Saturday, June 30, 2007

WHY THE RAVENS WILL BE BETTER IN '07 THAN '06


When the Ravens lost a gut wrenching heartbreaker to the Colts during the Divisional Playoffs last January, many wondered if the Ravens had blown their last chance in quite a while to win another Super Bowl. I remember wondering the same.

As the stands emptied and I sat in my seat alone with my son staring out on to the field, into the surrealism provided by an empty, losing battleground, I wondered if AD had played his last game. I wondered if Steve McNair was on his last legs. I wondered if the Ravens could resurrect a running game that at best was on life support.

And in the midst of all that wondering, there was a tap on my shoulder from one of the Safe Management ushers who clearly recognized and perhaps even felt my pain, allowing me to soak up that sobering moment.

“Excuse me sir, it’s time to leave”, said the usher. “It’s over.”

Indeed it was.

The dream was over and that February trip to Miami was cancelled.

Time has a way of healing and it has a way of providing clarity. And I think I’ve experienced both the healing and the clarity and today, I’m here to tell you why the 2007 Ravens will be better than the 2006 Ravens.

1. Perhaps the biggest concern heading into the offseason was the loss of Adalius Thomas. AD was a stud for a player and an even better person. Yet the argument could be made that he has peaked. Should the Ravens handsomely pay a sentimental favorite for what he’s done or use the money to pay someone else for what they will do? Give the Ravens credit for not franchising AD. They could have but their reluctance to do so for a great organizational man sends a statement to players and agents around the league. It promotes trustworthiness and it buys goodwill that might pay dividends in the future.

But how does that help today you ask?

Rex Ryan perhaps better than any other assistant in the league, knows how to get the most out of a player’s unique set of skills. And while AD’s skills were clearly very unique, I have no doubt that Ryan will utilize the talents of Bart Scott, Jarret Johnson, Gerome Sapp, Antwan Barnes and perhaps even Dan Cody to fill the void left by AD. I also believe that the development of Terrell Suggs as an all-around LB and not just a pass rusher and STILL only 24 years old, will nicely compensate for the loss of the All-Pro Thomas.

2. Another concern heading into the offseason was the position of right tackle given the departure of Tony Pashos and the subsequent impact upon the offensive line. Pashos had a solid season and the Ravens did a nice job of scheming each week when a speed rusher was head up on Pashos by chipping the DE with backs and tight ends. Some worry that Adam Terry won’t be able to handle the position. The Ravens coaches believe otherwise.

Terry they believe simply needs repetitions at the position. He is clearly a better athlete than Pashos and he’s added some bulk to his frame with no apparent loss in mobility. He also gets to the second level more adeptly than Pashos. Last summer because of Jonathan Ogden’s absence from camp due to the loss of his father, Terry was forced to take all of the reps at left tackle. This summer he will be a permanent fixture at right tackle.

And when you factor in the versatility and the balance of the offensive line, it opens up the playbook and slows down the defense. What was an offseason concern has been addressed and then some through the draft, added competition and experience. The Ravens offensive line will be much more balanced in ’07 and as a result more effective.

3. The running game went nowhere in ’06 and naturally that placed more pressure on the passing game. Steve McNair’s most effective years as a Titan were accompanied by a solid rushing attack led by Eddie George. McNair is effective when using play action early in down sequences but that assumes a measure of respect for the running game by opposing defenses. Jamal Lewis’ lack of versatility, poor vision and slow initial burst commanded little respect in ’06 and that left the Ravens with the league’s 25th ranked rushing attack and they ranked No. 31 in average yards per carry (3.4).

To affect a needed change, not only did the Ravens invest in the offensive line, they added Willis McGahee. It’s somewhat possible yet unlikely that McGahee’s numbers won’t be significantly better than Jamal Lewis’. Yet even if it does shake out that way, McGahee brings a much higher degree of versatility to the offense and his ability to operate out of a single back set provides more opportunities for the developing Demetrius Williams whose skills have to be respected by opponents. Rolling coverage towards the dangerous Williams could open up running lanes for McGahee who has excellent vision, runs behind his pads well, has solid cutback skills and is a greater threat in the red zone.

4. Steve McNair’s second season in the Ravens' offensive system bodes well for the team. His reads and his reactions to defensive sub packages and pre-snap alterations will be cleaner and more natural. There will be less thinking and he will more adeptly find the soft spots in coverages sooner. Another year of experience with his receivers is also key and his ability to hit McGahee (a much more accomplished receiver than Jamal Lewis) out of the backfield on the run can turn a seemingly short gain into a game breaking play.

During the bye week last year and after Jim Fassel’s departure, Brian Billick determined that it was better to fit the system’s style to McNair’s and not McNair’s style to the system. Expect more of that in ’07 and an even more effective Steve McNair.

5. Mark Clayton has added bulk to improve yards after catch and his hamstring appears to be 100%. He showed a burst in his routes and off the line of scrimmage in OTA’s and a confident mastery of the offensive system that may not have been present in his first two seasons. He will emerge as the Ravens’ de facto No. 1 receiver. Derrick Mason appears rejuvenated and he’ll be the guy looked upon to make the tough catches and move the chains. Demetrius Williams has looked very solid in OTA’s and seems to have refined his route running skills. And while he may not be a true burner in the sense of a Joey Galloway, Williams has gears and can lure defenders to sleep and then accelerate out of his breaks, creating separation which ultimately makes him a deep threat. Mix in Yamon Figurs speed and ability to stretch defenses, even if only as a decoy, Todd Heap and the versatile Daniel Wilcox and the Ravens will arguably field a Top 5 receiving corps in ’07.

