Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chester Taylor Blows up Again!

OWINGS MILLS -- The bizarre behavior of running back Chester Taylor didn't begin mere days ago in the Minnesota Vikings' locker room.And the zany Detroit native's thug-life persona was launched long before he left the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent two years ago.

Taylor arrived in Baltimore as a soft-spoken, low-key rookie from the University of Toledo, seemingly humble and eager to prove himself in the NFL. Yet, his little-boy voice ultimately masked a nasty Eddie Haskell personality, one that manifested itself again this week in another fight with a teammate.

The news reports of Taylor throwing a chair at Vikings defensive end Erasmus James surprised no one surrounding the Ravens, nor did the shiner he's presently sporting underneath his right eye.You see, Taylor has always liked to fight. Didn't matter how big the guy was, he would always take them on as he embraced the "Eight Mile" movie fantasy in real life.

One Ravens employee remarked about Taylor in the wake of his latest brawl: "He's just so stupid. He'll never change. He's a thug."

Prior to a game against the Chicago Bears in 2004, Taylor stupidly took on massive offensive tackle Orlando "Zeus" Brown, a 6-foot-7, 380-pound blocker with a celebrated mean streak.The night before the game at the team hotel, Taylor kept running his mouth despite Brown repeatedly warning him to cut it out. Taylor just kept jawing despite the fact that the two players were supposed to be friends. He eventually threw a chair at Brown, and Brown, who has a nasty temper when riled up, contained himself because there was a game the next day.

Taylor mystified teammates in Baltimore with his self-destructive behavior: challenging street toughs in night clubs to fights, scrapping with unknowns in bathrooms. One time, he got a beer bottle broken over his head.

Taylor's life was threatened by armed men outside of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. bars. It was as if he had a pronounced death wish.As Brown says, "It wasn't me, I told you. It was him that was crazy. I think Chester is bi-polar."

No argument here.Taylor used to amuse himself by muttering racial slurs under his breath about reporters. There were pictures circulating on the Internet and throughout the Ravens' old training complex of the running back dancing shirtless at bars with several women surrounding him.Many said the money and fame had swelled his head.Somehow, Taylor always avoided trouble with the law.Yet, the Ravens were aware of his misbehavior and it was a negative factor when they were deciding whether to retain Taylor or Jamal Lewis during the 2005 offseason.

Now, Taylor is Vikings coach Brad Childress' problem child.Childress had to call a team meeting this week after James punched Taylor in the eye, and Taylor retaliated by throwing a chair that reportedly struck offensive tackle Bryant "Mount" McKinnie in the leg. That supposedly stopped the altercation because Taylor and McKinnie are good friends.I'd hate to see how Taylor treats his enemies.The guy is a certifiable nut-case.When I told his agent about Taylor's misdeeds, he had no clue about his client's penchant for running amok was so well-known.

"Are you kidding me?" he said. "How did you find out? I hope this stays quiet."It did, mostly. But word travels fast around this league. For those wondering what the real story was on why the Ravens didn't retain Taylor, just keep this one clipped and saved.

Predictably, Childress attempted to downplay the explosive incident.

"There is a lot of tiffs in the locker room, I mean when you have 53 type-A personalities that play an aggressive game, that are competitive as hell, that stuff happens," Childress told Minnesota reporters. "While I think it gets sensationalized sometimes, that’s not for me to decide what goes in the newspaper or on the blogs or what have you, but you have got to put something in there and if it is newsworthy, that’s up to you.

"I don’t know if you have ever been involved on a team. You don’t stick your head in the sand and act like nothing occurred. You talk about it.”

