Thursday, June 30, 2011

Orioles have no choice but to extend JJ Hardy

Otherwise they are nothing more than pretenders...

The Orioles are reportedly in discussions with JJ Hardy’s representatives to extend the productive shortstop’s tenure here in Baltimore. To say that signing Hardy to an extension is important would be a mammoth understatement. Make no mistake about it, extending the former Brewer and Twin is imperative!

Despite missing 27 games, Hardy is arguably the Orioles’ most productive player at the plate, particularly when you consider his offense per at bat. He’s also been very steady in the field with only 1 error and sports a .996 fielding percentage.

Hardy could play shortstop until the highly touted Manny Machado is ready for the bigs. At that time the O’s could move Hardy to third base.

If the Orioles fail to sign Hardy the repercussions could send the struggling franchise into an even longer tailspin. It will send a signal to other free agents and their agents that nothing has changed in Baltimore – that Peter Angelos is still practicing low-balling and that Baltimore is nothing more than a quicker path to the majors (due to a lack of talent) for young players and a convalescent home for aging stars looking for one last paycheck (see Vladimir Guerrero).

All of you who want Prince Fielder to call Camden Yards home in 2012 can fuggedaboutit! It ain’t happening if JJ Hardy (a teammate of Fielder’s for 5 seasons in Milwaukee) isn’t signed.

Andy McPhail will continue to preach, “groom the arms, buy the bats.”

But how long before the fans have seen enough of the dry-rotted wood he has been harvesting?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Flacco to tie the knot today!

My friend and Style Magazine Social Columnist Anne Boone-Simanski informs me that Joe Flacco is marrying his long-time girlfriend and high school sweetheart Dana Grady today in Philadelphia. (Dana is to the right in the featured picture)

Congrats to the happy couple!

Rice hints that McGahee is done in Baltimore

During the Ravens’ player organized workout back in May at Towson University, Ray Rice bounced around the field like a kid with a new toy. Clearly the lockout couldn’t curb his enthusiasm.

After the “practice with caution” Rice met with the media and touched on several topics, one of which was the team’s seventh round draft pick from Georgia Tech, running back Anthony Allen.

"Anthony Allen, he's definitely a big dude," Rice said. "He's definitely a guy who I feel is worthy of playing running back on this team. Anybody that can counterpart with me, I'm willing to help."

Most of you are aware that Willis McGahee’s contract calls for him to earn $6 million plus in 2011. His camp has said that he will not accept a pay cut and there have been overtures that McGahee believes he can be a featured back in the league.

That’s not going to happen in Baltimore and the only way he’ll get the $6 mil per from the Ravens (and perhaps any team for that matter) is if he buys into the dollar per year over the next 6 million years.

So if both camps are firm in their respective positions, McGahee has already taken his last snap as a Raven.

And the statement from Rice regarding Allen seems to suggest the same.

Rice and McGahee are pretty tight off the field. Do you think Rice’s choice of words may have been a bit different if in fact McGahee planned to return?

Thanks for the memories Willis!

Friday, June 24, 2011

U2 360 Baltimore: The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox

It has been roughly 35 hours since U2 delivered their final note on Wednesday night and I am still energized by the performance. The atmosphere in and around M&T Bank Stadium was nothing short of high voltage electricity. The band’s performance was a landslide winner and the event a crowning achievement for the city of Baltimore.

Here’s a look back…

THE GOOD: One might expect bottlenecks in the queue leading into the stadium similar to those prior to Ravens’ games. Instead and to my delight ticket holders walked in freely without the criminal-like pat downs during football season. Maybe rock fans are less likely than football fans to enter the stadium with weapons of mass destruction? Hey maybe now that bin Laden is swimming with the fishes entrance into M&T will be less intrusive?...U2’s 360 stage, something that Star Wars might be interested in when the band no longer wants it, looked like a gargantuan Alaskan King Crab during the daylight but when the sun went down and its lights came on, it was an off-the-hook technological spectacle that somehow made a packed stadium seem intimate…

The band was in great form and perhaps energized by the rest in between performances (last gig was June 18 in Anaheim, CA). Bono’s vocals couldn’t have been better and the band effortlessly glided with and fed off each other…Best song performances were: “I Will Follow”, “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found” and the mini-set from Achtung Baby to open the show… Gabrielle Giffords' husband Mark Kelly’s introduction of "Beautiful Day" was innovative and fitting…Bono’s dedication to Clarence Clemons was a very heartfelt touch of class.

