Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

McClain v. Gooden, Ravens' LB's set to battle

OWINGS MILLS -- Far too often for Jameel McClain and his family, the only respite from the cold streets of Philadelphia and the gnawing hunger in their stomachs was a homeless shelter.Having emerged from that grim life experience as a Golden Gloves boxing champion who earned a football scholarship to Syracuse and became the only undrafted rookie free agent to crack the Baltimore Ravens' roster last year, McClain smiles at the thought of conquering his latest challenge.

Trying to win a starting job at inside linebacker next to All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis is McClain's latest goal, and he faces a formidable obstacle.Swift former third-round draft pick Tavares Gooden remains the consensus favorite to win the battle to replace Bart Scott.

"Being the underdog is nothing new to me," McClain said. "I love to compete. If someone wants to count me out, that's fine. It only makes me hungrier.”McClain isn't conceding anything to Gooden, a 6-foot-1, 247-pound former University of Miami speedster nicknamed "Baby Ray."

Although Gooden lined up with the first-string defense and raced around the practice field like a wild man during minicamps, the Ravens aren't drawing any final conclusions yet.They learned last season to not place any limitations on McClain, who set a franchise record by recording two safeties and also blocked a punt and registered 2 1/2 sacks and 17 special-teams tackles.

As impressive as Gooden is physically, McClain is an instinctive, gritty player.However, McClain has the disadvantage of not having played inside linebacker before after primarily playing defensive end in college and operating as a reserve strong side linebacker last season.

"We felt his feet and his athleticism and his body build would be much more suited to be a Mike linebacker," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's picked it up right away. He's done a really good job."

Gooden is regarded as the superior prospect and athlete. However, he is essentially unproven after being placed on injured reserve last season as a rookie to undergo sports hernia and hip flexor surgeries.

"Nothing is ever established until you get into the season," Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "The good news is Jameel is just getting used to playing the 'backer position, which he hasn't played before and he'll get better. Tavares is coming back from not playing last year, but you can see him improving. Both know what they need to improve on."

Gooden is built like a track athlete with lean muscles stacked on top of each other having bulked up a dozen pounds since his rookie season.He's an explosive former Florida prep champion in the discus who also thrived as a long and triple jumper.And Gooden’s behaving like a sprinter who was stuck in the starting blocks for a year before finally hearing the starter's gun.

"I see a stallion," Mattison said. "I see a guy who looks like he's been to the Kentucky Derby that's been tied up for a year and is bigger and stronger. He came out the first day and was like a wild horse."

Gooden has rare range, and drew high marks for his work in pass coverage during training camp last year.Controlling that speed, though, could prove to be a challenge.

"Tavares is sometimes going too fast," Lewis said. "At a jogging pace, he wants to hit somebody like right now. So, I've got to calm him down."Gooden is capable of chasing down ball carriers far away from his territory inside. His lateral pursuit is reminiscent of a young Lewis.

"God gave me a good set of wheels," Gooden told 24x7 this spring. "I'm able to run with receivers, faster than receivers. It's a blessing, man. You can't coach speed.”Gooden's 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds is superior to many NFL wide receivers. It's just a matter of making sure he's running in the right direction.

"I can get the job done and then some," Gooden said. "I can improve on what Bart did. I work hard and I'm going to bring it every single play. I can't wait for the season to start to prove what I'm all about."Gooden, who was Lewis’ roommate at training camp last year, and McClain have made it a special point to seek guidance from Lewis for additional pointers.

"I think the exciting part about those guys is what they learned off the field," Lewis said. "On the field, athleticism, they're gifted in that area. But the way that Jameel and Tavares have already been over to the house just to gain that knowledge, they're searching for it and I'm giving it to them. To see them apply it, it's a great thing to see what those guys are doing."

D. Williams strengthens to remain healthy


WESTMINSTER --Demetrius Williams already had the ornate tattoo of his favorite superhero adorning his right biceps, an image of Spider-Man with a football caught in his web.

Now, the Baltimore Ravens’ wide receiver has done something else to try live up to his Spider-Man nickname.

Chalk this one up to the equivalent of Spider-Man's Peter Parker character growing tired of being bullied.Through a rigorous weightlifting regimen and a metabolism that finally allowed him to gain some weight, Williams is sporting a bigger, thicker, leaner upper body after gaining roughly 15 pounds. The additional muscle is especially evident in his arms, neck and chest.

Williams is banking on the additional body armor finally transforming him into a durable football player after two years of injuries potentially derailing a promising career.

“I feel like I’m ready for it all,” Williams said Tuesday morning following the Ravens’ opening practice of training camp in Westminster. “I think I’m in the best physical shape I’ve been in for a long time. I’m not worried about anything or being injured.

“I feel like this year I’m healthy and I definitely will be able to make an impact. The biggest thing is not so much gaining weight, but strength to prevent injuries as much as possible. Being frail isn’t going to help you to stay in the NFL for a 16-game season.”

