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Grading the Ravens’ veteran acquisitions at the quarter pole

Posted on 05 October 2011 by Luke Jones

In the immediate aftermath of the lockout coming to an end in late July, the hammer fell on the Baltimore Ravens as we knew them from past seasons.

Gone were established veterans Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee in a wave of releases to create salary cap room. Key contributors such as Le’Ron McClain, Dawan Landry, Chris Chester, and Josh Wilson found homes in other NFL cities.

Fans panicked as general manager Ozzie Newsome worked methodically instead of snatching up any recognizable name from a market suddenly saturated with hundreds of veteran free agents. When the dust settled in time for the regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens were not only younger but had a new batch of veteran acquisitions to aid in a potential Super Bowl run in 2011.

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With the Ravens entering the bye week at 3-1 and atop the AFC North, an overwhelming majority of those outside additions have provided positive returns through the quarter pole of the season.

Six noteworthy veterans were acquired in the preseason as I take a stab at grading them through the first four games of the season.

WR Lee Evans (8th year)
Skinny: Despite having rapidly developed a rapport with Joe Flacco after being acquired for a fourth-round pick on Aug. 12, Evans fell victim to a left ankle injury following the Ravens’ third preseason game against the Washington Redskins. His recovery has been slow and frustrating, prompting the Ravens to sit him down the last two games after lackluster play against Pittsburgh and Tennessee in the first two games. Evans has two receptions for 45 yards and has been unable to provide the vertical threat the Ravens envisioned when they brought him to Baltimore.
First quarter grade: INCOMPLETE

RB Ricky Williams (11th year)
Skinny: Signed to fill the role of McGahee, Williams has averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry, but the veteran has lost two fumbles on only 35 touches to hurt his overall grade. It’s a concerning stat with Williams viewed as a nice change of pace to Ray Rice and an option to receive carries late in games when the Ravens are trying to protect leads. Turning the ball over is the quickest way to allow the opponent back in the game. The former Miami Dolphin has yet to score a touchdown despite many speculating he would take away Rice’s carries at the goal line.
First quarter grade: C+

S Bernard Pollard (6th year)
Skinny: The former Houston Texan was signed to bring a physical presence in the secondary after Landry signed in Jacksonville. Though not particularly strong in coverage, Pollard has been tough against the run and is a talented blitzer from his strong safety position. Pollard has just six tackles and one pass breakup but has contributed on special teams. He received his first start against the Jets last Sunday night and graded out well, which was needed after normal starter Tom Zbikowski left the game with a concussion.
First quarter grade: B

G/C Andre Gurode (10th year)
Skinny: Signed a week before the start of the regular season, Gurode was a valuable insurance policy for veteran Matt Birk at center, but the Ravens have needed the former Dallas Cowboy at left guard with Ben Grubbs missing three games with a right toe injury. Despite never playing the position in his career, Gurode has provided strong run blocking over the last two games to help stabilize the left side of the line. With Grubbs expected back after the bye week, the question becomes whether Gurode returns to a reserve role or the Ravens consider eventually using the five-time Pro Bowler at center in an effort to upgrade the line — even with Birk’s solid play to this point. Either way, Gurode’s versatility on the interior has filled the void left behind by Chester, who signed with the Washington Redskins at the start of training camp.
First quarter grade: B+

OT Bryant McKinnie (10th year)
Skinny: The Ravens certainly raised eyebrows despite the intriguing payoff when they signed McKinnie, who had been released by the Minnesota Vikings after ballooning to nearly 400 pounds during the 134-day lockout. Past questions about his character and overall work ethic made it a risky proposition to insert McKinnie at left tackle and slide Michael Oher to the right side, but the former Miami Hurricane has been a welcome addition with both his play and attitude. After not taking part in any preseason games, McKinnie thoroughly dominated James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in the Ravens’ 35-7 season-opening win over the Steelers. His play hasn’t been quite as impressive since then, struggling mightily against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, but McKinnie has stepped into the second-most important position in football (behind the quarterback) and performed admirably despite an abbreviated training camp.
First quarter grade: B+

