Saturday, April 30, 2011

What to expect from the Ravens on Day 3 of 2011 NFL Draft

Plus other draft day observations

I find myself going back and forth from ESPN’s draft coverage and NFL Network’s and here are some meandering thoughts:

· Chris Berman needs to give it up. He brings NOTHING to the table and just like the last few drafts, he seems poorly prepared.

· Mel Kiper, Jr. remains the ESPN star and his passion is contagious. That said I do enjoy Mike Mayock’s take as well as that of Charles Davis on NFL Network.

· Adam Shefter far outshines Chris Mortensen who like Berman has worn out his usefulness.

· ESPN has to be benefitting from NFL Network incessant replays of the Alyssa Milano and the Play 60 spots. I think it’s time for NFLN to hire some account execs to sell ads.

· Cam Newton has been well-coached and delivered smooth albeit canned answers during his pressers. It reminds me a bit of the end of Bull Durham when Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) addresses media questions after being coached up by veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Costner). Newton is a poser and come September, he’ll be EXposed.

· As for the war rooms, first blush suggests that the Tampa Bay Bucs, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints and the Washington Redskins have all outperformed many of their previous draft day efforts.

Today I expect the Ravens to get a pass rusher, a RB and a backup quarterback. The name of Christian Ballard has been mentioned quite a bit but word is he was a drug flunky at the NFL Combines. That said the Ravens are dialed in tightly with the Iowa staff and I’m sure they have a solid read on Ballard.

A running back will do two things for the Ravens: 1) provide a fresh look to spell Ray Rice and; 2) allow them to cut ties with Willis McGahee who is set to earn $6 million this coming season. The saved money can be used when free agency opens up to sure up areas of need not addressed in this draft.

As for backup QB, I’m thinking Greg McElroy from Ozzie Newsome’s alma mater the University of Alabama. McElroy is a smart quarterback who could be a long-time backup for Joe Flacco without really pushing for the starting position. Think Frank Reich to Jim Kelly during the Bills’ heyday.

Roger Goodell needs to man up!

Ravens deserving of compensation

The Ravens escaped from the botched draft day trade unscathed for the most part. Despite the fumble by the Chicago Bears who failed to properly call in the draft pick swap (Ravens to obtain No. 29 and No. 127 in exchange for their own No. 26), the Ravens ended up with their man. That said the Ravens were placed at risk by the Bears error – one that Chicago’s GM Jerry Angelo has readily and profusely admitted to.

So why is there no consequence to the Bears?

Why aren’t the Ravens entitled to the draft pick compensation that the Bears offered?

What if Jimmy Smith was taken off the board by the Chiefs who because of the Bears’ organizational brain fart jumped in front of the Ravens and seized the No. 26 overall pick as time on the pick clock ran out?

Roger Goodell (who by the way is becoming more and more like Bud Selig) should force the issue upon the Bears but instead he’s made a polite suggestion to Chicago’s brain trust to make the Ravens whole.

Well here’s a not-so-polite suggestion for the Commissioner – GROW A PAIR!

At the very least the Bears should be forced to pay the difference in salary between what a No. 27 draft pick earns and a No. 29 draft pick (the one the Ravens thought they acquired from Chicago). And that difference should count against the Bears’ cap and not the Ravens’ cap.

The Pros and Cons of Jimmy Smith

The Ravens selection of Jimmy Smith is an interesting one for sure and it has had somewhat of a polarizing affect on fans in the Baltimore area.

Supporters of the move are attracted by Smith’s measurable physical skills and his prototypical body for the modern day cornerback. They are quick to point out that the moves fills a glaring team need and that the value of the pick at No. 27 is just too tempting to ignore.

Detractors will point to the lengthy history of Smith’s off-the-field transgressions and his lack of commitment. They are quick to toss in cutting barbs such as, “Smith gives new meaning to drinking the purple Kool Aid” (a reference to the codeine abuse) or “And these are just the bad things he’s done and been caught.”

Time will tell if Ozzie Newsome made the right decision to turn in the card on Jimmy Smith. But until such time plays out, here are a few thoughts to consider:

· The Ravens so far have come up empty with the risky selection of Sergio Kindle. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the team DID NOT exhaustively investigate Smith, fearing another air ball on draft day.

· The selection might save them some money because now it seems a bit inconceivable that the Ravens will bring back both Chris Carr and Josh Wilson, particularly with Domonique Foxworth returning from an ACL injury.

