Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Monday, December 28, 2009


Quarterback: B-minus

Joe Flacco played a solid game overall despite being under heavy duress as he was sacked four times. He completed 13 of 25 passes for 166 yards, two touchdowns to tight end Todd Heap and one interception for an 83.1 passer rating. He should have had a third touchdown pass that could have potentially won the game if not for Derrick Mason's extremely costly and uncharacteristic dropped pass in the end zone all by himself.

Running back: A

Against the top-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, Ray Rice rushed for 141 yards on 30 carries. He grinded out a lot of tough yards against a bunch of tough linebackers. He's the first back to gain 100 yards against the Steelers since Fred Taylor rushed for 147 yards against them on Dec. 16, 2007, breaking an NFL-high 33-game streak of not allowing an opposing rusher to hit the century mark. Rice lost one fumble. Willis McGahee's touchdown run was nullified due to a holding penalty.

Receiver: C

Derrick Mason caught a team-high seven passes for 77 yards. He also had an inexplicable drop in the fourth quarter that cost the Ravens a touchdown they needed in the fourth quarter with the game locked. Tight end Todd Heap caught two touchdown passes on nice fade patterns.

Offensive line: C

Although they did a good job of run blocking, Joe Flacco was hit far too often and too many penalties were committed. Oniel Cousins' personal foul pushed the Ravens out of field goal range in the fourth quarter. Overall, rookie Michael Oher didn’t embarrass himself against James Harrison as last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year was held to no sacks with one forced fumble. It wasn’t his best performance, though. However, Cousins was simply overmatched against Woodley's array of pass-rushing moves. Especially his inside spin move. Woodley led the Steelers with 10 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble with his pass deflection intercepted by James Farrior.

Defensive line: B-minus

Rashard Mendenhall rushed for just 36 yards on 17 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked four times. To win this game, though, the Ravens probably needed to sack him at least a few more times. They were close so many times, but couldn't get him down. Haloti Ngata had a very active game with one sack and two tackles for losses. Kelly Gregg had a sack and two tackles for losses. Trevor Pryce was held constantly, but didn't draw the flags.

Linebacker: C-plus

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis recovered a fumble. Antwan Barnes had a sack. Dannell Ellerbe struggled in space and got picked on downfield. Terrell Suggs had five tackles, but dropped a potential interception for a touchdown. And Suggs' block-in-the-back infraction negated cornerback Domonique Foxworth's interception return for a touchdown.

Secondary: B

Playing without injured safety Ed Reed and down to cornerback Chris Carr as a starter with Lardarius Webb out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Ravens' secondary held up well for the most part against Ben Roethlisberger. One week removed from a 503-yard, three-touchdown game against the Green Bay Packers, Roethlisberger was held to 259 yards, one touchdown and was intercepted once for a 75.2 passer rating. Plus, there should have been at least two more interceptions if not for Terrell Suggs' penalty and an illegal contact flag on Frank Walker that took away Tom Zbikowski's pick in the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a solid outing.

Special teams: D

Punter Sam Koch's 21-yard shank led to Rashard Mendenhall's touchdown run. The Ravens struggled in kick coverage against Stefan Logan, who averaged 32.3 yards per kickoff return with one 49-yard return. He also had a 17-yard punt return. The bright spot was the Ravens' return game with Jalen Parmele making a strong debut on kickoff returns with a 48-yard return as he averaged 29 yards on five returns with Chris Carr averaging 12 yards per punt return.

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baltimore Ravens Report Card

Quarterback: F

Joe Flacco was intercepted a season-high three times, coming up short in virtually every critical situation. He wound up completing just 15 of 36 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown for a putrid 27.2 quarterback rating. His decision-making was horrendous at times.

Running back: D

Ray Rice got stuffed all game long, and he lost a fumble. He wound up rushing for just 54 yards on 14 carries. Teams have figured out that Rice is Joe Flacco’s safety valve, and the Packers had him scouted properly. Willis McGahee has to break that Charles Woodson tackle and get into the end zone. He lost four yards on four carries, scoring once.

Receiver: D

Too many dropped passes. Too many penalties, especially by Derrick Mason who should know better and not compound the issue by arguing with the officials. Tight end Todd Heap caught five passes for 52 yards. Kelley Washington contributed four catches for 39 yards and a score.

Offensive line: C

They didn’t provide adequate protection on a consistent basis, and they weren’t physical enough. In particular, offensive guard Ben Grubbs got manhandled by B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett. Jared Gaither and Michael Oher had trouble protecting Joe Flacco. Clay Matthews consistently beat Gaither around the edge for two sacks, three tackles for losses and three quarterback hits.

Defensive line: C

They didn’t harass Aaron Rodgers often enough, allowing him enough time to find his targets. They stuffed the run behind Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg’s efforts. Trevor Pryce had a solid game, recording his sixth sack of the season.

Linebacker: C

The Packers’ running game didn’t do much damage, but there wasn’t enough of a pass rush or tight pass coverage. Ray Lewis was fairly active. Jarret Johnson had a strong game, intercepting one pass. Rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is a thumper.

Secondary: D

They got picked apart by Aaron Rodgers and Co. They still haven’t caught up with tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught seven catches, 79 yards and two touchdowns. They missed Ed Reed big-time. The communication, coverage and tackling are substandard.

Special teams: C

Lardarius Webb’s big kickoff return of 68 yards set the table for what should have been a scoring drive. Sam Koch had a decent game overall, and the kick coverage was fine.

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

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ravens, Harbaugh play, battle in the snow

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens got a sneak preview of the Green Bay Packers' infamous frozen tundra on Saturday as a snowfall blanketed their practice field and needed to be cleared off with a plow.

Temperatures weren't nearly as frigid as what the Ravens will experience Monday night at Lambeau Field with various weather forecasts predicting it will get down into the teens with a wind-chill factor in single-digits.

Nonetheless, the Ravens seemed to enjoy the snow with several offensive linemen taking pride in wearing short sleeves, including Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and David Hale.

And the entire team jovially peppered coach John Harbaugh with snowballs at the end of practice.

"I had a good snowball fight," Harbaugh said. "I got nailed at the end of practice. I was a little disappointed. It was like a barrage just came raining down.

"They were excited. They were like little kids. They were having a good time out there. It was very spirited."

The Ravens are hoping that their exposure to the cold will help prepare them for the icy conditions that await them in Wisconsin.

"You learn how to deal with the footing, you learn how to deal with the elements," Harbaugh said. "I think that's part of it. We had decided we were going to go out no matter what. We just wanted to be out in the elements a little bit, throw and catch it."

Of course, the effects of Old Man Winter does make it hard to communicate.

"It's hard to speak," Harbaugh said. "Your lips freeze."

Not everyone enjoyed the weather, especially players from South Florida like linebacker Tavares Gooden or Louisiana native safety Ed Reed.

Reed seemed particularly averse to the snow.

"Nah, I didn't like it," Gooden said. "I'm from Florida, man. I can deal with it, but it's not what I like. I like to play in regular weather.

“Last year, I didn't know what to expect driving in the snow. Now, I got something that can ride in the snow. I got me a car from here, for here."

Lambeau Field has an underground heating system with heated coils to prevent players from having to run around on a frozen field.

Birk related that the coils work well enough that you can warm up your hands in the grass.

There will also be numerous heaters on the sidelines as well as a heated bench.

The Ravens are expecting a soggy field.

"It will be soggy from what I've been told," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens aren't concerned about quarterback Joe Flacco's footwork despite a sprained ankle.

"He looked good with the footing," Harbaugh said. "He threw well. One thing about Joe, he's got that kind of an arm. He's got big hands, so he can handle the conditions pretty well."

Kicker Billy Cundiff has kicked in bad weather conditions before, including Green Bay.

"He handled it well," Harbaugh said. "He's been there before. You've got to take your time, but the rush is a little bit slower. So, you get your footing, you plant and you kick it straight.

"You don't want to be going in there too fast and sliding, so you get your plant foot down and you swing through it. You take your time a little bit more: snap, catch, hold, kick."

Although the Packers are obviously much more accustomed to the cold than the Ravens, Harbaugh is confident that his football team is prepared for the elements.

"It makes the game different, but both teams are in the conditions," Harbaugh said." Everybody manages to stay pretty warm. You go out there and you play and guys are next to the heaters.

"I think we are going to have a rule, though. The heaters are for the players on the sideline during the game. There are usually doctors and PR guys who tend to get around those heaters pretty consistently."

A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., Harbaugh said it's safe to say that he won't be wearing a ski mask on the sidelines.

"I've never had to do that before," he said. "I've had a stocking cap before, so that might be there. Beyond that, there will be no facial attire, ski mask.

"I would be shamed, I would be shamed, there's no doubt. So, there will be none of that."

One myth was debunked Saturday.

According to team spokesman Kevin Byrne, it wasn't former Packers coach Vince Lombardi who first popularized the phrase, frozen tundra.

It was ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman.

