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Will Ravens rise to occasion after tumultuous week?

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Will Ravens rise to occasion after tumultuous week?

Posted on 10 September 2014 by Luke Jones

A national audience will be hoping the Ravens fail when they take on the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

Virtually everyone outside Baltimore will be rooting against an organization viewed in a negative light for its handling of the Ray Rice saga over the last seven months before the ultimate release of the disgraced running back earlier this week. The integrity of the organization has come into question as owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in a letter Tuesday that the Ravens needed to do more to investigate what happened between Rice and then-fiancée Janay Palmer instead of simply deferring to the New Jersey legal system.

Needless to say, it’s been a rocky 19 months for the Ravens since winning Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, 2013. In addition to Rice, four players on the current 53-man roster were arrested this offseason while there have been other examples of questionable choices — don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the “Sweet Pea” saga — over the last 12 months or so.

The former heart and soul of the Ravens — Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — have both questioned leadership at different times over the last calendar year. The roster turnover has been clear with only 25 members of the current 53-man roster having been with the organization for Super Bowl XLVII. Veteran leaders have departed in addition to Lewis and Reed, including Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk.

And even if too much emphasis is put on the impact of leadership and off-field issues in terms of on-field results, Baltimore has gone a mediocre 8-9 in the regular season since raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans. However you want to explain it, the Ravens haven’t been particularly good since winning their second NFL championship.

Is it fair to ask if the Ravens, who long held an excellent reputation, have lost their way? There’s little disputing that the aura of the organization has taken a severe hit over how it handled the Rice situation over these last seven months.

“I don’t think of it that way,” said head coach John Harbaugh when asked if he’s concerned about the Ravens’ image taking a hit. “You do your best with the situations that are put before you and try to handle things the right way and do the right thing.”

Shifting their attention back to the field after a few difficult days, the Ravens are as close as you get to facing a “must-win” game in Week 2 as they’ve already lost to the Cincinnati Bengals and would fall to 0-2 with a defeat to the hated Steelers Thursday night. According to NFL Network research, no team has ever made the playoffs after dropping two divisional games at home to start a season.

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have dealt with difficult losses before and have consistently answered the bell in the face of adversity. But Rice’s release stems from something that goes beyond football or the business of the salary cap. It isn’t the loss of a standout player because of retirement or a season-ending injury but due to his cruel actions that the entire world saw on video Monday morning.

And players have faced more questions about Rice than ones about what it will take to slow Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers this week. The focus began to shift on Tuesday when some semblance of normalcy — in the context of preparing for a football game, of course — returned to the facility in Owings Mills, but the challenge of playing on a short week is hefty enough despite the Ravens owning the home-field advantage and seeing a familiar opponent.

“We’re going to be playing really soon, so we have to get our minds right,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “But more importantly, we have to do everything we can to physically feel good by the time that whistle blows on Thursday night, and that’s what we’re doing.”

While everyone else will be talking about the individual who is no longer with the organization on Thursday night, the Ravens must focus on getting off to a much quicker start offensively while also trying to slow a Steelers offense that produced 30 points and 490 yards against what was expected to be a good Cleveland defense last week. The general consensus among the so-called experts before the season was that Baltimore and Pittsburgh were fairly evenly matched — both finished 8-8 last year — so the the Ravens will need to hold serve on their home field and put the bad taste of last week’s loss behind them.

Over the course of his seven-year run in Baltimore, Harbaugh has typically been able to rally his team in these types of games to perform at their best and secure a much-needed win. But he hasn’t dealt with a situation quite like this before.

And there is evidence of cracks in the foundation — both on and off the field — since the Ravens reached the pinnacle of the NFL less than two years ago. We saw it late last year when the Ravens were 8-6 and needed only one win to secure their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason before losing their final two games by a combined 51 points.

A win calms nerves and puts the Ravens back at .500 as they receive the extra rest that follows a Thursday night game before preparing for a third straight division game. A defeat puts the Ravens in an early-season hole in the AFC North while the rest of the world mocks their misfortune.

The best teams come together under these circumstances, even when their organization is guilty of its own mistakes as the Ravens were with Rice. The lesser ones wilt under such adversity.

The Ravens know they already face a crucial game Thursday with the season less than a week old. They’re out to prove they haven’t lost their way on the field.

