Friday, August 31, 2007

IF I WERE COMMISSIONER FOR A DAY...


If you think of the preseason as an appetizer, then the wait staff should be fired for making us wait so long for entrĂ©e. If I haven’t made my feelings clear about the preseason in previous blogs (and yes I know this is a topic that surfaces at this time every year) then let me make it perfectly clear now....the preseason is way too long and way too risky and way too expensive.

So I wondered, will this ever change?

Maybe, maybe not. But then I got to thinking, admittedly a dangerous adventure, and I said to myself, “Self, what would you change in the NFL if your could sit in Roger Goodell’s chair for just one day.

I kind of liked that adventure so I went with it and here goes – my list of changes I’d make if I were Commish for a day:

1. Preseason games cut from 4 to 2 and we add two regular season games and another bye for each team. Not only do fans get more for their money, they also see better football and the season is extended reaching deeper into the worst month of the year – February. Sorry Valentine…wherever you are.

2. Rosters are currently capped at 53 and each team has a practice squad of 8. Stretch that squad to a dirty dozen and allow 7 of them to be added to the 53 man roster at any time. Longer seasons call for more reinforcements.

3. And speaking of the 53 man roster and my new expanded roster, if you are on the payroll, you can play. No more of this inactive player list nonsense.

4. Personally I don’t mind the end zone celebrations. Look it’s hard to score a touchdown. And while I respect those that just hand the ball back to the official more than those that become dancing fools, there are some players that are actually funny. If they want to celebrate then celebrate. Just don’t delay the game or try to show up an opponent. Dance like there’s no one watching…but we will be.

5. If coaches want to wear suits, let them wear suits whenever they want. It brings a degree of class to the sideline. Does everyone who works for a NFL team have to wear NFL logo merchandise? Does that really inspire you to go out and buy a hat if Brian Billick wears one to protect his head from the rain?

6. The tuck rule should be permanently tucked away. It’s a fumble! You have to wonder though, would the Patriots have become the modern day dynasty that they are without that infamous call.

7. Blocking in the back on punts/kickoffs…they call this penalty way too much. If it affects the play, call it. If not, look the other way. Ease up on that throttle Mr. Referee.

8. Road trips to Europe are history. Just admit it was a bad idea and stay home and play. Tax payer dollars built most of these new stadiums and the local governments and their respective economies deserve to reap the value from these games.

9. Hire someone to unscrew Ernest Byner’s placard at M&T, drive 35 miles south and screw it into some inviting wall at Fed Ex Field.

10. Well I’ve gotta run…my day as Commish is running out and I’ve got to prepare that powerful and moving speech to the Hall of Fame voters. We need to get our boy Art a bust in Canton.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

THE NFL PRESEASON IS SPELLED ZZZZZ


Count me among those who would love to see the preseason shortened by two games and the regular season extended by the same. But since there’s no hint that those wishes will be answered any time soon by Roger Goodell aboard the Good Ship Lollipop, I’ll toughen up and keep taking it you know where to the tune of $220 per game in exchange for really bad football.

Not only is it bad football, it’s really hard to gauge. What is each team trying to accomplish? How much effort are they expending? Which team has game planned more for their opponent? Are they just trying to survive?

If you ask any NFL coach what his number one goal is before each preseason game, there’s a pretty good chance that they will say, “To escape without injury.”

Think about that – “escape” without injury.

WordReference.com defines escape as an avoidance of danger or difficulty; an inclination to retreat from unpleasant realities through diversion or fantasy.

So with all this retreating and avoidance of danger going on, you really have to wonder if the preseason is nothing more than a mirage.

On one hand you have rookies, particularly those of the undrafted variety trying to survive. They are playing for their futures and the betterment of their respective families. They will exert maximum effort at all costs to be noticed – to show up on film and hopefully warm the hearts of observing coaches.

On the other hand you have veterans with fat contracts that aren’t guaranteed. If Willis McGahee goes down with a preseason knee injury, so too do his chances of seeing the end of that $40.12 million contract.

This might explain why rookies show better in preseason than they do in the regular season. It might explain why sixth round pick Prescott Burgess rocked McGahee’s world on the running back’s first practice carry as a Raven during camp this summer.

So while the rookies put on the Ritz and the fat cat vets put on the cruise control, somewhere in the middle you have on the bubble veterans trying to elevate their current standings on depth charts or looking to show well and hope that an opposing team notices in the event that they don’t survive the final 53.

All of these different and sometimes conflicting preseason objectives collide in a not so perfect storm called a NFL preseason game. And that explains in part why the results of these games are mixed. The play is uneven and to a spectator, they are relatively boring. They are the equivalent of watching Eric Clapton tuning his guitar versus seeing him rip through “Layla” live.

Roger, you’ve got me on my knees
Roger, I’m begging pretty please

Can you please cut this nonsense short?

Wake me up when September 6 arrives…

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I CAN SEE FOR MILES AND MILES...


When your team finishes a season in first place and with a 13-3 regular season record, you can expect that the following season the schedule will be brutal – that’s the nature of the divisional winner beast.

Take a glance at the Ravens 2007 schedule and the landing place for your eyes will almost certainly be the dates between November 25 and December 9. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you already know that those dates include slugfests with the Chargers, Patriots and Colts – a trilogy that the Ravens’ players have already dubbed murderers row.

Schedules certainly have a way of taking on a new look as a season unfolds. At times a very difficult schedule on paper may not be as tough as some teams fail to perform up to expectations. Conversely a schedule that may have inspired a smile or two prior to the season can bring sobering frowns as some teams exceed expectations.

Over the past few years on average, three teams from each conference that were playoff participants the previous year fall from the post season landscape in the subsequent year. So if you are keeping score, this adds up to six teams that will fall short of expectations and six that will exceed. That’s over 1/3 of the league.

Teams in the league will tell you that to make the playoffs the first order of business is to win your division. With that in mind, here is the strength of schedule as it stands today for each of the AFC North combatants:

Steelers (.512); Bengals (.512); Ravens (.508); Browns (.508)

Now to take this a step further, let’s look at the strength of schedule as it relates to road games, something that prior to 2006 the Ravens struggled with:

Steelers (69-59, .539); Bengals (63-65, .492); Ravens (63-65, .492); Browns (66-62, .516)

So if the Ravens can win 2 of 3 during that stretch heading into the Christmas shopping season (2 of which are at home), then relatively speaking you would have to conclude that the Ravens schedule isn’t all that unfavorable. They do however rack up more frequent flyer miles than their AFC North rivals.

The Ravens will log in 19,732 miles through the friendly skies while the Browns trip for 15,064, the Bengals 14,770 and the Steelers at 11,348. For the record the most battle tested road warriors in ’07 will be the Rams (34,352), Seahawks (33,586), Dolphins (29,724) and the Chargers at (28,398). Those staying the closest to home are the Jets (9,186), Bills (9,972), Eagles (10,119) and Packers (10,738).

You are now free to move about the country…


Flight miles courtesy of buffalobills.com.

Monday, August 27, 2007

BILLICK FACES A DILEMMA ON FRIDAY


Brian Billick has a real dilemma on Friday. First he has to decide if his starting offensive unit needs more time on the field to develop some rhythm and take some momentum into the Monday Night opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Clearly they are in need of it but what if they come out against the Falcons (who by the way will be playing on three days rest) and look sloppy for two or three series. Will Billick stay with them until they get it right?