NFL Films president Steve Sabol told Byrne last year that Lombardi instructed him and his father to not refer to Lambeau Field as having a frozen or icy field because he didn't want the Packers’ board of directors mad at him for griping about a heated field system that didn't work.

"Frozen tundra was never said by Vince Lombardi," Byrne said. "It was a legend created by Chris Berman."

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Barnes in Ravens' doghouse?

Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison emphasized that outside linebacker Antwan Barnes hasn’t been relegated to the bench because of his missed arm tackle on Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson.

The mistake in technique triggered a 28-yard touchdown run.

“No, that had nothing to do with it,” Mattison said. “If we didn’t play guys because they miss tackles, we’d be down to a 15-man roster.”

Barnes has been deactivated for five of the past six games.

Barnes has said previously that he thought he wasn’t playing because of the missed tackle on Benson.

Following a strong preseason, he’s now outranked on the depth chart by rookie Paul Kruger.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating to be watching other guys play,” Barnes said. “All I can do right now is be ready and prepare like I’m going to play. Whatever they need me to do, I’m ready. I ain’t complaining. I know they expect a lot out of me.

“I have a positive attitude about it. I ain’t no T.O. I’m not going to go to the media and complain. I’m going to keep working hard in practice and stay ready for whenever they need me.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Legends of Lambeau won't spook Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens say they won't be intimidated by the ghosts of storied Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers and once inhabited by gridiron luminaries Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr and Jim Taylor.

Lambeau is arguably the site of the most tradition-rich flame still burning in the NFL with games held there dating back to 1957.

Mystique and history such as the Ice Bowl only goes so far, though, in the Ravens' opinion.

"After you've been through it the first time and you walk into the stadium, the frozen tundra and all the history that's behind it, once you get out there and you're kind of amazed by the field and the crowd, after that it's football," veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We're not playing the stadium, so that's a good thing. You go in there and you relish what's going on, but then you have to play against Charles Woodson.

"He's way more of a threat than Lambeau Field. If he could leave and I could play against Lambeau Field, that would be great. He's playing tremendous right now. You can't say anything but good things about him."

Mason is right about Woodson, who has intercepted seven passes and forced four fumbles during a stellar season that has notched him NFC Player of the Month distinction.

The Ravens haven't succeeded in the past in Green Bay, having lost 31-23 to Brett Favre in 2001 and 28-10 against him back in 1998.

The Packers lead the series 2-1 with the Ravens taking a 48-3 blowout win back in 2005 when Kyle Boller strangely outdueled Favre.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is the only current player on the roster to play against the Packers at Lambeau for the Ravens.

"It's going to be pretty cool," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "Everybody hears about Lambeau Field and what a great atmosphere it is."

Added wide receiver Mark Clayton: "It's exciting to me. It's Lambeau. There's a lot of history there. To be in that atmosphere is going to be a lot of fun. I never thought I would play there as a kid."

The cold weather is arguably much more of issue than the history.

According to weather forecasts, it may be well below freezing Monday night when icy temperatures are expected to drop into the teens.

"As long as it's not minus-40, it doesn't matter," Mason said. "Once you start playing, you start to heat up. The worst part is when you stop and go to the sideline, and then you start freezing again. I don't think weather can be an excuse unless it's pouring down rain.

"They have to play in the same weather. You go out there and you hope this time of year that it's snowing. That means it's typically a little bit warmer."

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

KEY MATCHUPS: Ravens @ Browns


Baltimore Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Cleveland Browns CB Eric Wright

Frustrated against the Cincinnati Bengals with three inconsequential catches last week, Mason's return to Ohio on Monday night should be a more productive experience. Mason has generated two consecutive 100-yard games against the Browns' secondary. He caught five passes for 118 yards earlier this season and nine catches for 136 yards last November against the Browns. He has four 100-yard receiving games against Cleveland, and his 73 receptions are the second most he's had against any opponent. His 1,151 receiving yards are his most against any team in his career. Mason also thrives on the Monday night stage, catching 90 passes for the third most among active players. He has scored six touchdowns in 16 Monday night games. The Browns are allowing 238.6 passing yards per game.


Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Cleveland Browns LT Joe Thomas

Suggs estimated this week that he's playing at 70 percent of his normal capacity. He'll need to be 100 percent against Thomas, a big, technically sound blocker. Suggs, who was signed to a $62.5 million contract, is capable of producing more than his 3 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble. Suggs has played well at times, but the team is seeking more consistency from him as a pass rusher. His run-stopping has been adequate, ranking second on the team with 41 tackles. He just hasn't been as disruptive as he was a year ago and hasn't justified his new contract. The Ravens aren't displeased with Suggs. They just want to see more out of him.

Photo by Sabina Moran

NICKEL PACKAGE: 5 Questions leading into Ravens @ Browns

1. Will the Baltimore Ravens get off to a fast start?

Heading into Monday night's road game against the hapless Cleveland Browns (1-7), the Ravens (4-4) have become notoriously slow starters. They have been outscored 28-3 in the first quarter over the past three games. The Browns, though, could prove to be the perfect antidote to what's been plaguing the offense. The Browns rank last in the NFL in total defense and surrendered a 10-0 lead to the Ravens during the first meeting, a 34-3 blowout. The Ravens' offense just needs to get into a rhythm, and the no-huddle offense could provide a spark.

2. Will the Ravens contain Joshua Cribbs?

The Browns' dangerous return man has averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return in nine games against the Ravens. That includes a 92-yard touchdown last season against Baltimore. The Ravens did a nice job against Cribbs during the first game and special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg seems to have a good plan for how to keep his former protégé from running wild.

3. How much of an edge does Derrick Mason give the Ravens?

It's a significant one. During his past two games against Cleveland, he has posted consecutive 100-yard games. That includes a 118-yard performance during the third week of the season. Against the Browns, Mason has caught 11 passes of 25 yards or higher. He has 73 receptions against Cleveland, his second-highest total against any NFL team. Mason has caught 90 passes in Monday night games for 1,151 yards and six touchdowns.

4. Will the Ravens win the running game battle?

The Ravens are 4-0 this season when they run the football at least 18 times, dropping the other four games when they don't run the ball at least that many times. The Browns have the 31st-ranked run defense, allowing 170.5 rushing yards per game The Ravens rank 13th in rushing offense, averaging 116.1 yards behind Ray Rice. On defense, the Ravens will have to contend with former Baltimore star Jamal Lewis in their final game against him since he plans to retire. He has been limited to a 65.2 average in four games against Baltimore.

5. Will the Ravens snap their Monday night losing streak?

The Ravens have lost their past five Monday night games with their last Monday night win a 48-3 win against the Green Bay Packers in 2005. The Ravens are 4-7 all-time on Monday night games. They're 4-2 against the Browns in November and 2-0 in Cleveland. This seems like an extremely winnable game. If they don’t win, this season is, for all intensive purposes, doomed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

McGahee doesn't let lack of playing time affect his outlook

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee has done a commendable job of keeping his frustrations, if they exist, to himself due to his drastically reduced playing time.

The closest that the former Pro Bowl runner has come to taking issue with being phased out of the offense was reminding reporters this week that the Ravens won the first three games of the season as he scored seven touchdowns.

“I got it in me,” he said. “Don’t forget.”

The disappearance of McGahee as far as being a vital part of the offense has coincided with the rise of starting running back Ray Rice, one of the top all-purpose threats in the league.

McGahee has rushed for just 201 yards on 47 carries, less than half the workload of Rice.

Since producing games of 44, 79 and 67 rushing yards to begin the season, McGahee has rushed for 11, minus-two yards, three, minus-one and zero yards over the past five games.

After carrying the football 32 times during the first three games, McGahee has been limited to a total of 15 carries over the past five weeks.

“I’m cool, man,” McGahee said. “I look at it as I’m healthy this year. I have no injuries. My body’s in good shape. You’ve got to turn a negative into a positive.”

Meanwhile, Rice has rushed for 573 yards and five touchdowns on 108 carries while leading the team in receptions with 46 catches for 436 yards and one score.

For the first time this season, McGahee had no touches during a 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Ray is doing a great job,” McGahee said. “He gets hot in the game. As long as he stays hot, keep running the ball.”

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron reiterated that the lack of snaps overall have played a role in McGahee’s reduced role.

“Ray Rice is playing so well,” he said. “If Ray were playing poorly, then obviously Willis would play more. We would like to get Willis in there for two series in the first half.

“It’s been a snap issue more than anything. It’s been a Ray Rice level of play issue as well. We like all our backs, and the more snaps we have, the more they all are going to play.”

Despite his lack of involvement, McGahee hasn’t let it affect his positive mindset.

“You grow up, you get older and wiser,” McGahee said. “I’m not out there getting beat up. That’s the main thing.”

Does he expect to be back next season?

“I would hope so, but it’s a business,” he said. “You don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Photo by Sabina Moran

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jamal Lewis' career winds down, will remember himself as a Raven

OWINGS MILLS – Jamal Lewis’ exit strategy from the NFL was about as subtle as his bulldozing , blunt-force trauma running style.