THE BAD: Not including “Bad” in the set list was a head scratching omission. That’s on par with going to see Bruce Springsteen and never hearing “Born to Run.”

THE UGLY: Federal Hill bars were so ill-equipped to handle the patrons – or should I say potential patrons. We breezed through several establishments that were about as poised as Kyle Boller facing a blitz. Each seemed staffed for another hum-drum Wednesday afternoon. Hello McFly! Didn’t they get the memo that the largest crowd ever to descend upon M&T Bank Stadium was on its way?

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Given such a superlative effort by the band, city and its citizens, it’s difficult to single out one thing – so I won’t…The introduction of the band to the crowd vis-à-vis David Bowie’s Space Oddity was outstanding, particularly the use and the timing of the video screens above the stage for all to witness the band’s stroll towards the 360 monstrosity (video below). Stadium management without a doubt brought its “A” Game and the sea of humanity that filled M&T more than ever before was respectfully raucous and the band was clearly appreciative.

Here’s a link to our U2 Photo Gallery.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is Paul Kruger on the verge of being Dan Cody Part II?

Baltimore Ravens fans have often compared Paul Kruger to former Raven Dan Cody. Both were second round draft picks who could have been first round picks had it not been for physical ailments that chased some teams away.

And both have been major disappointments.

Cody could never get on the field. Perhaps his body was not built to hold the muscle mass he developed. He broke down often and today he is out of football and has been so for close to 3 years now.

Kruger hasn’t developed his game enough to earn more snaps. He backs up Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson, both superior players. However at some point players have to step up, play with their hair on fire and stand out on tape. And if Kruger does, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will find a way to get him snaps, particularly if he can put a hat on a quarterback.

But that is up to Kruger. If he fails to step up in 2011 he will validate the fans’ comparisons to Cody and like the former Sooner, the Utah Ute Kruger could be done after 3 seasons in Baltimore.

Photo by Keith Allison

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ravens secondary will have a new look in 2011

The Baltimore Ravens secondary will have a new look this season beginning of course with the addition of CB Jimmy Smith. But the changes will not stop there.

Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Dawan Landry are all likely to be free agents while CB Domonique Foxworth is expected to return from an ACL tear. Carr has been a long-time favorite of Chuck Pagano’s and to a large extent, he’s the reason Carr has been a Raven. Wilson is from the area and has a strong bond with both Foxworth and rookie WR Torrey Smith – all three former Maryland Terrapins. Yet it seems doubtful that the team will be able to keep both Carr and Wilson and that might give the talented but untested Carey Williams a chance to compete for some playing time.

As for Lardarius Webb, he looks to rebound from an inconsistent 2010. Now that his knee should be fully recovered the Ravens may line Webb up at the nickel corner more frequently and ask him to blitz from that spot on occasion – something the aggressive Pagano is likely to do more of than predecessor Greg Mattison.

At safety the odds appear better than 50-50 that Dawan Landry will move on. He’s a liability in coverage and his tackling has not been as sure or as forceful as it once was prior to suffering from a concussed spinal cord a couple of seasons ago.

Ozzie Newsome has shown in the past that he’s willing to move away from players when they no longer fit the bill of “right player, right price.” Former safeties Kim Herring, Will Demps and Jim Leonhard all moved on to greener pastures when Newsome believed that the returns no longer justified the price tag.

Will Kelly Gregg be a Raven in 2011?

Could the 2011 season be Kelly Gregg’s swansong season as a member of the Baltimore Ravens?

Will he even be with the team in 2011?

Gregg’s effectiveness has diminished rapidly over the past two seasons yet the team from top to bottom remains steadfast in their support of the often underappreciated defensive tackle. There have been murmurs that Gregg remained the starter in 2010 largely out of respect for past contributions. And while the NFL is largely a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, it seems that Gregg’s accomplishments, largely unnoticed by many, earned him snaps in 2010 that weren't justified by the quality of his play.