And what if Steve McNair and the boys never get it right? Not only will they carry some sub-zero mojo into Cincinnati when they visit Who-Dey, they’ll also take needed snaps away from the young players trying to make the roster or young players who aspire to land on another roster or some NFL practice squad -- maybe even the Ravens' practice squad.

The lack of focus and sloppy play in the last two preseason games has been disturbing particularly since those games arrived on the heels of a very tight performance against the Eagles in the preseason opener.

It’s certainly going to be a challenging balancing act for Brian Billick. Perhaps the wisest choice is not to get caught up in the frustration of sloppy play should the recent trend continue, write it off as just the preseason and then ride the defense’s coattails early in the season until the offense can get it together.

So what else is new right?

Besides a very green looking offense, the Ravens and other teams have their quarterbacks sporting a very green looking sticker on their helmets. The stickers are intended to inform game officials which helmets are wired for sound. Only one player is allowed to be wired on the field at one time. The way the Ravens looked on offense against the Redskins, it’s pretty obvious they weren’t cheating. If anything it looked like the Ravens offensive line was wearing wired helmets on the Redskins' frequency.

Maybe that was Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams barking cadence into Jared Gaither’s helmet.

And while there might not be much if any Steelers’ love in these parts, can anyone really believe that the fine levied against Pittsburgh defensive lineman Brett Keisel’s hit on Jason Campbell was $12,500 worth of cheap? Somewhere Michael McCrary must be shaking his head. He made a living crawling and swimming on the ground in his relentless pursuit of quarterbacks often tugging on them below the knee.

Maybe they should just give out green skirts instead of green stickers to the quarterbacks.
Photo by Sabina Moran

THAT THING CALLED A PRESEASON GAME


In my last blog entry I asked whether the Ravens could match the Rangers offensive firepower and produce a 30 spot on the scoreboard. Now it’s really difficult to put much stock in preseason good or bad, but there are some concerns regarding the Ravens. But real quickly, back to the Rangers/Ravens comparison…many have said that the Ravens might not give up 30 points to a team all season in any single game. On the other hand, they might not score 30 in a game either judging from the sloppy play we’ve seen over the past two weeks.

Heading into that game, I had a list of 10 things that if I’m Brian Billick, I’d be focused in on. Below I’ve reposted those 10 things along with what we learned from the game in D.C. in italics.

1. The running game. Where is it? Answer: It’s still on summer break. Our own Dev Panchwagh wrote an article a couple of months ago entitled Where’s Willis? That’s a great question there Dev.

2. David Pittman, Derrick Martin and Evan Oglesby: One of these three needs to step up because something tells me that Samari Rolle isn’t quite mentally locked in and the sting of last year’s criticisms still lingers. I don’t think Corey Ivy is suited to be an every down corner. Answer: David Pittman showed some positive signs. Let’s call it a work in progress. And I’ll let it be known that the current mental make-up of Samari Rolle on the football field worries me.

3. Chris Chester: I haven’t been as impressed with his play so far this season as I was last season. Ben Grubbs is knocking on the starting right guard door. Answer: Chester played pretty well on Saturday although his stance still bothers me (he is upright at the line of scrimmage when the Ravens pass). He is very quick to the second level. Now if McGahee could only keep up with him…

4. Bart Scott & Jarret Johnson: Both seem to be chasing all the time in pass coverage. I want to see them make a play away from the line of scrimmage. Answer: Both played very well against the Redskins. Scott nearly made a perfect play defending one pass and JJ had his man well covered when called upon. Both supported the run very well.

5. Brian Rimpf: If he can be serviceable that could free up Keydrick Vincent who according to kffl.com is on the Jets radar screen. If the Ravens could get that No. 5 pick back for next year’s draft…Answer: Got a quarter?

6. Rhys Lloyd: He needs to be outstanding to make the team. There’s just too much depth. Answer: Good but not outstanding.

7. Musa Smith: Can you put away the matador’s cape and pick up your blocking assignments on passing downs? Answer: He didn’t have a chance but Justin Green borrowed that cape on Saturday. Musa did bring back memories of his 2006 preseason on his two second half carries.

8. Darling or Moore? This game decides it. Answer: Can I borrow that quarter again?

9. Might a great return game from Figurs free up Sams for a trade particularly if Cory Ross continues with his Maurice Jones-Drew impersonation? Answer: Stay tuned

10. A quick getaway out of Fed Ex Field where leaving the stadium is about as fun as Route 50 at noon on a Saturday in July. Answer: Whatever is was it couldn’t have been quick enough.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

CAN THE RAVENS MATCH THE RANGERS? Baltimore Sports Meanderings


On Wednesday night I was doing a little late night channel surfing when I happened to hit on Fox45’s Bruce Cunningham. Not knowing how the Orioles had done that night I stayed with Cunningham and watched the highlights.

After a ninth inning three run homerun by some random Ranger whose name I didn't catch, I noticed the score in the upper right hand corner as the ball headed towards the flag court. It read 27-3. Surely that was a typo I thought. But without blinking an eye and almost as though it was common place for such a disastrous score, Cunningham calmly and smoothly delivered the final score: 30-3.

Almost as if on queue, my son and I just erupted into laughter.

We jumped over to SportsCenter knowing that they would certainly weigh in on the topic. Sure enough Stuart Scott had fun with the score offering predictable comparisons to football and graphics to show that the last time a team scored 30 runs in the “modern” era of baseball was in 1897.

Ironically the historical night rained on the parade of Dave Trembley who signed a one year extension to manage the O’s in ’08. Could that be an omen for 10 more years of bad luck? Adding to the irony, the softpitch softball game took place one day before Matt Wieters was to make his first trip to Camden Yards. No worries Matt, things can only get better.

The Ravens take on the Redskins at Fed Ex Field tonight in the Ravens third preseason game of the ’07 campaign. Look for the starters to go the first half and look for them to mean business. They’ve heard enough about the Giants game and from what I’m hearing if the Ravens “ball up” and show well early, many from the first team will be in street clothes during their visit to Atlanta next Friday. And trust me on this, that's an incentive.

Brian Billick can afford to extend that luxury to his players because he’ll still have 75 on his roster when they visit the Georgia Dome. Now if I’m Brian Billick, here’s a list of the top 10 things I’d be paying close attention to:

1. The running game. Where is it?
2. David Pittman, Derrick Martin and Evan Oglesby: One of these three needs to step up because something tells me that Samari Rolle isn’t quite mentally locked in and the sting of last year’s criticisms still lingers. I don’t think Corey Ivy is suited to be an every down corner.
3. Chris Chester: I haven’t been as impressed with his play so far this season as I was last season. Ben Grubbs is knocking on the starting right guard door.
4. Bart Scott & Jarret Johnson: Both seem to be chasing all the time in pass coverage. I want to see them make a play away from the line of scrimmage.
5. Brian Rimpf: If he can be serviceable that could free up Keydrick Vincent who according to kffl.com is on the Jets radar screen. If the Ravens could get that No. 5 pick back for next year’s draft…
6. Rhys Lloyd: He needs to be outstanding to make the team. There’s just too much depth.
7. Musa Smith: Can you put away the matador’s cape and pick up your blocking assignments on passing downs?
8. Darling or Moore? This game decides it.
9. Might a great return game from Figurs free up Sams for a trade particularly if Cory Ross continues with his Maurice Jones-Drew impersonation?
10. A quick getaway out of Fed Ex Field where leaving the stadium is about as fun as Route 50 at noon on a Saturday in July.

