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Ravens Heated In Final OTA Session

June 20, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, JOE FLACCO, Roster

How much one can tell about a team’s upcoming season during June mini-camps and OTA’s is yet to be decided. However, if intensity is a measuring stick then the Baltimore Ravens should have a bounce back season in 2014. Some of the hottest temperatures of the early summer hit the Baltimore area just as the Ravens final mandatory mini-camp opened on Tuesday. With the thermostat hitting the mid to upper 90’s and the heat index placing the city on a code red, tempers on the field in Owings Mills, Maryland flared and boiled at times during the three day session.

Webb dives for Smith last year in preseason game

Webb dives for Smith last year in preseason game

Veterans and rookies alike have been practicing during the mandatory session with a fire that the team seemed to lack last season when Baltimore became the third team in five years to miss the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl the previous season. On Wednesday, there were two minor “pushing and shoving” incidents between a pair of rookies and veterans that are worth noting. It should come as no surprise as to one of the players involved.

New Ravens WR Steve Smith, who is known for carrying a chip on his shoulder with a mouth to match, became better acquainted with CB LarDarius Webb. Smith became agitated after a play that he though Webb defended him a little too energetically on. According to those in attendance, the players were involved in an exchange of words after Smith caught a slant pass over the middle. They then went to the ground as Webb tried to make a play on the ball over Smith’s back. Smith took exception to the way Webb defended him on the play and both players got in each other’s face, with a little shoving, before teammates separated them. Smith initially jogged over to the sideline after the confrontation, but then Head Coach John Harbaugh made sure everything had calmed down and had him come back on the field for the next play.

The first skirmish of the day on occurred between two of the Ravens higher draft picks.  TE Crockett Gilmore and DT Timmy Jernigan, who has been involved in a few heated exchanges throughout the OTA’s, wrestled each other to the ground before being separated. Later, Smith and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs took Jernigan aside to calm him down. "You can't be a pushover, man," said Jernigan, a second-round draft pick. "I played at Florida State and we don't get down like that. It's part of the game. It's over now. Whatever happens on the field stays on the field. We're teammates at the end of the day."  According to reporters that have attended every session so far, there haven't been a ton of fights during offseason practice sessions, but Jernigan has been in the middle of a few flare-ups.

"It's a little hot and guys are competing out there," offensive tackle Ryan Jensen said. "We're out here battling. That's part of football sometimes." According to one source, there were at least four minicamp fights throughout the NFL on Wednesday, two in Baltimore, and one each in Atlanta and Seattle. The 21 days of training camp, that begins for the Ravens on July 24 and ends on August 14, should be an interesting and eventful time.

A little Dunkin makes it all better

A little Dunkin makes it all better

Steve Smith did come with a peace offering to Webb on Thursday, as he brought him a bag with a goodie from Dunkin Donuts. Written on the bag was the following message, “Peace offering from 89”. I wonder what Ken Lucas got from Smith back in Charlotte after their incident in August of 2008?

 

 

ANY WINNERS:

There were several battles to watch as mini-camp started a few days ago and will continue through training camp in late July and August. As we head into the five week break before training camp starts, who are the leaders in the clubhouse at some of those positions? Let’s find out:

Inside Linebacker: Daryl Smith will start at one of the two spots but who starts next to him is a battle that will play into August between first round draft pick CJ Mosley and second year man Arthur Brown. The Ravens have been impressed with Mosley and he was last seen playing with the first team as camp broke on Thursday. Brown looks improved over a rookie season that saw him struggle but your leader in the clubhouse at ILB is CJ Mosley.

Brown & Mosley will battle in Camp

Brown & Mosley will battle in Camp

Right Tackle: Ricky Wagner, Ryan Jensen, Jah Reid, & even undrafted free agent signee James Hurst were all considered candidates to have a shot to line up at the position sometime during the preseason. As mandatory camp ended on Thursday, Wagner is still the leader in the clubhouse. Jensen is considered his top competition, as the Ravens love his versatility. Jensen lined up with the second team at right guard and right tackle during a lot of the offseason workouts. He practiced mostly at right tackle for the first two weeks of offseason workouts before taking all of his snaps at guard last week. Jensen found out from Terrell Suggs this week that he may still have a ways to go as Sizzle flattened him during a team drill, according to multiple accounts. Hurst looks to be a longshot, as Elvis Dumervill showed why he may have dropped out of the draft back in May. Elvis ran around, through and over the former Tar Heel.

Safety: Third round pick, free safety Terrence Brooks, is struggling much the same way Matt Elam was this time last year. In the mandatory minicamp, Brooks did not play with either the first- or second-team defense and must outperform Darian Stewart, Omar Brown, and Jeromy Miles when the competition resumes in late July. "It was a little hard at first," Brooks said. "Coming into a new system, it’s definitely going to be challenging. But, for the most part, with more studying and just being more of a student of the game, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on how this defense is and the schemes. For an update, I would say that I’m doing really well with it, and now it’s just going out there and playing for us."  As a result and because he’s not playing too badly in shorts, former Rams safety Darian Stewart is your leader in the clubhouse. Stewart picked off a Joe Flacco pass on the final day of workouts.

The Pass Catchers:

With Steve and Torrey Smith, as well as Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown, the depth chart at wide receiver seems to be set. But there are several performances, good and bad worth noting over the last few days. Last years undrafted rookie sensation, WR Marlon Brown, who caught seven touchdown passes in 2013, struggled to hold onto ball at times, and was the most inconsistent of the projected pass catchers. Both Smith’s and Jacoby Jones seemed to have good off season sessions, all making acrobatic catches at one time or another. Each seemed to hold onto to most of their pass attempts. Undrafted rookie Jeremy Butler could be this year’s Marlon Brown, as he turned a few heads. The rookie from Tennessee-Martin made more catches than the other players who are competing for one of the last receiver spots on the team such as seventh round selection Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams. It is also worth noting that Butler's shot to make the squad got a little easier this week when the Ravens waived Aaron Mellette.

JOE COOL HEATS UP:

What about the guy throwing the passes? Ravens QB Joe Flacco, according to all published reports, got better each day in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense. Flacco has consistently lauded the ease of the offense and the use of more timing patterns which could help him complete more than 60 percent of his passes for the first time since 2010. During a day 2 session, there was a long stretch where the ball didn't hit the ground in full-team and seven-on-seven drills with is best throw coming on a deep middle completion to Steve Smith, who beat Matt Elam.29_FlaccoKubiaksSystem_news Kubiak’s offense appears to be tailor made for Flacco who seems to struggle when he’s forced to progress through options which causes him to hold onto the ball longer in the pocket. According to ESPN Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley, in Kubiak's new system, Flacco likely will be asked to get the ball out quicker. Kubiak is teaching him to throw when he hits the ball of his foot on the three-step drop. The West Coast offense is predicated on rhythm and quick releases. Hensley writes, “Based on last season's numbers, the Ravens may be on to something. Flacco was better when he had less time in the pocket, according to Pro Football Focus.” With less than 2 seconds in the pocket, Flacco completed 68.3 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 80.5. With more than 3 seconds to throw, he connected on 46.2 percent of his passes for two touchdown and four interceptions. His rating was 61.1. Getting Flacco to throw the ball quicker also will help with his longevity. He was sacked a career-high 48 times last season, and he was limping in the final two games because of a knee sprain. During the past six seasons, Flacco hasn't missed a start, but he has been sacked 222 times. Only the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (240) and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (223) have been sacked more. While many want the seventh year signal caller to be an elite regular season performer, Joe Cool only needs to execute an offense that thrives on running the ball through a zone blocking scheme. Former Texans QB Matt Schaub got plenty of opportunity to seize the moment under Kubiak and threw for 4,000 two years in a row and three times while under center in Houston. Ironically, those were the only three years Schaub played all 16 games while in Houston. He also threw 29, 24, and 22 touchdown passes during those seasons, making the Pro-Bowl in 2009 & 2012. Flacco has never eclipsed the 4,000 yard mark or made the Pro-Bowl. While Schaub has never won a Super Bowl, Flacco has, winning MVP honors of the game in 2013. Many believe that if No.5 can hit the magic mark of 4k in 2014, the Ravens will return to the top of the division.

WHAT ABOUT NO-SHOWS?

The veterans that failed to show up during voluntary OTA’s, all showed up during this mandatory session. Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, and Marshall Yanda all participated during the mandatory workouts. All risked being fined $69,000 per day if they didn’t but Ravens fans fears were put to rest when all not only showed but all appeared to be in solid shape.

Sizzle looks solid..

Sizzle looks solid..

