Friday, March 28, 2008

Tall tales at 1 Winning Drive

There’s a tale floating around in Owings Mills about the Ravens’ scouts and coaches while preparing for the 2000 draft. You may recall that the Ravens selected Chris Redman that year in the third round. Phil Savage was a big fan of Redman’s while some of the other scouts were just a little better than lukewarm on Redman.

Then offensive coordinator/quarterback’s coach Matt Cavanaugh was asked about his thoughts on Redman. While he admitted to liking Redman, Cavanaugh preferred a kid from Michigan. That kid was none other than Tom Brady who as you now are well aware, was selected in the sixth round by the Patriots.

The buzz at One Winning Drive…The palace is filled with Ravens’ personnel brimming with enthusiasm over the new coaching staff. Word is that about 85% of the team’s roster has been working out rather diligently and the new conditioning coaches are fostering a more rugged gym atmosphere than in recent years past…We’ve all heard the rumors about a coaching staff split down the middle under Brian Billick. A not so well kept secret during the Billick Administration was the discord between the offensive and defensive coaching staffs. Apparently under John Harbaugh that is no longer the case. Rex Ryan is said to be pretty jazzed about Cam Cameron’s offense and make no mistake about it, this is Cameron’s offense...

Cameron is a big proponent of fielding the best eleven players. If that means more two tight end sets, more three wide receiver sets and very little use of the fullback, Cameron will go with the personnel combo that gives the Ravens the best chance of scoring…Speaking of which, look out for Willis McGahee under Cameron. He could go deep into double digit scores and more than likely Cameron will do away with the borderline insanity of consistently pulling McGahee on third down…Cameron and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson are said to be pretty impressed with Troy Smith. While that might not be enough to earn Smith the No. 1 job, there has been some talk that the Ravens could develop certain packages to successfully employ Smith’s skills and such packages could be implemented into certain game plans to exploit opponents’ weaknesses and tendencies…Bart Scott is in a contract year; 2008 is Ray Lewis’ last year under his current agreement and it’s possible that Terrell Suggs could be a franchise tag candidate again. That could leave a gaping hole in the Ravens' defense in 2009. It will be interesting to see how the team handles those three players going forward.

It looks like the center position will be Chris Chester’s to lose. Many feel that Chester lacks the girth to hold his position at the point of attack and pockets are likely to collapse quickly under the weight of an interior blitz. Defenders of Chester point towards his athleticism and relative inexperience at the position. He played sparingly as an offensive lineman at Oklahoma and has bounced back and forth between center and guard as a pro. Commitment to one position could help Chester improve as a technician and that will go a long way towards offsetting his size deficiencies…Jared Gaither is said to be working hard to develop strength and bulk in his trunk and legs. Ravens officials believe that Gaither would be a second round pick if he had remained at Maryland and was in the 2008 pool of draft eligible players…An up and comer on many draft boards is offensive lineman Branden Albert from Virginia. Albert has great size and is an outstanding athlete with tons of upside. At this point he looks like a first round lock yet a reach for the Ravens at No. 8.

Matt Ryan is a Raven if....

Musa Smith is still looking for a place of employment and given the Ravens lack of depth at the position and Smith’s familiarity with the team’s personnel, you have to pause and wonder why the Ravens haven’t re-signed the former Georgia Bulldog. Currently the team has three running backs on the roster: Willis McGahee, Cory Ross and P.J. Daniels. That is dangerously thin.

Some believe that Cory Ross could be a decent change of pace back considering his performance against the Steelers in the ’07 finale. Don’t count me among those sipping the Ross Koolaid. The Steelers had little to play for in that last game and Ross played like a man looking to save his career. Ross also was the beneficiary of being a player with fresh legs going up against tired, beaten and unmotivated ones.

P.J. Daniels’ first two seasons have been marred by injury although one certainly has to wonder if the ’07 hamstring injury was really damaging enough to shelve him for the season or if his stint on IR was simply a roster move much like that of Tony Pashos in ’03 when he sat out with a hand injury the entire season. To say that Daniels is unproven would be an understatement.

So why not bring back Musa Smith particularly in light of Mike Anderson’s release? Word is that Smith hasn’t been the same player after that neck injury against the Titans in '06 and he didn’t hit the holes the way he did earlier that season. Look for the Ravens to bring in a discarded veteran for a look some time after the draft or pick one up in the draft by Day 2. They might even do both. Clearly they don’t want to be in the position they were in back in 2001 when Jamal Lewis was lost for the season during the first week of training camp and they were forced to turn to the scrap heap that included a washed up Terry Allen and an overweight Jason Brookins.