The powerful former Baltimore Ravens running back trampled the notion about having any second thoughts about his decision to retire following this season as if it was a linebacker standing in his way.

So, there’s unlikely to be any turning back for Lewis or last-minute audible as he closes out a strong NFL career on a horrible Cleveland Browns team that has won just one game.
“Just because I’m tired of it, tired of it, and that was my goal and that’s all I wanted,” Lewis told Baltimore reporters during a Wednesday conference call in advance of Monday night’s game in Cleveland. “So, time to move on.”

During his decade in the NFL, Lewis helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl title as a rookie, rushed for 10,456 yards and 58 touchdowns and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year six years ago in Baltimore when he gained 2,066 yards and broke the NFL single-game rushing record with a 295-yard performance.

Lewis emphasized that he made this decision before the season started and not out of frustration about the Browns’ dysfunctional situation. If anything, time to reflect since his abrupt announcement after being routed by the Chicago Bears has only reinforced his decision to quit.
Unlike many NFL players, Lewis is walking away from the game while he’s still able to walk at age 30.

“I’m in good shape, and that’s how I wanted to leave,” he said. “That’s how I wanted to leave, in good shape and healthy so I can be able to go do other things.”

Lewis has been preparing for this day for a long time, saving his money and making more each year with a variety of businesses that includes a successful long-haul trucking operation and an investment firm. It has been estimated that Lewis’ net worth from his businesses is several millions of dollars annually.

Lewis was following his mother’s advice to prepare for life after football, and it’s a sign of growing maturity after being ensnared in a federal cocaine conspiracy case that forced him to serve jail time during his time with the Ravens.

“I’ve set myself up in other things because I knew this day would come, and I knew that I wanted to retire at year 10,” Lewis said. “I set myself up three or four years ago in order to be able to leave the game when I want to.”

When Lewis was let go by the Ravens following the 2006 season, he was admittedly a bitter man.

He lashed out at former coach Brian Billick for not giving him the football and he vowed to prove that the Ravens were making a mistake.

Lewis had feuded with Billick throughout his final few seasons in Baltimore.

Now, that relationship has apparently been repaired with Lewis and Billick exchanging an enthusiastic greeting at the Browns’ training complex earlier this year.

“I don’t have anything against Brian Billick,” Lewis said. “It’s just when I was there things weren’t going the way I wanted them to, and that was just it.

“I don’t think I fit his scheme, and we agreed to disagree. At the same time, I think he was a great coach. He took care of his players, and he had a good philosophy.”

Rushing for 1,132 yards during his final season in Baltimore, Lewis averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.

He persistently complained about the game plan and his lack of involvement.

Does he wish he had finished his career in Baltimore?

“I can’t say that,” he said. “When I did end up getting the opportunity to get out, it was actually good timing for me in my career. I think Baltimore was going in a different direction when I was there.

“I don’t think it suited me, and I didn’t suit them. So, that’s why the decision was probably made. I think that coming here to Cleveland was a good idea.”

Well, perhaps at first as the Browns nearly made the playoffs during Lewis’ first season in Cleveland as he rushed for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns for his highest rushing total since his epic 2003 campaign.

He slumped to 1,002 yards last season and has gained only 349 yards this season with no touchdowns. None of the Browns’ running backs or wide receivers has scored a touchdown.
And in eight games, it won’t be Lewis’ problem anymore.

“As players get further along in their career, they have to make decisions, and you respect everybody’s decision,” Mangini said. “Someone’s choice to continue to try and play or to move on with the next phase of their life is a very personal decision.

“I respect Jamal as a pro. That hasn’t affected his work ethic or approach, and it won’t.”
Regardless of the nature of Lewis’ pending departure, it has been a chaotic, unproductive work environment during his final NFL season.

“If you’re 1-7, hey, there’s a lot they can say,” Lewis said. “I don’t think that the locker room has turned. I don’t think that anybody has turned their back on the situation or anything. We just have to put it all together.”

The Browns’ disastrous season under new coach Eric Mangini has included several controversies, including former Ravens executive George Kokinis’ ouster. Browns management is attempting to prove that Kokinis was fired with cause in order to collect roughly $4 million remaining on his five-year contract.

“It was shocking to me, of course, but it’s a business,” Lewis said. “Of course when things aren’t going right, there are going to be some losses. I think that’s really what he got caught up in.
“I think it was just a bad season or whatever. Nobody has talked about it around here, but the assumption is that we’re having a bad season and things aren’t going the way we wanted it to and there are some casualties.”

Lewis’ warmest memories of his NFL career are from his seven years in Baltimore after being drafted fifth overall in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft out of the University of Tennessee.
He says he’ll look back on his career as being a Raven, not a Brown after spending the past three years in Cleveland.

“A Raven, of course, because that’s who gave me my shot,” Lewis said. “That’s who brought me in. That’s where I pretty much did all my work.

“I have a lot of memories there, a lot of older players that helped me out and brought me in, led me and showed me the way. That’s where I got it from.”

During the Super Bowl season, Lewis spent a lot of time with veteran players like Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Ray Lewis and Corey Harris.

An impressionable Lewis entered the NFL at age 20 following his junior season, and he learned how to be a pro from deeds and words.

“Just really hanging around those guys and stealing a lot of knowledge that they had,” Lewis said. “I was one of the young guys that would listen. That team really gave me the real meaning of a championship team, and that’s sticking together and everybody being unselfish.”

Lewis is leaving the NFL in rare company.

He’s one of five NFL running backs to ever eclipse the 2,000-yard barrier, including Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson.

What’s his ultimate legacy?

“Basically, a hard worker, somebody that brought his hard hat to every Sunday, just doing my job,” he said. “That’s what I set out to do, and that’s how I want to be remembered. Just a hard worker and somebody who did his job every single day.”

Monday night figures to be an emotional game for Lewis.

On a national stage, he’ll collide with middle linebacker Ray Lewis one more time with the protégé and the mentor clashing just like old times.

“Being able to go out, playing my old team on Monday Night Football, that will be a great one,” Lewis said. “Being that I will be playing these guys for the last time, being able to suit up against Ray for the last time, it’s a good thing. It will be a memorable moment.”

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

Photo by Sabina Moran.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harbaugh apologizes for stunning criticism of Cowboys

John Harbaugh issued an apology over the weekend to Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones after being quoted in a book that “the Cowboys stand for everything that’s wrong with the NFL,” criticizing the Cowboys for running a “star system” and praising Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid that what his “program stands for is the opposite of what the Cowboys stand for.”

Harbaugh was quoted in a book by Reuben Frank and Mark Eckel called Game Changers: The 50 Greatest Plays in Philadelphia Eagles Football History.

“That was something that I’m disappointed with myself,” Harbaugh said. “ What I tried to do with that quote was say something real positive about a guy that I have tremendous respect for, Andy Reid, and try to explain in some way what he’s done there to make the Eagles so successful over the years.

“It really reflects some of the things we’re trying to do here, to build that same kind of a run of success. It was last March, and I think I went overboard. I had a chance to have a conversation with Jerry Jones over the weekend and express those thoughts to him that in no way, the way that quote read, is how I feel about the Cowboys organization.”

Harbaugh said he wasn’t misquoted, though.

“When I read it, I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked,” he said. “It stunned me, and I was disappointed that that would be attributed to me. I’m not saying I didn’t say it or anything else. I’m just saying I was disappointed that it came out that way, and that’s my fault.

“So, it just doesn’t reflect how I feel. I’ve got tremendous respect for them, and after having had a chance to talk to Jerry Jones for the first time, it’s even a hundred times more than that, than it was before.”

Reed this: Ravens have tackling issues

TACKLING ISSUES: Ed Reed uncharacteristically missed three to four tackles, and his nerve impingement that affects his neck and shoulder seems to be rendering the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year into a one-armed free safety.

Reed did strip the football away from Chad Ochocinco, but he also missed several arm tackles.

“I haven’t talked to Ed about those three tackles yet, those three opportunities,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s tackled very well this year up until this game. From my understanding, the neck is as good as it’s been in two years, but I think it’s a factor. It’s not a dangerous type of thing where he’s at risk or he wouldn’t be playing.

“He’s worked extremely hard in the weight room. He’s as muscled up as he’s been in the last two years since we’ve been here. I’m sure he’s disappointed with those three tackles. Those are tackles that you normally see him make.”

After the game, Reed attributed the missed tackles to trying to strip the ball instead of wrapping up.

Is there anything fundamentally that Reed can do differently while protecting his injury?

“There are a lot of coaching points we put in there,” Harbaugh said. “There are certain techniques and fundamentals that go into it that you expect to see applied. Ed knows what those are. We talk about them all the time. We expect to be a good-tackling defense.”
Photo by Sabina Moran

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who will play next to Ray Lewis?

Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe split time at inside linebacker fairly evenly with Ellerbe recording three tackles and Gooden credited with two stops.