· The Ravens defense has almost always had star power and solid leadership. The influences of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata should help accelerate Smith’s maturation. That said at some point Smith has to become “one of the boys.” Chris McAlister never did, was a bit of a loner and consequently he was never a “we” guy – always a “me” guy.

Cam Newton will be an NFL bust!

The Carolina Panthers completely blew it by selecting Cam Newton with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. They may be paying $50 million (barring some collective bargaining change in rookie wages) to a guy who could become the next Jamarcus Russell. This pick did NOTHING to improve the Panthers.

If you are going to be forced to shell out all of those Benjamins, you may as well do it on a can’t miss blue chipper like Von Miller or Marcell Dareus and not a guy who has thrown just 292 career collegiate passes, played in 20 games and started in only 14 games, all in 2010 as an Auburn Tiger.

And let’s not forget that Newton operated primarily from the shotgun and for the most part made one read. If the primary receiver wasn’t open, he pulled it down and ran for daylight.

Do you think for a second that will work consistently in the NFL?

Maybe Newton will eventually adjust but with a player with such limited experience it will take a few years. The Panthers will probably show patience because the investment will leave them with no choice.

But will Newton have the patience?

Will a player whose supreme athleticism has carried him so far commit the time to film study and learning the nuances of quarterbacking in the NFL or will he like Russell take the money and run?

Running isn’t new to Newton. He ran from the University of Florida after being caught stealing a laptop and then later he faced suspension or expulsion after three incidents of academic cheating.

This pick has bust written all over it.

But there is a silver lining in this soon to be developing mess for Jerry Richardson and the Panthers. After what promises to be a long 2011 season, Carolina could land the No. 1 pick again in the 2012 NFL Draft.

And when they do maybe they can reverse their bad luck with Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bye, Bye Bulger?

Draft Day Musings...

Many have suggested that the Ravens should use the No. 26 pick in the draft to select an offensive lineman. And while they clearly have a need there, don’t bet on them spending a first round pick to beef up the wall protecting Joe Flacco.

The Ravens moved up in the 2009 draft to get Michael Oher and they did so because they envisioned him as a long-term solution at left tackle. You don’t burn a high pick if you don’t expect the player to be with the team for a long time and you also don’t burn two first round picks on offensive tackles to build bookends. The salary cap structure (which will be in play again with any new CBA) just doesn’t afford teams the luxury of having two highly paid tackles.

Character is always an issue but some teams are willing to take the risk. The Ravens could be one of them if Colorado CB Jimmy Smith is on the board at No. 26. Chris McAlister wasn’t a choir boy and other character issue guys passed by have gone on to establish Hall of Fame careers. I wonder if the Vikings or the Buccaneers are disappointed in their picks of Randy Moss and Warren Sapp.

Some college scouts believe that there is a big drop off in this draft late in the first round to about the 40th pick. Then the talent level plateaus for about 30 picks. With that in mind, if the Ravens get offers for the 26th pick and they aren’t in love with whoever may still be there, they will happily accept an offer similar to that of Denver’s in last year’s draft for the Ravens’ No. 25 overall. Then the Ravens received the 43rd, 70th and 114th overall picks.

A trade up isn’t inconceivable for the Ravens. If for example a player ranked in the Top 15 on their board begins to free fall, don’t be surprised if they move up as they did in 2009 to get their guy. In ’09 the Ravens climbed the board threes spots from 26 to 23 to take Oher. To get there the Ravens happily sacrificed a fifth round pick to the New England Patriots.

Word is the Ravens might consider a quarterback in the ’11 draft. But if they do, don’t expect that quarterback to fill the soon-to-be ex-Raven Marc Bulger’s shoes. More than likely the Ravens will carry 3 QB’s if Bulger leaves as expected and that places some pressure on the 53 man roster. It is unlikely a team such as the Ravens with Super Bowl aspirations will enter the 2011 campaign with just a rookie clipboard carrier. Look for a journeyman vet to enter the mix.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top 10 Baltimore Ravens Draft Picks of All Time

10. Ray Rice ~ This is what a great second round pick (2008) is supposed to look like! The diminutive former Scarlet Knight is tough mentally and physically and if determination and character count, he’ll climb this best of chart in years to come. What would Joe Flacco do without this Pro Bowler who has developed into an accomplished ball catcher? Let’s hope we don’t find out anytime soon.

9. Adalius Thomas ~ Selected as a defensive end in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, this versatile performer first made his mark as a Pro Bowl special teams player and then again as a unique hybrid player who lined up at every position on defense during the 2006 season.

