Saturday, August 30, 2008

Players adopt aliases, price for Beck just went up


I have been of the opinion that despite his poor play during summer camp and in the preseason, the Ravens would not cut Frank Walker "The Talker" because he was given a $1.2 million bonus and his release would be somewhat of a slap in the face of Director of Pro Personnel George Kokinis.

Yesterday the Texans released 9 year veteran Roosevelt Colvin. Colvin was signed by the Texans back in July and he was given a $1 million bonus. Houston apparently looked to cut their losses. Later today we’ll find out if the Ravens will take a similar approach with Walker.

The health or lack thereof of the Ravens’ secondary might provide security for Walker. Fabian Washington started well but he’s struggled of late with a variety of minor injuries plus he’s not eligible to play in the opener against the Bengals. Chris McAlister did not take a single snap during the preseason. Samari Rolle will undoubtedly be rusty against Cincinnati and Derrick Martin is at best a few weeks away from returning.

The team can’t trust David Pittman and Ronnie Prude may have been more effective back in the days of Stick ‘Em. The truth is if he can’t hold on to receivers, they run right by him.

And that leaves Corey Ivy and Frank Walker, enough to inspire Rex Ryan to keep the Tums nearby. Here’s a couple of names to keep an eye out for – two corners that might help the Ravens should they be cut loose: Ashton Youboty (Bills) and R.W. McQuarters (Giants).

Speaking of cut loose, many thought that John Beck would be let go by the Dolphins or at the very least available on the cheap in a trade. Beck may no longer be in play now that the Phins have traded Josh McCown to the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers gave up a 7th round pick for McCown. Seems like a pretty fair price to me.

The move leaves the Dolphins with three quarterbacks: Chad Pennington, Chad Henne and Beck in that order. If the Ravens’ interest in Beck given his familiarity with Cam Cameron’s offense is genuine, the price just went up.

When the Ravens host the Bengals on September 7 they will welcome Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Javon Ocho Cinco. The receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson legally changed his name this week. No truth to the rumor that Frank Walker has legally changed his name to Franco Tostado.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

McNair to un-retire? Time for a Dilfer return to Baltimore?


With the Ravens rather dire situation at quarterback, I wonder if it has crossed the mind of Ozzie Newsome to bring back Steve McNair. Trent Dilfer is another former Ravens’ QB that has popped up in thought. Not that I am a big Dilfer fan – I supported the move to get Grbac and I would even support the move again today with all of the circumstances exactly the same save for one – a healthy Jamal Lewis.

Dilfer is on record saying that he wouldn’t consider his career in football complete unless he returned to the Ravens in some capacity. Now I know Dilfer has some injury concerns going on with his knee and Achilles’ but if those injuries could heal, would Dilfer be a viable option as a No. 3 and as a willing mentor for the Ravens? This isn’t an endorsement – it’s more a topic for around the watercooler.

Rain on the scarecrow, rain and the Falcons…While M&T has enjoyed a pretty decent history of good weather, it seems to me that whenever the Dirty Birds visit Baltimore, the Man above must think they need a good cleaning. Once again, rain is in the forecast for tonight’s Ravens v. Falcons game.

Rich Cimini from NBCSports.msnbc.com proved recently that he has far too much time on his hands by serving up a worthless list of the top coaches in the NFL. Cimini ranks all 32 coaches in descending order and then in some irrelevant way he assesses their abilities far too subjectively with far too little meaningful criteria.

Naturally you want to know where John Harbaugh is ranked, right? Put him at No. 32 on Cimini’s list and the rationale you ask: “He takes over an old team with no quarterback. Good luck.”

For what it’s worth, I’d take Harbaugh over several in the list including Marvin Lewis (20) and Herm Edwards (22) despite the fact that he’s never coached a down as a head coach in a game that mattered.

What did Momma Cimini put in your pasta Rich?
Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ravens hit spin cycle to thwart QB rumors


I find it hard to believe that the Ravens are actually going to use a roster spot for what appears to be their new QB – the great Casey Bramlet (according to Comcast SportsNet). The guy has as many NFL completions as I do. He can’t be anything more than just another arm at practice to spare Joe Flacco and Troy Smith, can he?

Hit the spin cycle please...

Kyle Boller awaits a second opinion on an MRI of his shoulder that apparently puts his season in jeopardy. If you buy what the Ravens are selling, Boller will not require surgery and he will work through the injury with extensive rehab therapy and he’ll return to the sideline in ’08.

Oh really?

Let’s assume that Boller returns by week 6. Would he be inserted as the starter then? Doubtful! He wasn’t even named the starter after several weeks of training camp. Six weeks from now, who knows what the Ravens’ record will be but chances are it won’t be good. Why then insert a rusty Boller when a shiny galvanized Boller can't get it done? What would be the point? Does anyone really expect him to be around in ’09? If healthy the only reason to play him is if the offensive line was an accessory to the murders of Smith, Flacco and Bramlet (or some other clandestine QB).

Let’s get real here – the signing of Casey Bramlet is nothing more than a red herring in an attempt to not look so desperate for a quarterback so as to avoid a high ransom for the QB they really want. We can all hear it now....

"Kyle will be back and the team is very happy to have found a QB of Bramlet's skills and familiarity with the offense."

Hit the spin cycle again!

This team can't possibly go into the season with 3 quarterbacks who collectively have 2 NFL starts, can they?

Sure Bramlet is familiar with Cam Cameron’s offense and he knows the QB Coach Hue Jackson from their days together in Cincinnati. But for crying out loud, this guy was behind Cleo Lemon (a Ravens' summer camp castoff) on the 1-15 Miami Dolphins' depth chart. Gee and we thought we had already experienced the abyss of quarterbacking in the NFL.

My bet is that Bramlet will be around for a week or two until the Ravens strike a deal for a real third quarterback. And when they do, the Ravens will announce what most of us suspect anyway – Kyle Boller’s season is done and so is his career as a Raven.

And I’ll still have as many career completions in the NFL as Casey Bramlet.

Thanks for the memories Kyle.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Money and politics not performance, could keep Frank Walker on Ravens' roster


Frank Walker has been beaten regularly in the preseason and even by camp fodder during training camp. Receivers like Kerry Reed and Patrick Carter looked like more like Jerry Reed and Chris Carter when matched up against Walker. One of our staff writers here on 24x7 jested recently that the Ravens should put a couple of chairs at corner to replace Walker and Corey Ivy. At least the receivers might trip over the chairs.

Yet in the opinion of this writer, both will stick.

Let’s first touch on Ivy. Ivy on the edge is clearly a fish out of water. He doesn’t have closing speed and he’s just too small to take on receivers who are taller and regularly out jump him for the football. He sometimes looks like Mugsy Bogues trying to defend LaBron James. However inside the numbers in the slot, Ivy is very competent plus he supports the run well and is an effective blitzer off the edge.

Walker on the other hand shows me nothing. He can’t cover, he doesn’t have the prerequisite fluid hips to cover receivers in the slot, he misses tackles and despite a reputation for being a solid special teams player, I haven’t seen anything there either.

So why does he stick?

Money and politics, politics and money – that’s how.

The Ravens gave Walker a $1.2 million signing bonus to become a member of Rex Ryan’s defense. And while the cap hit for admitting the mistake isn’t significant, it’s probably enough for them to take pause and give Ozzie Newsome and Director of Pro Personnel George Kokinis the benefit of the doubt. How embarrassing would it be to cut someone that you outbid for?

It’s not too difficult to imagine a scenario whereby Kokinis convinces Ozzie to give Walker a chance and the Ravens’ GM then strong arms his first year head coach into finding a way to keep Walker on the squad.

Take away the money and the politics and Walker would be walking. Instead money and politics will keep Walker talking as a member of the Baltimore Ravens secondary.

Speaking of talking, the name Daunte Culpepper keeps popping up around town. “Let’s give Culpepper a shot – what do have we to lose”, is a comment that has approached mantra status here in The Land of Pleasant Living. But if he was really worth anything, don’t you think that another team would have given him a shot already?

The Steelers chose Byron Leftwich over Culpepper to replace the injured Charlie Batch as Ben Roethlisberger’s back up. Something isn’t right with Culpepper and I think it’s more than just a bum knee. Some have speculated that player agents are floating bad stories out there about the former Pro Bowl quarterback and Love Boat passenger as a means of protest. Remember Culpepper is not represented by an agent. He represents himself and apparently not very well.

Don’t the Ravens have enough QB problems? They are probably better off waiting for Smith’s viral symptoms to fade and Boller’s bad throwing wing to heal than to add to the problems.

Anyone subscribe to WNST’s text messaging service? They do a nice job keeping subscribers up to date on the latest sports news in the Baltimore area. The station promises that they won’t spam those who sign up and will only deliver worthy news items. For the most part, I would agree that they’ve lived up to this promise and I’ve found the service to be particularly useful when I’m out of town and these fingers are detached from the pulse of the local sports scene.

Now you know there’s a “but” coming…

But, did we really need to be woken up by messages like this at 6:03 a.m.: “Orioles send P Kam Mickolio to Norfolk, recall Brian Burress who will start vs. Chi. 2nite. More with Drew on WNST.” Was that really necessary? Might that be considered spam?

What will the text be tomorrow?

“Willis McGahee wears purple Speedos in pool while rehabilitating injured knee. More with Drew on WNST.”

Come to think of it, that might be more riveting “news” at 6 in the morning than Brian Burress starting tonight.

That’s a wake up call?