6. Expect more consistent play from the Ravens’ secondary in ’07. Last year Samari Rolle, much like a hitter in a slump or a golfer with the yips off the tee, was the “beneficiary” of too much information from too many coaches and players trying to help him through his struggles. The predictable result was paralysis by analysis and very soft coverage on the edge. Look for improvement there and even if that doesn’t happen, the Ravens have a few young corners with another year of experience that might be ready to step in should Rolle’s slump continue.

Rolle will also get more consistent help from the safeties this season. Last year Ed Reed took chances early on, perhaps trying to justify his record contract for a safety. As the year progressed, Reed learned that sticking to his assignments and Rex Ryan’s defensive calls would provide him with the opportunities to make plays that he desperately craves in addition to minimizing the defensive soft spots.

Dawan Landry will certainly benefit from an added year of experience with the team as will the scrappy Corey Ivy. If David Pittman can shake his hamstring woes, he could contribute as well. His one-on-one cover skills are as good as any DB’s on the squad.

7. Early on in ’06, some wondered if the Ravens had spent too much for Trevor Pryce. But when Rex Ryan’s defense clicked in along with his familiarity with new teammates, Pryce was an absolute beast. Expect him to get off to a faster start in ’07 and don’t be surprised if he’s in Hawaii come February ’08. Kelly Gregg continues to improve and his sidekick Haloti Ngata should find the going a bit more familiar this season and that should lead to even more production from the behemoth DT. Antwan Barnes is a promising rookie. He has the potential to create havoc and look for Rex Ryan to put him in position to do exactly that.

8. Last year was the first year for Special Teams Coach Frank Gansz, Jr. and obviously the first exposure for most of his players to Gansz’ approach to special teams. Most were accustomed to the philosophies, terminology and style of former Special Teams Coach Gary Zauner.

In ‘07 there is reason to believe that given the depth on the Ravens roster and their familiarity with Gansz, that they should improve upon their special teams’ ranking of No. 10 in ’06.

According to Ravens’ long snapper Matt Katula, Gansz’ unit is well ahead of the game.We are all excited about the [unit]. Frank Gansz is excited about it. Katula added, “Mini camps were flawless. They were great. We felt awesome about it. Last year was the learning curve. [Now] we are in mid season form.”

9. Competition at various positions will be fierce and the desperation to preserve jobs and in some cases careers, will heighten focus and make the team better. Will Chris Chester's play nudge out Mike Flynn at center or Keydrick Vincent at right guard? What about first round pick Ben Grubbs? Will he start? Will the feisty Marshal Yanda push Terry? Who will win the battle for kick returner? Will Justin Green get the nod at FB or rookie Le’Ron McClain? Will Devard Darling continue his progression shown at OTA’s and will it be enough to squeeze out Clarence Moore? If Dan Cody is healthy, who will he press for time?

All of these battles intensify the will to compete; they intensify the ability to focus and the attention to detail. The end result is a more focused and improved team.

10. The Ravens were once known for their swagger and cocky bravado and they used those emotions for on-the-field rocket fuel. That has changed a bit. If the OTA’s are any indication, there is less bravado with the ‘07 Ravens and more of a quiet resolve and simmering determination.

The abrupt and unexpected end to the 2006 season has burned in the souls of the Ravens, seemingly to a man. They recognize that for some, ’07 could be their last chance to be a Super Bowl Champion.

Last year at this time, there were many unanswered questions about the Ravens. How long would Brian Billick be around? Why was Ray hinting at a trade and throwing teammates under the bus? Could Steve McNair make a difference and could he stay healthy? Was Jamal Lewis finished? How would they fill the hole created by Will Demps’ departure?

As a result of the questions, the season’s outcome was highly unpredictable.

The Ravens now know that they are an elite team and they are carrying a businesslike approach into the season. The sting of that 15-6 loss to the Colts and the missed opportunities will provide value albeit a season later.

Better late than never.

And in ’07 the Ravens will be just that – better!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

BOSTON HERALD WRITER TAKES SHOTS AT RAVENS


In an article entitled “History Favors Thomas, Ex-Ravens Get a Bad Rap”, the Boston Herald’s John Tomase strongly suggests that the locally held opinion that Ravens’ defenders that leave for the greener grass don’t always fail outside of Baltimore. Tomase goes on to say that such a hypothesis isn’t even remotely supported by fact.

First, let me be clear that I don’t think for a second that Adalius Thomas will be a failure in New England. Outside of Baltimore, AD’s skills are probably best suited for New England. There are strong synergies there.

But about this premise from Tomase…

Let’s take a look at the evidence he uses to support his argument (in italics followed by my rebuttal):

“Massive nose tackle Sam Adams was a two-time Pro Bowler with the Ravens who went on to earn another trip to Honolulu with the Bills after leaving Baltimore in 2002.”

True but as we’ve seen often, Pro Bowl nominations are often the byproduct of a reputation. Adams has hardly been the player he was in 2000 and 2001, both seasons as a Raven when he established that reputation.

“Linebacker Jamie Sharper led the NFL in tackles (166) with the Texans in 2003, two years after bidding farewell to Baltimore. While tackles can be a misleading stat and Sharper was not considered as dominating a player in Houston, he remained productive.”

I think Tomase just admitted in the above statement that Sharper wasn’t as good in colors other than purple, didn’t he?

“Ageless defensive back Rod Woodson authored maybe the best season of his Hall of Fame career with the Raiders in 2002, recording 82 tackles and a career-high eight interceptions - including two returned for touchdowns.”

