NFL starter.

Cousins began training camp on the non-football illness list after having a procedure to remove a cyst in his throat earlier in the summer, but one wouldn’t know he only returned to the practice field a week ago by the way he’s played.

“I think what [Cousins] has done has been pretty amazing,” Harbaugh said. “He’s just made up so much ground in the last week that he’s practiced. He looks good, so he should play quite a bit [on Thursday].”

With Gaither still sidelined with back spasms and other tackles (Tony Moll, Ramon Harewood, and Stefan Rodgers) banged up, Cousins will receive extensive playing time against the Panthers.

3. CB Prince Miller

At 5-foot-8, the diminutive cornerback has listened to doubters throughout his football career. It didn’t stop Miller from making 31 career starts at Georgia and matching up against the best receivers the highly-competitive SEC had to offer.

Miller has struggled in camp against taller receivers such as Anquan Boldin and Demetrius Williams, but shows good athleticism and an impressive skill-set in special teams, a critical factor for any player on the roster bubble.

The rookie was away from camp for two days to witness the birth of his first child but has played the nickel and dime positions with the first-team defense, largely because of the team’s health issues in the secondary.

With Chris Carr likely out and Fabian Washington a game-time decision, Miller will likely man the nickel with the starting defense in the first quarter and play extensively when the starters are removed.

“We gave him a couple days off [to be in Georgia for his child’s birth], and he did have fresh legs [Tuesday],” Harbaugh said. “I think it helped him. He kind of had the little bounce in his step, but he’ll play a lot on Thursday night along with those other young guys.”

4. LB Albert McClellan

The Ravens scouting department manages to find an impressive “hybrid” on the rookie free agent list seemingly every year, and McClellan fits that description this summer. The defensive end-linebacker has performed admirably in Westminster, even picking off Troy Smith and returning it for a touchdown in a red zone drill.

It’s no secret McClellan faces an uphill battle to make the team with such a deep linebacker unit already in place, but the same was said about McClain in 2008 before the Syracuse rookie won a roster spot with big performances in the preseason.

McClellan was a three-time captain at Marshall and accumulated 19.5 sacks in his collegiate career as a defensive end, earning second team All-Conference USA honors as a senior and first-team honors as a junior. Even if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster, McClellan figures to have a good chance to catch on elsewhere or make the developmental squad.

5. DT Lamar Divens

With the Ravens drafting defensive linemen Terrence Cody and Arthur Jones in April, the 343-pound Divens has become a forgotten man in a very deep group of defensive linemen. Durability is an issue with the third-year tackle, finishing the season on Injured Reserve in 2008 (shoulder) and spending the entire 2009 campaign on IR (shoulder).

Divens has impressed during training camp, constantly getting to the offensive backfield while playing on the second and third defensive units. With so many defensive tackles on the roster, he is a long-shot to stick with the Ravens, but a strong preseason improves his chances to catch on elsewhere.

He will receive extensive playing time in the second half.

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Live from Westminster: Carr, Gooden sit out afternoon practice

Posted on 08 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — The Ravens were back on the practice field in Westminster with the “over-30” club sitting out the Sunday afternoon session. The remaining players practiced in shells and shorts with many players dealing with “soreness” after two weeks of camp workouts, according to coach John Harbaugh.

Cornerback Chris Carr did not practice after leaving the field with a hamstring injury Saturday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. He left the field before practice was over to dodge reporters’ questions, but Harbaugh does not consider the injury to be serious.

“It looks like [a short-term injury],” Harbaugh said. “[Carr] was out doing some things today, so he should be fine.”

Linebacker Tavares Gooden was a new absence from practice on Saturday afternoon despite downplaying the significance of him not practicing. The third-year linebacker would not comment on any injury, simply saying he was “good, just running around; that’s all.”

Gooden’s absence was labeled “precautionary” by Harbaugh, and he expects the linebacker to return to the practice field on Monday.

In addition to the veterans over 30—including Derrick Mason who bruised his knee during Saturday’s workout—Jared Gaither (back spasms), David Hale (undisclosed), Tony Moll (concussion), Stefan Rodgers (ankle), Marcus Paschal (leg), and K.J. Gerard (hamstring) joined Carr and Gooden as the others missing practice. Prince Miller was absent from practice to witness the birth of his daughter, according to his Twitter account (@Sheeeesh_Miller).