8. Haloti Ngata ~ The Ravens moved up a spot in the 2006 NFL Draft to pick this athletic freak of nature with the 12th overall selection. To leap frog the Browns Ozzie Newsome’s opportunity cost was a sixth round pick which he happily sacrificed –one the Browns wasted on DT Babatunde Oshinowo who had 2 tackles during his 4 season career. Ngata is likely to be a staple at the Pro Bowl for years to come and he one day should sit among the top 4 picks on this list.

7. Todd Heap ~ Chosen with the last pick of the first round during the 2001 NFL Draft, this former AZ St. Sun Devil is a two-time Pro Bowler and the franchise’s all time leading pass catcher. Heap’s talents haven’t been fully tapped, suffering from miserable offensive schemes and incompetent play at quarterback – quarterbacks who have exposed Heap’s body far too often.

6. Peter Boulware ~ This 1997 first round pick battled through injuries that would have sidelined most yet still managed to travel across the pond to Honolulu four times. After a hard hit on Tiki Barber in Super Bowl XXXV, Boulware helped Barber to his feet and said, “Jesus loves you!” The Giants’ dangerous tailback would later say that the combination of that hit and the blessing intimidated Barber and knocked him off his game for a few offensive series during the Ravens convincing championship win.

5. Jamal Lewis ~ The Ravens parlayed a 1999 second round pick into a 2000 No. 5 overall pick via a trade with the Atlanta Falcons and landed this steamroller from Tennessee. For several seasons Lewis carried the Ravens’ offense despite taking on defenses that committed 8 or 9 to the box in order to stop him. It would have been nice to see what Lewis could have done with some semblance of an offensive vertical threat and competency at quarterback.

4. Terrell Suggs ~ T-Sizzle became a Raven by default during the confusion surrounding the Vikings first pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. The object of Ozzie Newsome’s desire was QB Byron Leftwich but in a very positive stroke of fate, the Ravens took the next highest rated player on their board and he’s outperformed Leftwich by leaps and bounds. The Ravens all-time sack leader is still just 28 years old and is coming off his best overall season ever in the NFL.

3. Ed Reed ~ The Ravens coveted LB Napoleon Harris with the 24th pick in the 2002 NFL Draft but the Oakland Raiders beat them to the punch with the 23rd pick. Once again while staying true to their board they selected the Miami Hurricane who has become one of the greatest defensive playmakers of all time. The seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All Pro is destined for Canton, OH.

2. Jonathan Ogden ~ The Ravens very first draft pick ever and the fourth overall in 1996, J.O. became one of the best left tackles of all time and is a lock as a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2013. Believe it or not the initial reviews were mixed on this selection. The Ravens already had competent offensive tackles with Tony Jones and Orlando Brown and many preferred the explosive yet troubled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips.

1. Ray Lewis ~ Many said he was under-sized and not fast enough and that his so-called measurables didn’t measure up to first round standards. Unfortunately for other teams and fortunately for the Ravens heart cannot be measured and this middle linebacker, arguably the greatest ever, has one like a lion. Has any team ever had their very first two draft choices go into the Hall of Fame? That’s exactly what will go down for the Ravens when Ray Lewis is HOF eligible.

Honorable Mention:

Edwin Mulitalo ~ A fan favorite, great teammate and all-around solid guy, this 1999 fourth round pick provided competent offensive line play for 8 seasons with the Ravens – some of those seasons at borderline Pro Bowl levels.

Chris McAlister ~ Sorry to all the CMac huggers out there. It’s just hard to respect a guy who didn’t respect himself or the game. As good as he was he personifies the description “underachiever.”

The Baltimore Ravens Top 10 Draft Day Busts

Honorable Mention:

Mark Clayton
~ Chosen with the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the former Sooner never delivered what was expected. Perhaps the Ravens were caught up in his strong character so much that they made the pick with their hearts and not their heads. His skills were near mirror images of Derrick Mason’s while a more complementary player like Roddy White (who was Mel Kiper’s choice for the Ravens that year) would have been a far better pick. Instead the Ravens passed on the three-time Pro Bowler.

10. Devard Darling ~ In four seasons with the Ravens this native of the Bahamas had 20 catches for 331 yards and 3 TDs – hardly what you would expect from the 82nd overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. This “reach” was made even worse when matched up with the rest of Phil Savage’s swansong draft with the Ravens that included: Dwan Edwards, Rod Green, Josh Harris, Clarence Moore, Derek Abney and Brian Rimpf.

