Tag Archive | "Tyrod Taylor"

With preseason complete, Ravens still filled with unknowns entering Steelers week

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With preseason complete, Ravens still filled with unknowns entering Steelers week

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Luke Jones

Any answers we hoped to uncover on Thursday night were history when coach John Harbaugh elected to rest most of his starters on both sides of the ball in a 21-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason finale.

With the coaching staff not wanting to risk any injuries on the fast turf at the Georgia Dome, left tackle Bryant McKinnie and the new-look offensive line didn’t even receive as much as a cameo appearance against Atlanta despite suggestions otherwise. The decision means the first time we’ll get a look at McKinnie and veteran center Matt Birk in live-game action will be against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11.

It’s a scary proposition, but the Ravens will hope practice reps against the vaunted Baltimore defense as well as veteran moxie will be enough to prepare McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Birk, Marshal Yanda, and Michael Oher for the likes of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and the brutal Pittsburgh defense. As offensive coordinator Cam Cameron put it earlier this week, the Ravens have no other choice but to be ready in a critical battle in Week 1.

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The preseason finale managed to create even more doubt at the backup quarterback position after rookie Tyrod Taylor left the game with a left shoulder contusion in the first quarter, leaving Hunter Cantwell to struggle through an ugly offensive performance. Aside from it being painfully clear Cantwell might not even be an option as a third-string quarterback, the Ravens will be forced to bring in another quarterback with Taylor’s status not being known for next weekend.

The Ravens also received little clarity in decided who would be the No. 3 receiver, in large part due to Cantwell being forced into action. However, David Reed didn’t do himself any favors in dropping two passes and being flagged for a questionable offensive pass interference call in the end zone late in the first half. Torrey Smith made two catches for 12 yards before leaving the game early in the second half with apparent leg cramps.

Despite the ugly nature of Thursday’s encounter, the Ravens can also take a few positives away from the win over Atlanta. Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith turned in his steadiest performance of the preseason, making five tackles and deflecting a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Jason Phillips to set up the Ravens’ first score of the game. Smith was flagged for a horse-collar tackle, but continues to show the impressive combination of speed and toughness that made him the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft.

Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee continued an outstanding preseason by continuing to create pressure in the backfield, making it a near certainty that he factors into defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s plans as a rotational pass rusher earlier than expected. He and Paul Kruger (one sack) will be relied upon to help boost an underwhelming pass rush from a year ago that recorded a franchise-low 27 sacks.

And rookie receiver LaQuan Williams made a final bid to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with a 33-yard punt return against the Falcons and showed improved effort in special teams, something Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg mentioned earlier this week. Whether he makes the final cut or the Ravens try to stash him away on the practice squad, the former Maryland and Poly product has been one of the biggest surprises of the summer and has taken advantage of every opportunity awarded to him.

All that aside, the Ravens now put the preseason behind them, shifting their focus to their biggest rival while still trying to find the answers to a number of key questions.

Will the offensive line be able to gel quickly enough to hold up against the Pittsburgh pressure? Is McKinnie “football” ready? Will Birk’s knee hold up without any live-game action after surgery?

With Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr less than 100 percent, are Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams ready to be starting cornerbacks in the NFL?

Are the Ravens ready to play — and beat — a Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers squad for the first time since 2006?

All interesting questions, with the answers coming sooner rather than later.

The preseason is finally behind us.

And real football is about to begin.

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A Bit of Doubt Good for Flacco…Ravens

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A Bit of Doubt Good for Flacco…Ravens

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

You can’t blame Baltimore for being sensitive about their quarterbacks. While the team itself has worked a minor miracle in establishing such a strong history and identity in such a short period of time, their experiences with the guys under center have left as much of a “legacy” with the fans as their penchant for stifling defense. That said, during his brief tenure at the helm of the Baltimore offense Joe Flacco has probably earned a lot more leeway, respect and benefit of the doubt than he’s seemingly gotten from the Baltimore fans (at least a vocal minority), opponents or the media at large.

At the end of the day, that could serve the Ravens and their team goals well. The greatest of champions seem to emerge from improbable challenges. Flacco’s road has been wrought with them. Maybe it’s finally time for him to respond to those challenges (and critics) in a big way, and put all of the arguments to bed.

 

Whether or not however, Flacco is able to silence his critics and reveal the mythical “it” factor that those offering doubts fail to see is debatable, and maybe not what’s best for the Ravens anyway. As the world quickly buys into Aaron Rodgers, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford, their reluctance to embrace Flacco may lead to at least a modest savings for the Ravens when the time comes to extend Joe’s contract. Something tells me though that enough of the league buys into Flacco that those savings won’t be too substantial.

