Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ravens' fight song doesn't have a fighting chance


I once saw a cartoon that pictured a machine gun salesman attempting to sell his wares to a king who was trying to defend his castle with a bow and arrow. The king with his back to the salesman said, "I don't have time for salesman."

Sometimes concepts are old and dated and there comes a time to let go of something that was once a tried and true formula.

Take the Ravens old/new fight song for instance.

I clearly recognize that this might be an unpopular opinion but count me among the minority that isn’t too keen on the updated model of the Colts (now Ravens) fight song.

Why do we need a fight song anyway?

The Ravens already had one, tried to push it and it flopped.

Why?

Because fight songs are obsolete.

With multi-million dollar high-def scoreboards and sound systems, why try to breathe life into a fight song that is so yesteryear? There are so many new and innovative ways to entertain and excite the 70,000 at M&T who bleed purple.

Does anyone still churn their own butter?

Anybody still listen to an 8 Track?

Feel like investing in a pay phone company?

Look I am a big fan of Baltimore’s football heritage. I get the Colts’ importance in Charm City’s slice of Americana. We even built a website to support that heritage and rally the masses to help Baltimore reclaim its relevance in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That effort is a crusade that I’ll always support but isn’t it time to move on from that fight song?

I’m not suggesting it’s not a great song – it is! Upon hearing the first few notes the listener is taken back to a glorious place and time when Baltimore became more than just a place to relieve the bladders of travelers between Philadelphia and DC. Perhaps for just a few moments it brings Johnny U back to life at least in the forefront of our minds.

And that’s all good!

But the Colts fight song is a bookmark in time and to make it contemporary and purple just doesn’t work.

There are many, many high energy songs that can get me out of my seat after a big Ravens play even to the point of jumping and dancing in the aisle.

As for the new Ravens fight song as a tool to celebrate some on-the-field excitement – I don’t know…it’s a bit like having a shot of Chardonnay instead of Patron at a sports bar.

Just sayin’…




Monday, August 30, 2010

The good, bad, ugly & the Megan Fox: Ravens deliver in dress rehearsal


The Ravens dress rehearsal for the season opener against the Jets was a success Saturday night as John Harbaugh's troops took down the Jets' Meadowland Stadium neighbors the Giants by the score of 24-10. The rhythm that Joe Flacco developed after a rather sloppy opening series was key because Saturday's effort will represent the offense's most recent body of work as they prepare for opening night. The carryover of a sloppy outing would have been unnerving.

The evening wasn't completely devoid of disappointment as Donte Stallworth was lost for 2 months with a fractured foot. The injury leaves the door open for perhaps another roster spot at wide receiver. The fourth and fifth WR slots will be determined by Demetrius Williams, David Reed and Marcus Smith. But on whole the team has to be pleased with the effort, making a pretty decent team in the Giants look very pedestrian.

THE GOOD: Cory Redding: Gotta love his intensity and his textbook demonstration of two-gap technique while shedding a block and stopping Ahmad Bradshaw for no gain. He also helped flush Manning from the pocket on occasion...Chris Carr: Since the midway mark of 2009 Carr has been solid and in many ways underappreciated. He was solid supporting the run defense and added a sack...Haruki Nakamura is a ball hawk and is a surprisingly decent nickel...Todd Heap looks to have discovered the fountain of youth and is playing as solidly as he has in quite some time. The constant double teams look to be a thing of the past given the Ravens 2010 offensive arsenal...Michael Oher played much better than he has as he finds his own rhythm at the blindside...Tavares Gooden was very solid on special teams as was the reliable Sam Koch...Joe Flacco showed improvement at just the right time and looks very comfortable and more focused operating the no huddle attack. He did a nice job of moving the safeties away from where he wanted to go with the football.

THE BAD: Eight penalties for 65 yards at home is just unacceptable. This must be cleaned up, particularly Derrick Mason's mouth which cost the Ravens a chance to put another field goal on the board...Joe Flacco's interception in the waning moments of the first half was forced and thrown well behind the intended target Anquan Boldin. Flacco should know better and the play tarnished an otherwise plus effort in the first half.

