AFC North: Justin Harper

Ravens-Colts inactives

January, 16, 2010
1/16/10
6:59
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Here are the players you won’t see in Saturday night's playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens (10-7) and Indianapolis Colts (14-2):

RAVENS

QB John Beck

WR Justin Harper

DB Marcus Paschal

S Keith Fitzhugh

OL David Hale

OL Tony Moll

NT Kelly Talavou

LB/DE Paul Kruger

COLTS

K Adam Vinatieri

WR Sam Giguere

TE Colin Cloherty

DT John Gill

OT Michael Toudouze

OG Mike Pollak

DE Ervin Baldwin

DT Fili Moala

Baltimore adds seven to practice squad

September, 6, 2009
9/06/09
3:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


The Baltimore Ravens just announced seven additions to their practice squad.

Here is their list of players:

Ravens: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
5:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


Biggest surprise: The Ravens didn’t have any major surprises on Saturday’s cut list. Perhaps the only move that was mildly surprising was releasing receiver Justin Harper, who started training camp and the preseason extremely well but hit a wall as of late. He was once in competition for Baltimore’s No. 3 receiver job, yet by the end of the summer Harper finds himself looking for a job. Receiver and return specialist Yamon Figurs was on the bubble all offseason. So although he has a name people in Baltimore are familiar with, cutting Figurs wasn't a huge shock. Fourth-year cornerback Evan Oglesby made a late push but it wasn’t enough.

No-brainers: The Ravens confirmed what most media members suspected with the release of kicker Graham Gano. By midway through the preseason, it was clear Steven Hauschka was separating himself in the race to take over Baltimore’s kicking duties. But Hauschka cannot breathe easy, because longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover remains just a phone call away. Therefore, Hauschka needs to continue to make field goals in the regular season to hold his spot on the active roster.

What’s next: The Ravens traded cornerback Derrick Martin Saturday to the Green Bay Packers for guard/tackle Tony Moll. The move adds depth to their offensive line, as Moll has 18 career starts in three seasons. Also look for Baltimore to attempt to reclaim some of its rookie draft picks such as running back Cedric Peerman and tight end Davon Drew. Even Gano may be a solid practice-squad candidate who can keep Hauschka sharp and in a competitive mode during the regular season.

Ravens preseason observations

August, 24, 2009
8/24/09
11:10
PM ET
 
  AP Photo/Gail Burton
  Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata picked off Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE, Md. -- The Ravens defeated the New York Jets, 24-23, in the second preseason game for both teams.

Here are some observations on Baltimore from Monday's game:

  • Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata looks poised for a Pro Bowl year, and he was a disruptive force all first half against New York. On the second play of the game, Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez threw an interception to Ngata, who dropped back in coverage and returned it for a 24-yard touchdown. He is one of the few 340-plus pound defensive linemen that can pull off that play. Ngata also bullied his way through New York's offensive line to pressure Kellen Clemens into another interception in the second quarter, this time picked off by Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain and returned 16 yards for another score. Baltimore's starters led New York's starters by 14 points at halftime thanks to those two plays.

    "Really, without our two big defensive plays, it was a very competitive first half-a 7-7 game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
  • Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco hit six different receivers for the second straight week, which is a good sign. Flacco wasn't as accurate as his preseason debut against the Washington Redskins, but spreading the ball around more is one of the things Baltimore's coaching staff is asking of Flacco in his second season. He also made several nice throws in the first half that led to one touchdown drive. Another potential scoring drive ended on a botched field-goal attempt. The best throw of the night was a double-pump to Derrick Mason for 43 yards. Flacco finished 8 of 18 for 120 yards.
  • Baltimore's run defense showed some rare holes. A unit that is usually air-tight against the run blew several gap assignments in the first half. Leon Washington gave the Ravens' starters the most trouble with 48 yards in the first half on eight carries, an average of six yards per attempt.

    "We gave up too much on the ground in the first half, especially against the draws," Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "We have to get off blocks better."
  • It looks like the kicking competition between rookie Graham Gano and Steve Hauschka continues to favor Hauschka. Gano got the first shot at kicking duties Monday and sailed a 46-yard attempt wide right in the first half. Hauschka responded by making a 42-yard attempt in the fourth quarter to widen the gap. Hauschka also made a pair of field goals last week against Washington.
  • Ravens backup quarterback Troy Smith had a lot of trouble reading New York's defense, which is somewhat surprising since he practiced against the same scheme under Ryan for two years. For instance, Smith threw two interceptions on the same drive with a pair of awful reads. The first was called back due to offsetting penalties. But two attempts later, he tried to squeeze a ball to receiver Demetrius Williams through double coverage and Marquice Cole was waiting to pick it off. Smith finished the night 4 for 9 for 84 yards and an interception.
  • Ravens tight end L.J. Smith suffered a hamstring pull in the third quarter that kept him out for the remainder of the game. Although the severity is unknown, Smith has a history of injuries in the league and it is once again showing up in Baltimore.
  • Second-year receiver Justin Harper continues to impress in the preseason. He caught a 51-yard yard reception from Smith streaking down the right sideline. Harper had two catches for 62 yards.
 