Some other things that I’ll be watching tonight…Todd Collins gets the nod over Mark Brunell to start in place of Jason Campbell. Did you know Collins is a 13 year NFL vet? There’s something to be said for the longevity of a serviceable back up QB. Are you listening Kyle?...Can Drew Olson do what Derek Anderson did a couple years ago and lead the Ravens to victory in overtime? If so, thousands of Ravens fans will lament his eventual departure as they have Anderson’s…Watch Chris Chester and see if he is in an upright stance during passing plays…the new ProFootball24x7.com TV commercial to be aired on MASN in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Harford County. We’ll youtube it later this week.


Photo by Sabina Moran

Thursday, August 23, 2007

IT'S THE PRESEASON FOR BRIAN BILLICK TOO


So there’s 3:50 to go in the first quarter of the Ravens v. Giants game and the Ravens are facing a fourth and 1 at the Giants 20. If this had been a regular season game, Matt Stover would have trotted out on to the field, uncoiled his leg in a perfect arc much like Tiger Woods sets up with his pitching wedge and nailed a would be chip shot from 37 yards out.

But this is the preseason and things are different. During the preseason teams look to improve, they look to repair weaknesses. One of the Ravens weaknesses in ’06 was converting third and fourth down short yardage situations. Jamal Lewis was abysmal.

So if you buy that the preseason is for working out the kinks and if you buy that the Ravens have tweaked their offensive line and their backfield to improve in this key part of their running game, why in the world would you call for a quarterback sneak? I think Steve McNair has a pretty good idea of how a QB sneak works. And why even risk your No. 1 signal caller in that situation? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

Fast forward to the fourth quarter. The Ravens are down by four with 2:39 while facing a fourth and 7 from the Giants 20 -- again. So what does Brian Billick decide? Let’s kick the field goal. It's up...it's good!

Now they are down by 1 with 2 timeouts and the 2 minute warning to help them stop the clock. One first down by the Giants would for all intents and purposes kill any chance for a comeback and even then, the Ravens would have to navigate a long stretch of real estate in a short amount of time to take a shot at the winning field goal.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to go for the fourth and seven and take the same reckless approach that they took in the first quarter? I mean this is after all just a preseason game and I like my chances with the rookie Troy Smith a bit more in that situation than asking him to advance the ball 40 yards with very little time left.

I guess coaches need the practice too…

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

WHY MIKE FLYNN IS STILL IN...CHESTER DOESN'T WANT TO BE PIPPED


Whenever a professional ballplayer goes down with an injury and the “Next Man Up” happens to play well in the injured player’s place, the name of Wally Pipp almost always comes up. And if the replacement player manages to keep the position, then the ousted incumbent was Pipped.

I thought of that recently when I listened to Chris Chester describe how he was ready to get back in at right guard and start on Saturday against the Redskins at Fed Ex Field.

"I think I'm going to definitely be playing," Chester said. "The foot feels much better, and I'm moving around well."

After listening to Chester, I had to wonder if he would be so quick and eager to return from his foot injury suffered against the Eagles if the Ravens 2007 No. 1 pick Ben Grubbs wasn’t nipping at his heels. What if Grubbs were to build on his performance against the Giants and have a great game v. Washington? No. 1 picks don’t stay on the bench for long and most observers believe that Chester is destined to become the team’s center eventually anyway.

Competition is a good thing for any team. It sharpens a player’s focus and elevates his game. Who among us doesn’t step up a bit more when our jobs are threatened and the challenge intensifies?

Many believe that Chester should start at center over Mike Flynn. Back in 2005 Flynn was pushed around by opposing defensive tackles seemingly at will. He was a Matchbox Twenty song. How many times have you seen an opposing nose tackle sack a quarterback on a running play? Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton did it to Mike Flynn and Kyle Boller here in Baltimore during the forgettable 2005 season.

To his credit Flynn rebounded and was solid in 2006. And while his status as a starter is likely only temporary, he brings intangibles that Chester can’t at this point in his career.

Yesterday as a guest on the Anita Marks Show, we had Jason Brown join us and we talked about the chemistry of the offensive line and how important it is to the unit’s effectiveness. Brown said that playing offensive line is “90 percent mental, 10 percent physical.”

Think about that statement.

Here we have 350 pound behemoths trying to knock the snot out of each other to win the battle for the line of scrimmage yet Brown without a hitch in his annunciation states that the game is 90 percent mental for the offensive line.

Brown added that playing between two savvy vets like Jonathan Ogden and Mike Flynn has accelerated his learning curve. When Brown plays well, little is said. When he doesn’t the vets let him know it.

Could the younger and less experienced Chris Chester deliver such lessons if he were the starting center? Who might teach Ben Grubbs if he was sandwiched between Chester and Adam Terry?

The athleticism has improved on the O-Line as well as the depth and that enhances the level of competition. That can only help the Ravens just as Mike Flynn will help by accelerating the learning curve for players like Chester and Grubbs. Once the mental part of the game becomes more natural, the athleticism can take over and when that happens, Flynn will have completed his job and perhaps his career.

It’s ironic that Mike Flynn’s leadership might ultimately cost him his job.

And to do so willingly is the ultimate sign of a team player.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

TIME TO CUT THE PRESEASON IN HALF


Every year we ask the same question right about this time of year – why are there so many preseason games? Maybe we wouldn’t mind so much if not for two realities of preseason that stick in our collective crawl and won’t go away.

First there is the fear of injury to prominent players. A couple of key injuries could change the landscape of the NFL for the entire season. Imagine how much different our expectations would be if players such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson are bitten by the preseason injury bug.

Real fans don’t want to see that happen. We all want to see the best players on the field. We all want our team to beat the others while they are at their best. We don’t want there to be any questions, what-if’s or excuses for the victory. We want it to be pure. We want it to be free of asterisks. Certainly Barry Bonds can relate.

Atop the head coaching wish list during the preseason is health. Time and time again, teams that remain healthy are more times than not those that achieve and even exceed expectations. Look at the 2000 Ravens for example. They remained healthy throughout their Super Bowl run. In 2001, Jamal Lewis barely breaks a sweat in training camp and his season is done and for all intents and purposes, so was the team’s season as well.

The concerns over health often persuade coaches to hold their veterans out of preseason games. Brian Billick has said that his goal for the vets is to get them a game's worth of snaps over the course of the preseason. His formula for doing that appears to be spoon feeding them on Game 1, give them a quarter and a half in Game 2, two quarters in Game 3 and a paid vacation day for Game 4.

So why bother at all with four games?

Some might say that four games are necessary to pair down the roster from some number over 80 during camp to 75 by August 28 to 53 by September 1.

I’m not buying that!

NFL teams today have organized team activities out the wazoo during the offseason. Sure, they say the activities aren’t all mandatory but if you are a young player trying to make a roster and you don’t show up for “voluntary” practice or offseason conditioning on campus, good luck. Internal hemorrhaging might start from the brow beating and psychological counseling might be required after the guilt trips that will almost certainly follow your absences.