9. Duane Starks ~ Although he was a tough tackler for his size and played extremely well during the Ravens’ playoff stretch up to and including Super Bowl XXXV, Starks’ productivity fell far short of what you might expect from the No. 10 overall pick in 1998, particularly when considering the talent on the Ravens defensive roster. The Ravens past on notables like Tra Thomas, Randy Moss (character) and Alan Faneca and even corners selected later in the draft (Patrick Surtain and Samari Rolle) had brighter careers than Starks. Either the Ravens reached and did not stick to the BPA draft strategy or their board was incorrectly stacked. Either way it adds up to a bust at No. 10 overall.

8. David Pittman ~ The Ravens took a gamble and spent the 87th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft on a corner from small Northwestern State in Louisiana. Pittman seemed overwhelmed by the talent in the NFL and he played with hesitation. He was never really embraced by his teammates either because he failed to “carry the chicken” during training camp – one of the mild rookie hazing tactics. He might be carrying the chicken these days for some fast food joint.

7. Adam Terry ~ The former Syracuse Orangeman looked rather green when asked to play right tackle. He lacked toughness physically and mentally and turned out to be a second round reach for Ozzie Newsome. Word is that Brian Billick influenced the move up in the draft to select Terry because the Ravens board did not include many highly rated tackles beyond him. Another bust, the result of reaching for need and cheating their well planned out board.

6. Dan Cody ~ Coming out of Oklahoma, red flags surrounded Dan Cody. He had first round talents but slipped to the second round. The Ravens who are seemingly attracted to players in Round 2 who possess first round measurables pulled the trigger on Cody and again it went “KABOOM” – another bust, this time a Boomer Sooner. Cody spent far more time on injured reserve than he did on the active roster and eventually, despite his dedication in the weight room and team-first approach, he wore out his welcome. During his 3 year stay Cody registered 1 assisted tackle. He never got a sniff from another team after the Ravens released him in 2007.

5. Patrick Johnson ~ Another reach? You bet, this time a second round extension with the 1998 draft’s 42nd overall selection. During his 5 seasons with the Ravens PJ had 60 catches and 7 scores to go with inconsistent hands and unpolished route running skills. This is what generally happens when you draft a track star with limited collegiate football productivity too early.

4. Travis Taylor ~ Once again the Ravens reach for need in 2000, ignore the BPA draft strategy while passing up on players like: Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Bubba Franks, Deltha O'Neal, Julian Peterson and Keith Bulluck (1) who combined for 17 Pro Bowl appearances. Are you sensing a pattern here? Taylor was supposed to be an impact receiver but instead he was inconsistent and soft. Making this pick even worse is the fact that the Ravens gave up the 15th overall pick in the 2000 draft plus the 45th overall to move up to 10 and get Taylor. O’Neal, Peterson and Bulluck were all still on the board at 15 and the much more accomplished Florida Gator wideout (as a professional) Darrell Jackson was still on the board at 45 along with Laveranues Coles.

3. DeRon Jenkins ~ The Ravens again fail when moving up in the draft. To acquire the 55th pick in the 1996 NFL Draft the Ravens gave Denver their 3rd, 4th and 7th round picks that season. What the Ravens got in exchange was a player who started just 30 games during his four seasons in Baltimore while contributing just two interceptions. The team’s board is called into question again after the first round when labeling Jenkins a better player than Brian Dawkins. The eight-time Pro Bowler was chosen by the Eagles 6 picks after Jenkins.

2. Jay Graham ~ The Ravens spent the 64th overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft to pick this Tennessee Volunteer. If only he had volunteered for a different career path, the Ravens may have landed one of these players who were bypassed for Graham: Dexter Coakley, Ronde Barber, Jason Taylor and Mike Vrabel. Combined, this group has posted 15 Pro Bowl appearances. Instead what the Ravens received was a fragile back who started in just 4 games during 3 seasons, rushing for only 408 yards and 2 scores.

1. Kyle Boller ~ Another move up in the draft to reach for need, Boller was originally projected to go in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft but after an impressive NFL Combine performance and while showcasing high character traits, Brian Billick was smitten. To get Boller the Ravens handed New England their 2003 No. 2 pick plus 2004’s No. 1. The Ravens compounded this colossal mistake by sticking with Boller far too long, clearly influenced by the sizeable investment they made in the former California Golden Bear. This escalation of commitment in a quarterback who was never anything more than an average back up cost the team dearly because it burned years off the league’s best defense. In retrospect with the wasted picks players like Nnamdi Asomugha and Matt Schaub could have been Ravens.

End of lockout could lock up Gaither for Ravens

Player reps around the league are instructing their teammates to report to work today yet the league is attempting to curb such player enthusiasm with fancy legalese such as an “expedited stay.”

