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Yanda sidelined until training camp after offseason shoulder surgery

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Yanda sidelined until training camp after offseason shoulder surgery

Posted on 11 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens convened for the start of their mandatory three-day minicamp on Tuesday, a critical piece of their offensive line was nowhere to be found as Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was absent from the field.

Coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose the exact ailment from which Yanda is recovering, but The Sun reports that the seventh-year lineman underwent offseason shoulder surgery. Yanda was present for the Ravens’ trip to the White House and the ring ceremony last week but will not return to the practice field until training camp as he continues to rehab.

“We expect him back by camp to some degree,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s done a great job. Marshal Yanda has done a great job with the rehab. He’s right on schedule, probably ahead of schedule. He’s doing really well.”

Yanda missed two games last year after suffering an ankle injury against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9 but recovered to play in all four of the Ravens’ postseason games en route to the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship. Two years ago, Yanda suffered chest and leg injuries in the penultimate game of the regular season but played the following week as he helped the Ravens clinch a division title and first-round bye in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

He was elected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons and is not only regarded as one of the toughest players on the team but also as one of the best guards in the NFL.

The long-term prognosis for Yanda doesn’t appear to be concerning, but the 28-year-old would be eligible to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list should he not be ready to practice by late July. Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood split time filling in for Yanda as the starting right guard on Tuesday.

Ngata feeling “80 percent”

Speaking to reporters in Owings Mills for the first time since he sprained the MCL of his left knee at the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata declared himself to be 80 to 85 percent of where he needs to be after spending much of the offseason rehabbing the injury.

Ngata did not need to undergo surgery, but the eighth-year defensive lineman acknowledged feeling frustrated after dealing with a plethora injuries over the last two seasons, including knee, shoulder, thigh, and ankle ailments at different points. He just began running a few weeks ago after rehabbing the knee injury that knocked him out of the second half of Super Bowl XLVII.

“It’s been real tough,” Ngata said. “Especially towards the end of the season, it just limited me. What I wanted to do was be an explosive player, and not being able to really come off or getting off blocks as well … It definitely was tough towards the end of the season, but you just fight through it, and we got a Super Bowl out of it.”

Much was made of Ngata’s noticeable weight gain last season as he played with 10 extra pounds after complaining of wearing down during the latter half of the 2011 season. Ngata doesn’t appear lighter than he did at the end of last season, but Harbaugh didn’t express concern over the defensive tackle’s level of conditioning with training camp roughly six weeks away.

“He’s in good shape. He’s fine,” Harbaugh said. “He’s right where he needs to be at this time. He’s doing well.”

With the offseason signings of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, Ngata will not be asked to play defensive end this year and will instead play inside at nose tackle and defensive tackle where he feels he can take better advantage of interior linemen with his strength and quickness.

Ngata didn’t offer any predictions or specifics when asked about a specific weight goal he has in mind for this season, but the Ravens privately hope he’ll be in better condition than he was last season.

“We’ll see what it is. I definitely just want to come in in great shape,” Ngata said. “After this minicamp, these next five weeks are going to be really important for me to make sure I’m in really good shape to come in and participate in camp.”

The four-time Pro Bowl selection signed a five-year, $61 million contract early in the 2011 season and carries an $11.5 million salary cap number for 2013.

Leach’s presence will be missed

With the official release of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach on Tuesday, there was plenty of talk about how the veteran will be missed not only on the field but in the locker room.

Leach was scheduled to make a $3 million base salary and was released when he and the Ravens were unable to work out a restructured contract.

“Vonta [Leach] has been as much of the heart and soul of this team as anybody since he’s been here,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been a great leader. He’s been a tremendous performer. I’ve never had more fun with a player since he’s been here, personally as a coach, than I have had with Vonta.”

Attention will now turn toward rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is expected to inherit Leach’s starting role despite possessing different skills than the traditional blocking back. Teammates are looking forward to the versatility the fourth-round pick can provide at the position after gaining a reputation as an excellent receiver out of the backfield at Harvard.

Juszczyk caught a team-high 52 passes for 706 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season.

“I would just say his athleticism and the ways you can use him,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Catching the football, blocking, running the football, lining him up in diesel formations and having him run routes. Obviously, we’re going to have to wait to see when we put on the pads in training camp to get a good sense for what he does with that kind of stuff.”

The Ravens began shying away from using Leach on a regular basis as the offense became more pass-heavy last season, but that doesn’t mean the 31-year-old’s departure and Juszczyk’s increased presence will dramatically change Baltimore’s plans on the offensive side of the ball.

“It doesn’t,” run-game coordinator Juan Castillo said. “[Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery] is working with Kyle to get him so he can learn our schemes. He’s a rookie. He’s been working hard to learn our schemes. He should be able to do a good job once he gets some experience.”