Okay, Brad, let's talk about it.Let's talk about how Chester Taylor is a time bomb ticking away in your locker room.Maybe you don't need my unsolicited advice since you were smart enough to draft Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson.Until next time, keep an eye out for the man the Ravens' players used to call 50-Cent for how he imitated the gangsta rapper's clothes and attitude.He's the guy in your locker room wielding a chair, sporting a black eye and darkening the Vikings' reputation.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Monday, October 8, 2007

5 Reasons For Outcome: Ravens @ 49ers

1. The Baltimore Ravens engineered an epic escape, surviving with a 9-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Monster Park largely because of their defense being stout enough to overcome the offense's ineptitude. For the majority of the game, the Ravens (3-2) dominated former Super Bowl quarterback Trent Dilfer and his teammates with the exception of one touchdown drive where they overplayed their hand with blitz packages. Baltimore limited the 49ers to six first downs, 163 yards of total offense and 49 net rushing yards while Ed Reed intercepted Dilfer once and the front seven sacked him three times. Star running back Frank Gore was visibly frustrated, held to 52 yards on 16 carries. The Ravens manufactured this West Coast win despite not scoring a touchdown as they won with their lowest point total since their inaugural season in 1996.

2. Matt Stover booted three field goals, a kicking performance akin to how he carried the Ravens' sleepwalking offense during the team's run to the Super Bowl seven years ago. Stover connected on kicks from 26, 32 and 49 yards, actually notching the game-winning kick with 8:12 remaining in the third quarter.

3. Although the Ravens remain one of the league's worst red-zone offenses, going 0-for-2 with no touchdowns inside the 49ers' 20-yard line, they did move the football consistently behind running back Willis McGahee, who gained 88 yards on 22 carries, and wide receiver Derrick Mason's efforts. Mason caught 11 passes for 85 yards. Quarterback Steve McNair wasn't particularly sharp, but he did avoid committing a turnover for the first time this season and completed 29 of 43 passes for 214 yards. His longest throw was just 18 yards.

4. With two starting offensive lineman injured and unable to return -- right tackle Adam Terry sprained his left ankle and center Mike Flynn sprained his right knee during the Ravens' first scoring drive in the second quarter -- the Ravens got a prolonged glimpse of their blocking future. From left to right, rookie tackle Jared Gaither, 21, third-year guard Jason Brown, 24, second-year center-guard Chris Chester, 24, rookie first-round guard Ben Grubbs, 23, and rookie tackle Marshal Yanda, 22, didn't allow a sack.

5. In a 3rd-and-9 situation at the Ravens' 36-yard line with 2:44 remaining, the 49ers sent Gore up the middle for two yards instead of attempting a pass to try to get kicker Joe Nedney closer for a potential game-winning field goal. His 52-yard attempt on the ensuing play sailed wide to the right. It was Nedney’s first miss this season in eight tries.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Movie Night

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens (2-1) took a break from pondering their recent fourth-quarter meltdowns by watching a movie with a happy ending.

Several Ravens players attended a sneak preview Monday night of "The Game Plan" in Owings Mills. The Walt Disney movie stars former WWE wrestler and University of Miami football player Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

He portrays Joe Kingman, a playboy quarterback who is surprised to discover the 7-year-old daughter he never knew he had shows up on his doorstep.

Kingman is described as a serial bachelor, sort of a Joe Namath archetype, known as the life of the party until he has to face the responsibilities of being a father.

Of course, this being a Disney movie, Kingman heroically wins the championship and winds up developing into a good dad.

The Ravens would love to mirror Kingman's successful journey, albeit minus the unexpected baby arrival. They've got enough work cut out for them defending their AFC North title.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Eye 2 Eye with a Buckeye: One on One with Troy Smith

How do you stay mentally and physically ready to play at any moment, during practice and during games? What tricks have you learned?

"To me, football is a game where every player has to make that mistake first where everything is new. The way you get on top of your game you have to make that mistake first and then you learn to not make that mistake the next time that comes up. As a backup, often you don't get that rep in the game, so, mentally, all of your reps are magnified. The study you have to get in is incredible. You have to do even more."

How many reps would you say you get in any given practice?

"The first-team reps, I don't get any. I get a lot of the scout team stuff and I get to rip and run toward the end of the week. This week, I imitated Matt Leinart. Being the third guy, you really don't get any reps. You have to do everything mentally."

What elements of the job of a backup quarterback might surprise people?

"When you see it Monday or Sunday, you see us with a visor or a baseball cap on, but they don't see the mental or physical things you have to do during the game and during the week. They just see you scripting plays. It's a very rigorous week."