“That’s two good, young linebackers,” Harbaugh said. “I think Vic Fangio’s done a great job with those guys. They’re playing next to Ray Lewis at a high level, both of them in different situations. Watch Tavares Gooden running down the field on kickoff coverage, it’s fun to watch. And watch Ellerbe block on the kickoff return that went for a touchdown. It’s defense and it’s special teams, and they’ve done a good job.”

Meanwhile nickel back Chris Carr recorded the first sack of his career against the Broncos.

“That’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to blitz,” he said. “I feel like I’ve played well. I’ve been taking a lot of pride in that. I haven’t gotten much credit in the media, but that doesn’t bother me. I feel like I’ve been doing my job.”

Frank Walker still in Ravens' plans?

Harbaugh addressed cornerback Frank Walker being a healthy scratch as he was deactivated for the first time this season after struggling in single coverage during the fourth quarter of a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

“He’s a big part of our team,” he said. “Frank knows how we feel about him. You try to put the 45 guys up in any given week that you feel like give you the best chance to win and do the most for you.

“In this game, based on the packages, we thought we were going to see, that’s what we chose to do. Frank Walker is another competitive guy. He’s a really good player, and he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing. He knows that.”

What's up with Haloti Ngata's ankle?

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s sprained right ankle isn’t believed to be serious after X-rays were ruled negative Sunday.

Keeping in line with his stance on not detailing players’ injuries, Harbaugh declined to give an update on Ngata.

“As with all injuries, we’ll have an injury report on Wednesday,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ll see.”

Ngata was able to walk after the game after having his ankle re-taped twice, but didn’t return to play after leaving the game with 10 minutes left in the third quarter against the Broncos.

Ngata’s durability is impressive with a current streak of 55 consecutive starts since being drafted in the first round three years ago.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Swapping Spit?

Last year, Walker got into a confrontation with Pittsburgh Steelers punter Mitch Berger.

Berger accused Walker of spitting in his mouth, which Walker denied ever happened.

Now, Berger is punting for the Broncos after being signed this week.

"I'm happy to see him," Walker said with a smile. "I'm happy he's coming to town. No, there's no hard feelings."

As for preparing for Berger, Rosburg said that the Ravens feel like they know him well after three games last season.

"Anytime there is change, you have to adjust when you see the game and see what the real picture is," Rosburg said. "So, there will be some conversations on the sidelines."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why did Josh McDaniels not interview with the Ravens?

When the Ravens were searching for a new head coach after firing Brian Billick two years ago, they sought permission from the New England Patriots to interview offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

The future coach of the undefeated Broncos declined the Ravens’ invitation, staying with the Patriots for one more season.

So, why didn’t McDaniels interview in Baltimore?

“The two reasons why it wasn’t really the right time for me was No. 1, the season that we were in required a lot of our time and we were putting a lot into it,” McDaniels said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters in reference to the Patriots’ undefeated regular season.

“We tried to finish it the way we wanted to. Secondly, this didn’t feel like I was as ready as I wanted to be to handle that kind of challenge.

“I didn’t know at the time how much more time I was going to need to feel like I was capable of doing it. I certainly didn’t feel like that was the perfect time for me and moved on, finished that season and tried to improve myself in that area when I could during the course of the offseason last year. I feel much better about it this year.”

The Ravens wound up hiring Harbaugh after interviewing him, Jim Caldwell, Tony Sparano, Rex Ryan, Jason Garrett and Brian Schottenheimer.

Gaither to be tested by NFL sack leader Dumervil

OWINGS MILLS -- The timing of Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither returning to the starting lineup from a serious neck injury couldn't be much better.

As the Ravens’ offensive line took the field Wednesday for blocking drills, Gaither lined up with the starters at his customary left tackle position.

The Ravens (3-3) will need Gaither to be at or near full strength Sunday against the undefeated Denver Broncos (6-0) at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Broncos feature NFL sacks leader Elvis Dumervil, a particularly dangerous, aggressive, undersized hybrid pass rusher in the mold of Pittsburgh Steelers star outside linebacker James Harrison.

"The Broncos are going to test everybody's pass protection, for sure," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Our pass protection has been good, but it needs to get better. What makes them good is they beat blocks one-on-one.

“They do a nice job of bull-rushing, and they do a nice job of getting on edges. They're relentless, they never stop and they've got some talented, fast guys."

After missing two games with a scary neck injury that caused him to be carted off the field Oct. 4 against the New England Patriots, Gaither is expected to start on the left side.

Stating that his neck is "pretty much 100 percent," Gaither added that he didn't expect any position change after speculation arose that he might be shifted to right tackle.

"I expect to be back where I left off," Gaither said.

On Monday, Harbaugh declined to specify whether Gaither would play left or right tackle.

In Gaither's absence, rookie first-round pick Michael Oher started at left tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings.

Now, Oher is going back to his normal right tackle spot.

"Jared looks great," Oher said. "He's been working hard to come back. He looks like the old Gaither to me."

When asked if he thought he would return to right tackle, Oher replied: "Of course. Why not?"

Against the Broncos, both Gaither and Oher figure to be tested by Dumervil.

The speedy outside linebacker leads the NFL with 10 sacks.

Dumervil is tied as the second-fastest player to reach 10 sacks since it became an official NFL statistic in 1982, matching former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan's total for six games in 2001.

"He's an explosive player, a great player," Oher said. "He has a high motor."

The Broncos lead the NFL in scoring defense (11.0 points) and third-down percentage (26.9 percent).

Dumervil has registered seven sacks on third downs. And he had four sacks against the Cleveland Browns.

He’s on pace to match Strahan’s NFL record of 22 ½ sacks.

“I just try to be a guy who is relentless and is trying to play for four quarters,” Dumervil said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “I just go hard and play all out, just try to be disruptive.”

Mobile and elusive, Dumervil plays with a low center of gravity at 5-foot-11, 248 pounds.

With a stocky build, he appears even shorter than his listed height.

Because of how former Ravens’ defensive coordinator Mike Nolan moves Dumervil around the line of scrimmage in the Broncos’ aggressive 3-4 set, the Ravens may need to employ some chip-blocking assistance on the NFL Defensive Player of the Year contender.

“I played against Elvis Dumervil in college,” running back Ray Rice said. “He’s doing more now than he was doing in college. He was just a straight end in college. He’s a linebacker in their defense. You definitely have to be aware of that guy.”

One week after contending with the pass-rushing moves of Minnesota Vikings star defensive end Jared Allen and two weeks after Oher stonewalled Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom, here comes Dumervil.

“Their relentlessness is the same,” Harbaugh said in a reference to Allen and Dumervil. “These two guys are just fiercely relentless pass rushers, but the pass rush moves, tempo, the styles are completely different.

“I’d compare him more to Harrison probably in Pittsburgh. He’s the same kind of pass rusher. Jared Allen is kind of a big, long, rangy guy. Elvis is more of a power-paced kind of a guy, a little lower built to the ground, gains leverage, more of a spin guy sometimes.”

For the season, the Ravens have allowed a respectable 10 sacks.

That has allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to have sufficient time to complete 64.4 percent of his throws for 1,674 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions with a 93.8 quarterback rating.

“One of the main goals of a defense is to put pressure on the quarterback, you know, make him feel uncomfortable,” Flacco said. “It’s the job of a good quarterback to overcome that. It’s the job of a good offensive line to overcome that.

“And that’s what we’ll do as an offense. Our receivers will get open on the outside and give me a chance to get back there and get the ball out of my hands.”

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Homecoming for Matt Birk, P. Williams directs smack towards Ravens

Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk isn’t sure what it’s going to feel like when he returns to the Metrodome for the first time after leaving the Vikings during free agency.

“If I said no, I’d be lying,” Birk said in response to a question about whether it will feel strange on Sunday. “I don’t know what it’s going to feel like. I’ve never done it before. In a lot of ways, it’s another trip, but I guess in a lot of ways it’s not.”

The Harvard graduate isn’t just a former Viking. He’s a longtime St. Paul resident whose family remains in the Twin Cities.

“On my fifth birthday, we took a bunch of my friends to a Twins game,” Birk said when asked to recall his fondest memory of the Metrodome. “It’s true.”

He said he wasn’t sure if he’ll be cheered or booed.Birk will be tasked with blocking the Vikings’ Williams Wall, which consists of massive defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.The return of Birk to Minnesota has received a lot of attention, at least in the Twin Cities. And Pat Williams, who’s an ornery sort, is tired of being asked about Birk.

"Everyone’s trying to make it a Birk thing, a Pat thing, but I don’t care," Williams told Minnesota reporters. "We don’t miss him around here. We don’t care about no [expletive] Baltimore or nothing. We’re on a mission. We’re worried about the Minnesota Vikings. That’s it."

Williams is also fed up with the assertion that the hard-hitting Ravens are going to push the Vikings around."I’m tired of people saying it’s going to be a physical game," Williams said. "Our team is physical. We’re the physical team."

And he guaranteed that running backs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee aren’t going to eclipse the century mark.“They got to show up, too,” he said. “We ain’t giving up no 100.”