Actually, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs showed up in great shape and sizzled during workouts in the hot sun. Suggs, who is likely to retire a Raven after he was given a four-year extension, and received an $11 million signing bonus, was his old trash talking self throughout the three day camp. Suggs deal is also guaranteed for $16 million over the next two seasons, which could be why he was relaxed and performing at a high level in June. However, showing up in anything but less than great shape would have raised serious questions. Suggs appeared to be heading towards another Defensive Player of the Year Award last season when he began the season with 60 tackles and nine sacks in his first eight games. However, and to be fair, like the rest of his team, the sizzle smoldered to a puff of smoke, as Suggs finished with 20 tackles and one sack during the seasons second half. At 31, Suggs has a lot to prove this season—the key word there being season, as in the whole season. But—so far so good from No.55. INJURIES: The Ravens were far more fortunate than the Giants and Cowboys, who lost starting linebackers in their teams OTA’s this spring. Dallas LB Sean Lee tore his ACL and is out for the season. The Giants got lucky with LB Jon Beason, who broke a bone and tore ligaments in his foot. He is expected back by the start of the season. Of the 88 active-roster players, 83 took the field for the final session on Thursday. Only four players have been absent from all three days of minicamp: offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf), nose tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery), wide receiver Kamar Aiken (knee) and defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore (hamstring), who suffered his injury during practice June 17. Undrafted rookie tackle Parker Graham was missing after having returned for the second session. Graham had been absent for the opening practice with an undisclosed issue.

NEW ADDITIONS:

According to the Ravens web site, after the three-day mandatory minicamp, the Ravens are reportedly signing multiple veteran players who participated in practice on a tryout basis. The Ravens are expected to sign linebacker Austin Spitler, cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Aaron Ross, and defensive end/outside linebacker Nick DiMarco, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun The Ravens had two open spots on the 90-man roster after waiving wide receiver Aaron Mellette and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton earlier in the week because they failed physicals. The Ravens would have to cut two other plays to make room for all four additions, but the team has not announced those transactions.

Aaron Ross

Aaron Ross

Spitler, 27, spent the first four seasons of his career with the Miami Dolphins. He has been a backup linebacker and special teamer during that time, and has racked up 31 tackles throughout his career. Spitler is an inside linebacker who will join a tight competition with players like Josh Byne and Albert McClellan. Franks, 26, played for the Atlanta Falcons the last four years. He has been a special teamer and reserve cornerback, notching 30 tackles and three interceptions during his career. Franks had a solid week at minicamp, including a nice pass breakup during Thursday’s practice. Ross, 31, is an eight-year veteran who has spent most of his career with the New York Giants. He also played one season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and will provide solid veteran depth on a fast young secondary. Ross has been a starter during his career, including in 2011 when he started 15 games for a Giants team that went on to win the Super Bowl. Ross has 250 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 11 interceptions in his career.

RAVENS FANS WOULD LOVE TO HAVE FLOWERS DELIVERED:

Brandon Flowers is still on the market with Atlanta & Minnesota emerging as front runners. Flowers visited San Diego on Thursday. Just some food for thought. Signing Flowers would really give opposing offenses something to think about. Flowers could take LarDarius Webb’s spot with Webb moving to the slot / nickel corner position. Webb’s snaps would not be reduced as much as one would think and to have Webb, Flowers and Jimmy Smith on the field for 60 to 70 percent of the games snaps would really create possibilities for a defensive scheme that could potentially be downright scary. Imagine the possibilities and blitzing schemes and putting teams into constant second and third and long situations, which then allows defensive backs the luxury of making plays they otherwise wouldn’t take chances on. I’m almost positive that the team that allowed 352 points in 2013 with 134 of them coming in the fourth quarter wouldn’t be so vulnerable late in games in 2014, with that combo on the field.

AND FINALLY:

A lot less of this........

A lot less of this……..

Every NFL head coach and executive will tell you the scariest part of the calendar year is the five weeks between the end of the final mini-camp and the start of training camp in late July. The Ravens are particularly concerned about the time frame after their winter / spring offseason. Since the end of the final gun in Cincinnati last December, four Ravens players were arrested for various crimes. Running back Ray Rice (assault), wide receiver Deonte Thompson (drug charges), offensive lineman Jah Reid (assault), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (destruction of property), all created major headaches for the Ravens this offseason. Rice and Reid were accepted in pretrial diversion programs, and Thompson’s charges were dropped. Taliaferro’s day in court is next week, as he will face a judge on June 26.

and more of this....

and more of this….

While many feel the Ravens and Ray Rice botched his first media appearance on the Friday afternoon prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, following the incident with his now wife— head Coach John Harbaugh didn’t botch his final message to the team before he cut them loose on Thursday. Harbs reminded his players about how each should think about how their actions could affect the team and those that want to win and play football. "We have really good guys," Harbaugh said after the final session. "Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, I would think the less inclined you are to do anything that would jeopardize that." The Ravens open camp on July 24 in their Owings Mills Maryland facility known as “The Castle”—hopefully with everyone in attendance and no charges pending.

Ravens Predicted to Win Eight Games

June 6, 2014 in 2014 NFL DRAFT, Coaching Staff, JOE FLACCO, NFL Draft, Pittsburgh Steelers, Roster, Super Bowl XLVII

Last week, the Las Vegas odds makers came out with their projected win totals for every NFL teams. In the AFC North, the experts and prognosticators have the Bengals projected to win the division for a second straight year followed by Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and then Cleveland. USA TODAY Sports-ArchiveOver the past few seasons, the AFC North has been one of, if not the best division in all of football.

However, last season proved to be a bit of an exception with the division, as only the Cincinnati Bengals made the playoffs. It marked the first time since 2007 that the AFC North division sent only one team to the NFL’s postseason tournament and because of the Bengals knack for being one and done once the regular season ends, last year also marked the first time an AFC North team did not represent the conference in the AFC Championship game during that span. From 2008-to 2012, the division known for its tough defenses and blue collar cities, had at least two teams in the NFL postseason. In 2011, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincy all represented the division. Once in the playoffs, the division handles its business quite well posting a 14-10 record during that span of playoff play.

Two teams, the Ravens (3) and Steelers (2) have appeared in five AFC title games and are 2-1 in Super Bowls with the Steel and Charm cities winning their sixth and second Lombardi Trophies respectively during that period of time. The Steelers and Ravens have twice squared off in the playoffs during this time—once in the AFC Championship (2008) and once during the divisional round (2010).  Pittsburgh won them both. Although it has happened, the division doesn't usually back into the playoffs.

Since the 2008 season, the Steelers (3 appearances) Bengals (4 appearances) & Ravens (5 appearances) have combined to post a 130-62 record (.677) during the regular season. This means that in order to win the division, somebody will need to win 11 of 16 games during the regular season and considering these teams face off twice a year, that’s no small feat. I broke down the entire division in another piece you can read right here on Fanspeak– but here is an in-depth look at what the experts and prognosticators predict for the Ravens followed up with what I feel the team needs and where they will finish in 2014.

Baltimore Ravens: Vegas Under / Over Win Total: 8 Super Bowl Odds 40 to 1 Ravens Offense is Offensive in 2013:

Last season, the Ravens became the third team in the past five years to miss the playoffs the season after winning the Super Bowl. A big reason for the Ravens fall was the play of their offense, specifically, their 20 million dollar QB who parlayed a historic playoff performance into a huge contract during last year’s offseason. While Flacco must shoulder much of the responsibility for his teams bad offense in 2013, it wasn't entirely the poor play of No.5 that led to such a below average season. With an average of just 3.1 yards per rush, the Ravens rushing attack was horrible in 2013. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce battled injuries and were never effective in short yardage or goal line situations. They stumbled to holes and never found the rhythm that made them a nice compliment to one and other the year before. Rice finished with just 660 rushing yards and 980 total yards. He failed to hit 1,000 all-purpose yards for the first time since his rookie season in 2008.  Flacco and Ravens backs also played behind one of the worst lines in the NFL last season.

The offensive line allowed 48 QB sacks of Flacco and an additional 90 plus hits. Pro Football Focus’ final grade had the Ravens O-line 23rd out of 32 teams. Baltimore is famous for using the middle of the field in the running and passing game and last season was no exception running nearly 60 percent of all rushing plays between the two guards. The results were simply unacceptable. Pro-Bowl guard Marshall Yanda didn’t have an exceptional year and Kelechi Osemele didn’t finish the season. Osemele injured his bad back and had surgery. But the biggest issue was at center where the team went with second year man Gino Gradkowski over veteran A.Q. Shipley— and it did not go well. Shipley had the misfortune of switching to a guard spot once Osemele went down but he rarely looked comfortable. Gradkowski he may have blown his audition to be the long-term starter, as he finished 35th out of 35 ranked centers. bal-sports-blitz-joe-flacco-nfl-player-poll-20-001 The rushing attack finished 30th, while the passing offense could fare no better than 18. As a whole, the offense finished ranked 29th in the league and with the defense not cracking the top 10 for a second straight year; it’s not hard to see why the Champs finished 8-8.

To correct the problem in 2014, the Ravens acquired Jeremy Zuttah this offseason to replace Gradkowski. RT Michael Oher is now in Tennessee and Rick Wagner is expected to step up and take his place but not without competition from players such as Ryan Jensen. The biggest move was re-signing LT Eugene Monroe at such a bargain price. Osemele has looked very good so far in the offseason organized team activities and should be ready to go once the season starts. The Ravens did not address the RT position in the draft but did select center / guard John Urschel from Penn State. Newsome and Harbaugh feel if they had to, Osemele could move outside to Tackle where he is also comfortable while someone kicks inside to guard. There is also the option of signing a free agent. Eric Winston, who was drafted by the Texans and spent six years in Kubiak's offense is a likely candidate to join the team.

