Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things change quickly in the NFL, the Ravens are no exception


As we are all well aware this is the NFL’s quiet time – the calm before the storm of training camp and the five plus months of coverage to feed the insatiable appetites of NFL fans. We love our summers but boy opening day can’t arrive fast enough.

The season is a marathon for the players. Top conditioning is a prerequisite and when you add in the mini-camps, training camp and preseason, there’s very little down time for the league's athletes.

But now is that time.

Since there is next to nothing new going on, save a new contract here and there, I took a look back at some of the articles and reports we posted here on 24x7 at this time last year. The reminiscing was somewhat eye opening and it served as a reminder of the extent of change that occurs in the NFL in one calendar year.

Here are a few of the stories we covered that were relevant at the time yet seem so yesterday less than 12 months removed…

Offensive Line ~ it looked so bad that most fans and observers supported Troy Smith as the starter over Kyle Boller and Joe Flacco if for no other reason than he was more adept at avoiding the rush. The line looked like it would be a sieve as the team considered rejects like Barry Sims and even hired Chad Slaughter to “bolster” the line.

Willis McGahee ~ he would be the beneficiary of Cam Cameron’s system much like LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. Some predicted a blistering scoring season for McGahee. Apparently no one let McGahee in on the plan.

Chris McAlister ~ the team’s top cover corner knocked down the doors to John Harbaugh’s dog house, dove in and never re-emerged. C-Mac is now sitting in SoCal waiting for that call to come.

The Retirements of Jon Ogden and Steve McNair ~ One, you could see coming…the other was a surprise. When the Ravens drafted Flacco, the Ravens planned to keep 4 QB’s on their roster. It never happened as McNair sailed into the sunset quietly without so much as a whisper of a possible return.

Brett Favre ~ this gunslinger doesn’t whisper about possible returns – his very public un-retirements are about as subtle as a Mariah Carey dress. Some even pegged Favre to the Ravens, championing him as a mentor of sorts for rookie Joe Flacco. At this time last year it was hard envisioning Favre in any color other than Packers’ green. Within the course of a year, he left the Bucs at the altar, signed with the Jets, retired again and is now contemplating another comeback and dress in the colors of the Vikings. Favre packs more drama than a runaway bride and thankfully he never wore Ravens purple.

Le’Ron McClain ~ with running backs McGahee, P.J. Daniels, Cory Ross and Allen Patrick all nursing injuries, McClain was asked to carry some of the load during the summer for Ray Rice who was the training camp workhorse. Along the way the Ravens discovered a new weapon. During his college career, McClain had 37 carries total during his four seasons at Alabama. As a second year Raven, McClain ran the rock 232 times.


John Harbaugh ~ could a rookie head coach with no prior head coaching experience at any level, handle the strong personalities in the Ravens' locker room some of which were huge supporters of annointing Rex Ryan as Brian Billick's replacement? It's safe to say Harbaugh exceeded all expectations and his well thought out staff certainly helped make that happen.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes...

At this time last year I asked several members of the local media who cover the Ravens to weigh in on their thoughts regarding the then upcoming season.

Joe Platania of Press Box had this to say about an AFC North forecast:

Because the AFC North is taking on the two toughest divisions in football this year -- the AFC South and NFC East -- the division winner will not have more than ten wins. The Ravens will go 8-8 and fight Pittsburgh for second behind the Browns. Cincy will finally implode and finish last.

ABC 2’s Rob Carlin shared his thoughts on the notion of starting Joe Flacco during his rookie season:

Let me be perfectly clear - Joe Flacco should NOT start this year. At any point!! He is a rookie without any "big-game" experience. The tackles are, at best, a project. The wideouts haven't proven to be playmakers. There's no reason to throw him out there to get his brains beat out. Maybe get him in some games early. Maybe some late. But he should not have the pressure, or expectations, of being the Ravens starting QB in Year 1.

As you can see, judging from some of the surprising developments from just one of the league’s 32 teams, a lot can change in a hurry in the National Football League.

And those changes are often swift and unpredictable.

Ravens don't need a stud receiver to capture AFC North title


The Ravens are just a wide receiver away from overtaking the Steelers in the AFC North.