ZZZZZZZZZZ
Photo by Kevin Moore

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ravens fail to address question marks so far this preseason


Heading into the offseason the Ravens had three big question marks: defensive secondary; quarterback; and offensive tackle. So far they’ve failed to provide answers.

In defense of the front office, the additions to the secondary on paper look solid for the most part. Rookie safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski have both played well as have veteran newcomers Fabian Washington and Jim Leonhard. Frank Walker at this point is a case of subtraction by addition and has been far outplayed by Corey Ivy.

Health is a big issue for this unit. If Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Samari Rolle and Derrick Martin can all return from injuries, the Ravens will then have addressed this offseason question mark. But that is a big if.

The position of quarterback remains questionable at best and probably won’t be fully addressed in the ’08 season. Answers will follow the learning curve of Joe Flacco. The usually available Kyle Boller has been ducking out of the locker room during the times made available to the media since the announcement to start Troy Smith against the Rams was made. Boller has always been a team-first guy. It is understandable that he could be seething since word is he may not play at all against St. Louis, a very strong indication that Smith will be the starter in the regular season opener unless he goes down like Frazier.

As for offensive tackle, the Ravens are in discussions to bring veteran Fred Miller to Baltimore. Miller was originally drafted in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams and he’s made stops along the way in Tennessee and Chicago. He once suffered a broken jaw after an altercation with Bears' line mate and 5 time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz.

Miller is a right tackle who stands at 6’7” and weighs in at a svelte 314 pounds. Miller is noted for huge wingspan and good feet. He is a dependable pass protector and a solid straight-ahead run blocker. He does suffer from mental lapses at times and is known to provoke his fair share of flying yellow laundry on to the field.

If the Ravens emerge as winners from a field of five teams vying for Miller’s services, it will probably force a move of Adam Terry to left tackle. Terry is more comfortable and more efficient as a left tackle and if successful, perhaps that will help jump start Jared Gaither’s ambition or lack thereof.

Some within the organization feel that Terry thinks too much about the shift from the left side to the right side. Less athletic tackles have made the transition without the drama. Terry has been described as a metro-sexual. Not that that is a bad thing but it’s probably not what you want in an offensive lineman.

Ray Lewis pouting? Well if true it wouldn’t necessarily be the first time. That said indications this time around point towards a few members of the media trying to weave a story when there isn't one.

According to one blog report, “Ray Lewis was introduced out of the tunnel with the rest of his teammates, then walked over to the bench and sat down while the rest of his teammates greeted the offensive players coming out of the tunnel. Was Ray pouting because he did not get picked to play in the reindeer games? I guess this is his silent protest.”

When informed of this blog report by Kevin Byrne, Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations, Lewis replied, “For real. I can’t believe that. You know why I went over there? They were having trouble with the speaker in my helmet, and they wanted to test it and fix it. The guy told me to go over there…Amazing, that’s amazing to me.”

Story or tale? I’ll let you decide.

Speaking of decisions, it appears at though 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is going with J.T. O’Sullivan as his starting quarterback. O’Sullivan was originally drafted by the Saints in the 6th round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Meanwhile the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft (Nolan’s first year with the team) will carry a clipboard and wear a baseball cap. Smith received a $24 million signing bonus from the Niners in ’05 spread out over a 6 year deal. His cap figure for ’08 is estimated to be $11.6 million. If O’Sullivan fails, it could cost Nolan his job.

Did someone say Brian Billick?

And finally, if I hear Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” one more time I might be holding up traffic on the Bay Bridge this weekend. I hope at the very least Warren Zevon’s estate is profiting from this direct lift from his hit song
"Werewolves of London."

Ah-WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Smith gets nod while McGahee nods off

So Troy Smith gets the nod as the starter in St. Louis against the Rams. I equate this start for Smith to a hoops player staring down the front end of a 1 and 1 with his team down by 1 with 0:07 on the clock. He needs to sink both free throws and then successfully defend his end of the court for 7 seconds (number chosen intentionally).

As stated on these pages, I think going with Smith is the right call, not just for the preseason game against the Rams but also for the opener against the Bengals. I’ve listened to some sports talk radio and heard callers say that Smith is too short to play quarterback.

Granted his height is hardly ideal but if successful he wouldn’t be the first vertically challenged QB to move a football team. Jeff Garcia gets it done. He does it with sound footwork while quickly finding throwing lanes in the pocket. Drew Brees gets it done and coincidentally (or not) the Ravens offensive coordinator had a lot to do with steering Brees’ career in the right direction.

Now I’m not suggesting Smith is Brees. But then again, who knows? What I do know (or at least I think I know) is Kyle Boller is not capable of taking the Ravens to the playoffs. You have to win a few road games and he hasn’t won one in 45 months. So on the surface, the nod to Smith is the logical choice.

Looking to buy Ravens’ season tickets? Didn’t get in on the team’s 3,000 member waiting list? No worries!

The Ravens have hooked up with Houston-based
SeasonTicketRights.com to help you get a spot on that waiting list. How? The 3,000 already on the list can sell their spot to the highest bidder. According to the Baltimore Business Journal two spots have already been sold: No. 444 for $2,050 and No. 124 for $2,000. By the way, if anyone knows the person who bought No. 444 could you send along their email address? I have an 8-Track stereo system that I’m trying to unload.

Recently it was opined on The Sun’s website that the Ravens might cut Willis McGahee this year. That was a joke right?

No doubt McGahee has to be in the collective craw of the Ravens. He just doesn’t seem to be very motivated and when I read between the lines of some of his recent comments, I don’t see a player that is looking to improve or one that is really interested in winning.

"Right now, they're throwing the whole playbook at us and they want you to remember it all. What they did the first day, they might not bring it back up again until today and I'm like, 'Man, I don't remember all this.'"

McGahee may as well have said, "Hey, I'm keepin' it real."

"Yeah, real dumb" I said (in my best Chris Rock voice).

McGahee had the entire offseason to familiarize himself with the playbook. He had voluntary camps that may have helped. He had a chance to be productive from day 1 in an offense designed in large part to use a versatile back like McGahee.

Instead he reported to camp heavier than last year. It’s still early and McGahee still might get his act together. But I'm not holding my breath and I don't look for John Harbaugh to be very tolerant of a talented underachiever. That said, it would be next to impossible to cut McGahee. Not only does the team need him, there’s also a poison pill of $13.75 million the Ravens would have to swallow.

Two words for that one – “Ain’t happenin’!”

“Is happening” are two words that best describe Chris Henry’s return to Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis is not accepting “credit” for the extremely questionable roster move. He happily gives that to owner Mike Brown. Marvin, you better dust off that resume. When the owner begins making personnel moves, the next one could be to name your replacement.

Think Marvin would return to B’more if Rex Ryan moves on to be a head coach?

Let’s hope not!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ravens News & Rumors: Troy Smith to start? Ravens interested in Simms?


Typically the quarterback who starts preseason game number 3 ends up being the opening day starter. The Ravens have determined who will start on Saturday against the Rams but they are keeping the choice shrouded in secrecy.

When asked why Head Coach John Harbaugh deadpanned, “Not ready to announce it yet."

No one asked me but the choice from this corner is rather obvious – Troy Smith.

Why you ask?

Here’s why…

1. The Ravens offensive line is in disarray right now and that might be the understatement of the preseason. Until the Ravens secure the tackle positions, speed rushers will have their way with the offensive line. We’ve seen Kyle Boller do the Curly Shuffle many times under pressure. Troy Smith has a knack of avoiding rushers and making plays with his feet. He did exactly that when Jared Allen seemingly had him locked in on Saturday night for a sack. Smith turned that into an 18 yard gain.

2. Don’t we already know what the Ravens have with Kyle Boller? The team knows that he will shine at times and then throw some head scratcher of a pass that almost always turns into an untimely turnover. Oh and let’s not forget that Boller hasn’t won a road game since President Bush was re-elected.

3. Boller is almost certainly gone after 2008. Wouldn’t a more experienced Troy Smith benefit the team moving forward? Why waste the snaps on Boller during a season when there’s little hope for a post season berth?
4. Home field advantage is important in the NFL, particularly the Ravens. Starting Kyle Boller will quickly deflate the M&T balloon because as sure as we’re all sitting here, Boller will be booed after his first interception essentially neutralizing the 12th man. The mob will be more willing to give Smith a little latitude.

Lost in the beat down the Vikings offense handed to the Ravens defense for a significant portion of Saturday night’s game was the performance of Derrick Martin. Martin has played well throughout camp and has played with a sense of urgency – something that his primary competitors (Ronnie Prude and David Pittman) have not as they battle for a sixth cornerback spot on the 53 man roster.

Martin plays to the whistle and even when receivers appear to gain possession, the third year defensive back from Wyoming scraps and fights in an attempt to dislodge the football. Oftentimes in ’08 he’s been successful.

Unfortunately an old labrum injury may sideline Martin for a while. He left the field on Saturday night against the Vikings clutching his shoulder. Word is that he may have dislodged a couple of pins inserted to secure the labrum. Currently Martin’s shoulder is in a sling.

Seven injured players returned to practice, including tight ends Todd Heap (calf) and Daniel Wilcox (toe), offensive tackle Adam Terry (sprained left ankle), Ngata (sprained right medial collateral ligament), cornerbacks Chris McAlister (right knee) and Samari Rolle (left leg) and David Pittman (foot) and linebacker Tavares Gooden (hip).

