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Ravens receive two compensatory picks in April’s draft

Posted on 26 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With NFL owners congregating in Florida for their annual meetings this week, the league awarded 32 compensatory picks for April’s draft on Monday afternoon.

Based on last offseason’s free-agent movement, the Ravens were awarded fourth- and fifth-round compensatory picks, which will be the 130th and 169th overall selections respectively.

While the notable releases of wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, and running back Willis McGahee were not taken into account, the free-agent losses of safety Dawan Landry (Jacksonville), guard Chris Chester (Washington), and cornerback Josh Wilson (Washington) factored into the Ravens receiving compensation in April’s draft after each received high-priced, long-term contracts and started 16 games with new teams.

After general manager Ozzie Newsome traded the Ravens’ fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft to Buffalo for veteran Lee Evans last August, receiving a fourth-round compensatory pick helps to ease the sting of that ill-fated move.

Under the rules of compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive picks. The number of picks a team receives is equal to the net loss of free agents up to a maximum of four. Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time, and postseason distinctions. Not every free agent lost or acquired by a club factors into the formula.

This year, the compensatory picks will be positioned within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

The Ravens have been awarded 33 compensatory picks over their 17-year history, most in the NFL during that time period. With their two fifth-round compensatory picks in 2011, they selected defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Chykie Brown.

Here are the Ravens’ selections for next month’s draft:

Round 1: No. 29
Round 2: No. 60
Round 3: No. 91
Round 4: No. 130 (compensatory)
Round 5: No. 155
Round 5: No. 169 (compensatory)
Round 6: No. 186
Round 7: No. 218

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Heap out, Washington questionable in Houston tonight

Posted on 11 December 2010 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Though most of the week’s conversation has been focused on the fallout from the loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens made final preparations Saturday for a meeting with the 5-7 Houston Texans on Monday night.

The team practiced indoors Saturday although the Reliant Stadium roof is currently scheduled to be open for the prime-time encounter in Houston.

“I thought we had a very good practice today, and I thought we had an excellent week of practice,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “One thing about our guys, they’re professionals. It’s a tough loss, and I think everyone has a tough time getting over it – fans, coaches, players. [This team] means a lot to all of us.”

Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and cornerback Fabian Washington (thigh) were again absent from practice Saturday. Heap was officially ruled out for Monday’s game after not practicing all week with an injured hamstring sustained on the first play of the game last Sunday.

Harbaugh held one last sliver of hope following Saturday’s practice before Heap was ruled unfit to go against the Texans on the injury report.

“Realistically, it would probably be tough for him to get back,” said Harbaugh, who added that the veteran had made substantial progress from Friday.

Washington’s status, however, is a bigger mystery. The maligned cornerback is listed as questionable against Houston. He was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice but did not practice on Friday or Saturday. With his reduced role in recent weeks and inexperience on special teams, the former starter could find himself on the inactive list for the second time in three weeks.

“We’ve been staying on top of [the injury] all week,” said Washington, who acknowledged his status would be a game-time decision. “It’s going to be close.”

Cornerback Lardarius Webb (thigh) was present and fielding punts after being listed as a limited participant Friday. Fullback Le’Ron McClain (ankle) was also present for the open portion of practice and appears fully ready for the Texans after missing last week’s game.

McClain, Webb, and safety Tom Zbikowski (foot) were all listed as probable on the team’s official injury report for Monday’s game.

Despite Friday’s news of police searching receiver David Reed’s apartment in regards to possible narcotics, the rookie return man was present and returning kicks at Saturday’s practice. No immediate discipline is expected to be taken against him, and no charges have been filed to this point.

“He’ll play [against the Texans],” Harbaugh said following Saturday’s practice. “It’s not something that really affects his football status certainly at this time. He’ll have a chance to tell his side of it in the proper way when the time comes. We just have to see how it all shakes out.”

Dickson ready to step up

With Heap out against the Texans, rookie Ed Dickson has prepared all week to make his first career start as the team’s primary tight end. Despite playing the entire game against Pittsburgh after Heap exited on the first play, Dickson admitted his excitement level has climbed substantially this week despite the misfortune of his close friend and teammate.

“I’m just excited,” said Dickson, who had three catches for 21 yards against the Steelers. “I’m ready to get out there. After a loss like that, I’m ready to get back at it and get another victory.”

Dickson and quarterback Joe Flacco have put in extra time this week to develop a higher comfort level in the passing game. Of course, an underthrown pass to Dickson fell incomplete on a fourth-and-2 play that ended the Ravens’ bid for a comeback in the closing seconds against Pittsburgh.

“I feel really comfortable [in the offense]. It’s [about] getting that chemistry down between me and Flacco.”

Jump-starting the offense

The Ravens will look to get well offensively against the league’s 29th-ranked defense, but the means by which they’ll try to do it remain to be seen.

Harbaugh spoke earlier this week about his team’s need to become more physical in the running game where the Ravens are tied for 30th in yards per carry (3.6), a stark contrast from a season ago when Baltimore ranked fourth with a 4.7 yards per attempt clip.

However, the Texans’ biggest weakness lies in the pass defense where they’ve given up a staggering 287.4 yards per game, ranked 31st in the NFL. Establishing the run is critical on the road, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to be licking his chops with an underachieving passing game desperate to prove its worth.