Fans at times can easily forget that off the field personal matters can become distractions even to the most focused of athletes. Last season Mark Clayton by nearly everyone’s account had a disappointing season. Look for the promising wide receiver to bounce back and put up the numbers in ’08 that most expected last season. That said, with Devard Darling’s departure, Yamon Figurs’ inexperience, Demetrius Williams’ slight frame and Clayton’s history of nagging injuries, many expect the Ravens to take a shot at a wide receiver in the 2008 NFL Draft.

The Ravens more than likely will take a shot at Matt Ryan if he is still on the board at No. 8. Many have suggested that if the Falcons and Chiefs pass on the BC signal caller he could fall into the Ravens’ lap. But don’t rule out the possibility of a team trading up to No. 7 where the Patriots currently sit, courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers. Wouldn't Bill Belichick love to give the bird to the NFL brain trust that took away the Patriots’ own first round pick and parlay the pick from the Niners into multiple picks? That said, the Patriots are in need of a corner and most expect them to fill that need with the No. 7 pick. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be lured out of that pick by a team like the Panthers who have the 13th overall pick or quarterback hungry Jon Gruden who sits at No. 20 with Tampa.

But then again, don’t be shocked if the Ravens gamble and trade down from No. 8 even if Matt Ryan is on the board particularly if USC’s Sedrick Ellis is still available. Behind the Ravens at Nos. 9-12 are the Bengals, Saints, Bills and Broncos. Each of those teams are set at quarterback and it could be argued that all of them could use Sedrick Ellis. Would Ozzie be that gutsy and risk losing Ryan?

Ryan is no sure bet but some scouts believe he has the frame to put on muscle without it negatively affecting his finely tuned mechanics. That could help to improve upon his above average arm strength, much like Tom Brady has done in the NFL. Brady was very lanky and fairly poorly conditioned while exiting Michigan. As a pro he has improved his velocity with a training regimen that in part was designed to do exactly that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pacman Fever can be dangerous

In one month or less we will find out if Pacman Jones has a new home in Dallas, Texas. Clearly Jones is a gifted athlete possessing outstanding speed and ball skills. Perhaps even more clearly, Jones is an extremely troubled man possessing less than exemplary common sense and role model skills.

The attraction to Jones’ talents is understandable. And on the surface offering a very team-oriented contract to him makes sense for the Cowboys. There are apparently few if any other teams interested in the frequent visitor to the principal’s office and that gives Jerry Jones all the leverage. The cost to obtain Pacman from Tennessee should be very inexpensive and the former Mountaineer is more than likely willing to play on the cheap just to prove himself to the world, somewhat similar to Randy Moss a little more than a year ago.

If it works out for the Cowboys and the Joneses, one year from now they’ll be talking about a more lucrative long-term deal on par with some of the other big cornerback contracts offered recently.

But what if it doesn’t work out?

Is Pacman’s talent too dazzling for Jerry Jones? Is it the equivalent of a beautiful woman luring an unsuspecting average Jerry? You know the type – the woman so stunning that some unlucky guy is willing to ignore the garage-full of unpleasant baggage.

Clearly the Ravens have needs at corner and thankfully they aren’t competing for Pacman’s services. And for that matter, nor should anyone else. Pacman Jones is a tormented man. And yes I know that his childhood story is tragic having experienced the murder of his dad at the tender age of 8 and the addictions of his mother. But that doesn’t excuse his behavior as an adult. It might explain it but it doesn’t excuse it.

Pacman Jones hasn’t paid the full price yet for full reinstatement, acceptance and such a clear path to the Who Wants to be a Millionaire winner’s circle – AGAIN! It’s way too soon. Jerry Jones should not enable him again nor should any other NFL owner. Collectively they need to send a message. Remember what happened to each team and each league that gave Lawrence Phillips a second, third or fourth chance?

It’s time to ignore the talent and focus on right and wrong.

It's time to stop giving thugs so many chances just because they can play a boys' game.

It’s time to pass on Pacman.

He’s used up the last of his power dots – at least for now.

There's a danger to listening with your eyes...

Ok I have a confession to make – I have been a regular viewer of American Idol this season. In the past, I may have seen some of the contestants perform while channel surfing but not until this year did I give the program much more than a sniff. Perhaps their tapping into the Beatles’ catalog lured me.

Redundancy is certainly a problem with the show and the biggest culprit is the bubbly and bumbling Paula Abdul. But that aside, I’m sure that each of you who do take in the show (whether you want to admit it or not) has your favorite contestant(s).

Now there could be any number of reasons why you’ve selected your favs. My favorites are David Cook and Michael Johns and I’ll be rooting for them down to the wire. Yet at the same time, it’s difficult for me not to find Brooke White appealing. She’s talented, attractive, humble, sweet and sincere and I find her to be a breath of fresh air when compared to many her age that are hardly humble and are really nothing more than self-promoting windbags.