After being limited to seven games last season and 13 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown due to an Achilles tendon and ankle injury that required surgery, Williams has designs on a healthy season and generating major production.

In three seasons in the NFL, the former fourth-round draft pick from Oregon has only made it through one year without missing a game. And that was during his rookie campaign when he caught a career-high 22 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns.

Tired of occasionally being overpowered by larger, stronger defensive backs and spending so much time in the training room, Williams did something about it by bulking up to be able to protect himself from NFL bullies and to preserve his health.

“It was a big goal of Demetrius’ to become bigger and stronger,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He wanted to put on a lot of weight, become stronger, build muscle mass around the joints, so he could be more durable.

“I think his goal is to become a durable football player, along with becoming capable of doing all the things he needs to do as a receiver. He looked good out here. There was no indication of the Achilles at all.”

During minicamps, Williams still had a slight hitch in his gait even though he was able to accelerate and catch the football in stride.

Now, he’s smoothly getting in and out of his routes and gaining separation downfield.
Despite the added bulk, the Concord, Calif., native doesn’t appear to have lost any speed after putting on the weight on a gradual basis through proper nutrition and lifting heavier weights.

“He looks good, he looks big, he looks fast,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He looks ready to go, so we’ll get him out there catching balls in live action and see what he can do.”

When he’s healthy, Williams is capable of achieving quite a lot.

At Oregon, he emerged as the third-most prolific receiver in school history with 162 career receptions for 2,600 yards and 20 touchdowns. As a senior, Williams tied Ahmad Rashad’s school record with 10 touchdown catches.

“I feel like I just bring another receiver that we definitely can count on,” Williams said. “I just want to be one of those guys on the field that the defense needs to worry about.”

Williams earned his nickname at Oregon due to his penchant for making one-handed catches.

Now, he’s trying to rebuild his reputation and shake an injury-prone tag he earned by being limited to 16 games over the past two seasons. Williams was limited to nine games, four starts and 20 receptions for 290 yards before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with a high-ankle sprain. It has been a major strain on Williams’ psyche to be relegated to watching when he’s accustomed to contributing on the field.

“I think with patience, it brings something great,” Williams said. “I’ve been waiting, I’ve been waiting, and I think it’s my time to go out and do something about it. I’ve been sitting around for a few years hurt. I got all that stuff behind me now, so now I’m ready to go out and play.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ravens look to address 5 key questions in camp


1. Will Joe Flacco emerge as one of the NFL's top quarterbacks and avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx?

As a rookie, Flacco displayed the rare qualities of composure, arm strength, mobility, intelligence and work ethic. It's that last quality along with improved mechanics and knowledge of the offense that could provide a major boost to his development. His capability to throw on the run and read defenses will be called upon more. However, he could stand for better accuracy throwing over the middle. If the pass protection is there along with healthy downfield targets, then Flacco could take the next step toward establishing himself as one of the best young quarterbacks. Based on Flacco's command of the offense and accurate spirals at minicamps, any regression appears to be an unlikely scenario.

2. What’s the state of the passing game fare after failing to acquire an impact wide receiver?

The quest for a big-play outside threat remains unfulfilled despite being linked in the rumor mill to virtually every big-name wide receiver this offseason, including Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall. The Ravens didn’t draft a wide receiver, so they’re hoping that Derrick Mason won't follow through on his plans to retire and looking for increased contributions from former first- round draft pick Mark Clayton and durability-challenged deep threat Demetrius Williams. Marcus Smith has improved after a raw, drop-prone rookie campaign. Kelley Washington could contribute as a red-zone threat.

3. Will the Ravens' tradition of strong defense be maintained by new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison?

Under the direction of Rex Ryan, the defense earned a reputation for being intimidating, aggressive and innovative. With Ryan’s departure to coach the New York Jets, Mattison is a wild card since the former Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan defensive boss has never coordinated in the NFL. Mattison emphasizes speed, loves to blitz and is maintaining Ryan's trademark 3-4 scheme. The players have embraced Mattison's personality. It will be interesting to watch what wrinkles Mattison implements now that he's in charge.

4. Who will win several key competitions?

The ultimate depth-chart winners probably won't be determined until a few weeks after the Ravens leave Westminster. However, there are already plenty of clues on the early favorites. Steve Hauschka has a slight initial edge at kicker over strong-legged rookie Graham Gano, but it's close. First-round right tackle Michael Oher is a precocious blocker expected to fend off oft-injured veteran Adam Terry. With an elite size-speed combination, Tavares Gooden, Ray Lewis' protégé, ranks ahead of gritty Jameel McClain in the chase for Bart Scott’s old inside linebacker job. Ray Rice took most of the first-string minicamp carries ahead of Willis McGahee, who's at a career crossroads.

