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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest defensive needs

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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

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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

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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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Your Monday Reality Check-Cameron Future Only Part of Postseason Agenda

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Your Monday Reality Check-Cameron Future Only Part of Postseason Agenda

Posted on 23 January 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve had the opportunity to make a number of radio appearances throughout the country during the last few weeks while the Baltimore Ravens marched along in the National Football League playoffs.

In virtually every conversation, I was asked a question about how the outcome of the next game could alter the future of Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron in Charm City.

It always felt a little strange to be asked about Cam Cameron. Usually I only hear Cam Cameron’s name when a listener/caller screams at me about him. It’s never in the form of a question.

After the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium, it didn’t take 30 minutes for the screaming to start again. It was a bit odd considering there was really no way Cameron could be blamed for the loss in Foxborough.

The reality is that as the team’s offseason officially got underway, Cameron sits at the forefront. His future can only be labeled as “to be determined”, as his contract expires with the end of the season.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens’ coaching staff are headed to Mobile, AL this week for scouting at the annual Senior Bowl. It would seem as though the team wouldn’t want the situation with Cameron to linger far into the offseason, especially if they ultimately decide not to retain Cameron after four playoff trips in four seasons and have to find a new coordinator without a likely replacement on staff.

(That’s not an endorsement for either decision. It’s just a fact. I’m actually indifferent towards the situation, as I believe any coordinator in 2012 would need more offensive talent to work with.)

The next pressing situation remains on offense. The team’s Most Valuable Player in 2012 (RB Ray Rice) becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at a time where NFL teams have been particularly unwilling to invest in long term deals for running backs. Also hitting unrestricted free agency is LG Ben Grubbs, who has never reached a Pro Bowl but has certainly played at a Pro Bowl level. (Monday update: Grubbs will in fact be making his first trip to Hawaii this season as a replacement for Patriots G Logan Mankins.)

There is a likelihood that the Franchise tag will come into play with one of the above players, as it did with DT Haloti Ngata last season before a long-term deal was reached.

DE Cory Redding, LB’s Jarret Johnson & Jameel McClain and S’s Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura highlight other Ravens who become Unrestricted Free Agents. LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (who has publicly stated he would like to play another season) is also on the UFA list, as are OL Andre Gurode, TE Kris Wilson, DT Brandon McKinney and LB Edgar Jones.

(CB’s Cary Williams & Lardarius Webb as well as LB Dannell Ellerbe are restricted free agents, all are expected to return.)

Also on the list of Unrestricted Free Agents is C Matt Birk, who denied a CBS report earlier this month that he had already decided to retire at the end of the season. With no “center of the future” clearly on the roster, it may behoove the team to bring the big man from Harvard back for one more season if he’s interested.

While we await Birk’s decision about his future, future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis told reporters in New England he intends to return to Baltimore for a 17th season. S Ed Reed’s future isn’t quite as defined, as he did not speak to reporters after suffering his second AFC title game defeat. Nagging back and neck issues appeared to affect Reed’s play at the end of the season, but he came with big plays in both playoff games.

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All Ravens players present for Thursday’s practice

Posted on 12 January 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — For the second straight day, the Ravens sent a full squad to the practice field as they continued preparations for this weekend’s divisional playoff game with Houston.

Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo sported a blue cap on top of his helmet, an indication that the special teams ace would be limited for the second straight day. The 35-year-old continues to treatment for a sprained quadriceps muscle and appears to be the Ravens’ only real question mark for Sunday’s game.

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (knee), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (head), cornerback Jimmy Smith (head), and safety Tom Zbikowski (head) were all practicing again after being listed as full participants for practice on Wednesday’s injury report.

Referee Pete Morelli and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game in Baltimore.

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Ravens, Texans offer favorable injury reports on Wednesday

Posted on 11 January 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If Wednesday’s injury report was any indication, there may not be much drama this week in terms of who will be suiting up in the divisional playoff game between the Ravens and the Houston Texans.

Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was the only limited participant for the Ravens during their first full practice of the week. The 35-year-old linebacker sprained his quadriceps muscle in the season finale against Cincinnati.

