Friday, May 28, 2010

American Soldier


From the bottom of my heart and depths of my soul, thank you to all of our troops who have placed or still place themselves in harm's way to protect the freedoms that I'm sorry to admit I sometimes take for granted.

I'm thankful for this weekend...it reminds me and humbles me.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone but especially to you American Soldiers...


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Passing Camp Notes, May 25, 2010


The more you observe OTA’s the more you are reminded that such activities are nothing more than dress rehearsals – the sound checks for a concert called training camp. Cam Cameron put it all into perspective a couple of weeks ago when he cautioned the media, “It’s easy to get excited about [practice performances] when there’s no threat of contact.”

That said the OTA’s are a nice way to keep tabs on the players and observe their individual progress as they ready for the heat and physicality that goes hand-in-hand with Camp Harbaugh at McDaniel College in late July.

Tuesday’s practice was very uneventful for the first 75 minutes as there was little going on other than ½ to ¾-speed play installment with the offense and defense along with some special teams practice under the watchful eye of Jerry Rosburg.

The S/T coordinator’s focus on this Tuesday morning was perimeter blocking on the gunners and the other wide coverage guys. The goal was to provide a seal to give the punt returner some real estate to navigate along the sidelines. Interestingly Donte Stallworth was fielding punts and did so flawlessly.

The tempo really didn’t pick up until Ray Rice took a statue of liberty handoff from Joe Flacco and ran it in from about 7 yards out during red zone drills. Rice dunked the ball over the goal post.

The Ravens offense shortly thereafter reversed field and took it to the opposite 35 yard line where the offense and defense engaged in a full squad face off. Joe Flacco was not particularly sharp on Tuesday and telegraphed where he was going with the football pre-snap on one play. K.J. Gerard received the telegram and nearly had a pick 6 on a pass intended for Mason. Gerard had a very solid outing playing corner and almost had another pick later in practice after another forced Flacco throw.

Derrick Mason, sporting a rather long beard, schooled rookie UDFA Prince Miller. Mason ran an out, up and out while Miller continued downfield to cover the “up.” Mason created so much separation that he was able to catch the out, stop before continuing out of bounds and then run up the sidelines another 20 YAC. Ray Rice playfully went up to Miller after the play and asked if he was ok. Except for his missing jock, Miller seemed fine.

John Beck earned some praise from Cam Cameron after effectively enticing the safeties to bite, staying with a play and then delivering a strike in the right corner of the end zone to a wide open Eron Riley for a 30 yard score.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS: Jalen Parmele showed some nice open field elusiveness on a screen pass late during the session and took the Troy Smith toss in from 65 yards out. It was unclear whether the flag thrown by the official was for an offsides infraction or a false start. After several inquiries about the call from players and John Harbaugh, the star struck zebra clammed up and said nothing. I doubt that he’ll be invited back…Terrence Cody was the star on the following two plays. The interior line of Digger Bujnoch, David Hale and Bryan Mattison were no match for Cody. He sacked Smith and forced a fumble which Cody enthusiastically battled for and then sacked Smith again on the very next play…Billy Cundiff’s leg looked strong but accuracy was a tad less than desirable. His FGA’s sometimes drew slightly to the left of the uprights. His 60 yard effort fell about 3 yards short but was dead center.

MORE NOTES & OBSERVATIONS: Marcus Smith is trying to work his way back into shape after his season ending knee injury during the preseason last year. He seems a little thick at the moment and still struggles with consistency when catching the football…On the other hand, Justin Harper has shown marked improvement with his hands and has consistently caught everything thrown his way…David Reed has impressed the coaches and scouts early during OTA’s this offseason but he didn’t get many reps on Tuesday. Reed adjusts well to balls in flight and has soft hands…Domonique Foxworth temporarily took himself out of practice with what looked like a leg injury. He did return with no ill effects…Ray Rice looks slimmer than he did in 2009…RB Curtis Steele, an UDFA out of Memphis is looking very solid and if he can contribute on special teams while continuing the momentum he’s built in OTA’s, he has a shot at the 53 man roster…Haruki Nakamura practiced with the 2’s and 3’s and is ahead of his rehab schedule…Dannell Ellerbe is picking up where he left off last season although he seems a bit heavier…The team is said to be impressed with Arthur Jones who has shown so far that he can be an effective pass rusher from the interior defensive line. Look for the Ravens to pressure from the middle this season…The rookie tight ends continue to impress. Both Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are big targets who catch confidently and appear to be quick studies, particularly Pitta who is being asked to play a multi-faceted role…Mark Clayton returned to action and looked sharp in and out of his breaks, much to the delight of receivers coach Jim Hostler…Jarret Johnson was in attendance but participated on a limited basis…Brendon Ayanbadejo practiced but he too was limited…Paul Kruger continues to fly beneath the radar screen and is hardly noticeable. He’ll be watched closely this summer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ravens, NFL need to remember what honor means


Want to stir up a debate at your local watering hole?