“Every week presents its own challenge,” said Harbaugh about the Houston defense. “We’ve got our hands full in a lot of ways. I think we’ve got to go out there and focus on what we do and try to do it well and try to attack the defense that’s presented to us. They’ve got a lot of good players.”

“Those two outside pass-rushers (Mario Williams and Antonio Smith), if you don’t handle those guys, nothing really matters. They’ve got a nice little blitz package, so it presents a big challenge for us.”

Taking care of business

The Ravens hold a 15-1 mark against teams with sub-.500 records during Harbaugh’s three-year tenure in Baltimore. The only loss came in Week 2 this season when they fell to the 0-1 Cincinnati Bengals.

However, much is at stake for both teams Monday night, as the Ravens desperately want to stay on the heels of the Steelers in the AFC North race and the Texans are holding on to their postseason hopes for dear life after losing five of six games after beginning the season 4-2.

The job status of fifth-year coach Gary Kubiak is on tenuous ground after many expected the Texans to finally break through for their first postseason berth in 2010.

“They’re one of the most talented teams in the league by far,” Harbaugh said. “We understand what kind of team we’re going down there to play. And we understand their mindset going into the game.”

Perhaps the biggest key for the Ravens to continue their success against below-.500 teams is a fast start in a primetime road game, something they were unable to do last month in Atlanta when the offense was shut out in the first half. A slow start against a high-powered Texans offense (ranked seventh in the NFL) that includes the league’s leading rusher in Arian Foster (1,230 yards) and star receiver Andre Johnson (71 catches, 1,018 yards) could prove disastrous.

“I think they’re going to come in with a different game plan and definitely try to have some different things we haven’t seen to match up against us,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “But for us, it’s just for us going down there to play our type and style of football.”

The Ravens are 3-0 in the all-time series against the Texans, which includes two in Houston. The most recent came in 2008 when Baltimore dominated in a 41-13 victory.

Injury report

RAVENS: OUT – TE Todd Heap (thigh) QUESTIONABLE – CB Fabian Washington (thigh) PROBABLE – FB Le’Ron McClain (ankle), CB Lardarius Webb (thigh), S Tom Zbikowski (foot)

TEXANS: OUT – TE Garrett Graham (hamstring) PROBABLE – LB Xavier Adibi (hamstring), G Mike Brisiel (shoulder), LB Brian Cushing (knee), TE Owen Daniels (hamstring), TE Joel Dreessen (ribs), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), CB Glover Quin (hand), QB Matt Schaub (knee), DE Mario Williams (groin), T Eric Winston (shoulder)

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The ‘fall’ of the Ravens defense started many Aprils ago

Posted on 17 November 2010 by Luke Jones

If you’ve been wearing out your Greg Mattison dartboard over the last several weeks, you’re probably not alone.

After all, the current Ravens defensive coordinator is solely responsible for the fall of a once-dominant unit all the way to 10th in the NFL, right?

(As an aside, how spoiled are we to be frustrated with a unit still better — statistically — than 22 other defenses in the league?)

From eliminating the submissive three-man rush to playing tighter, press coverage in the secondary, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, or Rex Ryan would be coaching this defense to the elite level it enjoyed over the last decade instead of the mortal status it currently holds.

If only it were that simple.

Placing blame on a few individuals is common practice (Mattison, maligned cornerback Fabian Washington, and, until recently, “overrated” linebacker Terrell Suggs are popular targets these days), but the defensive problems run far deeper.

Personnel issues, aging stars, a key injury (anyone remember Domonique Foxworth?), and — perhaps — coaching shortcomings have left the Ravens with an above-average defense pursuing ghosts of dominance on the M&T Bank Stadium turf.

Truth be told, the current deterioration of the Baltimore defense began years ago, even while the unit was enjoying perennial elite status.

Anyone who’s followed Ozzie Newsome’s 15 years in Baltimore knows organizational success begins and ends in April. Shrewd trades and a sprinkling of free-agent signings have contributed over the years, but the Ravens have traditionally made their money with the NFL Draft, especially on the defensive side of the football.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN.com)

And herein lies the problem with the current defense.

Since the Ravens drafted Suggs with the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft, Newsome has used only one first-round pick on a defensive player, tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006.

By no means is that an indictment of Newsome, director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, and the scouting department in Owings Mills. The Ravens had no choice but to address the offensive side of the football in hopes of reaching the pinnacle of the NFL.

If defense alone truly wins championships, the Ravens would have a showcase full of Vince Lombardi Trophies in the lobby at 1 Winning Drive, but Baltimore has fallen short with a number of elite defenses, all because of offensive units that couldn’t get out of their own way.

As a result, the team has used five of its last six first-round picks on offensive players, including quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and current starting linemen Ben Grubbs (2007) and Michael Oher (2009). Meanwhile, the defense largely maintained the status quo, carrying the mantra of dominance for years.

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Perhaps seeing leaks last season, the front office emphasized defense in April, drafting Sergio Kindle from Texas and the mammoth Terrence Cody from Newsome’s alma mater of Alabama. Ultimately, a draft’s success cannot be gauged for a few years, but the short-term return has been negligible halfway through the 2010 season.

In fairness, if you could have predicted Kindle’s fall down two flights of stairs in late July, forget about running an NFL front office; I’m asking you for this weekend’s winning lottery numbers.

