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Ravens grab S.C. State safety Christian Thompson with 4th-round compensatory pick

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Looking to add depth at the safety position, the Ravens selected South Carolina State safety Christian Thompson with their fourth-round compensatory pick at No. 130 overall.

After backup safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura departed in free agency, the Ravens found themselves in a tenuous situation at the position with starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard entering the final year of their respective contracts. Baltimore signed veteran Sean Considine to a one-year contract, but Thompson provides a long-term option to develop as well as an immediate special-teams contributor.

Thompson began his career at Auburn but elected to transfer to South Carolina State after receiving limited action while adjusting to playing in the secondary. He was a linebacker in high school.

“He is a hard hitter,” coach John Harbaugh said. “As [secondary coach] Teryl Austin says, he is a thick hitter. He really gets after people physically. He ended up at South Carolina State for various reasons. I think he has learned from whatever mistakes he has made.”

Thompson has ideal size for the safety position at 6-foot-0 and 211 pounds and can play either safety spot.

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Former Ravens defensive tackle Brandon McKinney latest to bolt for Indianapolis

Posted on 05 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Reserve defensive tackle Brandon McKinney became the latest defensive player to leave the Ravens and join the Indianapolis Colts.

After spending the last four seasons in Baltimore, McKinney has agreed to a two-year deal to reunite with former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. McKinney is the third former Raven to join Pagano this offseason, joining defensive end Cory Redding and safety Tom Zbikowski as the Colts switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme.

The 28-year-old McKinney collected 37 tackles in 41 games with the Ravens. He made four starts in 2010 and was a regular contributor in the defensive line rotation.

There was no apparent push by the Ravens to attempt to re-sign the unrestricted free agent as they likely will try to get younger — and cheaper — at the position.

 

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New Ravens safety Considine excited to be reunited with Harbaugh

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Luke Jones

The last of four signings announced by the Ravens last Friday drew the softest buzz, but veteran safety Sean Considine couldn’t pass on the chance to reunite with John Harbaugh.

Signing a one-year contract to boost the Ravens’ depth at safety, Considine now has the opportunity to join his former special teams coordinator and secondary coach from their days with the Philadelphia Eagles. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, Considine reaped the benefits from the leadership qualities shown by Harbaugh in Philadelphia that led to his hiring as the third head coach in the history of the Ravens in 2008.

Considine once showed more promise at safety in making 17 starts in four seasons with the Eagles, but the 29-year-old has settled into reserve roles while continuing to play special teams with Jacksonville, Carolina, and Arizona over the last three years. With the Ravens having lost reserve safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura in free agency, Considine saw a promising opportunity with Harbaugh in Baltimore.

“He’s a heck of a leader, and I’m looking forward to playing for him again,” Considine said on AM 1570 WNST on Monday. “Relationships in the NFL always come full circle. The people you know, they trust you. I think [the Ravens] are looking for a solid backup safety, a guy with a little veteran presence, a special teams guy like myself. Harbaugh knows who I am and what I am about, so it was easy to unite with him again.”

With Emanuel Cook the only other reserve safety on the roster to back up starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, Considine’s 6-foot, 212-pound frame is suited to play both safety positions if needed. The 29-year-old played in four games with Carolina last season before being released and picked up by the Arizona Cardinals following an injury to Kerry Rhodes.

Entering his eighth NFL season, Considine has played in 83 career games while notching 253 career tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, four interceptions, five fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles. He has also made 93 special teams tackles over his career.

Much like newly-signed cornerback Corey Graham, Considine has been a regular contributor to all special teams units and embraces the phase of the game young players sometimes view as a demotion when not in the starting offense or defense.

“I play all four phases [of special teams], and I really enjoy it,” Considine said. “It’s an important part of the game and you can put in the same amount work in film study that you do if you are defensive or offensive starter. That’s what I like to do. I take it seriously, and I usually have pretty good success playing special teams.”

With veteran linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo questioning the effort of the team’s young players on special teams last season, the additions of Graham and Considine speak to a concerted effort to improve kick coverage and generate more production in the return game. The Ravens finished 30th in special teams, according to FootballOutsiders.com, while ranking 31st in kickoff coverage and 24th in punt coverage.

