Friday, July 25, 2008

Baltimore Ravens Camp Notes: Harbaugh Era Officially Underway


As I arrived at training camp this morning and walked on to the turf just behind the goal posts closest to the gym at McDaniel College, it seemed almost scripted that the first person I would notice was Jonathan Ogden. There he was dressed in a khaki floppy hat, black t-shirt, loose jeans and flip flops. I couldn’t help but think as this imposing figure peered out on to the field that his role as an observer and fan marked the end of one Ravens era and the beginning of another.

A few of the players who J.O. has played with were absent today from practice. They included Chris McAlister, Fabian Washington and LeRon McClain (all listed on the non-football injury list). Others placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list include: Ed Reed, Demetrius Williams, Daniel Wilcox and David Pittman.

Now it could be that the Ravens wanted to circumvent some roster restrictions and take a better look at some players, essentially expanding the roster by leveraging the PUP list. PUP list players do not count against the active roster and they can not practice with the team. They may attend team meetings and such players can be activated any time during training camp. If a PUP list member isn’t activated prior to the start of the season, they can not be activated until after Week 6.

Others missing from today’s session include Samari Rolle (grieving loss of Dad) and Terrell Suggs (protesting franchise player designation).

The pace of camp is noticeably different under John Harbaugh who is just as noticeably much less vocal during practice than his predecessor Brian Billick. The tempo is much quicker and while Harbaugh is relatively quiet his coaches are much more engaged than Billick’s assistants and they reprimand players in much more animated ways. There is also much more contact as evidenced by today’s first full team practice which required full gear. In the past, live contact wouldn’t occur under Brian Billick until a few days into camp.

As the semi-live scrimmaging got under way on the gymnasium side of the field, quarterbacks and receivers took on defensive backs on the opposite end in one on one match-ups. The semi-live scrimmaging pitted 9 on 9 with running plays being featured. On the first run Willis McGahee took the handoff from Troy Smith and was quickly greeted by Bart Scott and Haloti Ngata for a 1 yard gain. The offense enjoyed some success on stretch runs as McGahee and Ray Rice demonstrated nice change of direction skills and awareness in heavy traffic.

Overall the rookie Rice looked a bit more ready to play today than McGahee although the incumbent starter certainly had some fine moments. Rice has a very good burst and he can get lost in traffic which creates problems for the defense. The only knock against Rice today would be a tendency to do too much moving east and west and not enough north and south. Also during these drills, Jared Gaither mixed it up a bit with an undisclosed defensive lineman. The raucous was quickly squelched by other D-linemen. Trevor Pryce put and exclamation point on the peace making by jumping up and tapping Gaither on the helmet.

On the other end of the field Kyle Boller and Joe Flacco took turns trying to hit their receivers challenged by the corners. Newly acquired CB Anwar Phillips from Penn State was victimized fairly regularly. On a play that featured the morning’s best throw, Derrick Mason beat Phillips hauling in a high arcing spiral from Flacco for a score from 45 yards out. Phillips was also beaten by WR Patrick Carter on a 15 yard out to the left side line. Carter made a great catch on the throw from Boller. Later Boller hit Mark Clayton on a 45 yard strike beating Frank Walker on the play.

Troy Smith switched ends of the field with Boller and was intercepted by Corey Ivy at the goal line. Ivy made a terrific adjustment on the football to haul in what appeared to be an overthrown pass. After making the INT, Ivy chucked the ball into the stands. Smith bounced back to hit Matt Willis on a deep throw down the right side line for a score over Derrick Martin.

At times today the quarterbacks seemed a bit unsure, each of them calling for unnecessary time outs. Smith was the biggest culprit today, twice calling for time and then trotting over to confer with Cam Cameron.

The team featured some screen passes today and contrary to the Brian Billick era, they actually appeared to be well orchestrated. McGahee, Rice and Cory Ross all looked very good following their blockers each catching all screen tosses without incident. One of the better looking screens featured Rice who was set up to the right. The play was sold extremely well by Flacco who locked in on receivers to his left before he quickly reset to his right and hit Rice in stride.

Flacco was at the controls during the 2:00 drill from midfield. On the first play he hit Todd Heap for a gain of 15. After incomplete passes to Willis and Mason, the rookie hit Mason for a successful third down conversion.

Maintaining his composure and not pressed by the clock, Flacco delivered a strike to Clayton on the right hash running a slant for another gain of 15 yards. Flacco then used his only time out with 20 seconds to go. After an incomplete pass, Flacco hit Mason for a gain of 4 to the 1. He then raced to the LOS and spiked the ball leaving 2 seconds on the clock. The team opted to go for the TD and Flacco’s pass was batted down by Antwan Barnes.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

Defense: Dan Cody practiced but left the field limping. He seemed to be favoring his right leg. He did return to the practice field later. Prior to nicking up his leg Cody made a nice play rushing from the left side to bat down a Flacco pass…Edgar Jones may be climbing the depth charts. He took several snaps in place of the protesting Terrell Suggs. He beat Adam Terry badly on one play causing Terry to lock his arms around Jones from behind…Jim Leonhard filled in on the first team for the PUP-listed Ed Reed…Ronnie Prude just as he has in the past, used his hands too much and not his feet not enough. He would have been flagged repeatedly for illegal use of hands. When he doesn’t use his hands, he struggles to close on the receiver…Derrick Martin made a nice interception on a deep pass by Flacco down the right side…Jarret Johnson had his face mask pulled rushing off the right side by Oniel Cousins…Phillips was juked badly in the open field by quarterback Troy Smith.