So with all of those “voluntary” workouts and all of the film study and all of the coaches that analyze every nuance of every player’s movements, don’t you think they can still efficiently trim rosters?

Of course they can!

Which brings us to the second reality of preseason that sticks in our crawl – economics.

The NFL charges you and me full boat for these lackluster preseason games that are on whole appealing to only guys like Eric DeCosta who in many ways view these games like a kid looks at his toys during the days after Christmas.

I will admit that these games are an upgrade over no games. But how much dress rehearsal do you really need? How much do you really want? It’s like listening to a band piece together a new song. Eventually you want to hear them play it at their best and from start to finish. Game 4 of the preseason is like listening to the roadies play the music and oftentimes the results are like fingernails to the chalkboard.

Making it worse of course is the fact that the NFL charges full price for the dress rehearsals. As I sat there in the rain on Sunday night, yawning so much I was praying for a Red Bull vendor to come by, I couldn’t help to think that I was just hosed for $220.00. I looked around at tens of thousands of empty seats during a 13-12 game no less, because no one really cared that much.

The players didn’t. Despite losing and despite playing poorly, Ravens veterans were laughing and carrying on along the sidelines. I think one of them said, “Can you believe that guy paid $110 per seat for this?” Laughter erupted afterwards.

Well, it probably didn’t go down quite that way but you get my point.

And it all begs the question “Isn’t there a better way to handle the preseason so that everyone gets what they need?”

For me, the answer is to drop two preseason games and add them to the regular season.

The coaches remove 50% of the risk of injury during meaningless games which benefits the coaches and players. And the fans get something meaningful for their money.

The idea hinges on the feelings of the owners and almost every important decision made these days by NFL owners is grounded in one area – economics.

How does a proposed change affect their wallets?

I say it fattens them!

First there are the concessions which take a beating during the preseason and then there’s the added expense of carrying so many players on the roster for so long. Cutting down to 53 sooner saves money right? So let’s see, so far we’ve added revenues and subtracted expenses. The owners must be listening, right?

And then there’s the NFL’s sugar daddy – TV revenues.

Wouldn’t the league stand to make more if there were more games that actually counted? Advertisers would be more interested because more viewers would be watching and as a result, companies will spend more to advertise. If the advertisers spend more, the TV networks make more and they will be able to pay more to the NFL. More, more, more. Ch-ching! Ch-ching!

That’s music that makes NFL owners sing!

Some might say that stretching the season to 18 games dilutes the product. Not for me. I’m watching it anyway and if you’re reading this you probably are too. What would you rather watch a preseason game or a regular season game?

Others might say that stretching to 18 games would affect the record books. And you know they would be right. But that didn’t stop the NFL from going to a 14 game schedule from 12, and eventually to today’s 16 game format.

It’s a no brainer. So what are they waiting for?

Go ahead and say it Larry!

“Git ‘er done!”

Monday, August 20, 2007

NFL Inactive List is Absurd!


No less than ninety minutes prior to the start of any NFL football game, head coaches like the Baltimore Ravens Brian Billick are forced to make some of the most senseless decisions in the sport. And all those decisions revolve around the absurdity of the 8 man inactive list.

What exactly does the inactive list accomplish?

Well let’s see…

All teams pay all 53 men on their roster even if they are inactive so there’s no salary savings there. Might some teams cut back on travel expenditures by forcing the inactive players to stay home?

I tend to think not.

What if a player wakes up on Sunday in his hotel room and the previous night’s dinner isn’t sitting so well? What if during pre-game warm-ups the starting safety pulls a hamstring and the fourth safety on the depth charts was left behind at home? Wouldn’t coaches want to take their inactive player choices right up to the wire just in case the unexpected happens?

Of course they would and as a result, the probable inactives are likely to travel with the team and sleep and eat on the company’s dime.

So if the teams pay them, feed them, transport them why can’t they play them?

What possible logical explanation is there?

I’m sitting here scratching my head wondering…

The reduction of 53 to 45 players on game day penalizes a team that has scouted well and has built its roster from the bottom up. The team that has depth on its roster and has spent the time, energy and intellect to select and develop such depth is penalized.

It also puts starters at risk.

Think about a game that is a blowout. The Baltimore Ravens who are thin at safety decide to remove Ed Reed from the game to avoid an unnecessary injury in a 27-0 game against the arch-rival Steelers. They would really like to take out Dawan Landry as well but since they only had 3 safeties on the active roster that day after being forced to de-activate Ronnie Prude, Landry has to stay out on the field and at risk while Prude observes in street clothes.

An unnecessary injury hurts the game and it robs the fans of seeing teams at their best.

The inactive list also prevents scouts from evaluating some players, something that can potentially hurt the team and the player. A solid performance by the player could elevate his status in the future either with his current team or as a future free agent. It might also help the teams gain a clear glimpse of regularly inactive players in real game conditions. The performances might validate or invalidate a team’s opinion of a player which ultimately helps them to strengthen their roster.

The Ravens Director of Pro Personnel George Kokinis is continually on the lookout for NFL players who might not be productive with their current teams but could be productive with the team chemistry, infrastructure and coaching staff employed by the Ravens. Watching those players on other teams could help Kokinis augment the Ravens roster in the future in a fiscally responsible way. The inactive list robs him and those like him of that opportunity.

I’m still scatching…

So, I Googled this inactive list topic several ways and came up with nothing meaningful that could keep me from shaking my head in disbelief while seeking a smidgen of logical reasoning for the inactive list. The empty search led me to the controversial grounds of speculation.

What if a small market team like the Bengals (whose owner Mike Brown makes Jack Luskin look like a spendthrift) fought for the 45 man roster because he knows that his scouting department is a relative skeleton crew at best and they can’t compete with the talent evaluators employed by teams like the Ravens, Patriots and Colts? Might the small-market, poor mouthed teams whine a bit to try and offset their unwillingness to invest in a deeper scouting department and tilt the rosters in their favor to create a more equitable game day distribution of talent?

Like I said, this is speculation on my part but the absurdity of the inactive list begs for it because its existence is hardly the offspring of logical reasoning.

And now for some reason, I’m thinking back to that old Tootsie Roll Pop commercial in which the little boy asks around town, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”

“The world may never know”, concludes the commercial when the boy fails to discover the answer after several attempts.

Perhaps the same is true when we ask, "Why is there an inactive list in the NFL?"

Sunday, August 19, 2007

OLSON V. SMITH: THIS ONE IS OVER


Quarterback has and always will be the most highlighted of all positions in the sporting world. They get too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when the team loses. Lose or stumble on a regular basis and the microscope focused in on the position will invite passionate opinions on what teams need to do to fix it and who needs to go.

Just ask Kyle Boller.

Boller’s struggles have directed fans down a seemingly endless path on a near hopeless search for their quarterback of the future. Fans have lamented the loss of Derek Anderson as though he was the next Jim Kelly. Some even stooped to new depths of idiocy when they cheered an injury to Kyle Boller paving the way to Anthony Wright’s emergence as a starter.

Next up – Drew Olson and Troy Smith.

I found it interesting that one member of the media recently wrote a story with this lead: “Olson Quietly Enjoying a Productive Camp.”

No he is not!

Perhaps even some in the media have been sucked into this search to find the heir apparent to Steve McNair. At least one has.