Considine hopes his experience and commitment to special teams will help reverse the misfortune that has placed special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg under scrutiny for the 2012 season.

“I know coach Harbaugh, and I know how much pride he takes in the special teams units coming from his background,” Considine said. “They weren’t playing up to their standards in special teams last year, and they are looking to improve just like every other team is looking to improve in all phases. So, hopefully I’ll be a part of that solution.”

To hear Sean Considine’s entire conversation with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark, click HERE.

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Former Ravens safety Zbikowski joining Redding, Pagano in Indianapolis

Posted on 16 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Backup safety and kick returner Tom Zbikowski has reportedly agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

The fifth-year safety will be reunited with former Baltimore defensive coordinator and Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano, according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. Former Ravens defensive end Cory Redding signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract to join the Colts on Wednesday, making Zbikowski the second Baltimore player to follow his coordinator to Indianapolis.

Much like fellow reserve safety Haruki Nakamura, who signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers earlier in the day on Friday, Zbikowski’s departure is more about a desire to earn more playing time than it was about money. A third-round pick in the 2008 draft, Zbikowski made 14 career starts in his four seasons with the Ravens, including filling in for the first six games of the 2010 season while All-Pro safety Ed Reed was on the physically unable to perform list due to a hip injury.

Zbikowski began the 2011 season starting at strong safety opposite Reed before a concussion sidelined him for two games and he was replaced by Bernard Pollard. The former Notre Dame product became the team’s primary kick returner late in the season.

His departure now leaves special-teams contributor Emanuel Cook as the only reserve safety remaining from last season’s roster. The Ravens claimed Cook off waivers from the New York Jets in late November last season.

An Illinois native, Zbikowski will now have the opportunity to play closer to home as well as compete for a starting job in Indianapolis.

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Reserve safety Nakamura latest to leave Ravens in free agency

Posted on 16 March 2012 by Luke Jones

The free agency news didn’t get any better for the Ravens on Friday as reserve safety Haruki Nakamura has reportedly become the fourth unrestricted free agent to leave Baltimore.

Nakamura has reportedly agreed to a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers, according to a Scout.com report. A sixth-round pick in the 2008 draft, the 25-year-old defensive back was one of the Ravens’ top special teams players and a key defensive reserve in his four years with the Ravens.

“Having the teammates that I had, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find teammates like I had in Baltimore,” Nakamura told AM 1570 WNST before the start of free agency. “My four years here in Baltimore were unbelievable. There’s a true tradition here in the building.”

With Nakamura and fellow 2008 draft pick Tom Zbikowski stuck behind starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard on the depth chart at safety, it was expected that the Ravens would have difficulty keeping either player without an immediate opportunity to earn more playing time.

Able to play both safety positions and occasionally filling in as a nickel or dime back when needed, Nakamura expressed a preference to find a free-agent destination where he would receive more defensive snaps despite his fondness for Baltimore.

He’ll have that opportunity in Carolina.

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Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the fate of Ravens’ free agents

Posted on 08 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 12 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and seven exclusive rights free agents.

As of Thursday afternoon, the 2012 salary cap had yet to be set, but most reports indicate it will remain right around the $120 million used for the 2011 season. The Ravens are projected to have somewhere between $11 and $12 million in cap space, depending on what the final cap number will be.

Franchise tag

RB Ray Rice: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement with Rice or he will play for the $7.7 million salary mandated by the franchise tag for running backs.

Unrestricted free agents

G Ben Grubbs: LEAVES
Skinny: General manager Ozzie Newsome expressed optimism at the NFL Combine, but the Ravens won’t engage in a bidding war when Grubbs hits the open market. 

C Matt Birk: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens will meet with Birk’s agent Joe Linta next week and could sign the veteran to a cap-friendly, short-term deal to finish his career in Baltimore. 

LB Jarret Johnson: LEAVES
Skinny: Despite little depth at outside linebacker, the Ravens appear ready to move on and won’t be able to afford Johnson in a thin market for linebackers. 

LB Jameel McClain: LEAVES
Skinny: Assuming the Ravens do not strike a deal for Grubbs, some of that money could be allocated to retain McClain, but other teams historically throw too much money at Baltimore linebackers in the open market. 