The Ravens had some concerns about Gooden’s injury because he’s lost valuable reps in practice. When Gooden recognizes his assignment, his speed and instincts take over and he is very fast to the football. But Rex Ryan’s defense is complex and unorthodox. Gooden’s speed is negated by his unfamiliarity with the scheme. It may take some time for him to contribute on defense. That said the team is very excited about the potential of his special teams contributions.

Some around town are wondering what all the hoopla is about regarding Cam Cameron’s offense. Those folks need to recognize. Do artists leave their best performances on the dress rehearsal stage? Cameron isn’t showing in the preseason games what he’s practiced at camp. Stay tuned and keep the faith. Baltimore you will be pleasantly surprised assuming of course the Ravens’ quarterbacks get a chance to at least plant their feet before they are forced to throw or run or dial 911.

It’s interesting to observe John Harbaugh interact with the media particularly when compared to Brian Billick’s approach. Billick, despite being condescending at times was schooled in the art of public relations. He knew how to play the game. For the moment Harbaugh seems to be a mouthpiece of the PR Department. Like Troy Smith, he needs more reps.

That said Harbaugh is a hard working likable guy perfectly suited for this town. It will be interesting to watch his maturation process with the media. It will also be interesting to hear words that are actually his.

ProFootballTalk.com reported that the Ravens were among an ample handful of teams scouting the Patriots @ Bucs game. PFT believes that Ravens’ reps were on hand to scout Chris Simms. Let’s hope that if it’s true that Ravens personnel were on hand, they were there scouting an offensive lineman on the bubble of one of those teams. The only difference between Chris Simms and Kyle Boller is that Simms is left-handed. Excuse me but why bother?

I’ve been wondering…How did Frank Walker sleep on Saturday night? Hmm, let's see, maybe those 1.2 million reasons? Let’s hope he’s impressive on special teams because he may be the worst cover guy the team has on the 80 man roster…Maybe the Ravens should find out what really ticks off Chris Chester. He just seems to be way too happy collecting a paycheck at the expense of the scouts and Eric DeCosta who invested in his athletic ability. To say he lacks a mean streak would be an extreme understatement…How bad was Xavier Lee that the Ravens released him before camp started? The Ravens don’t exactly have Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates on their roster any more…Ronnie Prude is a long shot to make the team. That might not bother Ray Rice much. If Prude is let go it would open up Rice’s college jersey No. 27 for the rookie running back. Come to think of it, if Prude goes it might not bother Ravens PR Announcer Bruce Cunningham much either…

Tonight the Orioles host the Boston Red Sox. Now what is the one thing that bothers Baltimore fans most about the Red Sox coming to town? Why of course it’s the overwhelming majority of Sox fans in attendance at Camden Yards. Now with that in mind, the Orioles are rewarding fan No. 50,000,000 tonight at the game with season tickets for 5 years and $50,000. The Orioles have often been shortsighted in their thinking and tonight will be no exception when the likely winner will be a fan wearing a Red Sox cap…Staying with the O’s, they have decided to move their September 7 home game to September 6 as part of a day night doubleheader against the A’s.

Joe Stiglich of the Bay Area News Group began his piece yesterday with this:

The A's will play their first doubleheader in more than two years Sept. 6 at Camden Yards, and they can thank the Baltimore Ravens.

The A's and Baltimore Orioles were scheduled to play an afternoon game Sept. 7, a Sunday, to conclude a three-game series. The Ravens open their NFL schedule that day against the Cincinnati Bengals at nearby M&T Bank Stadium, and the Orioles don't want to play at the same time because of potential parking nightmares.

So the A's-Orioles game will be played the day before as part of a day-night doubleheader. The games are scheduled to begin at 10:05 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. Only the second game will be televised in the Bay Area, on Channel 36.


Well boo-hoo. Will anyone really care about a game between two sub .500 teams on Opening Day of the NFL season?

And finally, we’ve all seen the Coors Light commercials with former coaches being featured in bogus press conferences. Brian Billick may be on deck to follow in the footsteps of Jim Mora, Bill Parcells and Denny Green. Here’s a sampling of a Coors promo from Billick which I’ll label,
"Be The Pig."

Ravens shouldn't drive 55, may be better off shopping Suggs in '09


Terrell Suggs ended his protest on Monday and returned to open arms in the Ravens’ locker room. He said his protest was just business and now it’s time to play. He also expressed hope about his future in Baltimore.

"I'm highly optimistic they'll eventually get something done," Suggs said. "I can't worry about it now. I haven't lost faith in them. I still think they want me here. That's all I've got to go on."

Well, not exactly.

You see Suggs has someone else to go on -- his agent Gary Wichard who is more than likely the driving force behind Suggs’ 23 day protest of his franchise tag. Word is that Wichard is seeking “highest paid defender” status for his client. And if that's true Ozzie Newsome should do nothing to stoke Suggs’ optimism. Absolutely nothing!

Now there are some who believe that Suggs’ best days are ahead of him. He won’t turn 26 until October 11 and he’s the author of 45 sacks in his 5 seasons. He has also become a more complete linebacker (even if he thinks he’s a defensive end) – one who supports the run and defends the pass more efficiently than he did earlier in his career. There is no denying that Terrell Suggs is a very good football player.

He’s just not a great football player.

He’s not the best defender in the NFL.

He’s not even the best defender in Baltimore.

Count me among those who don’t see Suggs as a difference maker. He’s not a player that opposing offensive coordinators have to alter their game plan for. Trevor Pryce might be. Ed Reed when he isn’t freelancing and abandoning his defensive backfield mates is a player that coordinators maneuver around. Haloti Ngata is a big nuisance to opponents and has to be accounted for.

Should the highest paid defender require a wingman to be effective?

Suggs needed Trevor Pryce in a big way in ’07. He had him for only 3+ games and in the 12+ games when Pryce was in street clothes, Suggs managed 4 sacks and forced one fumble. What happens when Pryce who is in the twilight of his career, decides to retire? Will the Ravens then need to find another Trevor Pryce to justify a $32 million bonus to Suggs? What might that cost and what might that do to the team’s cap structure? Will the Ravens just continue to plow money into a defense when the evolution of the league screams more investment on offense?

Are the Ravens to assume that Suggs’ best days are ahead of him? And if so why? Last year Suggs had five sacks and the year before he had 9 ½. His best season getting to the quarterback was in 2003 as a rookie when he had 12 sacks and forced 6 fumbles. Sure he makes more tackles now but does he impact the game the same way?

Trevor Pryce appears to be in excellent shape and Antwan Barnes should be more disruptive in ’08 than his rookie season. That might help Suggs and his sack totals should climb. But then again, so might Wichard’s demands for his client. Suppose Suggs reaches double digit sacks in ’08. If he wanted $32 million in guarantees on the heels of 5 sacks, what will he want on the heels of 10 sacks, $40 million -- $40 million to a player who has never been on the winning side in a playoff game?

Of course the Ravens could tag Suggs again in ’09 and that will probably cost the Ravens $10 million. They could also tag and trade Suggs.

The Kansas City Chiefs went that route with Jared Allen last year. They traded Allen to the Vikings and in return received the Vikings first round pick and two third round picks. Might that be a better way to go for the Ravens?

Let’s face it the Ravens are almost certainly not going to the playoffs in ’08. Chances are the playoffs in ’09 might also be a reach. The team’s defense is aging. In 2010 Pryce will likely be gone. Chris McAlister won’t have the speed to keep up with top end receivers by then. Samari Rolle will be a fading memory. Fabian Washington could seek riches elsewhere.

Even Ray Lewis could be gone.

The team will need to replenish their defense and what organization in the league can do that through the draft better than the Ravens?

No matter what Suggs does this year, if the Ravens can find a suitor for Suggs the way the Chiefs did for Jared Allen, those draft picks look far more appealing than a $10 million franchise tag or a $40 million signing bonus.

And from this corner, it’s not even close.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Bengals about to prove again why they are losers


Some fans here in the Land of Pleasant Living might recall that during Baltimore’s forced 13 year hiatus from the NFL rumors circulated from time to time that the Cincinnati Bengals might be interested in moving to B’more. Thankfully they didn’t because Mike Brown & Co. all too often remind NFL observers what an inept organization the Bengals’ owner runs.

Everyone is well aware that over the years Brown has employed a number of players who collectively might push the cell capacity of Shawshank. This past spring there were hints that the Bengals had finally seen and heard enough when Mike Brown issued this statement on April 3:

"Chris Henry has forfeited his opportunity to pursue a career with the Bengals. His conduct can no longer be tolerated.

"The Bengals tried for an extended period of time to support Chris and his potentially bright career. We had hoped to guide him toward an appropriate standard of personal responsibility that this community would support and that would allow him to play in the NFL. We acknowledge those fans who had concerns about Chris; at the same time we tried to help a young man.

"But those efforts end today, as we move on with what is best for our team."

Just prior to the start of Bengals training camp this summer, the subject of Chris Henry was brought up again. The media questioned Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis on the possibility of Henry, a player labeled a “one man crime wave” by a Hamilton County judge, returning to Cincinnati.

"I'm not interested," Lewis told reporters. "I don't think it would be productive for our football team. You have to be a productive part to be an NFL player, and there's responsibilities to being an NFL player. It's a privilege, it's not a right. There's a lot that comes with being an NFL football player."

Less than a month later with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh both ailing, the team is now singing a new tune.

"I guess the world is divided up between redeemers and non-redeemers, said owner Mike Brown. “I happen to be a redeemer. I think people can be made better and right. If that's a fault, so be it. These guys mis-stepped, they made mistakes and they paid prices for it verging on ruinous, but that doesn't mean I don't like them personally, I like them as people. I regret what's happened to them and I regret they're no longer here. As far as going forward, we don't want that kind of behavior."