The truth be told, Olson has looked bad regularly during camp and he has yet to put together a consistent camp outing where one could say he’s had a solid day. There’s just too much inconsistency.

Smith hasn’t been much better overall suffering from inconsistencies himself. He just hasn’t experienced the depths of inefficiencies during practice that Olson has.

Yet with quarterbacks, fans seem to look for that silver lining – that glimmer of hope or ray of light upon the horizon.

That glimmer once surfaced with Derek Anderson who rallied the Ravens to an overtime preseason victory against the Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium back in 2005. Because Anderson beat a despised rival against some players who are now parking lot security guards, he was viewed by some as the future. Today he sits behind the great Charlie Frye and soon he’ll be parked behind the “savior” Brady Quinn who cost the Browns next year’s No. 1.

Now there’s Drew Olson who predictably was elevated to Anderson status after a 7 for 9 performance for 84 yards and a score.

Please settle down folks!

Olson is not the future and he will not make the team. If he passes waivers on September 1 the Ravens might invite him back on to the practice squad but even then, he might not be asked back because the Ravens will already have three QB’s in camp including Troy Smith.

Smith signed a three year deal that included a six figure signing bonus. Troy Smith autographed helmets are given away for those applying for a Ravens credit card. Troy Smith from Day 1 has received far more snaps in practice than Olson. It's clear where Olson sits in the pecking order.

In defense of both players, they are being asked to throw to spots as is customary of the level of play and expectations of the position in the NFL. No longer can they wait for a receiver to gain separation and then deliver. They have to throw the ball to the place where the receiver is supposed to be at a certain time in the very near future. To do so effectively requires trust in the receiver.

The receiver needs to know his assignment as well and read defenses and fight through traffic to get to that spot at the exact time. That is sometimes a lot to ask of a young and inexperienced receiver. Fail to do so and the play fails. Forgetting to do so and the QB can be hung out to dry and made to look like a fool. A resulting interception to the untrained eye almost always falls on the back of the quarterback.

Perhaps the true test of both Olson and Smith to gauge their progress is to have both run with the first team offense. But that isn’t likely. How could Brian Billick look at himself in the mirror if Troy Smith exposed Mark Clayton to a head hunting safety and ended Clayton’s season?

So as we look to be entertained in the third and fourth quarters of tonight’s game against the Giants, keep in mind the quality of the players that Smith and Olson are playing with and the quality of player they are playing against. There’s a reason why Olson throws so many interceptions when facing the Ravens first team defense but looked like Joe Montana against the Eagles scrubs.

Enjoy the “competition” between the two but trust me on this one – it’s over!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BARNES HIT ON EAGLES PUNTER SHOULD HIT HIS WALLET TOO


Young players both drafted and undrafted are always looking to show up on film making plays. That’s how they capture the attention of coaches who have the power to direct a player’s career.

There’s a sense of desperation inherent in players on the bubble. They are fighting for their livelihoods.

Antwan Barnes (who by the way is hardly on the bubble) is a fourth round pick of the Ravens out of Florida International, a team that failed to win a game or a fight in 2006. Nevertheless Barnes is a supremely confident young talent and that was evident on Monday night when the Ravens hosted the Philadelphia Eagles.

Barnes had a sack, a couple of QB hurries and he was relevant supporting the run. But for some, those contributions will be overshadowed by the vicious and senseless hit on Eagles punter Sav Rocca seen here on YouTube.

Back in 2005 the league implemented a rule that penalized helmet-to-helmet contact to the kicker/punter at anytime during the kick or during the return. The rationale is pretty clear. Take out a team’s punter or kicker where there is little to no depth and the opponent is severely weakened. This penalty is intended to discourage the kind of hit that Barnes delivered on Monday.

The hit managed to escape the attention of the game officials. It did not escape the attention of the camera crews and that could and should cost Barnes. Clearly it was a direct violation of the rule and less severe hits have forced the NFL to dip into the pockets of players.

Let’s hope this serves as a lesson to Barnes and all of the Ravens’ players. A hit like that can often lead to retaliation. Imagine where the Ravens might be if the Eagles had decided to target Matt Stover to even the score. Could the Ravens reach their potential without Stover?

You already know that answer…

Hopefully Brian Billick grilled Barnes for the unnecessary hit and its potential collateral damage which almost certainly includes Barnes forking over some Benjamins to a league charity in the very near future.

And deservedly so…

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wieters' Meter Winding Down


For the most part, we keep our collective focus here at 24x7 on the Ravens and the NFL. And while I’m a fan of the Orioles and like most of you I cheered for them like it was a playoff game when they beat the Red Sox over the weekend, I’m jaded when it comes to the team.

Of course that arms length approach has nothing to do with the players. It has everything to do with the owner and unlike WNST’s Nestor Aparicio, I don’t believe that Peter Angelos can be persuaded to sell the Orioles. In fact it is my opinion that such overtures however blatant or genuine they may be, only make matters worse. People like Angelos will only dig their heels in deeper just to make a point – albeit a useless point.

This is certainly no unique revelation to anyone. All of us know how Pete is by now.

But every once in awhile, you get sucked in by the emotion on that rare occasion when you can still feel for the team. This weekend was evidence of that for many of us. And it makes you wonder just how good it could be here in The Land of Pleasant Living if we actually had two teams we could cheer for with passion and know that the team will do its very best to reward your support instead of turning their almighty nose up at you like some hot babe in a bar who sees you as out of her league.

A player looking to get into the American League is Georgia Tech C Matt Wieters who was drafted by the Orioles with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft. Going in the Orioles knew that Wieters who arguably is the best position player in the draft, would be represented by agent Scott Boras – an 800 pound gorilla at the bargaining table.

The Orioles and Boras have spoken at length but to now avail so far. And in about 32 hours, the Orioles will have to make a choice – concede to Boras’ demands for Wieter or continue to be one of the biggest laughing stocks in MLB.

From what I’ve heard and read, the negotiations are all about the slotting principle and the Orioles don’t want to pay the fifth pick in the draft as though he was the first. After all, we’re talking a couple of million here.

Big freakin’ deal!

The problem is that the slotting principle combined with the Peter Principle go together about as well as Lindsay Lohan and sobriety.

After 10 consecutive losing seasons and counting, the Orioles have put themselves in this position. They’ve blown their leverage. They’ve lost the fan base. They’ve created the unfavorable negotiating position which forces them to overpay for marginal talent. Look at the millions they shelled out for bad relievers. On one hand they are all too willing to hand over the Benjamins to a Danny Baez for four years yet they won’t give a couple extra million to a stud prospect in Wieters

What will it say to the fans if the clock strikes midnight on Thursday morning and Wieters signature still isn’t on an Orioles’ document? What will it say to big name free agents who the Orioles might want to lure to Baltimore?

To me it says they don’t care about winning and they don’t care about turning things around and that Andy McPhail is yet another in a string of Angelos’ puppets.

You know many have wondered why McPhail is here at all. But why wouldn’t McPhail come to Baltimore and accept Angelos’ millions and not be asked to do anything of substance. McPhail can keep cashing those checks without consequence. It won’t affect his career. Why? Because Angelos’ track record gives McPhail the perfect alibi.