THE UGLY: The tackling in the first quarter was weak at best with several offenders including Dawan Landry, Jarret Johnson, Ray Lewis, Fabian Washington and Tom Zbikowski.

THE MEGAN FOX: This one goes to Cam Cameron. His game plan was spot on, utilizing the no huddle to tire out an impressive Giants' front four, help his ailing offensive line and get Flacco into rhythm. Don't be surprised if this is a precursor to the Ravens approach on Monday Night September 13 in the Meadowlands. Rex Ryan defenses and schematic complexities never quite seem to deliver a consistently effective answer to the no huddle.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Did Ravens camp address a few burning questions?


Has the team adequately addressed their secondary issues?

Before camp started the Ravens lost Domonique Foxworth to a torn ACL during non-contact drills. Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are recovering rapidly from their respective ACL tears but they will enter the season with few repetitions to prep them for the season. None of the newcomers have really stepped up: Travis Fisher is in the neighborhood but rarely successfully defends a pass while Doug Dutch and Chris Hawkins have amounted to little more than camp fodder thus far. Chris Carr has had a very solid camp and is building upon the momentum he established at the back end of 2009. Cary Williams has also been solid and he may have a promising future if his progress continues. He provides very competent special teams play as well.

Will Joe Flacco take that next step?

Joe Flacco hasn't taken a big step forward so far and at times he has been outplayed by backup Marc Bulger during camp. He has thrown the ball over the middle more effectively and there have been times when he's looked off the safety and then used that big gun to produce points in the red zone. The consistency just hasn't been there and the Ravens will need that from Flacco particularly early in the season as the defense adjusts and finds its legs at corner.

Who will emerge as the team's placekicker?

NFL Betting sites would probably have made Shayne Graham a prohibitive favorite to be the Ravens placekicker when camp opened. And if they did those bets would now be off the board. Neither Graham nor Billy Cundiff has been a model of consistency as of late and the competition is far from over. If neither steps forward, the cheaper model (Cundiff) will be the winner.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cameron takes swipe at Gaither camp?


The battle for the fifth wide receiver will certainly be a hotly contested positional competition and for the moment the two slugging it out are Demetrius Williams and David Reed. Williams has been the beneficiary of more reps with backup QB Marc Bulger and if you take that as an indicator, Reed is going to have to step it up to make the final 53.

Or wait!

Is that a hamstring that we just heard pop and he's headed for IR?

Speaking of the backup QB, former Raven and current NFL Network analyst Rod Woodson is on record saying that Troy Smith is the best back up in the NFL.

Really?

If you ask me he's not even the best backup on the Ravens and excuse me there Rod, but just off the top of my head while perusing the teams in the league the names Vick, Anderson, Collins, Rosenfels, Leftwich, Kitna all are better backup signal callers than Troy Smith. I would even go so far to say that third stringers Dennis Dixon and Kellen Clemens and arguably the Raiders' Kyle Boller are all better than Smith. Even the Browns thought Seneca Wallace was better than Smith.

SENECA WALLACE!

Hey, do Woodson and Smith have the same agent?

A few years back I asked Deion Sanders if he thought punt returning was more dangerous than kick returning. He did not hesitate to say, "No!" He explained that with kick returns the entire coverage team is running at full speed towards you when during punt returns the coverage isn't as heavy and a lateral move here and there allows a returner to escape pursuit.

Yesterday I heard Mike Preston discussing the Ravens options for punt returning. He said that teams really don't want to put a starter in that position because you run the risk of injury and suggested that Tom Zbikowski should be returning punts because he's a valuable backup filling in for Ed Reed.

I totally disagree.

Sorry Mike but you can't tell me that DeSean Jackson, Wes Welker, Joshua Cribbs, Eddie Royal, Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush and Jerricho Cotchery (top NFL punt returners mind you) are less important to their clubs than Zibby. Teams can't play with fear (memo to Cam Cameron).

Just sayin'...

While we're on the topic of memos and Cam Cameron, here's Cam giving props to Oniel Cousins:

"He's not 100 percent yet, but his effort is 100 percent," Cameron said. "One thing I like about 'Cous' is you know exactly what you're getting. He's not one guy one day and another guy the next day. He shows up. He's there every day. He's where he's supposed to be, he gives you his best effort.

