Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kindle's injury raises doubts about contract, availability

Sergio Kindle has certainly been a hot topic of conversation but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. After his fall down two flights of stairs in a friend's home in Texas, it isn't a stretch to say that Kindle is actually lucky that he suffered "only" a fractured skull.

Many have speculated about the cause of the freak accident. Some look to Kindle's past for clues and conclude that immaturity is to blame. Kindle has a history of driving under the influence of alcohol and he morphed into a crash test dummy while allegedly texting when driving.

Might this recent costly tumble also be the byproduct of immaturity?

Mack Brown, Kindle's college coach at the University of Texas just yesterday suggested that the accident may have been triggered by narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder marked by daytime sleepiness. Narcoleptics are known to fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as while at school or work. It has been known to affect those operating motor vehicles.

As an aside, I used to work with a narcoleptic. Once during a high level dinner meeting with a major customer, my co-worker actually fell asleep with a fork in his mouth. Really!

The Ravens' brass is apparently not too concerned about the narcolepsy and from what I've been told by one source, the team's doctors aren't worried about Kindle long-term. Short-term, the story is a bit different.

Exactly how fractured is Kindle's skull? With the emphasis on the prevention of concussions in the NFL, Kindle's injury and subsequent brain swelling will more than likely prevent him from contributing to the team in a meaningful way for quite some time.

If the Ravens place Kindle on the PUP list to start the season he will be unable to practice with the team for the first 6 weeks. That would relegate him to classroom work and film study.

One of the things you often hear from players and coaches about rookies is the adjustment to the speed of the game. Adding to that challenge is learning the playbook. Until the playbook is mastered, players play slower. They have to slow down, think, process and then react and it inhibits their ability to make impactful plays.

So if Kindle is on PUP, can't practice and can only prepare in the classroom, a time during which narcoleptics often go lights out, just how much can we expect from Kindle in 2010?

And with all this in mind, how does this affect a fair market value contract for the un-signed Kindle?

Word is Ozzie Newsome has consulted with the NFL Management Council for some suggestions on how to deal with Kindle's contract. The team doesn't want to be unfair and invite the reputation of a being a not so player friendly team. At the same time, the club knows that the traditional slotting system doesn't exactly apply in the case of Kindle.

Had this accident happened before the draft, how far might Kindle have tumbled down the draft board?

Would the Ravens have even drafted him?

And since there is no contract shouldn't unconventional signing rules apply?
Reaching out to the league's executives is probably a sincere move by the Ravens front office - one that fosters the spirit of cooperation, reasonability and evenhandedness.

But it also might send a signal to Kindle's handlers to sharpen their collective pencil.

Certainly Kindle's second round status eases the tension a bit. Had he been a first round pick the cooperative spirit would be challenged a bit more with more dollars at stake.

But at the end of the day, no matter how you look at it, Kindle will be an early season disappointment. He will remind team critics of other second round underachievers such as Chris Chester, Dan Cody, Patrick Johnson and DeRon Jenkins.

And if the Ravens fail to generate much of a pass rush, Kindle will remain a hot topic.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kindle ruled out for training camp

John Harbaugh told the media today that Ravens rookie Sergio Kindle suffered a fractured skull after falling down 2 flights of steps. Harbaugh explained that Kindle visited a friend, was unfamiliar with the house and took a wrong turn in the dark.

He is not expected to be a participant in training camp and at this point it would appear that he is a likely candidate for the PUP List or worse, injured reserve. He has not yet signed a contract and this development should make those discussions very interesting.

For a team that just 2 weeks ago had nothing but a positive off season, this incident coupled with the Ed Reed drama and Cary Williams' suspension have stolen some of the thunder leading into training camp.

Ravens Training Camp Primer

Preseason power rankings, predictions, expectations, etc, etc...add it all up and it's nothing more than something to talk about, something to read about, something to debate.

The offseason is loaded with this banal blathering and fans eat it up because there's nothing on the field to observe, analyze or critique.