Surprisingly, linebacker Jameel McClain was not listed on the injury report, suggesting the sprained MCL he suffered against the Bengals is close to 100 percent. The fourth-year inside backer missed both practices during the bye week, though an official injury report was not released.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, safety Tom Zbikowski, and cornerback Jimmy Smith all participated fully after being cleared for their respective concussion issues. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was also a full participant after coach John Harbaugh declared him “fine” prior to practice.

Meanwhile, Houston provided a favorable report despite being ravaged with injuries throughout the season. Tight end Owen Daniels practiced on a limited basis after injuring his hand in the Texans’ wild-card win over Cincinnati last Saturday. Reports have suggested the tight end may need to wear a cast during Sunday’s game.

Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson was limited in Wednesday’s practice, but he said in a teleconference with the Baltimore media that his hamstring has held up well over the last couple weeks.

BALTIMORE
LIMITED: LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Anquan Boldin (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (head), CB Jimmy Smith (head), S Tom Zbikowski (head)

HOUSTON
LIMITED: G Mike Brisiel (ankle), TE Owen Daniels (hand/knee), WR Andre Johnson (knee), S Troy Nolan (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Mister Alexander (shoulder), CB Jason Allen (thumb), LB Bryan Braman (neck), FB James Casey (knee/foot), NT Shaun Cody (knee), TE Joel Dreessen (knee), CB Sherrick McManis (ankle), C Chris Myers (knee), LB Brooks Reed (knee), RB Ben Tate (shoulder), T Eric Winston (calf), QB T.J. Yates (left shoulder)

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Ravens take practice field with full squad on Wednesday

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Ravens take practice field with full squad on Wednesday

Posted on 11 January 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After John Harbaugh said on Monday he expected all players to be available against the Houston Texans on Sunday, Wednesday’s practice strongly supported the Ravens coach’s optimistic outlook.

All players were present and working during the portion of practice open to the media, with linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps) appearing to be working on a limited basis. Linebacker Jameel McClain (knee) was moving well during the special teams portion of practice reporters were allowed to watch. Ayanbadejo’s sprained quadriceps muscle is considered to be the more concerning ailment that could affect his status in the divisional round.

“Jameel and Brendon continue to rehab and are making good progress,” Harbaugh said before Wednesday’s practice. “Again, we’ll have to see how it goes, but we do anticipate them playing on Sunday.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith, safety Tom Zbikowski, and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe were all practicing after passing concussion tests, allowing them to take part in contact. Smith and Zbikowski sustained concussions against Cincinnati in Week 17 while Ellerbe suffered his against the Cleveland Browns in Week 16, which forced him to miss the regular-season finale.

“The three guys who had the concussion issues have all been cleared as we anticipated, so they’re good to go.”

Wednesday only added to the growing tough-as-nails reputation of Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, who revealed to reporters he underwent emergency compartment syndrome surgery on his leg on Christmas Eve night following the Ravens’ 24-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. While most concern previously centered around the contusion he suffered after taking a knee to the ribcage, Yanda underwent the procedure after taking a leg whip to the calf area.

Amazingly enough, Yanda was able to play — and perform at a high level — the following week against Cincinnati to close the regular season as the Ravens clinched their first AFC North title since 2006.

“It’s over with now,” Yanda said. “I got the stitches out. Your muscle swells up. They had to do emergency surgery that night and slit the muscle open to relieve the pressure.”

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Terrell Suggs right here.

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Ravens feeling fine with bye week behind them, Houston ahead

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Ravens feeling fine with bye week behind them, Houston ahead

Posted on 09 January 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the luxury of an extra week of rest and treatment for their ailing players, the Ravens appear to have taken full advantage of their bye week as they now shift their focuses to the AFC South champion Texans.

Six days before Houston travels to M&T Bank Stadium for the divisional round, the Ravens look to be as healthy as they can reasonably expect after the extensive infirmary report that plagued them during the final few weeks of the regular season.