Ravens Trade Talk

It’s regarded as a long shot that the Ravens will be involved in any serious trade discussions prior to Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline. However, Harbaugh didn’t completely rule it out.The Ravens have been the subject of speculation that they might deal a second-round draft pick and a fifth-round selection for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, but there’s nothing concrete to the rumors.

“It’s so hard to anticipate activity,” Harbaugh said. “We work on a lot of things. I know Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta and Vince Newsome and those guys turn over every stone in every way they can to try to make our team better.

“I’m sure they’re looking at a lot of things right now. There are possibilities, but it’s so hard to make a trade in the NFL. You just don’t see it very often. It’s very rare.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

RAVENS QUICK HITS: Feeling hot, hot, hot

With 69 points in two games, the Ravens have scored more points in consecutive games than in any two-game period in franchise history since 2005. ... Harbaugh was complimentary of quarterback Joe Flacco, for smartly taking a nine-yard sack in the fourth quarter to keep the clock running prior to Steve Hauschka's 33-yard field goal. "Rather than throwing it away or risking a fumble, Joe holds onto it and takes a sack," Harbaugh said. "That keeps the clocking rolling and forces them to take a timeout." ...

Atop the AFC North, the Ravens aren't thrilled that they're being labeled by former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci as the team to beat in the AFC. "We don't care, we don't particularly want that," Harbaugh said. "That's not a place we're comfortable with. It's early, but I'm proud of our football team. They won a tough game on the road, early in the season." ...

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs bumped Sproles on his 81-yard touchdown catch out of the backfield, but help never came as Sproles went untouched on his way to the end zone. "When you play man coverage against a good back like that, sometimes you put a call on to try to knock those guys off and slow them down a little bit," Harbaugh said. "And Suggs tried to do that. They got us caught up in the man coverage on a switch and he came free. That was unfortunate. They caught us." ...

The Ravens haven't been using fourth wide receiver Demetrius Williams much with the emergence of third receiver Kelley Washington, who caught a touchdown against San Diego. "We've been in three receiver sets, he's been the fourth receiver," Harbaugh said. "When we feel like he's ready to help us win a game based on the situation, he'll be out there. He's worked really hard. You don't put on 12, 15 pounds of muscle mass in the last year that he's done to get himself ready to play if you're not a hard-working guy. I think without question he'll be a big part of the plans the next few weeks." ...

The Ravens didn't agree with the offsides penalty on rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher where an official stopped the play as center Matt Birk was getting ready to snap the ball. "I made a call this morning," Harbaugh said. "That was a really well-officiated game. That would be one that we weren't too sure about. We'll give them one, I guess, but they did a good job." ...

Harbaugh chose his words carefully when asked about former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's New York Jets' upset win over the New England Patriots. "I've got to be careful on that," he said. "How this thing shakes out, we're going to be rooting for the Ravens all the way through and it looks like the Jets are going to be a big part of that just like Rex said they would. We're not surprised. We've come to pretty much believe everything Rex says." ...

The Ravens had some trouble with cramping with strong safety Dawan Landry getting an IV on the sideline to replenish his fluids. "Our guys were doing fine until they put the thermometer up on the big scoreboard and it showed 108 degrees," Harbaugh said. "All of a sudden, our guys were dying. That was psychology or something going on there, but they started cramping toward the end."

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why the Ravens missed on Baskett

WHY NO BASKETT?: The Ravens were heavily involved in discussions with free agent wide receiver Hank Baskett before he signed with the Indianapolis Colts.They made trade inquiries about him before he was placed on waivers by the Philadelphia Eagles. Then, they were in talks with Baskett the night prior to him signing with the Colts.

The Colts had an edge as far as having more time to get the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder acclimated to their offense with a Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins.

"Hank Baskett was a consideration," Harbaugh said. "We talked to Hank the night before it happened. In my opinion, Hank would have come here. He pretty much made that clear. Hank and I have a great relationship."Ultimately, the Ravens decided that it would have been tough to get Baskett up to speed in time for the Chargers game. Plus, the Colts really needed a receiver badly in light of Anthony Gonzalez’s two-month knee injury."

The Colts had an advantage of one more day,” Harbaugh said. “Their advantage was their opportunity to get Hank up and playing this week was much better than ours was. He wouldn’t have been here to practice until Thursday or Friday."

That was a little tougher for us to make a decision because when you bring somebody up, you’ve got to let somebody go. The most important thing for us this week was going to be the Chargers game. We had to keep that foremost. We tried to pull it off, but the fact that they play Monday night was the key."

LJ Smith ready to go v. Chargers?

Tight end L.J. Smith is optimistic that he might play Sunday after being sidelined since late August with a pulled left hamstring.He’s listed as questionable and is expected to be a game-time decision, and will see how warm-ups go before a determination is made on his status.

"I feel like I’ve made enough progress that I feel pretty good about my chances," Smith said Friday. "This was the most work I’ve had all week and it feels good. I’m right there. I had a good week."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh echoed that sentiment. He’s of the opinion that Smith is closing in on being ready to play.

"I would say that L.J. improved dramatically, especially in the last two days," Harbaugh said. "He was full participation, as far as I could tell. I don’t know exactly the number of reps he took. He’s got a chance to be ready to go. It was good to see."

Vincent Jackson is a beast!

All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates isn’t the only formidable weapon in the San Diego Chargers’ arsenal. The Baltimore Ravens also have to account for imposing Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.Jackson represents a challenge with his uncommon blend of size at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash.

"He’s a big receiver who can run and he’s always been a tough matchup for cornerbacks, especially the smaller corners," Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington said. "There’s always things you can do to make those matchups favorable. They’re going to do what they think they can do best, and we’re going to do what we think we can do best."

Jackson caught five passes for 56 yards, including an acrobatic touchdown catch, in the opening game against the Oakland Raiders. For his career, he has registered 135 receptions for 2,289 yards and 17 touchdowns. Last season, he caught a career-high 59 passes for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns.And his size tends to create mismatches outside. So, the Ravens will need to generate a pass rush to disrupt Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers’ timing.

"It’s going to come down to technique," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "Poor corners, people think it’s them. You’ve got to pressure. They can only do that for so long. Our defensive line and our linebackers feel that same kind of responsibility."

The problem with defending someone as big and athletic as Jackson is he’s virtually always open just by the simple fact of his ability to muscle and out leap smaller defensive backs for the football.He’s a bully out there.

"I’ve played against him quite a few times and Vince has a ton of talent," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He’s definitely big and pretty fast for his size, but you can’t have it all. He can’t do everything. We have to use what we do better."

During a fourth quarter Kansas City Chiefs scoring drive against Baltimore last Sunday, the Chiefs drove 80 yards on six plays with every play coming through the air.Plus, the Ravens had a breakdown in coverage against the Chiefs when Washington allowed a 50-yard catch to Mark Bradley where he was a step behind and missed on a swipe at the ball.

"That play was tough from start to finish and bad on my end," Washington said. "I knew what I did wrong as soon as the ball was snapped. I didn’t get a hand on him. Then, I was stumbling the whole way. He made a good catch. I hate that it happened, but it happened."

Tomlinson out v. Ravens

SAN DIEGO — LaDainian Tomlinson has been ruled out of the San Diego Chargers’ home opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday due to a sprained ankle, just the second time the star running back will miss a start due to injury in his brilliant nine-year career.

The former NFL MVP, who was hurt in Monday night’s 24-20 win at Oakland, hadn’t missed a game due to injury until January, when a groin injury kept him out of a playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.Tomlinson’s carries will go to Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett, a late-season addition last year who made the roster out of training camp.

Also out are center Nick Hardwick (ankle) and defensive end Travis Johnson (groin). Right guard Louis Vasquez (knee) could also be sidelined, along with linebacker Antwan Applewhite (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jamal Williams (elbow). All three are listed as questionable for Sunday.Hardwick will be replaced by Scott Mruczkowski.

If Vasquez can’t go, Brandyn Dombrowski will get his first NFL start.The Chargers have the wrong opponent to not be at full strength. They expect a tough, physical game against the hard-nosed Ravens, who advanced to last season’s AFC championship game before losing to the Steelers.The previous year it was the Chargers getting one win away from the Super Bowl before losing to the New England Patriots.

“You’ve got two teams that are awfully good and see themselves as being pretty good,” coach Norv Turner said Friday. “They are a very physical football team and we are a physical football team. So I think it’s going to be a heck of a matchup. We both have aspirations of doing something very special. Both teams would like to have the kind of year to get there again.”

Both squads are coming off close wins over AFC West opponents. The Chargers beat Oakland 24-20 and the Ravens beat the visiting Kansas City Chiefs 38-24.

“I think playing in our home stadium is big for us,” Turner said.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ravens bring back tight end into nest

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens signed rookie tight end Davon Drew to the practice squad, reclaiming their fifth-round draft pick after he received an injury settlement recently from the Miami Dolphins.

