Notebook: Predicting The Ravens' 53-Man Active Roster
R. LEWIS, MCNAIR FEATURED; ANOTHER EX-RAVEN SIGNS WITH 'SKINS
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- This is usually the time of the week when this space would spotlight five players that need to do well during the next preseason game, in this case, the August finale against the St. Louis Rams (7 p.m., Thursday; WBAL-TV, Comcast SportsNet; WIYY-FM).
But once that game ends, the Ravens will have a mere 23 hours to decide the fate of 22 players that will need to be released before the league-mandated 9 p.m. deadline on Friday.
After that, those that get cut will be in limbo for at least 15 hours, as Baltimore cannot begin constructing its eight-man practice squad -- which could include players released frrom other teams -- until noon Saturday.
The first cutdown to 75 players, for the most part, was a mere formality as the Ravens cleared out their obvious non-impact players and placed their injured on season-ending injured reserve or the Physically Unable To Perform list.
But one transaction that resonated among the fans was the vested-veteran contract termination of three-year kicker Billy Cundiff, after undrafted rookie Justin Tucker outperformed him during the preseason and training camp.
But the time is soon coming when the Ravens will have to decide which 53 players will make up their Week One active roster. If a player is a part of that list for the Monday-night season opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 10, his salary is fully guaranteed for the season.
Because of that, the following projected list is certain to change a few more times during the next few weeks.
But if this roster prediction is 100 percent accurate, then it means the long hours of hard work under the hot sun during organized team activities and training camp will, at least for a while, have been worth it for the following players.
QUARTERBACKS (Two) -- Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
SKINNY: For the last few years, the Ravens have walked a tightrope by carrying only two quarterbacks. But, thanks to Flacco's durability, they feel more comfortable about it now; the team could possibly sign a young signal caller discarded by another team for the practice squad, but it would be no surprise if that didn't happen.
RUNNING BACKS (Three) -- Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Bobby Rainey
SKINNY: Even though the Ravens tend to keep their drafted players, partially to enhance their reputation in that department, they have had no problem discarding seventh-rounders such as Leland Taylor (1997) and Derek Abney (2003), among others. Anthony Allen was a seventh-rounder last year, but Pierce (a third-round pick) is a one-cut slasher who showed great flashes, while the diminutive Rainey could have a B.J. Sams-type special-teams impact.
FULLBACKS (One) -- Vonta Leach
SKINNY: In the opinion of many observers, Leach is simply the best in the league at his position.
WIDE RECEIVERS (Six) -- (Flankers) Anquan Boldin, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson (Split ends) Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, LaQuan Williams
SKINNY: Sixth-round rookie Tommy Streeter is raw and athletic, but not polished when it comes to running the tight routes necessary in the NFL; he could be a practice-squad player. The split-end corps is perhaps the fastest the Ravens have ever had, while Doss and Thompson have been reliable despite Doss' injuries and Thompson's inexperience. Jones will be the first option on both kick and punt returns.
TIGHT ENDS (Three) -- Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Billy Bajema
SKINNY: With Bajema's veteran savvy and the experienced, emerging duo in front of him, this is the Ravens' best tight-end trio since Todd Heap, Quinn Sypniewski and Daniel Wilcox in 2007.
OFFENSIVE LINE (10) -- (Starters) LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Bobbie Williams, C Matt Birk, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Michael Oher (Reserves) C/G Gino Gradkowski, G/T Kelechi Osemele, G/T Jah Reid, G/T Jack Cornell, T Ramon Harewood
SKINNY: Depth in any offensive line is important, but in the Ravens' case, youth is another factor that must come into play here. Oher is the youngest starter, with four years' experience, while the other four have played six or more years in the league. The undrafted Cornell is perhaps the biggest surprise here.
DEFENSIVE LINE (Seven) -- (Starters) DT Haloti Ngata, NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu, DE Pernell McPhee (Reserves) NT Terrence Cody, DE Arthur Jones, DE DeAngelo Tyson, DT Bryan Hall
SKINNY: The Ravens are going to need as many pass-rush options as they can get without Terrell Suggs on the field. Kemoeatu's weight loss helped him greatly during camp and McPhee got six sacks as a rookie. The bulk and quickness that Ngata, Cody and Jones bring to the line might be able to help against the run as well, an aspect of the Ravens' game that has not shown well during the preseason.
