AFC North: Derrick Mason

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden reiterated to the Akron Beacon Journal that he he will sign his rookie contract before training camp starts in late July.

Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, the team's first-round picks, are the only ones from the Browns' draft class who remain unsigned.

“I’m ready to sign it,” Weeden said. “I’m not going to miss any time. I’m going to sign before [training] camp. It’s just nitpick stuff, but we’ll get it done. I’ll get it done.”

Richardson also said he's close to signing. "As far as the business side, I think it’s pretty much wrapped up,” Richardson told 92.3 The Fan during the golf outing. “I think everything is pretty much done. There’s just some language in there that they have to get done."

Hensley's slant: It would be a major surprise if Weeden wasn't signed by camp. Weeden and the Browns understand the importance of getting him to camp on time to get him ready to start the regular season. There's also another incentive for Weeden -- the Browns can fine him $30,000 per day for not showing up at training camp under the new collective bargaining agreement.

BENGALS: Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, a third-round pick, signed with the Bengals. That leaves defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who was also taken in the third round, as the only unsigned draft pick for the Bengals. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals are one of 10 teams with one pick left to sign. Hensley's slant: Sanu reportedly has the edge for the No. 2 wide receiver spot. He has drawn comparisons to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I'll see first-hand when I attend Bengals minicamp Tuesday.

RAVENS: Wide receiver Derrick Mason, who retired as a Raven on Monday, said it’s for others to decide if he’s worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I don’t think I revitalized the wide receiver position by any means or stretch of the imagination,” Mason said at his news conference, via the Carroll County (Md.) Times. “I went out and did my job. I hope the numbers speak for themselves. Was I flashy? No, but I was a hard worker and I went out and did what I was supposed to do. .. I just want to be remembered as a guy that went out there and did his job the way he knew how, and that was hard and fast.” Hensley's slant: Mason has impressive credentials. He ranks 11th in league history in catches (943) and 19th in receiving yards (12,061). He’s the only player in NFL history to surpass 5,000 total return yards and 10,000 receiving yards. But the current logjam at wide receiver makes him a long shot. I think Hines Ward has a better shot at the Hall of Fame than Mason.

STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger wore the No. 78 jersey at last week's minicamp in honor of former teammate, offensive tackle Max Starks. It's unknown if Roethlisberger was sending a message. "He's doing well," Roethlisberger said of Starks, via WPXI in Pittsburgh. "He says he can move around just fine and doesn’t feel anything." Starks, who is a free agent, underwent knee surgery in January. ... Meanwhile, in some off-the-wall news, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from removed from an environmental group's anti-littering campaign upon finding out that he admitted in court to littering."We would certainly not have used him as a spokesman for the campaign had we known," David Mazza, regional director for the Pennsylvania Resources Council, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Sanders and teammate Antonio Brown were fined $300 plus court costs for leaving boxes by a private trash container in 2010. Hensley's slant: While there is a report that Starks is no longer in the Steelers' plans, I still think he is a better insurance policy at left tackle than Jonathan Scott. As far as litter-gate, fans will be more upset with Sanders this year if he drops passes, not trash.
If wide receiver Derrick Mason wants to retire as a Raven and the team wants him to do so, then no one should have a problem with the sides getting together for a 30-minute ceremony.

It just surprises me that Mason chose to call it quits as a member of the Ravens instead of the Titans. He played two more seasons in Tennessee than he did in Baltimore. He also had more games played, more 1,000-yard receiving seasons and more touchdowns with the Titans. He still lives in Tennessee.

Mason
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireReceiver Derrick Mason has decided to retire as a member of the Ravens, instead of the Titans, where he played more games.
This isn't intended as a shot at Mason. He was a tough receiver who played through injuries and never missed a game in Baltimore. He was a much-needed leader on offense, even though he could be a "diva" (that's Joe Flacco's word, not mine). He finished as the franchise's all-time leader in catches despite going through four starting quarterbacks in his first three seasons in Baltimore (Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Steve McNair and Troy Smith). That's an impressive résumé.

To me, Mason just doesn't fit in the list of players who previously decided to retire as Ravens like Jonathan Ogden and Matt Stover. When you thought of those players, you thought of the Ravens. When I think of Mason, I think of him as much a member of the Titans as the Ravens. Even Jamal Lewis didn't retire as a Raven.

