Five Ravens To Watch Friday Night Against Detroit
NOTEBOOK: ENTIRE O-LINE TOGETHER; TWO FIGHTS AT PRACTICE
By Joe Platania
(Join us on the Ravens Report blog Friday night for a full-game recap of the Lions-Ravens preseason matchup, as well as our "Leftovers" on Saturday morning.)
OWINGS MILLS -- When the team from the Motor City visits the Ravens on Friday night, it will be time for many on the home side to step on the gas.
The game against the Detroit Lions (8 p.m.; WBFF-TV; WIYY-FM), the Ravens' second of the preseason, will provide yet another opportunity for younger players to show their wares as they try to make the 53-man active roster.
But at this point, it's not so much about simply making the team as it is being a real part of it.
Greater cohesion, tempo and continuity will be the orders of the evening as the Ravens' first units try to recover from their less-than-stellar showing during last Thursday's 31-17 win at Atlanta, a victory driven mostly by the second- and third-stringers.
Those players that helped forge the win can't rest on their laurels, either. They have to prove they can be counted on if any of the front-liners become plagued by injury or underachievement.
On top of everything else, it will be the first time Baltimore fans get to see the team in a real home-game situation following last season's AFC Championship loss in New England, a defeat that still deeply resonates within this organization, despite attempts to downplay it.
With that backdrop, here are five players for whom the Detroit game is vital to their future success -- indeed, their future status -- as Ravens:
1. WR DEONTE THOMPSON
It seems strange to say it, but wide receiver -- a slot that has been riddled with bad draft choices and weak free-agent signings through the years -- is one of the more robust position units on the team these days. Thompson, a 6-foot, 200-pounder from the speedy, always-contending University of Florida program, runs good routes and makes solid catches away from his body. After one preseason game, he is the co-team leader in receptions with three, but he'll have to piggyback his Atlanta performance with another good one, because he is currently fighting with Tommy Streeter, Tandon Doss and Logan Payne for the last spot or two on the roster.
2. T JACK CORNELL
Early during training camp, Ravens majority owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome singled out Cornell, who went undrafted out of Illinois, for public praise. But he faces a tough uphill battle at right tackle, what with the team having to make a crucial decision about whether Michael Oher or rookie Kelechi Osemele starts there. Cornell would benefit most if Osemele gets the nod and Oher goes back to the left side, with Bryant McKinnie demoted. But with McKinnie re-assuming his first-team role this week, that has created a chain reaction where Cornell has seemingly become a forgotten man in the tackle rotation.
3. K BILLY CUNDIFF
Throughout the spring practice season as well as training camp, the conventional wisdom was that Cundiff's contract, experience level and kickoff distance proficiency gave him big edges in the kicking battle against upstart Justin Tucker. But Cundiff's misses have added up during the course of the last few weeks; he has failed to convert 17 kicks, while Tucker has just five total misses. The Atlanta game didn't really separate the two, so with a Ravens fan base watching him in person Friday night -- and sure to be reminding him of his late-game New England miss -- Cundiff has to come through.
4. DT BRYAN HALL
Hall has already won the team's unofficial award for having the biggest mouth. It was a necessity for him growing up with four siblings and being taught well by a mother who was one of 15 kids. But so far, Hall has walked the walk as well, getting good pocket penetration and flowing well to the point of attack on running plays; head coach John Harbaugh also singled him out as having stepped it up even more in practice during the last several days. An undrafted free agent from Arkansas State, Hall won't even turn 24 until just after the season starts.
5. QB CURTIS PAINTER
It's been a few years since the Ravens made the decision to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man active roster, but this season might signal a return to that practice. Tyrod Taylor's versatility and field awareness could lead to him getting an expanded role in the offense, and that could open the door for Painter to land the third-string job. Painter has three years' experience in the NFL, including 11 games with eight starts. That's not much more than Taylor, but at least he got the chance to show off his skills during the Atlanta game, where he threw three second-half touchdown passes and did well against lower-level defensive substitutes.