But there is no question, Flacco, as the leader of the offense and now the team, failed to do his part. Sure there were games like Minnesota at home in the snow and at Detroit on Monday night but in the end there is no denying year six was No.5’s worst. Flacco tossed three more picks than TD’s (19-22) and was sacked 48 times. While we established the line was suspect, Flacco did little to help himself at times with his decision making process. For every solid performance there were games like Buffalo when he tossed 5 interceptions. Joe is sometimes to cool and has a propensity to have one or two of those type games every year. For the most part, he’s always played on a team that had a great defense. The Ravens averaged an NFL ranking of 7th during his six years in the league. Flacco has never been to a Pro Bowl, passed for 4,000 yards in a season or 400 yards in a game. He’s never led an offense that ranked higher than 13th. In fact, the Ravens offense has averaged 19th during Flacco’s tenure while the passing attack sits one notch below at No.20. Those are average numbers for a QB that’s making way above average money.

If the Ravens are going to return to the playoffs in 2014, Flacco will need to be a big reason why they did. It’s time for Flacco to win the shootout games with more consistency and takeover contests when the Ravens young defense is getting handled. He has to initiate leadership—on and off the field which so far, he hasn’t done this offseason. The former Super Bowl XLVII MVP failed to organize any type of off campus passing camps, similar to the one Peyton Manning and 21 other signal callers put together this past spring. This is particularly disturbing since Flacco was handed a new play book and hasn’t spent a lot of quality time with his new offensive coordinator.  Flacco was quick to point in an interview on Baltimore Ravens.com that NFLPA rules have strict policies on the amount of time a player can spend with coaches. By his own admission, Flacco admitted to not knowing his new OC to well just yet. Some in the local media have voiced displeasure with Flacco for at the very least not getting together with new TE and former Texan, Owen Daniels, who is as familiar with the new offensive system as Kubiak himself. Daniels has spent his entire career in it.

Speaking of Gary Kubiak, he takes over for Jim Caldwell, who left to become the head coach in Detroit. The former Texans HC brings with him a stretch zone run blocking scheme that he used with a great deal of success in Houston. Under Kubiak, the Texans earned their Top 6 all-time offensive outputs in scoring, total offense, and passing yards from 2007-12. During this time, the Texans also boasted the franchise’s Top 3 rushing outputs, including the NFL’s No. 2 ground attack in 2011 when they posted a franchise-record 153.0 yards per game. From 2008-12, Kubiak’s offense was one of only two (Denver) to have its total offense, passing offense and rushing offense each rank in the Top 5 at least once during that span. There are weapons in Baltimore. The receivers should be better in 2014. Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, and now veteran wide out Steve Smith, who came over from Carolina, will give Flacco some good looks, as will starting tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels. Entering his second contract with the Ravens after re-signing this spring, Jacoby Jones adds quality depth, as does seventh round selection Michael Camapanaro, who figures to contribute mightily in the return game and in the slot during certain sets. If Flacco finally hits the 4,000 yard mark this season, it is likely the Ravens will have had a good season and are heading back to the playoffs.

Return to Glory–At Least the Top 10:

imagesThe Ravens defense finished 12th in the NFL last season and missed the top 10 for a second straight year. One weakness the team has been working on is fixing is the middle of the defense. There was a time when teams never ventured there on the Ravens and GM Ozzie Newsome is doing all he can to ensure those days return. Newsome and the Ravens completed the retooling of the once stout unit by drafting ILB CJ Mosley, as well two players from Florida State’s BCS Title team, DT Timmy Jernigan, and Free safety Terrence Brooks. This was the second straight year the Ravens used their first three picks of the draft on nearly identical positions. Last year it was safety Matt Elam, ILB Arthur Brown and DT Brandon Williams that were selected in the first three rounds. The result could mean a return to dominance on the defensive side of the football but with so much youth now in place, the offense may be asked to carry the load to start and that doesn't appear as if that’s likely considering the new play book. Ravens DC Dean Pees needs three things to happen in 2014 if the unit is going to return the top 10 for the first time since 2011. Veterans Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis and Dumervil must be productive from week to week and cannot fade down the stretch. Secondly, the young linebacking corps must be aggressive but play smart and come prepared. And lastly, the secondary needs to stay healthy. Even with the inexperience at safety, CB’s LarDarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have the capability to shrink a football field but the depth behind them is lacking in CB's Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Each say they are ready to step up and the good news for them is that they will get their chance to prove it. The Ravens young defense must also communicate better on the field– something it has not done well over the past two seasons. Safeties Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks could be a formidable duo fro many years to come but there will be a big learning curve in 2014. The Ravens have always taken pride in having the next man up step up and play well and it appears they have the talent waiting to try. But that philosophy is being tested, as the team hasn’t drafted a Pro-Bowl player since taking Ray Rice in the second round back in 2008 and on defense there hasn't been a Pro Bowler selected since Haloti Ngata in 2006.

Where's the Leadership?

The Ravens have lacked leadership since No.52 played his last game. They tried to correct that this offseason by signing former Panther WR Steve Smith, who may not be as fast as he once was but still plays with a chip on his shoulder similar to the one the Ravens used to possess. Leadership was definitely lacking during this offseason when four Ravens players, including Ray Rice, were arrested and charged with various crimes. Rice was the most publicized as he was seen on TV dragging his unconscious wife out of an Atlantic City casino elevator after allegedly knocking her out while they were inside it. He will likely face an NFL suspension of at least two to three games despite having his case adjudicated somewhat in his favor in the courtroom. Rice was a player that Ray Lewis often mentored in his own home and spent many nights with the former Rutgers star showing the ins and outs of the NFL. While off the field issues happened when Lewis, Ed Reed, and even Anquan Boldin were here, they didn’t happen with this type of regularity and when they did, you better believe Lewis would let the player know personally the effect his actions had on the team. Accountability seems to missing and when you toss in the fact that players like Suggs and Ngata, whom many thought to be leaders, didn’t show up to voluntary OTA’s and one could easily read trouble between the lines. Suggs, who faded badly down the stretch last season and Ngata, who has struggled with injuries and consistency over the past two years, did not attend the voluntary camp but are expected to be at the mandatory minicamp June 17-19. The Ravens 2014 schedule is easier than in years past but keep in mind— this was a .500 team last season. The offense will need to be functioning at a mid-season level to start the 2014 campaign. Baltimore will face three straight AFC North foes before hosting Carolina in the seasons first quarter. Three of the four teams had defenses in the Top 10 last year and Pittsburgh finished 13th. It is possible that the Ravens will have to beat these teams without Ray Rice, who will likely be serving his suspension during this time. In April 2010, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games to start that season. However, the league reduced it to four games but the Steelers still began the 2010 season with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback. They went 3-1, losing only to the Ravens at home. Ironically, Pittsburgh went on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl that season, losing to Green Bay. So, just when we think we know all there is to know, the questions are changed in what can only be described, as the wild world of the NFL. Following the first quarter of the year, the Ravens then visit Indianapolis and if they can survive the first month of play and pick up a few wins in the middle portion — at Tampa Bay, Atlanta, at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, Tennessee — then they should finish strong over the final month. Baltimore will face the Dolphins, Jaguars, Texans, and Browns in the final four weeks of the season. Is There a

Storm Brewing in Baltimore?

dt.common.streams.StreamServer It is fair to say that storm clouds are swirling around this team. They are walking a fine line and I wouldn't be surprised if they finished 4-12 or 12-4. The defense should be better but with all the youth, will need a little time to gel and get acclimated to the speed of the game while playing together. How fast the offense gels in Kubiak's new system, how many games Ray Rice misses due to a likely suspension and whether or not he can bounce back from his worst year are legitimate concerns. When you couple that with the concerns of whether or not the offensive line can rebound, it seems like there are far more questions than answers for the 2014 version of the Ravens–at least to start. I believe the Ravens are one the league biggest anomalies to start the season but we will know pretty fast if this is a team is capable of getting back to the playoffs after being in them for the first five years of Harbaugh and Flacco’s tenure. What frightens me most is what I don't seem in terms of  the passion for the game or the leadership. I was one of those people that believed losing Ray Lewis' leadership was overrated and the team would be fine without him—-I WAS WRONG about the leadership aspect but it was time for him to vacate the playing field. There are also legitimate concerns of whether the team actually has enough weapons at the skill positions to carry them through the difficult stretches that every team encounters during a season. Joe Flacco must return to the above average / very good form that’s seen him win 62 games to start his career, the most of any quarterback in the history of the league to start a career. While I like the Ravens to win a game or two they may not be favored in, I expect them to lose their share of ones they are. It’s always gets darkest just before the dawn and the 2014 season could start dismally before ending on a high note in Baltimore. Expectations are high and fans won’t react well if they miss the playoffs for a second straight season—so prepare, I know I am. Vegas refunds money on a push bet, which this is likely to be after the Ravens miss the playoffs and win eight games for a second straight year..