 

For better or for worse, our inability to truly believe in a quarterback, as Baltimore fans, will be Flacco’s cross to bear until he erases all doubts with his achievements. Until then, the criticisms and doubts will continue, as will the magnification of the shortcomings in his game, as will the calls for the backup.

 

Speaking of the backup quarterback…it seems the Ravens may be realistically entertaining the notion of carrying Tyrod Taylor as the #2 quarterback into the 2011 season. As everyone comes up with their own 53-man roster projections, there are already some tough choices to be made. Adding a third (veteran) QB to the mix in front of Taylor would make for another tough decision over those final few spots. If the Ravens can get away with it I’ll bet they’ll keep Taylor on as the #2 at least until after week 2 and then might think about bringing in a veteran without having to guarantee his contract.

 

While Taylor is an interesting option and exciting piece for the future, positioned as the #2 quarterback it would seem that the Ravens have conceded that they’ll go as far as Flacco can take them this year and in the event Flacco goes down their prospects would be bleak anyway. That said, the same scenario might be true were it Marc Bulger or some other veteran of note behind Flacco if called on for a long stretch.

 

As Taylor’s athleticism continues to enamor fans however, and as the Michael Vick comparisons begin to flow more readily, the question might become how could they use Taylor to their benefit right now.

 

The “Suggs Package” wildcat looks that were Troy Smith’s calling card a few seasons ago would surely be much more dangerous and unsettling with an athlete the caliber of Taylor behind center. But if Taylor were the #2 QB, using him in that capacity (much like pinch hitting your backup catcher in baseball) could leave your without a net at the most important position on the field.

 

The other side of that argument of course is that teams like the Colts and Saints and Packers don’t run wildcat sets because taking their quarterbacks off the field doesn’t make those teams better. When Flacco becomes elite in the eyes of those deploying him, even an all world athlete like Tyrod Taylor won’t make the Ravens better by replacing Flacco behind center. The rank and deployment of Taylor this year should give us a pretty healthy read on how the Ravens coaches feel about Flacco’s development, ability and value as a playmaker.

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Mocking The 53: A Look At Roster Ahead of Preseason Finale

Posted on 30 August 2011 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The Baltimore Ravens travel to the Georgia Dome to meet the Atlanta Falcons Thursday night, the final opportunity for players on the roster “bubble” to impress Head Coach John Harbaugh and coordinators Cam Cameron, Chuck Pagano and Jerry Rosburg.

As I am no longer the Ravens beat reporter here at WNST I have deferred to Luke Jones for most of our coverage during Training Camp. I have had the chance to get out to 1 Winning Drive this week, so I decided I would bring back “Mocking The 53″ to get a look at how the team may trim the roster from 80 players to 53.

As I’ve explained before, the team does not have a certain number of players they keep at each position, so I have never done this breakdown by position. Instead, I offer what is more like a “power ranking” of players from 1-80.

Keep in mind, GM Ozzie Newsome is likely to make an addition or two (a veteran backup quarterback-perhaps still Marc Bulger namely) before either Saturday’s cut day or the team’s opener September 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.

1. DT Haloti Ngata
2. QB Joe Flacco
3. LB Terrell Suggs
4. RB Ray Rice
5. WR Anquan Boldin
6. S Ed Reed
7. LB Ray Lewis
8. G Ben Grubbs
9. G Marshal Yanda
10. CB Jimmy Smith

Whether or not Smith is a starter on September 11 is the only issue in this group. All of these guys are clearly on the team and significant contributors.

11. OT Michael Oher
12. WR Lee Evans
13. FB Vonta Leach
14. DE Cory Redding
15. P Sam Koch
16. TE Ed Dickson
17. S Bernard Pollard
18. K Billy Cundiff
19. DT Terrence Cody
20. LB Jarret Johnson

Like the first group, the players in the group above are all safely on the roster and are expected to be significant contributors.

21. CB Cary Williams
22. S Tom Zbikowski
23. C Matt Birk
24. OT Bryant McKinnie
25. CB Chris Carr
26. S Haruki Nakamura
27. TE Dennis Pitta
28. RB Ricky Williams
29. LB Jameel McClain
30. WR Torrey Smith

There’s no drama in this group either. McClain still appears to be the frontrunner for the other starting ILB job, while the team has remained steadfast in their support of Torrey Smith despite struggles. There’s a chance he’s not the third receiver on September 11, but he’s absolutely safe on the roster.