Drew tried out for the Ravens on Monday.

Drew was claimed off waivers by the Dolphins after the Ravens cut him during their final major roster cutdown, which prevented Baltimore from placing him on their practice squad.

Days later, Drew was cut loose by the Dolphins after just one practice. Drew replaces tight end Isaac Smolko on the practice squad.

Drew failed the Ravens' conditioning test when he reported to training camp and dealt with a sprained ankle throughout the preseason.

Drew was one of two Ravens draft picks to be claimed by other teams with running back Cedric Peerman claimed by the Cleveland Browns. A converted quarterback, Drew was named All-Conference USA twice.

Also, offensive lineman Brian Johnson received an injury settlement from the Ravens.

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

Ravens O-Line finding its groove

OWINGS MILLS -- Joe Flacco hardly had a hair out of place, let alone any collection of bumps and bruises following the Baltimore Ravens' victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The quarterback was only sacked once while managing to throw a career-high three touchdown passes as he dropped back to throw a career-high 43 passes.

According to the official game book, Flacco was only hit one time. It wasn't by happenstance.

Two new starters made their regular-season debuts in Baltimore as center Matt Birk and rookie right offensive tackle Michael Oher. However, the timing and cohesiveness of the blocking was well above-average during a 38-24 win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Well, the protection is where it starts," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said during his weekly Monday press conference. "That's why we've made some of the decisions we've made. We said from the first day that everything starts upfront on both sides of the ball.

"So, the priority is building an offensive line, the priority is building a defensive line and you kind of work back from there. But it sure starts in the core and the offensive line played really well."

The lone sack was allowed by left offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who was beaten on a speed rush by former first-round pick Tamba Hali.

Other than that, it was a pristine outing.

The Ravens racked up a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense, grinding out 198 yards on the ground and controlled the clock for 39 minutes and 49 seconds.

"That's what we're trying to build here, a physical offense, a grind it out kind of offense" Oher said. "I think we're doing a great job. We've just got to keep on fighting.

"Our coach stays on us about a lot of things, playing fast. I wouldn't say the speed was that overwhelming."

Oher handled his assignments adeptly in his first NFL start.

At times, the mobile first-round draft pick manhandled the Chiefs' front seven. He played aggressively throughout the contest against a 3-4 alignment.

"He played really well, but there are a lot of things he can do better," Harbaugh said. "For a rookie coming out for the first time, facing that odd front, he did a nice job."

And Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl center with the Minnesota Vikings who signed with Baltimore during the offseason, did a nice job of making the line calls and controlling the Chiefs' interior defensive linemen.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of this offense, a part of this team," Birk said. "The best thing I like about this offense is we work hard. We've got guys that want to work, want to be great."

Regardless of whether it was running backs Ray Rice (108 yards) and Willis McGahee (44 yards, one touchdown run) or fullback Le'Ron McClain (one touchdown run), there were large holes to run through.

In particular, the right side tandem of Oher and guard Chris Chester cleared some big pathways. Especially with their seal blocks on Rice's 22-yard run that set up McClain's one-yard touchdown plunge.

"The thing about the offensive line is, we have to block the same for all of them," Oher said. "Whoever is back there, it’s like a three-headed monster. They are some great backs. We just have to do the same thing, no matter what.”

When Flacco dropped back to pass on his game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mark Clayton, he had sufficient breathing room to let Clayton's post pattern develop and release the football despite the presence of a heavy blitz package.

"We kind of called the play for that," Flacco said. "What they did there, we expected them to do. Mark did a great job at the top of his route. The offensive line did a great job of protecting the gaps and giving me just enough time to get the ball off."

Photo by Sabina Moran

Baskett release by Eagles, not likely to land in Baltimore

OWINGS MILLS -- The Philadelphia Eagles cut wide receiver Hank Baskett after activating quarterback Michael Vick from the exempt list.

Baskett could possibly draw interest from Baltimore because of his ability as a reserve receiver and special-teams player, but has to clear waivers as a vested veteran. The Ravens have a low-ranking waiver priority after making it to the AFC championship game last year, so Baskett will probably wind up somewhere else.

The Ravens are less inclined to pursue wide receivers now after a strong opening game from that group against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Along with Eagles receiver Reggie Brown, Baskett had been linked to the Ravens in trade speculation.

Baskett caught one pass for six yards in the first game and has 72 career receptions for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns during four NFL seasons.

Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree, who tried out for the Ravens last week, tried out for the St. Louis Rams on Tuesday.

Tyree remains unsigned as the Rams agreed to terms with former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Ruvell Martin after working him out as well as former Tennessee Titans receiver Chris Davis and former New Orleans Sants receiver Skyler Green.

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

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ravens Notebook: Rice, McGahee tandem piling up yards

Ravens hold Larry Johnson to 20 yards

BALTIMORE -- Even with the aerial show the Baltimore Ravens put on during a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, they haven't abandoned their trademark smash-mouth running game.

The running back tandem of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee provided more than enough yards to keep the Chiefs honest during the Ravens' 38-24 win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium as Baltimore rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

Rice rushed for 108 yards on 19 carries, including a 22-yard run on a sweep down to the Chiefs' 1-yard line that set up Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain's touchdown plunge.

"A hundred yards doesn't come easy," Rice said. "We were getting five or six yards at a time and then those five or six-yard runs started turning into 15-yard runs and 10-yard runs and 20-yard runs.

"That's what good teams do. On top of all the good passing, you can look at our running game and say we did pretty good."

McGahee caught a touchdown in the first half and rushed for a fourth-quarter touchdown to cap the Ravens' scoring, gaining 44 yards on 10 carries.

The former Pro Bowl runner endured the worst season of his career last year statistically as he dealt with knee, ankle, rib and eye injuries and didn't mesh well with the coaching staff.

Now, he's definitely a part of the offense again in a complementary role behind Rice.
"They took care of me in training camp, I'm glad they did that," McGahee said. "With me and Ray rotating in and out, it keeps them off-balance. We're unstoppable."

CONTAINING LJ: The Ravens definitely hadn't forgotten that Chiefs running back Larry Johnson was the last runner to eclipse the century mark against them.

Johnson rushed for over 100 yards in a 20-10 Baltimore win on Dec. 10, 2006.

The Ravens' rebuttal was a convincing one as Johnson rushed for only 20 yards on 11 carries.

The Ravens own the longest current streak in the NFL of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, a 36-game streak.

"We kind of owed him one," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "To win, you need to shut down the run. We also wanted to keep that streak alive, so we did what we do best. We anchored down and stopped the run."

Johnson's longest run was just seven yards.

"It was great that we were able to keep Larry Johnson contained and make them a one-dimensional offense," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.

And the Chiefs finished with just 29 rushing yards on 17 carries, an average of 1.7 yards per attempt.

Our No. 1 goal is to stop the run," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He was the last one to run for 100 yards. He's a stud. We were looking to stop those guys."

HE'S BACK: Nose guard Kelly Gregg recorded four tackles and two assists, tying middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the most tackles.

It marked Gregg's first regular-season game back on the field after missing last season when he underwent microfracture knee surgery.

"It's good to be back," Gregg said. "I was down and out. These guys, they always talked to me last year and kept me going. I'll tell you, it's just good to get back and get a win with these guys. Just go lights out and hopefully good things will happen.”

FIRST TIMERS: The Ravens are excited about their improvements in the offensive line.
It was the first regular-season start in Baltimore for six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and rookie right tackle Michael Oher.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of this offense, a part of this team," Birk said. "The best thing I like about this offense is we work. We've got guys that want to work, want to be great."

A first-round draft pick from Ole Miss, Oher actually seemed to fare better than left tackle Jared Gaither.

He seemed to maintain his composure and had some good blocks on running plays as he ran interference for Rice and McGahee.

"I did all right, but my technique can get a lot better and I can discipline myself a lot better on some things," Oher said. "It’s all correctable.

“Our coach stays on us about a lot of things, playing fast. I wouldn’t say the speed was that overwhelming.”

Meanwhile, Gaither had some issues keeping up with Chiefs pass rusher Tamba Hali.
Hali had five tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.

"He's definitely a great player and a great defensive end," Gaither said. "He did well. He was a tough matchup."

NOT IMPRESSED: Despite the Ravens generating a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wasn't entirely pleased.

He was looking for greater efficiency even though Baltimore converted all four red-zone opportunities and converted 10 of 17 third downs for a 59 percent efficiency.

"We're trying to score, score and take care of the football," Cameron said. "I think we still left a lot of points out there. I'm not a big yards guy.

"I'm concerned about scoring points and taking care of the football. It wasn't a record for points, was it?"

What pleased Cameron the most was how the Ravens came through in the clutch with three consecutive scores to close out the game.

"I'm excited because our guys made drives at the end," Cameron said. "Our guys scored on the last three drives. That's the most impressive part to me."

MOVING THE BALL: How impressive was the Ravens first -quarter scoring drive? Seven different Ravens ran or caught a pass in the 13-play, 70-yard drive.