“It’s everything. You don’t want to come out of an 0-2 hole, especially giving up two at home,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Wins in the NFL are hard to come by, so that’s why you’ve got to win your home games. We unfortunately dropped one; [the Bengals] cashed in and they won one — a division game. We’ve definitely got to cover up some ground, but it all starts with this one on Thursday.”

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Webb primed to make 2014 season debut against Steelers

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Webb primed to make 2014 season debut against Steelers

Posted on 10 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After nearly two weeks of practice to get himself in playing shape, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb appears primed to make his 2014 season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

The sixth-year defensive back has been practicing fully since last week, but it was just a matter of shaking off rust and logging some field time after missing nearly all of training camp. Webb was stricken with back spasms on the second day of full-squad workouts on July 25 and did not return to practice until Aug. 30.

“I’m ready to get it going,” Webb said on Tuesday. “Who better than Pittsburgh? I’m ready. I’m feeling good. I’m just ready to get out there and get everything going and just play some football.”

Webb went through a pre-game workout prior to last Sunday’s season opener against Cincinnati, but the Ravens elected to hold him out with better thoughts toward Week 2 being on a short week. If fully healthy and ready, Webb will clearly start opposite Jimmy Smith in the base defense, but it remains to be seen how the Ravens might use him in the nickel package.

Over the course of his career, Webb has been more dynamic covering the slot and playing inside in the nickel package, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to decide whether he wants to use Chykie Brown on the outside as the No. 3 corner or Asa Jackson, who is also better suited to play inside. Last year, Pees used Webb and former Raven Corey Graham both inside and outside, but the Ravens are far less settled in their secondary this season.

After Webb underwent sports hernia surgery early in the offseason and then missed all of training camp, the Steelers will surely test Webb’s ability in coverage as well as his stamina with so little practice time under his belt since spring organized team activities. And the veteran cornerback is fine with having a target on his back, expecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw in his direction early and often.

“I would, wouldn’t you?” Webb said. “That’s a good thing, because they don’t know how hurt I was. I hope they do [test me].”

The Baltimore defense certainly hopes Webb’s return will bring more stability to a secondary that allowed 301 passing yards in the Week 1 loss to the Bengals.

Suggs sends message to Tomlin

Never one to shy away from the theatrical side of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry, linebacker Terrell Suggs walked to the podium with a clear message for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday.

Sporting a t-shirt (below) with the words “We Will Never Forget” and the image of Tomlin stepping on the field of play and forcing Jacoby Jones to change direction on a long kickoff return, Suggs made it obvious he hadn’t forgotten about the Steelers coach’s sideline tactics. Intentional or not, the move resulted in a $100,000 fine for Tomlin while pumping new life into a rivalry that’s seen major characters such as Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Ed Reed, and James Harrison move on in recent years.

Photo courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com

“We just wanted to let their head coach know, we will never forget what transpired here in this game last year,” Suggs said.

Tomlin talked with the Baltimore media via conference call and even had his own fun with what happened on Thanksgiving last year when asked if he expected to be on the kickoff team Thursday night.

“I won’t be,” said Tomlin as he laughed. “Tell Jacoby he’s safe.”

Tuesday’s injury report

All 53 players on the active roster practiced fully on Tuesday as Webb and right guard Marshal Yanda were the only Ravens players even listed on the injury report.

Yanda missed Monday’s walk-through while resting a blister on his foot, but he was a full participant along with Webb a day later.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had seven players missing from practice on Tuesday, but four were listed for non-injury reasons. With a very short week, that’s a common practice for teams trying to rest as many veterans as possible.

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Marshal Yanda (foot)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Dri Archer (ankle/knee), DE Brett Keisel (NIR), TE Heath Miller (NIR), WR Lance Moore (groin), S Troy Polamalu (NIR), CB Ike Taylor (NIR), C Cody Wallace (finger)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Le’Veon Bell (NIR), WR Antonio Brown (NIR), WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder), CB Brice McCain (groin), DT Steve McLendon (stinger), QB Ben Roethlisberger (NIR), S Shamarko Thomas (Achilles/ankle), WR Markus Wheaton (NIR)

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Too many shades of 2013 as Ravens fall flat in Week 1 loss to Bengals

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Too many shades of 2013 as Ravens fall flat in Week 1 loss to Bengals

Posted on 07 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A half-smile came across the face of Terrell Suggs when asked if the Ravens’ season-opening 23-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday reminded him of last season.