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I have a firm grasp on what’s going on. What I do believe happened yesterday is that the players scored a proverbial run in a nine inning game and there are spectators that are still entering the “ballpark.”

In other words it’s far too early to declare winners.

That said, I’m happy to see that someone “scored” because in any competitive situation when there’s an action it usually invokes a reaction and ultimately it moves things closer to a conclusion.

Where things end up is anyone’s guess. Players may be gloating at the moment about a battlefield win and the owners may be licking their wounds but at the end of the day as fans we sit here and wonder why there was a war at all. This labor mess is pure insanity.

And the insanity might get a little worse.

Think about this…

If there is no lockout AND there is no CBA, chances are that the league will operate as it did in 2010 – as an uncapped year. Now for many players, the end of the lockout will not only open the doors to team facilities, it also opens the door to free agency.

But what about players like Jared Gaither? If the uncapped rules apply, the Ravens will control his destiny at least for the 2011 season.

If it becomes clear by the day of the 2011 NFL Draft (set to begin on Thursday night) that the lockout is over, might the Ravens slide offensive tackle down their list of draft needs a bit knowing they have Gaither as a 2011 ace in the hole?

Perhaps the same thinking can be applied to safety Dawan Landry and his pending free agency.

Let’s assume that Ozzie Newsome & Co. go into the draft and think they have a bead on Gaither and Landry but sometime in July for example, the players and owners agree to a new CBA that sets Gaither and Landry free?

Making those potential losses worse is a draft day strategy that assumed they would stick around per 2010 uncapped rules.


Perhaps with all of the labor uncertainty, this year more than any other before Ozzie should not deviate from his best player available approach. As we’ve seen in the past when he does (see Messrs. Boller, Taylor, Terry and Jenkins to name a few) it just doesn’t work out.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

NFL Lockout puts pressure on veteran free agents

Clearly the absence of free agency has dampened the buzz around the NFL Draft. Most teams, the Ravens included, use free agency to address needs and the draft to create depth and find future starters by picking the best player available.

However without free agency it will be interesting to see how much need influences war room draft boards around the league.

Equally interesting will be how teams eventually treat free agents. If the lockout extends beyond the time normally set aside for voluntary and/or mandatory OTA’s and into training camp or beyond, there will be few free agent signings because players won’t have the requisite time to grow comfortable within the system of an acquiring team. This will cost veterans a lot of money and it could become a big influencer to DeMaurice Smith’s cooperative spirit.

The limited time will also impact the effectiveness of rookies in the 2011 season. The position of wide receiver, always a challenging leap for even the best collegiate players, will become even more challenging. The invaluable time in the classroom and on the practice field developing a rapport with the quarterback is lost – the pre-snap reads that require both QB and WR to be in synch will lack connectivity.

Even for a veteran, dialing in with your QB is a tall task without the proper prep time.

Just ask Joe Flacco and TJ Houshmandzadeh.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Some Ravens fans need to curb the drama over 2011 schedule

If you are from Baltimore and you can’t admit that your civic pride is laced with at least a smidgen of an inferiority complex, you are in denial! Just admit it! Really, it’s ok.

The late William Donald Schaefer who will go down as the greatest ambassador ever for Charm City, did his very best to squelch that complex (and God bless him for that) but look around you fellow Baltimoreans. It still exists.

Turn on the Weather Channel and every single freaking radar map known to mankind will show Philadelphia to the north and DC to the south. Not a single Baltimore weather stat or mention.

Channel jump to SportsCenter on ESPN and you need to wait out the entire 1 hour program before you see an Orioles highlight unless of course they have lost to the Yankees or Red Sox.

Big concert acts regularly skip over B’more for “thriving metropolises” like Hershey, PA. (Side bar: Thank you U2!)

Our football heritage has been summarily dismissed too!

The Colts ripped out our hearts and the NFL’s best colors and left town forever in Mayflower vans under the cover of darkness. No one is there to come to our aid like they did for the crybabies in Cleveland.

Exhaustive efforts to obtain an NFL expansion franchise were snubbed by the grotesquely obtuse Paul Tagliabue who suggested instead that Baltimore “build a museum.”

Even Gino’s, an iconic fast food joint from the Land of Pleasant Living made its comeback in King of Prussia, PA for crying out loud!

So it’s no surprise that when many Ravens’ fans look at the team’s schedule for the first time, it’s through jaded and jilted eyes. Peering in closely such supporters of the purple and black will ponder out loud, “So, let’s see how the NFL screwed us this year.”