Yet I must admit that her appeal makes me overlook some of her deficiencies as a musical talent.

Am I listening with my eyes?

While noticing this built in bias towards Brooke I wondered how many other voters felt the same, whether it be for Brooke or any of the other 9 surviving contestants on Idol.

And then as they often do my thoughts veered in a totally different direction towards the 2008 NFL Draft…

And then I thought of Kyle Boller…

And now I’m thinking about Matt Ryan…

Did the personal appeal and Wonderlic score of Kyle Boller allure and subsequently trap the Ravens into committing two high end draft picks just to secure his rights? Might the Ravens’ organization, desperate for consistency and efficiency at the quarterback position commit the very same mistake with Matt Ryan?

Of the two, clearly Ryan is the more polished QB as a senior entering the draft. But is he worthy of a No. 8 pick and the dollars that go with such a lofty selection?

I’m really not sure.

I’ve been told by folks in the know that Ryan really didn’t have a very good supporting cast and still managed to keep his team undefeated heading into November before Boston College dropped three of five prior to their 24-21 Champs Sports’ Bowl win over Michigan State.

That aside, is Ryan one of the country’s 8 best collegiate players? If your answer is no then do you think that this is the year the Ravens go against the grain and pick for need rather than best player available? Or should they wait until Round 2 for Joe Flacco or Brian Brohm or Chad Henne?

Talent v. Need

Needs can certainly influence appeal and appeal can influence, even blur opinions on talent.
It happened with Kyle Boller.

It’s happening for me with Brooke White.

Might it do the same to Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta with Matt Ryan?

We’ll find out one month from today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Don't look now but Matt Ryan could be a Raven...

It is not beyond the scope of reason that Matt Ryan conveniently (or inconveniently depending upon your perspective)falls into the lap of Ozzie Newsome on April 26. It isn’t exactly Bill Parcells’ style to draft a QB that high in the draft (Miami has the No. 1 pick) so look for him to try and trade down and if not Parcells will go with what he believes to be the best athlete available. My money is on Chris Long.

At No. 2 the Rams have committed big dollars to Marc Bulger and they have other more pressing needs. The Falcons could pull the trigger but there seems to be an opinion circulating and growing in popularity in Atlanta that the Falcons could be 2008’s surprise team and they might emulate Phil Savage’s 2007 strategy which could point the Dirty Birds in the direction of Michigan OT Jake Long (while remembering Joe Thomas’ rookie success).

The Raiders certainly won’t take Ryan given the investment in Jamarcus Russell bringing us to No. 5 and the KC Chiefs. They could pull the Ryan card but one might wonder if Herm Edwards might soon feel some pressure and he may want to win sooner than later. Brodie Croyle is hardly a sure bet at QB for the Chiefs but Edwards might feel that he can pick from Flacco, Brohm or Henne with his high end second round pick.

That brings us to the Jets at No. 6 and the Patriots at No. 7. The Jets have Pennington and the developing Kellen Clemens while the Patriots have you-know-who and they have needs a corner and linebacker.

And then we have the Ravens nestled in at No. 8…

If Matt Ryan is there, he will be a Raven. You can count on it!

Should the Ravens pass on the Boston College slinger, just imagine all of the negative backlash directed towards Ozzie if Ryan goes on to have a solid NFL career, particularly in light of all the quarterback upheaval we’ve experienced here in the Land of Pleasant Living.

ODDS & ENDS: Ravens fans who think Steve Bisciotti’s prices are too high may find this tidbit a bit comforting. As you may already know, the Yankees are playing their final season in historic Yankee Stadium this season. Next year they move into the new Yankee Stadium where the team will charge between $500.00 and $2,500.00 for seats near home plate…Some thought that Trent Dilfer was finished. Some might have to think again because word from the Bay Area is that the former Raven will serve as a tutor of sorts to JeMarcus Russell in Oakland. Recently Dilfer spoke during Easter services in Northside Christian Church in Clovis, California and he informed the congregation that the Raiders are interested in his services. The gathering cheered. What a sight that must have been – all those Raiders’ uglies gathering in a place of worship. Talk about ironies…And finally, speaking of Easter, ever wonder why the day is so unpredictable from one year to the next? Well hopefully this will make the date of Easter a bit clearer for you. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon that follows the spring (vernal) equinox. Got it? There are auxiliary rules that make March 22 the earliest possible date for Easter and April 25 the latest. By the way the equinox is the time when the sun crosses the earth's equator, making night and day of approximately equal length all over the earth.

The NFL Draft: Mocks and licks to wonder about

Mockingly speaking don’t you just love these mock drafts? It seems to me that every football related web site has one or more versions or they are planning one or more versions. We’ve done them before but I think the only people that actually read them were the participants in the mock. Two words for those mocks – mock you!