It was clear the 12th-year linebacker didn’t feel like reminiscing about Baltimore’s first non-playoff season under head coach John Harbaugh, but the similarities were there. A poor first-half performance by the offense and a “bend-don’t-break” defense failing to finish strong doomed the Ravens on Sunday as it did so many times a season ago when they finished 8-8.

“I don’t even want to talk about last year,” Suggs said. “If you remember last year, we gave up seven touchdowns in the opener. It’s a pretty big difference. It doesn’t feel like last year. We just can’t give them the big play. Pretty much our big thing coming into this week was to not let one get over our head. We let one get over our head, but it’s the NFL. It happens.”

The Ravens spent the offseason trying to improve an offense that ranked 29th in the NFL a season ago, adding new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, pass-catching targets Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, and veteran center Jeremy Zuttah. The running game was supposed to be fixed and quarterback Joe Flacco would have more weapons to throw to, which would allow the Ravens to move the ball consistently and with balance.

A defense that lost defensive tackle Arthur Jones and cornerback Corey Graham in free agency would be helped by the improved offensive attack and would not be put in a position when they’d spend too much time on the field with little margin for error.

But Sunday’s loss to the Bengals brought the same problems from 2013 as the Ravens were held to zero points and only 97 total yards in the first 30 minutes of play. The Ravens ran for just 23 yards on nine carries, and Flacco completed only 10 of 23 passes for 78 yards while committing what he called “the stupidest play” of his career that sent his team to the locker room trailing 15-0.

With eight seconds remaining in the half and facing third-and-15 from the 15, the Ravens elected to run one more play, which needed to be a quick three-step drop and throw to the end zone — or out of the end zone — to at least save enough time for a field goal try. Instead, the seventh-year quarterback rolled to his right and allowed time to expire before being sacked by Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap.

Flacco’s gaffe was just one of many mistakes made by countless offensive players in the first half, but it seemed an appropriate way to end a miserable 30 minutes of football in which the Ravens had just 9:41 of possession.

“We just played about as bad as you can, in terms of just simple fundamental things,” Flacco said. “Throwing, catching, running routes, staying up, just running the ball, couple mental busts. Just fundamental things that you do every day, and it’s just part of the routine.”

Even with the offense struggling mightily, the Ravens remained in the game thanks to a defense that allowed the Bengals to consistently move the ball before finally tightening up on third down — Cincinnati went 4-for-14 in that department — and holding them to field goals on two trips inside the red zone. It reminded of last season when the defense would stretch and stretch and stretch before making plays when needed to to keep the Ravens in the game.

But the defense also followed the 2013 fourth-quarter script of allowing the big play after Flacco connected with Steve Smith on an 80-yard touchdown to put the Ravens ahead 16-15 with 5:46 remaining in the game. Less than a minute later, defensive coordinator Dean Pees sent nickel back Asa Jackson on the blitz — the defense was unable to provide much pressure throughout the game — but Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton recognized it and threw deep to wide receiver A.J. Green, who beat cornerback Chykie Brown in 1-on-1 coverage for a 77-yard touchdown.

It was the big play the Ravens surrendered too many critical times last season and another example of the defense failing to make a big fourth-quarter stop when needed. And the deciding touchdown washed away what was an acceptable — but not stellar — effort from a unit playing without starting cornerback Lardarius Webb.

“It was kind of a bend-don’t-break philosophy,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “We were trying to figure out the new scheme they had in. They threw a lot of new things at us, the zone read and all of that. We didn’t let them get in the end zone until the end when we let that play get away from us.”

Yes, the “half-full” outlook would point to the 16 points and 323 total yards the Ravens offense produced in the second half. The running game even got going in the final two quarters as veteran Justin Forsett — replacing the benched Bernard Pierce — rushed for 70 yards and a 13-yard score for the first touchdown of the season to put the Ravens on the board.

But the skeptic will hear the same song as last season with an offense that had little balance and took more than two quarters to finally wake up — and still dropped too many passes in the second half — and a defense that couldn’t finish the job at crunch time.

As the Ravens learned all too well in 2013, there are no moral victories in the NFL.

“It’s tough to look at it too many ways other than the fact that we lost the game,” Flacco said. “Overall, we didn’t play well. As a player, you don’t look for good things in losses. It was a bad day.”