Here are a few of the gems I’ve heard…

* “I can’t believe we have to play Sh*tsburgh right out of the gates!”

* “We suck on prime time and this year we have 5 nationally televised games.”

* “Why are we playing Arizona at home and not Seattle?”

* “My family will be all ticked off over these Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve home games!”

* “Once again, no Monday Night home game!”

* “Why did the Ravens get an unfavorable bye in Week 4 when the Steelers get a more desirable one in Week 11?”


Let’s lose the Cleveland-esque drama and stop whining!

I love this Ravens schedule! For those who like to take in road games the schedule affords a few nice nuggets in Nashville, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego. The home schedule seems balanced and the most challenging teams on the schedule (based on last season’s records) are visitors to M&T Bank Stadium.

The Steelers game helps set the tone. The Ravens are 3-0 in home openers with Joe Flacco behind center and during those games Flacco sports a 96.7 passer rating. Take away the home opener during his rookie season v. Cincinnati when they dummied down the offense and Flacco puts up a 109.6 passer rating in his own crib on opening day.

Week 2 the Ravens are on the road against the Titans, a team that has a new coaching staff and will likely not have their house in order that early in the season. In

Week 3 the Ravens head to the gateway of the west in St. Louis where they will take on a team that many believe will improve as the season progresses. In other words better to play them sooner than later.

In Week 4 the Ravens host the Jets and is there little doubt that Rex Ryan and Bart Scott will open up their pie holes and give the hometown crowd a few more reasons to lose their collective mind and become a completely disruptive force during this Sunday Night game?

The month of October includes only one travel day for the Ravens (Jacksonville) and between November 20 and December 16 the Ravens longest trip is to Cleveland.
Oh and to all of you complaining about the Thanksgiving Game at night, are you kidding me?

C’mon man!

It may be another dozen years or more before the Ravens have this kind of opportunity to host on Thanksgiving. And it isn’t as though the game will disrupt the family gathering. Seriously, how many Thanksgiving parties are still going by 8PM? This is a red letter day, one that may never be duplicated! So get out your tryptophan kryptonite and get down to M&T!

I’ll admit that in the past the Ravens have had the misfortune of some unfavorable scheduling – but this isn’t one of those times.

So to all of you conspiracy theorists and/or those who embrace the role of NFL victim, I’ll share some words of wisdom bestowed upon me once by my loving daughter:

“Build a bridge and get over it!”

Enjoy this schedule – it’s an absolute winner!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cleveland is a nothing-to-do wasteland...just ask Peyton Hillis!

Unless you work for the EPA and you are on a research assignment tied to water pollution or you are visiting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland isn’t exactly a resort destination of choice for travelers.

Maybe it’s the weather or the smell of industry that keeps you a half time zone from the Mistake by the Lake. Maybe you shy away from the rusty town because even the director of Major League thought the area was such a sweaty crotch that they had to shoot a film about the Cleveland Indians in Baltimore.

Or maybe it has something to do with the world’s largest collection of crybabies, aka Clevelanders.

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

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

Then the former poster boy of Wail Away, USA, LeBron James, perhaps the biggest crybaby in sport, walked away from his hometown Ohio, allured by the inviting South Beach.

Choosing between Cleveland and South Beach is like choosing between a nagging Roseanne Barr and an accommodating Megan Fox.

And apparently there is absolutely nothing to do in Cleveland either except sit at the computer and go to the ESPN Sportsnation Poll and vote all day and night. I mean, how else do you explain how Peyton Hillis has defeated popular players like Ray Rice, Matt Ryan, Jamaal Charles and Aaron Rodgers?

Hey Hillis, after Pat Shurmur runs you into the ground and prematurely ends your career, maybe you should run for Mayor of Cleveland.

Or will that be Leave-Land for you too?

Why would anyone live there? Is it a choice or a sentence?

Hey, this just dawned on me…

Purgatory has been defined as a place you can go to as a temporary punishment so that you can purify yourself of your sins before you can enter heaven.

Maybe that’s what Cleveland really is.

Just ask LeBron.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Smith or Smith?

One could be a Raven

There are few if any teams in the NFL that aren’t flawed. That doesn’t mean less than perfect rosters can’t be successful in the league, it just means that it is incumbent upon all teams to exploit their opponent’s flaws more efficiently than their own are exploited. You only need to look to Super Bowl XLV for proof.

During that game, the Green Bay Packers were far more skillful with their proverbial scalpel while surgically dissecting the soft white underbelly of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. Aaron Rodgers used spread formations and quick decision making to neutralize Dick LeBeau’s formidable pass rush while shredding his suspect secondary.