Not that there’s anything wrong with them…

I just don’t pay attention to them. Scouts and NFL war room officials across the league chuckle at them, especially those completed around the first of the year. NFL Draft Countdown had Andre Woodson as a top 10 player a couple months ago. Today he doesn’t even show up through two rounds of their mock draft. Don’t be surprised if Woodson is a Day 2 shot in the dark for some team. Troy Smith is better if you ask me.

Brian Brohm should be a Raven a month or so ago they said. Now he’s projected as a late second round pick.

I find it interesting too how Ravens’ fans favor mock drafts that deliver a preferred player but mock (pun intended) those that have the Ravens selecting and undesirable player.

Then there are the seven round mock drafts. I’ll call that a completely crocked mock. I think some folks just have too much time on their hands. Do yourself a favor – take them for what they are and that is nothing more than a collection of imperfect educated guesses given imperfect access to information.

And in the NFL Draft information rules!

Just ask Roger Goodell.

Quarterbacks should be smart right? They need to quickly process the rapidly changing environment that surrounds them and make good decisions with the football. All other key skills being equal, you’d prefer the guy with the good noggin, right?

To help quantify a good noggin NFL scouts lean on the Wonderlic Test to help separate the field. The Wonderlic is a twelve-minute, fifty-question exam to assess one’s problem solving skills while on the job. SI’s Paul Zimmerman in his book The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football provides average test scores by position for NFL wannabes. They are as follows:

Offensive tackle, 26; Center, 25; QB, 24; Guard, 23, Tight end, 22; Safety & Linebacker, 19; Cornerback 18; Wide Receiver and Fullback 17; Halfback 16.

Now back to quarterbacks and this year’s draft candidates that have attracted the watchful eye of Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta & Co, Matt Ryan and Brian Brohm posted scores of 32. Joe Flacco checked in with a 27 while Chad Henne’s scorecard read 22.

A score of 50 is perfect while the overall average is 21 for all disciplines. A score of 14 is equivalent to an unskilled worker and anything below that suggests someone was a professional truant during their childhood school years.

If you are interested in a sampling and how you might score, check it out here

Friday, March 14, 2008

One of a kind Ravens' fan gives meaning to St. Patty's Day

If you are lucky enough, every now and then in life you will meet a kind and selfless person -- one who is good to the core and prefers to give rather than receive, praise rather than be praised.

Their humility and unpretentious ways are inspiring and they leave you wondering why you aren't more like them and why there aren't more of their type in the world.

Fortunately I know a person like that and his Irish Heritage and annual traditions that he enthusiastically participates in at this time of year places him in the forefront of my thoughts while celebrating St. Patty's Day/Weekend. I'm not even sure what it is we celebrate on St. Patty's Day...maybe it's life and what could possibly be a better reason to celebrate? Life, love, peace and happiness collectively comprise the lifeblood of our existence.

And if you disagree, take a long look in the mirror or better yet, read this little story written back in March of 2006 about a wonderful friend that I'm blessed to have who I refer to simply as JB...

Yesterday I made my way down to the St. Patty's Day Parade, an annual tradition for nearly all of my Celtic friends who adorn themselves in Gaelic splendor and shades of green. They ascended upon their comfortable perches on Charles Street to watch Irish dancers, politicians, members of Irish clubs and bagpipe players waltz through the streets of downtown Baltimore towards their Inner Harbor destination.

There were green carnations, green dogs, green-haired ladies, green tattoos, hundreds of silly green leprechaun-like hats and many, many smiles.

The Irish certainly take a back seat to no one when it comes to having a great time!

As for me, while my name screams Italian heritage, there are drops of blood that run in my veins from a few places in Europe but Ireland isn't one of them. The closest I get to Irish blood is when a hearty Guinness travels my circulatory system.

And while I can't say that I was moved by the Irish ethnicity or the 15th variation of Oh Danny Boy that I heard in the 90 minutes I was there, I can tell you that I was inspired by a dear friend who participated in the event and marched with The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.

Jimmy didn't do anything extraordinary during his march with the proud Sons. In fact what he did was quite ordinary for the average person -- a casual one mile stroll on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

But Jimmy is hardly average.

Last year while helping a friend of his who owns a landscaping business, Jimmy fell from a tractor in a large field pulling an industrial sized cutter. The tractor continued uninterrupted as Jimmy lay there, staring at the teeth of those hungry stainless steel blades. Fortunately Jimmy was able to roll away just in time to prevent the cutter from hitting his torso or upper extremities. His legs weren't as lucky. Jimmy lost 4 toes on one foot, suffered a compound fracture of one ankle and a laceration to a calf of epic proportions.