“Look it wasn’t me Mr. Steinbrenner. You know Mr. Angelos and how he is. I was handcuffed. If he would have enabled me to do what I’m capable of, I could have turned that team around.”

You know I’m right.

Meanwhile having done nothing good or bad, McPhail has millions more in his bank account.

Not a bad deal for McPhail – just a rotten one for Orioles fans.

If there’s Peter, McPhail’s running meter and no Wieters come midnight tomorrow, it’s only going to get worse for the Orioles and that’s something that most of us probably thought was not possible and they risk losing the few that cling to hopes of a bright orange and black future forever.

Monday, August 13, 2007

THE GRIM REAPER IS WATCHING...Examining the Ravens' Roster


Compared to a regular season game, the Ravens sideline will look very crowded tonight when the team hosts the Philadelphia Eagles. Currently the Ravens have 82 players on their roster and 3 are on the P.U.P. list. By Tuesday August 28 the team will have to pair that number down to 75 following the Ravens third preseason game against the Redskins.

After the cut down on the 28th the Ravens will take on the Falcons in the fourth, final and most absolutely boring preseason game of them all. It won’t be boring for those players on the bubble and this year. That bubble will be as crowded as Paris Hilton’s bar stool at 2 AM. It won’t be easy for Brian Billick and his staff to whittle the roster to the final 53 on September 1.

Getting to 53 this year might be the most challenging cut down for Billick since he’s been in Baltimore. The way I see it going into tonight’s contest, there are 5 roster spots up for grabs and there are a slew of players scratching, kicking and clawing their way towards a spot in much the same way that fans lusted over home run No. 756 from Mr. Pumpkinhead.

In my opinion, these are the players competing for spots 49 through 53 (in no particular order):

Devard Darling ~ Needs to secure his No. 4 WR spot through special teams play; he also needs to show up on film in games

Clarence Moore ~ see above; plus he needs to lose the T-Rex posture when running routes over the middle of the field

B.J. Sams ~ Has played well; Ravens don’t want to have the decline in return yardage like they did in ’06 when Sams went down; therefore, he could be an expensive insurance policy

Keydrick Vincent ~ Will need to take a pay cut to have a chance; $2M back-up guards are extremely expensive luxuries...they are also unnecessary

Brian Rimpf ~ Can stick if he outplays Vincent and proves to be a less expensive swing guy; with his new haircut, he could be a body double in the Dukes of Hazard sequel

Jared Gaither ~ Is a borderline lock to make the roster unless he suffers some mysterious season ending injury that allows the Ravens to IR him

Jamaine Winborne ~ Has caught the attention of coaches and players filling in at safety; fights hard on special teams as well

Prescott Burgess ~ A pleasant surprise with a very solid chance to make the team

Edgar Jones ~ Another in a long line of UDFA’s that has exceeded expectations; he won’t slide through waivers so if the Ravens like him, he’ll have to stick, otherwise he'll be scooped up by another team. Did I hear someone say Phil Savage?

Dan Cody ~ Unfortunately Bill Tessendorf’s favorite; looks like another IR season for the DE/LB

Mike Smith ~ If Burgess and Jones continue to play well, Smith will be on IR with his buddy Cody or worse, he could be released

Anthony Bryant/Keyonta Marshall/Atiyyah Ellison ~ all 3 DT’s battling to convince Ravens’ coaches that they can replace the departed Aubrayo Franklin for that last rotational position at tackle.

Rhys Lloyd ~ Brit needs work visa in order to be a kick off specialist. He's more likely to get that visa than a roster spot.

As you can see getting to 53 won’t be easy. And even when Brian Billick has his 53, choosing which 45 works best on any given Sunday can also be a challenge. Why does a coach even have to sit 8 paid players prior to kickoff? Doesn’t it penalize teams that evaluate talent the best? Aren’t teams with the deepest rosters being punished?

In my next blog I’ll address the league’s rationale (or lack thereof) as to why coaches can only dress 45 players from their 53 man roster on game day. Until then, pay attention to the players above. Their successes or failures will help put the final touches on the Ravens 2007 roster.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

J. LEWIS IN DENIAL...AND I'M NOT TALKING THE RIVER


Back in June I posted a blog with the title “Jamal Lewis Needs to Run the Ball and Not His Mouth.” At the time Jamal was flapping his gums about how the Ravens didn’t use him enough and how a change of scenery might help his career. I shredded Lewis’ statements which to me amount to nothing more than a player in denial. My conclusion: “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.”

(you can read that blog here)

Boy did he prove me to be rather prophetic. He’s flapping again and this time he cuts a bit deeper. This from a recent article in the USA Today:

What Lewis said: "I was ready to go. I didn't want to be there no more. I think they were making excuses, more than anything else, as far as the running game."

What he meant was: “I was ready to go but my feet would only do the Ickey Shuffle. I couldn’t get it done anymore and it felt like my feet were still in shackles. I made excuses until they didn’t buy them anymore. But the Browns did so here I am.”

Lewis claims that Brian Billick didn’t like him. Gee that explains why Billick stuck with the unproductive Lewis despite cries from the fans to play Mike Anderson. That also explains why Lewis received his second highest number of careers in a season in ’06. Billick might not like him now. Great thanks from an unappreciative malcontent who Billick supported while he was incarcerated.

And just to prove that he has absolutely no future in any team’s front office, Lewis spewed this gem:

"What did they do to make the running game better? Did they bring in new offensive linemen? No. They brought in a new quarterback (Steve McNair) … but got rid of Darnell Dinkins, a blocking tight end.”

Ya think that Lewis has taken one too many hits to the head?

"You know (Brian) Billick. He wants to throw the ball, anyway. I didn't fit their scheme.”

No argument here. One dimensional backs are a dying breed – particularly those that get run down from behind by linebackers.

And remember all the excuses? You know the one about how his prison sentence didn’t enable him to train properly and how the ankle created problems for him not only in ’05 but last season as well. Remember? Apparently Jamal doesn’t…

"[The sentence and injury] didn't bother me”, he said. "That just made me go out and want to do better. It was just like they weren't letting me do my job and they weren't supporting me. … A 2,000-yard rusher does not forget how to run the football. Somebody may forget how to rush the football. Now I'm in a better place. "

So let’s see, one of the Ravens’ primary offseason goals was to improve the running game. More so than any other team, the Ravens knew what Lewis was capable of. Yet they barely raised a finger to re-sign him. Did Ozzie Newsome, the man who hates to lose his first round picks, suddenly suffer from vapor lock and temporarily lose his wits?

Doubtful! He knows Lewis has lost a couple steps and he’s way too one dimensional.


Lewis now claims he's in his best shape since 2003. Haven’t we heard that annually since 2003?

"I worked hard this offseason to get my feet right and get everything back in position like it's supposed to be," Lewis says. "So that I can hit it, make my moves and get back to my old form. That's my asset: a big back with speed, having quickness in the hole."

Did he watch tape of himself from last season?

Maybe he watched it in fast forward.

It’s certainly going to be interesting on September 30. Perhaps then the Ravens will have a rebuttal for a former friend who threw his old team, coach and the providers of his fortunes under the bus.

I’d hate to be in a foxhole with that guy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

INSIDE THE RAVENS' DEFENSIVE HUDDLE...With Gerome Sapp


TL: Week 1 of camp has concluded...your general thoughts on the structure of this year's camp as compared to previous summer camps with the Ravens under Brian Billick...

