Monday, August 11, 2008

Baltimore Ravens Rumormill

We understand these things to be part of life: death, taxes and injuries in the NFL. As for the later, it is no small coincidence that the healthiest teams in the NFL are the more successful ones although having said that, 16 weeks of “no injuries reported” from the Miami Dolphins will do nothing to move them from the cellar of the AFC East.

Close to home, many are wondering if John “Hard-Ball” Harbaugh’s camp may prove to be the undoing of the Ravens’ 2008 season. Camp injuries are being reported about as frequently as Mayor Sheila Dixon’s fiduciary indiscretions.

And when you consider how important this camp is to the successful installation of Cam Cameron’s new offense the amount of significant time missed by key players like Willis McGahee, Jared Gaither, Adam Terry, Daniel Wilcox and Demetrius Williams is alarming.

Gathering details on the injuries has proven to be rather challenging this summer. Because the league doesn’t require teams to formally report injuries prior to the start of the regular season, many teams (including the Ravens) have become a bit squirrely about divulging too much information on the nicks and bruises or worse suffered by their players.

This tight-lipped development amongst teams may very well be justified. Word is that the Ravens and other teams don’t want to tip their hands as they scour the shallow free agent pool to augment rosters weakened by injuries.

Perhaps the most troubling injury at the moment for the Ravens is that of Jared Gaither. Gaither according to some (count me among them) is the key to the Ravens season. Competent play from him would enable Cam Cameron to more efficiently develop his offense and help QB Coach Hue Jackson develop his quarterbacks. If the offensive tackles break down completely, so too could the offense. Then we may find ourselves staring at a season not too unlike 2007.

Gaither has been sidelined for most of August. Word is that the massive tackle has a high ankle sprain, an injury that has plagued Todd Heap in the past and one that shelved Demetrius Williams for most of 2007. Neither of those players is 6’9” and 350 pounds. The former Terrapin is missing too many reps. Couple that with a work ethic that isn’t always the best and catching up for Gaither might prove to be a steep, slippery slope to climb. There’s also word buzzing around that Gaither could start the season on the PUP list and that would sideline Gaither for no less than the first six games of the season.

All of this could force the Ravens to a trade for an offensive tackle or into a bidding war to acquire a free agent. Names to watch for are Khalif Barnes (Jaguars) and Fred Miller (free agent) although most believe that Miller’s preference is to return to his most recent team, the Chicago Bears.

Some will wonder why the Ravens would make a move on a player who isn’t currently on another team’s roster. Doesn’t that suggest that he just isn’t that good? It could but for veterans, they are savvy enough to be patient and wait for a team that is desperate due to injury to come calling. Desperation potentially increases what a team is willing to pay for a free agent's services.

We learned yesterday that Willis McGahee has to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee – the same knee that was injured in a devastating way on national television when McGahee was a Miami Hurricane. By his own admission, McGahee did not report to camp in the best of shape and some team officials have privately questioned McGahee’s commitment. One has to wonder if McGahee had trained more rigorously prior to arriving at camp would the need for the scope have surfaced sooner and wouldn’t that have made him more available to the team during camp and the preseason.

One might also wonder just how much McGahee loves the game of football. Cam Cameron’s offense is built for a versatile back. A player who has passion for the game, particularly on the heels of signing a fat contract just one year ago, should whole-heartedly embrace the new offense system.

Last season against his former mates in Buffalo, McGahee had to leave the field for an IV. Now an overworked player on a hot day might require intravenous fluids at halftime. But McGahee left the game after three quarters and 17 carries on a day that featured perfect conditions, sunny skies, 66 degrees and 16 mph winds with his team trailing 19-7. Some have speculated that the Buffalo night life that McGahee once trashed got the best of him the night before the game.

McGahee’s surgery announcement could force the Ravens to look for a veteran back to not only take practice reps in practice but possibly be ready to go against the Cincinnati Bengals on opening day. The available free agent backs according to include: Shawn Alexander, Travis Henry, Samkon Gado, Najeh Davenport, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne.

No one asked me but Travis Henry might be the best choice from a thin list of possibilities. He certainly should be hungry particularly considering his burgeoning stable of little Henrys.

Some observers seem to like the Ravens’ 7th round pick from Oklahoma, Allen Patrick. Patrick is a north and south runner without a lot of speed. He came to Baltimore with a reputation for being tough but so far in camp, Patrick has looked like road kill. He’s been trucked by linebackers in practice, most notably by linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo and Tavares Gooden. Tom Zbikowski has also manhandled Patrick during practice.

Even though Justin Green was just released today by the Ravens, don’t be surprised to see the team’s lone other fullback featured as a runner more often. The Ravens are very pleased with the play of Le’Ron McClain and Cam Cameron likes the former Crimson Tide’s versatility. McClain is a proficient pass catcher and he is solid in pass protection. The Ravens also think that McClain can run from a single back set as well. They want him to focus on being more professional and responsible in terms of his conditioning.

But back to Green’s release, don’t be surprised if the Ravens are in touch with free agent FB Lorenzo Neal. Neal is familiar with the Cameron system and unlike the "tweener" Green, Neal is a prototypical fullback.


Anonymous said...

To me, yet another nagging "precautionary" injury to Todd Heap ranks at the top of the injuries to be concerned about list.

With regard to the RB situation, I'd keep a real close eye on Marcus Mason of the Redskins. I don't know where he fits on their depth chart, but if he's available, and the Ravens don't scarf him up, I think it'd be a mistake.

Purple Rulz said...

Got hand it to you Tony, you nailed the Lorenzo Neal pick up. It makes sense and it should help Leron Mcclain as well.