Enthusiastic Moeller Impressed With His O-Line Group
NOTEBOOK: PRACTICE REPORT; SLIMMER WILLIAMS; ODDS ON RICE
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- One of head coach John Harbaugh's T-shirt slogans is a quote from his legendary coaching father, "Approach Each Day With An Enthusiasm Unknown To Mankind."
When it comes to coaching offensive linemen, that's the approach that's usually taken at the University of Michigan, a school to which Harbaugh and offensive line coach Andy Moeller have many significant ties.
Moeller, whose father, Gary (a practice attendee Friday afternoon at the Ravens' facility), was the head coach at Ann Arbor, worked eight years on the Wolverines' staff, tutoring such highly drafted greats as tackle Jake Long and center David Baas, as well as all-conference first-teamers Matt Lentz and Adam Stenavich.
"It just comes from the tradition of running the football," Moeller said. "As a result, it's the kind of place where [good] offensive linemen have gone."
These days, the 48-year-old Moeller is dealing with a unit that has lots of individual talent in tackle Michael Oher, guard Marshal Yanda and center Matt Birk. In fact, departed guard Ben Grubbs and Yanda were the Ravens' first two Pro Bowl picks from the guard position in team history.
But the line has come in for plenty of scrutiny, because of Oher's occasional inconsistency and Bryant McKinnie's conditioning problems and other undisclosed personal dilemmas that have kept him out of camp.
Not only that, but ESPN's John Clayton's much-publicized theory that a line with three starters older than 30 and a total age of 150 is bound to have a decline in its win total is working against the Ravens.
But Moeller certainly has enough experience to deal with those obstacles as he enters his fifth year with the unit, the first three as an assistant under John Matsko.
Moeller's is the second-longest tenure among Ravens coaches that have worked exclusively with that unit, trailing only Jim Colletto's six years. To him, efficiency is the key, and that can't happen unless his players -- no matter what their experience level -- learn the language and other subtle nuances demanded of trench play.
"Overall, we've got real good experience [up front]," Moeller said. "It's just about learning the schemes and the language."
That's particularly true of the current left-guard starter, Bobbie Williams (see "Old Guard, New Guard", below). Despite his veteran status, Williams has had to absorb Moeller's approach as if he were a rookie.
"The schemes are similar," Moeller said. "The techniques are similar. He's played 13 years and he's smart and sharp."
Williams will need to be just that if he is to work alongside Michael Oher, who has been transferred back to left tackle for the second time during his career, partly because of McKinnie's absence.
"Michael's as quick and versatile an offensive lineman as we've got," Moeller said. "He's very versatile on both sides and very fluid. He's a considerable asset."
Moeller said he liked the way players such as Oher, Yanda and Birk had counseled the younger linemen, such as second-round draft pick Kelechi Osemele and fourth-rounder Gino Gradkowski.
"It's a huge help," the coach said. "It's good that they can show their knowledge of the language and what to do.
"Gino is as sharp a guy as we could have right now, and KO isn't far behind at all."
On the whole, Moeller doesn't seem to think his line is as far behind the eight ball as many observers say it is. One of any football team's most vital units, the offensive line holds the key to whether the Ravens' versatile offense can execute well enough to produce points and keep the defense off the field.
Whether it does or not, any Moeller-led unit is going to approach each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
PRACTICE REPORT: Friday afternoon, the final shorts-and-shells practice of the week took place under cloudy skies and slightly cooler temperatures than Thursday's blast-furnace session.
Saturday, the team will put on full pads for the first time and do a lot of live hitting, the kind that was a staple of long-ago two-a-day practices. "We'll get more done, but not dramatically more," Harbaugh said. "I can't wait."
A few Friday highlights:
- Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who tweaked his hamstring while going through the team's arduous conditioning test, was officially added to the team's Physically Unable To Perform list, joining guard Jah Reid (calf), defensive end Pernell McPhee (knee) and wideout David Reed (knee). Ngata is not expected to miss a significant amount of time.
- As far as other lists are concerned, linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles) is on the Non-Football Injury list; tackle Bryant McKinnie -- who still has not personally contacted the team; his chiropactor is the only one that has called -- is on the Reserve/Did Not Report list, incurring a $30,000 daily fine; and running back Ricky Williams is on the Reserve/Retired list, because he still had one more year on his contract when he walked away.