Given the team’s enthusiasm over the potential of Terrence Cody and Arthur Jones, Gregg’s playing time could drop precipitously and if it does, it will be hard for Ozzie Newsome & Company to justify a $4.3 million salary and cap number in 2011 for “Buddy Lee” no matter how liked and respected he is.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ravens coaches and front office ready for 2011

Without the benefit or the responsibility of coaching and analyzing players, John Harbaugh and his staff have turned to analyzing themselves.

Last week during The Coach’s Buzz program on ESPN 1300, Baltimore Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta assured us all that the time is being invested wisely.

“[The coaches] have taken the opportunity to do a lot of self-scouting. What has worked and what hasn’t, studying tendencies. We’ve really re-evaluated a lot of different things which I think is critical if you’re trying to get better as a team.”

The front office has been busy as well, preparing for what promises to be a fast and furious hunting season when free agency opens up following a new collective bargaining agreement. According to DeCosta the Ravens have evaluated every potential free agent and they’ve formulated a plan to augment their roster.

And like they have in the past, augmentation is more likely than a big free agent splash.

“The biggest thing is not to panic”, explains DeCosta. “And that has been one of Ozzie’s greatest strengths as general manager.”

Does this mean that All Pro CB Nnamdi Asomugha is not really on the team’s radar screen?

“Tony you’ve been trying to start that rumor for about two years. I think I told you, you have a better chance of becoming the Ravens’ GM than Nnamdi becoming a Raven.”

You can hear the entire interview with Eric DeCosta HERE.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sergio Kindle equates to found "money" for the Ravens

Have you ever put on a pair of shorts after breaking them out from a long winter’s nap and after sliding into them, you notice that there’s something in the pocket? You reach in and pull out money that somehow escaped your notice when the previous summer’s sun set for the final time.


In the case of the Baltimore Ravens, what they found in their proverbial pocket is a pass rush linebacker named Sergio Kindle. And for the Ravens in 2011 Kindle is the equivalent of another second round draft pick and potential a big win for them.

Recently the former Texas Longhorn was given medical clearance to play and despite lingering hearing problems in his left year, the Ravens’ coaches and front office are excited by the talents the playmaking linebacker exhibited during team OTA’s in 2010. He’s been compared to his former collegiate teammate and current Washington Redskin, Brian Orakpo.

The team expects Kindle to make an impact on third down and as a pursuit strong side linebacker. The issues with his hearing aren’t expected to alter their plans for Kindle because his assignments won’t be much more complicated than going after the opposing player standing behind center.

Here’s more on Kindle and several Ravens related topics including Terrence Cody, Paul Kruger, Torrey Smith and more with Ravens’ Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta, heard on The Coach’s Buzz on ESPN Radio 1300.

The Coach’s Buzz airs every Wednesday on Baltimore’s ESPN Radio 1300 from 5-7 PM.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Flacco to play with a "big chip" on his shoulder in 2011

Joe Flacco has been the focal point of many discussions and debates this offseason with topics ranging from his proficiencies in the vertical passing game to his ability (or lack thereof) to deliver in the clutch. Even his leadership skills have been called into question.

Back on May 25 several Ravens players gathered for an informal workout organized by Derrick Mason and for the most part guided by Flacco. It was a signal to his teammates and observers that he is prepared to step up as the offensive maestro – another milestone in the fourth year signal caller’s maturation process. His favorite pitch and catch mate certainly took notice.

“Joe is playing with a big chip on his shoulder now”, said the fourteen year veteran Mason. “I think Joe is tired of hearing from those who say he can’t win the big games or deliver in the playoffs. He won’t admit it and he’s not likely to share that with the media but it’s there and I think that it will provide even more motivation for Joe. And in the end it will be a good thing for him and the Baltimore Ravens.”

Perhaps even more fuel for this propelling and swelling proverbial mass is the team’s apparent unwillingness to discuss a contract extension with Flacco who is entering year four of his five year rookie deal. Both sides claim to want the extension but the front office is taking a wait-and-see approach with Flacco – perhaps they even see what Mason sees.

That chip, that beautiful and growing chip could provide just the right boost of grit and determination to have Flacco slay his demons.