The afternoon practice focused on passing drills with safety Dawan Landry continuing to lead a patchwork secondary. The fifth-year player picked off Joe Flacco to continue a strong camp in which he’s delivered vicious hits and provided tight coverage in the defensive backfield. With Ed Reed continuing to work his way back from hip surgery and several cornerbacks hampered by injuries, Landry is being leaned on to provide leadership in the secondary.

He and Tom Zbikowski have excelled throughout training camp, helping to ease concerns at the safety position.

“[Landry] is the guy that’s probably been there the longest, maybe the most experienced guy back there now,” Harbaugh said. “I really feel good about our safeties. Our safeties, as a group, have done really well. The corners that have played have done well. I think the safeties have anchored us so far in camp.”

With so many corners missing time during training camp, it’s allowed Cary Williams to receive reps with the first-team defense, a golden opportunity if not for his off-field issues. The third-year player is suspended for the first two games of the season after violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy during his time with the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens signed Williams from the Titans’ practice squad last November.

The suspension was announced the week before training camp began.

“He’s got to pay a consequence for a mistake that he made,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the way it is in the world, and he understands that. It’s going to be damaging to us and to him, but he’s got to move on from it. I think he’s matured quite a bit, even the time he’s been here with us, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh following Sunday afternoon’s practice at McDaniel College.

The Ravens will be back on the field for a Monday morning workout at 8:45 a.m. and another full-squad practice at 2:45 p.m. Don’t forget to tune to AM 1570 or streaming online at WNST.net for training camp updates from Westminster every hour on the :30s!

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Live from Westminster: Ravens welcome Goodell, Madden to camp

Posted on 04 August 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — It lacked the hoopla of last season’s surprise visit from Snoop Dogg, but the Ravens rolled out the purple carpet for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden this morning at McDaniel College.

The two arrived shortly after 9:00 a.m. in the large Madden Cruiser—or whatever they’re calling it these days.

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Goodell and Madden visited with general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh before the commissioner stepped to the podium to answer questions from the Baltimore media. Goodell also met with Ravens season ticket holders at McDaniel as well as an encounter with the Ravens in a players-only meeting at noon.

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“It’s exciting; it’s different,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not something that you’re kind of used to. You feel like you want to do a good job and show him that we know what we’re doing. Players are kind of excited.”

As for the action on the field Wednesday morning, Derrick Mason sat out the session as he recovers from a right ankle injury. He was walking around on the field—with the ankle taped—during practice and doesn’t appear to be feeling too many ill effects.

Cornerback K.J Gerard (hamstring) and offensive tackle Tony Moll (concussion) did not participate in the morning practice, but cornerbacks Chris Carr (back) and Fabian Washington (knee – sat out Tuesday afternoon) participated fully.

Harbaugh also said Matt Birk (elbow – PUP list) is close to returning, and Birk confirmed that he would see the team doctor today to get an update on his status.

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog (10/29/09)

Posted on 29 October 2009 by Jack McManus

9:50-

Glenn next talks about the story about Andre Agassi’s new book. He describes his shock in reaction to this news. He has always been a big fan of Agassi and would like to talk with about his book soon.   

9:45-

Glenn gives a report about the Ravens injuries. Tavares Gooden and Ed Reed missed practice yesterday. Gooden had a head injury and Ed Reed was out due to injury. Both players are expected to play on Sunday, but more information should be available today.

9:39-

Sean Salisbury is next up to talk some football. Sean Salisbury isn’t picking up, so we will need to move on.

9:12-

Ryan Fagan, from Sporting News is on to talk with Glenn. Fagan starts off by talking about Cliff Lee’s great performance last night. He states that Lee was in the zone last night, as evidenced by his catch of Johnny Damon’s pop-up. He next talks about how the impact of home-field advantage in the World Series is exaggerated. He says instead winning game one is the most important indicator for who will win the series. He also states that the Yankess need to put last night’s game in the past and forget their struggles against Lee.

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8:55-

Rick calls in. He talks about Drew’s hatred of Philadelphia. He tells Glenn to at least halfway root for the Phillies. He personally will root for the Yankees. He also gives us his rendition of New York, New York.

8:25-

A caller wants to congratulate Cliff Lee on his complete game last night. Glenn talks about pitching is what makes baseball special to watch. Homeruns can be exciting, but they do not provide good baseball. The caller points out how the Orioles would not make a move to acquire a player like Lee. Last night, Lee became the first pitcher in World Series history to not allow an earned run or a walk while striking out at least 10. (Thanks to Chris for this info). 