- Friday, cornerback Lardarius Webb was not on the field because of an excused absence, but he is expected back on Saturday.
- Guard Kelechi Osemele was taken off the PUP list and was the first-choice option at right tackle after Ramon Harewood's slight ankle injury Thursday. But backup guard Justin Boren was not seen on the practice field and cornerback Jimmy Smith appeared to hurt a leg while covering LaQuan Williams in the seam.
- Quarterback Joe Flacco is getting much better at moving his huge frame tightly through a three-step-drop motion and getting rid of the ball quicker.
- Receiver Tandon Doss made several nice catches, a few of them for touchdowns, and linebacker Sergio Kindle got better penetration into the pocket than at any time in his career.
- During seven-on-seven drills, LaQuan Williams and Chykie Brown had a physical battle about a pass that Williams eventually caught by leaping over Brown. Also, Anthony Allen let a pass bounce off his hands and into those of cornerback Corey Graham. Safety Omar Brown broke up a slant pass and Anquan Boldin dropped an easy sideline pass.
- During the two-minute period, Ray Lewis quickly wrapped up Dennis Pitta after the latter made a catch, but Lewis fell off Pitta's body and appeared to favor his shoulder slightly for a few minutes afterward. Also, Dannell Ellerbe had trouble covering tight end Ed Dickson in the slot; a beautifully thrown ball from Flacco was snagged for a touchdown.
- Defensive lineman Bryan Hall head-slapped Yanda on a play during which Kindle intercepted a pass.
- Even there haven't been any on-field fights yet -- something many anticipate happening Saturday -- Birk and nose tackle Terrence Cody had some noticeable tension between them.
- The fans in attendance have been easily entertained. They let out a big cheer when Ray Lewis and Bernard Pollard merely jogged past them.
- Kickers Justin Tucker and Billy Cundiff each have not missed a kick during camp, but Tucker was given an opportunity to try a 57-yarder. His low line drive barely cleared the crossbar, but it could have been blocked during a real game.
- Majority owner Steve Bisciotti made his first on-field appearance of training camp.
- Wives and children of those serving at Aberdeen Proving Ground attended Friday's practice, as did soldiers involved with the Wounded Warrior Project.
OLD GUARD, NEW GUARD: Cincinnati free-agent left guard pickup Bobbie Williams may be turning 36 next month, but he's new to the Ravens.
But Williams is not new to an arduous work ethic. He started 118 games at one point for Cincinnati, where he played alongside Willie Anderson, another training-camp Baltimore signee in 2008.
But 2011 was a bit of a lost season for Williams, who missed four games due to a supsension for using performance-enhancing drugs. He then was put on injured reserve in December with a bad ankle.
After working with the Ravens through minicamp, Williams then put his nose to the grindstone and went to work, dropping about a dozen pounds and reporting to camp at a listed 345 pounds.
He is one of several Ravens that have reported to camp at a lighter weight, including inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has tried to gain weight and, subsequently, the power for which he has been known.
Williams will work at both guard spots, but is ostensibly the left-guard starter with an edge over a crowded field.
"I'm feeling good" Williams said at camp. "I'm running around. I have to thank [head certified athletic trainer] 'Smitty' [Mark Smith] and the training staff; they are taking good care of me and [offensive line] coach [Andy] Moeller, too, you know, working me in there at the right, getting a good work, and most importantly, getting the lingo down. It's been good thus far."
Earlier this week, head coach John Harbaugh said Williams had passed the conditioning test with flying colors and looked good.
Running back Ray Rice endorsed the Williams signing, while still expressing his disappointment at Ben Grubbs' departure.
"[Williams] has been in the league for a long time now," Rice said Wednesday. "We've scouted him, and we know we've got young guys, but it's good to know you have a veteran presence that can be in the mix.
"... I'm going to miss Ben Grubbs so much. He was one of the first guys that texted me when I got my deal done. We know the business side of it. I would have loved to have seen [Grubbs] stay."
BABY STEPS: When Joe Flacco is around his teammates, he can be an outgoing, funny guy, as opposed to the laid-back, monotone-driven type the public mainly sees.
But these days, he's undergoing a dichotomy that is the stuff of which TV sitcoms are made.