Slimmer Suggs

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Ravens release Pro Bowl fullback Leach after two seasons

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Ravens release Pro Bowl fullback Leach after two seasons

Posted on 11 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Despite two Pro Bowl seasons in Baltimore, fullback Vonta Leach’s time with the Ravens has officially come to an end.

After Leach and the Ravens were unable to restructure the fullback’s current contract, the organization announced the termination of the 31-year-old’s contract Tuesday morning. Leach was in the final year of a three-year, $11 million contract that included a $4 million signing bonus.

Leach announced on his official Twitter account Monday evening that his time with the Ravens had come to an end, confirming the initial reports about his impending departure.

“Thank [Ravens] organization for a great two years,” he wrote. “I came here and did what we set out to do and that’s win the Super Bowl. My time here is up but what we accomplished, we will be forever linked. Thank the fans for accepting me and my family to [Baltimore].”

Leach’s status had been in jeopardy since the start of the offseason when the Ravens faced the perils of needing to sign franchise quarterback Joe Flacco without a great deal of salary-cap space. However, Leach survived the initial wave of salary dumps that included wide receiver Anquan Boldin by way of a trade and the releases of safety Bernard Pollard, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, and reserve guard Bobbie Williams.

The Ravens selected Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round of April’s draft, which clearly wasn’t a good sign for Leach’s long-term status with the organization. The veteran wasn’t present for the first two weeks of organized team activities but practiced last week and had expressed optimism that the sides would be able to restructure his current deal, which carried a $3 million base salary and $4.3 million cap figure for the 2013 season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome had explored trade possibilities before releasing the blocking back but left the door open for Leach’s return should he not find a free-agent offer to his liking. Considered by many to be the best fullback in the NFL, Leach wouldn’t figure to have too much difficulty in finding a new home.

“He played a significant role in helping us get to the AFC championship game in 2011 and win the Super Bowl last season,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He added to our toughness and will to win, plus he provided leadership. He’s a good football player. There could be an opportunity for him to return to the Ravens once he explores the free-agent market, and we could re-visit this before or during training camp,”

With Leach opening running lanes by way of his bruising blocking style, Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns two seasons ago and credited the big fullback for being a major difference maker in the running game.

Of course, many will question why the Ravens waited until now to make the cap-saving move with few free-agent options of any significance remaining. Prior to Leach’s release, Baltimore had roughly $3 million in cap space remaining with all but one of their 10 draft picks — first-round safety Matt Elam being the exception — already signed to four-year contracts.

The Ravens also announced the re-signing of veteran Billy Bajema, who served as the third tight end last season. He will take Leach’s spot on the Ravens’ 90-man offseason roster.

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Ngata back on field for first time since Super Bowl knee injury

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Ngata back on field for first time since Super Bowl knee injury

Posted on 06 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Wednesday’s trip to the White House brought two key Ravens players back to the practice field as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and fullback Vonta Leach were present and working during Thursday’s organized team activity in Owings Mills.

Neither player had been present during the first two weeks of voluntary workouts, but Leach confirmed via his official Twitter account that he had participated in workouts all week as the Ravens concluded their final OTA sessions. Ngata wasn’t in his best physical shape and was a very limited participant but appeared lighter than he did at this point last year when he was criticized for weighing dramatically more than he did during the 2011 season.

Ngata told the team’s official site that he only recently began running again after rehabbing the sprained MCL suffered during the Super Bowl. That’s impacted his conditioning, but the seventh-year defensive tackle expressed confidence that he’ll be ready to go by the start of training camp.

Many have speculated that Leach’s absence during the first two weeks of OTAs was a protest over the Ravens drafting rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round of April’s draft.

“It’s good to have as many guys here as we can possibly have here every single day,” said Harbaugh when asked specifically about Leach’s return. “The more guys we have here, the better we are going to be. We aren’t going to be better if guys aren’t here.

A few significant players remained absent from the field during Thursday’s workout, including linebacker Terrell Suggs, guard Marshal Yanda and defensive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. The latter two were both away due to “personal family issues,” according to coach John Harbaugh.

Suggs and Yanda both attended the White House ceremony on Wednesday but weren’t present on the field for any of the Ravens’ OTA sessions open to media.

Others missing from the practice field included linebackers Jameel McClain and Albert McClellan, and center Antoine McClain. A report from The Sun revealed McClellan underwent shoulder surgery earlier this offseason, which explains his limited participation during workouts for which he’s been present.

Rookie linebacker Arthur Brown returned to the practice field on a limited basis despite all signs previously pointing to him being sidelined for the remainder of the spring after undergoing sports hernia surgery. The second-round pick said he’s still on the same four-to-six week recovery track but was pleased to be able to do individual drills as well as a limited amount of team work.

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery), rookie defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (ACL surgery), and rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown were all present for practice but did not participate.