Woodson wasn’t a product of the Ravens system. I would argue his best years were as a Steeler yet he certainly was a contributing member of the Ravens. If you recall, Woodson was a struggling corner with the San Francisco 49ers and some thought he was done, probably even the Niners. How else do you explain that they opted for former Raven Antonio Langham (another example of a former Ravens’ defender fading away) to replace Woodson at corner? Simply put the Ravens helped revive Woodson’s career and they recognized something that the Niners didn’t – that Woodson, like former Niner Ronnie Lott, could extend his career by moving to safety.

“Safety Will Demps was limited to 11 games with Baltimore in 2005, but rebounded to post a career-high 100 tackles with the Giants last year.”

Demps was injured during 2005 and while he may have posted a career high 100 tackles in ‘06, his team’s defense ranked 25th overall last season and 28th against the pass. Given that Dawan Landry was far more productive as a rookie at a fraction of the cost…well you can guess the rest. And by the way, is 100 tackles for a safety a good thing?

Tomase also mentions a few offensive players as evidence that former Ravens don’t venture into a performance abyss. Those players include: Casey Rabach, Shannon Sharpe, Chester Taylor and Marcus Robinson. Of those four only Rabach was a miss (Sharpe, Taylor and Robinson were cap decisions) but the original premise of former Ravens failing outside of Baltimore focuses on defensive players.

Tomase points towards DB Corey Harris, DE Marques Douglas and DT Maake Kemoeatu as further evidence that new homes for old Ravens aren’t all that bad.

Did he mean financially?

Corey Harris? Nice role player but how can you compare his meaningful stats with the Ravens, partly as a back up to those that he accumulated as a member of the hapless Detroit Lions where he probably had significantly more snaps because the Lions defense couldn’t get off the field?

Marques Douglas? Another nice player in the Ravens D-line rotation. But over his last two seasons as a Raven, Douglas had 133 tackles and 10 sacks compared to 119 and 4 in ’05 and ’06 as a 49er. And clearly those contributions are on a far inferior defense to Baltimore’s.

Maake Kemoeatu? The former nice guy Raven who signed his new contract 1 minute after the free agency period opened? That Maake Kemoeatu? Nice payday for the undrafted free agent. Kemo had 34 tackles in ’06 as a Panther compared to his 40 as a Raven the year before…and those certainly were far more costly tackles for Carolina given the hefty $23 million contract.

Tomase does mention Ed Hartwell as a former Raven who flamed out. He also mentions Duane Starks, Gary Baxter and Tommy Polley.

What about Anthony Weaver and Kim Herring?

Tomase seems to be defending the Patriots free agent choice of AD and that’s fine. But what has to factor into the equation here is not only what the former Ravens’ defenders didn’t do when they left, but also the value they received from the replacements for these high priced free agents.

For example, Bart Scott is a superior player to Hartwell at a much lower price. Weaver had a bigger signing bonus than Trevor Pryce and there is clearly no comparison as to which of those two is a greater impact player.

Kemo’s dollars and cents went to Haloti Ngata, a far superior player with a much higher ceiling and probably a longer career still ahead.

In many ways, the Ravens roster management is similar to that of the Patriots. They’ve learned the hard way not to attach themselves emotionally to players at the risk of poor cap management. AD is a perfect case in point. And John, fyi…the Ravens did not opt to not tag AD in order to extend Bart Scott. Bart has two more years remaining on a three year deal he did last year. The Ravens chose not to extend AD because they recognize that they can’t afford both he and Terrell Suggs. Suggs has a higher ceiling than AD and at 24 he clearly has many more years ahead of him than the new Patriot.

Nice try Tomase. I think YOUR argument isn’t even remotely supported by fact unless of course you include offensive players who weren’t even part of the original perception held by the local media that free agent DEFENDERS generally aren’t as productive when they leave Baltimore.

It looks like you’ve conveniently overlooked that to support your argument.

And that begs the question, “Why not include the most obvious former Raven who outperformed his seasons in Baltimore more so than any other ex-Raven?”

Answer: Priest Holmes

Do your homework Johnny!


Good luck AD!

Ravens Special Unit in Mid-Season Form


We often hear about how much more effective Steve McNair could be this season than last given his year of experience in the Ravens’ system and his familiarity with the offensive cadence and terminology. And then of course there’s a greater degree of comfort that now exists with his teammates that was nothing more than a goal one year ago. This season, McNair will have a better understanding of how Mark Clayton might read a particular coverage and where he can expect to find him given the call, down and distance. And Clayton is just one of many.

The repetitions create a comfort zone, the comfort zone breeds confidence and confidence, success.

But such patterns aren’t limited to just offense and defense. They also project well to special teams.

Last year was the first year for Special Teams Coach Frank Gansz, Jr. and obviously the first exposure for most of his players to Gansz’ approach to special teams. Most were accustomed to the philosophies, terminology and style of former Special Teams Coach Gary Zauner.

In ‘07 there is reason to believe that given the depth on the Ravens roster and their familiarity with Gansz, that they should improve upon their special teams’ ranking of No. 10 in ’06. According to Ravens’ long snapper Matt Katula, Gansz’ unit is well ahead of the game.

We are all excited about the [unit]. Frank Gansz is excited about it. Katula added, “Mini camps were flawless. They were great. We felt awesome about it. Last year was the learning curve. [Now] we are in mid season form.”

Backup safety and special teams’ ace Gerome Sapp shares Katula’s promising outlook.

“We’re looking for an amazing year this year. We’re going to be competitive and Gansz will stay on us. Fans are going to be thrilled to see us this year.”

Roster depth doesn’t just mean that a team has good backups. It means that those good players will push those in front of them to be better and they will battle to show well on tape so the coaches take note. They will fight and scratch and claw their way to secure one of those valuable 53 jobs on the Baltimore Ravens roster. And when they do, Gansz’ unit becomes more dangerous and more effective giving the offense a shorter field and the defense a longer one.