INFIRMARY: Because it was the Ravens' last day of training-camp mode, the return of left guard Bobbie Williams (swollen ankle) meant that every offensive lineman on the roster was participating on the same day for the first and last time in camp.
At least for Wednesday, it meant that the first unit comprised Williams and Marshal Yanda at guard, Matt Birk at center and Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele at the tackles. For the day, Bryant McKinnie was running with the second unit.
Along with Williams, two other Ravens came back to the practice field, wideout Jacoby Jones (unknown) and free safety Ed Reed (unknown). But cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has been fighting back problems during camp, slowly walked off the field with a trainer about three-quarters of the way through practice.
Missing practice for the 12th straight session were linebacker Josh Bynes (cracked vertebrae) and tight end Dennis Pitta (broken hand). Linebacker Darryl Blackstock (groin) was out for a seventh straight day, tight end Ed Dickson (shoulder) missed a fifth straight workout and receiver Devin Goda (unknown) was out for a third straight day.
Defensive lineman Ryan McBean (broken ankle) was also out, as was wide receiver Torrey Smith (twisted ankle).
As usual, wideout David Reed (knee surgery) stayed on the Physically Unable To Perform list, while linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon surgery) remains on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury sheet.
A FRISKY PRACTICE: During the final day of the team's training-camp mode -- the last day that the normal 200-strong fan contingent would be allowed inside the Under Armour Performance Center grounds -- the weather turned cloudy and humid, with a light shower falling as the practice began.
Here are a few highlights from the Wednesday afternoon session:
- The practice featured two occurrences that have been rare in Ravens' workouts this year. One was the first real fight of camp after lots of staredowns and trash-talk; defensive lineman Arthur Jones could be seen swinging at a prone Gino Gradkowski. Behind that pile was another tussle between guard/tackle Jah Reid and several defensive backs,most notably Bernard Pollard. But when the linemen got together later for one-on-one drills, there was no further outward conflict.
- The second rarity took place at the end of practice, which came roughly 45 minutes earlier than scheduled. Left tackle Michael Oher and nose tackle Terrence Cody each had to stand back deep against the goal line and catch 50-plus-yard rainbow punts from Sam Koch. Both pulled it off, although Cody juggled his slightly.
- It doesn't matter which target Joe Flacco is aiming for these days, he is firing the ball with confidence. Early during the first team period, he picked out tight end Billy Bajema with a dart over the middle in the end zone.
- Cornerback Corey Graham flowed into the backfield and tagged Bernard Pierce for a big loss. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata did the same to Flacco later during the practice.
- Before he left practice, cornerback Jimmy Smith leaped high with wideout Tommy Streeter for an end-zone pass. The ball hit the hands of both players before falling incomplete.
- Linebacker Albert McClellan got into the pass pocket unblocked and tagged Tyrod Taylor for a sack.
- Numerous penalties again dotted the session, including two false starts and an illegal formation penalty when a receiver didn't line up properly. Also, cornerback Chykie Brown was flagged for interfering with Streeter downfield.
- Backup tackle Ramon Harewood showed great hustle on a Taylor rollout, going backward to keep Chavis Williams away from the quarterback.
- Anquan Boldin made a fine diving catch over the middle just before Stevie Baggs would have come into the picture to either hit Boldin or intercept the ball.
- Billy Cundiff hit the right goalpost from 52 yards and was wide right from 56, but Justin Tucker went a perfect 5-for-5 during the early kicking period.
- A few children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation attended camp and got to spend time with Ray Lewis, who was smiling broadly as he greeted them. Several police veterans and their families were also present.
- With Friday's game airing on Fox, the broadcast team of ex-Ravens head coach Brian Billick and play-by-play man Thom Brennaman was at practice, as was Fox insider Jay Glazer. Also, former Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary made an appearance at camp.
- New additions to the music playlist included Led Zeppelin.