DE Cory Redding: STAYS
Skinny: Though third-year defensive lineman Arthur Jones could step into the starting lineup, Redding might have more value to the Ravens than other potential suitors at this stage in his career. 

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo: STAYS
Skinny: With the lack of depth at inside linebacker and Ayanbadejo’s ability in pass coverage, the Ravens will hold onto the 35-year-old at a lower rate than the four-year contract he signed with the team in 2008. 

S Tom Zbikowski: LEAVES
Skinny: After four years serving primarily as a backup, the former Notre Dame product is looking for an opportunity to start elsewhere and doesn’t bring enough to the table as a special teams player to warrant overpaying. 

S Haruki Nakamura: STAYS
Skinny: In the same position as Zbikowski, Nakamura’s versatility as a defensive back as well as his special teams prowess will force the Ravens to pony up a little extra to keep him in Baltimore. 

OL Andre Gurode: LEAVES
Skinny: With the Ravens looking to select an interior lineman or two in April’s draft, the five-time Pro Bowl center will continue his career elsewhere. 

DT Brandon McKinney: STAYS
Skinny: A solid member of the defensive line rotation, McKinney won’t figure to draw a ton of interest on the open market, and the Ravens want to maintain their depth up front. 

TE Kris Wilson: LEAVES
Skinny: Adding a veteran tight end was a shrewd move after Todd Heap’s release last season, but Wilson’s spot will be assumed by a younger, cheaper option. 

LB Edgar Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: Injuries opened the door for Jones’ return last season, but he wouldn’t figure to fit into the team’s plans for the 2012 season. 

Restricted free agents

(The Ravens can offer a first-round, second-round, or low tender to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted.)

CB Lardarius Webb: STAYS
Skinny: Webb will receive the first-round tender worth roughly $2.75 million as the Ravens will explore a long-term agreement with the fourth-year cornerback. 

CB Cary Williams: STAYS
Skinny: A report indicated the Ravens will offer Williams a first-round tender, but the second-round designation (an estimated $1.9 million) saves money and would still deter teams from trying to pry away the biggest surprise of the 2011 season.

LB Dannell Ellerbe: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens could roll the dice and offer the low tender ($1.25 million) to the inconsistent linebacker, but that would mean they wouldn’t receive a pick (Ellerbe was an undrafted free agent) if they declined to match a potential offer sheet.

RB Matt Lawrence: LEAVES
Skinny: Even with little depth at running back behind Ray Rice, there’s no way to justify even offering the low tender to the oft-injured running back entering his fourth season.

Exclusive rights free agents

(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest special teams needs

Posted on 17 February 2012 by Luke Jones

As the start of free agency moves closer and teams prepare for April’s draft, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

Earlier in the week, I looked at Baltimore’s biggest needs on offense as well as essentials for the defense. In the conclusion of a three-part series, we finally take a long at the often-forgotten but always-important phase of the game: special teams.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron undoubtedly receives the most criticism among the coaches on the Ravens staff, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg may deserve the most heat after a disappointing 2011 season. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Ravens’ special teams ranked 30th in the league in a percentage contrived from efficiency in field goals, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns.

Looking from a more simplistic stance, Rosburg’s units struggled in both kickoff coverage (31st) and punt coverage (24th) and allowed three returns for touchdowns. In the return game, the Ravens ranked ninth in kickoff return average and 19th in punt return average, rarely getting a significant spark from either group as injuries and ineffectiveness forced them to shuffle returners in and out of the lineup.

Kicker Billy Cundiff converted only 75.7 percent of his field goal attempts, ranking 28th in the league. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker made only one of six attempts from 50 or more yards and was only 11-for-20 away from M&T Bank Stadium — where he was perfect on 17 attempts. And that’s not even taking into account his heartbreaking 32-yard miss in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that would have sent the Ravens into overtime against New England.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, punter Sam Koch ranked 10th in punt average (46.5 yards) but 19th in net average, which was affected by the Ravens’ suspect coverage.

While it’s difficult to target a laundry list of special teams’ needs from a position-by-position standpoint — the units simply need to improve across the board — but two positions stand out this offseason.