Offense: On the very first play of live scrimmaging McGahee was hit behind the line and fumbled. The defense recovered and John Harbaugh, player referee on the play, rushed to the pile and signaled “Defense’s ball.”…Boller was the only QB of the three not to be intercepted today but he still showed his unfortunate knack for unforced errors. He dropped a direct snap during live scrimmaging and quickly dove on the ball. Later from the shotgun he dropped a perfect snap, knocking the ball up in the air, retrieving it and then running into the line for a short gain. On the plus side for Boller he did show accuracy on intermediate throws from the numbers in and showed a nice touch at times on screens and swing passes. He hit Justin Green rolling out of the backfield from the right in stride to enable a 15 yard pick up. Boller delivered a strike to Heap flanked wide right. Heap dropped it, his only apparent flaw of the day. Boller also hit Figurs 18 yards down field on a skinny post to the left hash. Surprisingly the spindly receiver held on to the football and didn’t appear intimidated by the oncoming Tom Zbikowski…P.J. Daniels looked spry in limited action. He was forced to the sidelines with what appeared to be an injured left arm…Troy Smith had a fair day outside of the mental miscues that forced unwelcomed time outs. He showed poise in the pocket and was accurate on most throws. He did fumble an exchange on an inside handoff out of the shotgun. Smith made up for it later when he faked a similar handoff and kept it going around the right side. He faked CB Phillips completely out of his shoes creating a ton of real estate to navigate down the sideline. Jim Harbaugh blew the play dead after the fake probably to avoid placing his QB at risk. On the very next play, Smith threw a strike to Mason on a crossing route 23 yards down field that Mason should have hung on to…Justin Harper seems to be 4th on the depth chart at WR for the time being as he filled in for Demetrius Williams in three receiver sets. Harper was very solid particularly early in the practice using his body well to shield defenders and snaring balls adeptly from the air…Later on Marcus Smith would show what he’s capable of catching everything thrown his way and much like Harper, using his size to shield defenders. After a catch of a Flacco toss thrown behind Smith, Flacco shouted, “Nice catch Marcus!”…Mark Clayton was inconsistent dropping a pass on an intermediate crossing route…Yamon Figurs was used in four receiver sets…Joe Flacco’s outing was decent showing a quick release but he still needs to make his decisions a bit more quickly. Coaches expect that to come with time and familiarity. On one play he bought some time outside the pocket to his left and instead of throwing the ball away as we’ve seen Boller do often in the past, he re-set and fired a strike to Allen Patrick working back towards his QB from the right side.

Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs and Jason Brown were the standouts on the offensive line. Gaither held his own against Trevor Pryce and he made the right switch on a stunting Haloti Ngata picking up the behemoth defensive tackle. Ngata did drive Gaither back somewhat but not enough to disrupt the throw…Tight end may be a concern for the team. Aaron Walker and Adam Bergen filled in for the injured Daniel Wilcox. Walker made a nice catch over the middle in traffic and looks like the better receiver of the two. Bergen looks to be more of a blocking TE. He was chastised by Cameron late in practice after failing to haul in what looked like a catchable ball delivered by Flacco.

Special Teams: The field goal unit practiced 36, 41 and 46 yard field goals followed by a fake field goal and throw with the LOS being the 28. They first ran through the sequence with Matt Stover. His 36 and 41 yard attempts were dangerously close to the left upright and from my angle, I couldn’t tell if they were good or not. The 46 yard boot was strong and pretty much dead center. The fake field goal had Sam Koch rolling right. With no one in front of him, Koch could have run the football but he patiently waited for Heap to break free. Heap tipped the wobbly pass over the defender and to himself and waltzed into the end zone.

Piotr Czech then stepped in for Stover and hit on all of the prescribed field goal attempts although the second was a low liner. On the fake to end this sequence Koch rolled to his left and threw across his body to a streaking Yamon Figurs running right to left and into the end zone. The pass fell incomplete.

MISCELLANEOUS

One team official shared a story about Director of Player Development O.J. Brigance who delivered a very impassioned speech during the team meetings on Wednesday, inspiring a standing ovation. The ovation morphed into the entire team and coaching staff coming together in a circle around John Harbaugh and Brigance. Brigance is battling ALS and the demons of this disease have weakened the once sculpted body of the former Ravens’ linebacker. But they have done nothing to weaken his resolve, purpose and determination and with every breath he takes, every increasingly difficult step he makes, Brigance believes he will defeat ALS. Here’s to him doing exactly that!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ravens make right call by rejecting Favre deal?


So the Packers dangled Brett Favre and another player to the Ravens for a third round pick.

And the Ravens said “No thanks”?

Proponents of such a deal will point to past players the Ravens have acquired in exchange for draft picks. Remember WR Kevin Johnson in 2004 for a fourth round pick? How about the third and fourth the Ravens gave up for Jim Harbaugh and the Colts’ fourth back in ‘98?

And then here’s a doozy from 1999 that Ozzie Newsome would like us all to forget – a third round pick in ’99 and a conditional fifth the following year for Scott Mitchell.

Proponents of the proposed Favre to Baltimore trade will also argue that the Ravens haven’t been the best visionaries in the draft during the third round so what have they to lose? Since the team’s inception through 2007 the third round has produced Marshal Yanda, David Pittman, Musa Smith, Casey Rabach, Chris Redman and Jay Graham. Of this less than stellar group only Yanda and Rabach have reached expectations.