8:05-

Brian Billick makes his weekly appearance. He talks about his even last night, Billick 101. He explains how he enjoys talking football with the average fan. He agrees with the public’s idea that the Ravens secondary needs improvement. He also talks about the improvement of the Arizona Cardinals and the importance of back-to-back playoff appearances for the long-troubled franchise. Brian next moves on the Packers-Vikings matchup. He believes that the Packers fans will show great respect for Brett Farvewhen he first comes on the field. He also states that the game has a great deal of importance for both teams aside from the attention on Farve. Brian calls the Saints the most complete team in the NFL. Brian next speaks on the lack of parity in the league this year. The difference between the good teams and the bad teams is vast.

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Any Moves Coming in Ravens’ “Safety Dance?”

Posted on 26 October 2009 by Derek Arnold

With the Ravens’ pass defense currently floundering near the bottom of the league (23rd), it might be time for head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to consider some personnel changes. Since the big play has been the downfall of this team on defense all season (the team has surrendered 6 pass plays and 1 running play of 40+ yards), the obvious scapegoats seem to be the safeties, who are getting caught out of position regularly.

I assumed it was Ed Reed who left Frank Walker 1-on-1 with Sidney Rice at the end of the Minnesota game, but after looking at the play on NFL Playbook (on the NFL Network), I saw that Reed was on the other side of the field, and it was strong safety Dawan Landry who watched Rice run right by him.

Landry has been a big disappointment this season. Despite his two interceptions, he often looks confused in coverage (as he did against Minnesota on Visanthe Shiancoe’s 2nd touchdown), and has been missing tackle after tackle in run support, an inexcusable sin for a strong safety. He is likely still hesitant after his spinal cord concussion suffered in 2008, but his trepidation is costing the Ravens on defense.

Ed Reed could stand to do a bit less freelancing, but let’s be honest – he isn’t going anywhere. So, is there anybody on the Ravens’ roster who can possibly step in and, if not start for, at least spell Dawan Landry from time to time? Let’s look at the candidates.

Tavares Gooden

Gooden

“But isn’t Tavares a linebacker?” I hear you saying. Well yes, he is. However, according to Baltimore Sun rabble rouser columnist Mike Preston, he may be more suited to safety in the NFL.

“I wonder if the Ravens ever considered moving linebacker Tavares Gooden to safety? He has great football instincts and hustle, but after watching him in the first four games, he isn’t very physical.

It’s a good move by the team to use Gooden as well as Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain in a rotation. Ellerbe is a bull and McClain is a good pass rusher. Gooden has to spend more time in the weight room and become stronger. Or, the switch to safety might not be a bad idea.

Physically, I’m not sure he can hold up as a linebacker for a year.”

Two Saturdays ago, as I was sitting at Byrd Stadium with WNST Ravens analyst Glenn Clark watching the Terps embarrass themselves against Virginia, I asked him if he agreed with Preston. “Certainly,” he replied, although he was quick to point out that asking a player to switch positions midseason would be pretty drastic, and growing pains would be expected.

Haruki Nakamura

Nakamura

Currently listed as the Ravens’ backup strong safety is 2nd year player Haruki Nakamura. Haruki has seen action in all 22 games over the past season plus, but hasn’t made much of an impact. Former coordinator Rex Ryan seemed to prefer using Nakamura to blitz rather than to help out in coverage, but he has yet to register his first sack in the NFL. Nakamura picked up 2 tackles each in the New England and Minnesota games.

At 5’10” 200 lb, Nakamura compares, physically at least, favorably to such starting NFL strong safeties as Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu (5-10 207), Indianapolis’ Bob Sanders (5-8 206), and Landry (6-0 210). Now, maybe it’s just me, but he sure doesn’t look that big out there.

Tom Zbikowski

Zibby

Another 2008 draft pick, Tom Zbikowski is currently listed as the backup free safety on the Ravens’ depth chart. Zibby is also plenty big enough, at 5-11 210, and has the right attitude for the Ravens’ defense, being an amateur boxer. He was deactivated for the San Diego game, but has played in every other contest in 2009, after playing in all 19 games in 2008. However, he has contributed more to the Ravens in the punt return game than he has on defense.