The one memory that stands out about Mason was in January 2004, when he stomped up and down on the Ravens midfield logo after the Titans beat the Ravens in the playoffs. But Mason said his emotions changed during his six seasons in Baltimore (2005-10).

"My heart was here [in Baltimore]," Mason said in the same suit he wore when he signed with the Ravens seven years ago. "Tennessee is a good place. It's a great place. They gave me an opportunity to start my career. For that, I will always thank the brass there. But my heart was here. You can't do something somewhere else when your heart is in another place. It was an easy choice for me."

I understand my opinion is probably in the minority. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky made a good point that Mason is more connected to the players and coaches in Baltimore than the ones who are in Tennessee now.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome showed great respect for Mason when he placed him atop the free agents ever signed by the team. I would argue that Shannon Sharpe, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary and Rod Woodson made a bigger impact in a shorter time period.

"I don't know if there was any one player over the span of their career that did more for this organization than Derrick Mason did," Newsome said. "It could be argued that when you list them all, for what Derrick did in the years that he was here, he'd be at the top or near the top. In my mind, [he would be] probably at the top because of the number of years that he played here as a guy who wasn't drafted here."

The good part of Mason retiring as a Raven is that it puts behind any bad feelings between the sides. The Ravens cut Mason for salary-cap reasons last year, and Mason decided to sign with the New York Jets over rejoining Baltimore.

"There's not many places you can go and play some good football, go to another team and they let you come back and retire," Masons said. "That speaks volumes not just for yourself but for the organization because you meant a lot to them. I will be forever grateful for that."

I still won't remember Mason as just a Raven. But I will remember him as a receiver who played with an attitude and went underappreciated over his NFL career.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Derrick Mason retired from football five months ago, but it appears that he now wants to do so as a member of the Ravens.

The team announced a news conference for Monday afternoon that will include Mason, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh. Mason, 38, is the Ravens' franchise leader in receptions (471) and yards receiving (5,777).

Mason was released by the Ravens before the 2012 season. He decided to join the New York Jets instead of re-signing with the Ravens that season and was eventually traded to the Houston Texans.

Hensley's slant: I will provide my extended take on this later this afternoon when the news becomes official. It just seems a little strange that Mason has opted to retire as a Raven when he spent more seasons with the Tennessee Titans (eight) than he did with the Ravens (six). Mason had some excellent seasons with Baltimore, but I don't really put him in the same category as other players who retired as Ravens (like Jonathan Ogden and Matt Stover).

BENGALS: Starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis believes it's too early to tell how the carries are going to be divided up on the team. Last week, backup running back Bernard Scott said he expected to come close to splitting attempts with Green-Ellis. “Everyone is at the bottom and working themselves up the depth chart. We have a very good group right now,” Green-Ellis told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It's not just about me and Bernard splitting carries right now because you don't know who the starters are going to be.” Hensley's slant: This attitude is much different than the one last year's starter Cedric Benson had. Benson made it known that he didn't like sharing time with Scott. Maybe that's one reason why Benson is no longer with the team.

BROWNS: Jim Brown hasn't been overly impressed by running back Trent Richardson, but Browns strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston is among those who are. “You know that old term, country-boy strong? He is country-boy strong,” Johnston told the Canton Repository. “Trent’s the type of guy who, if he never touched a weight, he’d be a strong man. But he has really enhanced that by the work he put in at Alabama. And what we want to do ... he has a strength and power ratio right now that can allow him to be elite, physically. I want him to maintain that, and I would like to work on things that can help him stay durable.” Hensley's slant: Richardson's toughness will get tested in a division with Ray Lewis and James Harrison in it. His ability to take a hit will be a big factor in whether he succeeds in the AFC North. The backs that bounce to the outside (like Rashard Mendenhall) often don't reach their full potential in this division.

STEELERS: Safety Troy Polamalu not only acknowledges the dangers of playing football. He thinks about it on game days. "People are paralyzed on a football field. People die ... You just never know when it's going to be your last moment," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I was the kind of guy who would never talk to my wife on game day. Now I'm the guy who's like, 'I love you.' I want my children to know I love them because I don't know what's going to happen out there. I'm not trying to play the martyr here. I love football. It's something we choose to do. We all know how much of a gamble it is to play this game." Hensley's slant: Polamalu is one of the hardest hitting defensive backs in the NFL. He continues to play tough even after numerous head injuries. But these comments shouldn't surprise anyone. He's also one of the game's deep thinkers. You have to wonder if the seven-time Pro Bowl player has a timetable in mind when he plans to call it quits.
After setting most of the Baltimore Ravens' rookie receiving records, Torrey Smith is looking at another mark -- a 1,000-yard season.