And that adds up to digits in the “W” column.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

RAVENS ABOUT TO GET SAPPED: Veteran safety discusses new role and new Ravens


Tony Lombardi: Gerome, you've been through your offseason conditioning and you are now finished with OTA's. What will you be doing to as Brian Billick suggested, "stay in shape and stay out of trouble" between now and July 29?

Gerome Sapp: I guess in terms of staying out of trouble, it is just common sense for the most part. Keep your mind about you. For keeping in shape, I’m working out with a whole new workout regime. I’m using interval-type training to simulate play progression and series progression. I’m also picking up my weight to maintain what I have.

TL: AD is gone and a few players like Jarret Johnson, Dan Cody and possibly Antwan Barnes will be asked to collectively help fill the void. Interestingly, Rex Ryan hinted recently that AD's departure could mean more snaps for you. What can Ravens fans expect from you in '07?

GS: Well, they expect me to be everywhere. When I’m on defense I’m usually on the field with Landry and Reed in the regular formation and the nickel and dime. They feel I’m good and a big enough athlete that I can play some of what AD did last year by adding more speed and agility. They can always expect me to play hard… that’s what I do.

TL: Antwan Barnes looks like he is going to make an early impact if he's placed in the right situations. What do you think of the F.I. rookie thus far?

GS: He’s probably one of the most impressive rookies. I really like his quickness and his strength. He’s grasping the game plan and doing it well. I hope it continues with the pads on as well.

TL: Talk about some of the players that are new to the team, rookies, free agents and Willis McGahee and your impressions of them so far. Do any stand out?

GS: McGahee – he’s jelling really well with the team. With him going to Miami – they all get along real well. His personality is friendly and open. He does a lot of joking and laughing around. Man, he looks good on the field. Troy Smith looks impressive too. Makes you wonder why he slipped to the 5th round. Seeing his arm strength and how he runs the offense makes you wonder.

TL: In those one-on-one drills it seems like some of the DB's and WR's compete while others sort of pass on the drill. Is that optional? How do you view those drills and how helpful are they?

GS: They are very helpful especially when you go against our WR’s. I think we have some of the most underrated WR’s in the league – they’re great. Some of the stuff we do is just working on certain techniques so it may look like defense is working or the offense is working – it just depends. As far as some players not participating they may be opting out because they’re not warmed up yet and don’t want to go one-one-on.

TL: You play on special teams. The depth of the Ravens roster this year should mean an even better unit for Frank Gansz this year. How excited is the squad about the special teams potential and how does Coach Gansz see it?

GS: Well I think we are ten times better than we were than last year. We made a ton of improvements and ultimately our game got better. B.J. Sams is healthy now too. We’re looking for an amazing year this year. We’re going to be competitive and Gansz will stay on us. Fans are going to be thrilled to see us this year.

TL: Do you think Tony Soprano is dead? Why or why not?

GS: Yes he is dead, but I think they did a smart thing by not showing him dying because they keep their options open. But I really think that is how he died because that is how his father died.

Monday, June 18, 2007

"LADY" IN RED NOT FOR THE RAVENS!


If you watch NFL team reports from OTA’s whether on NFL Network or ESPN, inevitably you will see footage of the most highlighted of all positions in all of sports – quarterback. And as you watch you will notice that nearly every team has their quarterback practicing in a red jersey to differentiate him from the rest of the team. The exception of course is if the team uses red in their home and away color scheme like the Chiefs, Redskins and Cardinals. Then the quarterbacks wear gold/yellow jerseys. The intent of course is to keep QB's free from incidental contact, hits and injuries.

Now that is not far removed from Jack Lambert’s circa 1970’s comments when he insinuated that the league protects the quarterback so much, they may as well put them in dresses.

I wonder if Brian Billick was a Jack Lambert fan.

The Ravens are the only team I’m aware of that don’t alter the color of their quarterbacks’ practice jerseys.

When I asked one person in the Ravens organization about this all to important oversight, I was told that the team isn’t worried about their quarterbacks because they all stink. I was told dressing the team’s QB’s in red is the equivalent of worrying about a beat up old car when you’re learning to parallel park.

That was a joke, right?

I’ll tell you what is undoubtedly a jokethe industry that has spawned from the NFL Draft and the thousands upon thousands of mock NFL drafts.

Whether you think they are worthwhile or not is a matter of opinion. Personally after I look at Mel Kiper’s big board, I have a decent handle on where players should go and that’s really all I need given the volatility of a typical NFL Draft.

That said, I find this extremely comical – a 2008 NFL Mock Draft available on line today!

I’m not kidding. Thefootballexpert.com has the 2008 first round mapped out prior to the teams stepping foot upon the field in 2007. The site’s Grand Poobah, Michael Abromowitz (sounds like a Penn St. LB) and his crystal ball show the Ravens with the 27th pick in the ’08 draft and here’s what he predicts they will do with the pick:

27. Baltimore Ravens- Dwight Lowery, CB, San Jose St.- Quarterback looks like a possibility, but I really think the Ravens are interested in making Troy Smith their quarterback. If that is not the case, Chad Henne is a possibility. Samari Rolle and Chris McAllister will be 31 and 30 when the season starts, so youth at CB is needed. Lowery has nice size at 6-1, 185 and can come in immediately and be the nickleback.

By the way, in case you are wondering, Abromowitz & Co. have the Cowboys picking first courtesy of that Brady Quinn trade during the ’07 NFL Draft. And with the first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys select Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas.