FB Vonta Leach (8th year)
Skinny: After putting up with fullback Le’Ron McClain’s campaigning for more touches over the past two seasons, the Ravens brought in a throwback, human car accident of a blocking back by signing Leach to a three-year deal. The former Houston Texan has been every bit the bruiser the Ravens thought he would be, opening paths for the eighth-best rushing attack in the NFL. Despite Leach having little interest in touching the football (three career carries in eight seasons), offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has kept opposing defenses honest by occasionally using the 260-pounder in the passing game. The fullback has caught five passes for 15 yards.
First quarter grade: A

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Ravens-Eagles Preseason Primer: What to watch in tonight’s opener

Posted on 10 August 2011 by Luke Jones

***Join us in the Purple Haze live chat beginning at 7:30 p.m. as WNST.net brings you live coverage from the preseason opener in Philadelphia. For the quickest updates and analysis, follow WNST on Twitter and be sure to subscribe to the WNST Text Service.***

Nearly seven months after the Ravens walked off the field after suffering a gut-wrenching loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoffs, Baltimore begins preseason action on Thursday night looking noticeably different.

And younger.

After waving goodbye to veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee, and Kelly Gregg and watching a number of others depart via free agency, the Ravens find themselves in transition, getting younger while still hoping to maintain their Super Bowl aspirations. However, questions at several positions including wide receiver, tight end, right tackle, and backup quarterback as well as the pass rush remain unanswered.

Couple those uncertainties with a 134-day lockout that eliminated off-season workouts and the typically mundane preseason opener appears to carry extra significance — depending on who you talk to, at least. With a young offense trying to find a new identity in the passing game, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron labeled this first preseason game as more important than any other year he could remember. On the other hand, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said his veteran-laden defense will just “go out and play.”

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The final score will inevitably be forgotten in a matter of weeks, but the Ravens view the meeting with the revamped Eagles as a good indicator to evaluate how much work needs to be done before the season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11. Key veterans such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs figure to play little more than a series while other starters will see more extensive time through the first quarter or two.

“It’s hard to say a preseason game is ‘big’ big,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s big for a lot of guys. Is it going to be big for the team? Well, it’s big in the sense of, ‘Where are we?’ I think that’s going to be very important for us. It’s going to be very interesting to see where we’re at.”

With the Eagles signing the likes of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, running back Ronnie Brown, and defensive end Jason Babin, the Ravens will get a decent picture of where they stand after two weeks of training camp. Regardless of the outcome, however, viewers will fight the urge to overreact to what happens at Lincoln Financial Field — good or bad.

Series history

Thursday will mark the 12th time the Ravens have been scheduled to meet Philadelphia in the preseason, holding a 7-3 all-time mark in August. The last time the teams met in Philadelphia was 2004 when Terrell Owens caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb on the Eagles’ first offensive play from scrimmage. The most recent preseason meeting, however, was a 29-3 victory for Baltimore in 2007.

The Eagles were involved in the most unique (infamous?) moment in the preseason history of the Ravens when unsafe turf conditions at Veterans Stadium forced the 2001 preseason opener to be canceled. That night of embarrassing events was documented in the premiere season of HBO’s Hard Knocks.

In games that actually count, the Ravens are 1-1-1 all-time against Philadelphia, with their victory coming in a 36-7 drubbing at M&T Bank Stadium in 2008.

Coaching connections

Harbaugh coached 10 seasons as a member of the Eagles staff, serving nine campaigns as the special teams coordinator and his final season as the secondary coach under Andy Reid. The Ravens head coach returns to Philadelphia for the first time since taking the helm in Baltimore in January 2008.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if I know where the visiting locker room is. It’ll be my first time in the visiting locker room. I fully expect to be cheered rabidly when I walk out onto the field. (laughing) I’ll be highly disappointed if that doesn’t happen.”

In addition to Harbaugh’s Philadelphia ties, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery visits a place fond to his heart. Having played in Philadelphia from 1977 through 1984, Montgomery holds the franchise’s career mark for rushing yards (6,538) and rushing attempts (1,465) as well as the Eagles’ single-season rushing record (1,512 in 1979).

Montgomery will be inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in November.

On the opposing side, Eagles linebackers coach Mike Caldwell played linebacker for the Ravens in their inaugural season in 1996.

Local flavor

Inside linebacker Jameel McClain is a Philadelphia native while quarterback Joe Flacco hails from nearby Audubon, N.J.

Flacco will have plenty of family and friends in attendance despite their past loyalties to the Eagles.