Cody, on the other hand, still has time to contribute in the short-term and has played better in the Ravens’ last two games after a slow start to his professional career.

But one draft was not going to fix a philosophical shift in recent years that focused on offense with defensive upgrades taking a backseat. A simple look at the defensive picks in the Ravens’ first three rounds since 2004 shows the underwhelming results (the round in which the player was selected is noted in parentheses):

2004: DE Dwan Edwards (2nd)
2005: LB Dan Cody (2nd)
2006: DT Haloti Ngata (1st), CB David Pittman (3rd)
2007: None
2008: LB Tavares Gooden (3rd), S Tom Zbikowski (3rd)
2009: DE Paul Kruger (2nd), CB Lardarius Webb (3rd)
2010: LB Sergio Kindle (2nd), DT Terrence Cody (2nd)

Far more alarming than the lack of first-round selections is the volume of players who failed to make an impact as higher selections. Dan Cody (injuries) and Pittman (ineffectiveness) barely made it on the field in their brief time in Baltimore, and it remains unknown whether Kindle will ever play again, let alone contribute at a high level.

Other players, such as Edwards before signing with Buffalo last offseason, Gooden, and Kruger, have been little more than role players, contributing at times but failing to make a significant impact, though recent draft picks deserve more time to develop.

In contrast, a look at the Ravens’ defensive selections in the first three rounds from 1996 to 2003 shows a much different picture:

1996: LB Ray Lewis (1st), CB DeRon Jenkins (2nd)
1997: LB Peter Boulware (1st), LB Jamie Sharper (2nd), S Kim Herring (2nd)
1998: CB Duane Starks (1st)
1999: CB Chris McAlister (1st)
2000: None
2001: CB Gary Baxter (2nd)
2002: S Ed Reed (1st), DE Anthony Weaver (2nd)
2003: LB Terrell Suggs (1st)

The number of players chosen is similar (11 defensive players chosen in eight years compared to the 10 defenders selected in the seven drafts since 2004), but every player on the latter list started multiple seasons — many of them at elite levels — except Jenkins, who was largely considered a bust in his four years with the Ravens. Of course, the six first-rounds selections paid the largest dividends, but their other picks made significant contributions as well.

Looking at their draft record since 2004 and comparing it to the franchise’s first eight years in Baltimore reveals that in addition to the front office using fewer first-round picks on defensive players, it hasn’t been nearly as successful finding defensive talent in the second and third rounds, especially at cornerback where the unit currently struggles.

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Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (L) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb in the second quarter of their NFL football game in Baltimore, Maryland October 24, 2010.   REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

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So much for the “losing to a good team on the road” excuse, huh?

Posted on 25 October 2010 by WNST Interns

For me, the challenge in writing a good blog is partly bound in highlighting a specific theme or idea that hasn’t been addressed by other writers. While such originality is usually my mission, it’s not always possible.

But, I still try ….. So, as I walked out of M&T Bank Stadium, upon witnessing the Ravens thoroughly destroy the Buffalo Bills, I envisioned the things we would hear on the radio and see in blogs, come Monday morning.

Heck, I was hearing it as we walked across the Hamburg Street bridge. My wife is not a football visionary. However, she is a passionate Ravens fan. Thus, her ensuing comments were as predictable as the sunset every evening. “You and your buddies said there was no way the Buffalo Bills would hang with the Ravens” ….. “You gonna blame today’s crappy 4th quarter on the opponent being a good team?” ….. “This might’ve been a win, but it’s an embarrassing win” ….. If I would’ve had a rope, I could’ve hanged myself – right there, above the train tracks. It was a better alternative than begging her to “PLEASE SHUT THE HE@# UP,” which is not a good idea with my wife. Trust me, I’ve done it and I’ve paid for it. Besides, she was

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Live from Owings Mills: Webb a “game-time decision,” Cousins expected to play against Jets

Posted on 11 September 2010 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With an opening night encounter against the New York Jets only two days away, the Baltimore Ravens took the practice field on Saturday for a final tuneup before Sunday’s walk-through and train ride to East Rutherford, N.J..

Cornerback Lardarius Webb was practicing again on Saturday and is listed as probable on the official game status report released Saturday afternoon. Coach John Harbaugh,  however, labeled the second-year corner a game-time decision, which often means a player will be listed as questionable on the final injury report. Even if Webb does play, Fabian Washington and Chris Carr are expected to start against the Jets, with Josh Wilson working as the third corner.

“[Webb has] practiced 100 percent the whole week; he’s done everything,” Harbaugh said on Saturday. “We didn’t rule [him] out, and we haven’t said he was going to go. That’s kind of one we’re leaving up in the air for you.”

The Ravens are at least making it sound like Webb might play after defensive coordinator Greg Mattison claimed the second-year corner was “a lot closer” to returning following Friday’s practice. As he has said repeatedly since returning to the practice field last month, Webb will defer to the coaching staff to decide whether he plays in the opener,

“I think I can play if it came down to it,” Webb said. “I’m still leaving it up to coach  Harbaugh and [trainer Bill Tessendorf], but I am prepared and ready.”

Webb did not sound encouraged when asked about the potential chance of returning to the field for Week 1 after failing to receive any action in the team’s four preseason games. The cornerback missed training camp and the entire preseason as he rehabbed the surgically-repaired ACL in his right knee.