So, will Phil Savage then return to Baltimore as Eric DeCosta’s assistant and Romeo Crennel as Rex Ryan's replacement?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

10 THINGS I'LL DO WHILE WAITING ON TRAINING CAMP


I’ve taken to calling the days between the last day of Ravens’ OTA’s to the first day of summer camp as the “Dead Zone.” It’s a bit of a shame that it has to be that way.

For some of you youngsters out there, believe it or not there was a day when the Orioles were actually in the thick of a pennant race nearly every season. Transistor radios would be dialed into WBAL or WFBR and serve as the background “noise’ at summer picnics or evenings under those colorful plastic cone-like lights that hung from awnings and clothes lines and porches. The radio broadcast of an Orioles game was as much a part of the summer evening landscape in Baltimore backyards as a pesky mosquito.

Today most Baltimoreans opt for music while enjoying the ambience of their outdoor decks because right about this time for nearly each of the past 10 years, the Orioles are long gone from the pennant race when the Ravens take up their summer siesta. This year is no different.

So during the Dead Zone, here are a few things that I plan on doing to occupy and enjoy my summertime:

1. BUY A SOPRANOS BOX SET: I want to see Tony alive and gamefully whacking those that have it coming. I’m not digging him as a whackee. He’s better as a whacker so I’ll take a stroll down Jersey City lane and try to ignore all these theories about fading to black and Steve Perry. In fact I’ll take Perry’s advice and I won’t stop believing that Tony is alive and that a movie will surface in about three years to help tie up some lose ends.

2. BICYCLE, BICYCLE. I want to ride my bicycle...Hey gas prices are off the charts and the exercise is good for you right? I call that a win-win. Of course if I’m far from home and I get a flat, that’s not a win-win. Then the bowling alley words will fly from my mouth like, well The Sopranos.

3. GONE FISHIN’: I’m not much of a fishing or hunting guy. I always say that I’d like to take a little fishing trip but seldom do I follow through. Check that, never do I follow through. This year I’ll stop talking and start fishing. I’ve even booked it – July 6. Pictures to follow and for some reason the Gilligan's Island theme song just popped into my head.

4. DOWNY OCEAN: I’m a native Baltimorean and Ocean City is like a home away from home for me. I know it’s overpriced, I know it’s congested, I know the traffic heading down can make you crazy, but it is as big a part of the summer landscape in The Land of Pleasant Living as hot steamed crabs. And to this day, I still enjoy those lazy days at Fish Tales and Seacrets accompanied of course by adult libations and that fat juicy rib-eye at The Blue Ox. Last summer I made the mistake of riding my bike from 123 rd Street to Fish Tales (21st Street). Getting there wasn’t a problem. Going back – big problem. For $2 you can ride the bus all day. “Thank you driver for getting me here…too much, magic bus.”

5. KEY WEST: If you could take Fells Point, expand it and then give it a Caribbean feel with all the seaside festivities and activities, you’d have Key West. Some call it a destination in the State of Florida. I call it a state of mind. I’ll be there a week in June and a week in July and if you find me down there you’ll know why. I’m the guy who’ll be wearing some t-shirt from some pub in Baltimore or Ocean City just to spark a conversation with some strangers in the same “state” I plan to be in. Long live The Conch Republic!

6. HALL OF FAME: Remember that little thing we started to help restore Baltimore’s football heritage. We’re up to about 28,000 signatures. Well I’ve called the HOF twice and left messages. I’ll call again and if they still don’t return the call, I’m thinking certified letter. Then if nothing comes of it, we’ll do a press release and get everyone fired up again that they are ignoring the pleas of 28,000 potential visitors to their museum and one of the game’s immortals. You know who I’m talking about…And hey if you haven’t heard of our petition, go to ColtsHeritage.com and sign it….please?

7. ON THE RADIO: Let’s have some fun on GAMETIME (AM 1300 Sundays 11am to 1pm). When the season starts we will be focused 24x7 (pun intended) on all Ravens insight. But during the Dead Zone, let’s take a look back and have some fun. Last week we broke out The Sopranos talk. This week, let’s talk about your Pop and what he’s meant in your life. Next week, I’ll leave that up to Shan Shariff who’s sitting in for me. I’ll call in and tell him a Key West story. Do you have one?

8. THANKS CAL: I graduated from high school the same year as Cal. Cal was drafted along with my teammate at Archbishop Curley, Tim Norris. I met Cal at Tim’s wedding and my first thought was, “This dude is bigger than I thought!” Little did I know then that Cal would go on to be bigger than life here in Baltimore. This summer he goes into the MLB Hall of Fame. Thanks for the memories and for being Baltimore to the core. Oh and here’s a little plug for my friend Tony Sciuto. On his site TonySciuto.com you can purchase a great tribute song to Cal written and performed by Tony call Legend in the Sun. Well worth the small price…

9. STAY FIT, STAY OUT OF TROUBLE: I’ll listen to Coach Billick and try. I hope the Ravens’ players try even harder. These players can’t live in plastic bubbles yet I hope they at least give it a shot. Speaking of shots, Dawan Landry’s brother LaRon was recently shot while playing paintball and word is footage of that shot inspires any man to reach and cover his, uh…private parts. He had to be excused from practice. Hey Ravens, stick to Playstation 3 but be careful not to overwork those thumbs. And watch out for the power cord.

10. PREPARING FOR CAMP: At this writing there are only 44 days left until camp. This promises to be a great season and a fun, spirited and competitive training camp. So on my list is an early reservation at Baugher’s up in Westminster so I can find a parking spot within a $5 cab fare from McDaniel College. It's going to be crowded up there this summer.