The good news is the Ravens won’t have time to dwell on their season-opening defeat as they must immediately turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a Thursday night game back at M&T Bank Stadium. But they know they’ll need a more complete effort to avoid an 0-2 start in the AFC North as the Bengals and Steelers are already a game ahead in the division.

Yes, the Ravens led late in the fourth quarter and were in position to win the game, but they played too poorly for too long to reasonably expect to prevail.

“We all could’ve done something better today,” Suggs said. “We dropped one. It’s a long season and hopefully this won’t prevent us from doing what we want to do later on in the year.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Figuring out what to make of the Ravens isn’t easy as they open the 2014 season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon.

Coming off their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have expressed confidence that 2013 was an aberration as significant roster turnover and injuries not only derailed their chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions but led to an 8-8 season that left them sitting at home in January.

The optimists will point to the Ravens playing in a league-high nine games decided by three or fewer points and suggest they easily could have made the playoffs had they done a smidgen better than their 5-4 mark in those contests. But the critics will say that record could have been a game or two worse while reminding that the Ravens allowed 32 more points than they produced a year ago and were outscored by 51 in their final two games in which they had the opportunity to lock up a playoff berth.

After six weeks of summer practice and a 4-0 record in the preseason, it’s easy to say this year will be different until you tee it off for real as the Ravens will against the defending AFC North champions at M&T Bank Stadium. In reality, there is plenty of unknown on each side of the football.

“It’s kind of like the first hit in a game or of training camp when you come back,” Harbaugh said. “There’s anxiety and excitement, but there’s anxiety until you get that first hit, and as soon as you get the first hit, the game is on and you’re playing. It’s a little bit like that with the opener.”

Yes, even with the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd to begin their 19th season in Baltimore, the Ravens face a major challenge in taking on the Bengals, who are viewed by many as the most talented team in the division despite an underwhelming offseason and the departure of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Playing three straight division games to start the year gives the Ravens the opportunity to take early control of the AFC North, but it could also leave them with an immediate uphill climb if they’re slow to answer the regular-season bell.

Needless to say, the objective of the offseason was fixing the league’s 29th-ranked offense that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry and just 20.0 points per game. The hiring of coordinator Gary Kubiak and the acquisitions of five-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, and tight end Owen Daniels don’t exactly make it a bold statement to suggest the offense will be better.

How much improvement we see will begin and end with an offensive line that was an utter disaster a year ago. Injured and undersized on the interior, the Ravens were manhandled at the point of attack and struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco. The revamped group paved the way for a successful running game in limited opportunities in the preseason but still showed too many leaks in pass protection, meaning the jury’s still out on offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s group. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele and left tackle Eugene Monroe are expected to be anchors, but how well Zuttah and second-year right tackle Rick Wagner hold up against talented fronts like Cincinnati’s will be a more telling test.

Smith and Daniels give Flacco more weapons in the passing game, but age is a legitimate variable in determining how much of an impact they’ll make. The 35-year-old Smith quelled some concerns with an outstanding summer, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to bring that same impact over the course of 16 weeks. Meanwhile, Daniels didn’t exactly look like a difference-maker this summer before a hamstring injury sidelined him for two weeks, making you question whether Dennis Pitta will have much help behind him at the tight end position.

Kubiak’s arrival signals a clear return to the Ravens’ long-held commitment to run the football, but his variation of the West Coast offense should empower Flacco to make quicker decisions to neutralize potential issues with pass protection. Even if the offensive line is able to open running lanes for Bernard Pierce and the currently-suspended Ray Rice, the Ravens will ultimately go as far as their franchise quarterback will take them in what’s intended to be a more balanced offense.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but I think the biggest thing for us is to be good at doing the little things,” Flacco said. “The base things in this offense and coming up with little things to throw defenses off here and there. But I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know if versatile is the word, or what not, but I can tell you that I feel very comfortable in it. I think all of our guys feel very comfortable running it.”

Will there be early-season growing pains with a new system predicated on quicker passes and good timing? Historically, those aren’t the types of routes with which Flacco has been particularly effective as he’s often been criticized for not getting rid of the football quickly enough. The Ravens are confident that Smith can at least provide another third-down option to go along with the dependable Pitta.

Yes, the offense will be improved, but how much better will it be in relation to last year’s incredibly low standard? Will they simply manage to crack the top 20, or will the Ravens find themselves in the top third of the league?