"Sometimes, he doesn't execute the play like he would like or we would like, but his effort is consistent. Pretty much, a play-caller can deal with a guy like that. To me, it's easy to call plays when he's in there because I know I'm going to get a great effort."

"Cous" is working hard and it's nice to see it acknowledged but let's call this statement from Cameron what it is - a salvo to Messrs. Gaither and Rosenhaus.

INCOMING!

Word is that special teams coach Jerry Rosburg did not confront recently released long snapper Matt Katula after the Ravens' coaching staff opted to go with undrafted rookie Morgan Cox. According to one source Katula being the class act that he is reached out to Rosburg and thanked him for the opportunity to play for the team.

Here's to Katula landing a spot elsewhere.

Hopefully this premature release works to his advantage.

Friday, August 13, 2010

RAVENS PRESEASON: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly & The Megan Fox


The preseason in the NFL for all intents and purposes provides the league's clubs two things: - a dress rehearsal stage for the regular season and an opportunity to build their rosters from the bottom up.

The dress rehearsals aid timing while the games afford inexperienced players a chance to showcase their talents, show up on tape and help the coaching staff assemble quality depth.During the preseason, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Megan Fox will certainly touch down on the performances of the players at the top end of the depth chart but the focus will be on the positional battles that are the most competitive and/or where the Ravens have deficiencies, relatively speaking.

THE TOP END

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco had an efficient evening going 8 for 12 for 120 yards including a 30 yard scoring strike early in the second quarter to Mark Clayton whose productive training camp has now spilled over into the preseason. One of the things that QB Coach Jim Zorn has said he'd like to assist Flacco with is his suddenness in the pocket. If there is a knock on Flacco's performance on Thursday night, Zorn's lessons have not been fully embraced...Willis McGahee showed why he may be the most impactful back up as he ran with purpose and navigated effectively during the handful of screen passes he corralled during the first team offense's 10 play, 96 yard drive that burned 5:27 of game clock.On defense the focus was on the corners and Chris Carr (briefly), Travis Fisher and Cary Williams held up reasonably well although the Panthers didn't really challenge them. Neither team wanted to show too much since the combatants will face each other again during the regular season on November 21...Tom Zbikowski looked solid. His trimmed physique adds explosiveness and clearly that was on display when he blitzed.

THE BAD: You have to like the willingness of Cam Cameron to use Terrence Cody as a fullback, a sub package we haven't seen during training camp. It needs work...Jameel McClain usurped Dannell Ellerbe's hold on the starting inside linebacker slot next to Ray Lewis during camp. Against the Panthers, McClain inconsistencies reeled him back in and the gap between him and Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden now appears to have closed a bit.

THE UGLY: On the evening the Ravens surrendered six sacks, two of which sent Flacco to the turf as Panthers' Right DE Tyler Brayton beat Michael Oher twice while the second year tackle manned the blind side.

FROM THE BOTTOM/POSITIONAL BATTLES

Cornerback: The combatants include: Prince Miller, Travis Fisher, Marcus Paschal, KJ Gerard, Doug Dutch and Chris Hawkins. The guess here is that they are all fighting for one roster spot. Paschal has had a decent camp but is out with a quad injury and Gerard has practiced very little while trying to bounce back from a hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined. Hawkins has size over Dutch and that gives him an edge but based upon the performances last night Miller and Fisher have the edge over the field. Neither player has made impactful plays during camp yet both played reasonably well last night despite not being challenged. Miller provides a special teams spark but lacks size. He is very overmatched when asked to blitz from the nickel position, something that the similarly sized Corey Ivy once did effectively. Fisher brings experience. Neither is a lock for the squad and this battle is far from decided. Plus there may be some new competitors added to the mix later this month.

