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News » 2008 team previews: Baltimore Ravens

2008 team previews: Baltimore Ravens

2008 team previews: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are entering the season with more questions than when they began training camp.

Who is going to be the starting quarterback? Can the Ravens rely on running back Willis McGahee? How are the offensive tackles going to play? Is safety Ed Reed going to be ready for the regular season?

2008 NFL season previews

The new season is almost ready for kickoff ... get the scoop on every division.


  • Patriots: Another run for perfection
  • Bills: The no-name challenger
  • Jets: There's a new QB in town
  • Dolphins: Rebuilding in Tuna's image


  • Cowboys: Super Bowl or bust
  • Giants: D-line strength to weakness
  • Eagles: Not just Westbrook anymore
  • Redskins: New coach, yet again

This is shaping up as a challenging season for first-year coach John Harbaugh, who has replaced Brian Billick after nine seasons.

The biggest concern is their quarterback situation, which has increased with drama throughout the preseason.

With Troy Smith out with an illness and Kyle Boller dealing with a shoulder injury, first-year coach John Harbaugh might have the most important preseason decision taken out of his hands.

The first quarterback to recover - Smith or Boller - could win the job. If neither is healthy, the Ravens would have no choice but to start rookie Joe Flacco, their first-round draft pick.

"It's weird how things work," tight end Todd Heap said. "But we still have a couple weeks before we really need to go."

It appears that if Smith and Boller are out for an extended period, that increases the chances of Flacco starting the season.

Just two weeks ago, Harbaugh said Flacco was a long shot to win the job because he had been outplayed by Smith and Boller.

Now, Flacco could be playing himself back into the Ravens' quarterback race.

"I think he's in the mix because we have two quarterbacks who aren't able to practice," Harbaugh said. "The big picture hasn't changed dramatically in the sense that he's a rookie and we've got two guys who were ahead of him going into this situation that came up right before the game. That's kind of where we're at."

The Ravens did not want to rush Flacco into the starting job because of Boller's struggles as a rookie starter in 2003. But the Ravens were impressed by the way Flacco responded in his first start Saturday, when he went 18-for-37 for 152 yards and a touchdown.

The only NFL team that has decided to start a rookie this season is the Atlanta Falcons, who recently anointed Matt Ryan, the No. 1 quarterback chosen in the draft.

Asked where he stood in the Ravens' quarterback battle, Flacco said: "I really don't know what they're thinking, but all I know is that I got to prepare myself like a starter."

Besides the quarterback situation, the Ravens have other issues to deal with before the season.

McGahee, who had arthroscopic knee surgery during training camp, said he =

intends on playing in the season opener. But he missed most of the offseason camps as well as training camp, which has caused some concerns.

The Ravens intended for McGahee be a three-down back, but they are unsure whether he'll know the system at the start of the season.

The other question on offense is the line, especially on the edges. The Ravens are looking to start Jared Gaither and Adam Terry as their offensive tackles, but both missed most of training camp with ankle injuries.

Both needed time to prove they could be full-time starters in this league. By being sidelined, the Ravens wonder if they'll be able to hold up for a full season.

The Ravens usually have been able to rely on their defense. But their best playmaker might not be ready to start the season.

Reed has not taken contact in practice yet because of shoulder injury, and he said that he is uncertain about his availability for the opener. If Reed can't play, the Ravens would have a big hole on their defense.

Until the Ravens can figure out some of these answers, they could end up with more questions than wins this season.

COACHING: John Harbaugh, first year, 1st Ravens.

REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 5-11 (4th in AFC North).

PREDICTING: 2008 regular season record 6-10 (3rd in AFC North).

Notes and Quotes

  • The third preseason game was the first action for cornerback Samari Rolle since Dec.3 against New England. "It felt different, but it was a good different," Rolle said.

  • Defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs likely won't play the preseason finale after going 29 snaps in the third preseason game. "I don't think I played too badly," Suggs said. "I'm still a little rusty ... but hopefully by Sept. 7, all the rust will be gone."

  • Ravens coach John Harbaugh essentially ruled out tight end Todd Heap (calf) and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg (knee) from the preseason, but both are expected to play in the Sept. 7 regular-season opener.

    "I would like to get a lot more reps before we start the regular season, but I've got to be smart," Heap said. "Being ready for the season is the most important thing right now."

    Said Harbaugh: "Our stance with Todd is that if he's 100 percent, we're going to have him out on the field."

  • Harbaugh expressed concern over the new communication system that will allow defensive players to receive calls from coaches. He said the radios have been "spotty" during games and practice.