Does anyone really think that the NFL Network's Jamie Dukes can forecast the 2010-11 season measurably better than Joe Blow at The Gridiron Bar & Grill? A monkey plucking ping pong balls from a lottery dispenser has nearly as good a chance of success as Dukes - perhaps better!

And really this isn't meant to be a knock on Dukes but rather a knock on all of the predictions. They are about as useful as Mel Kiper predicting the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft TODAY!

More interesting than these predictions are the projected training camp battles that lie ahead for the Ravens. Let's take a quick look at those that shape up to be the most interesting.

1. The primary secondary bouts: The 2009 emergence of Tom Zbikowski; the second half rally last season by Dawan Landry; the return of Haruki Nakamura; and the addition of Ken "Hammerin'" Hamlin make for an interesting battle for the starting slot next to a healthy Ed Reed...At corner, knock him if you want but Chris Carr came on strong late in '09 (see playoff game v. New England). Mix him in along with newcomers Travis Fisher and Walt Harris along with oft forgotten Cary Williams and this promises to be a heated competition for the CB slot opposite Domonique Foxworth. Should they step up and should Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb return from injuries sooner than expected then the heat index really skyrockets on these bouts. Could the camp battles even push Foxworth down a notch on the depth chart?

2. ILB next to Ray Lewis: Give Dannell Ellerbe the edge for now but he will be pushed by Tavares Gooden. Gooden's speed and athleticism are hard to ignore but he lacks durability and discipline. The wild card here is Jason Phillips who has been described as extremely hard nosed and possessing of speed greater than Ellerbe.

3. 4, 5 or 6 Wide Receivers?: Boldin-Mason-Stallworth is the most oft-mentioned trips package for Cam Cameron's offense with Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper, David Reed and Marcus Smith battling for survival. It's hard to envision a scenario given the depth of the team's roster where Clayton and Williams both stick because neither contributes to special teams.

4. Tight end: Todd Heap is the obvious starter while Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta battle for snaps. 2009 5th round pick Davon Drew is a long shot. Something to keep in mind here... Tight end is normally a position that provides special teams contributions. None of the top three for the moment will give Jerry Rosburg's unit much if anything at all. That means other positions will have to step up and in the end, that places more pressure on the wide receiver group to find other ways to contribute on Sundays.

5. Backup QB: Make no mistake about it, the job is Marc Bulger's but can Troy Smith or John Beck justify a roster spot reserved for a third QB? The bet here is, "No!"

6. Depth in the backfield: Jalen Parmele showed the team in '09 that he can be a capable kick returner and that gives him an edge over backfield competition from Matt Lawrence although the former back from U Mass was a noticeable player on special teams prior to his season ending knee injury last year. Keep an eye on UDFA Curtis Steele who at 6'0", 190 has size and a burst.

7. Defensive Tackle: If OTA's proved anything, Terrence Cody is an emerging force. The thought of him and Haloti Ngata side by side could have opposing interior offensive lines shaking in their cleats. Someone to keep an eye on - Arthur Jones. The coaches were impressed with this Syracuse underachiever during OTA's. He and Cody could significantly eat into the snaps once reserved for Kelly Gregg. Gregg played well during the second half of '09. His roster spot is probably secure but if this were a capped season, it might not be. Newcomer Cory Redding will also see plenty of time on the interior D-Line in nickel and dime packages.

8. Defensive End: Trevor Pryce took a pay cut to return for his 14th season and 5th with the Ravens. Will Paul Kruger push him for snaps? Off the roster?

9. Kick/Punt Returner: Parmele, D. Reed, Webb, Stallworth, Clayton, Carr? Who will emerge?

10. Kicker: Will it be incumbent Billy Cundiff or the offseason signee Shayne Graham? No matter how it shakes out, this battle will be about who wins it as opposed to the '09 season when it was more about who loses the job, Steve Hauschka or Graham Gano.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Putting the sizzle back in Suggs

Besides the injuries of Ed Reed and the perceived question marks in the defensive backfield, perhaps the biggest concern about the Ravens amongst the team's fans is Terrell Suggs.

Is he a fat cat resting on his laurels and millions?

Does he still care enough about the game?