To all Orioles fans (I’m one) especially the diehards, I’m sorry. But as my daughter would say, “Cry me a river. Build a bridge and GET OVER IT!”

The sounds of football silence will end soon enough but until then have a safe, fun and happy summer!

Friday, June 15, 2007

JAMAL LEWIS NEEDS TO RUN THE BALL AND NOT HIS MOUTH


No one can deny that Jamal Lewis had a stellar season in 2003. Think about it for a moment. Here’s a guy who threatened the all time single season rushing record leaving Eric Dickerson a bit restless on that December 28, 2003 eve.

Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards in '03 – a team “led” by rookie Kyle Boller and the nomadic Anthony Wright. Throw in the less than imposing stable of receivers (Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson, Frank Sanders and Ron Johnson) and Lewis’ feat looks even more amazing.

The trouble is his “feet” have hardly been amazing since…

Lewis wants everyone to think that he’s this downhill power runner who wears down opponents late in the game. He needs to stop living in the past.

“There’s a lot of gas left in the tank,” Lewis said this week after a morning practice. “If you look at my history, Baltimore didn’t run me a lot. They called me a power back, but at the same time in Baltimore the last two years I was getting the ball 15 times a game, maybe a little less some games. I’m young. I’m fresh, and I still have a lot left in me.”

Really?

Ok, let’s look at your history there Jamal.

During the three seasons since that 2003 season ended on that balmy January 2004 evening when Arbutus native and defensive coordinator of the Titans Jimmy Schwartz showed the world how to defend a Ravens offense featuring Jamal Lewis, the former Raven had 43 starts. In only 13 of those starts did he have 15 or fewer carries. In those 13 starts with 15 or fewer carries, the Ravens had good reason not to keep going to Lewis – he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry in those games.

Some think that Jamal gets stronger as the game goes on. That wasn’t the case last year, a year during which Lewis said he was healthy only later to say that bone chips prevented him from cutting the way he’s capable. So were you lying then or lying now Jamal?

But back to this misconception of Lewis getting stronger as the game goes on. That may have been true at one time. Today it amounts to no more than wishful thinking.

In ’06 Lewis average 3.7 yards per carry in his first 10 attempts during a game. In his second 10 attempts in any given game, he averaged 3.7 yards. On carries over 20 in a given game, Lewis averaged 2.9 yards per carry.

In the first half of games he averaged 3.7 yards per carry. In the second half, 3.5 yards per carry and in the fourth quarter, 3.1 yards per carry. On third down he averaged 1.9 yards per carry.

In ’04 Lewis blamed his ankle for his performance. In ’05 he blamed his incarceration (which I'm guessing wasn’t his fault). In ’06 after proclaiming himself fit we heard about the ankle chips after the season and those chips were to blame for his 3.6 yards per carry average on 314 carries.

And of course the offensive line was to blame as well, right Jamal?

“Over the last seven years when I was in Baltimore, we never made improvements on the offensive line,” Lewis said. “To have the power running game that we had, I just didn’t see how you didn’t (make changes). When I came here and Phil [Savage] said he was making improvements on the line, it was the actions that spoke louder than words. That’s what made me say this is where I want to be.”

As if you had many choices?

So let’s get this straight, in addition to the ankle being a problem, the line was a problem too? The same line that shattered the single season sack record allowing Ravens QB’s to be sacked only 17 times in ’06? Oh, that’s right, the Ravens pass block better than they run block right Rick Neuheisel?

“The running back’s job then is to pick the available air and hit it with authority.

“We felt like there was more air than our running backs were taking advantage of a year ago.”

Ok then. Last year the running backs ran the ball 401 times. Jamal ran it 314 times. He average 3.6 yards per carry. The other backs averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

Gee, I wonder who Rick is talking about?

What do you think Jamal?

“It’s just a matter of getting into the right situation. I feel like [Cleveland] is the right situation for Jamal Lewis.”

Don’t you just love these guys that refer to themselves by name?

Look, Jamal was terrific for the Ravens prior to 2004 and parts of his body are still scattered down there at The Vault. And I appreciate and admire what he did. But let’s face it, the Ravens reliance on the one dimensional Lewis was the equivalent of a basketball player that can only go to his right. Once you take away the right, you take away the player.

In the case of Lewis, both he and the Ravens needed a change.

"I needed a breath of fresh air, a new look, a fresh start," Lewis said recently.

No arguments here.

And maybe in Cleveland the air won’t be so hot, the excuses will be fewer and Lewis will be running the ball more than his mouth.

But somehow I kind of doubt it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

THE SOPRANOS SING THEIR LAST SONG


On Sunday night we will see the last of The Sopranos. The show has been the topic of many office water cooler/coffee room discussions on Mondays for years. And this Monday will be the last time we’ll all have that pleasure.

The show has had its great moments and its disappointments but overall, it was something to look forward to on Sunday night when football season was over. And in a way, we’ve all come to know and love these very flawed characters and embrace them the way we might a very flawed family member.

And now it’s time to say goodbye.

My favorite character in the show is Silvio Dante, consigliere to Tony Soprano and played by Steve Van Zandt. Clearly James Gandolfini is the man, but Van Zandt’s character brings balance and a sense of calm in the surrounding chaos. I guess you could say he’s the Sopranos’ Steve McNair.

I also think I like Silvio because we all know that he doubles as a lead guitar player for another Boss – Bruce Springsteen. I bet the cast of The Sopranos think that’s pretty cool and I bet Springsteen’s band thinks it’s pretty cool that he’s a consigliere in for a New Jersey mob.

As you probably know, Silvio is in intensive care after being targeted by the Brooklyn mob boss, Phil Leotardo. Sunday’s series finale will tell us who is left standing by 10PM eastern, Leotardo or Soprano.