Baltimore Ravens projected win total: 8 Games. Preseason schedule (All times p.m. ET; home games in caps)

Preseason schedule (All times p.m. ET; home games in caps)

Aug. 7-10 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Aug. 14-18 at Dallas Cowboys

Aug. 21-24 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Aug. 28 at New Orleans Saints

Regular season schedule

Sept. 7 Cincinnati Bengals, 1

Sept. 11 Pittsburgh Steelers (Thu), 8:25

Sept. 21 at Cleveland Browns, 1

Sept. 28 Carolina Panthers, 1

Oct. 5 at Indianapolis Colts, 1

Oct. 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1

Oct. 19 Atlanta Falcons, 1

Oct. 26 at Cincinnati Bengals, 1

Nov. 2 at Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:30*

Nov. 9 Tennessee Titans, 1

Nov. 16 BYE

Nov. 24 at New Orleans Saints (Mon), 8:30

Nov. 30 San Diego Chargers, 1

Dec. 7 at Miami Dolphins, 1

Dec. 14 Jacksonville Jaguars, 1

Dec. 21 at Houston Texans, 1

Dec. 28 Cleveland Browns, 1

 

 

The Baltimore Ravens and Their Wizard–Ravens 7 Rd. Mock: Part 1

March 22, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, NFL Draft

Part 1: The Wizard of Oz, The Other Men in Charge, & How the Ravens Do it, 

You cannot go “Mocking” unless you know the philosophy surrounding the madness and arguably, no other team in the NFL has been, as successful or as unpredictable on draft day than the Baltimore Ravens.ozzie-newsome-draft-newsomeThe Ravens have a “Wizard” in charge of their “War Room” on draft day. Vice President &General Manager Ozzie Newsome knows a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to the NFL Draft.

Under the guidance of the former Cleveland  Brown and Hall of Fame tight end, the franchise rarely brings home a bad report card from the league’s annual job fair. For every considered draft bust, the Ravens produce at least two or three solid starters. Heading into his 19th draft with the franchise, 13th as the General Manager, Newsome has a formula for success and rarely does he deviate from it. While he is known as the Wizard, Newsome is not alone nor does he deserve all of the credit for all of the success. The Ravens have proven through the years that they possess one of the top front office and scouting staffs, not just in pro- football but also in all of professional sports.

Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, Newsome and his scouting departments have had 18 drafts and selected 18 players in the first round. These picks have earned an amazing 55-combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

The Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft. Instead, Newsome, along with Eric DeCosta (Asst. G.M.), Joe Hortiz (Dir. Of college scouting),  and a confirmed 19 full-time members of the personnel department, which does not include the coaching staff, work year round on a proven scouting system that has produced as much in the early rounds as it has in the later rounds of the draft.

Day two and three of the NFL Draft has even greater importance on the future of a franchise and the Ravens have excelled there as well. They have found Pro Bowlers and top notch starters on the second and third day as much as they have the first. Players such as Marshal Yanda (3rd) Lardarius Webb (3rd), Jarrett Johnson (4th), Dennis Pitta (4th), Pernell McPhee (5th), Adalius Thomas (6) and Sam Koch (6) were taken well after the Commissioner was calling names at the podium. Newsome and company also have a knack in signing the right undrafted rookie free agents who also make significant contributions. Mike Flynn (‘97), Priest Holmes (‘97), Will Demps (‘02), Bart Scott (‘02), Ma’ake Kemoeatu (‘02), Jameel McClain (‘08), Dannell Ellerbe (‘09), Morgan Cox (‘10) & Justin Tucker (‘12) all went undrafted and subsequently signed  with and starred for the Ravens.

The Ravens have had 31 different players earn Pro Bowl honors since the team’s inception in 1996. Of those, 16 are homegrown players, 15 drafted, and two signed as rookie free agents. The secret to Newsome and the Ravens success has several key components. It begins with the staff, which has continuity, loyalty and longevity. Most of Ozzie’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20” club.

Success Breeds Success:

The “20/20” group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.” “Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them,” said Newsome. The process is really quite simple but it involves the hard work of everyone. The Ravens have eight scouts assigned to every part of the country during college football season. They have an additional eight player personnel directors and of course, it’s all tied together through Ozzie Newsome, as well as Assistant GM Eric DeCosta.  

DeCosta and the Ravens’ directors of college scouting, Joe Horitz, are perfect examples of what makes the Ravens so successful in the front office. They have been with the organization for a combined 34-years and began of course, as members of the prestigious 20 / 20 club.

Once the Ravens define a player as a “draftable” talent, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players. According to Newsome in the teams media guide, “Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for a while, so we scout the scouts and coaches. We may have a scout or coach who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we’re finalizing the board.”hi-res-168103308-head-coach-john-harbaugh-of-the-baltimore-ravens-speaks_crop_north

Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches s to have strong opinions. “We have very open dialogue. We want everyone’s opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other,” Newsome says. Success breeds success and while a great many of the Ravens scouts began in the 20 / 20 club and have stayed, many have gone on to have successful careers elsewhere because of what they learned from Newsome and the “Raven Way”.

The current director of the Senior Bowl in Mobile Alabama, Phil Savage, is one of those examples. Savage began, as one of those 20 / 20 guys, with the Cleveland Browns in 1991 and worked his way up the ladder in the front office as a scout and personnel evaluator with the Browns, eventually following Cleveland's former owner Art Modell and the rest of the front office to Baltimore in 1995. Savage then played an important role in the drafting of 10 Pro Bowl players, including Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden and future HOF linebacker Ray Lewis. Ironically, Savage would go back to Cleveland,as their General Manager, in 2005. However, following a poor 2008 season, Savage was fired.

The Highest Rated:

Newsome always talks about taking the “highest-rated player on our board” when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens’ history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, who was the first pick (fourth overall in ’96) in team history. When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round. “When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need,” Newsome notes. “But, our confidence in our staff and the process we use make draft days easy, exciting and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to the draft.”

Wizardry Extends Beyond Draft:

Heading into this year’s draft, the Ravens currently only have five assured picks in Rounds 1 (No. 17), 2 (No. 48), 3 (No. 79), 6 (No. 178,) and this past week received a seventh rounder in return for the Bryan McKinnie trade to Miami. This additional pick essentially replaces the seventh-round selection that the Ravens traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason for center-guard A.Q. Shipley.

The five picks would be the fewest in any draft in franchise history, which is not a good thing when you consider how deep this draft is. This year’s crop of players looking for NFL employment is considered by many to be one most well rounded NFL Draft classes in years. Fortunately, for Ravens fans, Newsome is the master at collecting compensatory picks and that is a good thing this year.

9037295_600x338Compensatory picks are picks teams receive in addition to their selections in each of the seven rounds. A total of 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams that have lost more or better compensatory free agents than they signed in the previous year. Teams that gain and lose the same number of players but lose higher-valued players than they gain also can be awarded a pick, but only in the seventh round, after the other compensatory picks. Compensatory picks cannot be traded, and the placement of the picks is determined by a proprietary formula based on the player's salary, playing time, and postseason honors with his new team, with salary being the primary factor. So, for example, a team that lost a linebacker who signed for $2.5 million per year in free agency might get a sixth-round compensatory pick, while a team that lost a wide receiver who signed for $5 million per year might receive a fourth-round pick. All compensatory picks are awarded at the ends of Rounds three through seven. If fewer than 32 such picks are awarded, the remaining picks are awarded in the order in which teams would pick in a hypothetical eighth round of the draft (These are known as "supplemental compensatory selections"). Compensatory picks are awarded each year at the NFL annual meeting which is held at the end of March; typically, about three or four weeks before the draft.

Compensatory picks have been very important during the Ravens draft history. In fact, it is important to note that since 1996, Baltimore has received 37 compensatory choices. That is the most during that span with Packers having the second most with 30. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, the Ravens will get the league-maximum four compensatory picks in this year’s draft and will now be able to save face with nine total draft selections.  The exact placement of those picks will be determined next week at owners meetings. The four players the Ravens will get compensatory picks for are Ed Reed, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams.

Here is where the genius of Newsome really shows through. He collects these picks without losing picks. The big name players the Ravens signed last off-season in Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff and Marcus Spears, will not count against them because all of those free agents were released. Compensatory picks are only for players who leave after their contracts have ended.

What should the Ravens receive for those four players—according to Hensley, the best-case scenario is that they receive one in the third round (Kruger), two in the fourth round (Ellerbe and Williams) and one in the fifth (Reed). The worst-case is two in the fourth one in the fifth (Williams) and one in the seventh (Reed). Remember the Ravens do not currently own any picks in the fourth and fifth rounds because they traded them to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Not Always a Success Story: 

Once the NFL Draft is complete, experts evaluate every team and hand out grades. The Ravens typically receive grades of an “A”, possibly a B+ but if you go back and look at some drafts, they wouldn’t exactly receive such a high grade if you waited a year to grade them. That’s the nature of the beast in the “War Rooms” on drafts days. Player may look and grade out as top tier talent but fail to become a bust.

Last April's draft received a grade of “B” or higher by many experts but looking back on it now, you couldn’t possibly think to give it anything other than, at best, a C to C-. Safety Matt Elam, whom the Ravens selected with the final pick in the first round had the best season of any draftee but as expected Elam struggled at times and didn’t exactly make anyone forget about Ed Reed. The next three draft picks LB Arthur Brown, DT Brandon Williams and LB John Simon didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Brown and Williams are expected to have much bigger roles this season and Simon, who was a standout at Ohio State, didn’t see the field much at all in his rookie campaign.