The Ravens will hold their mandatory three-day minicamp next week, which means we should get our first look at players such as Suggs, Yanda, and Canty. However, Harbaugh said there won’t be any heightened sense of urgency for the mandatory workouts.

“We have a sense of urgency every single day,” Harbaugh said. “That’s our mindset here. Our guys have a 100-percent, full-throttle sense of urgency every day. You need to.”

Honest Harbaugh

The Ravens coach didn’t mince any words when asked to share his thoughts regarding recent comments made by second-year outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw about being overweight.

The 2012 second-round pick cited “personal reasons” that have hindered his ability to condition the way he’d like this offseason, but Harbaugh offered a different explanation for why the Alabama product’s weight has ballooned from 271 pounds last year to 285 in Upshaw’s estimation last weekend.

“Courtney’s weight issue — which he does need to lose some pounds — is that he doesn’t eat right,” Harbaugh said. “Courtney eats too much and he doesn’t eat all the right foods. He knows that and that’s something he’s going to have to get a handle on or he’s not going to be the best he can be. He’s aware of it. Everybody in the building is involved with it. He’ll be in fighting shape, I promise you that. ”

With Suggs and newcomer Elvis Dumervil expected to start at the outside linebacker positions, Upshaw finds himself already in a difficult position and doesn’t want to make his way into Harbaugh’s doghouse as others can attest. However, Harbaugh did go out of his way to praise the 23-year-old for his efforts during OTA sessions.

Upshaw collected five tackles and forced a fumble in the Super Bowl while playing 42 of the Ravens’ 62 defensive snaps to conclude a respectable rookie year in which he collected 60 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble during the regular season.

“He’s playing very well. That’s the first thing,” Harbaugh said. “He understands the defense exceptionally well, and he’s working very hard.”

Daryl Smith not on field yet

Veteran linebacker Daryl Smith wasn’t on the field less than 24 hours after signing a one-year deal, but Harbaugh acknowledged the Ravens have had their eye on the former Jacksonville linebacker for quite a while.

With Jameel McClain still not cleared from a spinal cord contusion despite the Ravens’ optimism, Smith could find a very real opportunity to earn a starting position in the Baltimore defense.

“He’s always been a superb player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s probably a little bit under the radar as far as the national media goes. He’s just been a tremendous player. Everyone in football knows who he is. I think he’s a great fit for our team for who we are, what we are all about. He’s going to do well for us.”

After wearing No. 52 in Jacksonville — which will clearly be off limits in Baltimore — Smith will wear No. 51, the jersey number formerly worn by Brendon Ayanbadejo and issued to Rolando McClain before the troubled linebacker retired from the NFL last month.

Ring ceremony Friday night

The organization has expressed plenty of excitement over the unveiling of the Super Bowl XLVII championship rings on Friday, but wide receiver Torrey Smith offered the quote of the day explaining how he might react upon seeing the extravagant piece of jewelry.

“When it comes to meeting the President and actually seeing the rings, for somebody like me who’s never won a thing, I might act like a woman when she sees her engagement ring. I can’t wait. I can’t wait.”

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Interesting post-draft roster decisions with early look at 2013 Ravens depth chart

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Interesting post-draft roster decisions with early look at 2013 Ravens depth chart

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Luke Jones

With the 2013 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens can now begin looking at the offseason roster with a clearer picture of what they’ll have when they travel to Denver for the Sept. 5 season opener.

Of course, there will be a few more additions or subtractions of some consequence between now and the start of training camp in late July, but any drastic changes are unlikely with the Ravens holding just under $4 million in salary cap space.

The Ravens will likely use some of that remaining cap room to address offensive tackle after only coming away with Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner in the fifth round of the draft. The Badgers left tackle will likely be moved inside to guard as it’s not believed that his feet are quick enough to handle the position at the next level, meaning Kelechi Osemele is still in line to be the team’s starting left tackle if the season were to begin now.

The obvious veteran still on the free-agent market is left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has remained in touch with the Ravens this offseason but visited with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The 33-year-old McKinnie told WNST.net in a text message that the only post-draft contact he’s had from the Ravens came with run-game coordinator Juan Castillo and right tackle Michael Oher.

A CBSSports.com report said McKinnie is also scheduled to visit with the San Diego Chargers, but the 11-year veteran provided his own update on the visit with the Dolphins on Monday afternoon.

“Just finished a good day of meetings & workouts!” McKinnie wrote on his official Twitter account. “This was the gear of choice 4 2day! Nothing final…”

Even if McKinnie signs elsewhere and Osemele ultimately receives the nod to protect quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside, you’d expect the Ravens to at least add another veteran tackle since Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood would then factor heavily into the competition for the starting left guard spot. With no other additions, Oher would clearly be the replacement for Osemele in the event of an injury, but that would open a huge hole on the right side of the line.