“It’s time to go find out. I wouldn’t say we’ve held anything back,” said Kubiak of his offense’s preparation for the regular season. “They’ve handled things really well, so we continue to progress forward as far as the load in what we give them. Obviously, you’re trying to put them all in position to do what they do best, but we’re starting against a great group — a team that was a Top 5 defensive team last year. We have a big, big challenge this weekend, but that’s part of this league.”

Even if you’re buying what Kubiak and the offense are selling, the bigger concern might exist on the opposite side of the ball even though the Ravens ranked 12th in total defense last season. The overall numbers were respectable, but the pass rush declined in the second half of the season and two significant pieces departed in the offseason with defensive tackle Arthur Jones and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham finding new homes in free agency.

The front seven hopes the infusion of second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams and 2014 first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley will pay dividends — both were impressive during the preseason — but the other five starting members of that group (Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil) are all 30 or older. That’s not to say those core members of the defense won’t make significant contributions in 2014, but it’s easy to see some correlation with age and the defense’s fourth-quarter struggles and disappointing finish a year ago.

Of particular importance will be the pass-rushing duo of Suggs and Dumervil, who combined for 19 1/2 sacks in 2013 but collected only two in the final seven games. With a secondary that was hampered by injuries during training camp and is just now back on the practice field, the Ravens need to put heat on quarterback Andy Dalton to keep wide receiver A.J. Green and the Bengals’ other pass-catching threats from shaking free in the event of rust or miscommunication on the back end of the defense.

“The sense of urgency, it never changes if you’re a true front seven,” Suggs said. “They’re the defending division champions, and [Dalton] has shown that he can lead his team. If we already didn’t have a sense of urgency, then we’re hustling backwards, we’re not prepared to play. It didn’t heighten just because we had some guys out [during] camp.”

Yes, the Ravens finally appear healthy in the secondary as cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson are now practicing at full strength, but the extended absence of Webb remains a concern as defensive coordinator Dean Pees was unable to determine which nickel alignment would work best for his defense this summer. Webb is better suited to defend the slot in the nickel package, but Jackson is also more of an inside corner and the other outside options — Chykie Brown and the newly-signed Derek Cox — don’t inspire confidence. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, it’s not a comforting feeling to be without a known commodity at the No. 3 cornerback spot.

Though injuries didn’t necessarily plague the safety position, it’s unclear whether the tandem of 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and newcomer Darian Stewart are even as effective as Elam and former strong safety James Ihedigbo were a year ago, let alone whether they’ll be more dynamic. Neither played particularly well in the preseason as the Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage will allow him to utilize the skill set that made him a standout at the University of Florida. It only appears to be a matter of time before third-round pick Terrence Brooks supplants Stewart at free safety, but it’s an awful lot to ask a rookie to handle that position with Baltimore’s sophisticated coverages.

Beyond the healthy tandem of Smith and Webb, the secondary appears vulnerable and could be in serious trouble if the front seven can’t make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.

In sizing up the Ravens entering the 2014 season, it’s fair to wonder whether they will find themselves spinning their wheels with an improved offense but a defense in apparent danger of taking a step or two in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism is the current state of the AFC North with the Bengals not taking the necessary offseason steps to become a true Super Bowl contender, the Steelers appearing to be in a state between good and bad, and the Browns still being, well, the Browns. Barring key injuries, there’s no reason to believe the Ravens won’t be in contention for the division title along with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but there are too many unknowns to give them a distinct edge beyond the natural optimism existing in most cities around the NFL entering Week 1.

History suggests you don’t count out the Harbaugh-led Ravens, but it will be fascinating to see how the coach and his team respond after their first failure as it relates to making the postseason. For now, the Ravens are saying all the right things about their outlook.

“I like our team a lot. I would go so far to say I love our team,” Harbaugh said. “I love the way they work. I love the way they treat one another. I love the way they bleed with one another. I believe in this football team. There’s no question in my mind that this team is destined for some very special things. But now you have to do it.”

Sunday will be the Ravens’ initial chance to begin proving it to those who aren’t convinced.

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Tucker highest rated Ravens in EA Sports’ Madden 15

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Tucker highest rated Ravens in EA Sports’ Madden 15

Posted on 04 August 2014 by WNST Staff

EA Sports unveiled the player ratings for their upcoming “Madden 15″ release Monday. Thanks to BaltimoreRavens.com for compiling the ratings in an easy to digest photo…


The highest overall rated Raven is kicker Justin Tucker (93), with guard Marshal Yanda and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata just behind (92 each). The only other players rated in the 90′s are cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, who all received ratings of 90.