“It’s just all about the right timing,” Webb said following Saturday’s workout. “Me, [Harbaugh], and [Tessendorf will] come together and see what we want to do this week. We’re going to leave it to the game-time decision.”

The Ravens are keeping everyone guessing regarding the right tackle position with Jared Gaither already ruled out with the same back injury that has kept him off the practice field since early August. Oniel Cousins is listed as probable for Monday’s game and practiced on Saturday. Harbaugh’s comments following practice suggested all indications point to the young tackle being on the field against the Jets; however, it does not mean Cousins will be in the starting lineup. The third-year tackle said the symptoms from a concussion sustained in the final week of training camp have disappeared over the last few days.

“I don’t believe [Cousins] is touch-and-go,” Harbaugh said. “I would expect him to play. I shouldn’t speak for the doctors, but it looks to me like he’s ready to play.”

Cousins had made comments on Friday suggesting he may not be ready to go against the Jets. Tony Moll or starting right guard Marshal Yanda would be the most logical candidates to start should Cousins be held out. Moving Yanda to right tackle would force top reserve Chris Chester to move into the starting lineup at right guard, a position at which he split time last season with Yanda, who was still working his way back from a devastating knee injury suffered in 2008.

The preseason hype machine has been as loud as ever in Baltimore with expectations soaring for third-year quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense. The receiving trio of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Derrick Mason appears tremendous on paper, but the question remains whether the young quarterback can keep all three former Pro Bowlers content by spreading the ball around in the passing game. The three possess similar traits, but none have a strong ability to stretch the field, making the trade of Mark Clayton a perplexing short-term decision with speedy receiver Donte’ Stallworth out with a broken foot until at least the bye week at the end of October.

Despite Houshmandzadeh being a Raven for less than a week, Harbaugh expects the veteran wideout to receive extensive playing time against the Jets. The former Bengals and Seahawks receiver wants to play as much as possible but is realistic about his limitations after only practicing four days with the team.

“That’s what I’m used to doing is playing the entire game,” Houshmandzadeh said following Saturday’s practice. “I’m not a fool, I know that’s not going to happen. But I want to play as much as I can.

All signs point to safety Tom Zbikowski returning punts against the Jets, as he is listed as the top returner on the team’s official depth chart and was again fielding punts in the portion of practice open to the media on Saturday. Webb has also fielded punts in practice this week, but one would think the coaching staff would prefer not to use Webb in the return game before he establishes himself as fit to contribute on defense.

There were no surprises among the players absent from practice, as Gaither, Stallworth, and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (knee) were absent from practice again on Saturday. All three have already been ruled out for Monday night.

NOTES: Ed Reed celebrated his 32nd birthday on Saturday and celebrated by working out on the side field at 1 Winning Drive. Several teammates wished the free safety a happy birthday during the portion of practice open to the media. Reed will miss at least the first six weeks of the season after being placed on the reserve Physically Unable to Perform list last week. … Walt Anderson will be the referee in Monday night’s game. His crew officiated the Ravens’ Monday night loss to the Packers last season in which a total of 23 penalties for 310 yards were called between the teams.

Check out the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Harbaugh, Webb, Cousins, and Houshmandzadeh following Saturday’s practice in Owings Mills.

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Ravens acquire CB Josh Wilson from Seattle

Posted on 31 August 2010 by Luke Jones

After weeks of speculation over whether they would seek help to boost a vulnerable secondary, the Ravens announced Tuesday evening they have acquired cornerback Josh Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks for a conditional 2011 draft pick, pending a passed physical.

Wilson, a former impact player at the University of Maryland, is entering his fourth season in the NFL and has made 24 career starts. The 5-foot-9, 192-pounder was a second-round choice in the 2007 draft. He had been a starting cornerback for the Seahawks this preseason.

“[Wilson] is someone who has started a lot of games for a young player, plus he has been a good special teams player both as a kick returner and in coverages,” general manager Ozzie Newsome stated after the trade. “He adds depth to our secondary and will help us. Pending his physical, we expect [Wilson] to be taking snaps against the Jets on opening night.”

The conditional pick is reportedly a 2011 fifth-round selection that would become a fourth-rounder should Wilson play enough snaps, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The 25-year-old Wilson had a successful 2009 season in Seattle, starting 12 games and returning two interceptions for touchdowns. The former Terp has also returned kickoffs in his brief NFL career, accumulating 94 kickoff returns for 2,350 yards (25.0 avg.) and one touchdown (89 yards).

“He’s an extremely fiery and aggressive player, and I think he’s very talented,” said injured cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who played with Wilson for three years in College Park. “I know his personality fits into what we’re building here. [Wilson] is a no-nonsense type of guy that fits in with this defense and what it means to be a Raven. Off the field, he is a high-integrity guy. He’s a family man, who is very smart and community-minded.”

Wilson would figure to step in as the team’s nickelback, assuming Lardarius Webb is ready to go by Week 1 opposite Fabian Washington in the starting lineup. However, Wilson might supplant current starter Chris Carr should Webb need a few more weeks to work his surgically-repaired right knee back to full strength.