5. What's the status of several players on the mend from injuries?

The good news is nose guard Kelly Gregg (microfracture knee surgery) and strong safety Dawan Landry (neck surgery) have been cleared medically. The bad news? McGahee is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery, Mason had his labrum and scapula repaired, Williams is coming off Achilles tendon surgery and tight ends Todd Heap (back) and L.J. Smith (sports hernia) have been limited this offseason. Plus, offensive guard Marshal Yanda (knee) will likely start camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Ravens Notebook: Players report

WESTMINSTER -- The Baltimore Ravens' two-year streak of having their first-round draft pick signed prior to training camp came to a halt as team officials continued to haggle with rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher's agent Monday.

Team officials don't seem overly concerned about Oher's absence, which has been triggered primarily by not having deals completed above and below his slot at No. 23 overall. Oher's deal is expected to be completed at some point this week, but no deal was imminent as of Monday evening. Oher is expected to earn a starting job at right tackle.

"Michael Oher, I know he wants to be here," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Not too many first-round picks have signed yet, so a lot of that hinges on how that all slots out. The agent [Jimmy Sexton] wants to make sure he does the right thing by Michael.

"And we want to make sure that we do the right thing by Michael, too. We want to get the best contract we can for him as soon as we can. It should happen pretty soon.”

Oher remained in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., as of Monday night heading into this morning's opening practice at McDaniel College.Only four out of 32 first-round draft picks have signed their contracts, and that list doesn't include Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin at No. 22 overall and Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry at No. 24 overall.

Quarterbacks Matt Stafford (Detroit Lions) and Mark Sanchez (New York Jets), center Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns) and defensive lineman Evander Hood (Pittsburgh Steelers) are the only first-round picks that have agreed to terms. Plus, last year's pick at Oher's slot, (Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall), received a five-year, $12.55 million deal that included $7.125 million in guaranteed money. That deal is considered to be a bit low by several agents.

The last holdout for the Ravens was first-round defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006.

SYPNIEWSKI CUT: The Ravens cut blocking tight end Quinn Sypniewski with a waived-injured designation due to a problematic knee.Sypniewski underwent another surgical procedure this offseason to reattach his anterior cruciate ligament to his knee bone after complications arose from the procedure he had last season.At this point, the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder simply isn't healthy enough to play football over one year after shredding his knee ligaments and tearing the ACL off of the bone during an awkward minicamp collision with outside linebacker Antwan Barnes.

"The surgery didn’t work," Harbaugh said. "That’s the way you can describe it. He had some more work done on it, and that’s healing right now. We’re just giving him a chance to heal right now. "He can’t be on the 80-man roster at this stage. We need to have all our guys at practice right now. We’ve got a plan for Quinn. He’s still very much in our plans down the road, and he’ll be working hard to get that knee ready.”

QUICK HITS: The Ravens cut offensive guard Brian Johnson, who was on the practice squad last season. ... Harbaugh didn't announce any physically unable to perform list designations, but offensive guard Marshal Yanda (knee) is expected to be on the list. ... Several selected veterans reported to camp early, including running back Willis McGahee, tight end L.J. Smith, offensive tackle Adam Terry, offensive guard Ben Grubbs, wide receivers Demetrius Williams, Mark Clayton and Yamon Figurs, cornerbacks Samari Rolle, Fabian Washington and Frank Walker, linebackers Tavares Gooden and Barnes, nose guard Kelly Gregg, defensive end Dwan Edwards, defensive tackle Kelly Talavou and Yanda. ... McGahee, who had arthroscopic knee surgery during the offseason, appears to be in outstanding condition, especially when compared to last year. ... The first two players to check into the team hotel were rookie running back Cedric Peerman and Barnes.

Oher, Mason no-shows at the opening of camp

WESTMINSTER -- As the Baltimore Ravens arrived in Westminster on Monday for the launch of training camp for today’s opening practice, two prominent football players didn't show up to receive their room keys and playbooks at the team hotel.

Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason is contemplating his future, his family situation and his contract as he ponders whether he'll follow through on his abrupt retirement announcement from two weeks ago.

And rookie first-round offensive tackle Michael Oher, a consensus All-American blocker from Ole Miss, is still haggling with team officials in contract negotiations.Oher's absence didn't create any commotion even though he would be the first holdout for the Ravens since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's brief absence from camp three years ago.

Mason's unresolved status, particularly in the wake of wide receiver Drew Bennett's unanticipated retirement due to knee problems two days after signing with Baltimore, tends to dominate conversations.Teammates are divided on whether Mason is resolute in walking away from the game or if he’s conflicted, but leaning toward ultimately returning.

Mason might not know exactly what he's planning to do. Quarterback Joe Flacco spoke with his top wide receiver last week and came away uncertain about Mason's intentions.

"He didn't really sound too sure of himself," Flacco said as rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans reported to camp. "I told him, 'Whatever decision you make, it's your decision.' I just let him know how much we want him and how much he means to the team. In no way, did I try to persuade him in anyway."I just wanted to make sure he understood how much we appreciate having him around. I don't really know. I think he'll probably talk to the coaches and whatever decision he makes, he makes.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he hasn't spoken with Mason since their face-to-face meeting last week."I'm sure it's pretty much the same, and we'll be seeing what happens in the next few days," Harbaugh said.The Ravens did sign a wide receiver Monday, but it was a low-key move as they acquired free agent Biren Ealy.