As the tractor continued on in a Pacman-like fury, Jimmy laid writhing in pain and screaming for help in this remote field. Thankfully he was heard by someone off in the distance and Jimmy was transported by Medivac to the University of Maryland.

Jimmy took the injury in stride. He reflected upon the accident and chose to find the silver lining, considered himself fortunate to escape more serious harm and happy that someone heard his plea for help.

But the hard part waited ahead for my friend.

Jimmy has never been the sveltest guy on the planet nor has he ever been what I might call a gym rat -- not even close. But he is determined and focused once he chooses a destination or goal and attacks it with heart, grit and perseverance.

Jimmy was instrumental in establishing Ravens Roost 50 which in many ways is the standard to which all other Roosts and Nests are compared. He helped to lead the charge to establish ties with selfless organizations like the Ed Block Courage Foundation; when his ailing Dad needed a kidney, up stepped Jimmy saying, "Hey, I've got an extra one!"

And when disabled and underprivileged children hoped for a new toy for Christmas, Jimmy was there to deliver two.

But suddenly after his accident, Jimmy found himself disabled as well.

Yesterday I watched him stroll down Charles Street, wearing one of those green derby caps, green blazer, and a big, big smile. Maybe he was disguising his discomfort with that ear to ear grin that I found so heartwarming. And until now, he probably had no idea that he was and is a source of inspiration.

You see it's souls like Jimmy's that we attach ourselves to. He embodies what is so wonderful about the human spirit. He is the type of person that Baltimore finds endearing -- the local guy who loves our town and wears his civic pride like a coat of arms on his sleeve; like a tattoo emblazoned into eternity.

Jimmy is akin to Ravens such as Kelly Gregg, Jarret Johnson and Bart Scott. They are ready willing and able to take one for the team in order to advance the team while dodging or redirecting the accolades that come their way. Maybe that's why the Ravens made a move for players like Justin Bannan and Mike Anderson, additional examples of what hard work, dedication and devotion to the team means.

Jimmy knows what it means. Knowing Jimmy, I doubt that he was trying to do anything during that long mile other than to prove something to himself and to help promote his brothers of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.

But there's more JB -- there's more.

Just like all of those athletes with inspiring stories who are celebrated by the Ed Block Courage Foundation, you too are to be celebrated and commended. Just because you don't share the celebrity of a Dale Carter or a Steve Smith or Tedy Bruschi, doesn't mean your noble deeds and humanitarian efforts are any less relevant.

Ed Block I'm sure would happily accept your acquaintance.

When I think of random acts of kindness, I think of Jimmy Bullington!

You inspire me my brother and I can promise you I'm not alone -- not by a long shot. It's a pleasure to know you and an even greater pleasure to call you "friend".


Thursday, March 13, 2008

All signs indicate that J.O. will go...

Jonathan Ogden has always been a frugal man and teammates have often teased the perennial Pro Bowler about his tight fisted ways. Some have said that he still has the first dollar he earned with the Ravens. Consequently it is safe to say that money is not the driving force behind Ogden’s decision to return in 2008 or hang them up for good and enjoy the climate of Las Vegas.

Recently the Ravens and Ogden agreed to restructure his contract by reducing the irreplaceable tackle’s base salary in ’08 by $5 million. No, Ogden didn’t suddenly become less tight fisted nor did he wake up in a philanthropic mood one morning and voluntarily become the team’s sacrificial lamb. The move looks like that of a man trying to help his former employer. The move looks like that of man ready to retire.

After the season Ogden promised to take a wait and see approach with his decision. He wanted to consider all information in order to reach the proper career choice for him. In many of his interviews, Ogden has repeatedly made it clear that he didn’t just want to return, but return at the level of play he was accustomed to.

Here’s what Ogden recently had to share with the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

"It's just frustrating, because I couldn't play, especially this last year, at the level that I'm used to playing at, and that kind of irritates me. I'm a perfectionist out there on the football field, and that's kind of why I'm leaning toward retiring.

"I have not officially retired, but ... the Ravens know to proceed with their offseason plans as if I'm retiring. So if I come back, it's great, they said, but they're proceeding as if I'm not."

Ogden has also made it clear that his daily routine in the trainer’s room in ’07 was a drag and that if his troublesome plant toe isn’t close to being healed, that would heavily factor into a decision to retire.

"I taped it up the other day when I went running," Ogden said. "It just hasn't healed 100 percent, and I don't know if it will. The doctor's still not sure.

"I can still play, but ... I don't want to play if I can't play at the level I'm capable of playing at."

