For Once, Ravens' Offense Is Ahead Of The Defense
NOTEBOOK: MILITARY SALUTE; WIN TOTAL ODDS
By Joe Platania
A Ravens training camp in its early stages is usually similar to an Orioles late-February spring-training scenario. That is, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters.
The old saying goes, "Hitting is about timing, and pitching is about the disruption of that timing."
The same is particularly true with a football team that has a defensive-oriented tradition as strong as the Ravens'.
Prideful veterans usually show up in camp ready to defend their side of the ball, while the offense -- usually made up of pieces thrown together hither and yon in an effort to get better during the regular season -- struggles during the usually blast-furnace-like conditions of late July and early August.
As a result, the offense's timing is usually thrown off -- with this defense, more like thrown 50 feet into the air -- while the defensive pitchers continue to throw curveballs and changeups at the skill-position guys.
This year, things are definitely different.
"I thought the guys competed really well," head coach John Harbaugh said Monday afternoon. "Offense got the better of it today. The offense did a real nice job."
Those are words not usually heard at a Ravens practice, and they certainly haven't been uttered on a consistent basis -- at least, not this early during camp -- since the days when Vinny Testaverde was winging the ball downfield at will with targets such as Brian Kinchen, Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson on the receiving end of his passes.
Harbaugh did seem a bit perturbed as he said those words.
At one point Monday afternoon, he scolded a few players in the secondary -- according to most observers, the deepest and best part of the entire squad -- for letting a few deep balls get past them for completions.
Also, cornerback Cary Williams could be seen getting into an argument with wideouts Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss -- which almost led to the first on-field fight of camp -- although the true genesis of the dispute might not have anything to do with an on-field competitive situation.
The defensive malaise could be attributed to several factors.
First, quarterback Joe Flacco has been on point.
"I honestly cannot remember the last time Joe has had a bad practice," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Saturday.
Monday afternoon, on a deep sideline streak route to Jacoby Jones, Flacco put the ball perfectly in front of the former Houston Texan wideout. He caught it despite not getting much separation from cornerback Jimmy Smith, who did not look back for the ball.
It reminded a few practice-watchers of Flacco's Week One touchdown to Anquan Boldin against Pittsburgh last year, a tight-window throw that didn't look as if it had a chance of finding the receiver's hands.
Second, linebacker Terrell Suggs isn't around to bolster the pass rush, even though top draft pick Courtney Upshaw -- currently nursing a shoulder stinger -- has had a promising camp. Still, Flacco and the team's other quarterbacks have had plenty of time to throw the ball.
Third, the team's troublesome offensive-line situation could be settling down.
The first real problem area when camp opened was left guard, but 35-year-old Bobbie Williams brought a slimmer, quicker frame to Baltimore and has looked good. Also, Michael Oher's move to left tackle has been seamless, and at right tackle, two men who have earned public and private kudos have been second-round pick Kelechi Osemele and undrafted rookie Jack Cornell.
The latter, an Illinois product, came in for some unexpected publicity when majority owner Steve Bisciotti called a local radio talk show late last week and revealed that general manager Ozzie Newsome was impressed with Cornell.
As for Osemele, he has shown quicker-than-expected feet and good lateral movement as he continues to fight off any defender placed opposite him.
Also, it's important to remember that not even wayward left tackle Bryant McKinnie has been completely written off. McKinnie reported to camp Monday, but with a strained back, the result of a reported fall at his home. But Harbaugh has said the Ravens would use the best five players, with no qualification concerning McKinnie.
Fourth, the team's receiving corps -- long the team's sorest spot -- seems to have gotten deeper and faster, tight end Dennis Pitta's broken hand notwithstanding.
Possession-wise, the top "Z" (flanker, possession) wideouts are Boldin and Doss, but three good "X" (split end, deep) candidates have emerged in Jones, Torrey Smith and LaQuan Williams. It's hard to remember the last time five wideout candidates have been so easily identifiable before the calendar turned to August.
Indeed, because offensive-line depth will always be a concern, the team may keep only five wideouts, leaving such promising talents as Deonte Thompson and Dorian Graham on the practice squad or on the outside looking in.
"You are always looking for speed," Cameron said. "I think in this division, you always want speed, but if you get guys with speed and size, because of the nature of this division and some of the elements you play in late in the year, we are kind of looking for both, and we are getting guys that can really do both. We are getting size and speed now.
"But, I really think, I think we have some vertical guys since we have been here, but I think we have taken another step in the right direction.”
At least for now, it seems as if the entire offense has done just that.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: Today's question:
It comes as no surprise that the two active NFL quarterbacks with the highest postseason win percentage are both Super Bowl winners: Tom Brady (.750) and Ben Roethlisberger (.714).
But among active signal callers with at least eight playoff starts, who has the highest postseason win percentage among quarterbacks that have never won a Super Bowl?
The answer will be revealed at the bottom of Tuesday's post-practice entry.
MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY: A staple of the Ravens' Westminster era, the annual Military Appreciation Day observance is set for Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, in conjunction with the Ravens' 5 p.m. practice there.
More than 3,500 seats will be set aside for military personnel that present a valid ID, as well as their immediate family members. Military members are not required to be dressed in uniform, but are certainly encouraged to do so.
Military personnel are requested to enter the stadium through Section 113 and present their ID at that time.
Upon entering, the troops will get a specially designed Ravens military salute T-shirt, while family members will get hand-held American flags and a Ravens gift, of which supplies are limited.
Head coach John Harbaugh has been one of the organization's spearheads for this annual observance.
Harbaugh took a league-sponsored USO trip to the Middle East in 2009 and, along with Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, was named a finalist for the inaugural NFL "Salute To Service" Award last year.
FOR THE BETTOR: Our friends at the Bovada wagering Web site have chimed in with over/under win totals for all 32 NFL teams.
"With training camp starting up, we decided to open up our win totals, since most players have signed and will be reporting to camp," sports book manager Kevin Bradley said. "However, we will be keeping an eye on guys like Maurice Jones-Drew. This year we have two teams with very low win totals in the Browns and Jags and early money has already come in on the under 5 wins.
"I expect our biggest bet totals to be the Chicago Bears over 9.5 and the San Francisco 49ers over 10, as they have been our heaviest bet teams when it comes to Super Bowl odds."
Most national observers have the Ravens at 10 wins, because of their tougher schedule, the Terrell Suggs injury, the brutal AFC North Division and other factors.
Bovada is no different, putting even-money odds on the team surpassing 10 wins and a minus-130 number on the Ravens coming in with fewer than that.
But because the Pittsburgh Steelers are minus-115 to win more than 10 games, they are rated as being slightly better than Baltimore. Cincinnati is tabbed to come in with eight wins, while the Cleveland Browns are forecasted to have another 5-11 season.
Green Bay and New England have the highest projected win totals at 12 each and Cleveland, Jacksonville and Indianapolis are tied for the cellar at five. The Minnesota Vikings aren't far behind, slated for 5.5 wins.
Posted July 31, 2012