Monday, April 28, 2008

Flacco Drops Back to Pass

Well it didn't take long for Joe Flacco to take the reigns of the Ravens quarterback position, at least according to the techies at EA Sports. With Leather has screen shots from Madden '09 of many of the top draft picks from this weekend's draft. Among the photos is a shot of Flacco calmly dropping back to pass at M&T Bank Stadium and perhaps a sign of things to come, a preview of the Cincinnati Bengal's top pick, Keith Rivers, sacking Kyle Boller in the snow. Unless the Charm City receives some unseasonably cold weather week 1, this would have to be a prediction for their November 30th match-up in Cinncy. Which begs the question, is Joe Flacco truly the QB of the future (i.e. 2009)?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Refresh Your Memory

Memories are not written in pencil. They cannot be erased.

They can be ignored. Selectively misremembered. And over time, even forgotten. But just four months removed from the final snaps of 2007, the memories of a 5-11 season should still have been fresh in the minds of RavensNation: the Phil Dawson double-doink; the Patriots 4th and forever; the Dolphin disaster. All marquee moments for all the wrong reasons that should have been stewing and simmering in their subconscious all winter long. But judging by the thousands of Ravens faithful that made their way to M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday for the 11th Annual Spring Football Festival, I have a feeling they forgot. Or maybe misremembered.

From the moment the gates opened at 2:00, fans of all ages raced through the concourse, seemingly sprinting away from all of the perils the men in purple faced last year, reaching out for what lies ahead for the Ravens in 2008. Children ran towards the field for a rare chance to punt, pass and kick on the same surface they now shared with their gridiron heroes. Adults ran towards the various autograph areas to be the first in line to meet the men they root for; not only to have them sign their memorabilia, but in many cases, to simply shake their hand and wish them luck this year.

As a Spring Football Festival Volunteer, I had the honor of escorting one of the Ravens in attendance to his various appearances and autograph sessions. I choose to chauffer Adam Terry, a fellow Orange alum, who was scheduled to sign and make a stop in to see those fans giving blood as part of a blood drive for the Red Cross. Luckily for me, Terry arrived early and we had some time to relax. And if you had the choice of anywhere in the stadium to kick up your feet for a few minutes, where would you choose? The owner’s suite of course.

The players were granted access to Steve Biscotti’s suite on Saturday and when I arrived, I found myself watching the NFL Draft coverage with a few guys who knew a thing or two about being drafted on day one: Todd Heap and Willis McGahee. Of course Matt Stover was there too and he jokingly told Heap and McGahee that he was just three picks short of earning the title, Mr. Irrelevant, given to the guy drafted last each year. I think Matt turned out okay for a 12th rounder.

Once the Ravens in the room realized the Ravens in Owings Mills were going to trade down from their 8th pick, Terry and I headed to the autograph zone where he was joined by Lee Vickers. Terry, an offensive lineman, joked to Vickers, a back-up tight end, “You’ll get three fans, I’ll get six.” As it turns out, they both signed more than a hundred signatures in varying shades of sharpie on items ranging from helmets and footballs to license plates, pennants and even t-shirts people were still wearing. A few fans also had jerseys for the guys to sign, although surprisingly none were their jerseys. The collection included a vintage Vinny Testaverde, a purple Kelly Gregg and even a pink Todd Heap.

The fans filing through also had time to take photos and talk it up with the guys behind the table. Among the conversations Terry tackled was one with a young boy who had Terry sign his football, only to ask, “Who’s that?” as he pointed at the freshly minted signature in black sharpie. Terry responded, “That’s Adam Terry right there. You don’t know who he is.” Terry added with a smile, “But you will.”

Speaking of guys you may not know (yet), Saturday’s festivities revolved around another cause for renewed optimism as the Draft was in full swing as fans roamed the stadium. The topic of the day appeared to be the potential of a new quarterback coming to the Charm City. And in a conversation I overheard while waiting in line for hot dogs confirmed, Ravens fans have a way with moving on:

Hot Dog Line Guy #1 – “Looks like [Matt] Ryan’s going to Atlanta.”
Hot Dog Line Guy #2 – “Is that confirmed?”
Hot Dog Line Guy #1 – “It’s what they’re reporting.”
Hot Dog Line Guy #2 – “ Okay…[Joe] Flacco then, right?”
Hot Dog Line Guy #1 – “Yea, you don’t want to pay that much money to a quarterback anyway.”