LINEBACKERS (Eight) -- (Outside starters) Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan (Inside starters) Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain (Outside reserves) Courtney Upshaw, Chavis Williams (Inside reserves) Brendon Ayanbadejo, Dannell Ellerbe
SKINNY: Perhaps the two biggest surprises here are McClellan's starter status and Williams making the roster. McClellan took advantage of Upshaw's lack of conditioning, while Williams has steadily improved himself since his rookie year and has taken the Jameel McClain-type stealth track to success. This was perhaps Sergio Kindle's last shot to stick as a Raven, and he just didn't stand out during camp or the preseason.
SECONDARY (10) -- (Starters) CB Lardarius Webb, CB Cary Williams, CB Jimmy Smith, FS Ed Reed, SS Bernard Pollard (Reserves) SS Sean Considine, FS Christian Thompson, SS Omar Brown, CB Corey Graham, CB Asa Jackson
SKINNY: With many opposing teams putting three and four wide receivers on the field at the same time and with safeties needing to add coverage skills to their resumes, it's imperative the Ravens keep up with the curve and add as many fast, young coverage men as they can. After all, 13 of the Ravens' 16 games will have them facing 11 quarterbacks (Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger twice each) that have combined for 38 Pro Bowl berths, 11 Super Bowl appearances and eight championships.
SPECIALISTS (Three) -- K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan Cox
SKINNY: If this list had been released before Sunday, would Tucker's name have been here? It's hard to say, but the job now belongs to the undrafted rookie with exceptional range, who produces a boom off his foot with every kick. Koch would have multiple Pro Bowls to his credit if Oakland's Shane Lechler wasn't around, and Cox has been hardly heard from except when playing bean-bag-toss against his teammates, and that's a good thing for a snapper.
TOTAL: 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players, three specialists
INFIRMARY: The Ravens' final practice before flying to St. Louis on Wednesday, a shorts-and-shells session, featured mostly sunny skies and breezy conditions.
It also featured the same six absent players as the Monday practice -- wideout Tommy Streeter (sprained foot), safety Sean Considine (concussion), linebackers Josh Bynes (cracked vertebrae) and Ricky Brown (unknown), guard Marshal Yanda (leg) and guard/tackle Jah Reid (calf).
Tackle Bryant McKinnie walked with a noticeable limp upon his arrival at the practice field, but he was taking active repetitions during the portion of practice open to the media.
Usually, the Ravens do not work out the day after a game, but could do so this week (Friday) once the team has made its final roster cuts, because they will not be on the field on Saturday or Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
Following the down time, the team will follow its regular-season schedule, with a formal head coach's press conference on Monday, a Tuesday off day and practices Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and possibly Saturday because of the Monday-night opener.
BALTIMORE'S 'FOOTBALL LIFE': When the second season of the NFL Network's acclaimed series "A Football Life" begins, there will be some familiar names on the list of those featured.
An hour-long edition spotlighting future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis will premiere on Sept. 19, a week after the Tim Tebow program kicks off the season.
Lewis was the first player to wear a microphone during every game for an entire season, so lots of that audio and video is sure to be used in that special.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 3, there will be a look at the 1995 Cleveland Browns team, the one that moved to Baltimore the following season.
That Browns team was coming off an 11-5 performance in 1994, which ended in the Divisional round of the playoffs, so big things were expected from a team that fielded future Ravens such as quarterback Vinny Testaverde, receiver Michael Jackson and guard Wally Williams, among many others.
Cleveland got off to a 3-1 start and still stood at a respectable 4-4 when news broke of their move to Baltimore. The team went 1-7 the rest of the way, winning only their final home game, against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Things got so bad in Cleveland that when the Browns had to play a game in San Diego in December of that year, they flew out to the West Coast on Wednesday -- two days earlier than planned -- to escape the media frenzy at home.
On Oct. 17, "A Football Life" will spotlight former Ravens and Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who was murdered July 4, 2009, in Nashville.