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Bisciotti on Ngata extension: “I’m Having A Hard Time Giving Away $60 Million”

Posted on 16 August 2011 by Glenn Clark

For the second time in 2011, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti held a conference call with fans Tuesday night. Owners of Premium seats and Personal Seat Licenses (PSL’s) at M&T Bank Stadium were invited to participate in the call.

During the call, Bisciotti was asked by fans about the progress the team was making on signing three time All-Pro DT (and defending team MVP) Haloti Ngata to a long term contract extension. Ngata was given the franchise tag by the Ravens early in the offseason, guaranteeing him to make $12.476 million this season.

Signing Ngata to a contract extension would free up salary cap space for the Ravens to address still lingering needs. A ProFootballTalk.com report this week said the Ravens had just $2.8 million of cap space ($120 million) available to sign players even after trading for former Buffalo Bills WR Lee Evans.

Bisciotti appeared frustrated but hopeful about the talks.

“I’m having a hard time giving away $60 million” said the owner. “I have a feeling things are going to work out. I have no doubt in my mind Haloti’s going to be with us (long term).”

Ngata was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl in 2010 and is widely viewed to be one of the better interior D-Linemen in the National Football League. He is coming off a season in which he tied a career high with 63 tackles and set a new career high with 5.5 sacks.

The Ravens still have a number of needs throughout the team. OL Oniel Cousins has worked out at RG this week with starter Marshal Yanda sidelined due to back spasms. Rookie Jah Reid has worked as the first team RT, leaving the team very thin at the tackle position. Multiple outlets have suggested the Ravens could consider veteran OT Jon Stinchcomb, who was recently released by the New Orleans Saints.

The team could still use help on the interior of the Offensive Line as well. Starting C Matt Birk (knee) has been sidelined for most of Training Camp and is not expected to return until close to the team’s Week 1 home opener against their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The team attempted to sign veteran Casey Rabach (who played most recently with the Washington Redskins) earlier in Camp, but was unable to complete the signing when he failed a physical.

Backup quarterback is also an issue for the team, after rookie Tyrod Taylor provided mixed results in the team’s exhibition opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The team also has Hunter Cantwell on the roster, but the third year player from Louisville spent all of 2010 on the practice squad. The team could still try to convince 2010 backup Marc Bulger to come out of retirement.

Bisciotti had hoped superstar ILB Ray Lewis would accept a “home town discount” upon reaching free agency in 2009, but the future Hall of Famer was quick to point out that he wouldn’t accept less than market value. After failing to convince Lewis to take that such a deal, Bisciotti joked Tuesday he didn’t expect to be able to agree to a similar arrangement with the former Oregon DT to remain in Charm City.

Even without a home town discount, the Ravens would benefit from simply signing Ngata to any sort of extension that includes a significant signing bonus and bigger money on the back end.

If Bisciotti can indeed “give away” that $60 million, the team could begin taking other steps towards completing what they hope will be a roster capable of reaching Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

-G

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Forget the fickle fans; Baltimore’s media panics after Ravens ugly effort

Posted on 12 August 2011 by Rex Snider

As we endured last night’s preseason exposure of the problems facing the Ravens, I will not follow suit with virtually EVERYONE who has a public voice and format, in Baltimore.

While I concur with many assessments regarding the performances of specific players, I also recognize that many of the miscues, missteps and mistakes fall at the feet of men who share a common trait ….

They’re young and INEXPERIENCED.

Did you expect Torrey Smith to basically strut into Lincoln Financial Field and serve notice that he’s a force to be feared? 

Did you really think Tyrod Taylor was going to exhibit the poise and split-second decision making demanded of a quarterback at the game’s highest level?

Did you anticipate seeing Jimmy Smith camouflaging his presence, while snagging an ill-timed pass and returning it for a quick six?

Nearly all of the things done correctly by a player in purple had a veteran attachment to it.  And, that shouldn’t be an unexpected reality as we look back on this first preseason game.

I’m not drawing a distinct line between right and wrong, as it applies to veterans and younger players.  There were isolated incidents of playmaking, as well as blunders with no real attachment to age and experience.

Michael Oher struggled and that’s a concern for me.  He anchors the most important position on the offensive line and he must develop a finesse to accompany the size and strength demanded of a player in his role. 

Oniel Cousins looked lost ….