"I think I should have done it last year,” Smith told the team's official website. “It was my fault it didn’t happen. … I’m looking forward to doing it this year.”

Smith
Smith has a really good shot at doing so. Actually, he should become the No. 1 wide receiver for the Ravens next season.

As a rookie, Smith showed flashes of potential. He took over the games at St. Louis and home against Cincinnati. What he has to develop is more consistency.

But Smith has already established chemistry with Joe Flacco, who hasn't really connected with Anquan Boldin like many anticipated. And, unlike Boldin, Smith can get separation because of his speed.

Last season, there were 19 players who reached 1,000 yards receiving. The last Ravens one to do so was Derrick Mason in 2009.

Smith finished last season with 841 yards receiving (second on the team), and he did so while playing with a sports hernia. If he can reach his goal this season, it will be a milestone for himself as well as the team. No Ravens draft pick has ever produced 1,000 yards receiving in one season for the team.
On the day that one long-time AFC North wide receiver decided to retire, another one refuted a report that he intends to do so.

Derrick Mason, the all-time leading receiver for the Ravens, announced his retirement after 15 NFL seasons. This past season was a difficult one for Mason, who was salary-cap cut by the Ravens, traded by the New York Jets and released by the Texans.

Still, Mason finished with 943 receptions (11th all-time) and 17,150 all-purpose yards (14th).

"I'm done," Mason told Scout.com. "I won't be playing football. I leave it healthy and able to run and walk and not take a half-hour or 45 minutes to get out of bed. Me leaving now, even though it didn't happen the way I wanted it to happen, I had a good run."

Steelers receiver Hines Ward isn't planning on following Mason out of football. This comes after a CBS Sports.com report said a Steelers player texted the site, saying Ward would soon announce his retirement.

"I have no plans on retiring right now," Ward wrote on his Facebook page. "I want to win another Superbowl. I don't know where the media is getting this info from but rest assured that when I decide to retire, you'll hear it from ME first."

Ward answered the question on whether or not he wants to return. The next question is whether or not he'll play for the Steelers next season. After losing his starting job this year, he is scheduled to make $4 million next season.

Series history: Browns-Ravens

November, 30, 2011
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Sunday marks the 25th game between the Ravens and Browns. Here's a look at the series history:

Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium

Overall: Ravens lead, 17-7

Streak: Ravens have won last six

Coaches vs. opponent: Ravens' John Harbaugh (6-0), Browns' Pat Shurmur (0-0)

Last meeting at site (Dec. 26, 2010): Ravens 20, Browns 10. Joe Flacco only throws for 102 yards but he connects with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason for touchdowns. Cleveland's only touchdown came on a 29-yard pass from wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi to Brian Robiskie.

TV broadcast: Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker.

Quote to note: “I’m aware of the history. It’s interesting, some of the young players don’t know the history of our game, it’s just because they’re young. I think the history of what’s going on here is important to know and at some point I’ll talk about that with them. But, professional football players, they find a way to play well regardless of whom the opponent is and the history of the organizations and I think that’s the focus. Watch who these guys are on tape, understand who their matchups are, understand what the plan is and go play. I think that’s the focus.” -- Browns coach Pat Shurmur on the Ravens
Torrey SmithAP Photo/Gail BurtonRookie receiver Torrey Smith has given the Ravens the deep threat they've tried for years to find.

BALTIMORE -- The Ravens find themselves leading the AFC North race because of the speed of Torrey Smith.

The second-round pick is the wide receiver Baltimore has been desperately searching for over the past decade. Smith is fast. He's a playmaker.

Smith was the difference in the Ravens winning and losing at Pittsburgh. He was the difference between the Ravens losing to the Bengals last season and beating them 31-24 on Sunday.

"In past years, they've been able to put some pressure on us with their coverage, lock us up pretty tightly, and get some pressure with their front four," Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco said. "But with Torrey out there, he definitely has the speed and can hurt them in man-to-man coverage. That helped us out today."