1. Kicker

Before you get carried away, this isn’t the pitchfork mentality we’re talking about here. Cundiff isn’t going anywhere for now. However, his disappointing season topped off by the most devastating moment in the 16-year history of the franchise can’t be forgotten as the Ravens assess their special teams.

To their credit, the organization and Cundiff have handled the miss with as much dignity as can be expected, with no one publicly questioning whether the Ravens should have kept veteran Shayne Graham to kick in the postseason. It’s been a credit to coach John Harbaugh and the family atmosphere in the locker room.

But what everyone is thinking privately is a different story. In his defense, Cundiff battled a left calf injury late in the season, but it doesn’t excuse what was a very inconsistent year after signing a five-year contract last January. For a kicker without a proven track record beyond his Pro Bowl season a year ago, Cundiff may have reverted back to the inconsistent performer seen early in his career.

The Ravens need to bring in another kicker to seriously compete against Cundiff during the preseason. The organization will keep Cundiff for now in hopes of avoiding the situation in which they found themselves in 2009 after parting company with Matt Stover. Neither Steve Hauschka nor Graham Gano were fit for the job, forcing the Ravens to scramble during the regular season until they settled on Cundiff.

It needs to be a serious competition, whether the Ravens elect to find a rookie coming out of college such as Randy Bullock of Texas A&M or a veteran on the open market. Graham wasn’t good enough to win the competition against Cundiff two years ago and has struggled with long-distance kicks in recent years, so it makes little sense to bring him back for the competition.

Even if Cundiff performs admirably in the preseason and wins the battle, the Ravens and their fans simply won’t know whether he’s recovered from the disappointment in Foxborough until he finds himself in another late-game situation. It’s difficult to envision the Ravens ever fully trusting Cundiff again, but they’ll at least give him a chance in the preseason before moving on for good.

2. Kickoff-Punt Returner

The Ravens had 10 different players return kickoffs — three of those only returned squibs or pooch kicks —  in 2011 and never found stability at the position. Second-year return specialist David Reed was demoted after two fumbles on returns against the Seattle Seahawks and then tore his ACL when he finally earned another opportunity to handle kickoffs.

While Reed will certainly find himself in the mix if he proves healthy in recovering from the knee injury this offseason, the Ravens must look to add an impact returner, preferably someone who can handle both kickoffs and punts to allow Lardarius Webb to focus solely on his duties at cornerback. Field position is critical, and the return units rarely aided the Ravens offense in setting it up on a shorter field.

Of course, the new kickoff rule limited many returners across the league, but the Ravens cannot settle for a returner downing the ball in the end zone constantly as they did down the stretch with reserve safety Tom Zbikowski this past season.

The Ravens could look to the draft for a returner such as Arkansas receiver Joe Adams in the middle rounds, who could add depth in both areas. One name to keep an eye on in the preseason is receiver Phillip Livas, who was signed to the practice squad in the final weeks of the season. Though only 5-foot-8, Livas was a record-setting return man at Louisiana Tech and could be a sleeper to watch in the preseason.

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest defensive needs

Posted on 15 February 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on March 13 and the draft to follow in late April, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

After evaluating the biggest offensive needs on Monday, I offer my thoughts on the defensive side of the football by ranking the biggest positions of need entering the offseason.

1. Outside linebacker

For a team as rich as any at the linebacker position over the last 15 years, it’s unusual to see the Ravens with such glaring needs within the unit. Veteran Jarret Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and will be 31 by the start of the 2012 season, suggesting he would be a necessary casualty when addressing a list of 13 unrestricted free agents.

However, there isn’t a single option on the roster with which the Ravens would feel comfortable as a starting strongside linebacker. Paul Kruger shows ability as a pass rusher but has not shown the necessary ability in pass coverage or run defense to consider him an option as a three-down player at this point.

After appearing in only two games this past season, former second-round pick Sergio Kindle is probably more likely to be cut than to find himself in the starting lineup next season. The former Texas product has struggled to learn the Baltimore defense and still feels effects of a fractured skull suffered just days before what would have been his first training camp in 2010, but the 24-year-old will benefit from a full offseason at the team’s Owings Mills facility. Along the same lines as Kindle, Michael McAdoo — who spent the 2011 season on injured reserve — is an intriguing name to monitor but shouldn’t be in the discussion for a starting position at this point.