So Brown is turning the other cheek – AGAIN! ESPN.com and Henry's agent Marvin Frazier (hey is he the son of Smokin' Joe?) claim that the troubled receiver will be reunited with the Bengals.

Let’s just call this Brown's version of Shawshank Redemption.

Now even if you buy into this philosophy of forgiveness and the Bengals extending Henry yet another lifeline giving still more credence to the belief that cats have nine lives (Henry has used six but who’s counting), does Brown realize that Henry can’t help them until week 5? The one man crime wave has to first serve another four game suspension before he takes the field again.

The Bengals aren’t really that dumb are they?

Apparently so and we should be thankful that this bungling organization calls the AFC North home.

Where would they be without Carson Palmer who by the way has to be crawling out of his skin. He’s caught in a purgatory called Cincinnati, Ohio and there’s absolutely no relief in sight.

And as long as Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis remain at the helm, there never will be.

Don't worry fans of Cincinnati. Opening day for the Reds is just 8 months away.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

RAVENS REPORT CARD: Vikings 23 Ravens 15

QUARTERBACK: C-

Troy Smith showed excellent mobility which prevented at least two sacks, one of which he turned into an 18 yard gain. He is at his best executing designed rollouts and waggles and can keep defenses honest with naked bootlegs off the edge. He needs to be more accurate throwing to receivers in traffic. He adeptly audibled to a running play featuring zone blocking after recognizing a key provided by the Vikings defense. The result was a 42 yard scamper by Ray Rice.

Kyle Boller started his evening hitting his first eight passes but then missed on four straight including another interception while under pressure. The pick was thrown into heavy traffic with three defenders boxing in the intended receiver Justin Harper. The turnover was particularly costly since the series started at the Vikings 42 yard line. Boller needs to sell the screen pass better.

Joe Flacco had a much better outing following a near disastrous preseason debut in New England. Flacco was 10 of 15 for 74 yards and caught a break when an interception was negated by a Vikings’ face masking penalty. Flacco has poise particularly when leading a no huddle offense but he lacks a sense of urgency in the pocket. That has to improve otherwise he will be hit hard and stripped of the ball regularly. Flacco made a poor throw on the game’s final play intended for Justin Harper in the back of the end zone. He failed to spot Adam Bergen open breaking towards the right sideline inside the goal line on the game's final play.

RUNNING BACK: B+

Ray Rice shrugged off the jitters from his career debut last week and brought what many have seen in camp to the field of play against the Vikings. He had 8 carries for 77 yards including a touchdown. He showed patience in the red zone while picking his way through traffic. Le’Ron McClain made a key block on the TD run and also made a nice block on an 8 yard scamper by Rice in the first quarter. On his very first snap as a Raven, Lorenzo Neal stood up Jaren Allen springing Rice for a 7 yard pick up.

RECEIVERS: C

Ernie Wheelwright had a productive night on mostly short crossing routes. He had 5 catches for 37 yards. Adam Bergen also hauled in several short passes including a shoe string catch on the Ravens’ first offensive play. Matt Willis and Yamon Figurs caught the only other 2 passes distributed to any receivers. The longest completion on the night was 14 yards to Willis from Flacco on a key third down conversion with 46 seconds left in the game. Marcus Smith could have given a better effort on a sideline route nicely delivered by Kyle Boller early in the fourth quarter. Figurs has played with more physicality absorbing a big hit from Darren Sharper and supporting the run with solid blocking. During the few times when Ravens’ QB’s had time to set up and deliver, this unit failed to create separation downfield.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D

Chad Slaughter had a nightmarish evening. He struggled throughout the contest and was regularly beaten badly by Jared Allen. He was not in synch with Joe Flacco on what appeared to be a 5 step drop. Slaughter’s set looked like a 7 step and his man easily beat him to the inside. Jason Brown’s and Marshall Yanda’s push to the left help spring Ray Rice on his 42 yard run. Mike Kracalik was key on the play as well driving his man well to the right creating the gaping hole. Kracalik was guilty of a false start which took the Ravens from a third and 8 to a third and 13. Chris Chester was pushed around rather easily at times once pancaked by NT Fred Evans. Oniel Cousins was adequate at right tackle although he was beaten badly on one play by the not-so-household name Letroy Guion, a rookie from Florida State. Guion forced a Boller fumble and he also shook up the Ravens’ signal caller on the play. "We didn't protect the quarterback the way you have to," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. That might prove to be the understatement of the year.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

The Ravens were without Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata, both nursing knee injuries. Dwan Edwards was the most effective of the starters, scrapping down the line of scrimmage to drop Adrian Peterson on a third down run. A couple of the reserves made the most of their increased workload. Amon Gordon had 6 tackles (2 for a loss) and a sack. Darrell Campbell had 5 tackles. Justin Bannan and Trevor Pryce were fairly limited.

LINEBACKERS: C+

Bart Scott shrugged off a slow start that included a missed tackle of Adrian Peterson after a short catch. Peterson turned the catch into a 22 yard gain to the Ravens’ 7. Scott rebounded with one tackle for a 2 yard loss delivering a jolting hit on Maurice Hicks. He also show good instincts when he disrupted a screen deep in Ravens’ territory. Nick Greisen was pushed around a bit while taking on the Vikings first unit players but played much better against the reserves. Antwan Barnes failed to hold down at the point of attack on a power sweep his way. He needs to sacrifice and contain to allow the pursuit to bring down the ball carrier. He did recognize a draw on a Vikings third down play deep in Minnesota territory. Jarret Johnson was active and disruptive at times.

SECONDARY: C+

Frank Walker has yet to show why the Ravens invested in him. The Vikings threw his way with success seemingly at will. He made Sydney Rice look like Jerry Rice. It was suggested to me that Walker’s new nickname should be “G-String” because he doesn’t cover anything. At best Walker is a nickel back and even at that he isn’t as good as Corey Ivy. Ivy did a nice job of shielding Vikings’ receiver Martin Nance on a go route down the left sideline. He was solid tackling as well in run support. Derrick Martin had a very good game although it could be his last performance for quite some time. Martin has a labrum injury to the left shoulder. MRI test results will determine the extent of the injury but it is feared that he could be lost for quite some time. Martin had a pick six to go with 3 passes defended and a tackle for a loss in run support. His loss could be costly. Dawan Landry was a little shaky in coverage. He and Fabian Washington mixed up their signals paving the way to an easy pitch and catch TD from Tavares Jackson to Martin Nance.

That wasn't Ravens defense," Ryan said. "Our communication from the coaches and on the field wasn't what it should be. You can put that on me. We didn't contain the quarterback, and that can't happen. "Secondary-wise, we just need to focus on our communication," safety Dawan Landry said. "... We gave them two touchdowns, one in the first quarter on miscommunication, and in the second quarter with miscommunication."

Now this seems to be a redundant theme in the Ravens secondary now doesn’t it?

Despite a missed tackle, Haruki Nakamura played well in coverage and in support of the run. He was one step from a pick six of his own. Tom Zbikowski continues to come on strong. He had 5 tackles (two for loss), a sack and a QB hurry.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

Matt Stover’s deepest kickoff landed at the 10. The other landed at the 13. That is just unacceptable yet the Ravens may have no choice but to accept it. The Ravens averaged about 7 yards on punt returns while yielding 28 yards on 2 Vikings’ punt returns. They averaged roughly 24 yards per kick return while giving up about 18 yards per. Sam Koch had an off night with a 40.3 yard average and a 29 yard net. He had 2 touchbacks as well. Ronnie Prude pushed a Vikings’ gunner right into Zbikowski on one punt return.

COACHING: C-

Offense: Cam Cameron is utilizing the delays and screens to calm down the pass rush. That said he seems to be dipping into that well a bit too much. He may be holding back during the preseason. The team seems to be much more diversified when practicing. Look for more no huddle from the Ravens during the regular season.

Defense: On third and goal for the Vikings from the Ravens’ 5, Rex Ryan opted to send only 3 defenders after Gus Frerotte – Amon Gordon, Dwan Edwards and Antwan Barnes. Justin Bannan peeled back in coverage over the middle of the field around the 2. Frerotte had all day to throw and it cost the Ravens as Frerotte connected with his third option Robert Ferguson in the back of the end zone behind Corey Ivy...Leaving Frank Walker on an island when blitzing was a bad idea particularly after he was beaten all day.

OTHER NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS: The chop block penalty called against Ray Rice was a poor interpretation of the rule by the referee…Minnesota converted seven of 10 third downs during the first half of last night's game. Six of those conversions involved yards-to-go of at least five yards and two were of 11 yards each…The Ravens managed only 17 offensive plays in the first half to the Vikings’ 42. The Vikings dominated time of possession in the first half (17:56 v. 12:04) and in the game (34:35 v. 25:25). Overall Minnesota ran 25 more plays than the Ravens (78 v. 53)…The Ravens failed third down attempts had an average yards-to-go of over 14 yards. Their 4 successful conversions averaged less than 5 yards…The Ravens have yet to throw for a touchdown in two preseason games…If the Ravens had tied the game in regulation, it would have forced overtime and it probably would have preempted the scoreboard play of the Michael Phelps’ record setting eighth gold medal telecast. You think Flacco overthrew that pass on purpose? After all, the tuba player in the Ravens Marching Band had a better chance of making that catch than Justin Harper.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Addition of Lorenzo Neal could have a ripple affect upon Ravens' roster


The first player I looked for when I arrived at McDaniel College yesterday was Lorenzo Neal. No surprise there because other than newly acquired tight end Keith Heinrich, Neal was also the newest bird to join the nest.