Ealy is a 6-foot-3, 207-pound former University of Houston player who spent the majority of the past two seasons with the Tennessee Titans' practice squad. In four games played, Ealy has caught one pass for six yards.Ealy arrives with some off-field baggage.

Ealy was cut by the New Orleans Saints this offseason along with a teammate after both players were arrested in Louisiana on charges of obscenity, disturbing the peace by being drunk in public and lewd conduct for allegedly urinating in public and exposing himself.According to police reports, Ealy allegedly exposed himself and made lewd comments to a woman after she admonished the men for their behavior.

"We’ll add another receiver because we need receivers now to fill out training camp,” Harbaugh said shortly before Ealy was signed. "We’re looking for the best guys out there that we can get, young guys, older guys, whoever that may be, to put 10 or 11 receivers into training camp. We’ve got some irons in the fire.”The Ravens have been contacted by four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn, but haven't taken any action toward bringing him in for a tryout.

Other veterans who haven't been sought out by Baltimore, according to their agents, includes: Amani Toomer, Matt Jones, Justin McCareins, Koren Robinson and Robert Ferguson.

The Ravens also haven't been in touch with D.J. Hackett since he tried out Friday along with Bennett, Chris Hannon and Justin Brown.Bennett's retirement caught the Ravens off guard, but it didn't cost them any money because his $745,000 contract didn't include a signing bonus. Bennett's arthritic knee swelled up significantly after returning home in the wake of passing a physical and signing a contract.

"His knees just didn't calm down, and he felt like this is going to be a problem now, and forever really, because it's arthritic," Harbaugh said. "And it's time for him to move on. He didn't feel like he could get through a practice, let alone a season at this level."

When asked if he was shocked by the development, which followed Mason's retirement bombshell by two weeks, Harbaugh replied: "No, I don't get shocked. You would never characterize it that way. Things happen, and we're getting ready for practice."

Flacco didn't seem bothered by Bennett's retirement, either.“I was kind of looking forward to meeting Drew and getting to know him a little bit,” Flacco said. “It doesn't make that big of a deal now because he's not going to be here. My mom let me know last night that he had already retired so I was like, ‘OK.’”

Over the next few weeks while Mason mulls over his plans, the Ravens will be evaluating Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington as well as Ealy and other players.Mason caught 80 passes last season for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns. Between Clayton, Williams, Smith and Washington, they registered a total of just 55 receptions and four touchdowns.

From Harbaugh's standpoint, it's counterproductive to dwell on Mason's absence. He made it clear by his strong words and tone that he doesn't intend to make it a major talking point with the players.

"Everything that happens to our football team, every bit of adversity we face, every bit of success we face, is an opportunity to get better," Harbaugh said. "I don't care what it is, who's here, who's not here, we don't care about any of it.

"It's irrelevant except to the extent that we can become a better football team today, and that's what our guys are going to be focused on. We're not talking about any specific players or anything like that. Everybody knows the situation. We've got a job to do today. Our guys can't wait to go to work, and that's it. And that's what training camp is about."

Flacco is taking the stance that Mason's absence could wind up being a positive development because it could create opportunities for other players to establish themselves.Still, it's extremely hard to replace a two-time Pro Bowl selection like Mason who has caught 790 career passes for 10,061 yards and 52 touchdowns in a dozen NFL seasons.

“We're going to try our best, as long as we do that, we'll be good,” Flacco said. “The 3 1/2 weeks that we're here is plenty of time for somebody to stand out. That's what is going to happen. We're going to have to have a guy step up, a couple of guys step up.

"In a lot of ways, it's going to be good for us. Derrick not being here is going to force guys to make sure that they're 'The Guy' right away. The more guys we have feeling that they're, 'The Guy,' the better we're going to be."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Joe Horn yearns to wear Ravens' purple

Veteran wide receiver Joe Horn is interested in playing for the Ravens, and his agent has been talking with General Manager Ozzie Newsome this week.

Horn's agent, Ralph Vitolo, said he was informed that the team would be in touch with him after a Friday tryout that includes free agents Drew Bennett and D.J. Hackett.

"Joe could be that game-breaking presence for the Ravens," Vitolo said in a telephone interview. "He's in great shape, is extremely motivated and would love to have a chance to show what he can still do. "He doesn't look or play like a 37-year-old guy. Joe feels young and plays with a lot of enthusiasm. All he needs is a shot."Horn has been selected to four Pro Bowls, but was out of football last season.During the 2007 season, Horn caught 27 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown for the Atlanta Falcons.

For his career, Horn has registered 603 receptions for 8,744 yards and 58 touchdowns.

Horn played for Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson in Atlanta when Jackson was the Falcons' offensive coordinator.

"Hue knows Joe very well, so that could help," Vitolo said. "It always helps to have some kind of connection to a team."