    "They need to be able to hear the radios," he said. "We're studying that right now, and we want to make sure we have it right, because when they don't get the call, then we're not on the same page."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Number of touchdown catches made last season by the Ravens' top eight receivers.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a unique situation we have here. All three of them are still in the bag right now, and I guess after this game we'll empty the bag and see who is the starting quarterback." -- Receiver Derrick Mason on the quarterback competition between Troy Smith, Kyle Boller and Joe Flacco.

    Strategy and Personnel

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    The Ravens traded for Tampa Bay defensive lineman Marques Douglas to improve their depth.

    The Ravens will send the Buccaneers a late-round draft choice in 2009 and a conditional pick in 2010 for Douglas, who has had two previous stints in Baltimore. Douglas will fill the void left in the rotation by Dwan Edwards, who was placed on injured reserve.

    The Ravens will also pick up the contract for Douglas, who recently signed a four-year, $10.1 million contract with Tampa Bay. Douglas, 31, had 133 tackles and 10 sacks while starting for the Ravens in 2003 and 2004.

    PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Marcus Smith -- The fourth-round pick from New Mexico was quiet in preseason games but surpassed expectations in training camp. He could figure into the Ravens' passing game this season. If Demetrius Williams remains hurt and Yamon Figurs struggles, Smith could end up as the Ravens' No. 3 receiver.


    Rd. 1/18, QB Joe Flacco, Delaware -- With Troy Smith and Kyle Boller sidelined, Flacco has re-emerged in the Ravens' quarterback battle. If he doesn't start the opener, he should take over the job at some point in the season.

    Rd. 2/55, RB Ray Rice, Rutgers -- Rice will be an excellent change-of-pace back to Willis McGahee. He should see his opportunities increase throughout the season. With McGahee out most of the preseason, Rice has impressed the coaches with his hard running.

    Round 3/71, LB Tavares Gooden, Miami -- He is one of the fastest linebackers on the team. Gooden should find a role as a dime back and on special teams.

    Round 3/86, SS Tom Zbikowski, Notre Dame -- Zbikowski will make an immediate impact on special teams. He has potential as a starter down the line.

    Round 3/99, OT Oniel Cousins, UTEP -- He is a raw prospect but he showed a nasty side in training camp. He could be the starting right tackle next season.

    Round 4/106, WR Marcus Smith, New Mexico -- He had a solid training camp and moved up the depth chart. He could play his way to being the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.

    Round 4/133, G David Hale, Weber State -- He adds depth to the interior of the line.

    Round 6/206, S Haruki Nakamura, Cincinnati -- He was one of the surprises of training camp. A solid special teams player, Nakamura could develop into a starter in a couple of seasons.


    QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Undecided. Backups -- Troy Smith, Kyle Boller, Joe Flacco, Casey Bramlet.

    The question at quarterback could make for a long season. Smith is the front-runner if he can overcome swollen tonsils. Boller is dealing with a serious shoulder injury that could sideline him for the entire season. If Smith and Boller can't play, Flacco will win the job by default. This is far from an ideal situation because the Ravens are trying to determine a starter out of a group of backups. Smith might be the best fit at this point. His athleticism will buy time behind a shaky offensive line. But this will be Flacco's job at some point this season. Even if he doesn't start the season opener, Flacco will likely take over by the midseason bye.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Willis McGahee, FB Le'Ron McClain. Backups -- RB Ray Rice, FB Lorenzo Neal, RB Cory Ross.

    With no legitimate quarterback, the Ravens will rely on McGahee to carry the offense. But that could be a major problem, too. The Ravens want him to become an every-down back, it's uncertain whether he knows the offense. Like he did for years in Buffalo, McGahee decided to skip most of the offseason minicamps. He then missed a majority of training camp because he needed arthroscopic knee surgery. The only alternative is Rice, the second-round pick out of Rutgers. The undersized back runs with toughness in between the tackles and is dangerous catching passes in the flats. Le'Ron McClain has the potential to be one of the NFL's top fullbacks but lacks work ethic. The Ravens signed hard-nosed Lorenzo Neal near the end of training camp to become a role model for these young backs.

    TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Todd Heap. Backups -- Daniel Wilcox, Edgar Jones.