According to CDS’s draft profile, Zibby had the following strengths and weaknesses coming out of Notre Dame:

“Strengths

Unbelievable football player who just has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Solid technique and tackling abilities. Really versatile, with enhanced value coming from his return abilities. Strong, smart, aware. Will be a leader on the field and in the locker room. Very productive. Takes good angles and overcomes his limitations with smarts. Never gave up during Notre Dame’s very tough 2007 campaign. A warrior.

Weaknesses

Not a safe bet in coverage. Will need to be a SS paired with an elite coverage FS to be succesful at the next level. Lacks make up speed.

On the bright side, Ed Reed definitely qualifies as “an elite coverage FS.” Unfortunately, “not being a safe bet in coverage,” isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered at the moment.

Lardarius Webb

Webb

The Ravens’ new unquestioned kickoff return specialist, Lardarius Webb is quickly becoming a household name for Ravens fans (which is why I’m finally spelling his name right). Although listed as a CB, Webb can play safety as well, as his NFLdraftscout.com profile attests:

“Lardarius Webb, a cornerback drafted in the third round, was compared by some analysts to Bob Sanders. He plays bigger than his size (5-10) and is versatile. He can make an impact as a cornerback, safety or returner. Webb has intriguing upside.”

And, from CDS:

“Strengths:

A versatile athlete who has played quarterback for one game,as well as: wide receiver, kick return punt return, safety, and corner.

A playmaking ballhawk with superior hands, ball skills and he loves to hit. His natural position is safety but can play nickel and corner because he can cover in man. Also a good punt blocker and gunner on the punt team.

He has the range and everything else except the frame you’d like to see, he can be a reserve right away at any position in the secondary. In addition to 4.46 40 speed his 6.77, 3-Cone and 4.1 in the short shuttle all illustrate his quickness.

Weaknesses

Lean frame, I have seen him listed at 205, but I just don’t see it. I think he’s much less than that: 190-187 at most. He also needs to be as good at and solid in reading play action as he is is in other areas. Like most top CB/safety prospects at this level he is very nosy and can get out of position trying to do too much.

He weighed in at 179 at the combine to be a FS he’ll need at least 10-15 lbs. ”

That bit about being too “nosy” and getting out of position gives us hesitation, but Webb still seems like the best bet of the four to see increased playing time after the bye. It is more likely to be at corner though , where the Ravens’ are also obviously having plenty of problems. Whether in place of Dawan Landry or Chris Carr, or as something completely different, Greg Mattison NEEDS to figure out ways to get Webb on the field.

In summary, there is no “quick fix” when it comes to the problems at safety. Dawan Landry has proven himself to be a very capable player in the past, and perhaps he can improve on his early season play in coming weeks. If he can, and if Lardarius Webb (or Nakamura or Zbikowski) can emerge as playmakers on defense, the much maligned secondary may slowly climb back into the top half of the league in pass defense.

If not, well…just hope you have Ray Rice and Joe Flacco on your fantasy team.

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog (10/8/09)

Posted on 08 October 2009 by Jack McManus

9:21-

Wake Forest play-by-play voice Stan Cotten is up to talk with Drew. He starts off by telling how the team is currently feeling good about where it is. He explains that the coaching staff is very pleased withthe offensive numbers put up so far. He admits that Maryland has had the Demon Deacons number recently. Cotten hopes that the team will come together in order to finish the season strong.

8:42-

Mike Frenz from the Maryland Stadium Authority makes an appearance. Frenz talks about the idea of building a new outdoor stadium in Baltimore, primarily for soccer. He explains that the Maryland Stadium Authority plans, builds, and manages stadiums in the state. A study is being done to determine the cost for building a new stadium along with the amount of money that will be brought in. This will determine whether or not building a new stadium is practical.

8:26-

Brian Billick comes on for his weekly talk with Drew. He will be calling the Washington-Carolina game this weekend. He begins by talking about the 0-4 Titans. Brian still believes the Titans are a good football team. He points out that the team is not much different from the team that started out so fast last season. Brian next talks about the impact Mike Nolan has had on the Denver Broncos defense. Finally, Brian speaks about the protection given to NFL quarterbacks. He states that the roughing the passer penalty on Terrell Suggs this past weekend was a bad one. The rules is not the problem in this case, but the use of it. The protection of players is a very important point for the league.