With the competition at punt returner clouded by the recent injury to Donte’ Stallworth, Wilson’s acquisition affords the Ravens the option of using Carr to return punts, a job he held a season ago. Stallworth, Mark Clayton, Tom Zbikowski, and Prince Miller have all been used as punt returners in the preseason.

The Ravens plan to have Wilson arrive in Baltimore on Wednesday, but it is doubtful he will make the trip to St. Louis for the team’s final preseason contest against the Rams on Thursday night.

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Ravens-Redskins Notebook: Nakamura runs wild, 3rd down woes on D

Posted on 21 August 2010 by Luke Jones

LANDOVER, Md. — Even those crazy enough to gamble on preseason games would not have envisioned who the Ravens’ leading rusher would be against the Redskins in a 23-3 victory on Saturday night.

No, it wasn’t Ray Rice or Willis McGahee. Not even fourth-string back Curtis Steele racked up the most rushing yards against the Washington defense.

A backup safety?

Haruki Nakamura ran 51 yards on a fake punt play in the second quarter to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee to put the Ravens ahead for good at 10-3. The third-year safety showed nifty moves on the play, faking out linebacker H.B. Blades and receiver Brandon Banks on separate occasions to set up the Ravens’ first touchdown.

“Anytime you can give a team a spark, you don’t want to give credit to yourself; you’ve got to give credit to the whole entire group,” Nakamura said. “Without guys blocking, I probably would have got smashed in the backfield or been a loss. As a special teams group, that’s the type of things we’re trying to do this year.”

Nakamura said he had not had a long run of that nature since his high school days and had not touched the ball since college.

“You had to like the call [special teams coordinator] Jerry Rosburg sent in on the fake punt,” coach John Harbaugh said. “The Redskins looked like they had it figured out a little before the snap, but [Nakamura] handled it and made the play.”

Cornerback comeback

Fabian Washington had not seen live-game action since Nov. 22 against the Indianapolis Colts when the cornerback tore his ACL, ending his 2009 season and leading to a difficult offseason of rehab.

The 27-year-old sat out the preseason opener but was on the field against the Redskins, making a tackle and breaking up a pass attempt in the first quarter before being replaced by Cary Williams.

“I feel great,” said Washington, who admitted he still isn’t 100 percent recovered. “My knee held up. Mentally, I feel great.”

With Lardarius Webb still on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Chris Carr continuing to recover from a strained hamstring, Washington’s performance was good news for an otherwise shaky Baltimore secondary that allowed 206 passing yards in the first half.

“They got a couple of third downs and one deep ball, but we didn’t give up any points,” safety Dawan Landry said. “As long as you’re not giving up points, we are going to win.”

Third down doldrums

The Redskins marched 73 yards on 13 plays on the opening drive of the game, but their success on third down was even more concerning in regards to the Ravens defense.

Washington was successful on its first three third-down conversions, gaining 73 total yards to move the chains before the Ravens finally stopped the Redskins on third down from the 7-yard line to force a Graham Gano field goal. The big play was a Donovan McNabb 45-yard completion to Anthony Armstrong, moving the ball inside the 10 before the Ravens defense finally buckled down.

The Redskins went 1-for-9 on third down following their successful opening drive.

“We have to get better [on third down], and we did improve in the second quarter,” Harbaugh said. “Also, give some credit to [McNabb]. He has seen it all, and he did a really good job of buying extra time.”

Bubble breakout

The second preseason game is often the biggest opportunity for bubble players to improve their standing for the 53-man roster, and linebacker Jason Phillips and receiver David Reed seized the opportunity on Saturday night.

Phillips made tackles on back-to-back plays with the second being a sack and forced fumble of Redskins backup Rex Grossman, which was recovered by the second-year linebacker late in the third quarter.

Lost in the shuffle behind Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain, Tavares Gooden, and Dannell Ellerbe in the inside linebacker hierarchy, Phillips—who spent last season on Injured Reserve due to a knee injury—is fighting to be noticed on special teams, but creating more turnovers will grab defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s attention very quickly.

The rookie receiver Reed appeared to put a miserable training camp behind him with a masterful performance on one second-half scoring drive. He caught four passes for 38 yards, all coming on a 95-yard drive capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run by Jalen Parmele.

A standout performer during the OTA schedule, Reed struggled to catch the football consistently in four weeks of training camp but showed confidence reining in passes from backup Marc Bulger. Currently in a battle with Demetrius Williams for the fifth receiver spot, Reed may have closed the gap between the two with his strong showing.

“I’m very happy,” Reed said. “It was great to help the team out any way I can, and it was unbelievable. It was a great game.”

Happy and healthy

More satisfying than the 23-3 victory was the apparent escape from Landover without any significant injuries.

Harbaugh said Williams sustained “a little bit of a turned ankle” but was not aware of any other issues following the game.

The Ravens had 11 inactive players on Saturday night, including offensive tackle Jared Gaither, cornerback Marcus Paschal, defensive back K.J. Gerard, guard David Hale, offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, offensive linemen Daniel Sanders and Stefan Rodgers, and the four players currently on the active PUP list (Webb, safety Ed Reed, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, and running back Matt Lawrence).

Carr was active and suited up to play but sat out to rest his left hamstring. The starting corner started against the Panthers but tweaked his hamstring on the third series, forcing him to miss several more practices. He was a full participant only in Thursday’s practice after being limited the entire week.