With the game tied at 7-7 in the second quarter, Smith burst past Cincinnati cornerback Nate Clements down the right sideline for a 49-yard over-the-shoulder catch, which set up the go-ahead touchdown. His 38-yard touchdown grab early in the fourth quarter-- which came with him beating a cornerback and splitting two safeties -- put Baltimore up 31-14.

Smith is fast learning how to handle the ups and downs of a first season in the NFL. He's made some big drops, but he's always responded with bigger catches.

The dangerous part of Smith's game is that his confidence is at an all-time high. It was apparent in the huddle right before his fourth-quarter touchdown.

"We all knew it was time for us to get seven," Smith said. "We knew what type of play it was."

Thanks to Smith's six catches for 165 yards, the Ravens (7-3) are in first place and control their playoff fate. They have the same record as the Steelers but hold the tiebreaker advantage by having swept them.

To elevate themselves past the Steelers, the Ravens made it a priority to find a wide receiver to complement Flacco's big arm, which has been the one blemish on the team's spectacular draft résumé. The Ravens have drafted 16 wide receivers -- from Patrick Johnson to Travis Taylor to Mark Clayton -- and none became consistent downfield threats.

Baltimore had to look to free agency to find wide receivers. Defenses respected the likes of Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but they fear Smith.

His 27.5 yards-per-catch Sunday should cause the Bengals defensive backs to pull out their hair -- instead of pulling Smith down by his.

"I think we did envision the type of player he was going to be," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's why we drafted him."

Before the season began, if you saw Smith's statistics for the Bengals-Ravens game, you would have expected A.J. Green or Lee Evans to put up those numbers. But Green was inactive with a knee injury, and Evans has been surpassed by Smith on the depth chart because of an ankle injury.

While Green and Atlanta's Julio Jones have garnered most of the attention when it comes to rookie receivers, Smith is starting to close the gap on them after posting the top two receiving performances by a rookie (as far as receiving yards) this season.

He now has two games of at least 150 yards receiving during his rookie season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the only other rookies in the past 15 years to accomplish this are Randy Moss with the Vikings in 1998 and Marques Colston with the Saints in 2006.

"He's been a guy that we thought could go get the deep ball," Harbaugh said, "He kind of put it in another gear at the end and go chase down a ball."

Smith's speed is different than what Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace shows on the field, according to former NFL wide receiver Qadry Ismail, who is on the Ravens' radio team. Ismail said Wallace accelerates immediately off the line, whereas Smith has that burst at the end to separate from receivers.

Flacco has gotten a feel for Smith's speed and has now thrown four touchdowns over 20 yards to Smith. He hasn't thrown more than three such touchdowns to any receiver in his previous three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"Like I've always said, when the ball is in the air, he can separate," Flacco said.

That separation has led to some desperation for opponents. At one point, the Bengals saved a touchdown late in the second quarter when Adam Jones pulled Smith down by grabbing his hair. It's not a penalty because that's considered part of Smith's uniform.

Smith said it didn't hurt.

"I was surprised by it," Smith said. "It actually felt like I was getting pulled down by my jersey."

Is a new haircut in order?

"I honestly thought about it, but my grandma likes it a little too much," he said. "I'm a mama and grandmama's boy, at least for now."

Smith did provide a new look for the Ravens' passing attack against Cincinnati. Flacco has long struggled against the Bengals and their Cover-2 defense, averaging 178 yards passing in going 3-3 against them. Smith nearly matched that passing average by himself.

Some could argue that Smith's production earlier this season caught defenses by surprise. But defensive backs know about Smith now and they're still having trouble containing him.

His 165 yards receiving is third-highest for a Ravens receiver and is the most allowed by Cincinnati this season.

"Coming into the game, we knew he was a guy who could stretch the field," Clements said. "We just had to take away his strength and make him go elsewhere. We didn't do that today, and he made us pay for that."

Bengals-Ravens notes

Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed made a bizarre shout-out at a postgame session with reporters when asked about Jimmy Smith fumbling after making his first career interception. "It reminds me of my rookie year, they slapped it out of my hands and it wound up going back to him. But I’m glad we got it back," Reed said. "I’m kind of surprised you haven’t asked me about the Presidents Cup, though. Congratulations to those guys, Fred Couples and our team. That was huge." Never knew Reed was such a huge golf fan. ... Former kicker Matt Stover became the sixth member of the Ravens organization to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor. ... George Clooney was spotted at Sunday's game between the Ravens and Bengals. He's dating Baltimore native Stacy Keibler. Yes, this isn't football-related. But this has to be the first time a movie star ever attended a Ravens-Bengals game, right?
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Carson Palmer declined to reveal why he decided not to report to the Bengals in an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer, but the former franchise quarterback acknowledged it was a "selfish decision."