“I hope they’re rooting for Ravens,” the fourth-year quarterback said. “I know they’re all Eagles fans, but when they have to make a decision, I hope they make the right one. (laughter) But yeah, they’re crazy about their Eagles in South Jersey. I mean, I’m not going to convert all of South Jersey, hopefully just the people I know. I’ve got to remind them, ‘Hey, I got you the tickets, so you’ve got to root for us.’”

Though he recently landed on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Eagles defensive end Victor Abiamiri was born in Baltimore and attended Gilman.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was born in Philadelphia in 1960 before moving with his family to Baltimore a year later.

Injury report

Tight end Ed Dickson (hamstring), cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin), center Matt Birk (knee surgery), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (active PUP – knees), and receiver David Reed (active PUP – wrist) will not play. Smith has returned to practice on a limited basis after missing four days last week, but the Ravens are taking extra precaution with the talented first-round pick.

Others not expected to play include newly-signed running back Ricky Williams, long snapper Morgan Cox (knee), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), receiver James Hardy (hamstring), and running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed). Williams only has one practice under his belt since signing a two-year deal with the Ravens while Cox and McKinney only came off the active PUP list to begin practicing this week.

Domonique Foxworth missed consecutive practices on Monday and Tuesday, leaving his status for Thursday in doubt. The former Maryland cornerback has battled soreness and “ups and downs” throughout the off-season in rehabbing a surgically-repaired torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season.

7 Players to Watch

1. TE Dennis Pitta – With Dickson sitting out the preseason opener with a hamstring injury, Pitta will get the start at tight end and the early opportunity to distinguish himself in the passing attack. The 6-foot-4 product from BYU has drawn comparisons to Todd Heap in his overall makeup, but production is another story entirely. Pitta made just one catch for one yard in his rookie season.

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Former Ravens receiver Mason close to joining Jets

Posted on 04 August 2011 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 8:40 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ten days after his abrupt release from the Baltimore Ravens, Derrick Mason appears close to finding a new home in the Big Apple.

The New York Jets have released veteran Jerricho Cotchery and are moving toward signing the former Ravens receiver.

Mason leaves behind six productive seasons in Baltimore in which he became the franchise’s all-time leader in both receptions (471) and receiving yards (5,777) after joining the Ravens in 2005.

Rumors began linking the 37-year-old receiver to Rex Ryan’s squad Wednesday night before Mason visited the Jets and took a physical on Thursday. He would join a talented group of receivers in New York that includes Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.

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While the Ravens continue to pursue the services of 6-foot-5 receiver Malcom Floyd to add more size and diversity in the passing game, quarterback Joe Flacco will adjust to life without his favorite target as Mason acted as the young quarterback’s security blanket over the last three seasons. Mason is the only receiver in franchise history to have a 100-catch season, grabbing 103 passes in 2007.

With former tight end Todd Heap having already signed with the Arizona Cardinals last weekend, the door closing shut on a potential Mason return marks the official end of an era in which the two ranked in the top two spots in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions in the 15-year history of the franchise.

“I hope we can go out there and we can operate no matter what,” said Flacco after his two favorite targets were released last week. “If those guys aren’t there, it is because we are confident with the guys that we have and we’re confident in those guys taking that next step and really being able to take on a 16-game NFL schedule and be on. That’s what I would say. If they are not there, we know we have a great group of guys. If they are there, we are only going to benefit from that.”

With the Jets set to visit Baltimore on Oct. 2 for a Sunday night game, the addition of Mason would add even more fuel to the fire of what’s already a spicy story with the John Harbaugh-Ryan connection and a number of former Ravens finding a home with the Jets such as Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard as well as Trevor Pryce in the middle of last season.

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With veteran targets gone, Flacco wants ball in his hands

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even putting aside the 134-day lockout that ended earlier this week, it was anything but a typical offseason for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

There was the firing of quarterback coach Jim Zorn and rumblings that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Flacco weren’t on the same page.

With two years remaining on his current contract, Flacco expressed a desire for a new long-term contract in the midst of labor unrest.

Amid criticism from national media and peers such as Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley about his ability to win earlier this summer, Flacco married his high school sweetheart and saw his wedding photos become a viral sensation.

But none of that topped Monday’s news of the Ravens’ intentions to release his two longtime targets, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, who were responsible for securing 33 of Flacco’s 60 touchdown passes over his first three seasons. Suddenly, Flacco finds his safety net torn away, with only Anquan Boldin and a number of young question marks remaining.