And if Mason and the Ravens are right we all just might live happily ever after.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ravens rookie receivers have a tall task ahead

The position of wide receiver is one of the more difficult positions to grasp when moving from the collegiate ranks to the NFL. Timing and rapport with the quarterback are essential and that takes times. Pre-snap reads and adjustments can be the difference between a successful play and a pick six but mastering these things also takes time including repetitions on the field and in the classroom.

And thanks to the lockout this task just got tougher for Baltimore Ravens rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss.

On The Coach’s Buzz this past Wednesday I asked Ravens’ Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta about the challenges in store for the first year pass catchers.

“It will be difficult initially”, said DeCosta. “But I think both guys – one of the things that we were attracted to initially, both are very smart football players.

“Fortunately in Torrey Smith’s case, he’s here and able to work with Joe [Flacco]. It will be tougher for Tandon to catch up.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Mark Viviano Show signs off for the last time

Since the inception of I’ve enjoyed the unique vantage point of being a fan with access. In other words like all of you I love Baltimore sports, wear the fan badge proudly on my sleeve, struggle at times to be objective and invest a ton of emotional energy in my favorite pastime.

Perhaps the main difference between me and you when it comes to the Baltimore Ravens is access to the team and to information. That privilege didn’t just fall out of the sky. It was largely the byproduct of persistence and perseverance while remaining respectful.

That and some professional direction and guidance selflessly offered by Mark Viviano.

Not long after the launch of, I met Viv through a mutual friend, Danny Coker (another great guy) who then worked at Bandaloops in Federal Hill and now is a co-owner of Bartenders in Canton.

Viv joined me for dinner at Bandaloops one evening and during those few hours I was a sponge happily absorbing all of the information and advice he willingly shared to help move our site in the right direction and create a springboard for me to move forward in my then newly adopted career in journalism.

Viv had little to gain from the meeting but he took the time nonetheless. And while I learned about the nuances of sports media, I learned more about him – the man off the camera and behind the microphone. He is grounded, balanced, sincere and a willing listener. He keeps his emotions in check so as not to cloud his objectivity. And perhaps most importantly he isn’t a guy with an overinflated sense of self-worth who gives praise more comfortably than he accepts it.

I listened to Viv often during his 6 ½ years on air at CBS Radio – first ESPN 1300 and then eventually 105.7 The Fan. Having done some radio myself I often marveled at his smoothness; ability to effortlessly segue in and out of unrelated topics; his acceptance, tolerance and big-brotherly control of an egocentric sidekick who couldn’t be any more of a polar opposite to the host of the Mark Viviano Show.

I’ve admired the way he can weave pop culture and Americana into sports talk and keep it engaging despite a listener’s desire for him to stick to sports. And his ability to really listen to an obnoxious and obviously uninformed caller and glean some value from it is a developed craft that can’t be achieved without a high level of focus.

Viv is not and never was a homer and consequently he’s had his critics from a Baltimore audience that has always loved a homer. But if that is the extent of the collateral damage for being professional and objective my guess is Viv is ok with that and would probably add his oft repeated exclamation, “I get it!”

After today, WE won’t get “IT” – Viv’s brand of intelligent sports talk radio, as Mark Viviano signs off for the very last time.

And that’s another loss for Baltimore.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Ravens should just say, "No to Plaxico"

Plaxico Burress is now out of prison after serving nearly 2 years for a handgun violation. He was the sacrificial lamb – the regrettable and involuntary poster child for New York City’s crack down on gun control.

In the process he lost millions of dollars and perhaps some love and respect from his family and friends. But the man has done his time and hopefully he’s emerged as a better person and can use what he’s learned to be a better friend, husband and role model for his kids.

But it’s doubtful that he’ll be a better receiver or one even as good as the player who was sent to the pokey in 2009.

During the course of his last 3 seasons covering 41 games, Burress averaged 4.1 catches per game for 60.2 yards and 0.63 TD’s (26 Total). TJ Houshmandzadeh during his 3 seasons and 47 games prior to coming to Baltimore averaged 6 catches for 62.9 yards and 0.4 TD’s (19 Total). Burress is 45 days older than Houshmandzadeh and turns 34 on August 12, 2011.

Similar numbers for sure…

Is there reason to believe that Burress will be any better than Houshmandzadeh as a Raven – as part of an offense that struggles to satisfy the appetites of ball hungry pass catchers?

Not really!