Ogden started a career low 10 games in ’07 and the Ravens won only one of those games – the last game of the season against the Steelers, and probably the last of his career. For you math majors the “should I stay or should I go” equation for J.O. might look like this:

J.O. <>

If you are among those expecting Ogden’s return to the field, you would be wise not to get your hopes. It appears that J.O. will be KO’d by those tendons beneath the ball of his left big toe prematurely ending a brilliant career.

In Ogden’s new hometown of Vegas, his retirement is an overwhelming favorite over his return and oddsmakers are likely to suggest that the next time you see No. 75 on the turf at M&T Bank Stadium he will be accepting his induction into the Ravens Ring of Honor.
Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In the NFL defenders are pulling down the big bucks

In youth leagues the best athletes are usually quarterbacks or running backs in football; point guards or scorers in basketball; shortstops or pitchers in baseball. Somewhere along the way, the burgeoning athlete normally emerges more prominently in one sport than another and that shapes the path of the student athlete.

Oftentimes student athletes who were dominant at one position adopt new positions at higher levels of competition. Bart Scott was a successful high school running back while Dawan Landry was an accomplished quarterback. Chris McAlister was Conference Player of the Year and California MVP as Pasadena High School’s quarterback.

But somewhere along the line a coach might notice something about a student athlete that possibly suggests that their skill sets are better suited for another position at the next level and those positions are encouraged in order to benefit the team and provide a springboard for the athlete’s future.

Superior athletes are encouraged to play quarterback and pitcher and point guard at lower levels of competition because it places them at the center of attention and the attention helps catapult them to more favorable positions at higher levels. It helps to pave the way to greater success.

As the student athletes continue down their respective athletic career paths, success is measured differently. First there are scholarships at both the high school and collegiate level. Perhaps there are some swept under the carpet perks that come along in a clandestine way at the collegiate level (see Reggie Bush).

And then there are the prospects of playing sports professionally.

There the benefits escalate from a free ride on tuition to the possibility of millions of dollars. And when money enters the picture that too could sway what positions athletes will gravitate too.

Trevor Pryce prior to his first mini-camp session with the Ravens in 2006 discussed his collegiate career. Pryce played both linebacker and defensive end at Michigan and Clemson. Pryce recalled a time when a reporter asked which position he would prefer to play in the NFL.

“Which pays more?” Pryce quickly answered.

If you look at the pay scales in the NFL, three of the top four paying positions are on the defensive side of the football, the only exception is the high profile position of quarterback.

So if an athlete isn’t capable of throwing the ball 60 yards on a rope, might the money on defense allure them and influence their athletic career path?

Consider the following franchise tag numbers:

Quarterback $10.730 million
Cornerback $ 9.465 million
Defensive End $ 8.879 million
Linebackers $ 8.065 million
Wide Receiver $ 7.848 million
Offensive linemen $ 7.455 million
Running backs $ 6.638 million
Tight Ends $ 4.522 million
Safeties $ 4.396 million

The biggest, fastest and strongest athletes if motivated by money and career longevity will look to play defense. We all know about the 3 year career average of running backs. The better linemen will prefer to defend unless of course you are a behemoth along the lines of Jonathan Ogden. If an athlete is 6’4” with speed, might he be more inclined to pursue linebacker or tight end? Does the 6’1” speedster opt for cornerback or wide receiver?

Dollars are being thrown at defenders and the better athletes are chasing it and why shouldn't they? They are the hired guns brought on to thwart a league that continually refines the rules to assist the offense and enable higher scoring. The slanted rules don’t require offenses to employ the best athletes yet they inspire the NFL’s general managers to find them on defense and pay them accordingly. And that won’t change any time soon.

Don’t think for a second that footballers with professional aspirations haven’t taken notice.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Ravens 2004 Draft was a trainwreck...and that's being unkind to the train

As the draft approaches we will hear time and time again about the Ravens war room prowess on draft day. It’s hard to argue with that opinion although clearly the team has failed with alarming regularity after Round 1 on the draft’s first day. That said, the Ravens’ brain trust is consistently among the best.

But clearly that wasn’t the case during that last weekend in April back in 2004…

The Ravens were without a first round pick that year, the price paid for moving up in 2003 to draft Kyle Boller. Their first selection was in Round 2 (No. 51) and the nod went to Dwan Edwards, a player who to this day is not much more than an adequate back up. He has 41 career tackles including 1 sack to his credit playing in 40 of a possible 64 games. Prior to 2007 when he started in 13 games, Edwards started in only 1 regular season contest.

Next with the 82nd pick was the recently departed Devard Darling who played in 30 of a possible 64 regular season games as a Raven and “racked up” 20 career catches. He was inactive or his coaches chose not to play him in 34 of those games. Darling’s only start was his last game as a Raven.

The Ravens fourth round pick that year was traded to Jacksonville for WR Kevin Johnson. That one year rental produced 35 catches for 373 yards and 1 TD in 16 games. Johnson left Baltimore after 1 season and moved on to Detroit. He has been out of the NFL since 2005.