Relatively speaking isn’t Favre and a player-to-be-named worth the Ravens ’09 third round pick?

Did the Ravens blow an opportunity here?

NO, NO AND NO!

Don’t you think that the Packers know a little bit more about Favre than the Ravens do? The Packers have improved this offseason and they were an interception away from defeating the eventual Super Bowl XLII Champions. Despite it all they decided to turn their backs on Favre after his latest rendition of "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?" and make Lambeau Field Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood. That close to winning it all and still they are moving on even though the King of Green Bay wishes to return – again.

If Favre is about as decisive with his career in Green Bay as a dog at a fire hydrant convention, what makes you think he’ll be more decisive in Baltimore with a team that isn’t as playoff ready as the team he’s trying to run from?

Now there are rumors that Favre hit the redial button to the Minnesota Vikings about as often as Charlie Sheen once did to Heidi Fleiss; as often as Pacman Jones to the Offices of Johnny Cochran.

Think about that!

To put it in perspective, Brett Favre was every bit as important to Green Bay as Cal Ripken was to Baltimore. Suppose Ripken after announcing his retirement decided to come back with the Yankees or Red Sox because they offered a better chance for him to return to the World Series.

Ripken would fall off that high perch like Humpty Dumpty and all of Pete’s horses and all of Pete’s yes men could never, ever put the Golden Boy’s stellar reputation back together again.

If Favre couldn’t get it done in extremely familiar surroundings, what makes anyone think he could get it done here in Baltimore? If anything he would be less effective, right?

So you think Favre would have been an excellent mentor for Joe Flacco, eh? Think again or better still, ask Aaron Rodgers how much Favre took him under his wing. That whole mentoring thing is overrated anyway. That’s why they hire quarterback coaches.

Oh and we haven’t even gotten to the money part…

The Ravens were wise to avoid the temptation of Favre for a seemingly bargain basement price. Perhaps Ozzie realizes that the team isn’t just a Brett Favre away from going back to Tampa to play in Super Bowl XLIII. Maybe he knows that Favre would be no more than one big colossal and expensive distraction.

Aren’t the Ravens trying to get away from their self-absorbed, unaccountable ways of the past? Hasn’t Favre shown that he’s really only concerned about himself over the past few months?

Let him go and play for the Vikings.

It just might make the Ravens’ preseason home opener worth a little closer to the face value of the tickets.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Terrell Suggs not Ray Lewis more likely to get franchise tag in '09


Tag Ray Lewis in ‘09? Are you kidding me? Look I get that Ray is the face of the Ravens and I admire all of his accomplishments on the field and his leadership skills. But let’s face it – Ray is not the player he once was and he is not among the top 5 players at linebacker anymore. The franchise tag would pay Ray the average of the top 5 linebacker salaries. He should be happy to get that but we all know he wouldn’t be. He’d say something foolish like this:

“Football is just getting started for me. Some people try to lie to you and tell you as you get older that you decline. If you take care of yourself right, you never decline. Your decline only starts when you stop having the energy. My energy for it is more now than when I was a young kid."When you come back and your mind is completely free, then you want to play football every year. I don't build my body up for one season. What I did this offseason is build my body up for another three or four. Realistically after that, it's all situational.”

Realistically Ray is unrealistic.

Do yourself a favor and come to this realty – the NFL is a business and with Ray’s next round of negotiations it will be or already is a high stakes game of poker. The Ravens front office needs to play out their hand. Let Ray hit the open market. Chances are Steve Bisciotti is right. The Ravens will outbid everyone else and if they play the game right, the price will not be anywhere near the number Ray thinks it will be.

Ray hired a new agent and this new agent more than likely made promises to Ray about another big signing bonus. Well what else was this hired rainmaker supposed to say? He had to promise something, right? Here’s a safe bet – whatever Ray’s new handlers get for him going forward it will pale in comparison to what they likely promised. And then they too will be fired.

Next agent up?

Tagging Ray shouldn’t happen. Besides, the team might need that franchise tag for Terrell Suggs again next year although the argument could also be made that Suggs isn’t among the top 5 at his position either. Come to think of it, while Suggs is a very good player, he’s not a $30 million plus signing bonus player. No one asked me but I think Suggs is a bit overrated. If you want to be paid more than any other defender then you better be an impact player NOT dependent upon Trevor Pryce to eat up pass protectors so that you can get favorable one-on-one match ups. Did Reggie White need someone else to eat up two blockers to be effective? No Reggie took on the two blockers and was still effective.

Now you might say that no one even thinks that Suggs is Reggie White. Well you are wrong. His agent apparently does and if Gary Wichard wants Suggs to be the highest paid defender, logic would suggest that Suggs is the best defender.

NEWSFLASH

He’s not the best defender. He’s probably not even the Ravens’ best defender. Reggie White was once all of that.

For years Peter Boulware took on double teams sometimes with his arm in a sling. Is Suggs any better than Boulware? Is he as good as Boulware? Can he impact the game like old No. 58?

I’ll admit that Suggs is probably a better all around linebacker than Boulware. He supports the run much more efficiently and scrapes down the line of scrimmage as well as any OLB in the league on runs to the opposite side of the line. He’s still young and probably has 7 or so seasons left in him. But if Suggs doesn’t get it done in ’08 should the Ravens cave in to a $30 million demand? And if he does get it done, will $30 million be enough?

I don’t think so…

The Ravens might find a $9 million franchise figure much more appealing than a $40 million noose.