“They just wanted to be extra cautious, just because of what happened last week,” Carr said. “It was just a precautionary measure. I’m very eager to get back out there.”

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JOIN US NOW!!! Ravens-Redskins Purple Haze chat…enter here!

Posted on 21 August 2010 by Luke Jones

LANDOVER, Md. — Training camp may be over, but the Ravens hope to improve their preseason mark to 2-0 when they travel to FedEx Field to take on the hated Washington Redskins on Saturday night. Despite only being a preseason game, there’s always a little more spice when the team from D.C. is involved.

Glenn Clark and I are live from Landover to bring you all pre- and post-game coverage at WNST.net, and we’ll have the Purple Haze chat underway at 7:00 p.m. Join us to talk about tonight’s game as a plethora of WNST.net personalities will be checking in as well. It’s the newest and best way to enjoy the game other than actually being at the stadium yourself!

If you haven’t done it already, remember to sign up for the WNST Text Service to receive all breaking news including injury updates prior to tonight’s game. It’s our best feature at WNST.net, and it’s free!

Stay right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading up to the start of the Purple Haze chat at 7:00 p.m.!

______________________________________________

6:30 p.m. — Despite not being listed as inactive, cornerback Lardarius Webb remains on the PUP list and will not play this evening. It was simply an oversight.

6:20 p.m. — The Redskins only have two players on the inactive list: wide receivers Malcolm Kelly and Mike Furrey (who was placed on Injured Reserve earlier this week).

Larry Johnson will get the start at running back ahead of Clinton Portis for the Redskins.

6:10 p.m. — If you’re on the WNST Text Service, you’ve already received the Ravens inactives for tonight’s game, which include Oniel Cousins, K.J. Gerard, Marcus Paschal, David Hale, Daniel Sanders, Stefan Rodgers, and the four players on the active PUP (Lardarius Webb, Ed Reed, Matt Lawrence, and Brendon Ayanbadejo).

Tony Moll will start at right tackle in place of Jared Gaither and Oniel Cousins. Of course, Tom Zbikowski will start at free safety in place of Ed Reed.

5:57 p.m. — Mark Clayton just did some work on the field but wasn’t suited up to play. The receiver has battled a sore ankle this week and missed practice on Thursday.

We’ll learn the inactives shortly.

5:47 p.m. — Chris Carr is not suited up as he does some running on the field. No official word whether he’s playing or not.

If Carr cannot go, Travis Fisher would presumably start in his place opposite Fabian Washington in the starting defense.

5:35 p.m. — The Redskins will wear white jerseys with burgundy pants while the Ravens will sport their purple jerseys with white pants tonight at FedEx Field.

Lardarius Webb is doing some conditioning work on the field. With John Harbaugh saying he was “very close” to coming off the physically unable to perform list, it will be interesting to see if the second-year cornerback is back on the practice field in Owings Mills this week.

5:00 p.m. — Tonight’s game marks the sixth time the Ravens and Redskins have met in the preseason, with Baltimore holding a 3-2 advantage in the series. The Ravens bested Washington 24-10 in the 2009 preseason.

Of course, the Ravens have also dominated when it actually matters with a 3-1 all-time record against the Redskins in the regular season. Their most recent meeting was a dominating 24-10 victory for the Ravens in a nationally-televised Sunday night affair on Dec. 7, 2008.

Both teams won their preseason openers, with the Ravens beating the Carolina Panthers, 17-12, and the Redskins scoring 41 points in a victory over the hapless Buffalo Bills.

4:50 p.m. — Glenn Clark and I have arrived in the FedEd Field press box and have been seated at the corner of the end zone.

Upon arriving, Glenn sais to me, “You know what’s great about this place? … Nothing.”

What a funny guy. He truly loves D.C. or Landover or Raljon or whatever they’re calling this place these days.

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Ravens Training Camp: The impressive and disappointing

Posted on 20 August 2010 by Luke Jones

Another Westminster training camp has concluded with the Ravens now focusing their attention to the final three games of the preseason before the 2010 regular season gets underway against the New York Jets on Sept. 13.

Saturday night’s meeting with the Washington Redskins will be a key audition for  bubble players as coach John Harbaugh has already stated how important the second preseason game is for evaluating rookies and reserve veterans fighting for a roster spot.

Much will change before the initial cutdown to 75 players takes place on Aug. 31 and the final cut to 53 on Sept. 4, but here’s a breakdown of players—by position—who impressed and disappointed in Westminster.

QUARTERBACKS
Impressed: Joe Flacco is an easy choice after a strong camp with his new offensive weapons. The third-year quarterback still must prove he can read and throw to the middle of the field, but Anquan Boldin and a strong group of tight ends will certainly help.

Disappointed: Troy Smith knew his standing in the organization changed dramatically after the acquisition of Marc Bulger, and the former Heisman Trophy winner did nothing to push the veteran for the backup job. Smith lacks size and was too erratic in Westminster. He will stick as the No. 3 quarterback, but his performance made the Ravens look very wise for signing Bulger.

RUNNING BACKS
Impressed: Hard to go with anyone but Ray Rice at this spot despite Willis McGahee looking solid and healthy as well. Rice looked to be in mid-season form the first day veterans reported to Westminster. It will be another Pro Bowl season for the third-year back if he remains healthy.