Some would say that in some ways you've got one of the best-paid job in sports, in terms of salary versus playing time.
How would you respond to that?

"You can't get upset at people because of that. Everybody has their perception of what's going on. There's a great number of people in this world and if everybody posted their opinion the overall consensus would be very confused. There's nothing you can do about it. There's a lot that goes into every position on the field."

How is your relationship with the starter? What lessons have you learned from him, and how would you describe the more competitive aspects of the relationship?

"I have a great relationship with Steve on and off the field. He's teaching me how to be a professional. He's teaching me how to be a man. We all work as one. Steve being in this league 13 years, as a quarterback, he sees the game entirely differently from me. He sees it the NFL way. He's been the best of the best. Professionalism is everything to me, and that's what he's teaching me."

Describe your role during a game in which you're not playing. Do you act as a de facto coach? Have you ever pointed out anything to the coaches or the starters that's had a concrete on-the-field effect? What was it?

"I script the plays. As a rookie, I might say something to Steve on the sidelines, but it's not really my role to say a ton of things. If I see anything, of course, I will point it out."

Are you recognized in public, or can you keep a pretty low profile? Has anyone ever not believed you were a pro quarterback - a girl at a bar, whatever? Any good stories?

"That happens a lot. That's a credit to the city of Baltimore. The fans know the best of the best of the Ravens and some of the guys on the lower end. For someone to recognize me as a Raven, that means a lot."

What are your best/ most humorous/ most illustrative anecdotes (both on-the-field and off-the-field) from your time as a backup quarterback in the NFL?

"With the team, I can't tell you or I would be in trouble. I can't release that. It's been a great experience so far."

Has it been difficult for you to make the adjustment from being a Heisman Trophy winner to being near the bottom of a depth chart? How is your life different?

"I'm at the bottom of the totem pole. I have that understanding. Accolades are not something that drives me.

“What drives me is getting into a situation that would be best for me and the people that I can represent. Accolades will come as long as you stay even-keel and have a good thought process."

Do you ever think about the many Heisman winners whose NFL careers did not pan out?

“It doesn’t put any pressure on me, and it won’t put any pressure on me. That happened for a reason. We had a good college season, but it’s not about that anymore. It’s about the Baltimore Ravens and what I can do to help."

What do you think you have to work on and improve to start in the NFL one day? How can you get that chance?

"Be consistent, learn the offense and try to make plays. Whenever I get the chance, make the most of it. I need to be patient and when I get the chance make the best of it."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Monday, September 17, 2007


1. The Baltimore Ravens' 20-13 victory Sunday over the New York Jets could be defined as more of a survival than the team thriving against young New York quarterback Kellen Clemens. If not for two dropped potential touchdown catches by Jets wide receiver Justin McCareins with the final one caroming into the hands of Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis for a game-sealing interception, the Ravens at least have to go to overtime. Plus, safety Ed Reed's missed tackle on a 44-yard reception by Jerricho Cotchery set up an earlier touchdown pass to tight end Chris Baker.

2. Despite not having three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Steve McNair in the game due to a pulled groin, the offense was managed well by efficient, albeit unspectacular backup Kyle Boller. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 97.9 quarterback rating. His favorite targets were Derrick Mason and Todd Heap as they combined for 15 catches, 130 yards and a touchdown.

3. The Ravens overcame 11 penalties for 100 yards, including a nearly-costly defensive holding penalty on safety Gerome Sapp on 3rd-and-16 that gave the Jets an automatic first down with 1:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.

4. This time, Heap was the beneficiary of an official's call. One week after his touchdown catch was incorrectly nullified by a referee's offensive pass interference call in a loss to the Bengals, his 4-yard, tip-toeing touchdown catch put Baltimore ahead 17-3 at halftime after an instant-replay review reversed the initial call on the field.

5. Running back Willis McGahee continued his string of owning the Jets, rumbling for 97 yards on 26 carries and catching his first NFL touchdown on a 2-yard swing pass from Boller. The score also marks his inaugural touchdown with the Ravens.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


1. The Baltimore Ravens' cause was ultimately doomed in a 27-20 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night to open the season because of six turnovers, including three fumbles and an interception by veteran quarterback Steve McNair. One of McNair's fumbles was returned 34 yards for a touchdown. Later, he left the game with a groin injury and didn't return.