Why wasn't he a more enthusiastic participant in OTA's?

Will he report to camp out of shape?

Did the Ravens waste their money on the three-time Pro Bowler and former Defensive Rookie of the Year?

Legitimate concerns one and all...

But fear not Ravens' fans!

A source close to Suggs has shared with me that the team's best pass rusher has tackled his offseason with a chip on his shoulder and that he's determined to silence his critics. He has been busy training in Arizona; he's embraced mixed martial arts as an alternative training regimen and to improve the use of his hands in order to disengage blocks; dropped 25 pounds which puts him at an estimated 260; and he's hired a nutritional chef to help put the sizzle back in "T".

Now if he could just drop the delusions of grandeur regarding "T.O."!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Greedy Journalists sell out Ed Reed

Sensationalism is defined as: Arousing or intended to arouse strong curiosity, interest, or reaction, especially by exaggerated or lurid details.

If sensationalism was a glass slipper, the local sports media would have many Cinderellas.

It's interesting how some media members will pluck out a 15 second snippet from a 10 minute interview, take it out of context, let it stand alone and then make it a damning headline or sound bite.

Such is the case with Ed Reed's recent comments regarding a new contract with the Ravens.

I guess you have to conjure up controversy sometimes during the NFL dead zone days - worse when you have a baseball team drenched in public apathy and an egomaniacal NBA star on the loose.

On one hand, Ravens fans should be happy to hear that Reed is even thinking about a new contract. Indirectly that is an outward expression of his love for the game of football and the team's burgeoning potential. That said it is a bit surprising coming from a player who has openly contemplated retiring for the past two off seasons.

After talking to folks who know Reed personally, they describe him as a caring man who is genuinely interested in the community. He cares about the citizens and its youth. I can recall several days during past training camps when Reed would stand for hours on end and sign autographs for kids AFTER practicing in sweltering conditions.

One could conclude that it is Reed's passion for the game and community, his commitment and sense of loyalty to them combined with his physical ailments that result in the mercurial, Cybil-like persona that the public sees.

Good friend Samari Rolle whose career ended because of a similar nerve impingement is ear banging Reed, recommending retirement to the 6-time All Pro. Mix that in with his competitive juices and an elusive ring that seems more attainable now than ever before and welcome to the state of confusion.

Wouldn't you be torn about your future if placed in a similar situation?

Making matters worse is the rehab following surgeries. I'm told it is not only physically taxing, but arguably even more draining mentally.

Some close to Reed describe him as an impatient guy. No surprise there. His on-the-field tendency to gamble and take unnecessary risks supports the description. Maybe that too adds to the Jekyll & Hyde aspects of his interviews.

Might it not be safe to say then that the new "contract demands" really are the byproduct of a highly skilled but conflicted athlete?

The Ravens aren't going to give Reed a new deal in light of the injury concerns and the threat of retirement. The Ravens had to take cap hits when Jon Ogden and Steve McNair retired. When the new CBA is struck, make no mistake about it, the cap will return.

If these media guys looking for a headline would listen closely, it appears that even Reed doesn't think he's deserving of a better deal than the current one with 3 years and $19.7 million remaining.

"I'm not going to ask the Ravens about anything if I'm not going to play any much longer," Reed said. "I appreciate the opportunity that the Ravens have given me. I'm not about to ask them for anything if I'm not going to be playing. My focus is to get myself back. I'm coming back for at least for one more year."

I guess a headline such as, "Reed returning for at least one more season" doesn't sell as many newspapers, invite as many sports talk callers or website hits as, "Reed wants a new contract."

How misleading.

How shameful.

That's sensationalism.

Sometimes you just have to Reed between the lines.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Cleveland and King James are a match made in crybaby heaven

Ok I have to admit it...I hate Cleveland!

Truth be told, I've only been to the city twice (both times on business) and I was in and out within 36 hours. That said I do plan on going back some day unless they move the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Otherwise, what's the point?

Why did they put that shrine to music in that Mistake by the Lake anyway? When they induct new members, the ceremonies take place somewhere other than Cleveland.