Just mention the Ravens Ring of Honor and then kick around the merits of each of its inductees.

Do they all belong?

Induction should be an award of distinction for unique and exemplary accomplishments. It should represent greatness in achievement. It should acknowledge uncommon feats.

Now the first thing you need to do while gauging the worthiness of current and even future inductees is cast aside the notion that the measuring stick for the Ravens Ring of Honor is Earnest Byner. That’s a joke – an egregious error on the part of Art Modell who immediately cheapened the distinction for all Ring inductees.

So let’s just kick his induction to the curb and call it a momentary lapse of reasoning. Art should have just given the man best known for “The Fumble” a company watch for years of service instead of that plaque.

The members of the Baltimore Colts in the Ravens Ring…they don’t belong there either. Great guys, great accomplishments – not Ravens, sorry! Maybe they should have designed wall plaques for the honored former Colts and hung them around Unitas Plaza. They were Colts after all, not Ravens and they don’t belong in the Ravens’ Ring – period, end of story!

Michael McCrary…terrific work effort, an overachiever and a Baltimore blue-collar guy and I love him on my team any day of the week and three times on Sunday. But was he great? Do two Pro Bowl seasons qualify you as uncommon? If it were up to me, I’d take a screw gun to the plaque and bring it down too!

Four-time Pro Bowler Peter Boulware was a terrific player and an exemplary man off the field and in the community. Tough call here but I’m still going to say no. Fifty-eight, c’mon down!

Art Modell is in the Ring and deservedly so. He belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame so the Ring is a given.

Jon Ogden – no brainer. He should have been the standard upon which all future nominees would be measured.

Ozzie Newsome?

Make it three!

Brian Billick…interesting debate here but I say thumbs down as a Ring inductee. Billick did an outstanding job in 2000 by keeping his team together and avoiding an implosion after 21 consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown on their way to a World Championship.

But what did he do before or since that is so distinguished? Does riding the coattails of an amazing defense qualify as excellence? What about wasting several years of standout defensive play with substandard offensive play?

Am I glad Billick came along?

Absolutely!

He brought attitude and resolve to a franchise that sorely needed it at the time but does that make him great?

Nope!

How does a coach who is fired with four years remaining on a five year contract deserve to be in the Ring of Honor?

Jamal Lewis. I say pass…too much drama, a relative train-wreck off the field and he’s done nothing but trash the organization since he’s been gone. Maybe his trucking company can haul away all these unnecessary plaques.

Chris McAlister…c’mon man!

Without question CMac was a great talent.

Also without question he was a classic underachiever and hardly a model citizen.
How did McAlister distinguish himself, as the Ravens resident party boy?

Recently NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about off-the-field behavior and if that should factor into the voting for Hall of Fame candidates.

"I do believe that it's more than just how you conduct yourself on the field," Goodell said. "I believe very firmly that it's how you conduct yourself on and off the field as a member of the National Football League. That's part of your contribution to the game."

Upon hearing this many criticized Goodell, mistaking his opinion for initiating a movement to exact such a change.

"These are decisions the Hall of Fame is going to have to make, not me," Goodell said. "But if you ask me a specific question, 'Is it just their contributions on the field and their statistics?' I don't think that's the case. I think it's about what you contribute to the game of football."

Put me in Roger’s corner. The same thought process should be embraced by the Ravens when considering ROH inductees.

You know when you stop and think about it, there should be Arthur B., Ozzie and J.O. for now and that’s it!

Ray Lewis and Matt Stover, when their numbers are called – automatic inductees!

The same can be said for Ed Reed.

After that, time will tell.

Until then, let’s remember what the words “honor” and “distinction” really mean and that inductees should stand the test of time.