2. Backup quarterback Kyle Boller's fourth-quarter pass intended for tight end Todd Heap was intercepted by Michael Myers in a dramatic goal-line stand to seal the win for the Ravens' AFC North rivals. In relief of McNair, Boller completed 2 of 6 passes for 19 yards.

3. Bengals All-Pro quarterback Carson Palmer completed 20 of 32 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 100.3 rating. He was only sacked once.

4. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden left the game after aggravating his hyperextended left big toe. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was hampered by a triceps injury that team officials compared to a hamstring pull. Return specialist B.J. Sams suffered a major knee injury, and his status for the remainder of the season is in doubt. Tight end Daniel Wilcox sprained his right ankle and was on crutches afterward.

5. Bengals wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson combined for 14 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including Houshmandzadeh's game-winning 7-yard score with 8:48 remaining to regain the lead following safety Ed Reed's 63-yard punt return for a touchdown. Baltimore also committed 10 penalties for 86 yards.

-- Aaron Wilson

Saturday, August 25, 2007


1. As the Baltimore Ravens take on the Washington Redskins tonight at FedEx Field, expect to see the starters for the majority of the first half in their last extended workload until the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.Traditionally, the third preseason game tends to be the most important one for the first-team. All week, the team has talked about eliminating the miscues that led to a 13-12 loss to the New York Giants, including 11 penalties, a turnover and some overly aggressive behavior between snaps. Have the Ravens learned their lesson or is it still not out of their system?

2. New franchise running back Willis McGahee has only demonstrated flashes of promise since arriving at training camp, mostly on one 16-yard run against the Philadelphia Eagles. Although it was limited action and obviously hard to get into a rhythm, gaining just six yards on three carries against the Giants was a definite step backward. The run blocking needs to be better, and McGahee has to take decisive action like backup Mike Anderson does when there isn't much room to operate.

3. Quarterback Steve McNair forced an interception into heavy coverage of wideout Demetrius Williams last week, and he'll be without injured starter Mark Clayton (sprained ankle). That gives him an opportunity to build some timing with Williams and throw more to veteran Derrick Mason, who has one catch for 21 yards in two games.

4. This is an important night for second-year cornerback David Pittman as he'll audition with the starters since Samari Rolle is out with an ankle sprain. Team officials are extremely curious to see how this disappointing third-round draft pick from last year handles the pressure. Pittman, who drew complaints last season about his work ethic and study habits, has improved his attitude and drawn praise for his athleticism and coverage skills.

5. A few positional battles worth watching: Chris Chester steps back in at right guard as he tries to hold off rookie Ben Grubbs, Troy Smith vs. Drew Olson for the third-string quarterback job and B.J. Sams vs. rookie Yamon Figurs in the return game. Plus, will undersized running back Cory Ross, the team's preseason rushing leader, continue to impress as he tries to convince the coaching staff to keep five running backs?

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


OWINGS MILLS -- Cornerback David Pittman lined up with the first-string defense in preparation for Saturday night's start against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in place of injured starter Samari Rolle. If it were a regular-season game, nickel back Corey Ivy would be starting. This is essentially an audition for Pittman, a disappointment last year after being drafted in the third round.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (swollen knee) didn't practice and is questionable for the Redskins game. Also not practicing: Rolle (sprained right ankle), wide receiver Mark Clayton (sprained right ankle), tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained left ankle), running back P.J. Daniels (hamstring) and offensive tackle Steve Edwards (knee). Plus, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) and linebackers Dan Cody (knee surgery) and Mike Smith (shoulder surgery) remain on the physically unable to perform list.Defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison returned to practice after missing Tuesday for undisclosed reasons.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


