Changes Evident On Latest Ravens' Depth Chart
NOTEBOOK: BIRK AN AWARD FINALIST; SUPER BOWL ODDS
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- One preseason game and most of training camp has not radically changed the look of the Ravens' depth chart as far as the first string is concerned.
But there are a few significant changes when it comes to the players providing depth on the second- and third-string units. The team released its latest chart in advance of Friday's preseason home opener against the Detroit Lions (8 p.m.; WBFF-TV; WIYY-FM).
Offensively, the chart below -- which reflects PressBox projections, not necessarily those of the Ravens organization -- shows how highly the team thinks of former Poly and Maryland star LaQuan Williams, the likely fourth wide-receiving choice at this point.
Williams is officially listed as the third-string "Z" (flanker), but he's too fast to be a mere possession guy; on our chart, we have him as the third "X" (split end), even though that spot is officially assigned to Devin Goda at present.
Elsewhere among the skill positions, the oft-injured Tandon Doss is still listed as the second-string "Z," because of his steady hands. Last year's fourth-round draft pick, who returned to the practice field Monday, can certainly catch the ball despite hamstring issues have bothered him throughout camp.
Also, the backup-running back competition has been bouncing back and forth by default.
Anthony Allen, the leader when training camp began, has opened a few eyes as a prospective kickoff returner, which has helped him get the edge against Damien Berry and the hobbled Bernard Pierce. But if scatback Bobby Rainey has another good preseason game, he could rocket up the chart quickly.
Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have been and will remain the top two tight ends, despite their respective shoulder and hand injuries, so even though the team lists Davon Drew as the third-stringer, we feel Billy Bajema has the lead for what could be the final roster spot at this position.
Up front, Bryant McKinnie is the team's choice at first-string left tackle, despite his back injury and weight troubles. He re-assumed that position in Monday's practice, even though Harbaugh likes to rotate as many people through as possible.
McKinnie did say after the Annapolis practice that his weight was heading south, even though a combination of Michael Oher at left and hard-working, impressive rookie Kelechi Osemele at right gives the team youth and depth.
Plus, if the team's chart holds up and Osemele is the second-string right tackle, that would leave the untested Ramon Harewood as McKinnie's left-side backup, which is a huge question mark.
At guard, Bobbie Williams and Marshal Yanda is the likely pairing, with Jah Reid and Tony Wragge as their respective backups. Matt Birk will return to the starting center spot, but Gino Gradkowski has gotten many valuable repetitions with Birk's limited practice schedule.
Reid's return to the practice field helped give Harbaugh yet another option.
"We're going to look at him at both guard and tackle," the coach said of Reid.
The defensive end spot has been a battle between two injured players, Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee. They were both practicing again before McPhee's Monday absence, but despite McPhee's six sacks last year, Jones' experience gives him the coaches' edge.
An unexpectedly heated battle has developed between Terrence Cody and Ma'ake Kemoeatu at nose tackle. Yet another Raven that has lost a lot of weight during recent years (70 pounds), Kemo is using his decade's worth of NFL experience, including four years as a Raven from 2002-05, to push Cody.
At defensive tackle, Haloti Ngata is the undisputed starter, but the constant hustle and pocket-pushing presence of Bryan Hall have helped him become a real threat to make the team, Ryan McBean's broken ankle notwithstanding.
"[Both DeAngelo Tyson and Hall] have stood out the last couple of days," head coach John Harbaugh said. "[Hall] has that personality, too. He'll be an entertainer when he's done with football."
The two edge linebackers will line up at either side; the team likes Courtney Upshaw at rush and Paul Kruger at "Sam" (strong-side), but they are interchangeable. Albert McClellan can back up either one.
Inside, Brendon Ayanbadejo has been moved slightly from Ray Lewis' "Mike" backup to the "Will" second-stringer behind Jameel McClain. Dannell Ellerbe gets Ayanbadejo's old spot, but the real news here is that late signees and ex-Oakland Raiders Darryl Blackstock and Ricky Brown are the third-stringers, making for a deep, experienced group.
In the back end, the Ravens list Cary Williams as a starting corner, probably because of Jimmy Smith's back troubles. Our chart, for the second straight time, has Smith leading the way to start opposite Lardarius Webb, with Corey Graham making enough of an impact in coverage to back up at both spots.
Sean Considine has not been shy about mixing things up on the practice field, so he looks to be a perfect strong-safety backup to Bernard Pollard at this point. Meanwhile, rookie fifth-round draft choice Christian Thompson still lines up as Ed Reed's free reserve, even though the team puts Emanuel Cook in that role on the depth sheet.