In the end the Lombardi Trophy went home to Titletown.

The Baltimore Ravens have flaws – arguably several of them and they will look to the 2011 NFL Draft to try and do a little damage control. The team is less than ideal at the positions of offensive tackle, defensive end, wide receiver, cornerback and linebacker. Their well dispersed array of needs matches up neatly with their draft day strategy of Best Player Available (“BPA”).

Now this particular draft is said to be deep but not exactly rich with blue chip players and that might explain why so many mock drafts vary even at the top of the board with the No. 1 overall pick. The Ravens at No. 26 will have the luxury of not being forced to spend more for a player higher up on the board who might not be as good as the one available to them at 26. The more mistakes made in front of them and the more quarterbacks or even defensive tackles selected before them increases the relative value of the Ravens’ draft position.

With their pick, many have the Ravens selecting Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith. Smith however is decorated with red flags as a result of character issues and it’s possible that the Ravens have taken Smith off their board altogether as a result.

That said, one source has shared with us that character concerns at the cornerback position are commonplace. Look around the league and you would be hard-pressed to find young corners making an impact in the NFL who didn’t arrive with some baggage. For every clean and accomplished kid like the Patriots’ Devin McCourty there’s a handful of Johnathan Josephs, Pacman Joneses, Antonio Cromarties and Aqib Talibs. It just may be that flawed character is part of the DNA of a skillful corner.

Clearly the Ravens best corner ever had character issues. If you were Ozzie Newsome and you were given a do-over with Chris McAlister, would you take him again? Most would say yes, right?

But back to Jimmy Smith, if you listen to the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and Charlie Casserly, they would pass on Smith in the first round because it is their learned position that his skill set at the bottom of round 1 while alluring, is too risky and teams should avoid the temptation to put in their draft card with Smith’s name on it.

It is foolish to completely dismiss the opinions of these two fine analysts, yet keep in mind that the information that the Mayocks, Casserlys and Kipers have access to on Smith and all players for that matter, pales in comparison to the inside skinny each of the teams possess. If the Ravens do make this Colorado Buffalo the next Raven, it won’t be because they’ve ignored the red flags but rather, they are comfortable enough with them that when matched up against his skills, still makes him the BPA.

Another Smith that is often tied to the Ravens is Maryland Terrapin Torrey Smith. From what we’ve learned the Ravens like the speedy wide receiver and they believe his measurables are highly desirable and his hands are superior to those of former Terp and NFL bust-to-date Darius Heyward-Bey.

And while Smith is doing his best to detach from DHB, the current Raiders’ reputation might push the Terrapins first round hopeful into the second round. The bet here is that the Ravens won’t touch Torrey Smith in round 1 and they’ll wait to see if he’s available when Ozzie Newsome & Co. are on the clock again in round 2. The Ravens like the kid’s upside and he brings very strong intangibles and character.

As we’ve seen in the past with wide receiver misses like Travis Taylor, Mark Clayton and Patrick Johnson, the Ravens have struggled identifying top end pass catchers in the draft. The Ravens aren’t alone in that department.

The position of wide receiver remains one of the more difficult ones to project and develop in the NFL and that problem could be exacerbated if the league’s labor issues continue. The lost time removes the opportunity for ample classroom/playbook study and developing a rapport with the quarterback. The end result is a player who is less instinctive, thinks too much, plays slower and ultimately fails to get open.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Baltimore Ravens: Cameron still on thin ice? Zbikowski to give up football?

Plus a shocking development with Torrey Smith & more...

The Ravens will bring a bit of nostalgia back to M&T Bank Stadium during the 2011 Season and it will undoubtedly be a welcomed addition to the array of concessions that are served. Word is that Gino Marchetti and the Ravens have struck a deal to make the Ravens' crib the first return locale of Gino's to Baltimore.

As of this writing there were no definitive plans from the club as to where Gino's will be located but early signs point towards at least 2 areas, one in the upper deck and another in the lower bowl on the Unitas Plaza side of the stadium.

The cynic may chuckle at such talk of stadium concessions given the league's labor uncertainties but rest assured, there will be football in 2011 and the bet here is that the league will play a full 16 game schedule. That said, what is at risk is training camp at McDaniel College and the CBA or lack thereof is being fingered as the culprit.