Fullback is another interesting position to watch after the Ravens drafted Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk with their second fourth-round pick on Saturday. All things being equal, you wouldn’t expect the rookie to supplant three-time Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, but the veteran’s hefty cap figure puts him at the top of the list of potential cuts should an opportunity to add a pricier veteran arise between now and the start of the season.

Newsome was asked following the conclusion of the draft what Jusczcyk’s selection meant for Leach’s future, but the Ravens executive didn’t exactly provide a guarantee that Leach would be opening running lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in 2013. Baltimore won’t cut Leach for the sake of simply saving $3 million in cap space, but if they need more cap space to address another need such tackle or wide receiver, the Ravens won’t hesitate to give Jusczcyk the starting job.

“We want to make decisions based on how guys perform out on the football field,” Newsome said. “We’re going to get Kyle in here, and the thing we like about Kyle other than his ability to play on the offensive side is we expect him to be a very good special-teams contributor. Could there be a place for both of them? Yes, there could be, because as John and I try to put our 53-man squad together, we want to keep the best 53 players.”

Troubled inside linebacker Rolando McClain remains with the Ravens as of Monday afternoon, but you have to wonder how much shorter his leash became after the selection of Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown. Considering the Ravens traded up in the second round to select Brown in fear of another team taking him before their scheduled pick at 62nd overall, you’d expect that coach John Harbaugh envisions him to be a starter from Day 1.

To this point, the Ravens have said all the polite things about McClain’s latest arrest on April 21 and his right to due process, but the need to keep an average player with such baggage diminished greatly after adding one of the top inside linebackers in this year’s draft class. You have to wonder if McClain will even make it to training camp at this point, or whether he’ll be able to keep himself out of trouble between now and then.

“He is one of the 90,” Newsome said on the final day of the draft. “We’re going to make the determination, starting Sunday, who we think is going to be on our top 53. We’ll start making those decisions. It’s going to be some tough decisions, but as of right now, Rolando is still a part of our football team.”

Below is an all-too-early look at the 2013 depth chart, which doesn’t include undrafted rookie free agents until the full list is officially announced by the Ravens. High draft picks such as Matt Elam and Brown are viewed more favorably than lower-round selections like Ryan Jensen and Aaron Mellette in terms of where they rank on the current depth chart. In many cases, roster holdovers from previous seasons have been given the nod over rookies with the full understanding that some — if not many — will be supplanted.

Teams are allowed to have a maximum of 90 players on their offseason roster.

Projected post-draft 2013 depth chart

Offense
QB: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Caleb Hanie
RB: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen, Bobby Rainey, Damien Berry, Lonyae Miller
FB: Vonta Leach, Kyle Juszczyk
WR: Torrey Smith, David Reed, LaQuan Williams, Aaron Mellette
WR: Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, Tori Gurley
TE: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Alex Silvestro
LT: Kelechi Osemele
LG: Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood, Antoine McClain
C: Gino Gradkowski, Ryan Jensen, Reggie Stephens
RG: Marshal Yanda, Ricky Wagner, Jack Cornell
RT: Michael Oher, David Mims

Defense
DE: Chris Canty, Pernell McPhee, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore
NT: Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Brandon Williams
DT: Arthur Jones, Marcus Spears, Swanson Miller
Rush: Terrell Suggs, John Simon, Michael McAdoo
Will: Arthur Brown, Rolando McClain, Albert McClellan, D.J. Bryant
Mike: Jameel McClain, Josh Bynes, Bryan Hall, Nigel Carr
Sam: Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Hamilton, Spencer Adkins
LCB: Lardarius Webb, Chykie Brown, Chris Johnson, Marc Anthony
SS: Matt Elam, James Ihedigbo, Christian Thompson
FS: Michael Huff, Emanuel Cook, Omar Brown, Anthony Levine
RCB: Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, Asa Jackson

Special Teams
K: Justin Tucker
P: Sam Koch
LS: Morgan Cox
KR: Jacoby Jones, David Reed, Deonte Thompson
PR: Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Lardarius Webb

 

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Difficult decisions still loom for Ravens after locking up Flacco

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Difficult decisions still loom for Ravens after locking up Flacco

Posted on 02 March 2013 by Luke Jones

General manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens front office had to wake up smiling the morning after reaching an agreement in principle with Joe Flacco on a six-year, $120.6 million contract that’s expected to be finalized Monday.

The move not only locks up the franchise quarterback for the long haul, but it’s also expected to provide short-term relief to a tight salary cap that would have had a difficult time absorbing a minimum of $14.9 million with the non-exclusive franchise tag. All the terms of the record-setting contract have yet to be released, but the 2013 cap number is just $7 million, according to CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora.