7:00-

Tavares Gooden wakes up early to talk on the show. He talks about how he celebrated his 25th birthday yesterday. He goes on to state that he has a great chance to play this weekend. He explains that his not playing this past week was a precautionary measure. He calls his relationship with Ray Lewis “tremendous.” He also discusses the resurgence of the Miami Hurricanes. Next, he explains that he does not understand why players such as Chad Ochocinco talk trash during the week leading up to a game. Tavares finishes the segment by giving us a Ray Lewis impression.

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JoeyRockets

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Ravens 38 Chiefs 24 (The FLASHBACK TO 1997 Game)

Posted on 14 September 2009 by Derek Arnold

JoeyRockets

It wasn’t hard to predict that the Ravens would cover the 13 point spread against Kansas City on Sunday, but you would have been hard pressed to find anybody predicting the fashion in which they would accomplish it; that is, by putting up 38 points, allowing another 24, and setting a team record for total offense in the process.

It seems pretty unbelievable that, the way the Vinny Testaverde-led Ravens of back in the day moved the ball up and down the field (when it seemed like they lost every game 45-42), it is now Joe Flacco’s Ravens that hold the all-time team lead with 501 total yards. Flacco-verde put up the first 300-yard performance of his career, totaling 307 yards through the air and also throwing for three scores for the first time. Ray Rice and the Ravens’ backs chipped in as well, with Rice picking up 108 yards and Willis McGahee adding 44 and a touchdown, and another score on a short reception.

The Ravens’ lack of weapons in the passing game was on display for all to see, as Mark Clayton pulled in five catches for 77 yards and 1 TD, Derrick Mason caught four for 47, and Todd Heap five for 74 and a score. Granted, it was against the Chiefs, but the calls from Brandon Marshall should subside considerably, at least for this week.

The talking heads that haven’t looked at a stat sheet or watched any of the game tape are all aflutter today about how the Ravens’ defense has lost a step. Mike Greenberg said they are “getting old.” You’ll hear plenty of goofs talking about how the losses of Rex Ryan and Bart Scott were felt immediately, as the Ravens gave up 24 to the lowly Chiefs.

Please.

The Chiefs put up 188 total yards of offense on the day. Larry Johnson averaged 1.8 yards per carry, and totaled 20. The Ravens have the #3 overall defense in the NFL after Sunday’s win. The fluky plays kept Kansas City in the game – the blocked punt for a TD, the big interception return setting up a short field. This game was very close to being 41-3.

Which is not to marginalize those plays in any way. Those things happen in the NFL, and games are played on the scoreboard, not in the box score. Those kinds of costly errors are the kind that can lose a game for you, especially against better teams.

Special teams had a horrendous day for the Ravens. Again, head-scratching because of having a head coach with a special teams background – but the aforementioned block punt, a missed 41-yard FG, and absolutely nothing generated in the punt or kick return games added up to a very disappointing effort from all sides. Hopefully the return units can jell a bit better over the next few weeks, but Chris Carr looked indecisive with the ball in his hands. We might see more of Ledarius Webb back there in coming games as well.

The Ravens were unable to escape the game without any injury concerns. Tavares Gooden tweaked his knee on special teams, and we will look forward to hearing more on him this week. Gooden, replacing Bart Scott, needs to prove that he can stay healthy after missing most of last season. Jameel McClain and Brendan Ayanbadejo filled in admirably after Gooden went out. Tom Zbikowski also suffered a concussion. From my view in section 507, I also saw Ed Reed hunched over a few times – hopefully just some cramping, but I haven’t heard anything so far. Ed was more aggressive with his tackling than we saw in preseason, throwing his shoulder into people on his four tackles.

A little more on Flacco – his great fantasy numbers notwithstanding, Joe was actually a bit off for the day. His passes sailed a few times, and he probably should have had more than just the one interception. Still, Flacco called the game “fun,” and it was damn sure fun to watch the Ravens offense, something we haven’t been able to say for a while – not since the second half of the 2006 season, when Hurricane Billick had the offense rolling all the way until they met the immovable object that was the Indianapolis Colts defense in the playoffs.

A lot of credit for the Ravens (That’s “R-A-V-E-N-S-‘,” not “RAVEN’S”) strong offensive day has to go to rookie RT Michael Oher. Oher was a beast, as he’s been since he arrived in B’More, and his presence was what allowed Todd Heap to have the vintage performance that he was able to. Michael Oher will be a huge factor for them this season.