FOE FRONT: Last year, the Ravens committed 92 regular-season penalties, the third-lowest single-season total in history and just three more than their all-time low (89 in 2001).
But their opponents this week, the Detroit Lions, advanced to their first postseason since 1999 despite getting flagged for 128 accepted infractions, third most in the league. That added up to 1,075 penalty yards, the NFL's second-highest total.
By far, Oakland led the league in both categories with 163 penalties for 1,358 yards.
The Lions' intensity and overaggressive play could be for several reasons:
- The passion that Mount Saint Joseph's grad and head coach Jim Schwartz shows for the game (witness his postgame handshake with San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh last year, which led to a shoving match).
- The overwhelming desire for the Lions to end their long playoff drought and give their economically battered city something in which to have faith.
- The willingness of Schwartz and the Lions to accept the reputation as penalty prone if it's going to lead to a few more wins. In the case of the 2011 season, it did.
"The emphasis is to win the game," Schwartz said earlier this week. "As much as we took a beating over penalties last year, I'd much rather win the game and explain 10 penalties than lose the game and try to take solace in the fact that we only had one penalty."
Last week, the Atlanta Falcons committed 10 penalties against the Ravens; that, in addition to replacement officials, led to a three-hour, 31-minute game. If Detroit hasn't cleaned up its act, it could be a late Friday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
QUOTE OF THE DAY I: When Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees held the same job in New England,he was responsible for stopping then-Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning during a time when the Colts-Patriots rivalry was at its white-hot best.
"I used to walk around the field and I used to stop down there and Manning would always come out early with [former Colts wide receiver Marvin] Harrison and [Colts wide receiver Reggie] Wayne," Pees said. "And [Manning] would sit there and throw balls, and those guys would catch the ball over the white line on the sideline like this (outstretching his arms below his waist).
"I just kept looking and going, 'How do you defend that?' Because you can't stand out of bounds and knock it down. Sometimes, that's going to happen. The key thing though, anytime you play in the secondary, you just have to forget it and go on. Sometimes those guys are going to make some plays."
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: During an online chat with fans, Harbaugh was asked about the ultra-competitive nature of the arm-wrestling rivalry with his brother, Jim, the San Francisco head coach and former Ravens quarterback:
"We've had a lot of them over the years," Harbaugh said. "I think we split, basically. He's got a little bit longer arms than I do because he's a bigger guy. But I've done more lifting over the years. So it's leverage over straight strength.
"I can out-lift him, I can tell you that. I beat him in golf last time, too, just for the record."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our previous entry:
After one game, it's not unusual to see previously obscure names leading any given preseason statistical category. For example, Deonte Thompson and Bobby Rainey are among the Ravens' co-leaders in receptions, with three each.
Can you remember who led the Ravens in receptions during the 2011 preseason? (HINT: He made a major contribution much later during the season.)
It would be no big deal if you couldn't come up with the answer to this one, because 22 different players caught at least one pass during last year's August schedule.
But because the Ravens were still searching for a tight end to replace Todd Heap, it should come as no shock that two of the top four pass-catchers during the 2011 preseason were tight ends. The leader of that group, with eight catches and a 12-yard average, was NFL veteran Kris Wilson.
Wilson was an unrestricted free-agent pickup from the San Diego Chargers, who gave the Ravens depth and a veteran presence at tight end after Heap was one of several veterans released once the lockout ended and the league year -- complete with the free-agent signing and trading period -- began.
Once the regular season got under way, Wilson meandered quietly through the campaign, making just four special-teams tackles and not catching a single pass. In fact, Wilson was de-activated for a midseason game at Pittsburgh, indicative of his relative lack of contributions.
But when the Houston Texans visited Baltimore for the Divisional Playoff game, Wilson finally got a chance to shine.
After Jacoby Jones fumbled away a punt that set up the Ravens at the Texans' 2, two running plays went nowhere. Then, Wilson lined up on the right side of the set and found a seam in the end zone before catching a 1-yard touchdown pass for the team's first score of the day.
Posted Aug. 15, 2012