How many times have you HEARD that?

If the Ravens had a true No. 1 receiver they may have advanced to and won Super Bowl XLIII.

How many times have you SAID that?

The Ravens would love to have a player in the mold of Larry Fitzgerald or one with the skills of Brandon Marshall. But is that the only way for the Ravens to take that next step? Can they take that next step with the wide receiver talent currently on their roster provided they improve in other areas?

That’s a reasonable assumption don’t you think?

But before we go there, let’s look at the receiving talent the Ravens do have heading into the 2009 season.

Derrick Mason: It’s safe to say that Mason can at least duplicate what he did in 2008given that he expects to be fully recovered from a shoulder injury that limited him last season when he still managed to haul in 80 catches for 1,037 yards and 5 TD’s. As a point of reference Anquan Boldin had 89 receptions for 1,039 yards and 11 scores.

Mark Clayton: Yes he’s been a disappointment but isn’t it logical to conclude that his productivity could improve now that he’s had some experience with Joe Flacco and now that he’ll have a full training camp with the second year signal caller?

Demetrius Williams: The big “IF” in this corps of receivers…if Williams can stay healthy, his skills immediately improve the unit.

Kelley Washington: A big target with a solid work ethic and familiarity with the AFC North.

Marcus Smith: Raw talent, a former running back now more familiar with his surroundings…through experience a better player.

This group certainly won’t make you forget the targets Kurt Warner throws to in the desert but one could reasonably conclude that they are at least marginally better.

Is that improvement alone enough to elevate the Ravens above and beyond the Steelers?
Probably not, but there are other ways to close that gap without dramatically improving the receiving corps…

Last season the Ravens were victimized by a Steelers’ hat trick, dropping three games by a total of 16 points. Can those losses be pinned on the team’s receivers?

Seems to me that the Ravens were beaten on the line of scrimmage and they were unable to get their running game untracked. Perhaps they just failed to remain committed to the run. In either case it allowed the Steelers to unleash their impressive pass rush.

Not wanting to expose his quarterback, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron held Todd Heap in to support in pass protection. He even held in his tailback to try and keep Flacco clean and that in turn allowed the Steelers to cover three receivers with six defenders. Troy Polamalu, primarily responsible for Todd Heap was allowed to track Flacco’s sight lanes and jump routes.

Defending the Ravens became too simple for the Steelers.

If the Ravens had a No. 1 receiver would the Steelers alter their defensive game plan? Well not if the Ravens are unable to keep James Harrison and Lamar Woodley off Flacco.

The Ravens spent their first pick in the ’09 Draft on a right tackle adding to a young and developing offensive line. The addition of Michael Oher might enable the Ravens to get more receivers out in patterns presenting a greater challenge to opposing defenses.

They spent their second pick on a player who will give the pass rush a boost. The third pick was invested in a player who can provide a spark to the return game and add depth to the secondary.

The Ravens made a couple of free agent moves to build even more depth to the back end of the defense. Dawan Landry returns; Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are more seasoned; Kelly Gregg is back while Justin Bannan has grown as a player; Haloti Ngata is more accomplished and was an absolute beast against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

Joe Flacco is now battle tested and ready to absorb more of Cameron’s playbook. Ray Rice is stronger and more rested. The team’s improved depth bodes well for better special teams play.

Add it up and the Ravens are a more solid football team today than the one that walked off Heinz Field as losers this past January.

Do the Ravens need a No. 1 receiver? Of course they do.

Would that make them a better team? Absolutely!

Must they have such a player to achieve greater things in ’09? Absolutely not!

Winning in the NFL is all about improving as a team, exploiting opponents’ weaknesses better than they exploit yours and controlling the line of scrimmage. And you CAN do that without a prototypical No. 1 receiver.

Need proof?

Go back and take a peek at the roster of the Super Bowl XXXV winners…

Monday, June 29, 2009

Need a babysitter? Why not try Ray Lewis?


Whenever an NFL player becomes available who might be a match for the Ravens on the field yet is a problem off the field or in the locker room, fans inevitably look to Ray Lewis and conclude that he can be the voice of reason and stave off any potential issues.