“I had no idea anything like that was going to happen, I really didn’t,” said Flacco, who expressed strong hope that both can be brought back. “You expect to come back and see some new faces, just like every year. Definitely was not expecting to get rid of Derrick and Todd. It happens in this league, so you’ve got to learn to not be surprised by those things.”

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Surprise is exactly what Flacco has brought to Baltimore since injuries forced the former Delaware quarterback into the starting lineup to begin his rookie season in 2008. With a regular season record of 32-16 over his first three seasons, the 26-year-old has silenced initial questions of whether he could play in the NFL, but the criticism has shifted to his postseason failures and an inability to become an elite quarterback at this point in his career.

Despite seven career playoff games — all coming on the road — and a 4-3 record, Flacco’s 61.6 quarterback rating and seven interceptions (to just four touchdowns) have many questioning whether he can lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Without Mason and Heap on the field, the pressure falls even heavier on Flacco’s shoulders in his fourth season, with criticism growing louder in many circles.

“There’s some that you don’t pay attention to and there’s some that you do,” said Flacco, whose quarterback rating has increased in each of his three seasons. “I don’t really quite understand it. We’ve had a good team the last three years, and I think I’ve gotten better each year and played pretty darn good. I really don’t understand it, but there’s nothing you can do about it. People are going to say what they’re going to say. We just have to go out there and continue to win football games.”

Winning football games may prove a greater challenge after the veteran departures and the lack of an offseason for Flacco to become better acquainted with rookie receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss as well as to develop better chemistry with projected starting tight end Ed Dickson. Of Flacco’s 25 touchdown passes in 2010, players currently on the roster caught just nine of those scores — seven from Anquan Boldin.

The offense can no longer rely on the leadership of Heap and Mason, but will instead look to Flacco and running back Ray Rice to assert themselves further in their fourth season together.

“It’s just time to groom those guys and mold those guys the way we want them, the way I want them,” Flacco said. “We’ll have that chance. I’ll be able to be out there on the practice field with these young receivers.

“I’ll have a chance to live everything with them, go through every step of it with them. When they’re learning everything, when they’re going through their tough times, when they’re going through their good times, I’ll be right there with them, and that’ll be a good experience.”

Much has been opined about Flacco’s freedom in the offense — particularly with making pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage — and a need to “remove the training wheels” for the young quarterback in what amounts to a big season for Cameron. The Ravens stated their intent in the offseason for Flacco to be more involved in the planning and execution of the offense.

Flacco wasn’t ready to disclose what that will ultimately look like, but his intention to take the accountability for the Ravens’ successes and failures was made perfectly clear in his first day back at the training complex, speaking with more conviction than what we’ve come to expect from the laid-back quarterback.

“We have to go through a season, and we have to put in game plans and just see what we’re going to do,” Flacco said. “I just want to go out there and win football games, and I want the ball to be put in my hands. I want everybody to be accountable. I want to go out there, and I want to be in control. I want to be put in the position to lose football games.

“I want it to be on me, and if we lose football games, I want you to be able to look directly at me and say, ‘Why did we lose this game?’ I should have a pretty good answer for you. And I want you to be able to look at me and say, ‘Why did we win this game?’ and I should have a pretty good answer for you. In order to do that, you have to have trust in me, and I think we’re there.”

With all the criticism of an unprecedented offseason and the abrupt exit of his two favorite targets, the spotlight shines even brighter on Flacco. The offense is younger and will depend on him to lead — and to perform — with the outspoken Mason and the lead-by-example Heap no longer in the picture.

That’s just fine with the Ravens quarterback.

“What motivates me is being the best quarterback in the world,” Flacco said. “I don’t play this game to be average; I play this game to be the best. It doesn’t matter what other people say. I think I’m pretty damn good. I don’t need to go out and tell everybody that. … I go out there, and I play.”

And that’s exactly what he’ll need to do.

Hear Flacco’s comments to the media in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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Live from Owings Mills: Ravens tight end Dickson replacing “Superman” with Heap’s exit

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Second-year tight end Ed Dickson filled in for an injured Todd Heap over the final month of the 2010 season, but in the back of his mind, he knew the veteran was on his way back.