Still, that didn't stop Palmer from watching every Bengals game this season and being happy with the Bengals' surprising 4-2 start.

“As much as some might find it hard to believe, I want them to succeed," Palmer told the newspaper. "There are a lot of great guys on that team and there is a young, talented group. They look real good."

Palmer was traded from the Bengals to the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday. When he decided to hold out, he never expected it would take until the NFL trading deadline before a deal would get done.

So why did Palmer choose to sit out instead of playing for Cincinnati?

“It was a number of different things but I spoke my peace with them [the organization]. It was just time,” Palmer said. “I know this was a selfish decision. I had my meeting at the end of last season with [Bengals owner Mike Brown] and said the best thing to do was to move on and rebuild with the young talent and nucleus that they had. I’m glad that he realized that.”

Hensley's slant: Yes, everyone can agree that Palmer was selfish and Brown was stubborn. Let's just thank the Raiders for their generosity to get this deal done so Palmer and the Bengals can move on after a 10-month stalemate. This has to go down as the longest divorce in NFL history.
  • BROWNS: Injuries are becoming an increasing concern for Cleveland, which practiced without running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring), cornerback Joe Haden (knee), linebacker Scott Fujita (concussion) and backup safety Ray Ventrone (hamstring). "I can't tell you the status of all four of these guys for the game Sunday," coach Pat Shurmur told The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hensley's slant: Even though Hillis hasn't contributed much, his loss would be significant against Seattle, which leads the NFL in fewest yards allowed per carry (3.1). The Seahawks haven't given up more than 70 yards to a running back this season including the 49ers' Frank Gore (59 yards), the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall (66), the Falcons' Michael Turner (70) and the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw (58).
  • RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh said the presence of receiver Anquan Boldin factored into the team's decision not to keep Derrick Mason and Todd Heap this offseason. Harbaugh said via The Baltimore Sun: “Because you knew you had Anquan there with the young guys and Anquan being that kind of go-to guy that [quarterback] Joe [Flacco] could have this year and try to make sure that those guys kind of develop that relationship, and I think you’ll see it growing. It was there early last year, and it’s something we need to keep building.” Hensley's slant: Have to disagree here because Flacco has never had the same chemistry with Boldin as he did with Mason or Heap. Before his 132-yard performance last Sunday, Boldin averaged 55.5 yards receiving in his first four games. He also was held to 15 yards or less receiving in his final three regular-season games last season. The Ravens need to continue to build this connection between Flacco and Boldin, particularly with Lee Evans remaining sidelined.
  • STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger tried to persuade offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to go no huddle in the fourth quarter last Sunday in an attempt to get the Steelers out of their slump. "A lot of it is that I am calling the plays, so I can see the defenses," Roethlisberger told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "When a play is called from the sidelines, it's based off tendencies, which when you have a good coordinator like we do they know tendencies pretty well. I have a feel for who is playing well and who is doing good things. It's a rhythm thing." Hensley's slant: The Steelers need to do something to shake up an offense that ranks 22nd in the NFL in scoring. When Roethlisberger suggests something, Pittsburgh should listen. This isn't a rookie looking to gain more control of the offense. This is a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who knows the pulse of the team.

Ravens face Mason for second time

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
11:19
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The Ravens will line up against the franchise's leading receiver for the second time in three weeks because Derrick Mason was traded from the New York Jets to the Houston Texans on Tuesday night for a conditional seventh-round draft pick, according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.

Mason
Mason
The addition of Mason adds experience to a Texans receiving group that is playing without five-time Pro Bowl player Andre Johnson. Mason gives Houston quarterback Matt Schaub a reliable target but he won't stretch the field like Johnson.

This will mark another reunion between the Ravens and Mason at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. It was only nine days ago when the Ravens held Mason to two catches for 37 yards when he played for the New York Jets.