McGahee vows to silence the naysayers

BALTIMORE -- Willis McGahee endured two knee surgeries over the past year along with painful eye, rib and ankle injuries as well as being momentarily knocked out on a devastating tackle delivered by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark during the AFC title game.

The Baltimore Ravens' running back also dealt with the embarrassment of spending unprecedented time on the bench, a heavy dose of criticism for admittedly not being in optimum condition and generating career-low numbers.After such a frustrating season, McGahee is determined to win back his starting job and regain his old Pro Bowl form.Stating that he's 100 percent healthy after undergoing offseason knee surgery, McGahee anticipates opening training camp behind former second-round draft pick Ray Rice in the backfield.

"I'm pretty sure Ray is going to be the guy when we start out, but it's training camp," McGahee said Wednesday during an appearance at the downtown Boost Mobile cell phone outlet in conjunction with his charitable foundation. "It's a long season. No pressure. Like I say, it's not how you start. It's how you finish."

McGahee, 27, rushed for a career-low 671 yards in eight starts last season as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron instituted a committee approach where playing time was divided between McGahee, Rice and Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain.McGahee lined up with the second-string offense during minicamps after missing the majority of the practices while Rice impressed the coaching staff with his progress.

Last year, McGahee arrived at training camp carrying some extra pounds and quickly injured his knee and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery.This time, McGahee proclaimed that he's 100 percent healthy heading into camp. Wearing a T-shirt, McGahee appeared to be in good shape.“Heath-wise, I feel great," McGahee said. "But once you play ball, it’s a different story. Right now, I’m 100 percent."

McGahee acknowledged that his stock isn't exactly at a high point two years removed from rushing for 1,207 yards in 2007 during his first season in Baltimore following a trade from the Buffalo Bills.

"I've got a lot of doubters out there," McGahee said. "It's going to be fun. They can look at me and smile and say, 'He's in great shape. He's doing this, he's doing that.' It's about me proving that I can be Willis McGahee. Yeah, they're sleeping on me, but I want them to sleep on me."I just want to show them. They've been counting me out since Day One, since I got into the league. What's another day? Let them keep counting me out."

Ravens' top 2 picks remain unsigned

The Ravens remain in contract negotiations with their unsigned top draft picks: first-round offensive tackle Michael Oher and second-round defensive end-outside linebacker Paul Kruger. And it's believed that vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty's talks are advancing faster with Oher at this point than with Kruger.

"You know how negotiations can go," Newsome said. "I know Pat's working real hard."

Ravens are optimistic that Mason will return

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has been observing veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason throughout this offseason while the two-time Pro Bowl selection recuperated from surgery to repair his labrum and scapula.

Although Mason is still contemplating whether to follow through on his abrupt retirement announcement, Newsome hasn't noticed any change in Mason's trademark workout regimen."In the end, it comes down to, 'Do you still have the passion and the love for the game?'" Newsome said Thursday in a telephone interview.

"Derrick has worked his butt off this offseason. He's a very productive player. He works hard. "He's in great shape. He's a great student in the classroom. He makes our team stronger if he's a part of it. If he's not, we move on."

At this point, Mason's status remains unsettled nearly two weeks after catching the Ravens off guard with his surprise retirement announcement.Yet, team officials remain upbeat about the possibility that Mason will decide to return at some point during training camp.

"He's ready physically," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the Associated Press after meeting with Mason this week. "He's in good shape and he's healthy. He just wants to decide if he's mentally ready."It's really open right now.

I'm optimistic and hopeful that he'll be there, but, if he's not there, we'll be support and respect his decision either way."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

McGahee: "I just want to show them."

BALTIMORE -- Willis McGahee endured two knee surgeries over the past year along with painful eye, rib and ankle injuries as well as being momentarily knocked out on a devastating tackle delivered by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark during the AFC title game.

The Baltimore Ravens' running back also dealt with the embarrassment of spending unprecedented time on the bench, a heavy dose of criticism for admittedly not being in optimum condition and generating career-low numbers.After such a frustrating season, McGahee is determined to win back his starting job and regain his old Pro Bowl form.

Stating that he's 100 percent healthy after undergoing offseason knee surgery, McGahee anticipates opening training camp behind former second-round draft pick Ray Rice in the backfield.

"I'm pretty sure Ray is going to be the guy when we start out, but it's training camp," McGahee said Wednesday during an appearance at the downtown Boost Mobile cell phone outlet in conjunction with his charitable foundation. "It's a long season. No pressure. Like I say, it's not how you start. It's how you finish."

McGahee, 27, rushed for a career-low 671 yards in eight starts last season as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron instituted a committee approach where playing time was divided between McGahee, Rice and Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain.McGahee lined up with the second-string offense during minicamps after missing the majority of the practices while Rice impressed the coaching staff with his progress.