GS: Coach Billick is amazing at taking care of us. You can tell that by the way he has laid out the camp and how he takes care of us on the go. He’s able to make quick changes considering the weather and other outside factors which we appreciate. I would say compared to last year it is the same format but he’s changed small things to cater to us and what we really like is he doesn’t waste any of our time.

TL: You look like you've put on some added muscle mass and weight yet it doesn't seem to be inhibiting your speed and quickness. What did you do differently this offseason to prepare for the 2007 season?

GS: I tend to travel a lot during my off-season so when I work out with the teams I will usually get 2 out 4 days with the them and then I’m in Indy (my off-season home) working out 4 days week. There comes a time in any professional athlete’s career that you need to start working on interpersonal issues and focusing on your own needs so I make sure and address those issues during the off-season. This past one I spent a lot of time working on my own stuff like lower body strength like my glutes and my hamstrings.

TL: You are seeing more reps on the field with the first unit in certain sub-packages. Talk about your expanded responsibilities and what assignments might you assume that once belonged to AD.

GS: Losing AD was kind of a bad thing and a good thing for all of us. He was a fabulous athlete and so good at what he did but now it has opened up a lot of doors for our defense and for me. I’m one of the heaviest safeties but I’m able to move quickly so I can play close to the line because of my size but I can also play back and cover.

You know I like playing with the first team and learning those different packages with the Ones. It helps being out there. I see it as a win/win situation.

TL: It looks as though Rex Ryan is using the safety blitz off the right edge a bit more in camp and the success of that particular blitz has been almost perfect. What keys are you looking for when creeping up to that right edge just prior to the snap?

GS: You are looking for a couple things. First of all you are looking for cadence. You don’t want to be off sides and you don’t want to be late and you certainly don’t want to tip your hand. It just takes repetition to get the feel for the cadence. Second, you watch the receivers. If a WR goes in motion – you know it’s about time or if you see the QB is in motion depending on how many times he lifts his leg you know it’s about time. Finally, you have to work on your angles which will depend on if it is a run or a pass. Coach Mark Carrier teaches us some good drills to adapt to all of this.

TL: Beyond you, Ed Reed and Dawan Landry there really isn't any depth at safety. Who are some of the young guys that could possibly fill in if needed?

GS: We’re looking at [Bobby] Blackshire and [Jamaine] Winborne. I think Winborne should be the next to go in if one of us gets injured and Bobby is still learning and will come along when he needs to. I think four safeties is a good number.

TL: The Ravens really haven't had a clear No. 4 receiver. Devard Darling, Clarence Moore and Yamon Figurs are all in the mix for that job. You have to cover these guys at times. Give us a brief recap from a defender's position on each.

GS:

· Devard Darling, well you have to imagine that he’s one of the biggest and strongest receivers ever. He’s not afraid to come in and get his hands dirty. He’s getting better at the passing game too.

· Clarence Moore, you definitely have to get your body in position to cover him. You have to play the ball and body him up.

· Yamon Figurs, He’s a fast guy and that makes him very dangerous.

TL: Todd Heap looks as good as ever. Dan Wilcox seems to find the soft spots in coverages and has a knack for getting open. Why are they both so effective?

GS: They both have a good concept of what their roles are. Since they are both receiving TE’s, when asked to do that they can very easily. They are both skilled athletes and can get a defender going one way very easily. They are just using their God-given abilities.

Monday, August 06, 2007

AD TO SCORE TD's IN NEW ENGLAND?


On Sunday I noticed that a few of the Redskins receivers wore bright golden stockings. I then wondered if Joe Gibbs might have all his receivers wear them to make locating the receivers a bit easier for Jason Campbell.

Equally as golden bright were the Redskins’ jerseys worn by Washington’s quarterbacks. I then had to wonder why the Ravens never dress their QB’s in red or yellow to distinguish them in scrimmages and practices. I even blogged about that a couple of months ago. (see Lady in Red)

When I mentioned it to one prominent Ravens official he first said, “Tony, you need to get a life.” He then proceeded to tell me 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.

You think he was kidding?

I wondered aloud about this back in June. I’m still wondering and I’m still asking the same question – how come every other team does it but the Ravens?

Ok, enough of that…how about this…

On Monday the Ravens cut S Donnie Johnson, the former Nittany Lion. Who am I to doubt the wisdom of the Ravens’ talent evaluators? But I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised that Johnson was cut so quickly. Here’s a guy with a reputation for being a big hitter and he’s jettisoned before we get to see if he can do the same at the NFL level.

Now I’m not expecting the second coming of Ronnie Lott but the Ravens do lack depth at the position and it would seem to be the prudent thing to do to at least see how he may have played against the Eagles.

So Johnson and DE Travis Lietko are sent packing as the Ravens bring in Ryan Riddle (OLB, 6-2, 260, 3rd-year, California) and Bill Swancutt (DE, 6-4, 270, 2nd-year, Oregon State).

Recently I was giving some thought to how Adalius Thomas might be used in New England. And it dawned on me that AD might be doing even more for the Patriots than he did for the Ravens.

When AD was here, I often wondered how he might do as a tight end. The man stands at 6’2 1/2” tall, weighs 270, runs a 4.5 40 and can dunk forward and backward from a standstill. Don’t you think he might present some match up problems as a tight end?

The Ravens don’t like to do things like that. They are too afraid of an injury. What would Rex Ryan say if AD twisted his ankle trying to get a few extra yards after the catch? Remember when Mike Nolan was steamed over Deion Sanders getting nicked up as a receiver?

You can’t play not to lose. You’ve got to play to win and in the right situation, you can’t tell me that AD couldn’t be a beast in limited snaps as a TE. I bet we might find out in New England where Bill Belichick doesn’t share the Ravens fears. If Belichick liked Mike Vrabel deep in the red zone as a TE, I think he’s going to love AD.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A NEW SEASON BRINGS HOPE EVEN FOR REDSKINS FANS

Each new season begins with hope and with 32 teams tied for the best record in the NFL. And without any bragging rights earned just yet, any fans of just about any team not named the Cleveland Browns, can engage in a little smack talk.

Today as I walked towards the stadium to take in the Ravens v. Redskins scrimmage, I couldn’t help but notice the large number of Redskins fans in attendance. There were more Redskins fans attending a scrimmage that the Ravens claim drew 25,332 (a number that in my opinion is about 8,000 too high) than Steelers’ fans at the more recent Ravens v. Steelers games.

So as I strolled along through the concrete jungle featuring weather conditions that would make the Serengeti seem like Nova Scotia in January, I found myself amused by the smack talk originating from folks dressed in Redskins’ jerseys. And I wondered what it must be like to be a Redskins fan.

Let’s admit it, they do have a rather rich history and a catchy (in a flu kind of way) fight song. But their glory years are long gone. Over the past 10 seasons their cumulative record is below .500 (73-86-1) and they’ve gone through 5 head coaches during that time frame. To make matters worse, they are owned by a man with a rather well endowed Napoleonic Complex who really doesn’t care much what the fans of the team think.

Does that all sound strikingly familiar to you?

So in a way, I felt a little bad for those fans. They are not too unlike Orioles fans that enter each season with hope only to have their aspirations shattered by Memorial Day. With the Redskins, they concede around Halloween.