More than anything else I was curious to see if the four-time Pro Bowler was in shape. Since there was next to no buzz about him within league circles, I was concerned that just maybe in his mind he was heading down the happy trail towards retirement and that his conditioning wouldn't be NFL-ready.

The very first play I witnessed was a little swing pass to the right that Neal caught in stride and then scuttled down the sideline. I was pleasantly surprised. Neal looks cut, strong and has fresh legs. And not to mention a healthy chip on his shoulder that should make Willis McGahee smile and AFC North linebackers fret.

"You get angry when you've been at the top of your game, when you're rated the No. 1 fullback and then free agency comes and I kind of felt like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Because of my age, I got left out of the game.

"Teams discriminate against you because of your age. That was the toughest part of sitting out, knowing you're still in great shape, knowing you can still run, knowing you're still ready to compete. Those people out there that doubted me, I'm back and I'm coming.”

The move to get Neal could have a rippling affect on the team’s final 53 man roster. From my corner I think the acquisition impacts Le’Ron McClain, Cory Ross, Alex Haynes and Allen Patrick.

McClain has worked extremely hard during camp and he’s been every bit as effective as a tailback in a single back set at Ross, Haynes or Patrick. So what does that mean?

I think it means a few things…

1. McClain could be featured in a jumbo backfield that includes Lorenzo Neal in short yardage and goal line situations;
2. Haynes might gain an edge on Allen Patrick because his size suggests that he could couple as a back up running back and back up fullback;
3. It could signal the end of Cory Ross as a Raven. Ross has marginal return skills and is nowhere near as accomplished in that department as Yamon Figurs, Ray Rice or even Tom Zbikowski for that matter.

Patrick has been trucked regularly by linebackers during camp and he doesn’t have the size to play fullback nor NFL speed to be a featured back. If he makes the team it will be because he’s a standout on special teams. So far we haven’t seen that. Patrick is more likely to land on the practice squad.

While we are talking McClains, Jameel McClain had a rough day at camp on Wednesday. During one on one drills intended to test cover skills, he was torched regularly. During the drills it was entertaining to listen to the good natured verbal sparring between linebackers coach Greg Mattison and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson. The coaches determined down and distance and Jackson called the plays. The quarterbacks were challenged to move the sticks on third down by completing passes to either a tight end or a running back while Mattison’s unit was tasked with stopping them. On more than one occasion Mattison chanted, “Offense now punting the ball…punting the ball!”

Kyle Boller was the best of the three quarterbacks on Wednesday. He was sharp throughout most of the practice and did not throw an interception. He was the author of the morning’s best throw, a deep post corner from 40 yards out to Justin Harper over Ronnie Prude in the left corner of the end zone. Harper shook off two earlier drops from Troy Smith, one on a deep streak down the right sidelined which was perfectly placed by Smith. The other drop was on a quick slant from the left slot.

Boller also hit the Ravens other big rookie receiver Marcus Smith on an out route at the back of the end zone for a 15 yard scoring strike. Ronnie Prude despite tight coverage was again the victim. On the very next play, Boller delivered a bullet for a 15 yard score to Derrick Mason who was covered by Corey Ivy. Prior to the snap, Bart Scott was lined up on Marcus Smith. Offensive players standing by encouraged Boller to go after Scott. Scott then asked Troy Smith why he didn’t believe he could cover Smith to which Smith replied, “I believe in you before I believe in Prude.”

“Prude sucks”, added Derrick Mason.

All of the banter was good natured.

Prude later intercepted a pass from Smith intended for Mark Clayton. Prude did not bite on the double move. Smith seemed to release the ball early. Clayton had yet to turn and look for the ball and was targeting the back of the end zone. Prude picked the ball off around the goal line.

OTHER NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES: Ray Rice had the catch of the day – a one-handed catch just beyond Brendon Ayanbadejo about 20 yards down field…Adam Terry was in a t-shirt and shorts practicing his drops from the right tackle position. He appeared to move with no noticeable discomfort…Sam Koch practiced a reverse end over end punt mastered by the Titans’ Craig Hentrich. From 40 yards out the punt landed on the one and bounced backwards into the waiting arms of Dawan Landry at the 2…Tavares Gooden was running alone in a sweatshirt on the adjacent field…LB Terrence Melton had a heavily bandaged right wrist…Antwan Barnes’ left arm was equipped with a flexible brace…Frank Walker “The Talker” continues to talk the talk but despite coaches reports to the contrary, he has shown this observer very little. Walker is said to be a solid special teams player. The investment in Walker and Ayanbadejo will almost certainly spell the end for Gary Stills as a Raven.

David Pittman was a bystander again. He’s played well when he practices. He just doesn’t do enough of it. Rex Ryan is said to be pleased with the maturation of Pittman. He could be a late bloomer. Don’t be surprised to see the team place him on IR or PUP and keep Martin. Unless he rallies in a big way, Ronnie Prude looks like the odd man out. That said if Frank Walker didn’t get a $1.2 million signing bonus and simply agreed to the veteran minimum, he might be the odd man out…New TE Keith Heinrich is 29 years old and has spent time with the Browns and Bucs in his 6 seasons. He has 9 career catches for 65 yards and 2 TDs...ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio was on hand to interview Kyle Boller.

Ravens to sell "EZ Pass?" Todd Heap grounded?


During the fall of 2007, I had to chuckle a bit in a sad sort of way every time I exited the north tube of the McHenry Tunnel. Just beyond the toll both on the east side of I-95 stood Steve McNair.

No he wasn’t auditioning for a job with the Maryland Transit Authority. His likeness was plastered on an AirTran billboard. The match between Air McNair and AirTran seemed logical. Unfortunately all flights were grounded in ’07.

This year AirTran has turned their attention towards Todd Heap. Since the airline announced that Heap agreed to become the newest team member on the low-cost carrier's roster and will be featured in radio spots and state-of-the art high-impact billboards throughout the area, Heap has been sidelined with a calf injury.

Sense a pattern developing here?

Might AirTran be the next company serving up bad mojo to athletes in the tradition of Sports Illustrated and Madden?

Staying with the air travel theme for a moment, without a doubt the worst part of flying the friendly skies are the hassles awaiting you before takeoff. Airport security checkpoints are a necessary inconvenience to all travelers. But never fear, a company called FLO Corp has a solution.

FLO operates expedited airport security lanes at Washington's Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport. There are plans to do the same at BWI. Think EZ Pass when you think of FLO and think $100. That’s the annual cost to help make airport travel more tolerable and lower your Rolaids expenditures.

Now think stadium security and the queuing bottlenecks when entering M&T Bank Stadium 15 minutes before kickoff…you know where this is going right?

In 2009 thanks to FLO you can bypass those God awful bottlenecks for just $10 per game.

How long before they come up with the Wiz-By Pass for the men’s room?

Come to think of it, THAT might be worth $10/game!

Cut down day is approaching (August 26) and the Ravens along with the rest of the teams in the league will need to get their rosters down to 75 players. That won’t be difficult but with the plethora of injuries it could affect practices if some of the nicked up players don’t return to practice.

The more difficult and clearly more dramatic cut down day will be August 30 after the final preseason games. Then teams have to get down to their in season 53 man roster. The Ravens are hoping that a tight end that can stay healthy, block and catch and occasional pass will slip through the cracks and into Ozzie Newsome’s lap.

Players will leave and this season could bring some surprise departing flights. And that thought inspired me to take pause and check in with some recently departed former Ravens to see how they are faring with their new teams:

Devard Darling, WR Kansas City Chiefs: “It was hard for me to break that lineup with the Ravens,” Darling said. “I learned a whole lot. It’s just time to try something else. I was waiting for my opportunity but it didn’t come with Baltimore. It’s coming with the Chiefs instead.”

Darling is starting along with Dwayne Bowe.

Musa Smith, RB New York Jets: The Ravens’ former third down back had 20 yards on five carries in New York's preseason opener. He also had two catches for 12 yards. He’s now joined by recently released FB Justin Green.

Evan Oglesby, CB, Dallas Cowboys: He was known as “EO” to his teammates here in Baltimore. In Dallas according to reports Oglesby has been a very pleasant surprise and has been consistently mentioned as one of the best performers for the Cowboys at their training facility in Oxnard, CA. He leads the team in camp interceptions.

B.J. Sams, KR, Kansas City Chiefs: Word is that Sams is moving well as he returns from a knee injury but according to Chiefs’ special teams coach Mike Priefer, “The speed in the game will be telling. If he’s anything like he used to be, he’s going to be very tough to beat out.”

And finally speaking of former Ravens, here’s what Will Demps had to say recently about his days in Baltimore…“I was blessed to see how it really was supposed to be done. It’s like going to the right college and getting an education and understanding what it’s going to take in the real world.”

Apparently Demps had amnesia in New York. However his new mates in Houston seem to like what they see so far.

Wonder if Cam Cameron will send Todd Heap his way on September 14?

Perhaps but just keep Heap away from those AirTran flights…

Photo by Sabina Moran

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ravens News & Rumors: Injuries, Smack & Locker Room Politics


Haruki Nakamura has received his fair share of accolades since camp opened in July. He’s shown great instincts and a knack for being around the football – exactly what coaches look for in a safety.

Lurking in the background, waiting to make his own mark on the coaches stood third round pick Tom Zbikowski.