Last year, McGahee arrived at training camp carrying some extra pounds and quickly injured his knee and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery.This time, McGahee proclaimed that he's 100 percent healthy heading into camp. Wearing a T-shirt, McGahee appeared to be in good shape.

“Heath-wise, I feel great," McGahee said. "But once you play ball, it’s a different story. Right now, I’m 100 percent."

McGahee acknowledged that his stock isn't exactly at a high point two years removed from rushing for 1,207 yards in 2007 during his first season in Baltimore following a trade from the Buffalo Bills.

"I've got a lot of doubters out there," McGahee said. "It's going to be fun. They can look at me and smile and say, 'He's in great shape. He's doing this, he's doing that.' It's about me proving that I can be Willis McGahee. Yeah, they're sleeping on me, but I want them to sleep on me. I just want to show them. They've been counting me out since Day One, since I got into the league. What's another day? Let them keep counting me out."

McGahee indicated that he has been asked to report Monday along with quarterbacks, rookies and other selected veterans.

"It's no pressure," he said. "You go in there and have to be a professional about things."

Signed to a $40.12 million contract after the Ravens acquired him for a pair of third-round draft picks and a seventh-round selection, McGahee was limited to a career-low 170 carries and eight starts last year.

Quarterback Joe Flacco weighed in on McGahee during a minicamp this June.

"Yeah, well, Willis showed up to see if he can do something for the team," a smiling Flacco said. "We all expect him to be here and expect him to do a good job when he's here."

McGahee, who rushed for two touchdowns and 60 yards against the Steelers before being carted off the field with a neck injury, is looking forward to a healthy season.

"I came off a Pro Bowl season and the next year I was sidelined by injuries," said McGahee, whose foundation, which benefits underprivileged children and battered women, received a $5,000 donation from Boost Mobile and a pledge to donate $500 for each touchdown he scores this season. "That’s something that you can’t control. It was just one injury after another. It was an injury bug last year and hopefully it’s all behind me."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No progress to report in T. Suggs negotiations


OWINGS MILLS -- Barring a major breakthrough in negotiations over the next two days, the Baltimore Ravens are considered unlikely to sign Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to a long-term contract extension prior to Wednesday's NFL deadline governing franchise players.


Designated as the Ravens' franchise player for the second consecutive year, Suggs is expected to play this season under a one-year, $10.2 million tender.The Ravens have entertained paying Suggs in the neighborhood of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, but that hasn't bridged the gap.


Although that blockbuster offer sheet has been on the table for the past few months, Suggs and his agent, Gary Wichard, haven't been inclined to sign off on it.Allen signed a six-year deal with a maximum value of $73.26 million that included a $15.5 million signing bonus as part of a package of $31 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL Players Association records.


Allen's 2009 base salary is $7.75 million, but he has an $8 million roster bonus in addition to his scheduled $6.3801 million base salary in 2010. In 2011, Allen is due $8.979 million with base salaries of $11.619 million in 2012 and $14.28 million in 2013. Wichard also negotiated Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney's six-year, $72 million contract that included $30 million in guaranteed money.


Suggs told the team's official Web site last month that a deal was close to getting done, but, at this point, it doesn't look it's going to be close enough to culminate in a new contract.General manager Ozzie Newsome, who's on vacation, has reiterated several times that signing Suggs to a long-term deal is one of the Ravens' top priorities.


After this season, the Ravens can use the franchise tag again on Suggs to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. However, that would entail paying him as much as $15 million for the 2010 season.Of course, that might wind up being an uncapped year unless a new collective bargaining agreement is brokered between the NFL management council and the NFL players' union prior to the next free agency signing period.


Because Suggs is an unsigned franchise player, he skipped the Ravens' offseason training program and minicamps. Last year, he missed the Ravens' entire training camp before reporting and signing his contract.A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Suggs recorded a career-high 102 tackles last season and registered eight sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.


The former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2003 first-round draft pick has recorded 53 career sacks.

Mason pulls surprise audible on Ravens...plans to retire


OWINGS MILLS -- Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason delivered an abrupt retirement announcement Monday that sent shockwaves throughout the Baltimore Ravens’ organization following an unanticipated action that creates an offensive crisis if he follows through with his plans.

Although Mason definitely caught teammates and team officials off guard with his decision, it also triggered unconfirmed opinions that the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver might be saber-rattling due to his unresolved request for a new contract.

And teammates raised the question whether Mason, 35, was in an emotional state following the murder of former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, his close friend and former teammate. Nine days ago, McNair was shot to death in a downtown Nashville condominium by his 20-year-old girlfriend, Sahel “Jenny” Kazemi.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the news was the fact that Mason had worked out Monday afternoon at the Ravens’ training complex and met with team officials before leaving the building at nearly the approximate time that a statement was released through his agents’ Web site.

"It's a decision that I've made," Mason said in a subsequent ESPN interview. "If I do change my mind, it won't be because of the Ravens. It'll be because of some other things, my family and talking with other people. I still got to talk with some coaches over there. As far as financially, I don't think they can do anything to sway me."