It looks like he’ll have no such safety net this year as the Ravens intend to officially release Heap on Thursday to save salary cap room. While some hope remains for Heap’s return at a reduced cost, Dickson finds himself as the projected starter entering training camp.

“It means a lot to me that they have that much faith in me,” said Dickson, who weighed in a few pounds heavier than last season. “I’ve been here one year. Like I said, all I can do is improve my game. I can come out in training camp and play my game and just try to get better everyday in camp and work to getting that starting position. They didn’t sign anything over to me right now. I still have competition, and I love competition.”

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His biggest competition is fellow 2010 draftee Dennis Pitta, selected in the fourth round, and third-year player Davon Drew. Dickson played in 15 games last season, catching 11 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown after being drafted in the third round from the University of Oregon. Pitta appeared in 11 games, making just one catch for 1 yard.

As excited as Dickson is for the opportunity after training in Eugene, Ore. at his alma mater this offseason, the young tight end reserves hope for Heap’s return.

“Todd Heap is a great individual, teacher, a great teammate, and he’ll be missed if he’s not here with us,” Dickson said. “With that said, hopefully he’s back with us. He taught me a lot just in that one year. He taught me how to be just an overall player in this game.”

Even if the 10-year veteran — with a resume that includes 41 career touchdown catches and 5,492 receiving yards — doesn’t return to Baltimore, the 24-year-old Dickson may still reach out to his mentor for advice during the season.

“I knew I had Superman coming back some game,” said Dickson about his month-long stay in the starting lineup after Heap’s hamstring injury last December. “If he’s not with us this year, I’ll probably still call him and ask him a couple things, and I’ll just go with our game plan and do it to the best of my ability.”

Listen to Dickson’s comments at training camp report day in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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50 words about Matusz, Heap, Mason, Steelers-D ... and prayers

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50 words about Matusz, Heap, Mason, Steelers-D … and prayers

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Rex Snider

Ahh, we’re just a couple days into renewed peace around NFL circles and we’re already being provided with enough storylines to finally disregard the lists of “BEST OF …” and “WORST OF …” that served as filler for radio programming, blogs and Twitter topics for the past few months.

Indeed, football is back …..

So, too, will be my “50 words” blogs, albeit on a random basis. After all, having such a format will give me opportunities to cover an array of topics, while maximizing your limited time to spend on blogs during breaks in the workday.

It’s a WIN-WIN, right?

So, without further delay, here’s your renewed edition of 50 words …..
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Sobering Reality For A Couple Ravens

As the news of Derrick Mason and Todd Heap becoming salary cap casualties in the process of molding the 2011 edition of the Ravens, I have begun to draw a few distinct conclusions.  However, the most telling from my perspective is we are probably witnessing the first time these two players have been cut by any team  ….
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All of us have experienced “the axe” at one intramural level or another, right?  Yet, Mason and Heap are probably feeling the effects of such a staunch rejection for the first time in their entire lives.  I would imagine it’s a tough pill to swallow ….
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Another Night, Another Loss

While many of us are primarily focused on what’s happening at One Winning Drive, along with an occasional eye glanced at the Orioles (they actually won, last night), there is another story or situation worth watching ….
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The tale of Brian Matusz is becoming more bewildering with the passing days.  Last night, Matusz found himself in immediate trouble, as he surrendered 3 walks and threw almost 30 pitches in the first inning of his start for the Norfolk Tides.  His final line:  5IP, 3ER, 7H, 3BB, 0K ….
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Thanks, Steelers

Many of us awakened to learn the Pittsburgh Steelers blessed us with a big favor, last night.  That’s right, they gave Ike Taylor a new 4-year deal to remain part of the team’s secondary.  But, if you think Baltimore fans are happy, there’s a great chance a member of the Ravens is ecstatic ….
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Quarterback, Joe Flacco, was all smiles as he learned the news.  Then again, any quarterback would be overjoyed to learn the archrival was bringing back a cornerback who is best described as one step up from a sawhorse on training wheels.  Many thanks, Mr. Rooney ….
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I Wanna Thank Jesus … For My Smokin’ Hot Wife

Even the casual NASCAR fan knows the green flag of each race is preceeded by an invocation by a clergyman.  That said, what transpired at Nashville Speedway, prior to last Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide event was simply priceless ….

I hope you weren’t drinking anything while watching the video of Pastor Joe Nelms delivering his rendition of a prayer.  Regardless of anyone’s religious beliefs, I think it was pretty cool to witness such a lighthearted expression of words.  Oh yeah, and did you catch Carl Edwards’ reaction?