“We look good,” Harbaugh said. “[I] anticipate everybody playing in the game.”

The two biggest concerns appear to be linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo. McClain did not practice during the bye week after spraining his MCL in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. Ayanbadejo is dealing with a quadriceps injury and sat out all last week and appears to be the more concerning injury of the two at this point.

However, Harbaugh says both are improving after the extra week to rest.

“Jameel and Brendon are working through their knee issues, but they should be good,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see how they practice.”

The Ravens have dealt with a number of concussed players over the final weeks of the season, but Harbaugh expects cornerback Jimmy Smith, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and safety Tom Zbikowski to all be available against the Texans. The three have not been allowed to partake in contact but are expected to be cleared by Tuesday, according to the Baltimore coach.

There is also no apparent concern over the status of veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who missed the final two games of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus, an injury he dealt with the entire season before it grew worse in late December. Boldin participated in practice last week and told reporters he is feeling better than he had all season long prior to the procedure.

“He looks fine, and he’s been running on it,” Harbaugh said. “So, he should be 100 percent.”

Harbaugh also eliminated any lingering doubt regarding the health of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis. The 36-year-old’s play has come under scrutiny since returning in Week 15 after missing four games with a turf toe injury. His struggles in pass coverage have been the main focus of criticism, causing some to suggest the possibility of Lewis coming off the field in passing situations.

Although Lewis sat out both practices during the bye week, his head coach insists he is playing at full strength.

“He’s 100 percent,” Harbaugh said. “Any report to the contrary is absolutely untrue. His toe is 100 percent. [It] has been for a couple weeks.”

The Ravens conducted a light practice on Monday and will receive their customary day off on Tuesday before returning to work on Wednesday morning to continue preparations for the Texans, whom the Ravens defeated 29-14 in Baltimore on Oct. 16.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from John Harbaugh as well as veterans Cory Redding and Matt Birk right here.

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Ravens back to practice during bye week minus six players

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Ravens back to practice during bye week minus six players

Posted on 04 January 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 4:45 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Beginning preparations for any one of three opponents when they return to action a week from Sunday, the Ravens returned to the practice field to stay sharp while completing some self-evaluation during their bye week.

In a practice that resembled one you might see in training camp with apparatuses being used for tight ends and running backs to fire out of their stance in a low position, six players were missing during the portion of practice open to the media.

Linebackers Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain (MCL sprain), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, guards Marshal Yanda (chest) and Ben Grubbs were not present as the rest of the team practiced on its indoor field to stay away from the bitter cold in Owings Mills. Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps) was on the field but was not working before he walked off as the viewing portion of practice concluded.

Yanda’s absence was not surprising given the impressive display of courage he put forth in playing at a high level against the Bengals despite suffering from rib and thigh contusions that kept him out of practice for most of the week leading up to the Week 17 showdown. Needless to say, the bye couldn’t come at a better time for the Pro Bowl right guard.

“It will be huge,” Yanda said. “Get that extra week of recovery, and that’s just money to heal and be ready to play whoever we play next Sunday.”

Meanwhile, the sight of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and defensive backs Tom Zbikowski and Jimmy Smith all practicing was an encouraging one as all three have suffered concussions over the last two weeks. Ellerbe was inactive for the Ravens’ 24-16 win over the Bengals to conclude the regular season after suffering his on Christmas Eve while the latter two sustained concussions against Cincinnati. With the Ravens not participating in any contact drills this week, it is unclear whether the three concussed players have been officially cleared.

As anticipated, wide receiver Anquan Boldin (knee) was practicing and appeared to be moving well during the open portion of practice. The veteran practiced on a limited basis on Friday before missing his second straight game on Sunday.

With the Ravens releasing veteran kicker Shayne Graham on Tuesday, it was a clear sign that Billy Cundiff is finally over the left calf issue that forced him out of the Ravens’ Week 16 win over Cleveland. Cundiff expressed frustration with being unable to kick with authority during the month of December, especially on kickoffs where the 2010 Pro Bowl kicker excels.