My money is on Soprano.

They can’t kill off the main guy now can they? How disappointing would that be? And it would certainly put an end to rumors that the cast might do a major motion picture later on. Who would want to see that without Tony?

I say Phil goes down.

But will Silvio survive?

I can tell you a couple of characters I’d like to see whacked. One is Tony’s sister. What a pain in the butt! I wish she had been in that toy store with Bobby when he was checking out those model trains.

Next up, Tony’s son. How many of you wished that A.J. had used two cinder blocks and a shorter rope on his failed suicide attempt?

I bet Roger Goodell is a fan of The Sopranos. He sure didn't take long to whack the bad guys in the NFL.

Anyway, I know where I’ll be on Sunday night.

And when the Italian music starts to play and the credits roll at the end, I’ll feel the same sense of loss that I felt when M.A.S.H., Cheers, Seinfeld and N.Y.P.D Blue signed off for the last time. Our lives will change without The Sopranos when the leave just as they were changed by them when they arrived.

Arrivederci e grazie ai Sopranos.

Friday, June 08, 2007

PLEASE PASS THE CULPEPPER


It seems only natural that folks might peg Daunte Culpepper to the Ravens once his release from the Dolphins becomes official. After all, Kyle Boller is in the final year of his five year deal, Steve McNair is a bit long in the tooth and Troy Smith is dripping behind the ears. And even though Culpepper arrived in Minnesota after Brian Billick’s departure, those Denny Green ties are there.

Besides when healthy, Culpepper isn’t very far removed from the athleticism that McNair, Boller and Smith bring to the table. Coordinators love when there isn’t a significant change in athletic ability going from one quarterback to the next because it provides for consistency in game planning and play calling which benefits the other 10 guys on the offensive side of the football.

That said the Ravens should take a pass if some high ranking official within the organization sings, “Wouldn’t like to be a Culpepper too?”

How good can he be right now anyway?

Culpepper still isn’t practicing with the Dolphins and why were the Fins so eager to bring in a quarterback in Trent Green who has seen his better years, instead of sticking with Culpepper who they highly coveted only a year ago. What has changed so much since then that Cam Cameron wants to hitch his ride to a punch drunk QB who looks like a deer in headlights when protection breaks down?

That smell isn’t the Inner Harbor fishes folks!

Pass on Culpepper – at least for now. There are just way too many good things going on at One Winning Drive to bring in a possible distraction. Besides, if Culpepper isn’t practicing now with the Fins, there’s a chance he might not be ready by training camp and if he isn’t ready by then and is simply an observer, what will he be worth to the Ravens in 2007, particularly when he can't even speak Ravenese?

The answer – NOTHING!

Let him move on somewhere else. Let him prove somewhere else that he isn’t finished. He’ll take a one year deal with another team and let's see if he has the mettle to prove that there’s something left in his tank. And if he’s right, he’ll have options in 2008, one of which could be in Baltimore.

Where else is he going to go now? AFC East? Buffalo? Willis give him a call. AFC North? Nope. AFC South? Maybe Jacksonville. AFC West? Don’t think so. NFC West? Seattle, maybe? NFC South? Can Gruden bring in another QB? NFC North? Some needy teams there but don’t count on a homecoming in Minnesota. NFC East? Danny “Fantasy Football” Snyder might be waiting there Daunte.

The point is, Culpepper brings little to the table for a new team in ’07 and he probably isn’t going to have his cell phone blowing up once he is cut free from the fish hook.

The Ravens would be wise to table the Culpepper discussions until ’08.

They already have a nice blend of spices in Owings Mills.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Orbiting The Sun...a Trip Around "The Paper"


I found Tuesday’s sports edition of The Sun to be pretty entertaining and engagingly topical. Of course the LPGA I find to be slightly more interesting than the WNBA and a little less interesting than the women’s collegiate fast pitch softball tourney. I’m pulling for the Wildcats in that one. If you've watched, you'll understand why.

I used to play fast pitch. I once was given a t-shirt (and I’m sorry I lost it) that read, “Softball is for everyone, Fast Pitch is for Athletes.” As you can imagine, it jump started many debates.

But back to The Sun

Of course Jamison Hensley’s piece on Dan Cody captured my attention and immediately this old song by Blondie popped into my head:

The Ravens have a linebacker to rush the pass
But he can’t get it done with those knees of glass


Well maybe those aren't the exact lyrics but you get the picture...

Hey, isn’t Blondie too old for Dan Cody?

Seriously though, the Cody injuries are frustrating. Here’s a guy who works out like a beast, is at the Ravens’ complex so often that he’s considered having his mail sent there and is just an overall likable, good guy who you’d just love to see have success.

Word is even Dan is now having his doubts which is why he isn’t discounting surgery. When you’ve had as much bad luck as Cody, you start to wonder when the next shoe will fall. And it’s not as though his injuries have occurred in the midst of a heavy physical exchange unless you think shadow boxing is a dangerous sport.

C’mon Dan, we’re all pulling for you!

Flipping to the back page of The Sun, we learn that Billy Donovan is conflicted. Now his is a conflict I would gladly accept. Let’s see, go to Disneyworld and take the $27.5 million or stay in la-la land and clip Joaquin Noah’s toenails before practice on Fridays?

Donovan is upset that the good folks of Gainesville, Florida will miss him? C’mon Billy. If you are going to leave, this is THE BEST time to do so. The hoops team is coming off back to back National Championships and the football team is the defending champ.

Maybe Billy is just afraid of mice.