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Rookie defensive end Urban lost for season due to torn ACL

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Rookie defensive end Urban lost for season due to torn ACL

Posted on 31 July 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After being carted off the field with a severe right knee injury, Ravens defensive end Brent Urban learned he will be lost for the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the specifics of the injury following Thursday’s practice, describing it as “a clean tear” to reporters. Urban will be placed on season-ending injured reserve after being selected in the fourth round of May’s draft.

“He’s been through this before. He tore his other ACL about five years ago,” Harbaugh said. “He fought through a bad ankle injury his senior year at Virginia and rehabbed that and got back really quick, obviously, in the offseason here. It’s a tough break. It was just a situation where one guy was blocking another guy, and the knee just buckled on him.”

The Ravens had expectations for Urban to become an immediate contributor in the defensive line rotation, potentially serving as the primary backup to veteran Chris Canty at the 5-technique defensive end spot. Urban’s injury likely opens the door for second-year lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore to receive more reps.

A day after being injured on the same play as Urban, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan sat out Thursday’s practice with lingering back spasms, but Harbaugh expected him to return to action “soon.”

Linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) while linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were given a day off to rest. Smith was absent from his second straight practice while Webb has been sidelined since last Friday with back spasms.

Inside linebacker Albert McClellan returned to practice after missing Wednesday.

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones and running back Justin Forsett were both on the field during the opening portion of practice but appeared to be receiving the day off. Forsett observed the rest of the running backs going through individual drills while Jones did some work at the Jugs machine while the wide receivers participated in drills.

Other offensive players absent included guard Will Rackley (concussion-related symptoms) and wide receiver Jeremy Butler (groin).

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery) remains on the active physically unable to perform list.

The Ravens were working in helmets, shells, and shorts on Thursday.

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Steve Smith’s expectations realistic in coming to Ravens

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Steve Smith’s expectations realistic in coming to Ravens

Posted on 23 July 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith has talked plenty about motivation this offseason but is also grounded in reality as he officially begins his first training camp with the Ravens on Thursday.

Understandably having a chip on his shoulder over being released by the Carolina Panthers after spending the first 13 seasons of his career in Charlotte, the 35-year-old wide receiver is looking to prove he still has plenty left in the tank to help the Ravens, but there are no predictions of a 1,300-yard season or a return to the Pro Bowl. His motivation is shaped by perspective with an eye toward the end of his career knowing nobody wins the battle with Father Time.

“You can never perform at as high a level at 35 that you did at 25,” Smith said. “My job is to go out there and catch what’s catchable and have fun doing it. [I don’t want to] really concern myself too much on the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘Should I be here?’ or ‘Should I be there?’ The things that I’ve experienced in my career, honestly, they’re not going to get any better, and the reason why is because my perspective is different. Hopefully, I will accomplish better things statistically, but I’m living the dream.”

It’s difficult to predict what to expect from Smith in terms of production on the field as his yards per catch average has decreased from 17.6 in 2011 to 16.1 in 2012 to 11.6 last season, which was his lowest mark since 2007. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound wideout has depended on speed on the outside for much of his career, but he will need to reinvent himself as more of a possession receiver to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s offensive system while Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones provide two stronger outside options in the vertical passing game.

The University of Utah product turned in an excellent spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running crisp shorter routes whether working outside or in the slot. Smith downplayed how long it will take to build a rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco — simply explaining he’ll catch anything that should be caught — but also recognizes he doesn’t have to be the primary focus of the passing game like he was for more than a decade with the Panthers.

“I understand there are going to be times when I’m the premier receiver,” Smith said, “and there are times that I need to clear through for Torrey or Jacoby or Marlon [Brown]. You have to be able to be efficient in any offense; you’ve got to understand in every play what your role is.”

Of course, the Ravens’ motivation in signing Smith to a three-year, $11.5 million in March went beyond the number of passes he’ll catch as the offense lacked vocal leadership and swagger last season following the trade of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. Smith has already shown he isn’t afraid to stir the pot as he mixed it up with cornerback Lardarius Webb during last month’s mandatory minicamp.