Disappointed: Not his fault, but Matt Lawrence’s chance of making the 53-man roster continues to diminish as he remains on the physically unable to perform list. He is a capable special teams player when healthy, but this summer’s roster is too deep.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Impressed: Everyone assumed Mark Clayton would be cast aside in the offense when the Ravens acquired Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, but the former starter had a strong training camp, catching everything thrown his way. Stallworth was the logical choice as the No. 3 receiver, but Clayton received more reps in three-wide sets over the final two weeks of camp.

Disappointed: The Ravens loved what they saw out of David Reed during the OTA schedule, but the rookie failed to adjust to the quicker speed of training camp. Considered a sure-handed receiver coming out of Utah, Reed dropped countless passes and was not been given much of a look as a kick returner. Demetrius Williams is clearly ahead of Reed in the battle for the fifth receiver spot.

TIGHT ENDS
Impressed: Ed Dickson looked more like an established—not to mention explosive—veteran than a rookie on the upper fields at McDaniel College. The 6-foot-4 Dickson has tremendous size and great speed for a tight end. His versatility will be a welcome addition when the Ravens use him in two-tight end sets and at H-back on occasion. On a side note, Todd Heap had an excellent camp, showing he’s still capable of producing when healthy.

Disappointed: Already facing an uphill battle to make the roster after the drafting of Dickson and Dennis Pitta, Davon Drew was not able to stay on the field this summer. Drew showed more consistency than he did last season as a rookie, but it’s difficult to make the team when you’re never on the field. He’ll need to get healthy and make an impact in the remaining preseason games.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Impressed: Fellow guard Ben Grubbs earns more notoriety, but Marshal Yanda was ferocious in Westminster, proving he’s all the way back from the horrific knee injury he suffered two seasons ago. Yanda anchored and stood up Terrence Cody during a 1-on-1 drill in one of the highlights of the summer, just a couple plays after the 350-pounder had blown up the highly-regarded Grubbs.

Disappointed: Showing up 30 pounds lighter without the coaching staff’s approval and injuring his back on the first day of full-team workouts made Jared Gaither a slam-dunk choice. Not only are there concerns whether he’ll be ready by Week 1, but he’s missed valuable time to adjust to the right tackle position.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Impressed: He got off to a slow start while adjusting to playing with the 15 extra pounds he gained in the offseason, but Paul Kruger became a force on the defensive line, off the edge and even sliding to the inside in the nickel package. If Kruger can replicate what he showed in Westminster over the last two weeks, the Ravens will have another factor in the pass rush.

Disappointed: None. This is the deepest unit on the team. The only disappointment on the defensive line is the reality that the organization will have to cut a couple of talented players due to numbers.

LINEBACKERS
Impressed: His performance in the Carolina game aside, Jameel McClain was the biggest surprise of camp over the first three weeks, working at inside linebacker with the first defense. McClain played the run well and showed competence in pass coverage, but it did not carry over against the Panthers in the preseason opener. The competition for the starting job next to Ray Lewis is still wide open. Antwan Barnes earns an honorable mention.

Disappointed: The likely favorite to win the second inside linebacker spot prior to camp, Dannell Ellerbe came to Westminster out of shape and trailed McClain and Tavares Gooden for much of the way. Ellerbe improved his standing as the weeks progressed, but it was apparent how unhappy the coaching staff was as Ellerbe worked with the second defense in Westminster.

CORNERBACKS
Impressed: Expected to be brought back slowly, Fabian Washington provided a much-needed lift to the secondary when he returned to the field during the first week of camp. Washington appeared quick and made more plays as the weeks progressed. He will see his first game action against the Redskins on Saturday night and will be relied upon to be the team’s top corner, even if he’s nowhere near a true No. 1.

Disappointed: The injury to Domonique Foxworth is most appropriate here, but the brief eight-day stint of Walt Harris takes the cake in this department. He was unable to show he had anything left in the tank despite a solid career. And it’s tough labeling the likes of Doug Dutch and Chris Hawkins as disappointments if you never had any expectations to begin with.

SAFETY
Impressed: While no one compares to Ed Reed, Tom Zbikowski eased concerns at the position with a very strong showing in Westminster. Zbikowski is faster and showed a strong nose for the football this summer after doing an adequate job in Reed’s place for four games last season. Despite not knowing the status of its future Hall of Famer, this unit of safeties looks very sound with Zbikowski and Dawan Landry anchoring the secondary.

Disappointed: Though labeling him a disappointment is bit strong, Ken Hamlin has done little to challenge Zbikowski for the free safety position, partly because the latter was excellent in practice. Hamlin was solid, but unspectacular, running with the second defense. The former Cowboy has great size (6-foot-2) but needs to show a stronger special teams presence to stick around when Reed returns to the field.

SPECIALISTS
Impressed: Yes, he’s younger, cheaper, and healthier, but the Ravens clearly loved what they saw from Morgan Cox to have jettisoned veteran Matt Katula two days after the preseason opener. Fans can only hope we won’t hear his name again all season.

Disappointed: Though he’s kicked reasonably well, the Ravens certainly wished Shayne Graham had seized early control of the competition with Billy Cundiff. Until the final two days of camp, Cundiff had outperformed the former Bengal by a slight margin. Graham struggled with field goals outside 45 yards in Westminster but kicked better during the practice at M&T Bank Stadium. The smart money is still on Graham to be the kicker, but the battle has been closer than most people thought.