Baltimore sports fans await fun days on Sundays


Baltimore sports fans can’t wait for their next win on Sunday. In case your summer Sunday-Fundays take your attention away from the Orioles, the black and orange have dropped 15 in a row on the day of the Sabbath. I guess Dave Trembley’s gang takes the “Sunday is a day of rest” credo a little too seriously.

Let’s hope the Ravens are better on Sundays this season than our other favorite birds in town. But don’t look to Vegas for reassurance. Sin City pegs the Ravens as one of the league’s bottom feeders in ’08. The over/under on wins is 6. The Ravens’ odds to win the Super Bowl run neck and neck with the hopelessness and despair of the ’08 Raiders and 49ers.

Hey speaking of numbers did you know that 13 NFL teams hold their training camp at team headquarters? If the Ravens were one of the 13, there would be no public access to training camp practices. It’s just not logistically possible in Owings Mills.

Three teams hold camp 162 miles or more from their home town including the Saints (162 miles), the Chiefs (405 miles) and the Cowboys (1,291 miles). I think I’ll stop complaining about the 32 mile trek from Perry Hall to Westminster.

Take a look 35 miles south on the BW Parkway and you will find an interesting team in the Redskins. Now keep in mind they couldn’t wait to get now departed offensive coordinator Al Saunders in there to shake up a stagnant offense. He never did and players like Clinton Portis and Antwan Randle El say don’t let the door hit you where the sun doesn’t shine.

Apparently they love the unpredictability of Jim Zorn’s new West Coast style offense. Something tells me that Jason Campbell is going to have a tough time with that style. It’s like asking Jamal Lewis to be a third down back.

Staying with Comcast Sportsnet’s favorite team, Redskins’ fans are dancing in the streets over the news that the South Beach fox trotter Jason Taylor is heading north. Second and sixth round picks seem a bit steep for a player who will likely head west to Tinsel Town no later than 2010, possibly 2009. Pay attention to the players Bill Parcells gets with those picks from Dan Snyder.

Ravens Rock On!


There is a poll that you can find on baltimoreravens.com to help the team determine what song to be played during pre-game warm-ups. Here are the options:

Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne
Bleed It Out - Linkin Park
Beautiful Day - U2
My Hero - Foo Fighters
I Don’t Wanna be in Love - Good Charlotte

I guess I get most of these except for the Good Charlotte track which to me amounts to nothing more than a quasi-homer pick. GC is from Waldorf, MD which in my estimation makes them Redskins’ fans. So they are out!

Now the Ravens might be restricted to a certain set of tracks by the NFL (my guess is the penny pinchers won’t buy the full ASCAP license) and that is why they’ve narrowed it down to these questionable five. That said their choices forced me to look at my ipod and assuming my ipod was the field for the Ravens’ selection of songs the options would be:

Bad to the Bone, George Thorogood
Enter Sandman, Metallica
If You Want Blood, AC/DC
Where the Streets Have no Name, U2
Join Together, The Who

What do you think? Are the Ravens' choices better than mine? Which one of the 10 would you pick? Or do you have a better choice?

Rock on!

Points of interest for Ravens under the new "Hard-ball" Regime


Back during the Dean Smith era, the North Carolina Tarheels basketball team suffered the pains of intense workouts and practices. You see it was Coach Smith’s opinion that if he could create highly pressurized practices on a regular basis, the intensity of an actual game would be a relative walk in the park.

I was reminded of Smith’s philosophy on practice when I read this quote from John Harbaugh.

"You've got to make camp tougher than what they're going to see on Sunday. When you do that, they know they can handle that pressure. It's going to be tough-smart. We're not going to be dumb-tough. It's going to be an old-school training camp."

With that in mind, here are the things I’ll be looking at not only while observing camp in the heat and humidity of Westminster, Maryland this summer, but also during the preseason and regular season:

1. The Fans: Will the promise of a more exciting camp be enough to attract visitors to McDaniel College and inspire the Ravens’ faithful to overlook bulging fuel costs?

2. I Want Answers: Will Harbaugh be more like Brian Billick or Dave Trembley? Billick always preached accountability yet he didn’t seem to practice it much. If a player screws up, will the Ravens new coach call that player out like Trembley or wipe the crust out of the player’s eye, give him a lollipop and make him promise to do better next time like Billick?

3. Straw Hats: With Billick gone, I bet you can get one of those straw Ravens hats pretty cheap these days, you know?

4. Inspector Gadget: In the past I’ve watched the Ravens practice some gadget plays but they never seemed to commit to them as part of an effort to keep opponents on their heels. So far in OTA’s, not only has Cam Cameron shown some gadgetry, he’s verbally committed to mixing it up. I want to see if he holds true to his word.

5. Commander Cody: Have the Ravens treated their lawn with the proper chemicals to rid their fields of the turf monsters that Dan Cody is apparently allergic to. With Suggs’ anticipated boycotting of training camp, Cody just might get the snaps to see if he can complete a long, arduous and frustrating comeback.

6. No Sizzle: Speaking of Suggs, it looks like he’ll extend his vacation a little more. But what’s the point? Under a new rule created by the CBA extension of 2006, the Ravens cannot re-sign Suggs now until after the season ends. What does sitting out accomplish? Will it give him and his agent Gary Wichard leverage? I don’t think so. The only plausible reason for Suggs to sit out is to avoid injury. I have no medical proof to back up this opinion but my guess is that he’s more susceptible to injury by waiting until the start of the season to report. He won’t be in football shape and he’ll be a bit out of synch going up against players with a month jump start on him. Plus he’s more likely to get off to a slow start and that coupled with an off year in ’07 won’t help him much at the bargaining table.