On the field, he's the rocket-armed football star trying to lead his team to a championship. Off it, he's the first-time father trying to learn the parenthood playbook.
Flacco has performed quite well at training camp despite missing two of three minicamp days to attend the birth of his son in New Jersey. The five-year veteran now has to deal simultaneously with midday heat and midnight feedings.
"It hasn't been bad," Flacco said. "My wife's been doing a great job. I've been sleeping, unless he's been crying too long, and I happen to wake up.
"But if I do happen to wake up, I try not to let anyone know."
While preparing for camp, Flacco probably wasn't prepared to feel those first-time pangs of absence, that feeling of regret a parent gets when he or she wants to be around the baby as much as humanly possible.
"It was definitely different leaving home this time, having him around," Flacco said. "You usually pack your bags up, and it's not too big of a deal. Sorry to my wife, but even when I just left her, it wasn't as big of a deal.
"But, to leave [both wife and son] behind, it was definitely a little big different, but it's not like he's not going to come back to me."
FOR THE BETTOR: The Casesars Entertainment sports book in Las Vegas has issued its odds chart regarding which running back is most likely to win the 2012 rushing title.
The Ravens' Ray Rice is the second choice in the betting at 9-2, just behind Houston's Arian Foster (7-2). But there are three things wrong with the chart.
First of all, the third choice on the list, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew (5-1), is a training-camp holdout and is not likely to get a new deal right away. When Tennessee's Chris Johnson was a holdout; he had a slow start and a disappointing season.
Maybe Jones-Drew is getting the benefit of the doubt after winning the rushing title last year with 1,606 yards. Rice was a distant second at 1,364.
Secondly, the only other running back besides Rice to get hit with the franchise tag, Chicago's Matt Forte, is at the bottom of the list as a 25-1 longshot. There are plenty of great backs ahead of him, but the versatile, elusive Forte deserves more respect than that.
It also seemed curious that a rookie on a bad team that hasn't had a single NFL carry as of yet, Cleveland's Trent Richardson, is listed at 12-1. Those were the same odds given to Oakland's Darren McFadden and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
Behind Foster, Rice and Jones-Drew, those that had the shortest odds on the Casesars list included Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy (8-1), San Diego's Ryan Mathews (9-1), Chris Johnson (10-1), Richardson, McFadden and Peterson (12-1), plus Kansas City's Jamaal Charles and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (15-1).
QUOTE OF THE DAY: In an NFL.com story detailing the Ravens' former outlaw reputation, as opposed to the team's makeover under John Harbaugh, the head coach eloquently drew a line in the sand between selfishness and arrogance.
"Individuality and personality are really important," Harbaugh said. "That's what America's built on -- rugged individualism. But we're not talking about selfishness. We're not talking about selfishness. We're not talking about self-promotion or self-glorification.
"That's the difference between the black hat and the white hat. The black hat is self-centered, self-oriented."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our last entry:
Curtis Martin, one of the most understated running backs to ever play in the league, will be one of six inductees in this year's Hall of Fame class next weekend.
Martin played for the New England Patriots and New York Jets right around the time the Ravens first came into the league. How many times did Martin play in Baltimore?
All told, Martin's teams played the Ravens five total times, three of them in Baltimore.
Moore gained more than 14,000 rushing yards during his career, but had only one game with more than 60 yards against the Ravens. That's probably a big reason why his teams went 1-4 against Baltimore during his time in the league.
In October 1996, Martin saw his first action against the Ravens during New England's 46-38 win at Memorial Stadium, the second-highest-scoring game in Ravens history. Martin gained just 52 yards on 20 carries during that game.
He didn't do much better (58, 23) two years later at Giants Stadium, when the Ravens traveled north and beat the Jets, 24-10.
In 2000, ex-Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde had a field day against a great Ravens defense at M&T Bank Stadium. But, despite catching eight passes, Martin's Christmas Eve consisted of just 47 yards on 18 rushes during the Jets' loss.
Four years later, Martin had a breakout game against Baltimore with 119 yards and two touchdowns. But the Ravens rallied to beat the Jets during overtime, 20-17.
But in 2005, which was otherwise a forgettable year for the Ravens, they did hold Martin to a paltry 30 yards during a 13-3 home win.
Posted July 27, 2012