One more bone to pick – this one with Cam Cameron. Sure, your offense put up 38 points and had the best day ever for the Ravens. Well done, and congratulations. However….STOP RUNNING YOUR BACKUP QB AROUND AS A WR! Especially if John Beck is going to be inactive on most game days, I really don’t like seeing Troy Smith running routes, instead of holding a clipboard. Even if he is just out there as a decoy, it seems like an unnecessary risk, and one where said risk far outweighs any reward. Am I overreacting here?

Last year John Harbaugh’s Ravens made a habit of absolutely decimating inferior teams, a welcome change from the Brian Billick days. Yesterday saw a bit of a return to those old days, when even bad teams would hang around all day on our team. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the new Kansas City Chiefs aren’t as bad as everyone thinks they will be. Still, it wasn’t the nice, relaxing day at the ballpark that most of us had expected. The Ravens need to eliminate those huge costly mistakes, and quick, because things get markedly more difficult next week in San Diego.

ToddRockets

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Ravens Preview

Posted on 02 September 2009 by kevinpb

I decided to do my preview of the 2009 season after the Carolina pre-season game because I hope that the first line offense and defense does not even get on the field in Atlanta, in fact, don’t even let them board the plane to go to Atlanta. I have seen all I need to see to know that the 2009 Baltimore Ravens are going to be a formidable team.
If they were an NFC team they would be the odds on favorite to get to the Super Bowl. Since they play in the AFC they are one of 3 or 4 teams that can make it to the mid February classic.

There is a lot to like about the 2009 Ravens. But I think the most interesting thing regarding this year’s version of the Ravens is the continued shift in vision of the team. The change in vision and/or direction was set in motion with the firing of Brian Billick 2 years ago. The firing of Coach Billick was as much an indictment of make up of the team as it was a reflection of the poor record in the year in which he was fired. In fact, when it became clear that the players which led the team in the direction it was heading did not support the coach, Brian Billick’s fate was sealed.

The second indication that a change was coming was the passing over of Rex Ryan as head coaching candidate for the Ravens. This would have continued this team on a course of defensive dominance for years to come. Let’s face it, the Ravens are not a sexy team. Even if you are the most devout fan they can be painful to watch at times. They were the NFL’s version of old pick up truck, strong, steady, tough and dependable. Unfortunately, this old truck occasionally had trouble with the sleek sports cars of the NFL. No where was this more evident then in the 2006 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. I still can’t even watch a replay of that game to this day. All I remember thinking about that loss was that, “it was our type of game and we still lost.”

The third indication that things were about to change at the castle, was John Harbaugh’s hiring of Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. Cameron has a distinguished and successful career as an offensive coordinator. His offenses have over the years have had good rushing attacks some years and good passing attacks in others. His system is adaptable to the player’s talents, instead of trying to make the players fit into a rigid system.

What Ozzie Newsome set in motion was to take the intensity and passion that the defense played with and transfer it to the offense. To his credit, he started rebuilding the offensive line with an attitude. Once the great Jonathan Ogden retired, the die was cast and the rebuilding of the offensive line became of paramount importance. There was a two pronged shift in philosophy too. The first part of this change was subtle. Originally, it was the Raven’s plan to draft lineman in the later rounds and develop them and then sign older veterans to bolster the weaknesses on the line. After the loss to the Colts that year you saw the Raven’s start to draft offensive lineman with their higher draft picks. Ozzie selected Ben Grubbs in the 1st round, then stole Jared Gaither in the supplemental draft. Marshall Yanda came in the 3rd round as did Adam Terry a few years earlier. Finally, this past year, Ozzie selects Michael Oher again in the first round. Once it was evident that the Raven’s could not keep Jason Brown, Ozzie went back to his old standby and signed a veteran free agent to complete this unit.

The second part of the shift in philosophy of the offensive line was to get away from just sheer bulk and get more athletic. I have watched enough football to know that this offensive line is going to be something special. They are big, strong, fast, athletic and nasty. Gaither is the thoroughbred, and has Ogden’s stamp of approval. Grubbs is the athletic one. Yanda and Oher are just good ole nasty boys. Matt Birk is the point guard that keeps it all together. As the year goes on, this unit will become one of the best in football. Gaither and Oher are big and athletic enough to overpower most and contend with the speed rushers off the edge. Grubbs might be the best pulling guard in the league and Yanda is just a road grader. Chris Chester played well last year filling in for Yanda and is our main back up in the middle of the line. Losing Adam Terry for the year hurts because he was an adequate back up on either side of the line at tackle. Do not be surprised if you see Ozzie bring in a veteran tackle after cut down day to help with depth.