OWINGS MILLS -- With the Baltimore Ravens returning to practice Tuesday morning following a 13-12 loss to the New York Giants, cornerback Samari Rolle (sprained ankle) and wide receiver Mark Clayton (sprained ankle) weren't on the indoor training facility field with their teammates. And they may be absent from practice for a while with Ravens coach Brian Billick declaring afterward that both starters are likely to be out until the season opener Sept. 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Rolle had his ankle heavily taped, and Clayton is getting around in a walking boot. Both players guaranteed they would be back by the opener.Clayton's injury appears to be more serious at this point. He said he got his leg rolled up from behind while blocking downfield.Meanwhile, tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained ankle), running back P.J. Daniels (hamstring), offensive tackle Steve Edwards (knee), offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebackers Mike Smith (shoulder surgery) and Dan Cody (knee surgery) didn't practice.

Defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison wasn't at the beginning part of practice.Linebacker Antwan Barnes (high ankle sprain) returned to practice and said he will be a game-time decision Saturday against the Washington Redskins. Right guard Chris Chester (sprained foot) practiced without incident and said he'll start against the Redskins. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who bruised his knee Sunday, practiced with his knee and calf wrapped up. Ngata indicated that it wasn't a serious injury, just sore.Rookie free agent wide receiver Matt Willis appeared to injure his right leg and was helped off the field, but returned to drills just a few minutes later.

Defensive lineman Dwan Edwards is down to 290 pounds, 25 to 30 pounds less than last season.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Monday, May 21, 2007


OWINGS MILLS -- At first glance, it might appear to the untrained eye that the Baltimore Ravens still have a gaping hole at outside linebacker created by All-Pro Adalius Thomas' departure.

However, Thomas' migration to the New England Patriots isn't going to necessarily curtail production dramatically at this critical position for the defending AFC North champions.

Yes, new starter Jarret Johnson lacks the elite mobility and athleticism that Thomas possesses. He's a hard-nosed, blue-collar converted Alabama defensive end who's very good against the run and won't embarrass himself in short-area coverage
He was an excellent pass rusher for the Crimson Tide, but that has only translated into three career sacks in limited pass rushing opportunities in the NFL. It's unclear if he's going to be more than a five to six sack guy annually as a starter.

The Ravens might lose some sack production with Thomas leaving, but I don't think they're going to suffer against the run because Johnson is a very good run-stopper. Judging from his condition at last week's minicamp, Johnson has gotten himself into lean, mean shape. Including a much shorter haircut.

On third downs, he's going to need some help, though – at least some of the time. That means a more multi-faceted role for Pro Bowl inside linebacker Bart Scott in terms of pass coverage and blitzing even more than last year when he led all NFL inside linebackers in sacks. As a former dime back and college safety, Scott is the best candidate to make up for Thomas' loss in specialized situations where he thrived because of his ability to morph seamlessly between outside linebacker, safety and defensive end.

Plus, the Ravens can employ third-year outside linebacker/defensive end Dan Cody as a situational pass rusher. After two-injury plagued seasons, Cody is finally healthy. He informed me that he's bigger and stronger than ever and he didn't appear to favor his knees at minicamp. His mobility looked like it's all the way back.

Obviously, the former Oklahoma star has to hold up physically to produce at an optimal level. The Ravens are banking on that happening this year.

Meanwhile, rookie outside linebacker Antwan Barnes represents an X-factor in reserve. At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Barnes has 4.45 speed, fastest among all incoming rookie linebackers, and did 31 bench presses of 225 pounds. Although he might cut his teeth on special teams, the Ravens have plans for him as a pass rusher and want to see how he handles his special-teams assignments before they get him on the field defensively.

There's a big upside with Barnes. This kid is definitely hungry.

Veteran special teams ace Gary Stills has proven pass rush skills, but is up there in years. He still has the skills to get to the quarterback, but it might be asking a lot of him to bust the wedge and burst past offensive tackles on a regular basis. He's still one of the top athletes and toughest guys on this team.

Bottom line: It takes more than one man to replace Adalius Thomas, but the Ravens appear to have the right people to do so collectively. They also have the right coach in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to get the most out of the available personnel.

One more thing to keep in mind: If the NFL's top-ranked defense does take a half-step or full step back at one position, will it be a noticeable drop off?

The smart money says, 'Nope.'