The Ravens’ top wide receiver had lobbied publicly and privately for a contract extension this offseason as he approaches the final year of a five-year, $20 million contract. While the Ravens hadn’t turned Mason down flat and were amenable to discussing an extension, they weren’t inclined to offer him a new deal at this time.
Mason has also been recuperating from surgery to repair his labrum and scapula and had raised doubts about whether he was going to participate in training camp, which contradicted Ravens coach John Harbaugh's expectations for his return. Mason didn’t return telephone calls from the 24x7.

“It really hurts losing a guy like Derrick, we’re losing a leader,” fullback Le’Ron McClain said in a telephone interview. “To not have a guy around like that who has been there for us, we’re losing a great player and I hope every receiver practices like him, plays like him and acts like him.

“I think with Steve’s death and everything that went on with that, I think that took a toll on Derrick and might have something to do with this. I’m surprised that he wants to retire. It hurts me, for real, because he’s one of my best friends on the team. If anything was going bad with me, I would talk to him and he could always put a smile on my face.”

Of course, Mason has yet to actually file his retirement papers with the league office. That raises the possibility that he could change his mind before training camp.

“For any player to retire, he has to send a letter to the NFL stating this," team spokesman Kevin Byrne said. "Derrick Mason has not done that."

Many of the players were surprised by Mason stating that he would no longer play football.

“It’s bittersweet, it’s a loss,” offensive guard Chris Chester said. “We’ve lost someone that’s been such a big part of our success and done such great things for the Ravens. I think Derrick has planted some seeds in all of us on the team to help us continue to grow and be a professional like he was.

“I’m actually surprised. I know he’s been banged-up, but I’m still pretty surprised. It makes sense, but it still catches you off-guard regardless of the circumstances.”

In his statement, Mason went out of his way to deny that this was a decision prompted by financial concerns.

And Mason claimed that this wasn’t a decision made without serious deliberations.

"I have been thinking about this since the season ended," Mason said. "Emotionally, I am just not that enthused. I have not been that enthused to get up and work out. It was getting to that point. This decision has nothing to do with the contract situation. I have made enough money, more than enough money. Emotionally, there are things that are more important.

“It's time right now. I don't know what's going to happen from here, but it's going to be really nice to see what life has in store for me. What I want people to remember about my NFL career is that I played hard, played hard in practice and the game. I tried to make everyone better and would do anything to help."

Mason’s agent, Lamont Smith, issued a statement stating that Mason had contacted him on July 10 about his plans to retire.

“He indicated that he did not want me to continue to seek a contract extension from the Baltimore Ravens and that his decision had little if anything to do with Baltimore’s refusal to grant him an extension,” Smith said. “He stated that emotionally and physically he did not feel up to the enormous demands that professional football requires to compete at the level that he is accustomed to competing.

“He asked me to delay the announcement of this decision out of respect for his former teammate, Steve McNair, so we obviously complied with his request. After speaking with Derrick, I telephoned Ozzie Newsome and advised him of Derrick’s decision. Given that Derrick just reached this decision on Friday, he has not as of yet filed official papers with the league offices. We expect that he will do this when he gets around to it.”

Mason played for the Tennessee Titans for the first eight seasons of his career and has played for the Ravens for the past four years, solidifying their receiving corps.
Despite a painful shoulder injury last season, Mason still caught a team-high 80 passes for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns. For his career, he has registered 790 receptions for 10,061 yards and 52 touchdowns.

"I have had a tremendous career, and I played for two great teams, I had fun," Mason said. "In my career, I have been able to do everything but win a Super Bowl. I've had the opportunity to play on great teams and with great players.

“After 12 years, I have seen it all and done it all. Right now, I am content with the decision I am making. All good things come to an end, and I am ready to see what else life has to offer."

If Mason does retire, the Ravens would lose their most reliable outside presence.
Mason is sure-handed and has earned the trust of quarterback Joe Flacco, building chemistry with him throughout last season.

The Ravens would likely have to promote Mark Clayton as their new featured target and insert injury-prone Demetrius Williams into the starting lineup with Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington acting as their backups.

If Mason is out of the equation, someone is going to have fill the void.

“I feel like they have no choice, but to step up,” McClain said. “I know Mark and Demetrius and Marcus and the guys will do their job. The season will go on. Training camp is about to start. We’ve got to get ready.

“We’re losing a great leader and a great receiver, but, hopefully, this just motivates the other guys. Let’s get it going. The sky is still the limit for us. I know it’s going to make me play a little bit harder and try to be that leader.”

The Ravens explored trade scenarios for Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin, but balked at hefty trade compensation demands and were averse to Boldin’s financial demands of $9 million annually.

The Ravens also held internal discussions about trading for troubled Denver Broncos Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but were scared off by his history of domestic violence issues as well as the reasons they backed off of pursuing Boldin. They never made a serious run at Marshall.