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Optimistic Ravens exit Westminster as stakes begin to grow

Posted on 19 August 2010 by Luke Jones

Optimism percolated from every route leading to Westminster as the masses flooded to McDaniel College over the last four weeks to take a glimpse at a team with its sights set on a date in Dallas on the first Sunday in February.

The Ravens set an all-time training camp attendance record of 112,051 despite a new kid-friendly autograph policy that many thought would temper the masses.

Even with the uncertain status of Ed Reed and the unfortunate losses of rookie Sergio Kindle and Domonique Foxworth, the Ravens have practiced with a swagger indicative of a team fully expecting to be playing deep into January or—with some good fortune—even later. A workmanlike demeanor from third-year coach John Harbaugh has muzzled some of the flamboyant comments uttered by players in past anticipated seasons, but the goal is clear, even under the hot sun of Westminster.

“[Camp has] just been tremendous,” Harbaugh said. “First of all, we’ve gotten a lot of work done. Our guys have worked really hard, and it’s a grind. Football training camp is hard work.”

Despite injury concerns in the secondary (Reed and Lardarius Webb) and offensive line (Jared Gaither), the Ravens managed to avoid any more catastrophic injuries after the deflating loss of Foxworth on July 29.

Breaking camp marks the next step in the quest for a Super Bowl, but the stakes rise much higher from this point forward. Optimism and good vibes are easily found in the secluded confines of an NFL training camp.

Despite the open nature of practices in Westminster, coaches and players work within a cocoon of order. Distractions are at a minimum as players live with curfews and are away from everyday responsibilities related to family and friends.

It was football and only football for four taxing weeks, but players return to a sense of normalcy on Friday.

Now, Joe Flacco and a much-improved offense—on paper anyway—have three more preseason games to fine-tune their work to determine if the vision of becoming an elite unit comes to fruition.

As much as we analyze every play and every day of the summer, picking on cornerbacks like Doug Dutch and Chris Hawkins shows little in terms of how explosive the Baltimore offense will ultimately be. The pressure gets that much heavier, even if the workload of practice decreases.

An unsettling situation at the right tackle position might derail that optimism as quickly as Ray Rice can take it 83 yards to the end zone. The physical and mental health of Gaither is critical with unproven players in Oniel Cousins and Tony Moll—who have also been hindered with injuries—waiting behind him.

An even shakier atmosphere exists with the defense, a perennial top-5 unit in the NFL for over a decade. Even before the loss of Foxworth due to a torn ACL, the Ravens were light on quality at cornerback and occasionally-promising showings from the likes of Travis Fisher, Cary Williams, and Prince Miller in Westminster will not get it done against the Cincinnatis and New Englands of the world.

Fabian Washington has progressed nicely in his recovery from a torn ACL last season and will see his first game action against the Washington Redskins on Saturday. Chris Carr, the nickelback a season ago, will be relied upon to hold down the other starting spot as Webb will presumably be getting back to the practice field in the coming days.

And, oh yeah, the six-time All-Pro Reed still has no timetable for a return despite making progress in rehabbing his surgically-repaired hip. Tom Zbikowski has competently held his spot at free safety with the Ravens showing cautious optimism that Reed might be able to play Week 1. However, only the enigmatic safety really knows when he will be ready.

“We feel like the guys that we have are going to be able to go in there and get the job done,” said Carr, who reminded reporters the Ravens finished with the eighth-ranked pass defense last season despite late-season injuries. “We feel like we’re experienced, and we have a lot of potential to get better. We feel like we can do a lot of things back there.”

Easy feelings to have within the sheltered atmosphere of Westminster, but Ozzie Newsome knows better. The front office clearly wants—and needs—to upgrade the cornerback position, even if  it’s only a quality third or fourth defensive back from another team.

The most critical component to enhancing the suspect pass defense is improving the pass rush, as the Ravens produced their second lowest sack total (32) in franchise history in 2009.

Despite the absence of the rookie Kindle, Antwan Barnes and Paul Kruger have impressed in that area, both in camp and against the Carolina Panthers last Thursday. The emergence of these two coupled with a healthy and motivated Terrell Suggs might just mask a weaker secondary.

However, we’ve seen strong preseason performances from countless young players in years past—Barnes being one of them—only to see them forgotten by mid-September.

When the Ravens put Westminster in the rear-view mirror on Friday, they leave training camp behind and return to the cozy confines in Owings Mills, but the summer sun rapidly transforms to the white-hot expectations created—locally and nationally—over the last seven months.

“Hopefully, we’re the best football team we can be coming out of this training camp at this time, but we still have work to do,” Harbaugh said. “Next week we’ll be right into training camp again, and it’ll be one-a-days, more of an in-season type schedule, but we’ll still be in camp as far as we’re concerned.”

Cutdown dates loom for players trying to secure a roster spot, the clock ticks on whether Newsome can find another piece to enhance the secondary, and the New York Jets and Monday Night Football await in less than four weeks.

Thankful players say goodbye to the team hotel in Westminster and return to their own beds on Friday, but with that come the more restless nights as a season of lofty expectations quickly approaches.

Training camp is in the books.

From here on out, it gets a little more real.

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