Fans think that Ray can turn a drama queen into his own little dancing queen who will march to his beat on demand. Look up babysitter in the NFL Glossary and fans expect to see the willing and smiling face of Ray Lewis.

And given this widely held belief among fans, they precipitously conclude that the problem child flavor of the month can be the missing ingredient for the Ravens – particularly if the player is a wide receiver.

Plaxico Burress – bring him on!

Brandon Marshall – no worries, besides what has he been CONVICTED of…
If either gets out of line, Ray will be there to B-slap some sense into him.

Gee, that theory really worked well with Chris McAlister didn’t it?

It’s working well with Willis McGahee, right?

Look it isn’t Ray’s job to be a babysitter. And how could he even affect a player on offense? During the week, the offense installs their game plan and all of the unit meetings, film study, etc. are conducted independent of the defense. During the game, Ray is on the field when the offense isn’t and vice versa.

How and when is the mentoring to actually take place assuming Ray and/or his protégé is even willing?

The truth is players like Brandon Marshall and Plaxico Burress seldom listen to anyone. They are coddled and have been coddled for so long. Things come easily to them and when they don’t they push back. There’s resistance.

Warren Sapp, one of my personal favorites among the new player-turned-studio-analyst added recently as reported by SI’s Peter King that the game is different and the respect that young players have for the veterans has changed. He used Vince Young as his case in point.

“Look at Vince Young. Why wouldn't he listen to Kerry Collings? I'm sure Vince thinks, 'Nobody's been through what I'm going through. Nobody's been through my kind of pressure.' Are you kidding me! Kerry Collins, fifth pick in the draft, has all the ups and downs, gets benched, makes those racist comments, has the alcohol problems, moves from team to team, comes back, has success ... Vince Young should suck up all the knowledge Kerry Collins has to offer! There's no better role model for him.''

If the Ravens take a chance on a player like Burress or Marshall (and the bet here is that it will NEVER happen) they will do so because the risk v. reward ratio works.

Not because Ray Lewis’ presence will help turn a malcontent into a choir boy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Love is in the air on The Bruce Cunningham Show!


This week while driving around from one appointment to the next, I was able to take in several segments of The Bruce Cunningham Show. Bruce just isn’t my style. He knows enough about the wide world of sports to convince the average fan that he’s well versed in most.

Yet it’s difficult for many (myself included) to take him seriously because he errs so frequently especially when asked to drill down and explain nuances of a particular sport beyond Average Joe’s sports intellect. Many times the callers know more than he does.

Yet I still tune in whenever I’m in the car between the hours of 1-3PM.

And I wonder why?

You see listening to Bruce is a bit different than tuning into The Scott & Anita Show. With all due respect to Scott Garceau, in a sadistic kind of way I’m lured in to that show by Ms. Marks. Like a lion lurking in the tall grass for an unsuspecting gimpy gazelle to come stumbling by, I listen and wait for Ms. Marks’ next blunder to pounce on.

She usually delivers.

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Cunningham isn’t that bad especially for Average Joe. He’s smooth albeit redundant and well-spoken despite the fact that he’s sports radio’s corniest talking head.

Yet I keep coming back.

To Cunningham’s credit, his show is as described – a forum for the fans. Much like the message boards that he often criticizes despite the fact that he’s a participant on such boards, Cunningham’s show provides a format that welcomes fans to voice their opinions without being abruptly cut off. And his listeners seem to sincerely appreciate the freedom to express themselves as evidenced by the many callers who define his show as “great.”

I would hardly go that far.

A great show is fast paced, entertaining and educational. That hardly describes The Bruce Cunningham Show, at least for me. That said the host has done a fine job carving out a niche that is working for him and 105.7 The Fan and apparently given my attentiveness I must at least find the show to be somewhat entertaining.

Bruce will chuckle in a geeky way at his own jokes when they are anything but funny; he’ll take out his imaginary driver and hit his imaginary balls down the imaginary fairway; with the help of his capable wingman Mark Zinno (not imaginary) he stays between the imaginary navigational buoys; and then ends his show with the cornball credo:

“Baltimore, I love ya madly.”

To my surprise, the feeling is apparently mutual.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Is Ozzie's poker face failing him in the Suggs contract talks?