With that in mind, the Ravens might be more inclined to re-sign Johnson than many would think. Much like they did with Ray Lewis in the winter of 2009, the Ravens will allow the veteran linebacker to explore his value in the open market and see if they can come to an agreement that makes sense for both sides. Of course, new Indianapolis head coach and former Ravens defense coordinator Chuck Pagano could try to overpay for Johnson to bring a Baltimore flavor to the Colts defense. One factor working against the Ravens is a relatively-thin market for outside linebackers, which would not only drive up the price for Johnson but also mean they’d still have to pay handsomely for a replacement.

The Ravens would love to find a young outside backer who can play the run as effectively as Johnson while showing more ability in pass coverage. They could look to a draft prospect such as North Carolina’s Zach Brown, Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis, or Utah State’s Bobby Wagner in the early rounds, but the Ravens have rarely shown enough confidence in rookies to step into a starting job at the linebacker position.

The dream scenario would be to find an outside linebacker with enough pass-rushing ability to alleviate attention from Terrell Suggs on the opposite side, but Kruger did an adequate job in getting after the quarterback in passing situations.

2. Inside linebacker

The talk has only grown louder regarding the need to find the heir apparent to future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but the Ravens first need to figure out who will be playing next to him in 2012.

Jameel McClain is an unrestricted free agent and while the Ravens have to be pleased with his development after signing him as a rookie free agent in 2008, the 26-year-old will likely command more money than Baltimore is willing to pay to retain his services. This would leave Dannell Ellerbe, Albert McClellan, and Josh Bynes as potential replacements. Ellerbe is an restricted free agent while the latter two are exclusive rights players, meaning all three are very likely to return.

Veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo is also a free agent, meaning the Ravens could be in danger of losing arguably their best linebacker in terms of pass coverage.

Ellerbe has shown impressive potential in limited doses, but his work ethic has come into question on a number of occasions to draw the ire of coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens might be content with plugging Ellerbe into the other inside linebacker spot for now, but he’s far from a safe bet to be an answer beyond the 2012 season.

The Ravens face a difficult proposition in how to handle Lewis, who still plays the run effectively but is a liability in pass coverage. The prudent answer would be to limit the veteran to action on first and second down, but explaining that to one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history is easier said than done. You also need to have a viable replacement before you tell the defensive leader he comes off the field in passing situations.

While there has been plenty of talk over the last year or two to find Lewis’ eventual replacement, this year’s draft appears to be a critical time to find an up-and-coming inside linebacker. The Ravens have been linked to both Dont’a Hightower of Alabama and Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State in various mock drafts. The problem is Hightower may be off the board by the time the 29th pick rolls around and Burfict’s character has come into question with a reputation for delivering cheap shots and reportedly sucker-punching a teammate in practice last August.

3. Safety*

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Sizing up the Ravens’ 2012 free-agent class

Posted on 26 January 2012 by Luke Jones

In the aftermath of the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship on Sunday, the finality of the season coming to an abrupt end was accompanied by the all-too-familiar feeling knowing that same team will never be together again.

The reality of the NFL’s offseason brings substantial change to all 32 teams — some more than others — and forces players to say goodbye to others for the final time as teammates.

“It’s tough to really think about that,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know which guys it’s going to be, so it’s tough to be in our shoes and go through that. You finally just take it for what it is, and before you know it, you hope you had a good relationship with everybody on the team and said as much as you could say to that guy. We hope we can bring as many people back as we can.”

While other moves will be made — cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans are the strongest candidates to be cut despite being under contract for the 2012 season — the Ravens have 13 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and four exclusive-rights free agents entering the offseason. I’ve included the entire list with a brief thought on each player’s potential future in Baltimore.

Two dates to keep in mind as the offseason begins are the March 5 deadline to designate a franchise player and the start of free agency on March 13 at 4:00 p.m.