Just like that. It took 3 ellipses (…) to forget about one potential face of the franchise and start rooting for a slightly taller one, with some logic thrown in. Of course Ryan would be taken by Atlanta with the 3rd pick in the draft, evoking a chorus of “Boos!” and “No’s!” on the club level, and eventually Flacco was picked by Baltimore, which received cheers across the stadium and most likely made the hot dog guys feel pretty good too.

Although the draft dominated the SmartVision video, additional performers on Saturday included Baltimore’s Marching Ravens, the Ravens Cheerleading squad and the Ravens Playmakers, all of whom drew their fair share of crowds and onlookers. It’s worth noting that the fans who flocked to meet and greet the women who root for the Ravens included men, women and most of all, children.

The kids out on the field, however, provided their own entertainment. At one drill, kids practiced passing routes: out-routes, curls and apparently, ‘twists’. This was typically the result of a boy or girl running too fast for their own feet as they routinely performed full 360-degree rotations when they tried to stop themselves and turn to catch the ball. Another tactic that proved entertaining, if not effective, was performed by one boy who was no taller than the waist of the SFF Volunteer throwing the passes. The boy sprinted to a spot downfield, turned and almost begging for the ball, held up his outstretched arms. The problem, unfortunately, was when the ball flew towards him, the arms stayed straight, resulting in a bounce off the chest, up in the air, and down to the ground. But fitting for a Ravens fan, even a young one, the memory faded fast as he sprinted back to the sideline with a smile.

For RavensNation, the dawn of spring allows us to not only refresh our memories, but to replace them. Let’s hope this year’s are written in sharpie.

2008 NFL Draft Blog - Live

Okay, I'm a little late to the party as I spent all of day 1 of the 2008 NFL Draft working for the Ravens at their 11th Annual Spring Football Festival. I may have missed the chance to blog the big picks live, but I did get to watch some of the coverage in Steve Biscotti's suite alongside Willis McGahee, Todd Heap, Matt Stover and Adam Terry. So don't feel too bad for me. (Editor's Note: My SFF recap will be posted in the next day or two.)

I'll recap the first two picks quick and I'll try to add links and video throughout the day:

1. Joe Flacco - QB, Delaware (Rd 1, No. 18)
The Ravens rumors went back and forth as the draft began, with Sal Pal reporting that Baltimore was looking to trade up to #2 to get Matt Ryan. Apparently the Rams wanted too much and the Ravens decided to move down the line instead, trading with the Jaguars and settling into the 26 slot. But that wasn't enough as the Ravens brass in the war room wanted to make sure they got their guy, so after trading back up to 18 with the Texans, the Ravens made a Blue Hen the new face of the Baltimore franchise.

2. Ray Rice - RB, Rutgers (Rd 2, No. 55)
Finally, Ray Rice is on my team. Let me explain. Four years ago, Rice had committed to play his college football in Central New York at my alma mater, Syracuse University. But the 'Cuse fired their head coach before what would have been Rice's frosh season, Paul Pasqualoni, after years of mediocrity. Rice reversed course and chose Rutgers, leading the Scarlet Knights to national prominence for the first time in 30 years.

Now on to day 2 and after all their maneuvering on the first day of the draft, the Ravens have 9 picks today. 9! It's time to build a team.

3. Tavares Gooden - LB, Miami (Rd 3, No. 71)
Another #52 from Miami. Could lighting strike twice? The ESPN crew pointed out that most of the Ravens current linebacking core are entering the final contract year and Gooden is a good bet to add depth and possibly start in his sophomore season.