Just after the draft I learned that the Ravens had offered Terrell Suggs Jared Allen-type money (Allen’s deal included $31 million in guarantees). Either Suggs and his agent Gary Wichard both think that’s not enough money or Suggs simply wanted no part OTA’s and delayed the signing.

Or maybe both...

Wichard is said to be a bit of a gambler at the bargaining table and isn’t afraid to push his pile of chips into the middle of the poker table. Let’s consider what’s at stake...

For Suggs obviously there’s the $31 million in guaranteed money. If his refusal to accept that deal continues past July 15, Suggs will play for $10.2 million. He would then have to wait until the start of the free agency period in February of 2010 to negotiate a new deal provided he isn’t tagged again.

If he does wait, there’s always the risk that Suggs could have a subpar season or worse, he could suffer a serious injury – both of which would affect Wichard’s ability to negotiate a deal better than Jared Allen’s.

Suggs really isn’t worried about an injury. He’s yet to miss an NFL start during his six seasons. He’s probably not even worried about a drop in production either – not in a Baltimore Ravens uniform.

For the Ravens, they’ve already paid Suggs $8.8 million in 2008 as a franchised player. In 2009, barring a new contract prior to July 15, they’ll pay Suggs another $10.2. If they tag him a third time Suggs will be paid the average of the top 5 salaries in the league regardless of position and that number will probably fall somewhere in the range of $17-20 million. So conservatively speaking should he hit the franchise tag trifecta, Suggs will make $36 million over three seasons.

And these guys hate being franchised...

Add it all up and it looks to me like Wichard is calling Ozzie’s bluff.

The bet here is that Suggs will get his deal prior to July 15 and he’ll receive the most guaranteed money ever extended to a defensive player. Wichard will pound his chest and tell the world while the Ravens tell us that they wanted Suggs to T-Sizzle in Baltimore as a career Raven all along.

And then maybe buyer’s remorse will set in.

Is Suggs really worth all that money?

When the dust settles and after all the hoopla, pomp and circumstance, Ozzie better turn his attention towards extending Haloti Ngata ASAP.

Otherwise he’ll be back again at the table holding another losing hand.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stallworth's plea deal places pressure on Goodell, NFL


By most accounts Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth is a good guy.

Prosecutors whose business it is to make sure that justice has been served in the eyes of their constituents have repeatedly pointed out Stallworth’s, “excellent pre-incident history of community service, abundant references that attest to his good character, his lack of any traffic violations or criminal convictions, his full and complete post-incident cooperation with law enforcement, and his willingness to accept complete responsibility for his actions.”

Responsibility for his actions…we’ll come back to that.

First, let’s rewind to March 14, 2009 at 7:15am in Miami…

After a long evening of partying at South Beach’s swanky Fountainebleau hotel, perhaps in part to celebrate his then recently awarded $4.5 million roster bonus, Stallworth gets into his black Bentley GT coupe and heads home. While driving across the MacArthur Causeway 10 miles per hour in excess of the posted 40 mph limit, a construction crane operator fresh off his shift darts across the road to catch a bus. Stallworth allegedly tried to warn the construction worker by flashing his lights but to no avail.

Stallworth fought the ill-effects of a 0.126 blood alcohol level and stayed at the scene and called 911. His efforts were too little, too late as 59 year old Mario Reyes was pronounced dead at the scene.

In a flash, no less than two lives were changed forever – one was lost and the other permanently scarred by the guilt of senselessly albeit accidentally taking the life of another.

Stallworth had no priors of such behavior.

In that regard, he’s not much different than most of us. I would even venture to say that many of us have used questionable judgment while sitting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after a night on the town. Could a tragedy like this have happened to you?

Reyes death notwithstanding, bad things do happen to good people.

Some of us could be in Stallworth’s unenviable shoes. Good people will have many restless nights knowing that they took the life of a 15 year old girl’s father.

Some are outraged that Stallworth’s punishment that includes amongst other inconveniences, 30 days behind bars. Thirty days for taking a human life!

Many will point to Michael Vick’s time served of 23 months and incorrectly draw comparisons between his sentence and Stallworth’s plea. They will ignorantly conclude that Stallworth gets 30 days for a human life while Vick gets nearly two years for a dog’s.