Otherwise they better start making those plaques a lot smaller for the ring because it’s going to get crowded up there.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Flacco, Cameron need to step up to realize Super Bowl XLV berth


Recently I was asked what might prevent the Ravens from advancing to Super Bowl XLV.

Many would say that the team needs to stay healthy. But that’s a bit of a cop out, don’t you think?

It’s like someone asking who will be the next American Idol, Lee or Crystal and then answering, “The one without laryngitis.”

Most critics of the team will point to the secondary and say that they collectively need to play better to advance farther. I don’t buy that. The Ravens’ failure to reach beyond Indianapolis last post season had nothing to do with the secondary’s play.

That loss and the team’s shortcomings in the post season under John Harbaugh are on the shoulders of the offense – more specifically the passing game.

In five post season starts, Joe Flacco is 3-2 despite a QB Rating of 46.5 including just 1 TD pass and 6 interceptions. That has to change.

Now it could be argued that Flacco didn’t have the weapons then that he has now.

It could also be stated that those experiences bode well for him going forward and he can build and mature from his post season battle tests.

Others might point out that Cam Cameron hasn't exactly been very bold and daring in the playoffs, seemingly abandoning an attack mentality when he installs game plans against more formidable opponents.

There have been whispers about the Ravens fear and/or inability to throw across the middle. The words “tall throws to tall” have been kicked around a bit in camp circles and that could indicate that the team was unwilling to make riskier throws over the middle of the field behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties.

When 6’6” throws to 5’10”, the margin for error increases.

Whatever the case, the bottom line is that Cameron, Flacco and his new weapons have to attack teams fearlessly and improve upon the putrid 46.5 QB rating. They have to be more threatening against tougher defenses on the road in the playoffs.

Otherwise their road through the playoffs will continue to hit dead end after dead end.




Saturday, May 22, 2010

Something to Talk About

During one of the Ravens recent OTA’s Cam Cameron insightfully pointed out that it’s easy to get excited about the performances of players running around in shorts without padding and without the “threat of contact.”

The threat of contact…

For me those four words lingered and in many ways they reshaped my perspective on OTA’s.

A new passing weapon like tight end Ed Dickson or wide receiver David Reed may look great crossing the middle of the field, extending and catching confidently and then quickly tucking the football to add yards after the catch when there’s no threat of No. 52 trying to separate the receiver from the ball.

Or worse…

Just ask Chad Ochocinco.

The pads and contact make a big difference and it’s then that we’ll really see what the Ravens have in their new rookie toys.

For all intents and purposes, these OTA’s help build chemistry on and off the field. They create familiarity and help the coaching staff install new playbooks, collectively leading the way to a more productive training camp.

Think of OTA’s along the lines of new employee orientation.

It’s all fresh and promising, perhaps even inspiring yet means very little until the curtain is drawn up and the real lights come on signaling the start of the season.

Until then OTA’s are just something to talk about.

Those NFL guys are pretty smart.


The Backup


It’s been said often that the most popular player in town is the backup quarterback for the city’s NFL team. However you don’t hear much of that here in B’more.

Troy Smith certainly has his supporters among fans and on the team. He’s a natural leader and possesses extreme confidence – some say he’s overly confident.

Smith was once described to me this way…

If you see ten players gathered in the cafeteria and nine of them are listening, there’s a good chance that the tenth man is Troy Smith.

He’s charismatic and well spoken. He’s ambitious.

And he’s not your prototypical backup QB.

Long-term backups are often cerebral, less physically gifted than the guy at the top of the QB food chain and they willingly accept their subservient role on the team. Perhaps most importantly they accept who they are and that mindset enables them to contribute in ways that seem subtle, perhaps relatively meaningless to observers yet highly valuable to club insiders.

They are often calming influences in supporting roles.

Todd Collins comes to mind.

Now there’s a guy who was stealth. He collected an NFL paycheck for 15 seasons before retiring last year. He holds the post merger record for time elapsed between NFL starts – 10 years, 2 days. Ten years and 2 days ago Joe Flacco was a freshman at Audubon (NJ) High School.

Collins, drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft, cashed a ton of healthy paychecks for a guy with a career 76.0 QB Rating and 4,479 yards to his credit.

That’s 299 yards PER SEASON!

No, I don’t think that is a role for Troy Smith.

That said, I could see former second round pick John Beck embracing such a career path.

I even thought former Raven Kyle Boller could be that kind of player. Boller offers a great work ethic, dedication, humility, class, toughness, a team-first approach and outstanding athleticism.