Aside from the typical rust associated with the inactivity of an off-season, Oher and Cousins must play better.  Will they?  Repetition and renewed familiarity have proven to be key in the past and history does repeat itself.  So, don’t panic ….

On the other hand, Sergio Kindle looked very stellar – albeit from a “rough around the edges” perspective.  He over-pursued at times, and playmaking quarterbacks will teach him a lesson or three before he gets it.

But, as I suggested, it was the first game of the preseason.  It was an opportunity for the Ravens coaching staff to see the depth of talent while being opposed by competition in a different colored jersey.

Torrey Smith has the raw ability; he’ll develop and get more comfortable.  Jimmy Smith is in the same spot.  They’re rookies, give ‘em some slack.

Tyrod Taylor is a project and he’s going to be surpassed by a veteran talent, prior to the season opener against the Steelers.  Heck, he may never be a #2 quarterback in this league – he was a 6th round draft selection, after all.

Don’t buy into the sensationalism that many media sources are selling.  Most of the players who dictate the direction and ultimate success of this Ravens team spent 90% of last night’s game on the sideline, sporting ballcaps.

Relax and exercise the patience that preseason football dictates.  The reasons such games exist are varied, but an opportunity to recognize the shortcomings from last night’s contest is paramount among such reasons.

Ozzie Newsome and his staff needed to see this.  Now, they’ll get to work behind the scenes and take the necessary steps to remedy a few situations.  The coaching staff needed last night’s event, as well.  They, too, will build on it.

Don’t fall for the fears being spread today.  Don’t do it ….

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A few Opinions after One Pre-Season Game

Posted on 12 August 2011 by Tom Clayton

I am not one for jumping to concrete opinions after the first pre-season game of the season but I did make some observations that I feel pretty strong about.  Before I get into my observations about the Ravens let me say that I agree 100% with other fans that the new kickoff rule is awful and has all but removed one of the most exciting plays from the game.  On the other hand the Ravens are really going to benefit from this rule from having perhaps the kicker with the strongest leg in the NFL and not possessing a game breaking returner.

 First of all, offensive coordinators are going to target Chris Carr every single week.  I’ve had this thought since the Ravens decided not to resign Josh Wilson and my fears were heightened when Dominique Foxworth was scratched just before kickoff.  Carr is clearly the weakest corner on the team and the Ravens are going to need to get Jimmy Smith up and running very quickly if they don’t want to be torched on a weekly basis.  On the topic of Jimmy Smith I was impressed with how big he looks in pads; if his talents are as touted and he stays out of trouble Smith looks like the big, shutdown corner the Ravens have been missing since Chris McAllister went AWOL in Miami.  

 Speaking of impressive physical specimens on the Ravens defense, Sergio Kindle looks like he could have the speed and power to become a great pass rushing counterpart to T-Sizzle.  Kindle got into the backfield numerous times against the Eagles first and second team offense and did a good job of collapsing the pocket on the edge.

 Overall I was impressed with Chuck Pagano’s defensive philosophy as he brought “heat” from all angles and the Ravens were consistently in the Eagles backfield all night.  Unfortunately once in the backfield the Ravens seemed to miss every tackle.  In fact it seemed like the Ravens missed at least one tackle on every single play, but I will chalk that up to it being the first pre-season game and an abbreviated training camp.

On offense Oniel Cousins looks horrible; he was getting beat by the Eagles third and fourth string defensive ends in the second half and looked more like a rookie than a fourth year player. 

As for the offensive line as a whole, they look to have zero depth behind the starters and the loss of Chris Chester may be more damaging than first thought.  Once the second string offense came in Tyrod Taylor did not have a clean pocket once all night and he was running for his life EVERY time he dropped back to pass. 

As for Tyrod Taylor he seemed to get more comfortable as the game progressed and he showed flashes of a skill set that could make him a valuable dual-threat quarterback down the road.  I liked his toughness as he was getting knocked around all night and he seemed to have good command of his teammates for a rookie quarterback.

 And fellow offensive rookie LaQuan Williams showed why he has been the talk of training camp catching three passes for 46 yards including a slant and a screen where he ran hard and made big plays after the catch.  Williams looks like he could be a viable option at receiver and a player that will run hard and pick up the tough yards after first contact. 

After watching this team play I think it is pretty obvious that they still need to bring in a veteran backup quarterback and they will need to address the right tackle position before the games count.  But I trust Ozzie and his front office and I believe the correct moves will be made before the Ravens and Steelers open this thing up on September 11th. 