It was McNair, defying predictions and staying healthy all year, who led the Ravens to their best-ever regular-season record (13-3) in 2006.
During its first season, "A Football Life" profiled the likes of Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, New England head coach Bill Belichick and Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry.
CUNDIFF LANDS ON FEET: The Billy Cundiff odyssey is really not that much different than those endured by most kickers in NFL history.
Kickers are often the lowest-paid players on the team and are the league's most frequent bouncers, that is, they go from team to team more frequently because they are the first to be blamed for close losses and are often viewed as more easily disposable.
The usually unflappable Cundiff -- who the Washington Redskins signed on Tuesday morning -- must feel as if he's been through a few dumpsters by now, for 10 different teams have now employed him, in one form or another.
Cundiff's two longest stints in the NFL were with his first team, the Dallas Cowboys (2002-05), and with the Ravens (2009-12).
In between those stops, he had cups of coffee without playing in a regular-season game with Tampa Bay and Green Bay in 2006. He missed one kick -- a 51-yarder -- for New Orleans late in '06 before making three more stops where he didn't play: Atlanta in 2007, Kansas City in 2008 and Detroit in 2009.
Once cut by the Lions, Cundiff landed with the Cleveland Browns and got his first on-field kicks in regulation action in three years, playing in five games with the Browns before supplanting Steven Hauschka in Baltimore.
If nothing else, Cundiff's arrival in Washington -- a team the Ravens will play Dec. 9 at FedEx Field -- means that at least he's going to a place where former Ravens specialists get a fair chance to compete.
Former Baltimore training-camp punter Derrick Frost was a Redskin for a short while several years ago, and ex-Ravens kickers Shayne Graham and Graham Gano -- whom Cundiff is replacing -- have also worn the burgundy and gold.
But Cundiff and Redskins fans alike should heed this warning: last year, Washington opponents blocked an NFL-high five field-goal tries, four of them between 23 and 36 yards.
QUOTE OF THE DAY I: Despite being an NFL rookie, new Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has kicked in front of huge crowds at the University of Texas and in the Big 12 Conference.
That's probably why he was measured, focused and eloquent during his first media session upon his ascension to his new job. It's also why he could always respond to adversity while with the Longhorns, where he was a punter as well as a kicker.
"There was a time when I had ... a 6-yard punt, left-footed, and that wasn't very good," Tucker said. "The next punt I had was 45 [yards], fair catch and a net of 45.
"That's just part of the duality of being a specialist, coming back from the highs and the lows with the same attitude."
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: With fantasy football drafts underway, Pro Football Weekly fantasy specialist Pat Fitzmaurice had an interesting take on a productive receiver:
"[The] most consistently undervalued guy in drafts I've seen is [Ravens wide receiver Anquan] Boldin. People seem bored with him. Not hard to envision a boring 1,000-yard year."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our previous entry:
With Justin Tucker having won the kicking job, he becomes the latest undrafted free agent to make the Ravens' roster during his rookie year. But he is not the first University of Texas alumnus to make the team in this fashion.
Who was the first undrafted player from Texas to make an impact in Baltimore?
As much as we try to make our questions as challenging as possible, for Ravens fans, this has to be one of the easiest we've ever run.
During the early days of the team, when it couldn't quite figure out who would be its stalwart running back, it went through a troubled Bam Morris, a verbose Errict Rhett, an aging Earnest Byner and a tentative Leroy Hoard.
But before Jamal Lewis came along, the one that took the bull by the horns first was none other than Texas grad Priest Holmes, he of the bright smile and even brighter flashes of speed.
In 1998, Holmes helped christen the facility now known as M&T Bank Stadium by being the Ray Rice of his day, rushing for 1,008 yards -- the first 1,000-yard season in Ravens history -- scoring seven touchdowns and leading the team with 43 catches.
All told, during four years with the team, Holmes rushed for a then-franchise record 2,102 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and scoring 10 times.
Holmes won a Super Bowl ring as a backup during his final year in Baltimore. He moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he became the league's Offensive Player of the Year in 2002.
Posted Aug. 28, 2012