Happy Wednesday …. tune in this afternoon at 2pm !!!!

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Mason says it’s up to Ravens to decide if he returns

Posted on 26 July 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On a day when players were thrilled to return to the Ravens training facility, receiver Derrick Mason faced the sobering possibility of leaving a place he’s called home for the final time.

Though it doesn’t become official until Thursday, the 37-year-old wideout will be released in a cap-saving move, along with veterans Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee. Mason was at the facility for his exit physical and met with general manager Ozzie Newsome.

After spending the last six seasons in Baltimore, becoming the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver, Mason remains upbeat and willing to return — if the Ravens want him.

“If they want me back, I’m back,” Mason said. “That’s all I can say. Now, if some other team wants me, then I think that’s one of those things you have to look at. My first thought would be to come back here. This has been my football home for the last six years, so why leave it so abruptly? I’m going to do what I can, and hopefully they’ll do what they need to do in order to try to bring me back. If not, hey, I can play football.”

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Mason caught 471 passes and 29 touchdowns from 2005 to 2010, including a career-high 103 catches in 2007. He is the only Ravens receiver to record a 100-catch season in the 15-year history of the franchise.

Serving as the union representative before and during the 134-day lockout, Mason was asked if he now had an empty feeling after learning of his impending release on the same day that the lengthy labor battle came to a culmination.

“[We were] trying to make football better, and we accomplished that,” Mason said. “Football is better, because we were out of football for 134 days. And because of the hard work that we put in – the executive committee, DeMaurice [Smith] – football is much better than it was.”

Mason understood the business decision made by Newsome, reminding everyone that he faced a similar fate with the Tennessee Titan, but had nothing but kind words to say about the organization and city he’s called home since 2005. He was set to make $4.5 million in the final year of a two-year agreement signed on March 10, 2010.

He arrived in Baltimore when Kyle Boller was still considered the quarterback of the future, welcomed his former Tennessee teammate Steve McNair, and eventually became the safety net for current quarterback Joe Flacco.

“Why am I going to be upset? It is what it is,” said Mason, ironically while his agent was calling him. “I have no reason to be upset. This organization gave me an opportunity six years ago to further my career. Only thing I’m disappointed with is I didn’t get an opportunity to win a championship. That’s the only thing I’m disappointed [about].

“This organization has been more than accommodating, the fans have been more than accommodating. I don’t think you can play for a better organization than this one.”

With an entire offseason condensed into a matter of days, it’s difficult to predict if Mason will be back in purple when the Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 or if he’ll be running sideline routes for another team looking for a steady possession receiver to move the chains.

One thing is certain, however. Mason doesn’t doubt his ability to keep playing — even in the November of his career.

“My gut says I can still play football,” Mason said. “Where? I don’t know. It might be playing football when I’m in the backyard with my son. I don’t know, but I still can play football. That’s what [my gut] says to me.”

Listen to Derrick Mason’s entire conversation with the media at 1 Winning Drive in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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With his two top targets gone, Joe Flacco becomes “the guy” in Baltimore

Posted on 26 July 2011 by Peter Dilutis

When Joe Flacco started week one of the 2008 season, his goal wasn’t to be the best player on the Ravens offense. His job wasn’t to be the most vocal guy in the huddle. His mission was not to go out there against Cincinnati on that September afternoon and win the game for the Ravens.

Much like one of his predecessors in Kyle Boller, Flacco’s main task wasn’t to win the game, but rather he was instructed not to lose the game.

You see, when Flacco showed up in Baltimore, the Ravens already had an all-pro tight end in Todd Heap who had been the Ravens leading receiver for much of his seven years in Baltimore. Derrick Mason had three years under his belt in Baltimore and had established himself as one of the best receivers to ever wear a Ravens uniform.

These were veteran guys who had done it before and who were leaders of the offense. Flacco looked up to those two guys, followed their leads, and successfully went about handling his business and role in the offense.

Derrick Mason became Flacco’s top target, often referred to as Joe’s “security blanket.” Mason caught 214 passes from Flacco over the past three seasons, which account for 24% of Joe’s completed passes since he’s been an NFL quarterback. Mason has been a constant, steady target for Flacco when the rest of the receiving core has been both unsteady and underwhelming.