The two are miles apart. Vick’s was an often repeated violation with intent while Stallworth’s was a tragic accident.

I do find it interesting though that Stallworth had the presence of mind to flash his lights in an effort to warn Reyes but didn’t have time to brake or redirect his Bentley. I suppose that doesn’t matter much now.

But what does matter is the message sent via this plea. Stallworth is now a couple of days into his 30 day sentence. When he is released he’ll have to deal with the revocation of his driver’s license, 2 years house arrest, 8 years of probation, random drug testing, fines and 1,000 hours of community service.

In addition to these things reports suggest that he had to pay the Reyes family somewhere between $2 and $5 million.

Now typically crimes like vehicular manslaughter carry sentences 10-15 years if convicted. A plea suggests an admission of guilt. Isn’t a verdict of guilty as condemning as admitting the crime? And if so, how did they get to 30 days from 10-15 years?

Isn’t Reyes’ life worth more?

The Reyes family said that they simply wanted closure and that’s why they conceded to the plea. Re-opening old wounds would have been too painful they claimed in so many words.

I wonder how they would have felt if the man that killed Mario Reyes was a penniless, unemployed auto worker with no priors and down on his luck. Would they have pushed for a harsher sentence absent the $2-5 million?

Of course they would have and therefore Reyes death had a value and in the end Mario Reyes would probably have wanted the money for his family if he could no longer be with them. But does the exchange of money make it right? Was justice really served?
Is it ok for the wealthy to avoid severe criminal punishment just because they have the means to satisfy a civil case? Doesn’t that send the wrong message? How will such pleas help deter the next wealthy athlete or entertainer from driving while impaired?

Answer…It won’t!

The inability of the court system to render proper punishment now places pressure on Roger Goodell. Should he allow Stallworth to return to the field in September ‘o9 and face the wrath of Mothers Against Drunk Driving? If Goodell’s ruling is deemed too lenient, how will the MADD activists respond? Might they then pressure NFL sponsors?

Ah, back to the issue of money.

Clearly this isn’t easy for anyone involved – not the remorseful Stallworth, the Reyes family, the NFL or MADD. But someone has to be held accountable -- someone is responsible and someone has to pay an equitable price. So far that hasn't happened and we can all thank the Miami Dade prosecutors for that!

These officers of the court allowed the money flowing from Stallworth’s hands to the Reyes family blind their sense of justice. Their job is to help preserve and be a champion of justice and set a precedent for all of us, not just the Reyes family. Their short-sightedness enables more behavior like this at the expense of Miami’s, Florida’s and this country’s citizens.

And now Goodell has the responsibility, the thankless task to clean up their mess.

NOTE: Since this column/blog was posted yesterday around 4PM, Roger Goodell has decided to suspend Donte Stallworth indefinitely without pay. He issued the following statement:

"The conduct reflected in your guilty plea resulted in the tragic loss of life and was inexcusable," Goodell wrote. "While the criminal justice system has determined the legal consequences of this incident, it is my responsibility as NFL commissioner to determine the appropriate league discipline for your actions, which have caused irreparable harm to the victim and his family, your club, your fellow players and the NFL."

The last indefinite suspension handed down by Goodell was to Adam “Pacman” Jones and that sideline Jones for 6 games.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Read my lips...Brandon Marshall will NOT be a Raven!


For all of you clamoring for Brandon Marshall, I’ve got three words for you: “GET OVER IT!”

This rumor was dead on arrival.

Would the Ravens like to acquire his talents?

ABSOLUTELY!

He has been described by those in the know as a physically imposing receiver who can out-muscle defensive backs. He doesn’t have top end speed but he creates separation because he’s flat out stronger than DB’s and the truth be told, he may even be a bit intimidating.

Think of him as a taller version of Terrell Owens.

But believe it or not, the guy has more drama than Owens on his worst day.

Not only is Marshall a problem off the field, he’s also a cancer in the locker room. At least with T.O. you never really have to worry about him off the field unless he screws up his pill box.

So at the end of the day, the Ravens don’t want to pay the exorbitant price tag for such a huge risk and that message was sent straight from the organization at the speed of light.