Estimated to have roughly $18 million in cap space before accounting for their quarterback or any of their unrestricted, restricted, or exclusive-rights free agents, the Ravens will now have some space to maneuver but not enough to change the entire landscape of their offseason. Moderation will be the key as Newsome will look to sign a couple of his own unrestricted free agents, make wise decisions on his seven restricted free agents, and then turn toward the open market to explore some shrewd signings.

Here’s a rundown of what to expect as the Ravens address their remaining free agents:

No tag this year

The first order of business will be the potential use of the franchise tag as teams have until Monday at 4 p.m. to designate a player if they so desire. Many have begun asking if Newsome and the Ravens will now use the tag on outside linebacker Paul Kruger or inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, but we received a preliminary answer to that query just a few days after the Super Bowl.

“If we get a deal done with Joe, we will not franchise another player,” said Newsome as he appealed to owner Steve Bisciotti with a humorous tone. “We will not do that. You are OK with that, right?”

The 2013 tag numbers released by the NFL on Friday suggest that stance isn’t changing as the Ravens would be looking at a $9.6 million cost at the linebacker position. As it relates to Kruger, the pass rusher could contest that he should be considered a defensive end, which commands an $11.175 million tag number for the 2013 season.

Those price tags are far too expensive for Kruger or Ellerbe as the Ravens would be looking at massive cuts to accommodate the franchise tag, regardless of what Flacco’s 2013 cap number ultimately is.

Cuts still coming

We’ve spent plenty of time discussing which veterans might be on the chopping block due to cap constraints and the Ravens will still pull the trigger on a few. It just won’t be the mass exodus that was feared if Flacco had received either of the franchise tag options.

Offensive lineman Bobbie Williams is the easiest decision as the Ravens will clear $1.2 million from their cap by releasing the 36-year-old lineman. Linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo ($806,000 in savings) and Jameel McClain ($1.8 million saved) are also likely to go, with McClain becoming far more expendable if the Ravens can sign Dannell Ellerbe to a long-term deal before he hits the open market.

It would be an unpopular decision, but fullback Vonta Leach remains an intriguing option to release as it would save $3 million in cap space. Leach is tremendous at what he does as the best pure fullback in the NFL, but the Ravens are clearly moving toward a pass-heavy attack after committing the richest contract in league history to their quarterback.

The 31-year-old Leach took part in just 39.7 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in the postseason, so can you justify devoting that big of a cap number to the fullback with other pressing needs at left tackle and all over the defense? Should they part ways with Leach, tight end Ed Dickson could serve in more of an H-back capacity and the Ravens could look to a younger, cheaper option coming out of college.

The Flacco contract means wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones are very likely to be safe, but the Ravens could explore reasonable contract extensions for both as they enter the final years of their respective contracts, thus lowering their cap numbers for 2013. This is especially true for Boldin, who carries a $7.5 million number for the upcoming season and proved himself worthy of a couple more years in Baltimore after an outstanding postseason.

Prioritizing unrestricted free agents

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Sizing up the Ravens’ possible salary cap cuts

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Sizing up the Ravens’ possible salary cap cuts

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Unless you’ve been hibernating since the glory of Super Bowl XLVII, you’re well aware of the Ravens’ salary cap woes and how critical the negotiations with quarterback Joe Flacco will be between now and March 4.

The entire offseason will hinge on whether the sides will come to an agreement on a long-term contract by that date or if the Ravens will need to use the franchise tag on their starting quarterback. Further complicating the matter would be the decision to use the $14.6 million non-exclusive tag — leaving Flacco able to negotiate with other teams — or the exclusive tag that will cost somewhere around $20 million but would take him off the market entirely.

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations before the start of the new league year on March 12, the Ravens are likely to make at least a couple cuts in hopes of signing some of their unrestricted free agents. However, the reality of using the franchise tag would mean multiple changes simply to fit Flacco under the salary cap as Baltimore is estimated by NFL.com to be $12.9 million under the cap before addressing the signal-caller or any of its restricted free agents or exclusive rights players.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player is offset in part by an additional player making it into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. Bobbie Williams ($1.2 million)
Skinny: The offensive lineman was relegated to reserve duties in favor of Jah Reid midway through the season and will either retire or be released. At 36, Williams will need to find a home elsewhere to continue his career, but after finally winning a Super Bowl after years in Cincinnati, he would be picking an ideal time to walk away from the game. The Ravens will go younger and cheaper to fill his reserve role in their group of offensive linemen.

2. Matt Birk ($2.05 million)
Skinny: When Birk signed a three-year contract last offseason, it was structured with an understanding of it essentially being a one-year deal as the cap figures grow substantially over the last two years of the deal. The Ravens drafted Delaware product Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round last April to be the heir apparent to Birk at the center position, so all signs point to him taking over for the 2013 season. The 36-year-old Birk is contemplating retirement and there remains a possibility the Ravens decide to keep Birk — who played very well down the stretch — for one more season if they can sign Flacco to a long-term deal in time, but most signs point to the veteran’s days being finished in Baltimore.