The running back by committee was terrific last year. In fact, it was a brilliant idea that camouflaged the fact that our number one running back failed to report to camp in shape and was not ready to carry the load even though he was paid to do so. I shudder to think what would have happened to Joe Flacco if it were not for Ray Rice and LeRon McClain. After watching the preseason Willis McGahee is relegated to 2nd team, LeRon McClain is the short yardage back and lead fullback; Ray Rice will carry the load. This is the type of back the Cam Cameron likes. He is a quick shifty runner that catches the ball well out of the backfield. Ray Rice is going to have a spectacular year. He is short in stature but is powerfully built. He runs low to the ground, explodes in the hole and changes direction on dime. As my cousin said to me, on that swing pass he caught in the Carolina preseason game where he did the step back, “he looked like Barry Sanders on that play”.

The wide receivers have caused the most consternation amongst the fans, and rightfully so. Thank God, Derrick Mason did not retire!!! Derrick Mason is the consummate professional and really is the heart of our offense. I thought it was interesting last week when Bart Scott made the comment that the real coach of the Ravens in 2008 was Rex Ryan, the only player that felt compelled to say something was Derrick Mason. That being said, both Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams have NFL talent, but their inability to stay healthy does not lend itself to having confidence in these two. Enter Kelley Washington. He has been a pleasant surprise in camp and has had success in the preseason games. He is currently lining up as the number 2 receiver. He is big, strong and fast and he looks to be able to contribute on offense. It is clear that the Raven’s are going to need some production out of either Clayton or Williams to go along with Mason and Washington. If the Ravens keep a fifth receiver it looks that it might be Justin Harper only by default. Todd Heap seems to have resurfaced in the offense and if he can stay healthy he gives us another credible threat down the field. LJ Smith is hurt again; enough said. Do not be surprised to see Ozzie scour the waiver wire after cut down day for help at either wide receiver and/or tight end.

The main reason why the Ravens will continue to be a relevant team and why, barring mounting injuries, they will break the cycle of one good year followed by one bad year is the quarterback. Yes fans, Joe Flacco is that good. I am not trying to anoint him the next Johnny Unitas, nor will I even go so far as to call him Bert Jones…yet. He is only in his second year and there are mistakes to be made, but the kid has IT! He is smart and has a much better handle on the offense. He has a laser arm. He also has a tremendously quick release and is deadly accurate. Did you see the touchdown pass he threw to Todd Heap in the Carolina preseason game? He put the ball the only place it could be. In that same game, he laid out a long ball perfectly down the sideline to Kelley Washington, over the outside shoulder where only our receiver could catch it. It is amazing how much more open our receivers look when Joe Flacco is throwing them the ball. Joe Flacco is now the shining jewel of this franchise and will be a terrific quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens for several years.

There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about our defense and all of the accolades they have received over the years have been deserved. There have been many variations of our vaunted defense over the years with only one remaining constant. I mentioned earlier in this piece that the Ravens are changing direction, and that is true; but as long as Number 52 is in the middle of the defense, we will never totally lose our identity as a defensive minded football team. Whether you like him or not, he has been the heart, body, mind and soul of this football team for a long time. He is on the very short list of greatest linebackers of all time. The defensive line is stout, but some key players are getting a little long in the tooth. Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce have to continue to perform at a high level. Justin Bannan filled in well for Gregg last year. Haloti Ngata is a superstar waiting to happen. The key retainee was Terrell Suggs, who is counted on to pressure the quarterback. Second round draft pick, Paul Kruger is touted as a high energy guy in the mold of Michael McCrary. I guess that is why they gave him that number. The Ravens have significant depth at the defensive line positions with the likes of Dwan Edwards, Kelly Talivou and Brandon McKinney.

At linebacker the team is also loaded. The starters will be, Ray Lewis, Jarrett Johnson, Tavares Gooden and Terrell Suggs. Ray Lewis is a Hall of Famer. Terrell Suggs is a Pro Bowl player. Jarrett Johnson plays at that same level but is somewhat overlooked and Jameel McClain will push Gooden for the other starting inside spot. Paul Kruger will back up Terrell Suggs and learn the hybrid defensive lineman/linebacker position that Suggs has evolved into. Antwan Barnes will be brought in on special situations to pressure the quarterback. That leaves a chore of other good football players fighting for one or two back up spots at linebacker. Brendon Ayanbadejo will most likely retain one of those spots due to his special teams status and there is probably one more spot for a trio of players, Prescott Burgess, Jason Phillips and Dannell Ellerbe. I like the mix of veteran leadership with young athletic talent in this group. This position will remain a strength of the team.