During the spring, some believed that Zbikowski was in danger and might not make the team. The thinking was that Nakamura had an edge, Jim Leonhard was a free agent signing and incumbents Ed Reed and Dawan Landry were firmly entrenched.

That thinking was fairly short-sighted.

Draft picks aren’t cut during OTA’s and rarely are third round picks let go, particularly those of the Baltimore Ravens. Now one could argue that the Ravens haven’t been very successful in the third round but that is beside the point. The Ravens have been excellent on draft day over the years and it would represent a mutiny of sorts if the team released a third round pick.

But such discussions about Zbikowski seem like ancient history now that the former member of the Fighting Irish has come on strong as of late. Coaches raved about his performance on special teams against the Patriots including a bone crunching hit to spring Yamon Figurs on his 52 yard punt return.

It’s difficult for a team to keep 5 safeties but the Ravens may do exactly that with the 2008 53 man roster this year. The coaches like the two rookies and Leonhard. And let’s not forget a developing story in Owings Mills – the shoulder of Ed Reed. Details of Reed’s ailing shoulder have been cloked in secrecy. Reed hinted on Monday that it is possible that his mysterious injury could sideline him for the season opener against the Bengals.

While we are on the subject of unsolved mysteries, can anyone figure out why P.J. Daniels and Dan Cody are so injury prone? Apparently the Ravens’ training staff can’t. We’ve been reporting for two weeks that Daniels has been sidelined with a shoulder injury while others have been listing him as out due to cramps. Cramps? I’m sure cramps didn’t land him on IR. It's doubtful that Ravens' Trainer Bill Tessendorf stocks Midol.

Daniels season is now done and Dan Cody looks like he’s marching down the same lane. Let’s see, between the two players the Ravens have gotten a grand total of 2 games out of a possible 96. If Cody isn’t healthy when the season starts, look for an injury settlement.

Speaking of injured Daniels, Daniel Wilcox was expected to be ready by the start of training camp. So here we are after 14 days of full team camp practices and Wilcox still can’t get on the field. And when we mix in Todd Heap’s history of injuries, the tight end position is alarmingly thin. Adam Bergen and Lee Vickers were awful in pass protection against the second string Patriots and Aaron Walker has been on the training room table more than he’s been on the practice field. Ozzie Newsome might only have to look in the mirror to find the second best tight end in Westminster. Anyone seen Brian Kinchen lately?

Prescott Burgess was also placed on IR. The wrist injury may end up being a lucky break (pun intended) for the Ravens. Burgess was on the bubble and the Ravens may have outright released Burgess. Placing him on IR allows them to take another look at the former Wolverine next year when the linebacker corps could be depleted. Remember Bart Scott, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are all without contracts at this point for the 2009 season.

Frank Walker has been very combative and talkative on the field despite being beaten like a drum by anyone he takes on one-on-one. The Ravens coaches say that they are happy with Walker’s performance so far but the guess here is that is just the public spin. They can’t be happy, particularly when reminded that they gave up a $1.2 million signing bonus to a player who has been outplayed by virtually every cornerback in camp. For the Ravens sake, let’s hope he’s better inside the numbers in nickel and/or dime packages than he’s been outside the numbers filling in for Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle or Fabian Washington.

According to the Boston Globe, “One of the undercurrents felt from the Ravens’ visit to Gillette Stadium was the support in the team's locker room for Troy Smith to be the team's starting quarterback on opening day. Linebacker Ray Lewis, in particular, is privately lobbying for Smith - the former Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State - to take the reins over Kyle Boller and 2008 first-round draft choice Joe Flacco.”

If the Globe is right maybe Ray should just shut up and play. He needs to be a leader on the field, not in the coach’s corner or in the front office. Haven’t we all been down this road before with not so good results?

Word around Ravens camp is that Troy Smith is extremely confident and expects to be the team’s starter. He’s had some mild run-ins with Coach Harbaugh over locker room music and the number of practice reps he’s received. Might he be a prima donna in the making? Hey AD, how about one of those humble pie t-shirts for Troy.
Photo by Sabina Moran

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 NFL.com 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.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Jet Favre? Pass the vomit bag please!


We are all sick of Jet Favre by now. Truth be told, his trade to the Jets just elevated Eric Mangini’s gang to near the top of my list of least favorite teams. I hope they get the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

I bought the Brett Favre story. The Iron Man of football was my favorite player not wearing purple. But that has all changed. I now feel betrayed by him given all of his antics and drama over the past 6 or so months.

So I wondered, if I feel betrayed, how do the loyal Packer fans who have weathered brutal elements that I can’t even imagine in northern Wisconsin feel about Brett Favre today? What were they thinking when Favre was given the keys to Broadway and introduced to the New York media by Gotham City’s mayor? How did they respond to Favre proudly touting his new Jets’ jersey?

To put it in perspective, think about Cal Ripken.

Turn the clock back about 6 years when Ripken retired. Then imagine how you might feel if after a couple of months of retirement, the Iron Man of baseball decided to un-retire and join his buddy A-Rod in New York. How would you feel?

Without question, Favre is every bit as important to the fabric of Green Bay as Ripken is to Baltimore. You may even argue that Favre’s legend is even bigger given the size of that city and the Packers’ importance to the Green Bay’s history.

So when you see Favre in a new shade of green this season think about the outrageous thought of Ripken in pinstripes.

Sure, one day Favre and his PR folks will spin it in his favor in an attempt to re-store his image and Packers’ management will have no choice but to bite their collective lip. And then for some, perhaps most his good-guy stature will be restored.

But not for me!

The next time I see Broadway Brett cry a river, I hope it is driven by his wretched performance and it pours mightily into the Hudson along with the Jets’ hopes for a successful 2008.

J-E-T-S, JETS-JETS-JETS.

Whatever….

Ravens Report Card: Ravens 16, Patriots 15


John Harbaugh’s first NFL win albeit a gift wrapped one from Bill Belichick, was about as entertaining as a preseason WNBA game. Thankfully Captain Cheat decided to go for two points after the Patriots crept to within 1 point in order to spare us all the torture of an overtime preseason game.

With that in mind here are the Rearview Mirror grades for the 2008 Preseason Opener:

QUARTERBACK: C-

Kyle Boller’s effort v. the Patriots is simply a microcosm of his career. He flashes signs of hope and competency only to be followed by untimely mistakes. On his first series Boller threw big league strikes to Derrick Mason and Yamon Figurs. His passes were delivered accurately and on time and he quickly marched the team out to a 3-0 lead. But Boller failed to protect the football after a timeout at the 6:48 mark of the first quarter while facing a third and four from the Ravens’ 44. The fumble was the first of two Boller turnovers, the second of which left Cam Cameron hot under the collar.

With 6:46 left in the half and the Ravens holding a 10-0 lead, Boller took over with a first and 10 from his own 37. As he has done so often in the past, he predetermined his throw prior to the snap. How else do you explain his pass intended for Adam Bergen? Boller zeroed in on Bergen crossing right to left just outside of the left hash mark. The journeyman tight end was surrounded by three defenders and a fourth was on his way. Meanwhile within the same sight lines, Figurs was open for a first down along the left sideline.

Troy Smith will get the starting nod next week against the Vikings and it will be interesting to see what he will do with the first unit. Smith is the better playmaker of the two returning quarterbacks. If Darnerien McCants had held on to a beautifully thrown pass deep inside the Patriots’ red zone with 1:30 left in the first half, the outlook on Smith’s overall performance might be different than it is today.

Like Boller, Smith locked in on Justin Harper running an in route from the right during the opening moments of the fourth quarter. The pass should have been picked off by Pats’ linebacker Eric Alexander. Smith recovered quickly and delivered a rocket to Harper on the very next play to pick up 18 yards. He showed nice pocket presence and solid awareness of pursuit. His elusiveness may prove to be critical playing behind questionable offensive tackle play.

As for the Ravens’ prized rookie QB Joe Flacco, it’s hard to avoid the comparison of his performance to a deer in headlights. Throughout camp Flacco has been deliberate when distributing the ball. While poised, he needs to hasten that internal clock. Flacco was 0-3 on pass attempts, the first nearly picked off and the last swatted away. In between he was sacked twice while coughing up the football on one takedown. In his defense, his offensive line was like melted butter while the Patriots’ D-line was a hot knife. The silver lining for Flacco – it has to get better because it can’t get any worse.

RUNNING BACK: C+

Ray Rice was decent in spurts and helped turn what looked like nothing on both runs and screen passes into short gains. He seemed a bit anxious and on a couple of occasions failed to allow the blocking in front of him to develop. He needs to show more patience going forward now that the opening preseason game jitters are behind him. There is promise in the screens the Ravens are setting up. As Rice improves his timing the results will follow. He was also very good picking up the blitz.

Le’Ron McClain was solid in short yardage situations and even better picking up the blitz and offering support in pass protection. He nailed P. Woods (who was a handful all night) on one pass play and pancaked Santonio Thomas on another play. Allen Patrick, Corey Ross and Alex Haynes had a total of 15 yards on 5 carries. The Ravens ran their running backs only 15 times all night so it’s safe to say that this group never got it going.

RECEIVERS: C+

Derrick Mason looked like he was in mid-season form and found intermediate openings while snagging 3 passes for 54 yards in limited action. Marcus Smith found some openings but dropped a key third down pass that would have kept a drive alive in the first half. Yamon Figurs ran with the first team in place of Mark Clayton. Figurs had a shot at delivering a home run but Boller’s pass hung up too long enabling the defender to mitigate any separation. Darnerien McCants hauled in a 30 yarder from Smith but failed to hold on to a beautifully placed sideline toss from Smith at the Patriots’ 10 yard line inside of 2 minutes of the first half. Adam Bergen is a big but sluggish target who offered little in support of the running game. He was also extremely weak when held back in pass protection, completely overmatched by the Pats’ Woods and Shawn Crable. Ditto for Lee Vickers in limited action.