Who could blame the inductees?

Cleveland sucks so bad that they had to film Major League II in Baltimore and pretend it was Cleveland. I'm sure most Clevelanders pretend they are somewhere else other than along the insect and disease infested shores of Lake Erie.

In the unlikely event that the Cleveland Indians make it to the post season, turn on a game that they host and the players are swarmed under by a plethora of flying six-legged creatures.

Google news on the Cleveland Browns and chances are you'll find a few stories on the plague-like festering of staph infection in the team's locker room.

Go to a Browns' game and fans will litter the field with objects ranging from dog bones to beer bottles.

Of course in typical Clevelander fashion, they'll blame anyone other than themselves.

Since their former football team wised up and got of Cleveland and headed to Beverly (relatively speaking), the bane of Cleveland's collective existence is Art Modell.

Here's a man who contributed more money to their community than most Clevelanders will earn in a lifetime; a man who used his own money (while the bureaucrats shelled out dough to the Indians and the Cavs and rock and roll) to make the world's biggest Spot-a-Pot (Municipal Stadium) somewhat comfortable for the citizens of Cleveland.

He's the reason for the city's misery.

But that could be changing.

At 9PM tonight on ESPN, we will find out where King Crybaby James will play his next game in the NBA when he announces where he will sign.

James is perfect for the city of Cleveland. He cries so much he should have his own reality series on the Lifetime Channel. The pairing is made for each other and it is no surprise that he grew up in nearby Akron, Ohio.

Could he completely turn his back on Cleveland?

Could he shove it down the city's throat so forcefully behind the theatrics of a TV special with the sole intent of going to a new city?

I don't think so.

But I do hope so.

The manufacturers of Kleenex hope so.

And maybe somewhere, Art Modell does too.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Mark Clayton, the Ravens' forgotten man

I can recall when the Ravens first drafted Mark Clayton, one of the things that was said about him by one Ravens' official is, "We don't have to worry about what Mark is doing when he's away from the football field."

Clayton gets "it" off the field. He's an upstanding, God-fearing man who gives back to the community as evidenced by his football camp which is now under way. It's hard not to root for the former Sooner. Most would love to see him reach the lofty expectations that the Ravens had for him when they made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Yet you have to wonder if that ship has sailed - at least here in Baltimore.

When the Ravens revamped passing game is discussed, whether on air, in pubs or amongst members of the organization, you seldom hear the name Mark Clayton mentioned.

During press conferences the Ravens' brass kicks around the same three names at wide receiver: Boldin, Mason and Stallworth.

Even his career-long teammate Derrick Mason sees Stallworth as the plug in at the No. 3 WR slot.

"With Quan, there's a reason for him going to three Pro Bowls. He's the tough guy who is willing to go over the middle, sacrifice his body to make the tough catch. Then you also have Donte' Stallworth, who brings the speed to make that 60- or 80-yard play out the slot."

Even the jewel of that receiving triple crown, overlooks Mark Clayton...

"As long as we are winning, there are enough footballs," [Anquan] Boldin said in a recent interview with ESPN. "Ray Rice is going to get his carries -- and his catches. Todd Heap will control the middle of the field from the tight end position. And Donte' and Mason, they are going to stretch the field and I am just going to do what I do -- catch the ball and break tackles."

And then there's Ravens' All World safety and GM-wannabe Ed Reed who thinks that posse might not be enough.

"Sounds to me there is a Vincent Jackson on the market. I know he got into some trouble, but he can play some football. You got a young quarterback in Joe Flacco, Troy Smith, but it will be interesting to see if we can get another receiver. We have Anquan (Boldin). Anquan is a proven guy, a very good receiver, a guy that I've known for many years and played against, and I actually asked to get Anquan a year ago, but there were some business moves."

It will be interesting to see how Clayton responds to being the forgotten receiver.

This will be one of several intense positional battles which will shape and deepen the team's 53 man roster.

Twenty three days until training camp.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Terrence Cody could be a difference maker in 2010

It's difficult to reach any conclusions at this point in time as to whether or not Terrence Cody will make a big difference in 2010 for the Ravens defense. But that said the initial signs are encouraging.