And let’s not forget that he can throw the ball through the uprights from his knees 60 yards away.

Think Kyle and his bride-to-be Carrie Prejean would give up their San Diego digs for a townhome in Canton?

Hey, what’s Anthony Wright doing these days?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do what you love, love what you do


“I hate school.”

How many parents have heard that from their children?

Adding insult to injury is when you hear this youthful maxim from the mouths of kids who go to private schools. The draft through that gaping hole in your pocket can be a little discomforting.

To help temper this adolescent angst I’ve often told my kids throughout the years that education is important because it gives you options. And then I tack on these words of wisdom…

“But when you finish school pursue something you love so much that you’d do it for free.”

In other words, before you go and buy a new car, take on a mortgage and tackle a mountain of debt that requires a big paycheck, follow a livelihood that captures your heart. Then, you might feel like you never work a day in your life.

Do what you love, love what you do.

Of course my kids can be somewhat creative with this encouragement. My son once said a mattress store would work for him – he can just kick back all day and sample the product.

My daughter showcasing her willingness to commit to a concept decided to give up jumping off buildings one year for Lent.

The point here is to encourage them or anyone finishing school to do something they love. It paves the way to a happier life. Of course if happiness requires “things” which demands increased earnings, then the education provides that option.

I think my kids get it. Time will tell.

But one day I started to regret that no one during my impressionable years shared that wisdom with me.

Was it too late? Would I become a slave to my indebtedness?

Back in 2002, I was fed up with the way The Sun was covering the Ravens. While spending some time in Ocean City that summer, I picked up a copy of The Sun when the Ravens were in Training Camp. Not a word about the Ravens. Instead they featured details of the White Marlin Open which had already taken place.

Why can’t someone cover the Ravens throughout the year?

I want to read about the Ravens 24x7.

I decided it wasn’t too late to practice what I’d been preaching to the kids and did the Brian Billick Shuffle, aka the Leap of Faith.

I took that leap.

By the following summer, Ravens24x7.com was launched.

Some thought I was stupid. Some thought I was courageous. Some think the jury is still out.

Two years later, I let go of my commercial finance career to try and build something that other Ravens fans like me could enjoy and eventually attract the sponsorship needed to sustain a livelihood. So far, so good.

On Thursday, May 20 we will launch an all-new Ravens24x7.com, our fourth rendition. Through new technologies and the expertise of our web developer D3Corp, we have created a site for Ravens fans that is truly a one stop shop.

Not only do we have our own original content and a message board that has an outstanding collection of personalities, insightful opinions and colorful debates, but we will also pool all Ravens content from other local sources as well as national coverage through syndicated feeds from NFL.com, ESPN, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sportsline, USA Today, Sporting News and more.

We will continue to augment our new Ravens24x7.com with improved portable options, cutting edge social media content and connectivity, user driven content, worthwhile chat room sessions and rewards programs for visitor loyalty.

This is our 8th season and it feels like the first.

Maybe I can thank my kids for that – for inspiring me to take my own advice.

AND we can thank you! Your support and challenges perpetually inspire us to improve.

Keep challenging us and we’ll keep reaching.

I hope you enjoy the new Ravens24x7.com.

It still is and always will be, “For Those Who Bleed Purple.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fans worry about high expectations for 2010 Ravens


Set your expectations low and you won’t be disappointed in the event of failure…

That appears to be the approach for most Ravens fans as they await the start of training camp in roughly 75 days.

Fans remember the swagger and bravado of the 2004 Ravens team, coming off a surprising 2003 campaign behind Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright that enabled them to actually host a playoff game. The Ravens augmented their roster following that season with players like Deion Sanders, heightening the bravado and the confidence.

Expectations soared but after a fast start the team sputtered and failed to make the post season.

The downward spiral continued in 2005 as the Ravens struggled to a 6-10 finish with several embarrassing losses including one in Detroit, the Presence of Malice game in which the team had a major meltdown and committed 21 penalties. Many believed that Ray Lewis was so distraught with the team that he quit on them, ending his season to have hamstring surgery the authenticity of which is still questioned to this day.

Fans remember the 2007 season, on the heels of 2006 when they finished 13-3. Many pundits thought the team was the best in the post season yet they dropped a home game to the eventual Super Bowl Champs, the Indianapolis Colts. But that didn’t stop fans from fueling big expectations for 2007.