OFFENSIVE LINE: C

Besides quarterback, most eyes were glued to the offensive line playing without projected starting tackles Jared Gaither and Adam Terry. In their place the Ravens played newcomer Chad Slaughter and Mike Kracalik. Slaughter held his own other than a holding call while battling perennial Pro Bowler Richard Seymour. Kracalik was decent when he was able to engage oncoming defenders but as soon as the quarterback moved behind Kracalik, defenders easily moved away from the lumbering tackle who isn’t known for possessing nimble feet. Ben Grubbs was bull rushed by Seymour in the first quarter leading to Adalius Thomas’ strip/sack of Boller. Besides that play Grubbs played well against a talented New England defensive front. He and Brown paved the way for McClain’s TD run. The three interior first unit linemen looked solid in space on the screen passes. There’s something to build on there. The reserve offensive linemen were a shaky save for Chris Chester who showed some improvement. David Hale was manhandled at times and Oniel Cousins was slow to engage speedy OLB P. Woods.

DEFENSIVE LINE: C+

This unit was missing its run stuffers Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg but clearly Justin Bannan made the most of his increased workload. He was quick off the ball and disrupted a few plays deep in the Patriots’ backfield. He also knifed through for a QB knockdown on a three step drop by Matt Gutierrez. He was the second best Ravens’ defender on the night. Dwan Edwards played decently and chipped in with a sack and a QB hurry. The second half front seven was pushed all over the field by the reserve offensive line of the Patriots as evidenced by their dominant time of possession in the third quarter (12:11 v. 2:49) and second half (19:11 v. 10:33). One minute and 50 seconds of the Ravens’ TOP consisted of three consecutive kneels by Flacco to kill the game clock. This domination of TOP severely impacted the Ravens ability to get Flacco on the field for quality minutes.

LINEBACKERS: B

Jarret Johnson looks more comfortable in space and also appears to be playing faster. He showed excellent recognition skills blowing up a bubble screen intended for Chad Jackson. Antwan Barnes continues to improve. He’s a force getting after the quarterback and has improved in run support and in pass coverage. Ray Lewis made a token appearance. Bart Scott was manhandled by Patriots TE David Thomas. Nick Greisen was solid and showed some unexpected quickness pursuing the quarterback. He had a sack. Jameel McClain was solid off the edge rushing the quarterback. Prescott Burgess and Robert McCune were largely ineffective as was Edgar Jones. All were pushed around by the Patriots’ reserve offensive line. Brendon Ayanbadejo was relentless, contributing 8 tackles, a batted down pass and a sack. His effectiveness undermines Gary Stills’ usefulness to the team. Tavares Gooden missed the second half with an undisclosed injury that has been nagging him for at least part of the summer. Burgess broke his wrist and could be lost for the season.

DEFENSIVE BACK: A-

The star of the night on defense was Fabian Washington. Washington had two interceptions on the night. The first was on a pass thrown slightly behind Chad Jackson. Washington made a nice adjustment to haul in the errant throw. Towards the end of the first half, Washington closed quickly on a looping pass deep in the Ravens’ red zone to end a late first half rally by the Patriots. Washington was criticized in ’07 while with the Raiders for poor tackling particularly in run support. On a key third down in the first half Washington delivered a convincing hit on the much larger Lamont Jordan to force a punt. Then with the Patriots in their two minute offense, Washington dropped Matt Slater in bounds along the right sideline after a 4 yard catch on second down. The tackle forced New England to burn their second timeout.

All of the safeties were active. Dawan Landry, Tom Zbikowski, Jim Leonhard and Haruki Nakamura were all solid in run support. They weren’t challenged much downfield and their solid positioning could explain some of that. Corey Ivy looked more like the nickel from ’06 and less like the out of place CB from ’07. Frank Walker was ineffective in coverage and given his performance so far in camp, one has to wonder if the Ravens wasted a $1.2 million signing bonus on the former Packer. He talks a good game but that’s about it so far. The team may regret this signing and those dollars and his special teams play could keep him on the team. Derrick Martin rebounded from a silly face masking penalty and showcased textbook coverage on a deep pass thrown to C.J. Jones. David Pittman looked decent as did Ronnie Prude.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-

Matt Stover and Piotr Czech combined for a perfect 3 for 3 in field goal attempts connecting from 44, 42 and 37 yards. Stover’s four kickoffs reached the goal line, 2, 10 and 3 yard lines respectively, although his second kickoff was kicked from the 35. Those kicks were returned to the 19, 22, 38 and 27 yard lines. Czech’s only kickoff went a yard deep in the end zone but lacked height. It was returned to the 32.

Sam Koch averaged 51.3 yards per punt on 4 punts, knocking out 2 inside the 20. He also had a touchback. Yamon Figurs picked up where he left off last year and looks very confident and showed patience following blockers. He exploded through openings while taking his only kickoff return for 48 yards and nearly scoring on a 52 yard punt return. Zbikowski was a standout on special teams. Gooden showed his raw skills as well on coverage teams.

COACHING: B

Cam Cameron: Nice job of throwing in running situations and running or throwing screens in passing situations. The mix kept the Patriots off balance early and helped the patchwork offensive line neutralize a stout New England front four. Cameron isn’t afraid to throw downfield and he showed the world that Derrick Mason can be effective on routes beyond 7 yards. The offense looked disciplined and in synch without the false start penalties that have been an early season trademark of the Ravens’ offensive line. Cameron challenged the Patriots although the delay to the slow starting Corey Ross on a third and seven at the New England 20 in the third quarter for a gain of 1 was uncharacteristically timid. The Patriots caught on to Cameron’s strategy later in the game and it exposed the team’s weakness at offensive tackle.

Rex Ryan: Utilizing a starting unit consisting mostly of reserves, Rex Ryan orchestrated his unorthodox style of defense well, confusing the Patriots early. The team did get a little blitz happy during the contest and the Patriots used that against the Ravens on third down passing situations with less than 10 yards to go. The draws and delays kept Patriot drives alive several times.

John Harbaugh: Tough to grade the head coach’s first NFL game as such but clearly he will allow his coordinators to run the offensive and defensive shows. He’s more engaged in special teams and in the flow of the game. He wisely challenged one call which should have been reversed. This is preseason football. He could have used the final 1:50 to get Joe Flacco more snaps. But then again, maybe he took the knee on the game’s final three plays to prevent the young gunslinger from being decapitated. The O-Line play at that point was atrocious.

NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES

"I don't want to turn the ball over," said Kyle Boller after the game. "That is the most important thing. I think we had some good plays [and] a few solid drives, but we have to continue to work on not turning the ball over." Something tells me that Brian Billick’s influence on Boller will never allow him to grow. He will never improve by playing not to lose…"What a thrill it was to be the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens and be in front of this group of men. It's an honor to be part of this organization now." That’s Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Somewhere Dick Vermeil is shedding a tear over that comment…It will be nice when the TV broadcast switches over to WMAR for the next two games. Then we won’t be bothered with the Maryland State Lottery interruption…Both the officials and the radio booth were in preseason form. The referee failed to overturn the ruling on the field when Raymond Ventrone fumbled in the first half. Then they did overturn a call later in the 4th quarter again benefitting Ventrone. There was no irrefutable evidence on the sideline catch sufficient enough to overturn the incomplete ruling on the field…This week in practice Joe Flacco and the offensive line should borrow a theme from a prominent Ravens sponsor: “Got to go to work, got to go to work…WORK, WORK!”

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Starting Boller is the right move...for now!


Kyle Boller is tonight’s starter for the preseason opener. That’s big news here in Baltimore. But so what! What does it really matter? It doesn’t matter if he throws for 3 touchdowns and it doesn’t matter if he throws 3 picks.

None of it counts!

Now some might say that the preseason is a precursor for the season and it serves as a building block for when the games do count. That may be true for Troy Smith and it may be true for Joe Flacco but it isn’t true for Kyle Boller.

Boller is who he is and that’s a decent quarterback coming off the bench and a serviceable backup who desperately needs a new address. How much more evidence do we need?

Boller is an inconsistent starting quarterback with a propensity to commit unforced errors at the most inopportune time particularly when playing on the road. Boller hasn’t started and won a game away from M&T Bank Stadium since November of 2004. To put that in perspective Boller’s last road win took place during the same month as George Bush’ re-election.

Yet all this aside starting Boller tonight is the right choice.

So far through a couple of weeks of training camp, no quarterback has really stepped up and placed distance between the other two competitors for the job. Lately Smith has taken a slight edge but nothing that suggests that he’s definitely the guy. Not just yet but it’s beginning to go that way.

Looking back on the hundreds of reps each player has taken during camp, the most memorable throws belong to Joe Flacco and the throws that everyone would like to forget most belong to Smith and Boller. Smith opened training camp by throwing a pick to defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano. For the record, it was Pagano’s first pick in the NFL. (He was never a professional player.)

Earlier this week, Boller threw a ball that was so off target it hit a barn adjacent to the practice field. Never let anyone say that Boller can’t hit the broad side of a barn. He can…

But I digress…

So why is Boller the right choice tonight?