The secondary has gone through a transformation. Gone is Chris McAlister; and, at least for a little while, so is Samari Rolle. Fabian Washington covered well last year as a starter, but my mother hits harder and tackles better. Dominque Foxworth was acquired in the off season to replace McAlister and is exactly the type of free agent pick up that makes Ozzie Newsome so dangerous. He is still a young and improving corner and could develop into an elite player, but there are questions concerning his tackling ability as well. It may take him a while to learn how to play defense for the Ravens but he has a chance to become a really good cornerback. As big as Jim Leonard played last year, I am extremely happy to see Dawan Landry back at strong safety. I think he is a big time player and is great in run support. His ability to play close to the line will let Ed Reed continue to do what he does best; roam the field and take the ball away. Reed is a gambler and he will get burned occasionally, but when he gets the ball in his hands he is pure magic. I just wish he would stop trying to lateral the ball all over the field. Ed’s lingering neck and shoulder problem is a growing concern and should be monitored closely. Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura provide excellent depth and special teams play. Nakamura especially has shown flashes of being able to step in and play safety at a high level. In years past, I have always cringed when our first team cornerbacks have gone down, but the last 2 years Ozzie Newsome has done a good job of building depth at this position. Samari Rolle was brought back to play the nickel back and Chris Carr was signed to add depth and return kicks. I have been impressed with 3rd round draft pick, Lardarius Webb. I first saw him at training camp and I am impressed with his attitude and skills. He does not look afraid and he looks to be a pretty good cornerback once he gets some experience. With Samari Rolle starting the season on the IR list, it seems that Frank Walker has received a reprieve and will start the season with the team. While Frank played effectively toward the end of last year, his propensity for committing stupid penalties and his less then effective play this preseason has landed him squarely on the bubble. There is not a lot of experience here, especially with Rolle on the shelf. This is another area that the Ravens may look to improve themselves after cut down day.

Over the years, I have been very critical of Sam Koch as a punter. I did not think he was bad, I was just frustrated by his inability to hit the big kick at times to get the team out of a hole. Whenever he needed to boom one it seemed as though he couldn’t do it. Most point to his ability to place the ball inside the 20 yard line as an indication that he was a high caliber punter. Let’s be clear, there is not a more overrated stat in football, then how many times a punter places the ball inside the 20 yard line on a punt. I have never thought that such a stat was a productive measurement of any punter. That being said, I have to admit that Sam Koch is growing on me, his distance on punts has improved, his hang time has improved and he has become adept at directional punting, pinning the return man against one sideline or the other. Chris Carr was impressive as a returner at Tennessee. He fields the ball well and gets upfield quickly. He gives us the same thing Jim Leonard did last year returning punts with more speed and possibly more ability to take one to the house.

One of the biggest stories in training camp has been the competition for kicker. To be perfectly frank, I don’t understand what Coach Harbaugh is trying to accomplish. I understand that Matt Stover cannot get the distance on kick offs and that adversely effects our ability to defend since it shortens the field for the other team. There is a noticeable trend of opponents starting field position increasing yearly. So I applaud the idea of finding a kicker that is able to kick the ball in the endzone or forcing the opponent’s returner to field the kick closer to the endzone. I have noticed this preseason that we have done a much better limiting the opponents starting field position. However, the 2 kickers in camp have not shown the ability to routinely kick the ball in the endzone and have relied mainly again on directional kicking to pin the return to one side of the field or other. They have also failed to show that they have the ability to hit field goals with any consistency. What it comes down to is this; for a team that is expecting to be in the thick of a playoff run, does it make sense for anyone else other then Matt Stover to kick field goals for this team. I don’t think so.

Those in charge at the castle have proven over the years that they know how to build and run a football team, that cannot be argued; but their strategy regarding the kicking game does not make any sense to me. All I know is that on Sunday, December 27, 2009 at Heinz Field, when it is 17-17 with 1:22 to go in the fourth quarter, the wind is blowing and the flurries are falling and the field is mud pit when the Ravens kick team trots out on the field to try the winning field goal, the only person I want kicking that ball is Automatic Matt.

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