Don’t buy into what some of these talking heads are suggesting. Why would the Ravens spend a fortune for a guy who is the polar opposite of the type of player the Ravens have spent the past five drafts recruiting, hiring and developing?

Remember, “What’s Our Name?”

The answer for that No. 15 out in Denver is, “Brandon Marshall.”

To the question, "Who are we?" No. 15 would reply, "We are Brandon Marshall!"

The Ravens just chased one problem child named Chris McAlister out of town. They’d like to chase Willis McGahee out of town too but unfortunately they’ve got an $11.25 million salary cap noose around their neck preventing that! Be that as it may, those two guys together don’t create the kind of off field nightmares that Marshall dredges up.

We should all spend our time debating something more “realistic.”

You know, like tagging and trading Terrell Suggs for Larry Fitzgerald.

What would YOU do for Ravens Tickets?


Back when I hosted The Bart Scott Show during the tumultuous 2007 Season down at Della Rose’s Tavern in Canton, one of the things we tinkered with to help improve spirits during the midst of a nine game losing streak was a talent show of sorts.

At the time, the talent show morphed into a cross between Fear Factor and The Gong Show driven by this theme: What would you do for Ravens tickets?

The effort certainly paid off as the antics of most were appreciated and enjoyed by Della’s patrons.

Looking back, I’ve wondered how much better the “show” would have been if we promoted the idea more regularly and efficiently. Well I’m wondering no more – now we are doing!

We are rekindling the concept and we plan on touring area pubs which will serve as the hosting venues for the contest What Would You Do For Ravens Tickets? We are also encouraging our site visitors and all Ravens fans to submit creative videos celebrating your purple passion. No walls...no guidelines...the only thing we ask is that you be entertaining.

Prior to each home game we will select the best vids of the group, place them on our site and ask our visitors to choose the winner via a popular vote. The winner will receive a pair of tickets for a Ravens game and they will be eligible for our grand prize at the end of the season. We are currently in the process of developing those details which we will be providing in the not too distant future.

We will even accept previously recorded videos from your archives if you believe they are worthy. Send all vid files to
TL@profootball24x7.com.

As mentioned we plan on touring the metro area and set up dates in pubs you know by heart so that you can bring it live – we will record the performances on video and if they too are worthy, we’ll post them on our site and include them as candidates in the online vote. That said each pub visit will have its own set of winners regardless of the online vote.

Creativity pays!

Maybe you have an idea for a new Ravens’ fight song or maybe a song that focuses on a Ravens player or coach; maybe you’ve got a new cheer or dance or comic routine that you’d like to share; maybe you have an entertaining tailgate video.

Remember, no walls...no guidelines...the only thing we ask is that you be entertaining.

Send in those vids!

BLEED PURPLE, have a great summer and stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brandon Marshall to Ravens is just something to talk about

According to Mike Florio from ProFootballTalk.com, “rumors are flying in some circles that [Brandon] Marshall could land in Baltimore.

Bonnie Raitt’s request was just answered…

Just give us something to talk about!

Look do the math…given that the trading bar was set last year when the Cowboys gave up a first and a third (draft picks) to the Lions for Roy Williams, one would think that the price for Marshall would be about the same unless the market drops significantly on the Broncos’ Pro Bowler given the looming legal troubles stemming from a domestic dispute with Marshall’s former girlfriend.

Marshall has averaged 103 catches and nearly 1,300 yards over the past 2 seasons and he’s just 25. These numbers suggest the Ravens would not only have to cough up some big time picks for Marshall, they would also have to pay a guy with character concerns a hefty contract.

Meanwhile the Ravens have invited a slew of young free agent receivers in to their rookie camp this week.

Might the Ravens have extended these invitations to light a fire under the current group of receivers? Might they have thrown their name into the Marshall ring with the sole purpose of sending a message and nothing more?

Given the emphasis on character under John Harbaugh, maybe the discussions circling the Ravens and Marshall are nothing more than offseason filler.

Hey, it worked today in this blog entry, right?

Maybe?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Frank Walker loves Baltimore...does B'more love him back?