During OTAs Cody was very disruptive at times and his explosive first step reminded some observers of former Ravens Pro Bow DT Sam Adams.

One of the concerns about Cody leading up to the 2010 NFL Draft was he burgeoning waistline and his not so flattering pecs. At the NFL Combines, he looked overweight and out of shape but by the time he had his Pro Day, he shed some weight and looked a bit quicker according to some scouts.

He then went from a weighting down mode to waiting for the draft and that free time sent a message about Cody.

Would he get lazy and balloon up again or would he continue to put in the work?

To the delight of the Ravens, Cody continues to lighten his gravitational force atop a scale.

"We are really, really pleased with the player we see," Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said recently.

"All the things we hoped, all the things we thought we saw either on film or at our workout or heard by word of mouth from coaches we respect ... all those things up to this point have been coming through."

Together with Haloti Ngata, Cody could be part of a menacing duo that can eat up blockers, collapse the pocket and enable Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis to clean up and rack up some impressive stats.

That said it could push Kelly Gregg closer to the end of his fine career.

These are among the many things Ravens fans can look forward to in Westminster beginning July 30.

Twenty-six days and counting...

The strongest Raven is...

Ever wonder who the strongest Raven is?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Dwan Edwards takes swipe at Baltimore

I remember back during the 2007 season hosting The Bart Scott Show down at Della Rose's Avenue Tavern in Canton. One week Bart invited Dwan Edwards to join us.

During one of the commercial breaks, Bart mentioned our site to Dwan and in an instant his body language changed. He took exception to some of the criticisms delivered by Ken McKusick, one of our columnists who you may know as FilmStudy.

In Ken's defense when Edwards began to play better in 2009 (he missed 2008 with a back injury), he was equally as quick to extend kudos to the now former Raven.

Edwards as we all know has moved on to greener pastures, opting for a four year, $18 million deal in Western New York instead of staying with the Ravens.

Who could blame him? The Ravens were unsure of how the bulging disk in Edwards' neck would impact his future career and they opted not to extend a similar contract to the former Oregon St. Beaver. Now he has a fresh new start. He has his fortune and now he is seeking the fame.

"I've been around such great players - Ray (Lewis), Steve McNair, Deion Sanders, Jonathan Ogden - and I've learned so much from just watching and being around them for so long that I feel like I know what it takes to be successful in this league," Edwards told the Billings Gazette.

"I just want to bring that to Buffalo in any way that I can."

Edwards has been a good guy, a hard worker with a high motor and a man involved in the community. He's a former Raven that most if not all fans from Baltimore would wish all the best - until he delivered this salvo to the city of Baltimore.

"People are very friendly out in Buffalo. I've noticed that more than anything. It kind of reminds me of [Billings, MT]."He continued, "It's definitely not like Baltimore. People are very friendly. They have diehard fans out there [in Buffalo]. They're ready for a winner and I hope we can deliver."

Not friendly in B'more?

This is after all Charm City, right?

No diehard fans in B'more?


Ask Willis McGahee how friendly the fans in Buffalo are.Ask a Ravens' fan who traveled to Buffalo on October 21, 2007 just how "hospitable" those fans in Orchard Park, NY were.

It will be interesting to see if the Ravens fans fire back when the Bills visit Baltimore on October 24, 2010, you know, given that the Bills haven't been very relevant as of late.

Dwan Edwards, the Bills...

It could be that the hometown faithful at M&T Bank Stadium views that combination as too ho-hum to stir up any bile.

Time will tell.

DeCosta Q&A: Williams, Cousins could step up for Ravens

Before his summer vacation, we sat down to talk Ravens with team Director of Personnel, Eric DeCosta.

Tony Lombardi: Cary Williams has the measurables that you look for...length, speed, etc. Why hasn't he put it all together on the field? What does he need to do to take that next step and take advantage of a golden opportunity with the Ravens?