He’ll need to be productive on the field to authentically establish himself as a leader, but the early returns suggest both sides of the ball have benefited from his competitive fire during practices. It’s a reputation that was well known to the Ravens long before the veteran stepped foot in Owings Mills this spring.

“We get another defensive guy playing offense with Steve coming over,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is one guy last year [who defensive coordinator] Dean Pees told us not to anger, and it was a preseason game. The goal was to do our time and get out of there. It’s great to have him on our team.”

Smith’s ability to rebound from an underwhelming 745-yard season a year ago will go a long way in determining whether the Ravens can substantially improve their 29th-ranked offense in 2013. He doesn’t need to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but the veteran will be asked to catch shorter passes and help move the chains on third down, an area in which the Ravens ranked only 20th last season.

The longtime Panther knows his career is winding down but thinks he’s found the ideal place to fit his personality.

“I’m lucky to even be here,” Smith said. “After you hit 35, you should be with a walker and all that stuff. I’m just happy to be playing ball and have the opportunity to play in a conference where it’s smash-mouth football, and I’m going to fit in perfectly [with] that.”

Pierce, Reid ready to go

The Ravens will conduct their first full-squad workout on Thursday morning and enter the summer with a short injury report as running back Bernard Pierce and offensive lineman Jah Reid both participated fully in Tuesday’s workout.

Pierce has now been cleared after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery while Reid was sidelined with a calf injury in the spring.

“These two days they both looked good. They both looked fine; they have no problems,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There are some full-speed-type drills out there, not contact, but the speed of it, and they had no problems. We’ll work them through the first two days. Thursday and Friday are both full speed, but they’re not full contact, so that’ll be another chance for them to take the next step that way. I don’t anticipate any problems.”

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody is the only veteran with a clear injury concern entering camp as he’s still recovering from offseason hip surgery. Harbaugh said the fifth-year lineman is progressing, but there is no clear target date of when he’ll return to the practice field.

Dumervil grateful for opportunity provided by Bowlen in Denver

With Wednesday’s news of Pat Bowlen stepping down as owner of the Denver Broncos due to Alzheimer’s disease, Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil offered his support after spending the first seven seasons of his career in Denver.

“He helped impact my life [and] my family for generations to come,” Dumervil said. “He was a great guy. He always asked about my health, and when I was out for the year [in 2010], we talked a bit. He was always great to me, and I was always grateful for that. When I heard about the news, it was a sad day for that.”

 

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Suggs applying tough lessons from last season to bounce back in 2014

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Suggs applying tough lessons from last season to bounce back in 2014

Posted on 18 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs spent a decade chasing the elusive Super Bowl glory he finally tasted at the end of the 2012 season.

But he couldn’t have imagined how difficult it was going to be defending that championship following the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed, leaving the Ravens without two Hall of Fame players and leaders who were the heart and soul of the organization. Of course, a myriad of reasons explained an 8-8 season in which the Ravens missed the playoffs, ranging from a porous offensive line and nonexistent running game to an otherwise-solid defense that struggled to create turnovers and get off the field in the fourth quarter.

Suggs and his veteran teammates said all the right things last season when asked how they’d possibly replace the leadership void created by the departures of Lewis, Reed, and other veterans, claiming there were more than enough voices ready to handle the changes. But the 31-year-old linebacker acknowledged Wednesday it was not only “very agonizing” to miss the postseason for the first time since 2007 but also draining going through his first season without two men who’d been older brothers to him for the first 10 years of his career.

“I had those older guys around to build, and it was a period of adjustment,” Suggs said. “It was weird, and it transpired onto the field — not having those guys there. But, the most [important] thing we can learn from last year about those guys not being there is those were once-in-a-lifetime guys — Ed Reed and Ray Lewis — and all we can be is ourselves. They’re not going to come walking through the door to help us win another championship. All you can be is yourself, and that should be enough.”

Even though Suggs posted double-digit sacks for the fifth time in his career in 2013, his play down the stretch didn’t help the Ravens’ push for a sixth straight trip to the postseason as he collected only one sack in the final eight games, leading many to speculate he was playing hurt. His 10 sacks were enough to earn him his sixth invitation to the Pro Bowl, but his play against both the run and pass deteriorated at an alarming rate with four games in which he posted one or no tackles.