7. Mute Rex: Clearly love is in the air when Rex Ryan describes the players that comprise his defense. If you listen to Rex describe Terrell Suggs, you’d think he was talking about Lawrence Taylor. That can’t help the Ravens’ front office execs at the bargaining table. Please pass the remote and turn down the volume on the Ryan Love Train.

8. Heap of Trouble: If Todd Heap goes down, well, you know…Who will the Ravens turn to? Where will they find an adequate replacement? Hey Ozzie, No. 82 might be available. Look Daniel Wilcox may as well change his name to Daniel Wilnot-play and there’s some talk that he could end up on the PUP list.

9. The Turk: Do you get the feeling that there may be a shocking cut or two this year? Players who could surprisingly be on the bubble include: Yamon Figurs, Samari Rolle, Gary Stills and Dan Cody.

10. Remember the count: Perhaps as much as the quarterback competition, the performances of Jared Gaither and Adam Terry will be under close scrutiny. I would not be surprised to see a veteran tackle currently not on the roster be part of the final 53.

11. Early vacation: And finally, it will be interesting to see how Harbaugh handles the veterans during the bye week and how the veterans respond to such treatment. In the past players went on mini-vacations with their families. I’m thinking there will be no vacations until January.

Anyway, that’s how I see it and that’s what I’ll be looking for.

How about you?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Underachiever could be the key to Ravens' '08 season


The key to the Ravens’ season could lie in some rather questionable hands. Those hands belong to Jared Gaither. If Gaither doesn’t quickly become a more focused and professional athlete, the hole at left tackle stemming from Jonathan Ogden’s retirement could be as gaping as the now bankrupt pockets of Michael Vick.

Gaither’s work ethic was questioned while he played for Ralph Friedgen at the University of Maryland. Apparently not much has changed and the Ravens’ coaching staff and front office personnel are rumored to have had a little powwow with Gaither to put it in no uncertain terms that it’s now or never for the skilled offensive lineman.

If Gaither doesn’t work out, it could bring Cam Cameron’s offense to its knees. Adam Terry who in spot duty filling in for Ogden has been very serviceable at left tackle leaving many to wonder why the team is entering camp with Gaither penciled in at the top of the depth charts at LT. Terry hasn’t been nearly as dependable at right tackle but that appears to be his job to lose.

If Gaither fails, the team could switch Terry back to his more natural left tackle position and let a couple of other camp battles determine the remaining configuration of the Ravens’ young offensive line. Rookie Oniel Cousins has been very combative in team OTA’s and he could press for time at RT if Terry flips over to the left or if he fails to hold down the right flank. The team could also move Marshal Yanda to RT assuming that Chris Chester can establish himself at one of the interior line positions. But that is a big assumption. Chester has been a disappointment thus far particularly considering that he cost the Ravens a second round pick in 2006.

Chester could be yet another player whose Scouting Combine measurables lured scouts more so than his productivity on the field. That is always a risky proposition, particularly on day 1 of the draft.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hopes are sky high for Bazooka Joe Flacco


Joe Flacco has yet to play a down in the NFL. In fact he has yet to see an NFL defense in a live full speed practice where linebackers can outrun the swiftest safeties that the Delaware Blue Hens ever faced. All the perfect throws during passing camps in the world, amount to absolutely nothing if Flacco can’t get it done when it counts.

Take a little tour around the Ravens’ locker room and ask a few of the players both on and off the record what they think of the team’s No. 1 pick in 2008 and the reviews are unanimous with everyone predicting a very successful NFL career for the player soon to be labeled Bazooka Joe.

And boy can this guy fling it!

Joe Flacco can make all of the throws. He lofts a deep sideline pass with enough trajectory to hit a receiver in stride but not too much so as to enable the safety rolling over to make a play on the ball. He scans the field and knows where to go with the football when the primary, secondary and tertiary options are covered. I think he even knows what tertiary means too. Besides a powerful and accurate arm that loses no zip regardless of his arm angle, the lights are actually on upstairs and apparently someone is home.

No wonder the players are excited. Samari Rolle compared Flacco to Carson Palmer!

But slow down!

Is he really that good or are the players so used to incompetent play at quarterback that relatively speaking Flacco does look like Palmer?

The yearning for a good quarterback is so strong here in Baltimore. From the owner right on down to the guy who cleans up the dirty discarded adhesive strips in the locker room after practice, everyone connected to the Ravens wants the team to find a dependable signal caller. After all we are talking about a franchise whose fans think that either Trent Dilfer or Vinny Testaverde is the best QB in franchise history. How bad is that?

Look players know players and they can usually spot talent. And when enough players say the same thing, it starts to shape you into a believer. Remember though this is Baltimore and in Baltimore we think that good QB play is only true in fairy tales and even then for some other team, not ours.

With this Flacco guy, Ozzie & Co. might be on to something good.

But let’s wait until Sundays in the Fall before we get as happy as a sailor on Bourbon Street.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How will the Ravens do in 2008? Can Brett Favre help?


I’ve been asked often by folks around town what I think of John Harbaugh and how I think the Ravens will do this year. Let’s start with Harbaugh.