Roderick Green was the next draft selection in 2004 for the Ravens chosen in Round 5 with the 153rd overall pick. Green’s physical skills never projected well between the lines and he didn't amount to anything more than a decent special teams player. In two seasons with the Ravens Green never started a game (he’s yet to start a game in the NFL after 4 seasons) while contributing 17 tackles and two sacks.

The balance of the Ravens’ 2004 draft included Josh Harris (No. 187), Clarence Moore (No. 199), Derek Abney (No. 244) and Brian Rimpf (No. 246).

Harris is now a substitute teacher in Westerville, Ohio, where he attended high school. In 2007 he was the backup quarterback for the AFL Columbus Destroyers where he played in 3 games as a special teams player.

Clarence Moore caught 24 passes as a rookie in 2004 followed by only 5 catches in total during the ’05 and ’06 campaigns. He started 8 games for the Ravens and is currently out of the NFL.

Derek Abney was cut by the Ravens during camp in 2004. He later received looks from the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. Both teams took a pass and Abney has yet to see an NFL field in a regular season game. He is out of the NFL.

Brian Rimpf started 7 games for the Ravens from 2004-2006 and he too is now out of the NFL.

So all tolled the seven players from the draft class of ’04 have produced a grand total of 30 NFL starts out of a possible 448 games (16 games x 4 seasons x 7 players). Considering it another way, only 1 of those 7 players has started since selected in just 47% of the Ravens games played since 2004. Only 3 of the eight players overall (Kevin Johnson included) are still in the league.

So are you among those that think the Ravens haven’t been as good since Phil Savage left? If so, I would agree. Savage in large part is responsible for the carnage left from the 2004 NFL Draft. The affects still linger.

The next time you find yourself lamenting Savage’s loss, reacquaint yourself with these staggering numbers and come back to reality.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ozzie schools former pupil

Admittedly I’ve been a bit critical of Ozzie Newsome as of late. I’m not a fan of how Ozzie allows too much time to lapse before he bellies up to the bar and negotiates contracts. Players that you define as core players are the type you look to keep and those that you look to lock up long-term and preferably not a few months removed from free agency. The price then becomes too expensive and it places an unnecessary burden on the salary cap, hence the Ravens’ current unfavorable cap position. It will be interesting to see what the team eventually pays Jason Brown.

I also wasn’t keen on how Phil Savage snookered Ozzie back in 2005 when the Browns’ GM forced the Ravens to re-sign Chester Taylor for more than twice the cost of a first round restricted free agent tender. Savage knew that given the health concerns surrounding Jamal Lewis that the Ravens could not afford to let Taylor escape and he made them pay.

Well paybacks are a you-know-what!

Recently Derek Anderson signed a new contract with the Browns that has the former Beaver earning roughly $24 million over the next 3 seasons and includes $13 million in guarantees. Not a bad coup for a player with two years of experience and one with a 78.9 career QB rating.

Why did the Browns offer so much when they have Brady Quinn waiting in the wings and they had the option of extending the high end restricted tender of $2.56 million instead? It seems to me that Savage slipped with this one a bit.

During his press conference to announce the Anderson signing Savage suggested that market pressures and rumors may have benefitted Anderson and his agent leaving Savage somewhat at their mercy. That might explain the inflated offer to Anderson. But what pressures and rumors influenced Savage’s behavior?

A report originating from WKNR 850 out of Cleveland by mid-morning host Tony Rizzo stated that the Dallas Cowboys would give the Browns their first pick in the first and third rounds (28th pick in each round) for Anderson. Then Jerry Jones & Co. were said to trade Anderson to the Ravens for their first round pick, No. 8 overall.

Word is that then Jones could land the coveted Razorback from his own alma mater, Darren McFadden assuming he was still available.

Perhaps you are thinking that Ozzie would never pay such a price for a quarterback who only two years prior was his for the 39th selection in the sixth round. If so I would have to agree with you. But the structure of the deal made sense and apparently it forced Savage’s hand. Not only could he not let Anderson escape yet, he clearly didn’t want to see him slip away to a divisional rival.

Game Newsome!

Somewhere in Owings Mills while swirling his snifter, Ozzie was smiling.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ravens close in on free agent? Who might be available at No. 8?