First, since none of the three has really jumped far out in front of the others, why not go with the guy with the most experience – a guy who might not have the pre-game jitters that the other two have given his 42 starts. Boller has also faced the Patriots twice before and might not be as in awe of Belichick’s Bunch as Smith or Flacco. Keep in mind that Boller played well for 80% of the game against New England last December.

Secondly, if none of the quarterbacks has created separation, why not let the least important of the three start? Let Boller be the sacrificial lamb while “protected” by a left tackle who is 9 days removed from pouring concrete and a right tackle who moves his feet like he has shoes made of concrete.

There is a confidence factor at work here as well. Boller’s confidence is shaky at best. Why not give it a boost by giving him the meaningless nod as the starter? During summer camp Boller has been booed by fans DURING PRACTICE. A confidence building road start makes sense.

Confidence is something that Troy Smith has an abundance of. In fact, Smith’s self-assuredness is so great that it borders the capital of cockiness. Maybe the move to go with Boller is a light slap in the face intended to fuel Smith’s burning competitiveness while dishing out a dose of humble pie.

Starting Flacco makes no sense for the time being so let’s not even go there.

And what if the Ravens win?

A win could help move John Harbaugh’s program in the right direction. For Boller a win likely does nothing for his job security. There’s little doubt that this will be his last season in Baltimore. But a win for Harbaugh could be a psychological boost, particularly for those players who might not be completely on board with the rookie coach’s program.

The choice to go with the veteran Boller (now that seems a bit like an oxymoron) makes both short-term and long-term sense.

And after he wins tonight Harbaugh will make another smart move by naming Smith the starter against the Vikings at home for the second preseason game.

That might help to keep the boo-birds off Boller’s back at M&T and help security guards maintain order in the stadium.

After all, we aren’t allowed to stand up too much in the stadium anymore, right?


Photo by Sabina Moran

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ravens Training Camp: Surprises, Disappointments, Predictions


Each season brings new expectations, surprises and disappointments for NFL players, coaches and fans. Ravens Training Camp 2008 is certainly no exception. With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the surprises and disappointments thus far at Ravens Training Camp as they prepare for their first preseason game against the New England Patriots.

SURPRISES

Ray Rice: Without question the rookie RB from Rutgers is the star of training camp as of this writing. One could argue and with good cause that Rice’s workload alone equals or surpasses the combined reps provided by Willis McGahee, Corey Ross, P.J. Daniels and Allen Patrick. Rice has shown a great burst in short spaces enabling him to run well inside the tackles while demonstrating the ability to bounce outside when there’s too much congestion. Wrapping up his diminutive frame has been a tall task for Ravens’ defenders. Rice also looks like a natural receiving the football and is dangerous in open spaces given his excellent change-of-direction skills.

Haruki Nakamura: As bad as the Cincinnati Bengals are at finding talented players who can stay out of police line-ups coupled with how cheap they are when it comes to investing money in scouting, you’d think that they might know a little something about this former Bearcat from the University of Cincinnati. But then again, they are the Bengals. Nakamura wasn’t even invited to The Scouting Combine yet Eric DeCosta and his staff had this undersized safety pegged. Coaches have raved about Nakamura’s instincts, some even equating them to those of Ed Reed. Nakamura has had far more interceptions than any other player in camp and some may argue that his play could push Dawan Landry out of a starting position if Landry doesn’t regain his 2006 form.

Antwan Barnes: In 2007 Barnes showed flashes, particularly during the Monday Night game against the Patriots. Barnes is a year older and now much more familiar with the Ravens’ defensive system. That allows him to play faster, think less and allow his athletic prowess take over. Not only is he bigger, he has shown better instincts and has been far too much for most of the team’s offensive linemen to handle consistently particularly when one-on-one with the speedy linebacker. In order for Barnes to stay on the field more, he needs to prove to the coaches that he can handle his coverage assignments and defend against the run. So far, Barnes hasn’t disappointed. He uses his top end speed to chase down ball carriers on the opposite side of the line and he puts his added muscle and compact frame to use to hold his position when runs are directed his way.

In pass coverage he has shown a desire to improve while taking added reps against Todd Heap. The work has paid off. Recently during practice while participating in 7-on-7 drills, Barnes had a very difficult assignment – Ray Rice. Despite no pass rush, Joe Flacco could not find a single receiver open and the coaches blew the play dead after 7-8 seconds. Improvement was expected from Barnes, but it’s doubtful that the club forecasted such a quick learning curve for the second year backer. Barnes has made the most of his added reps given Terrell Suggs’ absence.

Yamon Figurs: Last year at this time Figurs looked like a spindly, confused player whose only asset was speed. Even then due to his lack of familiarity with the Ravens offensive system, he was thinking too much and the uncertainty slowed down his top end speed. This year, Figurs is playing with more confidence, his upper body looks much stronger and he has played fearlessly while running crossing routes with confidence and purpose. His hands have also improved. If Figurs can pick up where he left off in the return game last year and force some mismatches against slower nickel backs when given snaps on offense, he could be a surprise contributor to the Ravens’ fortunes in the coming season. He just needs to carry his practice momentum to the field of play.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Injuries: Injuries are a way of life in NFL camps but that said, the Ravens have lost some valuable reps for players who desperately need them. A case in point is Jared Gaither. Gaither has what some have described as a high ankle sprain. Those injuries have a way of lingering and Gaither is missing reps that he needs to help him protect the QB blind side. Adam Terry is trying to fight through the mental block of playing right tackle v. left tackle. The repetitions could accelerate this process. Unfortunately he’s missing them…Demetrius Williams and Daniel Wilcox have yet to see the practice field and one has to wonder just how effective they will be this season if they don’t get on the field soon in order to get acquainted with Cam Cameron’s system. Ed Reed remains on the PUP List and has yet to practice. Is his injury simply a way to take a look at more players without violating the 80 man roster rule? Ravens fans certainly hope so. Fortunately, none of the injuries suffered during camp appear to be serious or season threatening.

Dan Cody: When he has been able to participate in practice, Cody looks like a force off the edge as a pass rusher. He is strong, relentless and seems to have polished up his swim move to ward off blockers. But yet again for the fourth consecutive season, Cody can’t stay on the field. This time he is fighting through a sprained foot. He finished his college career playing in 42 games and making 117 tackles and 25 sacks. His injuries beg the question, “What has Cody done differently as a pro that prevents him from taking the field?” It’s possible that he may never take another snap for the Baltimore Ravens.

Willis McGahee: McGahee arrived in Baltimore on the heels of a trail of broken glass that runs from One Winning Drive to Buffalo. Despite a putrid offense in 2007, McGahee managed to gain over 1,200 yards. With the arrival of the tailback friendly Cam Cameron offense, one would have thought that McGahee would be eager to learn the new system. Unfortunately McGahee’s eagerness is on par with an elementary student on the eve of a new school year. He has been mostly a bystander in camp and was hardly the most available player during OTA’s. McGahee is the Ravens’ resident Allen Iverson and takes to practice the way a vampire takes to sunlight. Many questioned the Ravens selection of Ray Rice with their second pick. Given Rice’s work ethic and apparent skills coupled with McGahee’s uninspired presence, no one is questioning the selection now. Maybe the Ravens should practice at night.

Mark Clayton: Clayton disappeared in 2007 due to a couple of nagging injuries, some off-the-field issues and a slumping offense. With 3 seasons under his belt, a new system and the outside the lines problems behind him, many expected Clayton to really step it up this year. So far in camp, there has been minor evidence that he could return to 2006 form but then the positive strides are quickly erased with a poor read or a dropped pass. Granted the Cameron system is new but Clayton needs to develop some consistency.

Chris Chester: Another disappointing Sooner, Chester seems to lack determination and appears almost content just to be on a NFL roster. Many thought the Ravens reached for Chester in 2006 when they made him a second round selection. So far he’s done nothing to dispel that notion as a pro despite opportunities to do so. Marshal Yanda and Jason Brown are vastly superior to Chester despite being 3rd and 4th round selections respectively. Simply put, Chester just hasn’t improved since he was drafted and that selection is yet another second round choice that the Ravens may soon regret unless Chester surprises us all and finally turns the light bulb on for good.

EARLY SEASON PREDICTIONS

Despite Kyle Boller being named the starter for the preseason opener, Troy Smith will get that call on September 7…Even if for some unexpected reason Smith doesn’t start, he’ll still see snaps at QB in a role similar to the “Slash” role of Kordell Stewart’s in the late 90’s in Pittsburgh…Willis McGahee will get off to a slow start in ’08. He’s missing too many valuable practice reps and it will be hard for Cam Cameron to trust him early on unless he surprises everyone and masters the playbook sooner than later…Fabian Washington will start over Samari Rolle after September 7…Todd Heap will have a career season…The Ravens will pick up a journeyman tight end and possibly a fullback and an offensive tackle as teams trim their rosters…If the Ravens don’t pick up another OT, Chad Slaughter’s number of starts this season could surpass the number of starts he’s had in his career – seven.

If Dawan Landry misses any time due to injury, he could lose his starter’s status for the balance of the season…CB Derrick Martin will make the team. CB’s Ronnie Prude and David Pittman will not…Tavares Gooden will open some eyes later in the season. For the moment Gooden is playing slower than he should, as he grows more familiar with Rex Ryan’s defense...Terrell Suggs will report to camp on or about August 25. John Harbaugh will welcome Suggs back with open arms publicly and say that he understands the business of the NFL. Rex Ryan will proclaim Suggs one of the top defenders in the game. Ozzie Newsome will wince in agony once he does. Surely Suggs’ agent Gary Wichard will be watching.

Photo by Sabina Moran