John Harbaugh is tailor made for the Ravens and for this city. First off, he seems to me to be the prototypical guy for Steve Bisciotti. From an observer’s perspective and after speaking with folks who have worked for Bisciotti both as owner of the Ravens and with The Allegis Group, Bisciotti seems to take pride in hiring people who have something to prove, possess a strong work ethic, can work with and be respectful of their peers, superiors and subordinates and deliver more than they are expected.

That to me is Harbaugh. He’s a Bisciotti kind of guy. He strikes me as a scrapper, a battler, a hard hat guy who refuses to leave any stone unturned.

Jason Garrett in my opinion is none of those things. Harbaugh is Baltimore. Garrett is DC and if you are from these parts, that should tell you all you need to know.

Now how might the Ravens do?

To me the response is not different than it’s been for the past few years. If the Ravens get consistently efficient quarterback play, they will be a team that can join the dance in January. If they don’t, they won’t! It’s that simple.

Admittedly that is no cutting edge thought. It’s just the truth.

The Ravens don’t need a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Carson Palmer at QB. They just need consistency. Steve McNair provided that in 2006. His play was hardly spectacular. It was pretty average really. Yet the Ravens won 13 games that year.

But McNair was an experienced pro and despite his physical shortcomings he was battle tested and he knew the game. He knew how to win when he could stay upright and his right arm wasn’t shattered like a Stones’ song.

So what can we expect from the Ravens trio of Smith, Boller & Flacco?

Unfortunately at this point it’s hard to confidently expect consistency and consequently I don’t expect the Ravens as a team to be very consistent. They might beat a team or two they shouldn’t and they’ll lose a couple that on paper they should win.

My guess is that Troy Smith will open the season as the starter. He will have his ups and downs and as a result Kyle Boller will get a spot start or two. Both will give way to Joe Flacco by about the 12th game of the season provided the offensive line has shown signs that they can adequately protect the key to the Ravens’ future. I’m thinking come January 1, 2009 the Ravens will be looking back upon a 7-9, 8-8 season.

It will be a fun season – a season of change and the team’s style of play will prove to be a breath of fresh air, not far removed from the results of the 1999 season.

Next year, who knows? Brian Billick’s first season ended 8-8 and we all felt optimistic about 2000 although no one besides Phil Mickelson thought a Super Bowl XXXV victory was possible for the Ravens.

Can 2009 be on par with 2000? Possibly.

But until then, while I’m not comfortable predicting a final 2008 record for the Ravens I can very safely say that it will be fun beginning with a training camp at McDaniel College that promises to be much different than anything we’ve seen in quite some time. Treat yourself to a road trip to Westminster this summer, provided of course you’ve saved enough money for gas…

Someone who won’t be making a road trip to these parts is Brett Favre. Look it’s natural for some of these national media folk to fill the dead NFL air with stories that very loosely make sense. Favre keeps stirring the ambers of his comeback flame instead of pouring a bucket of Gatorade on them once and for all. And until he does, there will be speculation when there’s not much else to discuss – like now!

But Favre to Baltimore makes sense only in fantasy football. With solid play at quarterback the Ravens can contend and Favre could be the missing piece. That’s about the only sensible thing to arise from such speculation. Yet there are compelling reasons not to consider Favre and the guess here is that such discussion is no more than comical conversation over a couple of cold summer beers for members of the Ravens’ front office.

Favre to Baltimore will only happen if Brett craves steamed crabs. Otherwise it is nothing more than fantasy football speculation for Anita Marks and Kurt Backert on MASN’s Fantasy Blitz. Simply put, there’s no cap room to pay a player who is more indecisive than The Clash.

One minute he’s retired, the next he’s not. Then he’s retired followed by a cry-me-a-river retirement press conference followed by “I’ve got the itch again” to play. Should he stay or should he go now?

Just go and if you don’t Brett, just don’t tell anyone that Baltimore would be a good fit for you.

It’s not. In my best Ben Stiller voice, nothing could be Favre from the truth.

The future is Bazooka Joe -- as in Flacco. Let’s not take our eyes off the ball here folks.

Besides No. 4 is already taken, right Sam?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

M&T Bank Stadium a no fly zone for ravens?


What would we talk about regarding the Ravens during this, the Dead Zone period in the NFL if it weren’t for good ole Derrick Martin carrying 3 baggies of Mother Earth through airport security checkpoints in Cleveland?

Look let’s not be na├»ve here, these athletes are a reflection of society. They are part of an experimental by nature demographic. The percentage of professional athletes who are tempted by marijuana is probably no different than a cross-section of men in a like peer group. That said if given a choice between an athlete smoking pot at home or having him out in Canton throwing back Jaeger Bombs, I think he’s safer at home.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning Martin’s behavior. It’s really rather laughable but in a sad way. Martin is a sixth round draft choice entering his third season. To date he’s proven almost nothing. He has an opportunity to contribute on a defense that annually is among the league’s best. He’s part of a defensive system that has an uncanny knack for getting the most from an athlete’s skills sets and elevating them to levels that a second day draft choice or an unrestricted free agent could previously only have dreamed of.

Just ask Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott, Will Demps, Ed Hartwell, Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry.

Yet despite it all, Martin had a momentary lapse of reasoning that will probably cost him dearly.

Some might say that Martin was just flat out dumb!

I am one of those some.

This particular incident may not affect Martin at all in terms of the league’s substance abuse policy. But now he’s surrounded by undesirable red flags and for an unproven sixth round draft choice that is about as inviting to prospective new employers in the Goodell Era as a match to spilled gasoline in a tiki bar.