Until the drafting of Joe Flacco, every QB selected by the team was a bust and Newsome and company have yet to hit on a wide receiver that has significantly contributed to the team for any length of time. Many would consider Ozzie’s biggest offensive bust to be QB Kyle Boller, whom the Ravens selected in the first round with the 19th overall pick in 2003 after trading away their first round pick to New England the following year to move up and get him. kyle boller

WR’s Travis Taylor, who was taken in the first round back in 2000 and a Newsome scouted player, as well as a more recent Newsome selection, WR Mark Clayton (Round 1- pick 22- 2005) were both first round flops. This draft is loaded with wide receivers so The Wizard, a Hall of Fame pass catcher himself, has a chance to redeem that knock on his scouting eye.

In the end, The Ravens are truly one of the league’s best on draft day. Chris Mortensen of ESPN says of Newsome and the Ravens front office, “There’s a saying within the Ravens that goes, ‘In Ozzie we trust.’ The reason for that is his track record is tremendous. He has a philosophy, he stays true to it, and they’re not going to deviate from that. If the No. 3 player is the No. 3 player, and he’s on the board, that’s the guy they’re taking.”

With that in mind—-it’s off to part two and the Ravens seven round mock—-In part 2 I will provide you with the most comprehensive Ravens Mock Draft on the web or in any magazine. Thanks to the top Draft scouting sources, which includes Fanspeak.com and the work of Stephen Shoup, I was able to compile a ton of great information, as I predict all nine selections in the seven round draft.

 

Ravens Free Agency Recap: Week 1 Ends with "A" Grade

March 19, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Free Agency

For Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of Ravens front office, the 2014 off season is the polar opposite of what their 2013 off season campaign produced. Having just beaten the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens watched, as no less than nine contributing starters from that team left via free agency, trade or was cut by the team. Two key contributors, Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired. All of the losses would add up to a very different looking team than the one that had just captured the franchises second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. images (20)

The Ravens were forced to re-sign QB Joe Flacco, who parlayed a remarkable championship run into a then NFL record $120.6 million dollar contract. Not able to reach a deal the prior off season, Flacco entered the final year of his rookie deal literally having to stay healthy and play for his next big pay day—he hit the jackpot. Because of Flacco’s deal, the Ravens chances of being able to bring back some of those key players from the 2013 squad became an impossible feat. WR Anquan Boldin refused to restructure his contract and was dealt the team he had a very big part in beating in the Super Bowl. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, the heir apparent to Ray Lewis and coming off a stellar playoff run himself, took his talents to South Beach and signed with the Dolphins when the Ravens could not enter the same ballpark at the negotiating table.

However, Newsome refused to throw money away on players that contributed to a Super Bowl title but were not exactly stars—but because they were coming off a championship, those players, as Flacco did in Baltimore and Ellerbe in Miami, cashed in elsewhere with other NFL teams. We see it every off season. Teams overpay for the right to bring in a player that appeared more valuable to their team than they actually were during a title run. Newsome did not throw away money at players like Paul Kruger and for that, he was able to bring in other free agents for less money. He managed to sign players such as Elvis Dumervil, Darryl Smith, and Chris Canty and although they did not finish the year, Michael Huff and Marcus Spears were considered value signings at positions of need when they were originally signed.

With the retirement of Lewis (37) and Birk (36), the trading of Boldin (32) and allowing Ed Reed (34) to sign elsewhere, the Ravens were able to get younger, which was another goal of Newsome and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. The off season value signings failed to produce a winner on the field, as the Ravens battled injuries, a poor rushing attack and bad offensive line and became the second straight Super Bowl champion to miss the playoffs, finishing with an 8-8 record.

With Boldin gone and one of those major injuries to his favorite target TE Dennis Pitta, Joe Flacco threw as many interceptions (22) last season as he did in the previous two seasons (12 & 10) combined. He produced only 19 touchdown passes and never did find the long ball in an offense that produced so many big plays for the team the year before. The Ravens really seemed to miss the leadership of Ray Lewis and from Head Coach John Harbaugh all the way down, the Super Bowl champs never seemed to be on the same page. The Ravens still managed to remain in the playoff hunt, as the AFC’s sixth seed, up until 4:00 p.m. on the last Sunday of the regular season but the goal was clear, after five straight playoff appearances and  Super Bowl title, missing the playoffs wasn’t going to be tolerated or accepted in the organization. It was understood that making the playoffs had to the norm and missing the exception to the rule for this franchise.

Entering this offseason the plan was simple —fix what ailed the team in 2013. During the final press conference of the 2013 season, in what team officials call “The State of  the Ravens,  every important member of the Ravens organization off the field attended and answers questions about what went wrong in 2013. Promises were made and lines, albeit soft one, drawn in the sand.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti summed up the Ravens approach best by saying, “I have to be patient to let people fail, but I don't have to be patient enough to let people repeat failure. I'll be more apt to get my way next year if their solutions don't change the problems. That's fair, that's where I am as owner”.

Bisciotti would go on to say, "They know they've failed, they know they need to change, and to make improvements. If it's not the way I think it should be and then it fails again, then obviously it comes down to owner-head coach relationship."  Bisciotti knows the No. 1 priority this offseason was to build the offense. Head coach John Harbaugh has usually had offenses that finished in the middle of the rankings, but the Ravens were No. 29 last season. They averaged only 83 rushing yards per game.

With the goal clear, the Ravens have entered this off season to this point having done the exact opposite of what occurred last year. Instead of watching their free agents sign elsewhere, the Ravens locked their biggest ones up early in the process and stayed patient with the remaining ones, re-signing them at deals considered good values.

It began in mid-February when the Ravens and LB Terrell Suggs agreed on a new contract. The 31-year-old Suggs was entering the last year of a long-term contract that would have put his cap number at $12.4 million next season, but the new deal lowered that number to $7.8 million, which gave the Ravens much needed salary cap space. GM Ozzie Newsome hinted during the January state of the Ravens press conference that the Ravens would look to restructure his contract after he failed to produce much during the second half of last season. Suggs had nine sacks through the first eight games of the 2013 season. He finished with 10 sacks.

That deal allowed the Ravens to get started on contract talks with TE Dennis Pitta and 11 days before Joe Flacco’s favorite was set to hit the FA market, he agreed to a five-year $32 million deal, which makes him one of the top 10 paid tight ends in the league in terms of annual average salary.

The biggest priority this off season was to make sure the Ravens did not lose both offensive tackles. Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher were set to become free agents when the market opened and all signs pointed to losing the pair just days before the March 11 4:00 p.m. deadline. Baltimore was willing to part with Oher but Monroe was a different story. Acquired for a fourth round draft pick in October from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Monroe was listed as high as the No.3 free agent this off season on NFL.com. The two sides appeared to be far away as the deadline approached but as he always seems to do, Ozzie Newsome got his guy and at his price.

The Ravens agreed to terms with Monroe, whom the Ravens did not franchise and would have been forced to pay $11 million if they had. Instead, Newsome signed one of the better tackles in the game to a five-year $37.5 million deal, which has turned to be not just one of the best values in free agency for the Ravens but one of the best in all of free agency. Newsome and the Ravens got a little bit lucky in signing Monroe as quickly as they did. The market seemed to dry up a bit for Monroe when several other highly sought after tackles took advantage of one of the NFL’s newer policies in that players are free to negotiate with teams two days prior to the actual start of free agency. Once 4:00 p.m. Tuesday rolled around, Jared Veldheer and Branden Albert were signing on the dotted line with Arizona and Miami respectively.

The Raiders chose to replace Veldheer with the Rams Roger Saffold but after failing his physical, owner Mark Davis killed the deal sending Saffold back to the Rams. Luckily, for the Ravens, Monroe had already agreed to terms. Oakland entered the free agency period with nearly $66 million in salary cap room and would have offered him a deal likely for what Albert got from Miami. The Dolphins gave the former Cardinal Tackle nearly nine million more than Monroe and before he failed the physical, Saffold’s deal in Oakland would have paid him five million more than Monroe and Saffold isn’t nearly the tackle Monroe is.  While they say it’s better to be lucky than good—the saying timing is everything applies just as well in this case for the Ravens and when it comes to issues such as this—it always seems to.

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Dick Cass, John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti

Baltimore also re-signed WR / KR Jacoby Jones and inside linebacker Darryl Smith—both key contributors to last year’s squad and both salary cap friendly value based deals. Jones was considered a luxury as the primary kick returner and likely third or fourth wide receiver but after visiting the NY Giants, signed for a maximum value of $14 million if he hits all of his incentive clauses, sources said. He's guaranteed $4.5 million and he has a $2 million incentive clause based on catches.

Last Friday the Ravens re-signed ILB Darryl Smith, who started every game at middle linebacker last year and led the Ravens in tackles. His deal was for four years and could be worth up to $16.1 million.  Losing Smith would have been costly. Starting all 16 games in the same position that Ray Lewis occupied for the Ravens for the previous 17 seasons, Smith finished first on the team in tackles (125), third in sacks (five), tied for second in interceptions (three), second in passes defended (19) and tied for first in forced fumbles (two). Even more was the value in the deal. Former Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson signed for four years and $22 million with Indy while Karlos Dansby replaced Jackson in Cleveland by inking a four-year, $24 million with Cleveland. Both more than Smith. ProFootballFocus.com ranked Smith 16th among all inside linebackers in 2013, while Dansby was fifth and Jackson 42nd.