We are all aware of John Harbaugh’s well developed understanding of the value in solid special teams play. And given the way the Ravens AFC North rivals are augmenting their rosters in free agency, the team would be wise to get a jump start in an oftentimes overlooked and undervalued aspect of football. Therefore it should surprise no one given the Ravens’ limited cap flexibility that they might look for returns on smaller investments such as Bears special teams’ standout Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Ayanbadejo visited the Ravens this week and word is he is narrowing his decision down to two teams. The Jets appear to be the other option for the 6-1, 228-pound free agent Pro Bowler. The 31-year-old Ayanbadejo is said to be seeking a deal that resembles that of the Giants’ David Tyree. Tyree best known for his helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII is another special teams standout who signed a five year, $7.5 million deal during the last offseason.

The Ravens as you know are the eighth club on the clock come Saturday April 26 in New York. Immediately ahead of them are the Patriots (in Round 1) and the Jets. Yesterday the New York Daily News’ Rich Cimini provided his insightful commentary on the factors that might influence the Jets' decision at No. 6. Here’s a snap shot of Cimini’s top 7 players and how the Jets might view each:

RB Darren McFadden: A definite possibility. They could be tipping their hand if they sign Dolphins RB Jesse Chatman (visited Wednesday). With Chatman, Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, they’d be well stocked in the backfield.

DE Chris Long: Too small to play end in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme. He probably could stand up and play outside linebacker, but they just signed that guy, Calvin Pace (formerly of the Cardinals).

QB Matt Ryan: This would mean rebuilding and, based on the mega contracts they’ve been doling out, the Jets do not see themselves as a rebuilding team.

OT Jake Long: He’d be hard to pass up at No. 6, but it would be a tough sell. They couldn’t play him at left tackle because that would be admitting D’Brickashaw Ferguson was a mistake. They’d have to play him at right tackle, but they just signed Damien Woody.

DT Glenn Dorsey: Two reasons why they won’t pick him: He’s too small to play nose (see Dewayne Robertson) and they just traded for Kris Jenkins.

DT Sedrick Ellis: See Dorsey.

DE/LB Vernon Gholston: Too small to play end. He’d have to play linebacker, but this brings us back to the Chris Long/Pace issue. Then again, after the year OLB Bryan Thomas had, maybe they feel they need two new outside ‘backers.

As you can see there’s no clear cut choice for the Jets but the feeling here is that the Jets most difficult choice would be between Jake Long and Matt Ryan should both be available. And if Long is the pick and only Ryan remains, don’t be surprised to see the Ravens call on a draft day trade partner to move to No. 7. You may recall that the Ravens twice traded with New England on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. The first trade brought Kyle Boller to Baltimore and the second afforded them Adam Terry.

Uh, after further review maybe they should stay put if history is an indicator…

Are Terrell Suggs and his agent barking up the wrong tree?

The Ravens recently released Mike & Mike (Flynn & Anderson) to carve out about $3 million in cap space. They also restructured the deals of Todd Heap and Jonathan Ogden to create more room. All of these moves were executed in part to enable the team to franchise Terrell Suggs while they try and work out a long term deal.

But Suggs appears to be making it difficult for the Ravens to do exactly that. Yesterday Suggs and his representatives filed a grievance against the team that will be reviewed in an arbitration hearing headed by an NFL special master. Suggs claims that he played more than 50 percent of his snaps at defensive end last year.

What’s the big deal you ask?

Well the franchise tag for defensive ends ($8.879 million) is $814,000 more than that for linebackers ($8.065 million). Could this be Gary Wichard’s (Suggs’ agent) way of making the tag more difficult for the Ravens thus forcing them to the bargaining table with a few less chips?

Side bar: And by the way, how much will Wichard want for Suggs when a player considered to be a bust not too long ago (OLB Calvin Pace) just nailed the Jets for $22 million guaranteed?

You can’t fault Suggs’ handlers for doing what they are paid to do yet you have to wonder how this might affect the club’s view of T-Sizzle. The Ravens have traditionally taken very good care of their first round picks. Ogden, Heap, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed all re-signed with the team and each was extended a then record contract for their respective positions.

Moreover, it would seem to me that the Ravens have a strong argument in this case. Suggs was listed as a starting outside linebacker in each game in '07. Now it’s quite possible that the team anticipated a franchise tag for Suggs and they recognized that such a move might save them money.

Did Suggs argue with his linebacker designation when he went to Hawaii as a Pro Bowler twice (following the ’04 and ’06 seasons)? Do you think that he would have been chosen as a defensive end following his second season over the Pro Bowl stalwarts John Abraham, Jason Taylor or Dwight Freeney? Do you think he may have been selected as a DE over any of the following (2 year sack total) in ’06: Derrick Burgess (27); Aaron Schobel (26); Jason Taylor (25.5)?

Neither do I!

Suggs should be happy with the designation because being listed as a linebacker allowed him to be selected to the Pro Bowl team twice and those two awards are certainly worth more than the $814K he and his handlers are whining about. But I guess that’s just business.

I wonder if Lawrence Taylor considered himself a defensive end…