Overall the Ravens didn’t show much and they didn’t do anything that is going to make fans start making travel plans for Indianapolis on February 5th 2012 but this is going to be a different season as the Ravens try and get younger at a lot of key positions.  I think the Ravens will be a better team in December and January then they will be on September 11th but fans are going to need to be more patient with this team than they have been the last three seasons.  But no matter what you took away from this game one thing is certain, Football is back and we all the better for it!

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Ravens falter on third down, nearly everywhere else in preseason opener

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Luke Jones

PHILADELPHIA — While most concern lies with the changes to the Ravens’ offensive personnel through the first two weeks of training camp, the starting defense — or second and third units, for that matter — raised plenty of concerns on their own Thursday night.

In the Eagles’ 13-6 win over the Ravens, the Baltimore defense struggled to get off the field on third down, continually missing tackles and failing to force incompletions. The numbers were particularly troubling in the first half with key personnel on the field through the first 30 minutes. Philadelphia was 4-for-4 on third-down conversions in the first quarter and 5-for-7 by halftime.

“We were in position to make the tackle in the backfield, including two sacks, and we didn’t make the plays,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We have to get off the field in those third-down situations, and we didn’t in the first half.”

The only touchdown of the game came on the Eagles’ opening drive when Michael Vick threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek with starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain covering. McClain struggled in the first quarter, allowing two completions and missing a tackle on Ronnie Brown on a beautifully-designed run blitz.

That scoring play was set up by a 42-yard pass to Riley Cooper, who slipped behind Chris Carr and Ed Reed on the long completion.

Philadelphia’s third-down success continued throughout the evening as the Eagles converted 10 of 16 for the game.

Separation anxiety

Concerns at the receiver position only grew louder as Baltimore receivers failed to get separation throughout the night.

Joe Flacco finished 3-for-6 for 60 yards in his only quarter of work and failed to complete a pass to a wide receiver. In fact, the Ravens did not have a receiver make a catch until the 6:15 mark of the second quarter when Tyrod Taylor completed a 6-yard throw to rookie Tandon Doss.

Doss finished with three catches for 26 yards to lead all Baltimore wide receivers through the first three quarters. In fact, no other wideout caught a pass until the fourth quarter when LaQuan Williams had three receptions for 46 yards and Justin Harper grabbed two catches for 17 yards.

Rookie Torrey Smith made the start opposite Anquan Boldin, but the former Maryland standout appeared hesitant in running routes against the talented Philadelphia secondary. He was targeted three times but failed to make a catch.

The only highlight of the passing game was tight end Dennis Pitta, making the start in place of the injured Ed Dickson. Pitta made a spectacular catch off the back of safety Kurt Coleman on the first play from scrimmage and finished the evening with four catches for 47 yards.

“Everything just kind of slows down in year two,” said Pitta, referring to his rookie season in which he caught just one pass for one yard. “I felt a lot more comfortable out there. Felt like I had pretty good chemistry with Joe today. We didn’t get a ton of series to work together, but the ones that we did, I felt like we were on the same page pretty well.”

Backup blues

The struggles of rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor made it painfully obvious how badly the Ravens need to explore the market for a veteran backup quarterback.

In fairness, Taylor found himself running for his life for much of the night, but his two interceptions were costly, one coming at the goal line when Jarrad Page picked off a pass intended for Doss. The Virginia Tech product finish his night going 19-for-28 for 179 yards.

“Tyrod did some good things,” Camerson said. “He’s a young man who learns quickly, and you almost see improvement every play. I’ll say one thing: It’s not too big for him. He has poise.”

Poise or not, it’s hard to feel comfortable with the rookie as the No. 2 quarterback — even with a month to go until the start of the regular season.

Stepping up

Third-year rush specialist Paul Kruger has received rave reviews from teammates throughout training camp, and his first-half performance on Thursday night only confirmed their high praise.

Kruger led the Ravens with five tackles and collected a sack of backup Vince Young in the final minute of the first quarter. The former Utah defensive end will be heavily counted upon to boost the Ravens’ pass rush that struggled to make quarterbacks uncomfortable last season.

“It’s always nice to make plays, but overall, the goal is to win the game, and unfortunately, we came up short,” Kruger said. “Definitely take the good and run with it, and we have a couple things we need to work on. Hopefully a better outcome next week.”