Mason downplayed the Ravens' need at wide receiver should he retire."I have left them in great hands," Mason said. "Mark Clayton is a younger version of me. Williams can be a true player; he can be in the elite class. Smith, [Justin] Harper, Washington, they all are a young group that can only be better with Joe in the backfield."

If Mason is placed on the reserve-retired list, his $3 million base salary would no longer count against the Ravens’ salary cap.

There aren’t a lot of viable receivers available in free agency, but some of the top names include Marvin Harrison, Matt Jones, Drew Bennett, Amani Toomer, Jerry Porter and D.J. Hackett.

“I have a lot of confidence in our other receivers’ ability,” Chester said. “Derrick planted some seeds with those wide receivers that will grow. I still think we’ll be a plenty potent offense.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clayton: Steve McNair was a fun-loving, big old gentle giant

WESTMINSTER -- For two NFL seasons, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton shared a huddle and locker room with the late former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair.

In the wake of McNair being killed in downtown Nashville on Saturday in a fatal shooting that has been ruled a homicide by law enforcement officials, Clayton is grieving the loss of his friend.

"It hit me hard at first," Clayton said Tuesday. "I was definitely shocked. I didn't want to believe it was true. I can rest in the fact that he was saved and had a relationship with Jesus Christ.

"Steve fulfilled his purpose and left his fingerprints on a lot of individuals, including me. He will certainly be missed, but we understand that we will meet again. I send my deepest condolences to his family."

Rather than dwell on the grisly details of McNair's demise, Clayton prefers to focus on how the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player lived his life.

As he kicked off his four-day football camp Tuesday on the McDaniel College campus, Clayton recalled how the three-time Pro Bowl selection was quick with a smile and a laugh.

On the football field, McNair always maintained his composure.

"He was very poised, very calm, even-keel all the time, on and off the field," Clayton said. "He was a fun-loving, big, old gentle giant. I always said to him that he was cornbread-fed. He was a Mississippi country boy at heart. He never changed."

McNair was shot four times, including two gunshot wounds to the head.

His 20-year-old girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, was also found dead with the handgun next to her body. It was the same handgun she had recently purchased in a private transaction, according to Nashville police.

Police haven't determined yet if it's a murder-suicide, but are reportedly leaning in that direction.

McNair, who died at the age of 36, was married to Mechelle McNair, his college sweetheart, and was the father of four sons.

The circumstances of the former Ravens and Tennessee Titans star's death and the revelations about his personal relationships have become tabloid fodder, spawning considerable national debate and some harsh criticism of McNair in some circles.

Clayton defended McNair's character, urging people to not be judgmental of a man who was extremely community-oriented. That included helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"The only person that can judge anybody is a person who has never messed up, a person who doesn't know what it is to fail or have a mistake," Clayton said. "If you’ve ever had a mistake or messed up or disappointed anybody, then you have no room to judge anybody. No room."

At his football camp, Clayton spends a lot of time counseling the youngsters about the importance of making good choices and avoiding trouble.

"All we can do is alert them because everybody is going to stumble at some point," Clayton said. "I let them know that it's not about stumbling. It's about getting back up and going on to the next thing. We all stumble."

Clayton, who said he has recuperated from a bout of plantar fasciitis that bothered him during offseason minicamps, runs a camp for players ages 7 to 18.

The camp emphasizes football skills, teamwork and self-discipline.

Clayton said he only has one rule governing the camp.

"If you're not having fun, you'll get sent home," Clayton said. "That's my only rule. I always tell them to have fun because it's football, you're young and you should really just be enjoying yourself."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mason to speak at McNair's memorial service


A public memorial for the late former Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair has been scheduled for Thursday at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Whites Creek, Tenn.

And Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, a close friend of McNair's who played with the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player in Tennessee and Baltimore, will represent the organization as a speaker at the memorial service.

"Derrick said he would proud to do it," Ravens senior vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne said.

The service is scheduled for 7 p.m.A funeral for McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in downtown Nashville in what has been ruled a homicide by law enforcement officials, will be conducted Saturday in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will be attending the funeral in Mississippi.Instead of sending flowers, donations have been requested for the Steve McNair Foundation at 1 Willow Bend Drive in Hattiesburg, Miss., 39402.

During an emotionally-charged press conference Monday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher thanked several members of the Ravens for sending their condolences. That included cornerback Samari Rolle, who also played with McNair in Tennessee, Mason and coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh was with Fisher on a USO trip to visit troops in the Persian Gulf when Fisher got a telephone call from former Titans running back Eddie George informing him of McNair's death. Fisher also mentioned Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti.

During an ESPN appearance, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs expressed surprise at the tragic circumstances of McNair's passing.

"There are some guys that don't make good decisions and are in the wrong place at the wrong time but Steve wasn't one of those guys," Suggs said. "When I first heard about it, I thought it was a prank."

Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither discussed McNair on his personal blog."I was shocked and saddened when I heard about Steve McNair," Gaither wrote. "He was a great person on and off the field, always happy. He was a great, great player and will be missed by both myself and the Baltimore Ravens' organization."