Unrestricted free agents

RB Ray Rice
2011 stats: 16 starts, 2,068 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns
Skinny: Rice isn’t going anywhere as the Ravens will either use their franchise tag on the Pro Bowl back or sign him to a long-term deal, though the latter would certainly create more cap space for 2012.

G Ben Grubbs
2011 stats: 10 starts, first Pro Bowl selection
Skinny: The Ravens clearly would like to bring the left guard back, but with Marshal Yanda receiving a sizable deal a few months ago, can the organization afford to invest so much money in the guard position?

C Matt Birk
2011 stats: 16 starts
Skinny: After 14 seasons in the league, Birk may decide to retire, but the Ravens could elect to go with the slightly-younger Andre Gurode or look to the draft for the center position.

LB Jarret Johnson
2011 stats: 16 starts, 56 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks
Skinny: With Johnson on the wrong side of 30, it might be time to part ways with the veteran linebacker, but the Ravens lack a logical replacement on the current roster with the disappointing development of 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle and the limitations of pass rusher Paul Kruger.

LB Jameel McClain
2011 stats: 16 starts, 81 tackles, one sack, one interception
Skinny: The former undrafted free agent credits Ray Lewis for his growth, so you have to wonder if McClain becomes the next Baltimore linebacker to receive an inflated contract elsewhere.

DE Cory Redding
2011 stats: 15 games (11 starts), 43 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks
Skinny: Before an ankle injury slowed Redding over the final month of 2011, he was having his best season in years, but the Ravens could elect to go with younger — and cheaper — defensive lineman Arthur Jones at this position.

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo
2011 stats: 16 games, 27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, nine special teams tackles
Skinny: The 35-year-old intends to play in 2012 and expects to be back with the Ravens, but the nickel linebacker may not be on the same page as Baltimore in terms of a contract to make his return feasible.

S Tom Zbikowski
2011 stats: 14 games (four starts), 16 tackles, one sack
Skinny: Largely a forgotten man after Bernard Pollard wrestled away the strong safety job early in the season, it appears Zbikowski will likely try to find a new home where he can start.

S Haruki Nakamura
2011 stats: 15 games, three tackles, nine special-teams tackles
Skinny: In a similar position to Zbikowski, the Ravens will likely make a harder push to keep Nakamura due to his exceptional ability as as special teams player.

OL Andre Gurode
2011 stats: 13 games (five starts)
Skinny: Signed as an insurance policy behind Matt Birk, the 10-year veteran wound up being needed at left guard for an injured Grubbs and could be the short-term replacement at center next season.

DT Brandon McKinney
2011 stats: 12 games, 14 tackles
Skinny: A regular part of the rotation along the defensive line, it’s hard to envision teams beating down McKinney’s door, but the Ravens may try to go younger and cheaper than the six-year veteran.

TE Kris Wilson
2011 stats: 15 games, four special teams tackles
Skinny: His touchdown catch in the divisional round was his claim to fame, but the veteran’s competent special teams ability may not be enough to keep him in Baltimore next season.

LB Edgar Jones
2011 stats: nine games, three special teams tackles
Skinny: Though he was active all nine games after being signed in early November, there’s a reason why Jones was unemployed when the Ravens were looking for special-teams depth.

Restricted free agents
(The Ravens can offer a tender attached to a draft pick and then have the right to match any offer from an opposing team and would receive that team’s draft pick if they choose not to match it.)

CB Lardarius Webb
2011 stats: 16 games (15 starts), 68 tackles, five interceptions, sack
Skinny: With another season like he had in 2011, Webb will be looking for a large payday and deservedly so.

CB Cary Williams
2011 stats: 16 starts, 77 tackles, two forced fumbles
Skinny: Easily the most pleasant surprise on the Baltimore defense, Williams will battle 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith for a starting corner job in training camp.

LB Dannell Ellerbe
2011 stats: nine games (three starts), 17 tackles
Skinny: The third-year linebacker always leaves you wanting more but could find himself in position to compete for a starting role depending on how the Ravens address the inside linebacker position this offseason.

RB Matt Lawrence
2011 stats: Did not play (injured reserve)
Skinny: Though a competent special-teams player when he’s been healthy in his three-year career, you have to think the Ravens are ready to cut ties with the injury-plagued back.