3. Vonta Leach ($3 million)
Skinny: The Pro Bowl fullback has done everything the Ravens could have possibly expected after signing him two summers ago, but his high cap number makes him a prime candidate to be cut considering his position just isn’t a big enough priority with the offense continuing to move toward the passing game. The Ravens would certainly miss Leach’s punishing blocking ability, but they could shift tight end Ed Dickson to more of an H-back position while also adding a younger, cheaper fullback coming out of college. With other positions to address and the lack of cap room, Baltimore just can’t justify paying a fullback so much money.

4. Brendon Ayanbadejo ($806,000)
Skinny: His lower number is the reason why the reserve linebacker isn’t ranked higher on the list, but Ayanbadejo would easily be expendable given his age and role on the team. The defense depended on him less in passing situations this season and the 36-year-old also had some lapses on special teams down the stretch. Saving less than $1 million on the cap doesn’t do much, but parting ways with the former Pro Bowl special-teams player would seem like a logical move to make with minimal impact on the makeup of the team if you need to clear money from the cap.

5. Jameel McClain ($1.8 million)
Skinny: If you could look into the crystal ball and guarantee the Ravens would re-sign fellow inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, it would be a no-brainer to part ways with McClain, who missed the end of the season after suffering a spinal cord contusion in early December. However, considering the Ravens are losing the retiring Ray Lewis and potentially Ellerbe, general manger Ozzie Newsome would be hesitant to part ways with another inside linebacker. McClain is solid against the run, but his limitations in pass coverage make him an expendable player if the Ravens are confident they can lock up Ellerbe, which obviously isn’t a sure thing at this point.

6. Jacoby Jones ($4 million)
Skinny: The return specialist and No. 3 receiver carries a large cap number, so his status will be in jeopardy if the Ravens need to use the franchise tag on Flacco. His speed on the outside was a major asset in taking pressure off fellow speed receiver Torrey Smith and opening the intermediate portion of the field to Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, but he is still a part-time player offensively. You’d hate to lose Jones’ tremendous return ability, so there’s a good chance the Ravens would explore a contract extension to lower his cap figure and keep him for a few more years before potentially making the difficult decision to release him. Jones is owed a $1 million roster bonus in March, so that could complicate the situation further.

7. Anquan Boldin ($6 million)
Skinny: The wide receiver’s appearance on this list is based strictly on his cap number and how far that space would go in curing the Ravens’ problems if it comes down to the franchise tag for Flacco. His quarterback would be one of the first to say he wants Boldin to remain in Baltimore, so it’s likely Newsome will pursue an extension with the 32-year-old to reduce the 2013 cap number before resorting to a release. Boldin has already said he’d retire if the Ravens cut him, so perhaps the general manager could remind him of that in trying to strike a cap-friendly deal. The departure of Jones would hurt, but parting ways with Boldin would almost appear to be crippling in the short term as there is no logical replacement on the roster to count on with the disappointing development of Tandon Doss.

 

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Leach says focus will lead to Ravens victory

Posted on 29 January 2013 by WNST Staff

FULLBACK VONTA LEACH

 

(on the fullback position)“A fullback position, not a lot of teams carry, a lot of teams use tight ends.  The fullback position, you have a guy who can block and catch, who will stick around this league for a long time. I think you will see teams the more physical teams, the teams that run a lot have the fullback position.”

 

(on why its beneficial to have a fullback rather two tight ends)“Because you have to have somebody at the point of attack. Tight ends 90 percent of the time attack the runner.  You notice running backs and fullbacks take the same steps and the fullbacks guide the running back through the holes and uses his eyes.”

 

(on coming to Baltimore)“My story is when I got a call and they called me during the recruitment process, I was sitting at home and Ozzie Newsom called me and said “I need you over here, I want you to come over here.  Then five minutes later I got a call from Ray Lewis saying you need to get your tail over here, we want you. Ray Lewis gets you on the phone and calls that’s going to sell you.”

 

(on other teams he considered during free agency) “Some of the other places I was considering were going back to Houston. I got call from the Giants. There was another one or two but I don’t remember.”

 

(on feeling of coming to the Super Bowl)“It feels pretty good, we came here for one thing and thing only, and that’s to win.”

 

(on opinion which is the best Harbaugh?)“I would have to go with my coach.”

 

(on Ray Lewis coming back for another championship)“I don’t really have any personal stories about Ray. Everyone knows Ray Lewis is the fire. He is the most inspiration to this organization and that this team has heard of. He’s a great man and we want to send him off great. The rallying cry this week is win one for Ray.”