So why bother disrupting an offense by acquiring a receiver who:

1. Has been away from the game for over 2 seasons

2. Who slowed down when active and players don’t get faster with age

3. Will start slow given a learning curve that will be prolonged and diminish his effectiveness without the benefit of OTA’s, a playbook and possibly part or all of training camp

4. Will take valuable reps away from the team’s younger receivers and even reclamation project James Hardy who is only 25 years old

Moreover, it appears that Joe Flacco doesn’t want to go to work with another aging diva. During a recent interview with Mike Missanelli of Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic, he seemed to be throwing out the welcome mat for Plaxico – a welcome mat in Philadelphia.

“I think he’d be successful in Philadelphia, I really do,” Flacco said. “They usually have a pretty good offense and [Head Coach] Andy [Reid] likes to throw the ball around a lot, so he’d have his opportunities.”

Interesting choice of words from Joe the Quarterback, don’t you think?

I think Joe just said no to Plaxico too!

And perhaps a subtle dig at Cam Cameron for good measure.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Landry's possible departure could open up a battle at safety


With question marks surrounding the return of Dawan Landry it is possible that a position vacated by Landry could be assumed by Tom Zbikowski or Haruki Nakamura. The 5’10”, 205 pound Nakamura was an enthusiastic participant in recent player organized workouts and it appears as though he’s added some muscle mass perhaps to prepare for a looming positional battle at strong safety. Something to keep in mind…many once thought former Raven Jim Leonhard (5’8”, 185 lbs.) didn’t have the size to play alongside Ed Reed. He proved to be more than adequate during the Ravens run into the AFC Championship Game in 2009.

Nakamura’s match on the enthusiasm meter during the player workouts was free agent corner Josh Wilson. Wilson looks to be in great shape and a lucrative pay day likely awaits the former Terrapin, Wilson’s participation in these voluntary drills suggests that he’d like to don the purple and black again in 2011. He shares a strong bond with fellow Terp alums Torrey Smith and Domonique Foxworth and that’s something that could help Ozzie Newsome and Pat Moriarty persuade Wilson to take a hometown discount.

Rookie QB Taylor can thank Cam Cameron for his trip to Baltimore

Quarterbacks at any level are always under scrutiny but nowhere is such surveillance more intense on the position than in the NFL. And soon Ravens’ rookie QB Tyrod Taylor will feel the pressure of what promises to be a baptism of fire.

After a recent players-only workout at Towson University spearheaded by Derrick Mason and Joe Flacco, observers were left wondering why the Ravens even bothered burning a sixth round pick on a signal caller who plays even smaller than another vertically challenged QB who once wore a Ravens jersey – Troy Smith.

While both are a reported 6’1”, Taylor’s release point is lower than Smith’s and the guess here is that he’ll have his fair share of batted balls at the line of scrimmage. Granted it’s very early but after first blush Ozzie Newsome’s choice of Taylor is a real head scratcher. And while Ozzie may eventually take the heat for choosing the fleet-footed former Hokie from Virginia Tech word is that the person influencing the pick is none other than Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Taylor’s deficiencies were even more apparent not only when observed alongside Joe Flacco but also practice squad QB Hunter Cantwell. The former Louisville Cardinal possesses a decent fastball and has good size but his motion is a bit awkward and given the low starting point when delivering the football he is vulnerable to stripped balls from oncoming pass rushers.

With Marc Bulger’s future in Baltimore in doubt given potential starting jobs elsewhere, look for the club to land a veteran QB at some point – someone along the lines of Billy Volek. It’s a real stretch to think that the team would enter the 2011 season with Taylor and/or Cantwell as the go to guys in the event of a Flacco injury.

And when that veteran QB acquisition happens (and it will) Taylor or Cantwell will head back to the practice squad. Given the depth of talent on the Ravens’ roster it would be surprising to see them carrying three QB’s particularly when if forced into service, Taylor or Cantwell would inspire a communal service with hymns pleading for the return of Kyle Boller.

And please, if you think the potential of a revitalized “Suggs Package” is enough to keep Tyrod Taylor around, that highly overrated gimmick sailed on with the exodus of Troy Smith. There’s a better chance of Bulger remaining as Flacco’s relief pitcher than Taylor making the team.

Then we can all thank Cam again…