Odds & ends

The Ravens did not have any injuries on Thursday night, although Taylor briefly left the game in the third quarter after taking another brutal hit from the Philadelphia defense. He returned a few plays later, however. … Of the seven combined kickoffs between the two teams, all but one were touchbacks. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff had three touchbacks in his three kickoff attempts. … The Ravens had an apparent touchdown in the third quarter when rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee stripped Eagles quarterback Mike Kafka, and Lardarius Webb returned the fumble 93 yards for a touchdown. However, the replay assistant called for a review of the fumble ruling — all scoring plays are subject to booth reviews this season — and the play was was deemed an incomplete pass, giving the ball back to Philadelphia and erasing the defensive score.

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It’s Only August, But No Concerns Addressed In Preseason Week 1 Loss

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Glenn Clark

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Just keep saying it.

It’s only August.

It’s only August.

The Baltimore Ravens are still a ways away from their regular season opener September 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.

It’s probably for the best, as they looked to be just about as far away from compete football in their 13-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

It’s only August.

It’s fair to assume the team would be behind where they might in others had they not lost OTA’s and the start of Training Camp due to the NFL lockout.

“Everybody is (behind where they would be in other years). Obviously we’ve got tons of work to do” said head coach John Harbaugh following the loss. “We’ve just gotta get better faster than the people that we’re going to play. That’s our job.”

It’s only August.

While starters played little time in Philly, the Ravens showed little cohesion throughout the exhibition contest.

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Ravens hope Thursday night vs. Eagles answers questions

Posted on 10 August 2011 by Ryan Chell

Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia is the moment Ravens fans have all been in anticipation of as for the first time-even if it’s in exhibition mode-we will get a look at what the 2011 Ravens have in store when it comes to the product on the field.

With the labor turmoil behind us and now the focus solely on the game of football, coach John Harbaugh will now look to his expanded roster to see if there are going to be any concerns going forward in preseason as the team prepares for its Week 1 opener against the Steelers September 11th.

Here is a position-by-position look at some of the question marks going into Thursday against the Eagles, and hopefully some things we hope to see out of those players in the way of answers.

Quarterback-Obviously, Joe Flacco will start Thursday and will likely see two series of work or about a quarter of action. Flacco-who has improved his statistics in each of his first three seasons-doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone; however, he may need to get some game-action with some new faces. It will be interesting to see if Flacco continues to rely on Anquan Boldin as a security blanket early on, or if we see the eventual building of a rapport between Flacco and one of the newer faces in the receiving corps.

Once Flacco leaves, it will be on sixth-round pick Tyrod Taylor-who took a significant step forward his senior year at Virginia Tech-to try and prove he deserves the backup role to Joe Flacco. In camp so far, he has been back-and-forth with his accuracy, and it will be on Taylor to show the coaching staff they can have faith in a rookie as Joe Flacco’s backup-maybe the only backup at the position. If not, it gives 2010 practice squad quarterback Hunter Cantwell, who at least has more experience with the playbook than Taylor, to show what he can do under center.

Running Back-Running back Ray Rice will get his first taste of NFL action this year, but in this case, it will be a nibble. The Ravens definitely don’t want to risk injury to a player who is going to get a considerable amount of touches offensively-not just in the running game but also screen passes from Joe Flacco.

Also not playing Thursday will be the newly added Ricky Williams, who still may not be ready to suit up for the Ravens after signing this week. He is familiar with OC Cam Cameron’s playbook from their time in Miami, but all this means is that rookie Anthony Allen, Jalen Parmele, and Damien Berry will battle for carries and a roster spot or two behind Rice and Williams. Vonta Leach and the only other remaining FB on the roster, rookie free agent Ryan Mahaffey out of Northern Iowa, will clear the running lanes.

Wide Receivers-Behind the given in  Boldin, this is a position where the Ravens are going to need immediate impact from some younger players, most notably two of their draft picks in Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss. Quarterback Joe Flacco has sworn by the route-running ability of Doss, the Ravens’ fourth-round pick and Smith has made several big plays during drills in camp.

However, Smith needs to prove that he can be a reliable option across from Boldin. Smith needs to focus on making catches outside of his body, which has caused the former Terp to drop several passes in camp.

Outside of Smith and Doss, it will be interesting to see if veterans Brandon Jones (Titans) and James Hardy (Bills) can make plays against some lesser competition across from them. It they do, it could help their causes in making the roster. Hardy-at 6’5, 220, could be a valuable asset in the red zone and along the sideline if shows the ability to go up and get a jump ball over a defender. Other players like Marcus Smith, Justin Harper, LaQuan Williams, etc need to make plays otherwise they’ll be finding their way off the roster.

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

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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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