The Ravens did not attempt to re-sign CB Corey Graham (Bills) WR Tandon Doss (Jaguars), OT Michael Oher (Titans), ILB Jameel McClain (Giants) and DE / DT Arthur Jones, who hit the jackpot with his old defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis. They did bring back Safety Jeromy Miles as well as ILB Albert McClellan.

The Ravens went outside the organization last Friday afternoon for the first time in free agency when they signed former Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith. The move was puzzling in that back in 2011, the Ravens cut a player similar to Smith in Derrick Mason and is Smith really the type of receiver the Ravens need? He is not really the Anquan Boldin type and said so himself. Smith’s best days are well behind him, as he turns 35 in May. However, last season in Carolina, he still managed to haul in 64 passes for 765 yards and 4 TD’s. His receptions and yards would have placed him second on the Ravens in 2012 behind Torrey Smith, which is where Steve Smith will play.

In 2012, No.89 caught 73 passes for 1,174 yards and four scores. In 2011, he logged 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns, earning his fifth Pro Bowl selection. Smith passion for the game will be good in a mundane Ravens huddle. He is not likely to allow Flacco off the hook so easy when he isn’t playing at his best, which is similar to how Anquan Boldin handled Joe Cool.

To Smith’s credit, he knows what his role will be and will likely do it well. He has acknowledged that he is no longer a No. 1 receiver at this stage, and he admitted that one of the draws to signing with the Ravens was that they have several established players on offense – he specifically mentioned Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice – so there is not as much pressure on him. Smith also spoke highly about new OC Gary Kubiak’s offense with the Houston Texans.  He said he saw himself not in the role of perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson, but in the role of Kevin Walter, who never caught more than 65 passes in a season.

Smith got a three-year contract with the Ravens,  worth $11.5 million with a $3.5 million signing bonus  and only time will tell if he’s a good fit for the Ravens offense, and if what he has to offer on the field and in the locker room is what the Ravens need. He could be a nice complementary piece and should help quarterback Joe Flacco. But the success of the Ravens’ passing game in 2014 will still depend on Flacco improving his accuracy and decision-making and the offense line doing a better job of protecting him. The other issue is how fast Flacco and Smith make a connection. Flacco has a tendency to avoid throwing to new receivers in the Ravens system and tends to stick to his “favorites”. Smith won’t tolerate that if he’s open and he won’t keep quiet about it. He also said one of the reasons he elected to sign with Baltimore was because HC John Harbaugh said he wanted him to be himself.  That also seems opposite of what the Ravens have wanted over the last few off seasons. Harbaugh seemed very content to allow the more vocal players—players with Steve Smith’s type of personality to sign elsewhere or the Ravens cut them.

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Dennis Pitta..Photo credit Baltimore Ravens

Derrick Mason, Bernard Pollard, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin were all jettisoned. But it is possible that Harbaugh realizes leadership can be too quiet at times and rattling a few cages by employing a few alpha males may not be such a bad idea after all.  Re-signing Jacoby Jones and signing Steve Smith are a good indication of that. If for no other reason, the Smith signing may wake up a few players.

The Ravens front office is steadfast in its basic philosophy and has showed so far this offseason why they are one of the top front offices in all of sports. They refuse to overpay players who are past their prime, as they showed in giving Terrell Suggs a new contract. Suggs would surely have been cut had he not agreed to a lesser number in 2014. The Ravens also stay patient—very patient in free agency.

That was also on full display with players such as Darryl Smith who was allowed to watch, as two other players set the market for his position. They also know when to pounce as they did with Steve Smith. As soon as the Panthers cut the 13-year veteran, the Ravens scheduled his visit and never let him leave town without a deal. Smith had options, plenty of them. The Chargers had a deal on the table for him and he was on the phone with Patriots HC Bill Belichick, as he prepared to board a plane but the weather last Friday along the east coast delayed his visit until Monday to New England. That visit was obviously not necessary, as Smith signed that day with the Ravens.

The Ravens also pounced without overpaying, as they demonstrated with Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe. Signing Pitta 11 days before the open of free agency and getting Monroe on day one at a great value has been the highlight of the free agency period for them.

They also showed their versatility in thinking. There is a lot of irony in re-signing many of your own players following a season when you finished .500 and missed the playoffs, as opposed to allowing seven available starters to leave in any fashion from a Super Bowl winning team. This versatility and adaptability is also, what makes The Wizard of Oz and company so special. Nate Davis of the USA Today handed out first free agency week grades and the Ravens are one of just three teams to receive an A grade thus far.

The Ravens still have plenty of work to do. They have roughly $12.3 million in cap space to use, this according to spotrac.com. GM Ozzie Newsome said during the State of the Ravens press conference that they would get the receiver that seemed to be missing last season. It is hard to imagine Steve Smith is that guy but as I noted earlier—his numbers would have been second best on the team last season.

Aside from the big-bodied receiver the Ravens still need, they must address the Tight end position and the offensive line at center and right tackle. On defense, Baltimore needs help at safety and could use another defensive tackle. Linebacker and cornerback could also use some depth.

On the offensive line, the Ravens will probably wait until after the draft to fill the guard or tackle position if they choose the free agency route. Center could be a different story. Cleveland's Alex Mack got the transition tag, and Evan Dietrich-Smith (the top unrestricted free-agent center) signed with the Buccaneers. This leaves the New York Giants' David Baas, Cincinnati's Kyle Cook and New Orleans' Brian de la Puente as the top options.

At tight end, the Ravens have Dennis Pitta and two practice squad players, Matt Furstenburg and Nathan Overbay. Tight end and safety are the Ravens' thinnest group, in terms of experience. There had been talk of the Ravens showing interest in Owen Daniels but the Ravens may elect to draft one or sign a cheaper option. Carolina's Ben Hartsock, Seattle's Kellen Davis and the New York Giants' Bear Pascoe are still available if the Ravens decide they want a blocking option to compliment Pitta.

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

At safety, the Ravens want someone whose strength is coverage. This would complement strong safety Matt Elam. But the Ravens elected to not throw their hat in the ring as many of the best safeties were signed on the first day of free agency. Their remaining options are Miami's Chris Clemons, Atlanta's Thomas DeCoud and Denver's Champ Bailey. Bailey is a 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback who is open to switching to safety. There are also rumors tying Ryan Clark to the Ravens—-yes that Ryan Clark of the Steelers—the same Ryan Clark who said the Ravens would never win a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco at quarterback. The Ravens continue to monitor safety James Ihedigbo.

Ihedigbo had a career-high 101 tackles and three interceptions last season while starting every game for the Ravens. The team has not ruled out bringing back Ihedigbo, who visited the Detroit Lions last week and left without a deal.

Newsome will continue to add to a roster that less than two years removed from its Super Bowl win, is vastly different. There are still the familiar faces of Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs but the Ravens' 2014 team has just 22 of the 46 players who dressed for SB 47.  If history tells us anything it’s that Ozzie Newsome will fill the Ravens positions of need with the best available players and he will do it at the price the Ravens want to pay.

Ravens Sign Steve Smith

March 14, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they have signed veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to a three-year contract.

This three-year contract is worth a total of $11.5 million. This makes the average value per year of the contract $3.83 million. There was a signing bonus of $3.5 million. The total guaranteed money is currently unknown. When all of the contract information is available, a contract breakdown will be posted.

Since being drafted by the Panthers in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft, the 34-year old had spent his entire NFL career there (13 seasons).

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

His best season came in 2005 where he caught 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. All of these are career-highs.

During his time in Carolina, he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection (2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011) and a three-time All-Pro (2001 and 2005 first-team and 2008 second-team).

Last season he caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns while playing in 15 games. As their number one receiver, he helped lead the Panthers to the playoffs number two seed in the NFC. They would lose in the Divisional Round to the San Francisco 49ers.

Back in the 2003 season, he helped lead the Panther to Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots. The Panthers lost 32-29 in a thrilling game where he caught four passes for 80 yards and one touchdown.

An expressive player, he is known for being outspoken on and off the field. Last season, he and former Patriots––now Broncos––cornerback Aqib Talib got into it during a game. Tailb later left the game due to an injury. In a post game interview, a reporter asked Smith if he had anything to say to Talib. In response, Smith gave one of the best one-linners in history: "Ice up son."

Released by the Panthers a few days ago due to salary cap reasons––a high cap hit and old age never bode well for players––he will get to face the Panthers this season as the Ravens will host them this season.

He is the only free agent that the Ravens have signed so far that isn't one of their own. The Ravens tend to not be very active in free agency as they build through the draft. Since he was released, he won't count against the Ravens' compensatory picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Currently, the Ravens would be getting three––the maximum is four––due to the losses of Arthur Jones, Corey Graham and Michael Oher.

With the addition of Smith, the Ravens top four wide receivers (in no particular order) are now him, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones. This is an improvement from last season and gives the team flexibility heading into the draft. Torrey Smith and Brown are young and Jones is experience, but a true veteran presence was lacking last season without Anquan Boldin. Steve Smith can fill that void.