The Good (Miller)

Wide Receiver: Unless a couple of wide receivers can prove that they can make stand out special teams contributions it seems like a reach to think the Ravens will keep six receivers. The fifth WR roster spot will go to one of the following: Demetrius Williams, David Reed, Justin Harper or Marcus Smith. Smith looks slow, has poor hands and has shown little sign of developing as a pro receiver. Williams ran with the second team offense and based upon the number of snaps and attempts on Thursday coupled with his presence on coverage teams he would appear to have the lead. This one is likely to come down to Williams and Reed.

Offensive Line: The starting lineup is set (assuming of course Jared Gaither gets it together) but if not the right tackle position goes to Oniel Cousins who held up reasonably well against the Panthers. Last year the Ravens carried nine offensive linemen and that ninth spot will be awarded to one of the following players barring a trade or waiver wire acquisition: David Hale, Stefan Rodgers, Joe Reitz, Ramon Harewood or Devin Tyler. No one stands out at the moment and the ninth slot is hardly a slam dunk. Just ask Joe Reitz.

The Ugly (all reserve offensive linemen)

Defensive Line: Should the Ravens keep 9 on the D-Line and you assume that the locks are Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Trevor Pryce, Cory Redding, Terrence Cody and Paul Kruger then the remaining slots will consist of three of these candidates: Arthur Jones; Brandon McKinney, Lamar Divens and Kelly Talavou. At this point it's too close to call but if last night is the barometer, Jones and McKinney are on the bubble.

The Good (Kruger, Talavou)

Linebacker: Ten, maybe 11 will populate linebacker coach Dean Pees' corps. The locks are Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Dannell Ellerbe, Tavares Gooden, Jameel McClain, Antwan Barnes and Brendon Ayanbadejo. That leaves 2 or 3 available spots, perhaps a fourth to start the season if Ayanbadejo remains on PUP. Among those attempting to be part of the final 53 are: Albert McClellan; Edgar Jones; Prescott Burgess; and Jason Phillips. Sergio Kindle will almost certainly start the season of PUP. Of those four Burgess made the biggest impact, particularly on special teams.

Kicker: The battle between Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff is a dead heat at the moment and if it plays out that way, look for Cundiff to emerge as the winner. His price tag is about half of that of Graham's. Both were solid kicking off v. Carolina.

NOTABLES

The standouts from last night were Terrence Cody, Antwan Barnes, Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura, Ed Dickson, Cary Williams and Prince Miller.

THE MEGAN FOX

The MF Award is shared this week by two players who have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence with Megan Fox. Both received plenty of playing time last night - Terrence Cody and Antwan Barnes. Cody was a force in the middle of the line, twice shedding blocks to drop ball carriers for no gain. Together with Ngata, he could help pave the way to a very productive season for the Ravens' inside linebackers. Cody had a total of five tackles on the night...Antwan Barnes also had 5 tackles, forced Pro Bowler left tackle Jordan Gross to hold him twice in order to prevent sacks and was disruptive in the Panthers' offensive backfield. During camp John Harbaugh called Barnes a sleeper as he expects a productive year from the speedy pass rusher. Thursday night was a good start.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Team depth, bountiful except at corner


There are some observers who believe that Marc Bulger has been the team's best quarterback in camp so far. Clearly that's a debatable topic yet Bulger's embracing of the offense, his mastery of the subtleties of the position and his camp productivity represent dividends on the team's investment in the former Pro Bowl QB.

Insiders weren't too pleased about Flacco's short-lived whining about bringing Bulger in. They prefer instead that Flacco learn from the veteran's experiences and incorporate those subtleties into his own game. This is added value in the Bulger signing. Such experiences aren't available when all quarterbacks are of the same age and share similar game experiences.

Veterans Travis Fisher and Walt Harris have done very little so far in camp. Fisher no longer possesses the speed that he once had and is almost always a step behind. Harris didn't see the field much prior to hitting IR and he's now awaiting an injury settlement. Word is that Harris and his agent aren't exactly enamored with the way he's been handled by the Ravens. Neither player has made a single memorable impactful play during camp. Frank Walker would actually be an upgrade and you have to wonder why the Ravens don't just make the move to bring him back. It could be that they are waiting to see if a more desirable name hits the streets first.