Eric DeCosta: Cary is a player who has all the physical abilities to emerge as a contributor. He is young and still learning the ways that we play coverage. We expect that he will take the next step and emerge as a true defensive asset this season. At the very least he has shown to be one of our best special teams players. That, in itself, makes him one of our game day players most weeks.

TL: Defenders seem to play better when they become Ravens. Why do you think that is?

ED: Good players impact lesser talents. There is a type of peer pressure that takes place where the new guys feel the necessity to step up their game. The other factor is that good players can cover up holes. A good example would be where you have two relentless pass rushers like Mathis and Freeney in Indy. They can cover up more marginal talents at other spots (like corner) because they make it easier for those players to perform their jobs.

TL: What did Walt Harris and Ken Hamlin show you in their workouts and during OTA's that convinced you that they are a good fit for Greg Mattison's defense?

ED: Both guys are smart and have a history of Pro-Bowl play. They will provide top quality camp competition.

TL: Back to Coach Mattison again, after the bye last year the defense played much better. Talk about the nuances involved in adapting to and then becoming familiar with a new style and approach to defense.

ED: It is really all about gaining a comfort level with the scheme and figuring out how you use your players so that they can best perform. Certainly, our defense improved over the course of the year. Another reason, however, had something to do with the quality of quarterback that we faced in the first half of the season. Good players play well. When you face players like Rivers, Brady, Favre, and Manning, there are bound to be some hiccups.

TL: Why has the team decided that Michael Oher is a better left tackle than Jared Gaither?

ED: I don't think the team has decided that Oher is a better fit at left tackle than Gaither. Training camp and the preseason games will determine that.

TL: The coaches seem to have an optimistic outlook for Oniel Cousins. Fans would beg to differ. What can you share with fans about Cousins' development that may put their minds at ease?

ED: Players improve. Lots of people thought that Dwan Edwards and Chris Chester could not play through their first two or three seasons. Cousins started several games last year. Two were encouraging, the third, against Pittsburgh, not as good.

We see an athletic player with long arms who has toughness. We also have, in my opinion,
two of the best offensive line coaches in the entire league. So we are optimistic about Cousins.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Suggs: "We're not winning any games or Super Bowls in OTAs"

Terrell Suggs was recently on 105.7 The Fan with Scott Garceau and Jeremy Conn. They asked Suggs about his participation (or lack thereof) during OTA's.

"Some guys need to be under the supervision of the coaches and the strength coaches and working out with the team, but some guys just don't need that. Some guys, it's better for them to work individually with a trainer. I've always worked out with a trainer, and it's worked out thus far for me pretty good. But some guys do feel as though they work better with the team, within the group.

"As far as the OTAs thing goes, a lot of guys get hurt. I don't think a lot of guys would like to take that risk. It's OTAs, we're not winning any games or any Super Bowls in OTAs, so I'd rather just stick to my training and be in top shape come training camp."

Makes sense to me IF Suggs shows up on July 27 in top shape. Last year, well let's just say he was carrying a U-Haul's worth of junk in the trunk.

Steelers offseason struggles continue

The Pittsburgh Steelers probably can't wait for the 2010 season to start so that they can end a fairly devastating offseason.

First there was Santonio "Up in Smoke" Holmes off to the Jets for a fifth round pick. Then Ben "You Can't Prove it Beyond a Reasonable Doubt despite a 742 Page Police Report" Roethlisberger. He's about as innocent as O.J. Simpson.

Fast forward to earlier this week when the team's starting right tackle and arguably their best offensive lineman, Willie "President of the Big Ben Posse" Colon went down with a season ending Achilles injury.

Now, fifth round draft pick and fellow offensive tackle Chris Scott broke his foot and is on the shelf for 3 months and could start the season on the PUP list.

Word is the team brought in former Cowboy Flozell Adams to kick his tires a bit and see if he could help fill in some ailing O-Line depth. With all of the fall out on the Steelers' offensive front, Adams and his agent probably just upped the ante.

Maybe the Ravens should feign interest and throw their hat in the ring for Adams too, just to make that acquisition even pricier for Pittsburgh.

After all, all is fair in love, war and the AFC North.