Overall, this is a good signing for the Ravens. They got a veteran receiver for quarterback Joe Flacco at a reasonable price. At the end of the day, the Ravens' receiving corps is improved.

Ravens Re-Sign Monroe

March 11, 2014 in Free Agency, News

With free agency starting up today, the Baltimore Ravens made a move to keep one of their own players, left tackle Eugene Monroe.

It is a five-year deal worth a total of $37.5 million with $19 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $11 million. This is an average of $7.5 million per season. When all contract details are known, I will post a contract breakdown.

He came over to the Ravens in a mid-season trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars this past season. The Ravens gave up a fourth and a fifth round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Eugene Monroe

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Once he came over in this trade, he helped stabilize the Ravens' offensive line which suffered through a bad season. Protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside, Monroe gave up just five sacks this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 12th best offensive tackle (10th best left tackle) in the NFL this past season. In 2012 he graded as the 15th best offensive tackle (10th best left tackle).

Re-signing him was the Ravens' number one goal heading into free agency over the last few days. They had already re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year deal earlier this month.

Keeping Monroe is a very important to the Ravens' offense. Since Hall-of-Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden retired after the 2007 season, the Ravens have struggled to find a replacement for him. Monroe is the best left tackle to play for Baltimore since Ogden, so it was important for the Ravens to retain Monroe.

A few days ago, it looked like he wasn't going to re-sign with the team. They were reported to be too far apart in contract negotiations and the Ravens let the franchise tag deadline pass without placing their tag on him. However, over the last day or so, other teams needing a left tackle keyed in on other targets leaving him for the Ravens.

Overall this is a good deal for the Ravens. They needed to keep Monroe as their offensive line was a mess last season and he was a bright spot. Getting him for $7.5 million over five years is a plus for the Ravens as well. He is one of the better left tackles in the league and they re-signed him to an affordable deal.

Ravens March Mock Draft (Pre-Free Agency)

March 8, 2014 in NFL Draft

It is now March so it is time for another Ravens' mock draft using Fanspeak's On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator. Each month I post a new Ravens' mock draft. This month will feature two mock drafts––one before and one after free agency. If you want to see how the rest of this draft turned out, click here.

Please note that while the Ravens only have four picks here, they are likely to get a four compensatory picks from free agency losses last offseason. It was previously reported that they would also be receiving a draft pick from the Miami Dolphins from the Bryant McKinnie trade, but it has been announced that this pick is a conditional pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

First Round: Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
With the 17th overall pick, I decided to address the offensive line with Lewan, a 6'7", 309 pound redshirt senior out of Michigan.

Taylor Lewan

Courtesy of ICON SMI

A four-year starter, he started 48 games at Ann Arbor for the Wolverines with all but two coming at left tackle. This past season he was a Second Team All-American and as a redshirt junior he was a First Team All-American. Anchoring the Wolverines offensive line, he was also a two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection and a one-time Second Team All-Big Ten selection.

Facing Jadeveon Clowney in a bowl game as a redshirt junior, Lewan held his own.

At the NFL Combine last month, he put on a show with the fastest forty-yard dash time for offensive linemen (4.87 seconds). Along with that, he had the best broad jump, tied for third in the vertical jump and finished fourth in the three-cone drill.

His best attribute is his size which is perfect for the left tackle position in the NFL. A prototypical left tackle, he doesn't excel in pass protection or run blocking, but he is good at both. On the negative side, there are some character concerns. An Ohio State fan claims that Lewan assaulted him late last November and this incident is currently under investigation. He was also accused threatening a female Michigan student after she alleged that a teammate of Lewan's raped her. This incident occurred four years ago.

As the Ravens head into free agency, it is looking more and more like starting left tackle Eugene Monroe won't re-sign with the team. Reports say that they are far apart in contract negotiations. Ravens' fans can only hope that Monroe doesn't find the type of market he is expecting in a few days. However, that is unlikely as he is a young, top-tier left tackle. Due to this, the Ravens will have to address the position in the draft and taking Lewan would be a good way to do that. He is experienced and if he entered the draft last year, he would have been a top-10 pick, potentially even the number one overall pick.

Second Round: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tight End, Washington
In the second round, I continued to add to the offense by taking Seferian-Jenkins, a 6'5", 262 pound junior out of Washington.

A massive target for quarterbacks, he was a major component of the Huskies offense over the last three years. As a freshman, he caught 41 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns. His best season came as a sophomore where he had 69 catches for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. This past season he his production dipped a bit as defenses keyed in on him a bit more. He caught 36 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns. A steady performer, his best game this past season came against Idaho State where he had five catches for 62 yards and one touchdown.

Size and athletic ability are what set him apart from other tight ends in the draft class. He uses this size well when running routes. This makes him a great red zone target––as you could probably tell based off his touchdown numbers. His blocking needs some improvement, but he has the frame to be very successful. In March of 2013 he was arrested for a DUI. At the NFL Combine, it was found that he has a fractured bone in his foot. This kept him out of drills there and will sideline him for a little.

Gary Kubiak––the Ravens' new offensive coordinator––loves to run two tight ends sets, and adding Seferian-Jenkins will allow the Ravens to have the personnel to run this effectively. Currently Dennis Pitta is the only tight end on the roster, and he just re-signed recently. He is more of a slot tight end while Seferian-Jenkins can line up in right next to the tackle more. The two would compliment each other well and allow the Ravens' offense to have a new dynamic.

Third Round: Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, LSU
Continuing to build the Ravens' offense, I took a wide receiver this time in Landry, a 5'11", 205 pound senior out of LSU.

Over the past two seasons, he has been a key contributor to the Tigers' offense. As a sophomore he caught 56 passes for 573 yards and five touchdowns. This past season he caught 77 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns. His best game of the season came in a 44-41 loss to Georgia where he caught 10 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown.

A solid possession receiver, he is a good route runner but is a bit on the small side. He has strong hands and knows how to make contested catches. He isn't afraid to go across the middle of the field to make a catch. He also has experience playing special teams. On the negative side, he has average speed and size. He also can struggle against press coverage.

His offensive coordinator for this past season at LSU was Cam Cameron. Cameron is a former Ravens' offensive coordinator so he would provide great insight into how Beckham would fit in with the Ravens. The Ravens need another receiver to pair with Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. Landry could step in right away and provide quarterback Joe Flacco with another target.

Fourth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe during the season.

Fifth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Monroe during the season.

Sixth Round: Chris Davis, Cornerback, Auburn
With the Ravens final draft pick in this mock draft, the I finally addressed the defense by selecting Brown, a 5'10", 202 pound senior cornerback.

Of course, he is best known not as a cornerback, but for his 109-yard touchdown return of a missed field goal against Alabama as time expired to win the game. Arguably the best ending in college football history, he corralled the missed field goal and ran down the sideline for a touchdown to help Auburn upset the number-one ranked Crimson Tide. This victory helped Auburn make it to the National Championship Game against Florida State where they lost by three.

In this game, he gave up the game-winning touchdown pass with less than one minute left in the game. Going up against a receiver who is seven inches taller than him, Davis was outmatched in the end zone on this play.

A great athlete, he possesses quick change of direction and acceleration. He is a talented punt returner and could potentially develop into a decent cornerback.

For the Ravens, this pick makes sense for two reasons––both of them free agency related. Nickel cornerback Corey Graham is about to hit the open market and it is unknown whether he will return. If he leaves, another cornerback needs to be added. Also, kick and punt returner Jacoby Jones is slated to be a free agent. If either of these two leave, then this pick makes sense for the Ravens as Davis can provide depth at cornerback and contribute right away as a return man.

Seventh Round
This pick was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for center A.Q. Shipley before the start of the season.

Ravens Re-Sign Pitta

March 1, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Yesterday, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they had re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta.

An impending free agent, he has signed to a five-year deal worth $32 million with $16 million guaranteed. This pays him as a top-10 tight end, which he is. At this point in time. all the other specific details of the contract––signing bonus, yearly cap hits, etc.––are unavailable, but when they are, I will post a contract breakdown. Expect his cap hit this season to be between $3-4 million. Cap hits in the first year of contracts are usually much lower than the average per year value of the contact, which in the case is $6.4 million.

Drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 28-year old (29 at the start of the season) has quickly developed into quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite target.

Off the field, the two are best friends and on the field, this relationship carries over. Flacco's favorite receiver to look for is Pitta. This is one of the reasons why Flacco struggled this last season as Pitta missed the first 12 games with a hip injury.

Dennis Pitta

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Early in training camp, Pitta landed badly on his hip after making a leaping catch. In doing so, he dislocated and fractured his hip. At the time, it was thought that he would be out for the season. However, just before the season began, the Ravens placed him on injured reserve with a designation to return. This allowed to to return later in the season and he didn't have to take up a roster spot while recovering.

When he finally returned in week 14, he had an instant impact catching six passes for 48 yards and one touchdown in a 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

He finished the season with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.