With the lack of depth at corner, it's been suggested that perhaps the Ravens should try to unwind the trade they made last summer with the Green Bay Packers. Then the Ravens sent Derrick Martin to the Packers in exchange for offensive lineman Tony Moll. The suggestion was quickly rebuffed. Word is the Ravens really like Moll's versatility and contributions to special teams. Barring any lingering issues with his concussion, Moll is likely to be part of the final 53.

Depth is certainly something that marks the position of tight end for the Ravens. Todd Heap looks healthier than he's been in years and rookies Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta hardly look like freshmen. Both are heady players and Pitta has been impressive in his ability to execute from many different positions on the field. Cam Cameron is moving him around in the slot, backfield and as an H-back. Dickson is most impressive in the way he carries his pads. Some players have great clock speed in t-shirts and shorts but slow when they are loaded up with equipment. That's not the case with Dickson. Some believe that if anything were to happen to Heap, either of these players would be able to step in and immediately pick up the slack. Surprisingly as these two rookies compete for snaps, they are the best of friends.

A favorite of many in the organization, Justin Harper has shown dramatically improved hands during this training camp. His challenges will come when the preseason games arrive. Last year Harper found ways to create separation but struggled to hold on to the football during the summer games. Interestingly, while Harper has made some impressive grabs during practice, there are some who believe that he had a better camp last year particularly in areas outside of ball catching.

A receiver who has really stepped up at McDaniel College this summer is Mark Clayton. He's healthier this year and isn't battling the hamstring issues that have so often inhibited his play. At this point he is the clear No. 3 receiver ahead of Donte Stallworth who has also had a very good camp. That said, the mix of Stallworth with Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason would appear to be more complementary. The issue with Clayton and Mason together is that both players have very similar styles and build.

The offensive line has had its fair share of drama thanks to Jared Gaither's enigmatic ways and those ways just might cause him to lose his left tackle position. He simply isn't dependable and a team needs that from the blindside position. Gaither has been in and out of practice, suffering from back spasms that the team feels are tied to his weight loss and loss of fluids during camp. This drama won't go away any time soon.To fill in for Gaither, the Ravens move Michael Oher to left tackle and they've plugged in Joe Reitz and Ramon Harewood at right tackle. Now that Oniel Cousins has returned to practice he's also in the mix.Reitz has been referred to as a poor man's Joe Staley and the former tight end and Western Michigan basketball player has shown improvement. With another year of practice squad eligibility remaining, that appears to be his likely destination.

The coaching staff has been impressed with Harewood and at this point in his career they believe he's further along in his development than Cousins was as a rookie. Harewood will likely follow a similar path to Tony Pashos. He'll come down with some mysterious injury and head to IR. It's doubtful that the team will be able to cut Harewood and successfully reclaim him for the practice squad. One insider said not to be surprised if Harewood is the team's starting right tackle in 2012.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Carr looking good, Webb not far off


Chris Carr has looked sharp during camp and has shown to be a solid cover corner. His confidence improved sharply following the bye week in 2009 and it continued through the playoffs. The offseason has done little to change that.

Carr's backfield mates Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are ahead of the recovery curve from torn ACL's. Washington is already back on the field and he'll get the green light to go against the Jets on Opening Day barring any setbacks.

Word is that Webb will be ready to begin practice in about 3 weeks and if he tracks the way Washington has in the healing process, he could be back on the field by Week 2 or 3. That means that he's unlikely to hit the PUP list and that could threaten marginally important roster spots like a No. 3 quarterback.



Get all of your camp reports from The "X" Factor

Birk is back, says he's "dumber"


Matt Birk was back on the practice field Friday after being removed from PUP List. Filling in during his absence was a bulked up Chris Chester. Don’t be surprised to see Chester get an unusually high number of snaps during preseason games. The Ravens want to find out if Chester can become a quality center in the NFL or if they’ll have to invest in a free agent or draft pick for a center in 2011.

Asked recently about the complexities of the center position, Birk said that given how the speed of the game has increased during his career, it has effectively made the field smaller. Defenders now can line up on one side of the center yet with their speed and quickness they can create pressure on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. Consequently the line calls from the center position have become more mentally challenging. Birk added this quip to the tail end of the discussion:

“Then again, maybe I’ve taken too many hits to the head and I’m just dumber.”