Derrick Martin’s transgressions aren’t the only “newsworthy” Ravens’ items being bantered these days. The Ravens have wisely leaked word during the Dead Zone that Edgar, Allen and Poe aren’t the only ravens that we’ll see at M&T Bank Stadium this season. The team plans on flying a live raven through the billowing smoke and throughout the stadium during team introductions. Pretty cool idea if you ask me.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”) disagree.

Via a letter (that I’m sure a homing pigeon DID NOT deliver) PETA has reached out to Gabrielle Dow, the Ravens' vice president of marketing. The letter urges her to abandon this fun idea and encourages Dow and the Ravens to prohibit the use of live animals at Ravens games.

Does that mean no more Steelers’ fans are allowed in any more?

I digress…

Anyway PETA sees the bright lights of M&T, The Commodore Hotel, maniacal fans and raucous noises as threatening to the birds which apparently they believe is unethical.

I wonder what the bird thinks?

Hey what about that red-tailed hawk that lives at Fenway. She likes the accommodations so much she’s raising her family there.

What’s the big deal? For 8 minutes per season, the bird is fed well, nourished, protected and loved in exchange for enduring a few loud noises. Seems like a pretty good trade to me. Maybe it’s the Dead Zone for PETA too and they are digging for something to crow about.

"If the Ravens want to increase fan support, they don't need cheap gimmicks. They just need to start winning games," says PETA Director Debbie Leahy.

Ouch!

But hey these gimmicks aren’t cheap! By their own admission the Ravens spent well into four figures for each of the birds they plan to use and I’m sure their intensive training isn’t cheap either.

Leahy added, “Edgar Allan Poe would be spinning in his grave if he knew that his poem had prompted Baltimore to harm ravens in the name of marketing."

Ah cut it out Debbie! That is a total reach. You know as well as I Edgar would have traded his principle for another bottle of Cognac and the only thing spinning would have been his bed or some comfortable sidewalk in Fells Point.

Sorry Mr. Poe, I admit it. That was a bit of a humiliating kick in the crotch.

Speaking of which, the Arizona Diamondbacks placed catcher Chris Snyder on the 15-day DL Tuesday with a left testicular fracture. According to reports Snyder left Monday night's game after being hit in the groin area by a foul tip and underwent an MRI on Tuesday.

I’ve got a very bad visual going on right about now…

And since we are talking about vision, the Kansas City Chiefs don’t want to impair yours. Recently the team issued the “Chiefs Fan Code of Conduct.” Here’s how it reads on the team’s official website:

The Kansas City Chiefs are committed to creating a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience for our fans. When attending a game, the stadium staff will proactively intervene to support an environment where event patrons, their guests and other fans can enjoy the event, free from the following behaviors:

• Foul, obscene, offensive or abusive language or actions
• Excessive standing and/or obstructing the view of other fans
• Intoxication or other signs of impairment
• Smoking except in designated areas
• Fighting and unruly or inconsiderate behavior
• Obscene or indecent clothing or signs
• Conduct that endangers spectators or participants
• Harassment of visiting team fans
• Interfering with the progress of the game, going onto the field orthrowing any object onto the field
• Failing to follow instructions of stadium personnel
• Selling items or tickets in the stadium or on sports complex grounds
• Attempting to sit in a location other than the guest’s ticketed seat
• Destroying property

The “behavior” that jumps off the page at me is “excessive standing and/or obstructing the view of other fans.”

Sorry but that one is ridiculous. Teams spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to get the fans pumped up; one team proudly hoists a “12th man” flag; players constantly encourage the fans to whoop it up and now everyone has to sit down?

Look if you want to sit down, stay at home in your living room.

What’s next, if you scream too loud into the ear of the person sitting in front of you your season tickets will be revoked? Folks if the Ravens adopt a similar policy (and we can almost see it coming) and the neo-Nazis at M&T are all too happy to enforce, don’t be surprised to see my PSL’s on the auction block.

And last but not least, a few quick thoughts….

Brett Favre is considering a comeback. I have one word for that: ZZZZ…You’ve gotta love the guy who bought the Barry Bonds 756 ball for $753,000 and donated it to Cooperstown with an asterisk written on it…Give Aubrey Huff some credit. He admitted his mistake and swallowed some humble pie. He’s now relaxed and producing. Great stuff! So when will he be traded Andy?... A judge has declared a mistrial in the assault case of former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry. I wonder if the Cowboys are now interested…

Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan says that he can understand Roger Goodell’s statement of the obvious regarding rookie contracts being so outrageous. "You can also understand the other side of it, the concern of veterans who have been in the league 10, 12 years and proven themselves but not seen the money," Ryan said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I can understand both sides."

Now there’s a gutsy statement coming from a rookie who just signed a $72 million, six-year contract that included $34.75 million in guaranteed payola…

Saying Goodbye to Scott Garceau, a man who never worked a day in his life


Back in 2003 when we started this website, the first local celebrity to reach out to me was Scott Garceau. I called Scott and explained my plans for 24x7 – then really not much more than a hobby. He happily agreed to be the subject of my first interview.

I first met Scott back in 1981. He was relatively new to the Baltimore sports scene and I was a student at Loyola College serving as a marketing intern for the Baltimore Colts. In his typically polite and gracious way, Garceau pretended to remember our very first encounter.

During the interview I asked Scott most of the typical questions you might expect. After all he was and is a well respected member of the Baltimore sports media and he is a voting member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee. His resume speaks volumes.