In the return game, Jacoby Jones has predictably taken over both kick and punt runback jobs, but with Asa Jackson's injuries and fumbling problems, Lardarius Webb is still the main punt-return backup. The team would like to reverse the two latter players as soon as possible.
Overall, the roster breakdown now looks like this:
Four quarterbacks, five running backs, one fullback, 12 wide receivers (six flankers, six split ends), 16 offensive linemen, six tight ends, 11 defensive linemen, 15 linebackers (eight inside, seven outside), 15 defensive backs (eight corners, seven safeties), one punter, two kickers and two long snappers.
All told, there are 44 offensive players on the 90-man roster and 41 defensive players, along with five specialists.
Here is how we see the Ravens' on-field hierarchy at this point:
RAVENS' UNOFFICIAL 2012 DEPTH CHART
LT: Bryant McKinnie, Ramon Harewood, Addison Lawrence
LG: Bobbie Williams, Jah Reid, Cordaro Howard
C: Matt Birk, Gino Gradkowski, Justin Boren
RG: Marshal Yanda, Tony Wragge, Antoine McClain
RT: Michael Oher, Kelechi Osemele, Jack Cornell
TE: Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Billy Bajema
QB: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Curtis Painter
FB: Vonta Leach
RB: Ray Rice, Anthony Allen, Damien Berry
WR (X): Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, LaQuan Williams
WR (Z): Anquan Boldin, Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams
X - denotes split end, or downfield/speed receiver
Z - denotes flanker, or possession receiver
DE: Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, DeAngelo Tyson
NT: Terrence Cody, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste
DT: Haloti Ngata, Bryan Hall, Ishmaa'ily Kitchen
Rush: Courtney Upshaw, Sergio Kindle, Chavis Williams
Will: Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Darryl Blackstock
Mike: Ray Lewis, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Ricky Brown
Sam: Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan, Sergio Kindle
CB: Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham, Chykie Brown
SS: Bernard Pollard, Sean Considine, Emanuel Cook
FS: Ed Reed, Christian Thompson, Emanuel Cook
CB: Jimmy Smith, Cary Williams, Corey Graham
P: Sam Koch, Justin Tucker
K: Billy Cundiff, Justin Tucker
KO: Billy Cundiff, Sam Koch
H: Sam Koch
LS: Morgan Cox, Patrick Scales
KR: Jacoby Jones, Anthony Allen, Damien Berry
PR: Jacoby Jones, Lardarius Webb, Asa Jackson
INFIRMARY: The team's injury list dwindled a bit more on Monday with the return to practice of wideout Tandon Doss (hamstring), cornerback Chykie Brown (hamstring) and guard/tackle Jah Reid (calf), the latter coming from the Physically Unable To Perform list.
But the incumbent starter at left guard, former Cincinnati Bengal free agent Bobbie Williams, will get two days' rest, because his ankle has swollen.
Also new to the absentee list were wideout Devin Goda (unknown), defensive end Pernell McPhee (knee) and wideout/return specialist Jacoby Jones (leg), who appeared uncomfortable toward the end of Sunday's practice.
As for the team's other missing players, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (knee) was back on the field after leaving the Annapolis practice early.
Also, cornerback Asa Jackson (hamstring), linebackers Darryl Blackstock (groin) and Josh Bynes (chipped vertebrae), tight ends Dennis Pitta (broken hand) and Ed Dickson (sprained shoulder) and defensive lineman Ryan McBean (broken ankle) were out.
For Bynes, it was his ninth straight session away from the field, and the fourth in a row for Blackstock.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles surgery) remains on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, while progress has still been rather slow for the one player left on the PUP sheet, wideout David Reed (ACL surgery).
PRACTICE REPORT: Monday was perhaps the most pleasant day of training camp so far, as sunny skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-80s were the order of the day as the team returned to the Under Armour Performance Center one day after its Annapolis practice.
Even though training-camp mode ends on Wednesday, the third stadium-style practice is set for 3:30 p.m. this Sunday at Stevenson University. The free tickets for this session have already been distributed via an online lottery. Gates open at 2:30 p.m.
A few highlights from Monday's shorts-and-shells session, which spotlighted third-down and red-zone situations:
- The fans were entertained by a drill that tested linebackers' coverage skills against pass-catching running backs and tight ends. Chavis Williams broke up a pass intended for Bruce Figgins, and Albert McClellan was covering when Davon Drew suffered yet another drop. But Matt Balasavage put on a nice double-move and beat Courtney Upshaw to the outside.