Until Mason came along, Todd Heap was arguably the best receiver in the Ravens short history, putting up eye-opening receiving numbers as a tight end. Heap did not start out on a great note under Coach Harbaugh in 2008, but he came on strong the last two seasons, and he ended up catching 128 passes from Flacco over their three years together, accounting for 15% of Joe’s completed passes.

Together, Mason and Heap are responsible for 39% of Joe’s completed passes over his first three years in the NFL.

When the Ravens released both Mason and Heap today, I really wasn’t that surprised. They both had fairly high cap numbers, are getting up in age, and each would have been playing out their final years under contract.

After analyzing the financial ramifications of the cuts, my focus immediately turned to Joe Flacco and what this means for his immediate future and expected performance as a Raven in 2011.

People have been clamoring for the Ravens to open up the offense. Everyone has been calling radio stations or posting on message boards that Joe Flacco should have free reign to stretch the field and audible at will. Fans aren’t happy anymore with just a conservative Joe Flacco, even if he has done nothing but win the past three seasons in Baltimore. They want a great quarterback. Baltimore wants Joe Flacco to be the leader of the offense.

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As the NFL lockout ends, the time to say goodbye to some GREAT Ravens likely approaches ....

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As the NFL lockout ends, the time to say goodbye to some GREAT Ravens likely approaches ….

Posted on 25 July 2011 by Rex Snider

As we’ve now endured more than 130 days immersed within football’s version of HELL, it appears the brink of a new season awaits us.  Vote on this, vote on that ….

Training camps are supposedly opening next Saturday morning.  That’s the latest information from a twisted saga that has taken many, many turns.

Free agency is predicted to be a frenzied period of mass signings and cuts, along with very little time for dragging out negotiations.  In other words, we won’t be tortured with weeks of whether Brett Favre is coming back or not.

The biggest free agency prizes will likely have new homes and helmets by the time I return from vacation, two weeks from today.  And, Owings Mills will most certainly be a destination for a number of known NFL talents, as well.

Did I mention vacation?

That’s correct …. as the Ravens report to Westminster-East at the franchise’s headquarters, and as the world of the NFL is turned upside down with mass rumors, tweets, speculations and ultimate transactions, I will be enjoying all the news from the comforts of a beach chair in the surf, at Dewey Beach.

Perfect timing, huh?

We’re still days away from any official windows of negotiation – we’re not 100% certain of rules and policies regarding such overtures – and names of possible casualties and additions for the 2011 edition of the Baltimore Ravens are abounding.

Who do you believe?  What do you believe?  Should you even believe this lockout is really coming to an end?

The lockout is ending.  The owners and players have long concluded this marriage won’t suffer a separation that costs either side any money.  Thus, you can bet we’re on the brink of actually seeing, hearing and talking about football and its daily drama …..

And, as we’re on the verge of a new season, the speculation has already begun.  We know the Ravens will make some painful cuts of veteran talents, while also conceding to allow some of the team’s free agents to walk away.  But, they’re likely to make some very exciting additions, as well. 

We kinda know most of the team’s needs – but, we don’t really know what Ozzie Newsome and company are thinking …. OR how they’ll go about building their vision of the best team for the upcoming season.

But, we’ve heard the rumors.

Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie, Eric DeCosta, John Harbaugh and others whom are tasked with collaborating to the choices of parting with members of “the family” are undoubtedly conflicted over a number of such decisions.  They’re human and while the heart doesn’t likely figure into the ultimate decision, its certainly impacted – especially when they leave Winning Drive and explore their conscience. 

But, it’s the business of the National Football League.

I’ll leave you with a pictorial collection of the rumored potential exits that could transpire over the next couple weeks.  Some are predictably apparent and others are a reach.  From a personal perspective, I can imagine this process is among the toughest and most agonizing for any executives.

I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to weigh in with thoughts and opinions …..

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Live from Owings Mills: Heap set to return Sunday, E. Reed back at practice

Posted on 31 December 2010 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Completing their final practice of the calendar year, the Ravens are aiming for a positive start to 2011 against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore (11-4) saw two player return to the practice field Friday and appears to be in good shape physically for the regular-season finale. To no one’s surprise, safety Ed Reed (neck) was present at the open portion of practice, confirming speculation that Thursday was an impromptu day off for the veteran dealing with a number of ailments over the last few seasons.