  James Lang/US Presswire
  Coach John Harbaugh, who took the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game in his first season, is looking to take the next step.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

WESTMINSTER, Md. -- If the Baltimore Ravens want to take the next step and build off a stellar 2008 season, there is only one place left for this team to go: Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

The Ravens are coming off a competitive AFC Championship Game loss to the reigning champion Pittsburgh Steelers, so optimism abounds in Baltimore.

Camp Confidential: AFC North
Bengals: Sun., Aug. 2
Steelers: Fri., Aug. 7
Browns: Mon., Aug. 17
Ravens: Sat., Aug. 22
Training camp index

The Ravens feel they finally found their franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco. They have an energetic coach in John Harbaugh who quickly brought the team back to prominence, and the defense was rated second in the NFL last season behind Pittsburgh.

Based on the record-setting turnout in Westminster this summer for training camp, Ravens fans are clearly buying into Baltimore's rosy outlook as a title contender. But for the Ravens to position themselves to make a run, they must first address several key issues.

Key questions

1. Can Baltimore overtake Pittsburgh?

If Baltimore were able to topple Pittsburgh last season, who knows where the Ravens would be right now? Perhaps the Ravens, and not the Steelers, would be entering the season as the defending champs.

But Baltimore was unable to climb "Mount Pittsburgh" in 2008, losing close games in all three attempts. The end result was falling one game shy of the AFC North division title and one touchdown drive short of Baltimore advancing to play the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

Although the Ravens probably wouldn't admit this publicly, much of what they're doing this season is geared toward closing the gap with the Steelers. Baltimore drafted rookie tackle Michael Oher to help nullify Pittsburgh's edge rushers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. The Ravens improved the depth in their secondary, which broke down with injuries during the playoffs, by adding cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr in free agency.

The difference between Baltimore and Pittsburgh wasn't sizable to start. But the Ravens are hoping this is the year the balance of power shifts in their favor.

 
  James Lang/US Presswire
  Coaches have been working with QB Joe Flacco to attack more areas of the field.

2. Will Joe Flacco avoid the sophomore slump?

Much of Baltimore's success will hinge on Flacco proving to be the real deal. So far there is no reason to believe that won't be the case.

The Ravens by no means will become a pass-happy offense this season, but Flacco is being given more responsibility in his second year working with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. In addition to a strong running game, overall balance will make Baltimore harder to defend if Flacco is up to the task.

Flacco had a good preseason debut, completing 9 of 15 passes for 103 yards in a 23-0 victory last week over the Washington Redskins. What stood out most is Flacco connected with six different receivers in limited playing time, which is an important next step in his maturation process.

As a rookie Flacco had the tendency to lock in on his two receivers -- Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton -- on the outside. The pair accounted for nearly half (47 percent) of Flacco's completions. All spring and summer the coaches have been working with Flacco to attack more areas of the field, particularly over the middle, to make the passing game less predictable.

3. Can the defense stay elite?

Since their inception the Ravens have been built on defense. It is also where they allot most of their salary-cap space.

Baltimore has dealt with defections before but rarely has the unit been hit this much in one offseason. Four of the 11 starters will be new this year and the team is replacing longtime defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Free-agent pickup Foxworth and linebacker Tavares Gooden will join defensive tackle Kelly Gregg and safety Dawan Landry as starters who weren't contributors for Baltimore's No. 2-rated defense last season. Gregg (knee) and Landry (neck) were starters for the Ravens in the past but are returning from season-ending injuries.

The primary challenge for new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is to add his own wrinkles without changing
too much of Baltimore's identity. When you have players like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata, the transition certainly becomes a lot easier.

 McGahee
 Rice

Market watch

Many in Baltimore are asking: How much is left in the tank of Willis McGahee?

Once one of the top running backs in the AFC, McGahee has been slowed by injuries the past two years in Baltimore. Now in his seventh season, he is at a crossroads to prove he can get back to his previous form.

McGahee, 27, has opened the door for second-year running back Ray Rice to become the starter this season. But the two have been pushing each other recently in training camp in a scenario that is working out for both players.