That was Brian Billick’s last season with the team one that saw Steve McNair resemble a player that went from 33 to 63, rapidly aging before our very eyes. Billick’s Boys of Bravado fell to 5-11 including a nine game losing streak and a loss to the Miami Dolphins – the only win by Head Coach Cam Cameron’s dysfunctional group that season.

Since then, fans have exercised caution whenever team expectations climbed.

After a return to the playoffs in 2008 and an AFC Championship Game appearance, many expected the Ravens to be playing in Miami this past February. Instead of adding to their confidence, the favorable forecasts were viewed by some fans as Ravens’ kryptonite, evoking agonizing grimaces and solemn expectations of another disappointing season in another odd numbered year.

Fortunately that didn’t happen and after a very productive offseason, the Ravens are positioned to go deep into the playoffs in 2010 and the national media has noticed.

And like Pavlov’s dog, the fans have responded and many are nervous once again.

They prefer a flight path under the radar.

They want their team playing with a collective chip on its shoulder because they think their team plays better that way.

But this is a different Ravens team – a more mature collection of athletes guided by a coach who doesn’t fuel swagger or bravado the way Brian Billick did.

When asked about the Super Bowl possibilities of the team one of the historically biggest perpetrators of swagger and bravado, Ray Lewis had this to say:

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t even answer that. The bottom line is that we came out and had a great practice today. The energy is freaking incredible.”

He later added, “I don’t know if you can think about a Super Bowl right now. The bottom line is for us to come and get these young guys to understand our tempo, our pace. We’ve got a lot of new pieces in a lot of new places. We just want to teach them the Raven mentality and get this mini-camp under our belt and then move from there. Then when the season comes along, we’ll start speaking about those type of things. But until then, we’ve got a lot, a lot of work to do.”

Fans can go ahead and worry and hope that the media picks other teams as a preseason favorite. And they will. These are the same fans that are annually disappointed by the Orioles so they look to the Ravens for the competitive sanity. They don’t want to be disappointed.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what we think.

This is what we do as fans.

What matters is how talented, prepared and focused the players are.

Judging from Ray’s comments, so far, so good.

Besides at some point to be a consistent winner like the Patriots and Colts, you have to behave like the lead dog – you have to want to BE the lead dog.

Otherwise the scenery never changes.




Monday, May 10, 2010

Baltimore Ravens mini-camp notes


I have been covering the Ravens since the 2003 season. Never have I witnessed the enthusiasm nor felt the contagious electricity that hovered over Ravens’ headquarters like I did this weekend during the team’s mandatory mini-camp.

There is a buzz in the air.

The team feels it.

They live it and breathe it.

By his own admission Ray Lewis said, “The energy is freakin’ incredible!”

Yet he is quick to remind the media and his teammates not to get carried away and to maintain focus. The pieces are there yet there is work to be done – a lot of work!
After all, it is only early May and there are many teams not named the Cleveland Browns or St. Louis Rams that have their collective sights set on Super Bowl XLV.

That said it was hard not to get intoxicated by the buzz, one that even gripped media members who pride themselves on objectivity.

Cam Cameron eloquently put things in perspective for all observers after practice on Saturday, tempering the enthusiasm of the media over the rookie tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta who both look impressive.

“You can get fooled at this time of year because there’s no threat of contact.”

Great point, but with that in mind one can only report what they see.

And here’s what my eyes and ears observed and heard…

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: It all starts with Joe Flacco. During the offseason the Ravens worked diligently to provide Flacco with the weapons needed to push the team deeper into the playoffs. But Flacco is the switch that triggers it all and he’ll need to improve his game as well. To that end, it would help if Flacco starts the season healthy because ’09 was marred by injuries. Over the weekend Flacco moved well, particularly when stepping up in the pocket and away from the pass rush, a sign that his hip, ankle and quad injuries are likely behind him. His throws were crisp and on target, with some noticeable improvement on his long tosses. Flacco is not lacking in arm strength yet too often in the past, his receivers have had to wait for underthrown deep balls. That wasn’t the case this weekend. Another good sign – Flacco threw the ball confidently in the middle of the field and didn’t seem to lean too much on his “go to” sideline routes.