Cameron credited Kansas City’s special teams with pinning the Ravens back.

Dustin Colquitt, one of the NFL’s best, shanked a punt for 28 yards, but still averaged 47 yards a kick.

“They did a great job making us go a long way,” Cameron said. “I don't know how long those drives were. Their kicking game, their punter, did a good job in making us go, 65, 70, 80 yards--and score from that length consistently."

HIT IN THE WALLET COMING?: Johnson is expecting to be fined by the league office after being penalized for roughing the passer when he lightly grazed quarterback Brodie Croyle's helmet from behind with his forearm.

"I probably will," said Johnson, who registered a career-high two sacks. "You're going for the strip and your arm is going over. I thought I hit him in the neck.
"I talked to the official and if you get a piece of the helmet, you're getting a flag. That's just the way it is. They're going to err on the side of caution. You have to accept that."

INJURY UPDATE: Starting inside linebacker Tavares Gooden left the game in the third quarter with a mild right knee sprain and was helped off the field by two trainers.
X-rays were negative, though, and no ligaments were torn.

After going to the locker room to be examined, Gooden returned to the sideline to ride on an exercise bike. However, he didn't return to the game and was replaced by Jameel McClain.

"It looks like it's going to be okay," Harbaugh said. "It looks like a sprain, we'll see."

Strong safety Tom Zbikowski left the game with a concussion in the first half and didn't return, but it's not considered to be serious.

Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo didn't aggravate his sprained right toe, but did bruise his knee. He limped off the field, but returned.

"I banged the outside of my knee," Ayanbadejo said. "In the NFL, we don't like to wear pads. I came off the field and made sure the doctor looked at it immediately and made sure all of my structures are sound. It was like a charley horse on the bone."

In his first full game back since returning from a strained heel, Suggs left the game for a short time in the first half when he collided with free safety Ed Reed.
"Me and Ed Reed hit each other in the head," Suggs said. "It's liable to happen like that, but I got right back in there. No biggie. I was a little woozy. I was a little dazed, but I just shrugged it off."

McGAHEE RUNS AND CATCHES: McGahee’s first-quarter touchdown was the 40th of his career, but just his second score on a reception.

“I always knew I had the ability to catch the ball,” McGahee said. “I just never had the opportunity to take advantage of it.”

McGahee thinks that quarterback Joe Flacco has improved enormously in his second year.

“He’s more confident,” McGahee said. “He knows what he’s doing.”

QUICK HITS: A moment of silence was observed before kickoff in memory of former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, who was murdered in July in Nashville, Tenn. by his girlfriend. ... The Ravens deactivated tight end L.J. Smith (pulled hamstring), John Beck (third quarterback), running back Jalen Parmele, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (sprained medial collateral ligament), offensive tackles Oniel Cousins (sprained ankle) and Tony Moll, nose guard Brandon McKinney and rookie outside linebacker-defensive end Paul Kruger. ... The Chiefs deactivated quarterback Matt Cassel (sprained left medial collateral ligament), quarterback Matt Gutierrez, cornerback Brandon Flowers (shoulder), running back Dantrell Savage, center-guard Andy Alleman, tight end Jake O'Connell and linebackers Turk McBride and Pierre Walters. ... Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps was on the Ravens' sideline before the game. ... Harbaugh's father, Jack Harbaugh, was on the sidelines. "He calmed me down one time," Harbaugh said. "He's got a good big picture of the game and a good feel for the game. I think it's important to take that perspective if it's down there. He would have wanted to run the dive option." ... Former NFL offensive coordinator Al Saunders is helping the Ravens on a consultant basis. "Al is in a consulting kind of role," Harbaugh said. "He has become a valuable part of what we're doing." ... The 38 points represents the most the Ravens have scored in an opening game in franchise history.

Ravens finish off Chiefs with Flacco

BALTIMORE -- In a major departure from a past built around an intimidating defense and a punishing running game, the Baltimore Ravens managed to win through a fairly unprecedented method.

When quarterback Joe Flacco lobbed a perfect spiral into the outstretched hands of wide receiver Mark Clayton with 2:06 remaining in the fourth quarter for a 31-yard game-winning touchdown to beat a heavy blitz, it represented a watershed change from the past when the Ravens were unable to generate a win through the air in pivotal situations.

In this case, Flacco's strong right arm helped the Ravens pile up a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense to manufacture a 38-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs to open the season before 71,099 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Flacco established career-highs with 307 passing yards and three touchdown passes with one interception, completing 26 of a career-high 43 passes for a 95.8 quarterback

"It's awesome," Flacco said. "It's so much fun. As a quarterback, that's what you want to do. You want to sit back there, let your offensive line take care of you and give the ball to your receivers."

It's the most yards produced by Baltimore since gaining 479 yards on Nov. 19, 2000 against the Dallas Cowboys. It's the Ravens' most first downs ever with 32, breaking their old record of 29 set during their inaugural season in 1996 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"This is a new year, a new offense, a new mentality," Clayton said. "We are kind of remaking ourselves."

It's also the first win by the Ravens in Baltimore over Kansas City after three previous losses.

And it probably doesn't happen without Flacco's ability to pick apart the Chiefs' secondary, or his elusiveness on a three-yard touchdown pass to running back Willis McGahee in the first quarter as he had some nifty moves to avoid the pass rush for several seconds before flipping the football to McGahee.

"He's got great command," center Matt Birk said. "His demeanor is just perfect. He's just steady as she goes."

Between Flacco's composure and quick-strike capability and the defense stonewalling Chiefs running back Larry Johnson as he was held to 20 rushing yards on 11 carries, the Ravens (1-0) were able to overcome a sloppy special-teams outing as they allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown and new kicker Steve Hauschka pushed a 41-yard field goal try wide of the target.

Still, the fact remains that the Chiefs are a 2-14 team from last season that was playing without starting quarterback Matt Cassel due to a sprained left medial collateral ligament and going with Brodie Croyle under center. He's still winless as a starter, but kept the Chiefs in contention with two touchdown passes as he completed 16 of 24 passes with no interceptions.

As free safety Ed Reed said while trudging up the tunnel into the locker room, "It shouldn't have been that hard, man."

The game was tied at 17-17 on Ryan Succop's 53-yard fourth-quarter field goal after Croyle hit wide receiver Mark Bradley with a 50-yard pass behind cornerback Fabian Washington as Washington was running with Bradley and couldn't make a play on the ball.

The Ravens immediately responded with a nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive keyed by a 25-yard pass to tight end Todd Heap.

Running back Ray Rice's 22-yard run on a sweep to the right got Baltimore down to the 1-yard line to set up Pro Bowl fullback LeRon McClain's one-yard touchdown run for a 24-17 advantage.

Then, the Chiefs responded with a pair of receptions to Dwayne Bowe prior to tight end Sean Ryan's 10-yard touchdown catch.

Linebacker Derrick Johnson returned a Flacco interception 70 yards to set up one Kansas City touchdown.

"We let them hang around," Flacco said. "They're pretty much a new team, and they had something to prove. We had to make sure we were on top of our game, stayed calm, staying poised. We did a good job of doing that, and that's why I think we pulled it out in the end.

"We wanted to put the ball in the air, at least early on in the game. See what we could do from there. That was pretty much the game plan. It's awesome."

Flacco consistently kept the offense moving as he picked out several different targets, including Clayton for five receptions and 77 yards in his first game back from a strained left hamstring and Heap for five receptions, 74 yards and a nine-yard score.

It was the first 300-yard passing game of Flacco's career and his most pass attempts ever.
"I think there's going to be many more of those to come," Heap said. "We just saw the emergence. We just saw the beginning of what he's capable of."

"Whether we end up throwing more when it's all said and done, there is no way to predict that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think that we'll be capable of throwing the ball probably in more ways this year than we did last year."

Plus, the Ravens rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries as Rice produced his second 100-yard game of his career as he rushed for 108 yards on 19 carries. A former Pro Bowl runner, McGahee rushed for a one-yard touchdown to give the Ravens some breathing room with 31 seconds to play.

"It wasn't pretty, but it was us," Rice said. "For three quarters, it was tight. We faced adversity. If you face stuff like this early, you go home and correct it. I think we established a home character.

"We play like Ravens, we never quit. Nothing fazes us. We could've easily cracked when they went ahead. I know when I got out there, there wasn't a doubt that we were going to move the ball."

Flacco had some inaccurate moments, though, sailing his throws.

"We didn't take advantage of every opportunity early in the game," Harbaugh said. "As the game went on, the story was us answering. They went ahead, we answered. They tied the game, we answered. They tied the game again, but we answered and then we answered again to put it away.

"Our defense got the stop in the end. That's what we're most proud of. Obviously, we have so many things to work on in all three phases, special teams, offense and defense."

The Chiefs didn't produce a first down until two minutes were left in the first half.

For the game, Kansas City gained just 188 yards.

The biggest problems were on special teams as Chiefs safety Jon McCraw busted through the gap between the center and the right guard to block Sam Koch's punt and recover it for a touchdown.