The Ravens cut Mason in July because of salary-cap reasons and they had discussions in attempt to re-sign him. Mason chose to head to the Jets for a guaranteed one-year deal but he was a major disappointment (13 catches in five games). There was a report that Mason was benched last Sunday because he complained about offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Mason, 37, played for the Ravens from 2005 to 2010. He left the team as the franchise's all-time leader in catches (471) and receiving yards (5,777).

Observation deck: Ravens-Redskins

August, 25, 2011
8/25/11
11:50
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Observations from the Ravens' 34-31 preseason win over the Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football":

Baltimore Ravens fans were treated to a rare sight in the second quarter of Thursday's preseason game.

Ravens fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco threw a beautiful deep ball that sailed high in M&T Bank and into the hands of speedy receiver Lee Evans. Baltimore's newest receiver blew by Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall for the 35-yard touchdown.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Lee Evans
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesLee Evans hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco with DeAngelo Hall defending.
The Ravens hope to see many more big plays from Flacco and their offense in 2011. Baltimore's inability to get deep was a major reason the Ravens were ranked No. 22 in total offense last season.

As a result, Baltimore released receivers Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end Todd Heap. Evans, rookie Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson are some of the new, more athletic pieces the Ravens are counting on.

Time will tell whether the Ravens are better on offense this season. But they are certainly faster.

Here are some additional observations:

1. Baltimore's receivers look ready. The offense still has work to do in some areas. But starting receivers Evans and Anquan Boldin look ready. Both veterans caught touchdown passes from Flacco on Thursday night. Evans' score was a deep ball, while Boldin beat the zone over the middle for a 12-yard score. Both bring different strengths and are playing well off each other. Boldin and Evans combined for eight receptions and 133 yards in limited playing time.

2. Running back Ray Rice is getting to the next level. Baltimore is making a concerted effort to improve the running game this season. That starts with getting Rice to the second level. Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach is blocking well at the line of scrimmage, and Rice is exploding through the holes. He rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries against Washington. Rice averaged 5.5 yards per run.

3. Baltimore needs offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. Baltimore's offensive line remains in flux, particularly with pass protection. The Ravens hope free-agent signing McKinnie is the answer. Rookie tackle Jah Reid still has a long way to go. He gave up another sack against fellow rookie Ryan Kerrigan of the Redskins. McKinnie didn't play Thursday but likely will play left tackle for Baltimore. That would push Michael Oher to right tackle and give Reid more time to develop.

4. The Ravens' pass defense remains a work in progress. Washington quarterback Rex Grossman had a lot of success against Baltimore's first-team defense. Grossman threw for 112 yards and connected with Redskins receiver Santana Moss for a 24-yard touchdown before halftime. The play featured a blown coverage by Ravens rookie corner Jimmy Smith.

5. Ravens rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor took another step toward becoming Flacco's backup. The sixth-round pick continues to be a pleasant surprise. He was 11-of-18 for 125 yards and a touchdown. There is a lot of discussion in Baltimore about whether the Ravens can go into the season with a rookie backup. Next week Taylor likely will get a majority of the reps to put his final stamp on a solid preseason.

6. Dickson might have a slight lead at tight end. The Ravens have a young tight end combo in Dickson and Dennis Pitta. They are in a close competition for the starting job. Pitta jumped out of the gate fast this preseason but Dickson is finishing strong. He recorded three catches for 57 yards against Washington.

7. Baltimore rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee continues to impress. The fifth-round pick recorded his first sack of the preseason in the second half. The Ravens were not counting on McPhee to come on this quickly. But he has been very good in training camp and is earning a spot in the rotation at defensive end.

Poll: Ravens' biggest concern?

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
11:00
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The Baltimore Ravens are aiming for their second Super Bowl in franchise history. Baltimore enters the season with a talented roster, but it also has several holes.

In our latest AFC North poll, we want to know Baltimore's biggest concern entering the 2011 season.

Are Ravens fans most concerned about wide receiver? Baltimore released veteran starter Derrick Mason and was unable to land Malcom Floyd in free agency. The Ravens are left with rookie second-round pick Torrey Smith as the starter unless the team adds another veteran.

Is right tackle the biggest issue? The Ravens do not have a proven candidate to protect quarterback Joe Flacco's front side. Oniel Cousins is the front-runner and rookie third-round pick Jah Reid is in the mix.