“It sucked not knowing if [the calf] would hold up, that’s not the best feeling,” Cundiff said. “Not being able to be aggressive, not being able to know if it’s going to hold up, not having the power really to pull when I plant, that affects being aggressive. For me to be able to actually get through a game and be able to do the things that I’m supposed to do, I’ve got to have the strength first and foremost.”

Since they are not playing a game this weekend, the Ravens did not release an injury report following Wednesday’s practice.

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Ravens have plenty on their plate during bye week

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Ravens have plenty on their plate during bye week

Posted on 02 January 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With John Harbaugh giving his players two days off following their 24-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that secured an AFC North title and a first-round bye, the coach was surprised to see roughly half the team at the Ravens’ training facility on Monday morning.

Of course, many were receiving treatment in the training room as the Ravens deal with a laundry list of ailments and injuries after completing the regular season with a 12-4 record. Securing their first bye since the 2006 season, the Ravens enjoy the benefit of extra time to heal while feeling the accomplishment of advancing to the divisional round without having to endure another 60 minutes of football.

“[The bye] counts as a win,” Harbaugh said. “This win was kind of a one-for-two. We won one game, we got two wins. So, that’s big.”

All 12 playoff teams would reap the benefit of an extra week off after the rigors of a four-month season, but the Ravens’ large number of injuries made the accomplishment all the more important for their Super Bowl aspirations. Listening to Harbaugh run down the list of injuries made it clear.

The most serious of the injuries appears to be the MCL sprain suffered by linebacker Jameel McClain. The injury is not considered serious, according to Harbaugh, but the inside linebacker will likely be held out of practices on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety Tom Zbikowski were feeling no lingering symptoms on Monday from the concussions they sustained against Cincinnati. They will need to be cleared this week, but Harbaugh remained optimistic about a quick recovery time for both. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is also improving despite being sidelined against the Bengals from the concussion he suffered against Cleveland on Christmas Eve.

Safety Bernard Pollard is dealing with a sprained wrist and an elbow contusion while defensive tackle Haloti Ngata suffered an elbow laceration. Despite suffering a left hip sprain during Sunday’s game, defensive tackle Terrence Cody was able to return.

After one of the guttiest performances in the history of the franchise, guard Marshal Yanda is dealing with soreness but made it through Sunday’s game without re-aggravating rib and thigh contusions.

Harbaugh also confirmed kicker Billy Cundiff felt good after resuming kicking duties against the Bengals. He will remain the Ravens’ kicker as long as he is healthy, leaving veteran Shayne Graham’s future in doubt as the Ravens move into the postseason.

“We’ll hold onto Shayne as long as we can now, but if we have to make a roster move, obviously, that’s the direction we would go,” Harbaugh said. “He did a great job. Why he’s not holding onto a job right now, I’m not sure, but we were very fortunate for him to be able to come in and fill that gap for us.”

The Ravens will also look forward to the return of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who practiced on a limited basis last Friday and was upgraded from “out” to “doubtful” on the final injury report released ahead of the Bengals game. Harbaugh confirmed last week that all swelling had subsided from the surgical procedure Boldin underwent to repair a partially-torn meniscus.

With six more to go before the Ravens even learn who they will be playing in the divisional round of the playoffs, they will primarily use this week to improve their overall health. However, players will also work on their strength and conditioning as well as a rare opportunity for self-evaluation without an opponent for which to prepare this week. The coaching staff is preparing for three potential opponents in the second round, but they will also use this week’s practices to continue to develop younger players, especially considering how many veterans are banged up.

Players will be off on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but linebacker Jarret Johnson expressed the team’s mindset to Harbaugh on the flight home after one of the biggest wins in the regular-season history of the franchise.

“Their whole mindset right now is to be the best football team we can be a week from Sunday at 1:00,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what our team is thinking about right now. That’s kind of where we’re at.”

Even with a weekend off from playing a football game, it’s apparent the Ravens are maintaining a workmanlike approach with their eyes focused on taking the next step toward Indianapolis.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear Harbaugh’s entire Monday press conference from Owings Mills right here.

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