During his years covering sports, Scott has heard, seen and experienced things that the average fan and/or sports enthusiast can only dream of. And despite the many fascinating stories he shared, the thing that struck me most about our conversation is how real Scott Garceau is.

He has been the humble recipient of many prestigious accolades and awards yet through it all he remains grounded. He has never taken for granted his good fortune. He respects it and embraces it while wearing his humility on his sleeve like a badge. It is his reminder that celebrity makes you no better than the man or woman beside you who may not be as fortunate.

Scott once told me, “I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life.”

What he meant was that Scott loves what he does so much that to him the job never felt like work.

He recalls vividly and fondly the days when he paid his dues and worked for relatively paltry wages. Yet he stayed the course, pursued his passion and the rewards followed.

Some of you may remember Scott for his sports anchor duties at WMAR. Some may think of Scott as the voice of the annual Turkey Bowl between Calvert Hall and Loyola or as the voice of the NCAA lacrosse tourney. Some may even recall his play-by-play duties alongside Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer during Orioles broadcasts.

For me Scott’s defining moments as a sports journalist took place during that magical 2000 season for the Ravens. I can close my eyes in the quiet of my office and hear his call when Brandon Stokley ended the touchdown drought; when Shannon Sharpe caught the caromed pass against Denver for a touchdown during the wild card playoff game; when Ray Lewis ripped the ball from Eddie George’s hands in Nashville; when Sharpe again took it the distance against the Raiders.

And of course there was the call of Jermaine Lewis answering Ron Dixon’s kickoff return with one of his own in Super Bowl XXXV.

Garceau leaves behind big shoes to fill.

Upon hearing the news of the Garceau announcement, I asked WMAR weekend sports anchor Rob Carlin if Scott’s departure might signal more opportunity for him. Rob told me that it’s still too early to tell and that alternate plans were being developed. He added, “It’s hard to replace a legend. I feel like Doug DeCinces or Jared Gaither.”

I’m sure Gerry Sandusky can relate.

So Scott Garceau closes a chapter in his book of life as he moves on to the next chapter and the next set of challenges, experiences and adventures. No longer will he welcome us each weeknight with his signature, “Hi Everybody!”

Garceau won’t completely disappear from the local sports landscape. He is expected to handle some choice WMAR assignments and possibly some other projects with other sports networks.

But don’t expect the work to be too taxing for Garceau.

After all, he’s never worked a day in his life.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Happy 16th Birthday Tyler



On this day back in 2003 I was working feverishly to launch this site, then known as Ravens24x7.com. I wanted it to happen on July 2nd because that is my son’s birthday. My first born turned 11 in 2003.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen. We launched on the 3rd and Ty got to keep this day all to himself. Looking back, I’m glad it happened the way it did. July 1 I’ll always remember as my Mom’s day; the 2nd belongs to Ty and now the 3rd belongs to 24x7.

I suppose things do have a way of working out as they should.

Today my son turned 16. Like all of you with children, it’s hard to believe how the time just rolls by.

Of course every Dad has some vision for his son and in that regard I am no different. As an avid sports enthusiast, naturally I harbored thoughts of Ty becoming a stud athlete who would ace his schoolwork leading to his choice of schools on their dime not ours.

But like most things in life, time has a way of changing things. Hopes and dreams for your children are no exception to such changes.

As a parent I learned that my well-intentioned aspirations for Ty while clearly ambitious yet hardly unrealistic were not his. Although a fan of sports particularly football, Ty was never really driven to excel the way my dreams for him required. And I learned along the way as a Dad that that was ok.

You see, what Tyler offers the world with his charm, his good looks, his sense of humor and balance is far more meaningful than a scholarship. And that’s not to sell him short because if he set his mind to it, I think he could accomplish anything. And maybe someday something will grab him and he’ll go after it with all the gusto that he can muster.

But even if that never happens, I’ve learned that Tyler’s happiness is my happiness. If he can walk through life with a confident smile on his face, what more could a father really want for his son? It’s his life. I don’t want to steer him, I can only hope to teach him through my experiences and hope that such teachings can help him avoid some costly mistakes his old man has made.

A few years ago, Ty was playing recreational football for the Fallston Cougars. At the time Ty was very undersized, weighing in at about 87 pounds. His age group at the time capped out at 160 pounds. That is the equivalent of me and my 185 pounds trying to take on Jonathan Ogden.

As bad luck would have it, the practice started with Oklahoma drills and Ty was challenged immediately. His first assignment was to drop the team’s biggest player who was every ounce of the league’s weight capacity.

Ty approached the drill timidly and when he went to tackle the 160 pound wrecking ball, Ty lightly brushed his opponent’s thigh pads – a seemingly half-hearted attempt to avoid a one-sided collision and get his tackling turn over with.

The effort did not escape the notice of one of the team’s assistant coaches and he ordered the two combatants to line it up again and repeat the drill.

Driven by embarrassment Ty was determined to drop the relative Goliath – and he did with a nice shot delivered just above the ball carrier’s knee. But the player who didn’t get up was Tyler. He lay writhing in pain with a bruised shoulder which had already begun to swell under his shoulder pads.

Ty would not play organized football again.

Yet it hasn’t broken his spirit. Today he is not only a football enthusiast and a Raven Maniac, he is also an enthusiast of life.

What more could a father want for his son?

Happy 16th Birthday Ty!

I hope that I’ve taught you as much about life as you’ve taught me about being a Dad.

I love you!