But hey, there’s always next year right?

Just ask any Orioles fan.

SEX SELLS EVEN IN THE NFL


Chances are if you are reading this you are a Ravens fan. And thanks to the genetics of a Ravens fan your DNA suggests that you suffer from an inferiority complex when it comes to the NFL. You can’t help it really -- it’s just how you are built.

Turn on ESPN or NFL Network after a big Ravens win with high hopes that the Ravens will be deluged with praise from the national pundits and what do you get -- a Bengals’ love fest. Listen to Chris Berman (assuming you can any more) and his weekly Swami almost always picks against the Ravens by some twisted score of 12-11 or somewhere thereabout.


Look at all these offseason lists that are splattered all over the web. How many of them slight the Ravens?

From being told to build a museum to the lack of nationally televised games; from the difficulty of schedule to a Christmas Eve game on the road in Pittsburgh; from referees accusing the Ravens of having malice in their hearts to Brian Billick subtly suggesting that the league has an ax to grind with our city, you think the NFL’s league office will turn the screw on Baltimore whenever it can.

Make no mistake about it, the fix is in!

The Ravens are the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL. We get no respect!

While the league and its talking heads fawn all over the Chargers, a team the Ravens beat no less, the Ravens are tucked away like an ugly stepchild. As the league showcases Cell Block H (aka the Cincinnati Bengals) the fans of Baltimore feel like it’s their team that is incarcerated.

And you know what? You’re right. Your feelings are justified. Baltimore does get the dry shaft. We do get ignored. We are like Flick with his tongue stuck to the pole while the others are huddled inside a toasty classroom watching highlight films that don’t include us.

There’s a reason for it -- SEX SELLS and the Ravens aren’t sexy.

The Ravens are built on defense and defense while it wins championships isn’t exciting for highlight programs. Last night our quarterback made the highlight reels -- for a tackle, for being a defender! Yep, Steve McNair was featured on ESPN's Jacked Up segment.

But generally fans want to see scoring -- big plays. Gamblers want to see the plays that won them cash or sealed their fate; fantasy football players line up to watch SportsCenter and NFL Replay like Rosie O’Donnell queues up at Jonah & The Whale’s all you can eat buffet.

That’s how it is and the Ravens aren’t quite the match for that NFL world. All NFL fans want their team to play great defense yet offense is more exciting. We like Mary Ann for a lifetime but Ginger for a night on the town. We don’t run to the TV to look for the girl next door -- we want to see Angelina Jolie or Jeri Ryan. When is the last time a lawyer looked like Jeri Ryan and if I’m mistaken and she’s the norm for female attorneys then I have to tell you, I’m ready to sue somebody for something.

Hey let’s sue the NFL for character defamation or psychological abuse.

We’re tired of the neglect here in Baltimore!

Look around you. What NFL jerseys do kids buy? Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ladainian Tomlinson and (gulp) Fathead Ben Roethlisberger are at or near the top of jersey sales. Nobody wants us!

Face it folks -- the Ravens just aren’t sexy.

Offense is sexy and sex sells.

Look at all the recent changes, modifications or closer enforcements of NFL rules. Just about every one is designed to help the offense. It’s the NFL’s version of Nip/Tuck and all the enhancements boost offensive teams.

So Baltimore if you want your team to get more attention -- attention deserving of a 13-3 team from a year ago, then you better hope they get sexier and sexier means more offense.

That’s just the way it is and it’s doubtful that it will ever change.

You can thank Vegas, fantasy footballers and Ginger for that.

THE HOT SAUCE WITH BART SCOTT


A few months ago I asked Bart Scott to join us in studio on GAMETIME. I learned something about Bart that day. He’s a special guy with a refreshingly unique outlook on life. The thing that sets Bart apart from most other players, particularly when on air, is his candor, humor and his engaging way of articulating stories that fans love to hear.

After the show on that Sunday this spring, I asked Bart why he didn’t have a radio show of his own. Initially, he said that he wanted to do a radio show the right way and to do that would require time that would take him away from his family and in a small way, take his eye off his game which he wants to take to a new level.

Fair enough I thought. Who could not respect that?

That Monday I received a call from Bart’s agent and he said that Bart enjoyed doing the show with us and he was just checking in to see how we thought things went. I told him everything was great and that I’d love to have Bart on more in the future. I added that it would be great if I could do a show with him on a regular basis but that I certainly respected his reasoning not to pursue a show of his own.

Well as the song goes, one thing led to another and before I knew it, we had the framework in place for a radio show that we’ll call, The Hot Sauce with Bart Scott.

Having been a fan of sports talk radio for many years prior to dipping my toe in those waters, I think that I have a pretty good idea what fans want to hear. You know the old saying to beat the enemy you have to know the enemy. I apply that thinking to what we do here on 24x7 and what we do on GAMETIME. We are fans first and foremost, yet we are fans with access to the Ravens and that puts us in a unique position. We know what fans want.

A couple “media” members have referred to us as “internet clowns” and “cut rate third-tier local wannabes” who aren’t “real” members of the media. They are certainly entitled to their opinions. We’ll accept their criticisms in stride but because we are fans first, does that prevent us from being a conduit to the team for all of you? Does it keep us from being your eyes and ears at summer camp when you can’t be there? Will it prevent us from delivering an entertaining radio program with Bart?

I say no to all of the above but that’s not for me to decide. That’s up to all of you!

We will never approach the Ravens in a detached way. We can’t be the emotionally vacant doctor who treats his patient like a lab rat. We care too much and we bleed purple the way you do. That can make it difficult at times to be objective but sometimes the truth hurts and we have no choice but to deliver it.

One member of the media who doesn’t see us the way the two aforementioned badge carrying media members do, once told me that he isn’t a fan of the Ravens and that makes it easier for him to be objective. I admire that journalist’s work and I respect his position and his work helps to keep me balanced.

But I can’t be that way. I can’t hide behind a media credential and pretend to be a detached clinician when covering the team. The badge I wear reads “FAN.”

I know I’ve veered away from the discussion of Bart but my point is this…we plan on making The Hot Sauce with Bart Scott not only fun for our listeners but we plan on making DellaRose’s at Canton Crossing THE place to be on Tuesdays from 6PM to 8PM starting on September 4. It will be fun, it will be entertaining even during the commercial breaks (trust me on that) and it will be the fastest 2 hours of radio here in the Land of Pleasant Living. We'll put ourselves in your shoes and deliver what you want.


Bart told me recently while we discussed a few NFL topics including some of the off-field issues that we often hear about, that the riches afforded to NFL players don’t really change the player, they simply elevate and accentuate the characteristics of the man. In other words, if the guy is a great guy, the wealth enables him to be more helpful to others. If the guy is a jerk, the money paves the way for him to being a bigger jerk.

One more quick story about Bart and the show and I’ll let you go…Toyota has been great to us as a sponsor and I explained that to Bart. Now Bart’s time isn’t free. He is after all a Pro Bowler. The subject of Toyota surfaced and Bart and I discussed different ways of involving them in the show. During the discussion Bart made it clear that he doesn’t need a car but he thought that a single working Mom could probably use one.

Do I need to say any more?

Stay tuned for more details about that car and about the hottest show this season…The Hot Sauce with Bart Scott.