From mice to Cle-mens we go when we hit page 6. The 44 year-old Yankees hurler is probably about to make George Steinbrenner hurl. It’s now June 6 and the Yanks are 55 games into the season. If Clemens throws every fifth game without injury for the balance of the season, he should get about 20 starts once he gets into the rotation this weekend. $1 million plus per start for a team 7 games below .500 isn’t exactly my idea of spending wisely. You have to think George is pondering a buyout settlement, right?

On to page 7 and the Orioles Notebook. Poor Jeff Zrebiec. Chris Ray can only throw one pitch for a strike and if he doesn’t get ahead in the count, it’s over. He’s done. It’s not as though he’s overpowering per MLB standards. Some close to the team have noticed that Ray is significantly more effective when he’s in the wind up. No wonder! He’s all a$$ and elbows from the wind up! And hey, it’s not like he holds runners anyway so forget about the runners and throw from the windup all the time. Can it get any worse?

Jay Gibbons…now there’s a guy who has some red hair and if his batting style was a business, it too would be in the red. I’ve listened to some sports talk this week concerning Gibbons and some talking heads lamented how Gibbons used to drive the ball with power the opposite way. Hello……..Anyone wonder how Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996? Therein lies your answer, or so I’ve heard.

And like you I’ve also heard all the hoopla over Alex Rodriguez and the aerodynamically challenged blonde he was strolling with in Toronto. And that story leads us to the best of The Sun on Tuesday, June 5 – Heather Dinich’s story, “Mrs. Rodriguez, not Yankees, the real loser in A-Rod mess.”

Ever hit a tee shot so sweet that it felt effortless? Ever punt a football just right that it actually spiraled off your foot? Ever catch a fastball and drive it and never even feel the impact of the ball on the bat? Well Dinich’s
commentary on A-Rod was the journalistic equivalent of all the above.

Dinich justifiable nailed the ESPN crew for wondering how the A-Rod shenanigans might affect the sub .500 team and then completely overlooking how it might affect A-Rod’s wife and 2 year old daughter. The Yankees don’t care about A-Rod and a stripper! You think they don’t already know? They have much bigger things to worry about than a super-sized lap dance for their star third baseman. And Joe Morgan rationalizing that it’s “tough to be a rich, handsome athlete”, are you kidding me? Joe, please tell me you are not that dumb or naive!

Anyway, Heather, nice job on that column.

I hope you sent it to Cynthia Rodriguez (pictured above).

Flight attendants, prepare for landing…

Saturday, June 02, 2007

INJURY BUG BITES CODY? ANGELOS BITES WNST?


Poor Dan Cody. A turf monster jumps up and bites him on the knee during day 1 of his rookie summer camp and knocks him out for the season. In his sophomore year, Cody hardly sees the field and can’t crack the active roster on game day until the tenth game of the season, a season that lasts a little over one game for Cody as he falls to another knee injury.

During this offseason Cody worked like a beast and is in tremendous shape but now he’s being held out of practice possibly until summer camp begins, due to…you guessed it, another setback with his knee.

Cody and the Ravens medical staff say he’ll be ok when the players report on July 29. Word is that Cody has a loose piece of cartilage in his knee that is creating discomfort for the injury plagued LB.

When I spoke to a team official about the injury, I was told that the problem was one of scar tissue and that the exercises Bill Tessendorf put Cody through in the sand pit are intended to help break down that tissue which might be what some are referring to as a microfracture or loose cartilage.

Last time I checked, M.D. did not follow my name. I did look up scar tissue as it relates to the knee. Here’s what I found:

Arthrofibrosis is a condition that follows knee trauma or surgery. Often seen after procedures such as ACL reconstruction surgery, arthrofibrosis is due to inflammation and proliferation of scar tissue.

When arthrofibrosis occurs, a dense fibrous tissue forms in abundance. This can bind down the knee joint, and prevent normal motion.

Prevention of arthrofibrosis is best accomplished with early motion following surgery.

I think the little sand box games played by Cody and Tessendorf are intended to thwart arthrofibrosis. Judging from the lack of long-term concern on the part of Cody and Coach Jeff Fitzgerald, this shouldn’t prevent Cody from having an active and productive training camp. I suppose we'll find out soon enough.

WNST is at it again and they are preparing for Free the Bird, Part II. Recently the staffers at WNST made it known that they believe Peter Angelos intentionally let the deadline slip by to submit uniform changes for 2008 just to spite the station and indirectly the fans. Unless you’ve been hiding under a circa 1970’s Orioles’ road jersey somewhere, you know that WNST, particularly Drew Forrester, has been campaigning heavily to put Baltimore back on the road jerseys where it so obviously belongs.

Clearly the accusations against Angelos amount to nothing more than speculation on the part of WNST but I must admit, I’m with WNST on this one. There is absolutely no rational reason for a team in dire need of a public relations overhaul to deny or ignore such a simple gesture of goodwill to the community of Baltimore. But the childlike mentality of the club, eloquently described by The Sun’s Rick Maese as “third grade conflict resolution” makes the Orioles a case study of how not to manage a sports franchise.

When Bud Selig allowed Angelos to beat him like a Stewart Copeland snare drum at the negotiating table and land that sweetheart deal before allowing the Nationals into DC, he ripped from the roots any incentive for Angelos to truly give a rat’s ass about what the fans of Baltimore really think.

But back to WNST – you guys have nailed it and your campaign to do the right thing has been greeted by an Angelos stiff arm. The more you campaign, the more he resorts to his form of conflict resolution which clearly is to dig his heels in even more and go the opposite way. You already know that! So why try to Free the Bird when it's pretty clear that it will fail? Why not just give him the bird?

Ah yeah...I get it...maybe you guys at WNST just understand public relations opportunities better than the very available man.