"It was just a miscommunication," special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "One of the guys didn't block who they were supposed to block and those things can happen early in the season and sometimes you can get away with it and not give up a block.

"They got us when there's still some communication issues. It's something we should have picked up and shouldn't have messed up, but those guys get paid, too, on the other side."

Plus, Hauschka flubbed a field goal in the wind.

It was his first regular-season game as the replacement for veteran Matt Stover.

"I think the wind took the ball, but the reason it did is because I didn't hit the ball clean," Hauschka said. "You have to hit it clean or it gets broken up by the wind. I need to learn to hit them more confidently in the wind. I'm just glad it didn't cost us and we got out of there with a win. It's good to get used to the nerves."

On the decisive touchdown, Flacco beat a nine-man blitz to find Clayton behind Brandon Carr on a post pattern.

Clayton displayed no issues with his leg as he accelerated away from Carr to get into the end zone.

"Just had a post on and that was the perfect call, man," Clayton said. "Caught the defense in the perfect coverage, and we were able to execute the throw and catch."

Then, the defense flexed its muscles on the Chiefs' ensuing drive with outside linebacker Jarret Johnson sacking Croyle for the second time on the first play. A forced fumble was recovered by Terrell Suggs, but the officials determined after an instant-replay review that Croyle's forearm was down and caused the fumble.

Three plays later, defensive end Trevor Pryce sacked Croyle to give the football back to Baltimore on downs at the Chiefs' 9-yard line.

"At the end, they're backed up and it seems like you have the advantage," Johnson said. "But if they get one first down and get rolling, you've got problems."

After taking over possession, McGahee ran the football three times in a row to get into the end zone.

Rather than have Hauschka attempt a chip-shot field goal, the Ravens opted to stick with McGahee on the ground.

In the Ravens' estimation, the risk of a blocked kick outweighed the reward of a field goal try.

"More things can happen on a field goal than any other kind of play," Harbaugh said. "We're fourth-and-six inches, I think we have a better chance of making the touchdown than we do of something bad happening on the field goal. They could actually block a kick and score a touchdown, worst-case scenario.

"So, you weigh all that stuff and you decide that's the lowest-risk possibility to give us the best chance to win the game. If for some reason they stop us, they have to go 99 2/3 yards to score a touchdown."

One year removed from an 11-5 season and an AFC championship game appearance, the Ravens were expected to blow Kansas City out. They entered the game established as a 13-point favorite.

Did the Ravens take the Chiefs too lightly?

"I don't think we were underestimating them," Heap said. "Everybody was expecting the game to go one way. I think in our heads we thought the game would go one way as well, but you can never overlook any team."

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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BALTIMORE RAVENS NOTEBOOK: News & Notes Ravens v. Chiefs

OWINGS MILLS -- The theory about speed versus size is about to be tested again Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens' cornerbacks take on imposing Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

The Ravens feature two of the faster starting cornerbacks in the league in Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington, but both are relatively undersized.

So, they figure to be put to a severe test against Bowe.

Bowe is a 6-foot-2, 221-pound downfield target who caught 70 passes for 995 yards as a rookie two years ago. Last season he registered 86 receptions for 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns.

“He’s a big, physical, fast receiver,” said Foxworth, who will share the assignment of covering Bowe with Washington. I think he’s one of the young, up-and-coming receivers in the league, and I’m looking forward to the chance to match up.”

From his days with the Denver Broncos, Foxworth has significant experience against Bowe having squared off with him three times previously.

"I think anytime you’re a professional and you’ve had the experience of playing against somebody, you know what went good or what didn’t go real well," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "I know Domonique will have known how to play against him. He’ll be a real test for us. He’s a bigger receiver than we’re used to seeing every day in practice.”

Bowe's presence tends to keep defenses honest, less inclined to crowd the line of scrimmage to collide with powerful running back Larry Johnson.

"Dwayne Bowe is physical, big and physical,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Great-looking guy, good hands, wants the ball, obviously, like all the great ones do. I’d say an up-and-coming star.”

Initially, Bowe failed to meet new Chiefs coach Todd Haley's expectations and was demoted to third-string.

Reinstated as a starter now, Bowe is expected to be the Chiefs' featured receiver Sunday.
"I think Dwayne has made very good progress," Haley said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He started out a little slow, but he's starting to get it. He's starting to get it and understand what's expected of him, and I think Dwayne wants to be good, and that usually gives him a chance at success."

INJURY REPORT: Tight end L.J. Smith didn't practice for the third day in a row due to a pulled left hamstring, and he’s regarded as extremely unlikely to play against Kansas City.

Smith was listed as doubtful on the injury report, which denotes a 25-percent chance he will play.

"If he's ready to go Sunday, he will, and if he's not, he won't," Harbaugh said. "He'll be a game-day decision."

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained left ankle, knee) is preparing to play. He's listed as probable, but was limited in practice Friday.

"We put everything on the injury report," Harbaugh said. "We're very open and honest. Any little thing is going to be on the injury report."

Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (sprained right medial collateral ligament) took part in practice on a full-time basis and is listed as questionable, but won't be suiting up this week.

Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo (sprained right toe) is probable and participated fully in practice.

Wide receiver Mark Clayton reiterated that he's recovered from the strained left hamstring that sidelined him during the preseason.

"It feels good, I'm excited," Clayton said. "I'm ready to play as much as I can."

Clayton is slated to start opposite Derrick Mason, but is likely to give way at times to Kelley Washington and Demetrius Williams.

Offensive guard Marshal Yanda said that he expects Chris Chester to start at right guard, but he expects to see some playing time less than a year removed from tearing three knee ligaments against the Indianapolis Colts.

"Chris is definitely playing guard," he said. "I think I'll get in some. I'm definitely not starting."

Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel is listed as questionable and was limited again due to a sprained left medial collateral ligament. His mobility is reportedly limited.

The Chiefs listed former Ravens wide receiver Terrance Copper (hamstring) and cornerback Brandon Flowers (shoulder) as questionable.

TRYOUTS: The Ravens worked out former Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Carey Davis as well as former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Tony Curtis.

The team also worked out four other free agent tight ends and a fullback.

NICKEL DUTY: Kick returner Chris Carr signed with the Ravens partly because they offered him an opportunity to expand his role on defense.

He's going to operate as the nickel back behind Washington and Foxworth as well as return punts and kickoffs.

"I always take pride in my defense," said Carr, who has switched to No. 25 from No. 30. "I've worked very hard at that and I really want to prove to them that I can play defense.

“I have to go above and beyond. I want to show them that I'm a good all-around player. It's an honor to be out there on defense and I want to do as much as I can for the Ravens."

Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb will fill in behind Carr on defense and will be on several special-teams units.

"When the game starts, the butterflies will be there," Webb said. "I'm a little anxious for the game. It’s exciting.”

GETTING STARTED: For rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher, this represents his first real test as he makes his first regular-season start.

After a strong preseason, the first-round draft pick doesn't seem concerned about nerves.

"It's the same thing, you play hard and do what you know how to do," Oher said. "It's football. Everything will be all right."
For inside linebacker Tavares Gooden, it's a time to justify the Ravens promoting him to the starting defense as the replacement for Bart Scott.

"I've been showing everybody w hat I can do," said Gooden, a third-round pick who spent the majority of his rookie season on injured reserve after undergoing hip flexor and sports hernia surgeries. "I'm trying to leave my mark here and show them that they made a great choice in the draft."

C-MAC NOT RETURNING: Former Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister is in the process of selling his posh Beverly Hills home and is moving back to Maryland and visited the training complex this week. However, McAlister won’t be rejoining the Ravens.

"Come back?" Harbaugh said. "No."

The three-time Pro Bowl selection did not mesh well with the coaching staff last season and was cut this offseason after declining to take a major paycut.

He has struggled to find a new NFL employer, but has repeatedly been linked in speculation to the Dallas Cowboys. McAlister has a history of off-field problems.

QUICK HITS: Former Ravens majority owner Art Modell, who retains one percent of the team, spoke with the team huddled around him after practice. "We all know what he's meant to the NFL, we all know what he's meant to this organization and he was just telling the guys that this is his 48th opener in the NFL," Harbaugh said. "That's two times as old as most of our guys. The older guys know him. You can see the guys like Todd Heap, Ed Reed and Derrick Mason right up there in front because they've got such a great relationship with Mr. Modell. The young guys will have that same type of relationship with him as time goes on. He's a big part of the Ravens." ... The Ravens have instituted a policy banning cellular phones and laptops from practice. "There's no cell phones, never has been," Harbaugh said. "There's no cell phones at practice for anybody. We don't have cell phones in meetings, we don't have cell phones anywhere. It's always been the policy." ... Harbaugh said he took in the Pittsburgh Steelers' exciting overtime win over the Tennessee Titans after putting his daughter, Alison, to bed. "She wouldn't go to sleep," he said. "It looked like football we're familiar with."

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

Photo by Sabina Moran.

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