His best season came the year before when the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. For the season, the sure-handed Pitta had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns, including four catches for 26 yards and one touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Not run blocker by any means, he is a pure pass-catching tight end––something that has become more and more common over the recent years. He spends a lot of his time lined up in the slot a receiver to create mismatches over the middle of the field. This led to speculation that he could have been ruled a wide receiver if the Ravens placed the franchise tag on him. Thanks to this new deal though, that won't be necessary.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to utilize tight ends and two tight end sets in his offense. While he has remade his offense to better fit the Ravens, expect Pitta to be a key component of this offense.

Currently, Pitta is the only tight end under contract with the Ravens right now, so more work is needed at this position. However, the main goal was to re-sign him and that has been accomplished.

It may look like he is overpaid a bit, but consider two things: he is Flacco's favorite target and tight ends are becoming more important to offenses every year. Even at $6.4 million per year, Pitta is only in the top-10 for tight ends in terms of average value of the contract. He is certainly a top-10 tight end the NFL and is worth more to the Ravens than any other team.

Entering this offseason, the Ravens had two priorities. One was to re-sign Pitta and the other was to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe. Now that Pitta has been re-signed, the Ravens can shift their focus to Monroe. If a deal can't be reached with him, then a possibility is to use the franchise tag on him. The deadline for this is Monday and it would cost the Ravens $11.7 million this season.

Suggs Signs Contract Extension

February 17, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today, the Baltimore Ravens and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs agreed to a contract extension that will likely make him a Raven for life.

It was announced last night that the 31-year old Suggs and the Ravens had agreed to terms on a new contract and today they made it official at a noon Eastern time press conference.

A four-year extension on top of this season (so really a five-year deal), the total value of the contract is around $30 million. There is $16 million in guaranteed money and an $11 million signing bonus. The other $5 million in guaranteed money comes from the base salaries for this season ($1 million) and next season ($4 million). For this season, his cap hit is reduced from $12.4 million to $7.8 million which creates $4.6 million in cap space for the Ravens. In terms of actual money that he makes this season, he receives an increase as he will earn $12.4 million.

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Entering the final year of his six-year $62.5 million deal, he was set to count as $12.4 million against the salary cap. This was the third-highest cap number on the team behind defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and quarterback Joe Flacco. Cutting or trading Suggs would have saved the Ravens $7.8 million in much needed cap space. Due to this high savings number––the largest on the team––it was widely reported that the Ravens would either cut him or renegotiate his contract to create a lower cap hit.

Drafted by the Ravens with the 10th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, he has been with the Ravens his entire career and now seems set to finish his career in Baltimore.

Despite starting only one game as a rookie, he recorded 12 sacks (a Ravens' rookie record) and earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

An electrifying pass rusher, he has five seasons with over 10 sacks (2003, 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2013).

In the 2011 season, he performed at his best setting career-highs in sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (7). He all tied a career-high with two interceptions. With this dominant performance, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, making him the third Ravens' defender to earn with award along with linebacker Ray Lewis (2000 and 2003) and safety Ed Reed (2004).

The following season––2012––wasn't so kind to Suggs as he tore his Achilles' tendon during the offseason. A significant injury that causes many players to miss entire seasons, Suggs returned in late October about five and a half months after surgery. In his first game back, he recorded four tackles and one sack against the Houston Texans.

Late in the season though, he tore his biceps muscle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Missing only one game, he came back and played in the final two regular season games.

As the Ravens started their postseason run to Super Bowl XLVII, he was clearly at less than 100 percent, but that didn't stop him from recording 10 tackles and two sacks against the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This two-sack performance helped the Ravens' upset the heavily favored Broncos.

In Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers, he had two tackles in the Ravens 34-31 victory.

Despite being injured for most of the season, he battled his way through it, and his reward was a Super Bowl ring.

This season, he entered the season in the best shape of his life and it showed early in the season. Through the first eight games of the season, he had nine sacks and seemed on pace to be named defensive player of the year again. However, over the second half of the season, his performance faded as he had only one sack over the last eight games of the season. He also had only 20 of his 80 tackles during the final eight games.

Not only is he a good pass rusher, he is also stout against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the best run defending 3-4 outside linebacker this season. The worst he has finished as a run defender since they started grading in 2008 was 13th during his injury riddled 2012 season. Take that season away, and the worst he has finished is third.

The impact of this deal on the Ravens is massive. By reducing his cap number this sea on by $4.6 million, they free up much needed cap room. Left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta are two key free agents that the Ravens had who are set to hit the open market. This $4.6 million can now be used to help sign either of them. It is enough money to take up the entire 2014 cap hit of one of these two.

Before, the Ravens could have easily been outbid for one of these two, but now with Suggs' new contract, they have a much higher likelihood of being able to re-sign both of them.

For Suggs, this deal makes sense as well because he now has a contract through the 2018 season. At the end of this season, he will be 36-years old and his football future will likely be in question. This deal lets him stay in Baltimore for what is likely to be the rest of his career and gives him more money this season.

Overall, this deal is a win-win. Both sides get what they wanted as the Ravens receive cap room this season and lock up one of their veteran leaders for a few more years. Suggs gets the security of a new contract, earns more money this season and gives him the opportunity to do something he saw Lewis do just one season ago––retire as a Baltimore Raven.

Ravens Hire Gary Kubiak As Offensive Coordinator

January 27, 2014 in Coaching Staff, News

After about two weeks of deliberating, the Baltimore Ravens have filled their offensive coordinator vacancy by hiring former Houston Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak.

Over the last few days, it seemed like the Ravens had narrowed their candidates down to two people: current wide receivers coach Jim Hostler and former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

However, last night the Ravens interviewed a "mystery candidate" and this morning it was revealed that this candidate was Kubiak––who was listed as a potential candidate by me along with Hostler (not Shanahan though) when previous coordinator Jim Caldwell left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.

Gary Kubiak

Courtesy of ICON SMI

While Caldwell left the Ravens for a head coaching gig, Kubiak joins the Ravens after being the head coach of the Texans for the last eight seasons. As the second coach of the Texans, he led them to their first playoff appearance in team history in the 2011 season. He also led the team to two berths in the Divisional Round of the playoffs including a loss against the Ravens in the 2011 season.

This season was a disaster for him and the team. After barely winning their first two games, the team reeled off 14-straight losses to end the season. Once their record reached 2-11, he was fired. During the Texans week nine loss against the Indianapolis Colts, he suffered a transient ischemic attack (basically a mini-stroke) while walking off the field at halftime. He was able to return later in the season, but missed a few games. In his eight seasons in Houston, he finished with a record of 61-64.

During his time in Houston, his offense ranked in the top five of the league on three separate occasions and in the top half of the league seven times.

Prior to being the head coach in Houston, he was the long-time offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos under head coach Mike Shanahan. With the Broncos, his offense totaled the most total yards during the span that he coached them. They also averaged NFL highs in yards and points per game. He helped coach them to two Super Bowl victories and coached running back Terrell Davis during his MVP season in 1998.

Before that, Kubiak played nine seasons as a quarterback for the Broncos backing up the legendary John Elway. After this, he started his coaching career right away as the running backs coach for Texas A&M––his alma mater. Moving to the NFL after two seasons with the Aggies, he joined the San Francisco 49ers as their quarterbacks coach. In his single season with the 49ers, they won Super Bowl XXIX with Steve Young at the helm. With the 49ers offensive coordinator, Mike Shanahan becoming the Broncos head coach in the offseason, Kubiak left to join Shanahan's staff as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Last week, Kubiak emerged as a candidate for the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator, but a deal wasn't able to be worked out. So not only do the Ravens have a new offensive coordinator, they stole someone that one of their rivals wanted.

Know for his zone-blocking scheme on the offensive line, he is a good fit with the Ravens current offense as they have ran this scheme for the past few years. This––along with his excellent resume––are the two main reasons for this hire.

Suffering a horrific season on the offensive side of the ball, he has some work to do. The Ravens' offense ranked 29th in total yards, 18th in passing, 30th in rushing, 25th in points per game and were last in yards per rushing attempt with a meager 3.1.

While the stats look bad, there are good pieces to work with including the reigning Super Bowl MVP––less than a week left to say this––quarterback Joe Flacco. With the players the Ravens had on the offensive side of the ball, they severely underwhelmed and it will be up to Kubiak to fix that.

Coming to Baltimore along with Kubiak is Rick Dennison who will join the staff as quarterbacks coach. When Kubiak was the head coach in Houston, Dennison was his offensive coordinator. He has never been a quarterbacks coach though as his coaching roots are in the offensive line. Current offensive line coach Juan Castillo isn't going anywhere though, so quarterbacks coach is a good spot for Dennison. He brings good experience to the coaching staff and has plenty of experience with Kubiak.

Another move that the Ravens have made on the offensive staff was announcing that tight ends coach Wade Harman won't return for next season. He is expected to be replaced by former Texans' tight end coach Brian Pariani.

More changes to the staff could be coming, but that is all that is known right now. One name to keep an eye on is Hostler as he was a candidate for the coordinator job, but lost out.

When listing potential candidates for this job, I said Kubiak would be "an excellent addition" to the Ravens coaching staff. This believe holds true almost two weeks later. Of all of the candidates that the Ravens interviewed––less than 15 according to head coach John Harbaugh––Kubiak was the best choice by far. He bring loads of experience to the team as a play caller and is respected around the league.

While the Ravens took their time in selecting a new coordinator, they made the right decision.