However there have been some unsubstantiated rumblings that despite the public support, the team really isn't all that enamored with McDaniel College and there are some who feel that Stevenson University is lurking in the shadows, courting the Ravens in a big way. Don't be surprised if the good folks of Westminster, MD feel the economy's pinch even more and are on the outside looking in during those hot, hazy, humid days of late July and early August.

Some have opined (myself included) that Cam Cameron's job was saved by the ongoing labor strife. The threat of an extended lockout was viewed as a huge deterrent to success for any new coordinator since he would not have the luxury of off season classroom study and a full complement of organized team activities. However one source has indicated that if Judge Susan Nelson (hearing the NFL case on April 6) acts as swiftly as some believe and she places an injunction on the owner's lockout, a full season is back in play and will revert back to the 2010 uncapped rules. Should that happen Cameron could again be at risk, and if so remember this name - Charlie Weis.

A name that Cam Cameron could not remember during the 2010 season was that of Donte Stallworth. Stallworth has been working out with Maryland speedster Torrey Smith and from what we hear Smith's interview with the Ravens went extremely poorly - so much so that the Ravens are likely to pass on the Terp even if he falls to them in Round 2.

Could Stallworth's less than pleasant one year stint with Cameron have tainted Smith's impression of the team so much so that he was willing to tank an interview with a contending team? Might his opinion change if the Ravens bring back Smith's good buddy for a second tour of duty in purple and black?

Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. You may recall that during the 2010 NFL Draft, the Ravens attempted to move up in the draft to select the then plummeting Dez Bryant. But the Patriots wanted a third round pick from the Ravens to move up just one slot. Those demands from Bill Belichick were greeted by a complimentary dial tone from Ozzie Newsome.

Or so we were led to believe...

The truth be told, the Ravens phone connection to the Patriots that night was somehow severed and while they tried in vain to connect with Belichick when on the clock, the call came in from Denver who wanted Tim Tebow badly. As you know the Ravens unloaded their No. 1 and turned it into a second, third and fourth round picks.

From what we've gathered, the Ravens believe that Bryant and his agent Eugene Parker are somehow connected to that disconnected line with the Patriots. Bryant wanted to play for the Cowboys and Parker has never enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Ravens. The mind boggling things here, are the obvious extremes agents will go to in order to deliver for their clients.

With their second round pick from Denver during the 2010 NFL Draft the Ravens selected Texas LB Sergio Kindle. The Ravens still hold out hope that their resident Humpty Dumpty will get it together in 2011 and make his way on to the playing field. But not so fast...

Howard County Judge, the honorable Keakhim Indabalz, who will be hearing Kindle's DUI case in May is extremely hard on careless athletes who take their God-given abilities for granted and behave recklessly. And while Kindle's prior offences do not fall within Indabalz' jurisdiction, his courtroom history suggests that they certainly influence his sentencing. It would not be inconceivable to see Kindle be the sacrificial lamb of Howard County's intolerable court system when it comes to DUI, much like Plaxico Burress fell to similarly stringent hang gun laws in New York.

Marc Bulger's name has been kicked around as a potential starting quarterback in Arizona. That would seem to be a natural fit for the quick-triggered Bulger who followed Kurt Warner in St. Louis and ran the spread West Coast offense very effectively earning 2 Pro Bowl nominations in the process. Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt believes that Bulger can just as effectively fill Warner's shoes in the desert, something that Derek Anderson & Co. failed to do in 2010.

But there's one hitch in this plan for Bulger. Word has leaked out that Warner plans to come out of retirement and once again pick up a big paycheck, something he doesn't do at NFL Network as an analyst. Those close to Warner say he experienced an awakening of sorts seeing Tiki Barber scrambling back to the NFL in search of more Benjamins. The Cardinals are said to be interested and that would make Bulger the odd man out. If things go down as expected and Warner makes that comeback, look for Bulger to stay in Baltimore even if he doesn't command the $4 million he earned last season as the world's most expensive clipboard carrier.

Finally, Ravens' safety Tom Zbikowski has received a slew of attention for his boxing ring prowess during the owner's lockout. His skills have even captured the attention of legendary trainer Emanuel Steward. But are Zibby's skills really that good or has Steward been lured in by the potential marketing opportunities stemming from the former Golden Domer's unique two-sport athleticism?

There may be some truth to that but what we hear, Steward brought in former protégé Thomas "The Hit Man" Hearns to spar with Zbikowski and after being crushed by a nearly lethal combination that included a left hook to the ribs and a jolting upper cut to the jaw that left Hearns unconcsious for minutes on the canvas, Steward was sold!

Don't be surprised if Zbikowski never wears a Ravens uniform again!

No matter how you look at it... !