With the Ravens needing a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 to sneak into the playoffs, Suggs and fellow pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil combined for one tackle and zero sacks in a 34-17 loss that resulted in the Ravens staying home in January. Asked to reflect on his up-and-down season at this week’s mandatory minicamp, Suggs didn’t hide behind what could have been the convenient excuse of saying he was hurt.

“One of the things was you get a little cold and you gain a little weight,” said Suggs about the second half of the season. “I probably put on a little too much weight down the stretch there. But that was one of my big focuses going into this year. Definitely, if I keep my weight down, I can have a strong finish. I think I was pretty much healthy.”

Head coach John Harbaugh went out of his way to praise Suggs for his conditioning level upon reporting to Owings Mills earlier this week. The veteran linebacker likes the changes made to both sides of the ball, citing the positive vibe created by the hiring of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

The linebacker also complimented the free-agent signing of veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers like he did during Wednesday’s practice when he got into a scuffle with cornerback Lardarius Webb. It’s the kind of attitude that was lacking on the offensive side of the ball last season following the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

“It’s good to have that. We had it a few years ago in 81,” Suggs said. “And it’s good to have that fire back on that side of the ball, [to] have somebody who will go out there and jab back with us and compete.”

In addition to acquiring Smith and a few other veterans such as center Jeremy Zuttah and tight end Owen Daniels, the Ravens spent a large portion of their offseason re-signing their own players, including a four-year contract extension for Suggs. The deal did provide short-term relief in lowering his 2014 salary cap figure from $12.4 million to $7.8 million, but general manager Ozzie Newsome made a $16 million gamble in guaranteed money that Suggs’ second half last season was more of an aberration than a preview of what’s to come for a linebacker entering his 12th season.

So, who is the real Suggs at this stage of his career? The man who looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate while accumulating nine sacks in the first eight games last year or the worn-down player who failed to set the edge against the run and provided little pressure on the quarterback down the stretch?

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but Suggs appears determined to prove he’s closer to the player he was in the first half of the 2013 season based on what kind of shape he was in upon arriving at the team facility this week. And he made it clear he’s recommitted to just being himself after struggling to adjust to life without Lewis or Reed for the first time in his NFL career.

“You’re going to always have something to prove when you’re playing this game,” Suggs said. “You never want to hit your cruising altitude; you always want to be ascending with your game. You can always get better.”

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Lewis-Moore only new absence during Wednesday’s minicamp practice

Posted on 18 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens continued to have excellent attendance at their second day of mandatory minicamp as only five players were missing from the field on Wednesday.

Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore was not present after leaving practice the day before with what appeared to be a left hamstring injury. He joined defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery), offensive linemen Jah Reid (calf) and Parker Graham (undisclosed), and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (lower leg) as non-participants on Wednesday.

Coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday that Reid’s calf strain continues to improve and that the fourth-year lineman will be ready for the start of training camp. Cody isn’t expected to return until camp.

Running back Bernard Pierce (shoulder surgery) once again took part in individual drills and is on track to be cleared fully by the start of camp in late July.

Asked if he was pleased with the conditioning level of veterans such as Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs who were not present for the previous three weeks of voluntary organized team activities, Harbaugh did not express any specific concerns in getting his first look at them this week.

“It’s hard to evaluate all that, but I’m certainly not disappointed in anybody,” Harbaugh said. “They all look good. If I was going to single a guy out, it would probably be Terrell Suggs. He can give you the numbers, but I’ll tell you this — the numbers were very good. You can tell he’s been working really hard.”

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The latest #WNSTSweet16 is a laughing matter

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The latest #WNSTSweet16 is a laughing matter

Posted on 25 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Championship trophies tarnish and the details from box scores fade from memory over the years, but the way our sports figures made us feel is never forgotten as this week’s #WNSTSweet16 examines some of the biggest sports personalities to grace the Charm City with their presence.

This week’s list is not only open to local athletes but managers, coaches, broadcasters, and even super fans who gained notoriety from their unique personalities. Many were known as goofballs because of their naturally-comedic traits while a few may have qualified through actions that merely came across as humorous in the eyes of others.

There are no statistics for humor on which to rate these individuals, but there’s no shortage of goofballs who still resonate with the local community years after their time in the public eye — and even on this earth, in some cases — has come to an end.

With April Fools’ Day only a week away, we honor the #WNSTSweet16 local sports goofballs who were as memorable for their personalities as anything else they accomplished:

Continue to next page for No. 16

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