4. Tom Zbikowski - S, Notre Dame (Rd 3, No. 86)
The boxer! Zbikowski is actually an amateur boxer, but he was also the heart and soul of Notre Dame the last few years, regardless of the team's record. His all out hustle and hard hits made him a man to avoid if you were playing against the Irish.

5. Oniel Cousins - G, UTEP (Rd 3, No. 99)
I've never heard of this guy. But how many guards do you really know in the NFL Draft? In fact, how many guards do you know who are actually in the NFL and not on your favorite team. It's a lackluster position, but the NFL Network guys describe Cousins as "mean" and another "Harbaugh guy". Well, I couldn't find any YouTube clips for Cousins, but here are some 2007 UTEP highlights - I'm sure he played a role in some of those runs.

6. Marcus Smith - WR, New Mexico (Rd 4, No. 106)
A tough wide receiver who also excels on special teams sounds about right for Harbaugh and for the Ravens. Although Mason, Clayton and Williams comprise a sound triumvirate of wide outs, the one knock on all of them have been their ability to go up and catch the tough pass in traffic. This guy is strong and finished among the top ten in the bench press among wide receivers at the 2008 Combine. No video on Smith either, but here is some soothing footage of the 2006 Albuquerque International Balloon Festival.

7. **TRADE** The Ravens traded their 2nd pick of the 4th round (No. 125 overall) to the Oakland Radiers for CB Fabian Washington.

8. David Hale - OT, Weber State (Rd 4, No. 133)
Another offensive lineman, another name you and I didn't know until now. But take a look at his profile photo on - can you say Tony Pashos 2.0?

9. Haruki Nakamura - FS, Cincinnati (Rd 6, No. 206)

It took a while, but after watching 72 guys go off the board, the Ravens finally had a chance to make another selection. Their choice? Haruki Nakamura, another hard-hitting safety with a nose for the ball and work-ethic worthy of a special teams slot for Coach Harbaugh.

10. Justin Harper - WR, Virgina Tech (Rd 7, No. 215)
Another wide receiver for the Ravens whose height, 6'4" was probably the most important stat to focus on in the war room. On the same team as Eddie Royal, its only fitting that his most memorable play in college was caused by Royal in the 2008 Orange Bowl:

11. Allen Patrick - RB, Oklahoma (Rd 7, No. 240)
The final pick for the Ravens in the 2008 NFL Draft was the back-up at OU to the breakout start of the 2007 Draft, Adrian Peterson. Patrick split time with AD in '06 and served as the featured back for the Sooners in '07. One can only hope he still keeps Peterson on speed dial to get some advice on how to handle defensive fronts in the NFL.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

McNair to Retire

A 1pm press conference has been scheduled for today to announce the retirement of Baltimore Ravens quarterback, Steve McNair. Earlier this year, new Ravens Head Coach, Jon Harbaugh, announced that McNair would enter training camp as the starter. Now what?

With just quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Troy Smith on the roster, it seems likely that Baltimore will be scouting for a new signal caller next weekend during the NFL Draft. Matt Ryan is the #1QB in the field, but if he's not around when the Ravens are put on the clock to make the 8th pick of the day, the most likely scenario would be that Baltimore would use their 2nd round pick to solidify the position. The candidates would then include Louisville's Brian Brohm, Delaware's Joe Flacco (Yes, Delaware), and maybe even Michigan's Chad Henne or University of San Diego's Josh Johnson.

Of course Harbaugh could be on the phone with his friends from Philly right now asking about D-Nabb - this Orange alum could only dream - but today certainly signifies a changing of the guard for the purple and black. We'll miss you Steve. High five! (see below)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Any Given Sunday, Plus One Saturday and a Monday

Good thing we finished last.

The 2008 NFL schedules were released on Tuesday and the line-up did not offer too many surprises for the Ravens as their opponents for the upcoming season were set on New Year’s Eve. And although we are lined up against two of the most competitive divisions in the league, the AFC South and NFC East, not to mention the internal battles in the AFC North, it could have been worse. Just ask the Steelers, whose Division Champion hats and t-shirts also included a free trip to New England and a visit from the Chargers in 2008. Not the most appealing parting gifts.