Frank Walker was one of my whipping boys last year during summer camp, the preseason and well into the 2008 campaign. Yet somewhere along the line, it clicked for Walker and he became a valuable contributor to the Ravens defense. If you can refrain from parking your objectivity at the door and revisit his play during the later part of the season and into the playoffs, you would see a player who slowly but surely meshed with Rex Ryan’s defense.

Perhaps you made the same mistake that I did – you let the demonstrative antics and after the play yapping of Walker distract you. After all, how could someone as regularly beaten as Walker talk trash with and hock loogies towards opponents?

Some folks within the organization think Walker is half nuts and the truth is, they like it that way. Sometimes you just need someone to stir the pot a bit and Walker seems more than happy to oblige.

It remains to be seen if Walker will make the 53 man roster come September. The competition in the defensive backfield promises to be fierce and players on the bubble like Derrick Martin might surprise and knock out Walker and his $2 million plus salary hence saving the team $1.6 million in valuable cap space.

But don’t expect Walker to go down without a fight and some signature trash talking. He genuinely likes his situation in Baltimore.

Last year during the Holiday Season, members of the entire Ravens organization received greeting cards from Walker with a $2 bill inserted in each card. When they questioned Walker about the somewhat curious gift, Walker told the deuce recipients that he used to do the same in Green Bay, only there he passed out $1 bills.

Why $2 in Baltimore?

Walker said, “Twice the money, for twice the organization.”

The absurdity of the NFL's inactive list


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

What exactly does the inactive list accomplish?

Well let's see...

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

I tend to think not.

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

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

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

What possible logical explanation is there?

I'm sitting here scratching my head wondering...

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

It also puts starters at risk.

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

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

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

The Ravens are continually on the lookout for NFL players who might not be productive with their current teams but could be productive with the team chemistry, infrastructure and coaching staff employed by the Ravens. Watching those players on other teams could help Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta augment the Ravens roster in the future in a fiscally responsible way. The inactive list robs them and their peers of that opportunity.

I'm still scatching...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ravens building from the bottom up


It’s only natural to focus upon the stars and the newly acquired free agents and draft picks when attending a Ravens mini-camp. It’s also quite natural to pay attention to the players recovering from injuries and those who have opted to skip the voluntary camps. Despite the mini-camp label of “voluntary”, fans, the media and probably the coaches frown upon such players. Somewhere in the corner of all our minds, to some degree we label them as “me guys” who do not totally buying into the concept of team.

But today, my focus during mini-camp practices will be in part upon the guys who will shape the bottom of the team’s roster, providing depth and insurance in the event of injury. Strength at the bottom of the roster helps a team later in the season after injuries, wear and tear and the rookie wall affect performances.

Admittedly it is difficult to draw conclusions from these practices primarily because there is no hitting. Yet these organized team activities help to build continuity and cohesiveness offensively, defensively and on special teams.

There are many questions that need to be answered as the Ravens work to get ready for the regular season. Some questions may never be answered this season yet the circumstances that generate the curiosity bear watching.

In no particular order, these are some of the intriguing topics we’ll focus on today and throughout training camp…

* Edgar Jones, a former high school basketball star…can Cam Cameron shape his athleticism the way he once did with Antonio Gates in San Diego? With injuries at tight end, he’ll get his fair share of reps.

* Can UDFA FB Jason Cook make the squad as a back up to Le’Ron McClain? If he can might that free up McClain to be the featured back more regularly?

* Derrick Martin had a solid training camp prior to his labrum injury last year during the preseason game against the Vikings. Can he pick up where he left off and if so, how does that impact Frank Walker’s future in Baltimore?

* Can Cedric Peerman or Jalen Parmele provide competent depth at running back?

* The battle for the No. 3 WR slot promises to be fierce. Kelley Washington and Marcus Smith are strong, physical players who are solid special teams contributors. Demetrius Williams provides the most potential as a pass catcher but has difficult staying healthy. Will his added bulk make a difference?

* Who will fill the ample shoes of Matt Stover? Can Graham Gano or Steve Hauschka step up or will the Ravens have to bring back Stover or some undetermined veteran?

* Bart Scott is gone. Who can assume his role alongside Ray Lewis? Will it be Tavares Gooden, Jameel McClain, Prescott Burgess, rookie Jason Phillips or could Dannell Ellerbe surprise?