Troy Smith is clearly the No. 2 guy on the depth chart and based upon this weekend, deservedly so. Smith struggled a bit on the quick three step drops when throwing the X slant. A few of those throw were batted down. But when taking deeper drops, Smith threw confidently although his accuracy could use improvement. In his defense, Smith is often throwing to newer and/or less accomplished players. Familiarity improves timing which in turn improves accuracy. Smith had some pop in his throws, particularly on 25-30 yard posts to the left hash mark.

John Beck, in much the same way struggles like Smith with less accomplished skill position players. That aside Beck’s tosses by far packed the weakest punch of the three QB’s. The lack of velocity was very noticeable in the driving winds that swept through the practice field on Saturday as his passes often fluttered. Neither Flacco nor Smith seemed to be affected as much.

WILDCAT: The Ravens showed a slight variation to their Wildcat sub package. Willis McGahee took the direct snap and ran out of it with Ray Rice flanked out to his left and Flacco flanked right. McGahee ran the ball from this formation. In a very similar formation with the “2’s” Jalen Parmele took the direct snap and handed it to UDFA RB Curtis Steele who took the inside handoff to the right, pitch it back to Troy Smith on a reverse who then delivered a shot down field to Demetrius Williams. On Sunday the “1’s” employed the same trickery with McGahee, Rice, Flacco and Boldin.

RUNNING BACK: Without contact it is difficult to gauge the successes and failures of the running backs during mini-camps. All of the backs appear to be in very good shape. You know what you’ll get with Rice, McGahee and McClain. The left-handed Rice was featured on a few halfback option plays over the weekend. Jalen Parmele seems to be a bit lighter and quicker while newcomer Curtis Steele (UDFA from Memphis) chipped in with a very determined effort. But there’s a danger in being lured in by newcomers like Steele. As a UDFA he is fighting for his career. Marquee veterans are playing at a more moderate pace and the end result of these practices can be misleading. That said, Steele looks like a decent find by the scouting department and he could push Matt Lawrence for a roster spot if he can contribute to special teams. Lawrence is recovering from a ’09 knee injury and was an observer for most of the weekend.

TIGHT END: Todd Heap has said that this is the best he’s felt in years and if this mini-camp is any indication, that isn’t just lip service. Heap seemed quicker off the snap, gained better separation from defenders and his change of direction didn’t appear as lumbering as in the past few years. Rookies Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta were impressive. Dickson is a bit of a tweener in the mold of New Orleans’ Marques Colston. He doesn’t possess that prototypical tight end body yet isn’t as fast as a wide receiver. But he does present mismatches down the field because he towers over safeties and can separate from linebackers. Pitta was featured in motion – a bit like an H-back and he seems to possess an understanding of defenses locating the soft spots in zone coverages. Clearly it’s very early but you can see why the Ravens selected both players because they offer different skill sets. The bet here is that Heap’s heir apparent is Pitta with Dickson taking on a less traditional role, particularly in a Ravens offense. It will be interesting to see how Cam Cameron employs both…Lost in the shuffle in 2009 fifth round selection Davon Drew. To his credit, Drew is in much better shape this year yet it will be interesting to see how many snaps Drew gets given that for all intents and purposes the Ravens currently have three rookie tight ends on their roster.