And don’t expect the Dawg Pound’s frowning faces to change much after seeing that their first 10-win season since re-entering the NFL earned them a Thursday night battle with the Broncos, along with a trip to Buffalo in November for a Monday Night game. That’s ‘night’ as in no sun and abundance of chill in the air.

As for the Ravens, their last place finish resulted in a return trip to Miami along with a visit from the Raiders. The mantra of the NFL is ‘Any Given Sunday’ but spending an October afternoon under the Florida sunshine sounds slightly more attractive than a night fight fought within the swirling winds off Lake Erie. Apparently the Bills don’t love the weather at the Ralph all that much either as they will play a home game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto for their first of five regular season games to be played at the home of the CFL’s Argonauts. Appropriately, they will take on the Dolphins, who inaugurated the NFL’s London experiment last season. (The Chargers and Saints will play across the pond on October 26th this year.)

Among the marquee match-ups for the men in purple and black this season is a pre-Thanksgiving squabble with Coach Harbaugh’s former flock from Philly. The Eagles come to the Charm City on November 23rd, just one week after the Ravens battle the Super Bowl Champion Giants in New York. The NFC East tour is completed with a battle of the beltway’s played in Baltimore on December 7th against the Redskins and a Saturday Night prime-time match up with the Dallas Cowboys in what will be the last regular season game played in Texas Stadium (Fitting, considering the Ravens are the only current NFL team never to have played there). Regardless of how the Ravens fare during the first nine weeks of the season, they will be sure to play a role in the fortunes of at least one division as they take on all NFC East foes after week 10.

The Ravens are also scheduled to make at least one more appearance with a national audience watching as they once again travel to play Pittsburgh under the lights on a Monday night. Last year, the Steelers stung quick, scoring 5 touchdowns in a swampy first half that ended in a 38-7 defeat. But unlike 2007, the Men of Steel wont have their 75th Anniversary team looking on as they did last November. Seeing Jerome Bettis, Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann outside the locker room before the game sure made me nervous.

The Ravens will close out the regular season at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It should be a competitive game with former Ravens defensive coach Jack Del Rio bringing his surging Jags to town; however, the day will belong to a few other former Baltimore footballers as December 28th will mark the 50th Anniversary of The Greatest Game Ever Played. The 1958 NFL Title Game was played in Yankee Stadium and saw Johnny Unitas lead the Baltimore Colts over the New York Giants to win the Championship. The magnitude of the game was amplified by the fact that the title tilt was the first football championship to be nationally televised, the after-effects of which are still evident today with games across the border and across the Atlantic.

On the surface, the 2008 Ravens schedule appears competitive, yet balanced, with only one pair of back-to-back away games (Indianapolis – 10/12 and Miami – 10/19) and based on last year’s records, an easier first-half to ease our way into the season. Of course that was the prominent sentiment among fans and the media last spring as well. So back to the NFL mantra, on Any Given Day, defeat is just a bounce off the crossbar away. This year, let’s just hope the bounces go our way.

2008 Ravens Schedule
1 Sept. 7 Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m.
2 Sept. 14 at Houston Texans 4:15 p.m.
3 Sept. 21 Cleveland Browns 4:15 p.m.
4 Sept. 29 (Mon.) at Pittsburgh Steelers 8:30 p.m.
5 Oct. 5 Tennessee Titans 1 p.m.
6 Oct. 12 at Indianapolis Colts 1 p.m.
7 Oct. 19 at Miami Dolphins 1 p.m.
8 Oct. 26 Oakland Raiders 1 p.m.
9 Nov. 2 at Cleveland Browns 1 p.m.
10 Nov. 9 Bye
11 Nov. 16 at New York Giants 1 p.m.
12 Nov. 23 Philadelphia Eagles 1 p.m.
13 Nov. 30 at Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m.
14 Dec. 7 Washington Redskins 1 p.m.
15 Dec. 14 Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m.
16 Dec. 20 (Sat.) at Dallas Cowboys 8:15 p.m.
17 Dec. 28 Jacksonville Jaguars 1 p.m.