The answers to these questions might not be all that riveting to casual observers but those who have studied the NFL know that the best teams are built from the bottom up.

The 2009 Ravens are officially under construction.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Cleveland is for crybabies, King James included


Unless you are in search of a staph infection or you are visiting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland isn’t exactly a resort destination of choice for travelers. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the smell of industry, maybe it’s the ecological wonderland called Lake Erie or maybe it has something to do with the world’s largest collection of crybabies, aka Cleveland sports fans.

This is the town whose fans hurl beer bottles on to the field to protest what they believe is poor officiating – a town with such an inferiority complex they can’t even come up with a logo on the helmets of the town’s football team. Perhaps there’s nothing in Cleveland worthy of inspiring a logo.

Whining is the city’s pastime and the decades of fruitless pursuits of a professional championship of any kind has left the citizens of Cleveland feeling like the ugly red-headed step-children that they collectively are.

And given their foul odor and mood that permeates from the Mistake by the Lake, it’s hard not to root against all things Cleveland.

And that’s why the Cavaliers loss to the Magic on Saturday night was so heart-warming.

After the exhilarating loss the poster boy of Wail Away, USA, LeBron James walked off in a huff like a broken-hearted school girl without congratulating his opponent.

“One thing about me you gotta understand; it is hard for me to congratulate somebody after just losing to him," James said. "I'm a winner; that's not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you are not going to congratulate them [for] beating you up. That doesn't make sense to me, I'm a competitor and that is what I do. It doesn't make sense to me to go over and shake somebody's hand."

So the Cleveland Plain Dealer posted a blog and poll asking if James acted in an unsportsmanlike way. You've gotta love this response:

“What a stupid article and pole! Why don't you do a pole to see if [Indians’ manager] ERIC WEDGE should be FIRED!”

Note the spelling of pole.

Then there was this gem:

“I think it's far worse to cry like little girls to the media about the foul situation in between every game of the series like Howard and Van Gundy did. Honestly, I'm glad Lebron just walked off the court. Screw those guys.”

James gets more calls than Heidi Fleiss yet grimaces like a 3 year old who just had his lollipop taken away when he doesn’t get the call.

Welcome to Cleveland!

Ravens roster versatility could keep door open for Stover's return



The Ravens prefer to bring in supporting players who have some versatility. Non-starters need to be able to contribute on special teams and preferably have the ability to play another position if the team’s depth is challenged by injuries.

This offseason so far, two of the supporting players the Ravens have added via free agency are Chris Carr and Kelley Washington. Carr has the versatility to be a nickel, a corner, perhaps even a safety and clearly he brings return skills. Washington adds some height to the receiving corps and was one of New England’s best special teams players last season.

If you consider the 2009 draft class of the Ravens, you will find even more versatility. Michael Oher can play either left or right tackle; Paul Kruger, a high school quarterback, could be a down lineman on the defensive front or a strong side linebacker; Lardarius Webb who is a very solid returner, could be the team’s nickel as a rookie and can play safety; Jason Phillips could co-anchor the inside linebacker position with Tavares Gooden in years to come and projects to be an accomplished special teams player; Cedric Peerman can provide depth at running back, potentially depth at full back and also a likely special teams contributor.

It’s this kind of versatility that helps to give the 2009 Ravens’ roster deep depth.

And it’s possible that this versatility could extend Matt Stover’s tenure as a Raven.

Stover didn’t play his way out of Baltimore. The rub for the Ravens is that they had to keep a kickoff specialist on the roster as well given Stover’s weakness off the tee. But if the Ravens jettison one-dimensional players like Yamon Figurs for example given the skills of Carr and Webb, might that open the minds of Ravens’ coaches to bring Stover back?

Of course the idea of bringing back Stover equates to nothing more than an insurance policy. What if trying to fill the ample shoes of Stover is too much for incumbent Steve Hauschka or undrafted free agent Graham Gano (who also provides versatility as a punter)? What if the coaches determine that they can’t really count on either when the game is on the line? Can a team that made its way to the AFC Championship Game take such a risk?

Time will tell but the possibility remains that the team’s versatile depth could save the career of an original Raven.