 

(on what’s been different with Joe Flacco)“I don’t think anything’s been different, Joe has been Joe he has just been a team leader all year long for us. You know and Joe will step up big time for us.”

 

(on responding to what Torrey Smith went through)“For him to go through that, and play just a couple hours after hearing about the death of his brother that’s definitely hard to do.  For him coming out and have a game like he did, it’s one of the greatest things I have seen someone do you know in football.”

 

(on playing fullback in this league)“It makes me feel good. Teams that want to be physical and want to run the ball they have a fullback.  People try to get away from it but I think over time, I think we will get back to it.”

 

(on Bernard Pierce)“He’s a been a good guy for us, you know coming in and not missing a beat.”

 

(on Jacoby Jones big touchdown)“I was actually just on the sideline and saw the ball go up in the air. All of the fans started celebrating and everything. When Jacoby had the touchdown, I just ran out on the field.”

 

(on overcoming losing streaks and loss at Houston)“We just had a lot of injuries and stuff which is all part of the game.  We just lost a lot of key players and had to bounce back.”

 

(on if any other Houston Texans will follow him to Baltimore)“We will take any one of those guys, anyone  we will take them over here to the Ravens.”

 

-more-

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Super Bowl XLVII – Tuesday, January 29, 2013

 

 

QUOTES FROM BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA DAY

 

MORE FULLBACK VONTA LEACH

 

(on time spent with the Houston Texans)“The Texans gave me a great opportunity, I had five great years with the organization. I played with some running backs that people never heard of before. I just had an opportunity to get there and establish myself, learn a lot of tools, and I am here now.”

 

(on keeping an eye on the Texans)“You always do because you have a lot of friends still back there that play on the team.”

 

(on the biggest difference at the beginning on the season and the playoffs  now)“I don’t know if I can just say one thing, but just guys coming together and believing in themselves. We also outside the locker room and we break loose.  People are always talking we’re not this we’re not this were not that but we came together no matter what.”

 

(on embracing this experience)“You have to embrace it. I have been in this league for nine years and never made it the Super Bowl so you have to embrace everything. I mean hey, you have to be loose and not all uptight.”

 

(on coming down to a close game the Ravens will win because…)“I think we will win because we are focused.”

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Most Important Individual Matchups in Super Bowl XLVII

Posted on 28 January 2013 by jeffreygilley

Super Bowl 47 is filled with many fantastic individual matchups. In this article, I will list what I consider to be the most important matchups as well as who has the edge in that matchup.

Ed Reed VS Colin Kaepernick

Ed Reed’s legacy is on the line in this game. Even without a Super Bowl ring, you could make an argument that Reed is the best safety to ever play the game. So, with a ring, would that even become an argument? That will be discussed no matter the outcome of the Super Bowl.

Kaepernick is not a one trick pony. He can make any throw and loves to throw the ball deep to Vernon Davis. Therefore, Ed Reed should have plenty of opportunities to make plays against a young quarterback.

Ed Reed has two weeks to prepare for this offense. Therefore, I give the advantage to Reed.

Edge: Ed Reed

Ray Lewis VS Frank Gore

Ray Lewis did not play against the 49ers last season. Because of his absence, the 49ers have not played against a linebacker with Ray’s instincts and intensity. While Ray has lost a step, Gore is not the type of player that can consistently break long runs. Therefore, Ray will be able to keep up with Gore.

These two players are simply too good to give the advantage to one player or another. Frank Gore has played against the Ravens twice, once in 2007 and the other in 2011. In those games, Gore has averaged only 45.5 yards rushing. But in those games, Gore’s offensive line was not as talented as it is this season.

Edge: Even

Justin Smith VS Kelechi Osemele

From watching the 49ers postseason games with an injured Justin Smith, it’s no secret that they have struggled to apply pressure. Aldon Smith has struggled mightily since Justin Smith’s injury but when the two are healthy, the two are a terrifying combination.

Justin Smith will be moved around but for the most part, will be matched up with Kelechi Osemele. Osemele played well at tackle but at this point in his career, is better at guard. Osemele is one of the bigger guards in the league and that should help him against Smith.

Osemele will also have to watch out for Aldon Smith, who runs a lot of stunts to the interior of the offensive line.

Despite Osemele’s talent, Smith is a veteran and giving him the edge is a no-brainer.

Edge: Justin Smith.

Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher VS Aldon Smith

On August 25, the 49ers traveled to New Orleans to play the Saints. In that game, Aldon Smith recorded 1.5 sacks, which gave him 30.5 sacks for his career. This, in turn made him the fastest player to reach 30 sacks. Who did he pass on his way to that record you ask? Reggie White.

Obviously, Smith is doing something right. The supremely athletic linebacker/defensive end seems to play better on big stages and none is bigger than the Super Bowl. Oher should be able to hold his own but the much older McKinnie will have his hands full. On passing downs, expect to see Ray Rice or Vonta Leach in pass protection to help slow down Smith. Running some screens where Rice blocks and then releases on a pass route will also help slow down Smith.