- Perhaps the most entertaining sequence from that drill took place between McClellan and Figgins. McClellan jammed Figgins hard at the line and ended up tipping the pass intended for the rookie tight end. But Figgins dove and caught the ball anyway.
- On the first two plays of full-team drills, there was trouble for the offense. A Joe Flacco pass bounced off Anquan Boldin's hands and was intercepted by Sean Considine, and Matt Balasavage dropped another pass that was nearly picked off by Brendon Ayanbadejo.
- A long pass downfield for Tommy Streeter was well-defended by Cary Williams. Despite his height advantage, Streeter could not reach over Williams enough to make the play.
- Boldin's smooth streak route down the left sideline resulted in a nice catch behind Jimmy Smith.
- Lardarius Webb intercepted a pass during an earlier team drill and, in fine Ravens tradition, lateraled the ball to Williams. Webb dropped another interception as he dove in front of Deonte Thompson.
- Defensive end Arthur Jones broke into the backfield and would have leveled Ray Rice -- as Haloti Ngata did Sunday in Annapolis -- if the play had been live.
- Backup tackle Ramon Harewood took care of an onrushing Sergio Kindle by putting him on his back.
- New returnee Jah Reid stayed with DeAngelo Tyson's rush on a quarterback rollout and kept him from getting close to the passer.
- Billy Cundiff missed two short field goals early during the kicking period, and both he and Justin Tucker were off from 52 yards. But Tucker closed practice with a strong 52-yarder.
- At the Westminster camps, Harbaugh -- a former special teams coordinator -- would often run downfield with his players on coverage. Monday, he took a few repetitions at cornerback. "I felt embarrassed," he said with a smile.
- New additions to the music playlist included the "Rocky" theme, Eric Burdon and War, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Flo Rida.
BIRK HONORED AGAIN: Even though center Matt Birk has spent only three years as as Raven, his tireless community efforts are well-known around town.
Those efforts helped him become the latest in a slew of NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winners with area ties, along with Johnny Unitas and former Maryland players Boomer Esiason and Madieu Williams, among others.
Birk was also one of five finalists for this year's Arthur Arkush Humanitarian Award winner, given by the Arkush family, the founders of Pro Football Weekly magazine.
This time around, Birk did not take the top prize. But it did go to another deserving person, Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald.
Among other ventures, Fitzgerald traveled with former teammate and current Ravens wideout Anquan Boldin to Africa to explore the possibility of acquiring hearing aids for deaf children on that continent, a dream that has indeed come true.
Fitzgerald has also done plenty of work on behalf of those with the HIV virus, as well as AIDS, breast cancer and other health problems.
Other finalists for the award included Birk and Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
Teams could also nominate a player from their own team, and some of the more recognizable names on that list included San Francisco tight end and ex-Maryland standout Vernon Davis and former Heisman Trophy winner and Miami running back Reggie Bush.
FOR THE BETTOR: Our annual season-long predictions will be coming in this space in just a couple of weeks, but Vegas bookmakers have been on top of that sort of thing for the entire offseason.
According to Bovada, the Ravens are tied for having the ninth-shortest odds toward winning Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
Baltimore is in a group of teams for which you can get 18-1 odds if you lay your money on them right now, the others being New Orleans, the defending champion New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys.
Around the AFC North Division, Pittsburgh is tied with Chicago and Denver for sixth-favorite status at 16-1. The Cincinnati Bengals are currently fetching 40-1 odds while the Cleveland Browns are the predictable longshot at 150-1.
At the top of the board are the Green Bay Packers (6-1) and New England Patriots (13-2), followed closely by head coach Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers (10-1) and a tie between the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles (12-1).
The longest shot on the board is the Jacksonville Jaguars, at 200-1.
As far as the AFC Championship Game is concerned, the Patriots are at 3-1; with Houston at 11-2; followed by Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Denver at 7-1.
The AFC North odds are razor thin, with Pittsburgh the 5-4 favorite, followed by the Ravens at 13-10, Cincinnati at 4-1 and the cellar-dwelling Browns at 20-1.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: As a nod to the team's release of its latest depth chart -- and our own version of it as well -- we point to Harbaugh's recent malaprop concerning the various rise and fall of players during training camp.
"The guys were joking because I meant to say, 'The cream rises to the top,' and I said, 'The cream rises to the crop,' " an embarrassed Harbaugh said. "The cream of the crop rises to the top. ... OK, something like that.
"I told them: 'You know what I meant. Go with what I meant, not what I said.'"
(Our twice-daily entries, complete with a pair of new Joey P's Trivia Time questions, will resume Tuesday and Wednesday.)
Posted Aug. 13, 2012