    Heap has been sidelined most of the preseason with a calf injury. If he can get healthy -- which was a problem last season -- he could have a career season. It wouldn't be a surprise if Heap put up numbers similar to San Diego's Antonio Gates, who benefited greatly from Cam Cameron's play calling. Beyond Heap, the Ravens lack depth. Wilcox is solid but he has struggled all offseason with a toe injury. He continues to play with pain. The third tight end is Jones, who was playing linebacker for the first two preseason games. Jones has potential to be an above average tight end. But don't rule out the Ravens bringing in another tight end after the final cutdown.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- FL Mark Clayton, SE Derrick Mason. Backups -- Demetrius Williams, Yamon Figurs, Marcus Smith, Justin Harper.

    The Ravens' passing game will suffer because there are no playmakers at receiver. Mason has the best hands on the team but he lacks speed to beat cornerbacks deep. So, he'll catch between 70 to 80 passes but he won't be breaking too many 20-yard plays. The hope is that Clayton and Williams will rebound from a season in which they combined for no touchdowns. Clayton, who had family issues last season, has taken hold of the starting job because Williams has been hurt. It is unknown how much Williams will play after missing most of the preseason with a lower leg injury. Figurs, a return specialist, has been the team's No. 3 receiver in Williams' absence. He is the fastest player on the team but doesn't have solid hands.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jared Gaither, LG Ben Grubbs, C Jason Brown, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Adam Terry. Backups -- C/G Chris Chester, OT Mike Kracalik, OT Oniel Cousins, G David Hale.

    Heading into training camp, the biggest concerns were at tackle with Gaither and Terry. Now, heading into the regular season, they are even bigger question marks. Gaither and Terry were sidelined for most of the preseason with ankle injuries. It's unknown whether either one is a legitimate, full-time starter in this league. The interior of the line is really solid. Grubbs has a strong punch off the line. Brown is stout at center. Yanda is a fighter in the trenches. The depth is marginal with Chester and Kracalik.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Trevor Pryce, NT Kelly Gregg, RDE Haloti Ngata. Backups -- Justin Bannan, Marques Douglas.

    This group has the potential to be the best defensive front in the league. The x-factor on defense is Pryce. When he was sidelined for a huge chunk of the season, the Ravens never had the same pass rush without him. Pryce changes games with his ability to penetrate up the middle. The Ravens were still strong at stopping the run because of Gregg and Ngata, two linemen who had Pro Bowl-type seasons. Gregg controls the line with leverage, and Ngata is one of the more agile linemen in the NFL. The Ravens have solid backups in Bannan and Douglas, who was acquired from Tampa Bay before the final preseason game.

    LINEBACKERS: Starters -- ROLB Jarret Johnson, RILB Ray Lewis, LILB Bart Scott, LOLB Terrell Suggs. Backups -- OLB Tavares Gooden, ILB Nick Greisen, OLB Antwan Barnes, ILB Brendon Ayanbadejo.

    It's uncertain how this group will respond after underachieving last season. Lewis is still strong against the run but isn't the same dominating playmaker from years ago. If the Ravens want to get back to their aggressive and attacking defense, they need Scott and Suggs to get to the quarterback this season. They disappeared as a tandem last season, totaling six sacks after combining for 19 in 2006. Johnson, who replaced Adalius Thomas last season, isn't a spectacular player but he doesn't make too many mistakes. Ayanbadejo, a two-time Pro Bowl player, will upgrade the Ravens' special teams.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Chris McAlister, RCB Samari Rolle, SS Dawan Landry, FS Ed Reed. Backups -- CB Fabian Washington, CB Frank Walker, S Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura, CB Derrick Martin, CB Corey Ivy.

    The Ravens get McAlister and Rolle back from injury this season, but they could suffer a bigger loss in Reed. The four-time Pro Bowl player is uncertain whether he'll start the season because of a shoulder injury. Without Reed, quarterbacks won't fear going deep against the Ravens. Landry, the other starting safety, is one of the most physical players in the NFL. The Ravens are hoping that McAlister and Rolle rebound from injury-marred seasons. They have to hold up because their backups have gotten ripped apart in the preseason. Washington is the best of the reserves and he could push Rolle for a starting spot throughout the season. Walker and Ivy have had gotten picked several times in the preseason.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Stover, P Sam Koch, LS Matt Katula, KOR
    Yamon Figurs.

    Stover won't convert many kicks beyond 50 yards, but he remains one of the most accurate within 40 at the age of 40. Koch is a solid punter who needs to improve his touch inside the 20-yard line. Figurs is a boom-or-bust type returner. He has the ability to return kicks for a touchdown, but he often struggles at fielding them.

  • Author:Fox Sports
    Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
    Added: August 29, 2008

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