Edge when against McKinnie: Aldon Smith
Edge when against Oher: even

Vonta Leach VS Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman

Of all the matchups in the Super Bowl, this might be the best. In 2011, Leach and Willis exchanged blows and Leach embarrassed Willis on one particular play.

Willis is widely considered the best linebacker in the NFL and Bowman is not far behind him. Expect this to be a back and forth battle for the entire game.

Edge: Even

Conclusion
There are many matchups that are evenly matched. Therefore, this game will come down to lesser-known players making big plays. For the 49ers, the two most likely players to play that role are LaMichael James and Delanie Walker. For the Ravens, Jimmy Smith and Tandon Doss are the most likely candidates.

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Pierce, Ellerbe, Leach questionable for AFC title game

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Pierce, Ellerbe, Leach questionable for AFC title game

Posted on 18 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Finishing preparations for their second consecutive AFC Championship appearance, the Ravens listed three key players as questionable for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots.

Running back Bernard Pierce, fullback Vonta Leach, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and David Reed were all listed as questionable after participating in Friday’s practice on a limited basis. Pierce had missed Thursday’s practice, but the rookie reiterated on Friday that he would play on Sunday despite dealing with a right knee injury for the last few weeks.

Rookie cornerback Asa Jackson was the only player not to participate in Friday’s workout and was ruled out with a hamstring injury. The Ravens listed 16 players as probable.

Coach John Harbaugh painted a positive picture from a health standpoint as the Ravens try to even the score in conference championship games against the Patriots. There is little concern about the availability of any of the players listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, though Ellerbe was downgraded to a limited participant in Friday’s workout after being full-go on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We look good,” Harbaugh said. “We are very similar to what we have been the last few weeks. I don’t think there will be any surprises — barring any surprises. We should be in good shape injury-wise.”

The Patriots listed five players as probable for Sunday’s game, including defensive end Chandler Jones and running back Danny Woodhead. Jones was a full participant in the Patriots’ Friday practice after previously being limited all week.

Expressing quiet confidence throughout the week despite being deemed a clear underdog as they were against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round, the Ravens are a confident group traveling to Foxborough.

“We had a really great practice and had a good week of preparation,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, a team of this caliber in this kind of situation will get everybody’s attention. This game has had our full attention, and we are excited to go play on Sunday.”

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/back), FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), WR David Reed (thigh)
PROBABLE: RB Anthony Allen (head), WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder), CB Chykie Brown (shoulder), DT Terrence Cody (ankle), G Gino Gradkowski (head), DT Arthur Jones (thigh/knee), LB Ray Lewis (triceps), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal), WR Torrey Smith (back), LB Terrell Suggs (achilles/bicep), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
OUT: TE Rob Gronkowski (IR – forearm)
PROBABLE: CB Marquice Cole (finger), DE Chandler Jones (ankle), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), DE Trevor Scott (knee), RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

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Backup running back Pierce sits out Thursday’s practice

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The uncertain status of running back Bernard Pierce took another dip as the rookie did not take part in Thursday’s practice as the Ravens continued preparations for the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship.

A day after practicing on a limited basis, Pierce was again sidelined as he continues to deal with a sore right knee. The 2012 third-round pick told reporters on Wednesday that he will be ready to play in Sunday’s game.

Cornerback Asa Jackson (thigh) was the only other Ravens player not to participate in Thursday’s workout.

Fullback Vonta Leach (knee/ankle) and wide receiver David Reed (thigh) each practiced on a limited basis. The Pro Bowl fullback was a full participant on Wednesday, but he’s dealt with a sore ankle since the early portion of December and has periodically missed practices or been limited to rest over the last several weeks.

Running back Anthony Allen and offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski were upgraded to full participation and were no longer wearing red-contact jerseys during Thursday’s practice, an indication that each had passed a baseline neurological test required to clear a player for contact. Both worked on a limited basis a day earlier.

Meanwhile, New England only had one player missing from the practice field as tight end Rob Gronkowski will not play this week due to a forearm injury that officially landed him on injured reserve on Thursday. Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones was the only Patriots player to work on a limited basis as four others, including running back Danny Woodhead, were upgraded to full participation.

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Bernard Pierce (knee), CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle), WR David Reed (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Anthony Allen (head), G Gino Gradkowski (head), WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder), CB Chykie Brown (shoulder), DT Terrence Cody (ankle), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/back), DT Arthur Jones (thigh/knee), LB Ray Lewis (triceps), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal), WR Torrey Smith (back), LB Terrell Suggs (achilles/bicep), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

NEW ENGLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Chandler Jones (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Marquice Cole (finger), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), DE Trevor Scott (knee), RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

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