“It was just precautionary,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He was a little bit tight, and we just felt like giving him a chance to recover a little bit and rest up. We do that with some guys this time of year.”

Also returning to the practice field was linebacker Prescott Burgess (illness) after missing two days with the flu bug that has worked its way through the training complex in Owings Mills in recent weeks.

Safety Tom Zbikowski (back) and linebacker Tavares Gooden (shoulder) did not practice and were the only players not participating fully in the Friday session. Zbikowski was not expected to play against the Bengals, but the team had some hope that Gooden might play before both players were ruled out in Friday afternoon’s injury report.

Receiver David Reed (head/wrist) practiced again and was returning kicks on Friday, a good indication that the rookie will return to action after sustaining a concussion against the New Orleans Saints in Week 15. However, he is listed as questionable on the official injury report.

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Heap set to return

After practicing fully all week, tight end Todd Heap declared himself ready to return Sunday after missing three straight games with a hamstring injury sustained against Pittsburgh on December 5. The veteran said he experienced no setbacks throughout the week while handling a full practice load.

Heap is listed as questionable, but all indications point to his return against the Bengals.

“I feel good,” Heap said. “Obviously, today we went pretty hard. I came out feeling really good. I ran well, and I’m looking forward to this weekend. We’ll see how it goes Sunday.”

Heap practiced on a limited basis last week, but the team held him out in the chilly conditions at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The training staff has used a day-by-day approach to monitor his recovery since injuring the hamstring on the first play of the game against the Steelers in Week 13.

“Feel good about [his return],” Harbaugh said. “We’ll wait and see how it feels [after Friday’s practice]. What we’ve done is checked it out after every practice the next day to see how it responds. So far so good.”

With the playoffs looming next week, Heap eyed a return in the regular-season finale to regain his footing within the offense and boost his confidence physically before the stakes become much higher in January.

Rookie Ed Dickson started the last three games in Heap’s absence, catching a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in Week 15, but Baltimore tight ends went without a catch last week in Cleveland.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Heap said. “Getting your feet back under you, I definitely wanted to do that. The biggest thing for me is just make sure I’m full-go and I’m ready. Make sure the hamstring is feeling like it’s supposed to feel. I don’t want to do anything to set myself back. Still have to be smart.”

T.Ocho no-show

With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco both out for Sunday’s game in Baltimore, the Bengals receiving corps will be much quieter, but the Ravens secondary will keep a close eye on the young group that’s produced in their place.

Third-year receiver Jerome Simpson caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns in their win over the San Diego Chargers last week. Andre Caldwell was a thorn in the Ravens’ side in 2009, catching two touchdowns including the game-winning score in Baltimore.

“They have good receivers,” Harbaugh said. “They have good young guys who showed up pretty well last week. We’ll have to cover whoever they put out there, but I really like their talented young guys, and Carson [Palmer] seems comfortable with them.”

Scoreboard watching allowed

Ravens fans will certainly be keeping an eye on the happenings in Cleveland on Sunday, and Harbaugh and his team will have the opportunity to take a peak as well. When asked about Brian Billick’s past  requests that the out-of-town scores with playoff implications not be shown at M&T Bank Stadium, the current coach responded coyly.

“I didn’t know I had that kind of power,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughs from the media in attendance. “That’s good to know.”

Harbaugh said all week the Ravens will play the entire game like any other regular-season contest, regardless of what’s happening between the Browns and Steelers. However, he won’t prohibit anyone from following a major factor in the team’s playoff destination.

“I can see why you might do that, but we’ll let [the scores] be up there,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not worried about our players one bit. I know our guys will be focused, and they’re going to play the game.”

Injury report

RAVENS: OUT – S Tom Zbikowski (back), LB Tavares Gooden (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE – TE Todd Heap (thigh), WR David Reed (wrist/head) PROBABLE – C Matt Birk (knee), WR Derrick Mason (ankle/abs), CB Fabian Washington (back), LB Prescott Burgess (illness), TE Dennis Pitta (head), S Ed Reed (neck)

BENGALS: OUT – WR Chad Ochocinco (ankle) DOUBTFUL – TE Jermaine Gresham (knee) QUESTIONABLE – CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle), LB Dan Skuta (back) PROBABLE – DE Carlos Dunlap (shoulder), RB Bernard Scott (toe)

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