WIDE RECEIVER: Anquan Boldin comes as advertised. If this camp is any indication, he’ll be used more downfield than he was in Arizona. Some may recall that Boldin was once a quarterback and judging from the way he tosses the ball around, don’t rule out the possibility of this Pro Bowl receiver throwing a pass or three this season…Donte Stallworth showcased the straight ahead speed we’ve heard about. He accelerates effortlessly and will stretch defenses. He does seem to slow down quite a bit going into his breaks. While that is to be expected, the deceleration is rather noticeable and it allows defensive backs to make up some ground and close the separation Stallworth’s speed initially created. He showed very soft hands throughout the weekend and is a better than advertised pass catcher…Derrick Mason delivered more of the same we’ve come to expect from him…Mark Clayton was an observer having just undergone a cleanup procedures on his shoulder. For a guy whose NFL career is in doubt, you’d think that he would have had this corrective surgery done a while ago to assure his availability for this mandatory mini-camp. Instead he spent part of his offseason doing charity work in Africa – hard to fault him for giving of his time but it does bring into question his level of commitment to football…Demetrius Williams moved well but was perhaps the most inconsistent receiver among the group with his hands. On whole the group was very sure-handed but relatively speaking, Williams was among the leaders in dropped passes…Justin Harper is a player who has shown an ability to get open in the past but an inability to hold on to the football, was much more reliable as a pass catcher. Word is he’s worked hard and is one of the most well-liked players on the roster…Marcus Smith, sporting Troy Smith’s old No. 11 was an observer most the weekend still recovering from last summer’s knee injury…Rookie David Reed has nice ball skills and adjusts to throws very well…Fans who hold out hope for Eron Riley should probably invest their emotions elsewhere. Even his practice squad spot is in doubt. Again, it’s early but the bet here is that Rodelin Anthony, UDFA from UNLV stands a better chance of being assigned to the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The biggest story of this mini-camp was the move of Jared Gaither to right tackle and Michael Oher to left tackle. The move led to trade speculation which only intensified on Saturday when Gaither didn’t show up for practice and spent the morning in the training room. Many believe that the “injury” is nothing more than gamesmanship on the part of agent Drew Rosenhaus who has orchestrated similar stunts with clients in the past, including new Raven Anquan Boldin when Boldin was in Arizona. Most believe that Gaither is going nowhere – at least not this year. This is obviously a story that will be followed closely. A few of the names that I heard kicked around as part of a Buffalo Bills trade for Gaither are Donte Whitner, Ashton Youboty and Leodis McKelvin…Filling in for Gaither at right tackle was Oniel Cousins. Fans shudder to think of Cousins as the team’s starting right tackle yet the coaching staff seems genuinely impressed with Cousins’ progression…Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda are all entrenched in their familiar positions. Swingman Chris Chester has put on some weight seeking balance between quickness and strength at the point of attack…Rookie Ramon Harewood is a big prospect/project who shows nice footwork and unusual nimbleness for his size. His challenge will be adjusting to the speed and talent of the NFL coming from small Moorehouse College. He is a perfect candidate for a mysterious training camp injury that sidelines him for the season (see Tony Pashos rookie year).

For Defense, Special Teams plus Notes & Observations click here.

Friday, May 07, 2010

It's Gaither's turn for Harbaugh head games


It’s interesting that the Ravens have let it be known that Michael Oher will be given some snaps with the team’s first unit during this weekend’s mandatory mini-camp at The Blindside, aka left tackle. The plan is to alternate him with Jared Gaither.

This approach undoubtedly will upset Gaither and his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Unless you were born yesterday or you’ve suddenly become a fan of the NFL, it’s common practice to pay a left tackle far more money than a right tackle. In fact left tackle is the most lucrative position along the offensive front.

Jared Gaither is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2011, assuming a new collective bargaining agreement and the return of the league’s balancing act – the salary cap.

This offseason, Gaither was chastised for his dedication (or lack thereof) to the team’s conditioning program. Unsubstantiated rumors surfaced that Gaither may be on the verge of entering the league’s substance abuse program – that he perhaps is a repeat offender of random drug testing and could be one step away from a four week unpaid “vacation.”

Whatever the reason, clearly the team is sending Gaither a not so subtle message.

Just as clearly, whatever is wrong with Gaither is commonplace knowledge within league circles.

Gaither just turned 24 and he has three seasons under his belt. He is battled tested (28 career starts) and has held his own against some fairly formidable opponents at the left tackle position.

So why hasn’t the first round tendered restricted free agent attracted more attention from other clubs?

Not a sniff – even from teams with a need.

Gaither did battle ankle, foot and neck injuries last season, but those don’t seem to be in play any longer.

Something just doesn’t add up here and now the Ravens are toying with Gaither to get him to step up.

We’ve seen this before from John Harbaugh. He had no qualms about showing Chris McAlister the door and his exit hasn’t hurt the team at all.

Willis McGahee was given a Platinum Card as a member of Harbaugh’s doghouse. Somehow that treatment has reinvigorated McGahee and the Ravens are a better team as a result.

And now the club is hoping the Gaither Games accomplish the same.

In an ideal world, the Ravens successfully manage the move of Gaither to the right side. They will have Oher playing under his rookie contract for four more seasons and perhaps in 2011 the Ravens after sending smoke signals as a warning to the rest of the league about Gaither, hurting his negotiating leverage and marketability, might be able to keep the promising tackle a bit longer than expected.

It will be interesting to watch this unfold and to see if Harbaugh’s tactics are equally as productive as they’ve been with McAlister and McGahee.

Let the games begin.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What's wrong with Kelley Washington?