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Gaither's weight loss may influence starting lineup


While reading through and eventually posting Aaron Wilson’s new pieces here on Ravens24x7.com today, two things jump off the page at me: 1) Aaron’s commentary on Jared Gaither’s weight and; 2) An interesting little blurb about newly acquired CB Doug Dutch.

Gaither is like a walking reality show. He’s dropped down to 311 pounds, 29 below his ’09 playing weight of 340 pounds. That is substantial and not to have consulted with the team before taking the Medifast approach is just flat out irresponsible and/or selfish.

The team has strength and conditioning specialists on staff. If Gaither was genuinely trying to improve his play by re-sculpting his body, why not consult with them if in fact he has the best interests of the team in mind?

Gaither chose not to work out with the team during the offseason. But despite his poor attendance during OTA’s, the team did see him on occasion. Twenty-nine pounds just doesn’t go away between mid June and mid July, does it? Were the Ravens not paying attention?

Aaron’s take on the weight loss is thoughtful. Could Gaither have intentionally dropped the weight so that the Ravens would be forced to play him at left tackle? Left tackles in the NFL are usually more nimble than their counterparts to the right. They are generally asked to control speed rushers while right tackles usually are tasked with battling larger and more physical defensive ends.

Left tackles are paid substantially more money than right tackles – significantly more money (unless of course a club is protecting a left-handed quarterback).

Might Gaither’s agent Drew Rosenhaus have steered his client down Jenny Craig Lane in order to get the bigger pay day next season?

Some might say that conspiracy theorist rhetoric. But given Rosenhaus’ track record of gamesmanship at the bargaining table, the notion can hardly be summarily dismissed.

Speaking of thought, it seems to me that the Ravens didn’t give much of it to the trade of John Beck to the Redskins for CB Doug Dutch. This shakes out for me as trading one warm practice body for another. Dutch arrives today to take away some of the CB reps from the injury depleted secondary and that’s ok I suppose.

But if you are expecting another Ozzie Newsome diamond in the rough with Dutch, don’t hold your breath. You see the Maryland native couldn’t even make the final cut for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Criticisms of Newsome unwarranted


Today the Ravens sent John Beck down the Baltimore/Washington Parkway to compete for the title of backup QB to Donovan McNabb. In exchange the Redskins put Doug Dutch, a relative unknown cornerback on the Amtrak - destination Penn Station, Baltimore.

Beck was obviously not going to make the Ravens final 53 man roster, not exactly the league's best kept secret - hence the paltry price to pay for a 2007 second round draft pick. Ozzie Newsome's John Beck hotline was about as busy as Chris McAlister's John Harbaugh hot line.

Crickets please...

Dutch has little chance to stick with the Ravens but he is a body and the Ravens need some legs out there at corner during camp. Fabian Washington's workload is a bit light; Lardarius Webb remains on PUP while Chris Carr and Travis Fisher sat out today.

You get the picture.

Many are criticizing Newsome for not bringing in more talent at corner via free agency, the draft or both. But the criticisms aren't warranted. The team has scoured the waiver wire for free agents and much to our collective chagrin they just haven't unearthed the next Nnamdi Asomugha. Having signed Domonique Foxworth last year coupled with budding star Webb waiting in the wings, an expensive free agent splash along the lines of a Dunta Robinson just didn't make fiscal sense.

Remember the credo, "Right player, right price"?

As for the draft, who can fault the team for staying true to their draft board? That's another credo that has paid handsome dividends.

Jared Gaither was back out on the field on Monday and took all snaps with the first team at left tackle. Gaither is a tough one to figure out and the team has to be wondering how to motivate the enigmatic offensive lineman. He's unpredictable and therefore not dependable and consequently Michael Oher should be given the job to protect the blind side.

Many have wondered how Paul Kruger is performing with his added weight and muscle mass. Kruger was never exactly the most fleet-footed defensive lineman and the added girth seems to have slowed him down even more. Kruger has been largely stealth so far during camp and unfortunately is looking more and more like a reach in the 2009 NFL Draft.