Exclusive-rights free agents
(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

LS Morgan Cox
2011 stats: 16 games
Skinny: There’s no reason to think the Ravens are displeased with Cox’s performance as the long snapper.

CB Danny Gorrer
2011 stats: 11 games, three tackles, four pass breakups
Skinny: Considering he was pushing Chris Carr for the No. 4 corner spot by season’s end and was strong on special teams, Gorrer should have no reason to think the Ravens won’t bring him back.

LB Sergio Kindle
2011 stats: two games
Skinny: The Ravens will bring Kindle back, but he’ll need to make major strides in the offseason and training camp to make the 53-man roster again.

LB Albert McClellan
2011 stats: 16 games (one start), seven tackles, 12 special teams tackles
Skinny: He drew a start for the injured Ray Lewis on Thanksgiving night and is one of the best special teams players on the team, making his return a certainty.

 

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Ravens’ Pagano to become next head coach of Colts

Posted on 25 January 2012 by Luke Jones

In what’s easily been the most frustrating week in the history of the franchise, the Ravens will now need to look for a new defensive coordinator as Chuck Pagano has been hired as the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Leading the Ravens to the No. 3 overall defensive ranking in his first season as coordinator, Pagano interviewed with Indianapolis on Tuesday before being offered the job on Wednesday. The 51-year-old spent three seasons as the Baltimore secondary coach before being promoted to replace former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison last offseason.

“It’s difficult to leave the Ravens but I couldn’t pass up on this great opportunity,” Pagano said to the Ravens’ official website. “I’m just thrilled and so excited.”

Pagano was extremely popular with his defensive players and brought a more aggressive play-calling style than Mattison, helping the Ravens improve from a franchise-low 27 sacks in 2010 to an AFC-best 48 this season.

“He just had an inkling for [making the right calls],” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo told AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday afternoon. “More than anything, he wasn’t going to rely on just going vanilla and saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to beat everybody just going vanilla.’ That’s what coach Mattison liked to do.”

The Ravens sent four defensive starters to the Pro Bowl this year, including linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and free safety Ed Reed.

Pagano will be introduced to the Indianapolis media in a press conference on Thursday afternoon. The Colts fired general manager Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell following a disastrous 2-14 season without quarterback Peyton Manning.

“We are so happy for Chuck, [his wife] Tina and their daughters,” coach John Harbaugh said in an official statement. “We are proud of him. Like me, Chuck grew up in the game and loves it. We will miss him and thank him for all he did for the Ravens.”

The 51-year-old will likely usher in a new era with Indianapolis primed to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in April’s draft. Ayanbadejo said the Colts will immediately take to Pagano’s infectious personality.

“He was one of those guys [where] it was like he was out on the field of battle with you and you’d never want to let him down, because he’s such a good guy,” Ayanbadejo said. “He’s also a family guy and a great person. You really felt like you knew him, and more than anything, you just didn’t want to let him down.”

Pagano had previous stints as a defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders and also coached at several colleges, including most recently at the University of North Carolina before being hired by Harbaugh in 2008.

The Ravens will also wonder what impact Pagano’s departure might have on their list of defensive players with expiring contracts. Linebackers Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, and Ayanbadejo, defensive end Cory Redding, safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, and defensive tackle Brandon McKinney are all set to become unrestricted free agents and could now view Indianapolis as a viable alternative to the Ravens, who will not have a great deal of salary cap space.

After former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was hired as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2009, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard joined him in the Big Apple as free-agent signings.

Baltimore will now have its fourth defensive coordinator in five years after Rex Ryan, Mattison, and Pagano all held the job under Harbaugh. The most logical in-house candidate to fill the role would be linebackers coach Dean Pees, who was the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots from 2006 to 2009 before moving on to Baltimore.

“I don’t think you’ll see any letdown if Dean Pees takes over,” said Ayanbadejo, who described Pees’ relationship with players as one based more on respect than the emotional Pagano. “You might even see a better defense if Dean Pees takes over because he likes things done a certain way, and he’s really particular about the way he does things.”

Pagano becomes the fourth defensive coordinator in the history of the franchise to depart for a head coaching position elsewhere, joining Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, and Ryan.

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