Ask any fan around town who they would prefer on the Ravens final 53 man roster, Kelley Washington or Demetrius Williams and the answer is nearly immediate. The name Kelley Washington is the rapid fire reply. It’s nearly akin to asking, “What would you prefer a day at the beach or a root canal?”

The answer is rather obvious.

Well obvious to everyone except the Ravens.

Why even extend the restricted free agent offer to Williams? Why should the Ravens pay an injury prone guy like that $1.176 million? He isn’t exactly a “Mighty Man.”

Over the course of the last 3 seasons Williams has 41 catches and 2 TD’s to his credit – just 21 receptions in total over the last two campaigns. Last year alone Washington had 34 grabs while matching Williams’ TD total.

And let’s not forget that Williams does absolutely nothing for special teams while Washington is a very accomplished special teams player.

So why is Williams employed and Washington not?

It could be that Washington and his agent are waiting for the right fit and they probably are looking for at least a two year deal. He has bounced around quite a bit over the past few seasons and maybe the 2003 3rd round pick is looking for a little stability.

Good luck with that.

Multi-year deals are tough sledding for a journeyman receiver.

Perhaps Washington and his handlers will eventually realize that a multi-year deal isn’t going to happen and just maybe he returns to the Ravens in a role not unlike the one he had in ’09.

Despite not even being remotely close to the Ravens roster, the bet here is that when the dust settles and probably after Williams completes a few treatments and sideline sessions to nurse yet another sore hamstring, Washington has a better chance of making the final 53 than the former Oregon Duck.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Bryant could have been a Raven


The Ravens successfully parlayed the No. 25 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft into DE/OLB Sergio Kindle, TE Ed Dickson and TE Dennis Pitta. In a perfect world and you had the choice between these three players or Dez Bryant, which would you take?

Of course to get Bryant, the Ravens would have had to trade up – and they did try. The Ravens contacted Green Bay with the No. 23 overall pick but they were so enamored with Iowa T Bryan Bulaga that they really weren’t open to trading the pick.

The Patriots at No. 24 wanted a third round pick in order to swap spots with the Ravens.

So if you really wanted Bryant and still do, not only would the opportunity cost to get him be the three aforementioned players but a third round pick as well.

All for a guy who hasn’t exactly shown that he’s the most dedicated athlete on the planet.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Salary and special teams could spell the end for two Ravens


During the Pre-Draft Luncheon John Harbaugh discussed the new options in the Ravens passing game. Not once did he mention the name Mark Clayton when discussing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s weaponry.

Now that the Ravens have added to their arsenal with tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta plus Utah WR David Reed, it would appear that Clayton has slipped even further off Cameron’s radar screen.

And if that’s the case with Clayton, where does Demetrius Williams stand?

The odds are really stacked against both players. Neither contributes to special teams and both have had a history of nagging injuries, particularly during training camp. Williams is scheduled to earn $1.176 million and Clayton when he signs his restricted tender offer will earn $2.229 million. If either is injured during OTA’s or camp, the team is on the hook for their salaries.

Some believe that Clayton could bring something to special teams in the punt return game but to say he’s experienced in that department would be an overstatement. During his senior season at Oklahoma, Clayton had 7 punt returns, averaging 14.4 yards and 1 score.

That’s not much to bank on particularly when you consider that the team has added UDFA CB Prince Miller out of Georgia. As a Bulldog Miller averaged 14.9 yards on his 29 career punt returns with 1 score. The 5’9” Miller is said to have very good change of direction skills and is a definite possibility to make the team as a return specialist. The speedy defensive back who projects as a possible nickel or dime back has been clocked in the high 4.3’s.




Ravens tighten up in 2010 NFL Draft


The Ravens were obviously interested in improving the position of tight end with the selections of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. What isn't so obvious is why they opted for Dickson and passed on the higher rated Florida Gator Aaron Hernandez or why the failed to make an earlier move to get Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, chosen by the Patriots just before the selection of Sergio Kindle.

The Ravens had character concerns with Hernandez and Gronkowski did not get the thumbs up from the club's medical staff.

Ravens take a pass on Kyle Wilson

Some have questioned the Ravens' decision to pass on Boise St. cornerback Kyle Wilson. One source has indicated that the team was never really interested in the Jets' newest first round pick. Not only did they question his value as a first rounder (they view Lardarius Webb, an '09 3rd round pick as a superior player) but there are also circumstances off the field that influenced the "pass."