Or are the lack of pass rush and backup quarterback larger holes. Baltimore only registered 27 sacks in 16 games last season and didn't add upgrades to the front seven. Backup quarterback Marc Bulger also retired. That leaves rookie Tyrod Taylor behind Flacco.

Cast your vote for Baltimore's biggest concern using our SportsNation poll. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Here is some free advice for the Baltimore Ravens: They should call the Buffalo Bills.

Evans
There is a good chance Buffalo is willing to listen to trade offers for veteran receiver Lee Evans. Baltimore needs to pick up the phone and find out what the bounty is for the speedy receiver and make a quality offer.

The Ravens' front office -- one of the best in the NFL -- doesn't make many mistakes. But the team botched its receiver situation the past two weeks.

Baltimore cut reliable starter Derrick Mason to free up cap room. The goal was to get a younger, more dynamic replacement. But the Ravens failed to land San Diego Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd. That left Baltimore empty-handed.

This is a very important year for quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens would do Flacco a disservice by counting on a pair of rookies -- Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss -- to be his No. 2 and No. 3 receivers.

Evans, 30, has averaged 15.7 yards per reception during his eight-year career. He would provide the deep speed and veteran presence the Ravens covet. On top of that, Evans may be just a phone call away.

AFC North Stock Watch

August, 8, 2011
8/08/11
11:30
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Let's see who's rising and who's falling in the AFC North now that training camps have started.

Falling

Mason
Mason
1. Baltimore Ravens receivers: Rookie second-round pick Torrey Smith would likely be the starter if Baltimore's season started today. That was not the plan when the offseason began. Baltimore made a calculated error by releasing veteran starter Derrick Mason. The Ravens believed they could get a better, more dynamic replacement. Instead, Baltimore struck out with Malcom Floyd, who would have been a great addition. The Ravens tried to get Mason back but it was too late. Mason joined Rex Ryan and the New York Jets. That leaves the Ravens with few options.

2. Cleveland Browns offense: Cleveland's offense has a lot of work to do. The unit did not look game-ready during my week-long visit to Browns camp. There were alignment errors on offense, plenty of drops and an overall lack of talent. Second-year quarterback Colt McCoy had his ups and downs, as well. Fortunately, the Browns have a month to get their new West Coast offense on track.

3. Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver: Sanders came to training camp with high hopes. His goal was to become Pittsburgh's next 1,000-yard receiver. But Sanders has missed most of camp because of a foot injury. Pittsburgh hasn't expressed concern publicly. But it's telling that the Steelers have shown significant interest in veteran receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress the past two weeks.

Rising

Woodley
Woodley
1. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers linebacker: A player's stock always goes up following a $61.5 million extension. Woodley received a huge raise after playing out the final year of his rookie contract. Woodley was arguably the NFL's best bargain in 2010. He made just $550,000 and registered 10 sacks for the reigning AFC champs. Pittsburgh did its part by rewarding Woodley for his patience.

2. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals receiver: Scouts told me before the draft that Green was the real deal. Early reports out of training camp back those claims. Green, the No. 4 overall pick, will replace six-time Pro Bowler Chad Ochocinco as Cincinnati's No. 1 receiver. Green is having a good camp so far. I'm looking forward to getting my first up-close look at Green this week.

3. Phil Taylor, Browns defensive tackle: Cleveland's first-round pick made his presence known during the first week of training camp. Taylor arrived four days late because of a contract dispute. But he was in shape and ready to play on the first-team defense. Taylor was hard to move at the point of attack and also showed the ability to get up the field. Taylor and fellow defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin could be a tough tandem in the middle of Cleveland's defense.
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC North:
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered injuries in practice to starting offensive linemen Jonathan Scott (ankle) and Ramon Foster (unspecified).
Morning take: Neither injury is considered serious. That is a good thing, because depth on Pittsburgh's offensive line is lacking. This will give young players a chance to get significant reps in practice.
Morning take: Cotchery is probably the best of what's left at receiver. The Ravens failed to land Malcom Floyd and Derrick Mason. Now it's pretty slim pickings.
  • Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur says the new West Coast offense will come along.
Morning take: The Browns still have a long way to go offensively from what I've seen in camp. Fortunately for Cleveland, there is a month of practices and four preseason games before the regular season.
Morning take: "Grind" is a good word to explain what the Bengals and Browns are going through offensively. The team and quarterback that learns the fastest likely will prevail in Week 1.

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