Rice appears solid in his quest to keep the starting job, while McGahee also is running harder. McGahee is averaging 6.5 yards per carry in the preseason, after averaging less than four yards per carry in three of the past four seasons.

With last year's leading rusher Le'Ron McClain playing more fullback this season, expect McGahee and Rice to have more opportunities to prove themselves in the running game this year.

 
  AP Photo/Rob Carr
  Tavares Gooden will take over for Bart Scott, who followed former coordinator Rex Ryan to the Jets.

Newcomer to watch

The Ravens have had a penchant for finding talented young linebackers and they hope Gooden is next in line.

Gooden, a 2008 third-round pick, missed 12 games last season with a hip injury. But with the departure of linebacker Bart Scott to free agency, Gooden is expected to start next to Lewis in Baltimore's linebacking corps.

Lewis is taking Gooden under his wing the same way he's tutored others such as Scott and Adalius Thomas before him. Teammates jokingly have nicknamed Gooden "Baby Ray."

Observation deck

The Ravens traded up to get first-round pick Michael Oher, and the rookie right tackle is immediately fitting in. With the retirement of veteran Willie Anderson, Oher took all the first-team reps during the spring and summer, which is helping his learning curve. With Oher and left tackle Jared Gaither, the Ravens have two quality young tackles who could be building blocks for a long time. ... The receiver position remains a concern as Baltimore made no significant additions in free agency or the NFL draft. The Ravens caught a break with the return of Mason from a brief retirement, but questions of depth remain. Clayton has missed most of camp with a hamstring injury and Marcus Smith is out for the season with a torn ACL. That leaves Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper and Kelley Washington to assist Flacco. ... This season marks the first time in franchise history that Baltimore will not have longtime Raven Matt Stover as its kicker. Stover eventually lost his leg strength for kickoffs so the Ravens are having a two-way battle between Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano for the job. Both kickers had their ups and downs early, but Hauschka seems to have the early advantage with three games remaining in the preseason.

Seven-step drop: Preseason edition

August, 17, 2009
8/17/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

It's that time again.

Coming off a landmark first year for the AFC North blog, it's time for the "Seven-step drop" to return and make its 2009 debut.

Here are seven notes and observations from Week 1 of the preseason:

 
  James Lang/US Presswire
  Quarterback Joe Flacco hit six different receivers in the Ravens' preseason opener.
  • In a 23-0 victory over the Washington Redskins, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens completed nine passes to six different players. That shows he is taking the next step in his maturation process as a quarterback. Last year as a rookie, nearly half (47 percent) of Flacco's completions were to receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. He had the tendency to lock onto those two outside targets at the expense of other receivers, tight ends or running backs. If Flacco continues this trend of spreading the wealth, it would make Baltimore's passing game more difficult to defend this year.
  • Speaking of Baltimore receivers, Marcus Smith's torn ACL all but means Justin Harper needs to step up and keep his momentum going. The former seventh-round pick in 2008 has been arguably the biggest surprise in camp for Baltimore and will see playing time this year as the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. Smith was expected to compete with Harper and Demetrius Williams for those two slots.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers rookie receiver Mike Wallace made a good first impression in the team's 20-10 exhibition win over the Arizona Cardinals. He caught two receptions for 35 yards and returned a kickoff for another 35 yards. But Wallace was most happy with his routes, which is something he's been working hard on since the NFL draft. Scouts were aware of Wallace's straight-line speed, but he lasted until the third round because his route running wasn't crisp in college. If Wallace gets that part down to go with his natural athleticism, he could make an immediate contribution to Pittsburgh this season.
  • It was not a great start for Pittsburgh's starting offensive line. Although the unit didn't give up any sacks, left tackle Max Starks was among the first to admit there were some blown assignments, particularly in the running game. Second-year tailback Rashard Mendenhall was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage and wasn't given a chance on several runs. Improvement up front will be something to monitor in the second preseason game.
  • Although it's just an exhibition game, reserve receiver Chris Henry recording seven catches for 100 yards against the New Orleans Saints is relatively significant. According to the team, Henry had the best offseason of his career in terms of working out and staying out of trouble. He also hasn't played consistently in the preseason for a very long time, and all of these factors should help him get off to a good start in the regular season. The AFC North blog has Henry rated as the No. 2 under-the-radar sleeper to watch in the division this season.
  • It could be a long year for the offense of the Cleveland Browns. The unit has looked conservative and hasn't done much of anything in training camp. And Saturday in Eric Mangini's debut with the Browns, the offense mirrored that performance by combining for four turnovers and allowing three sacks in a 17-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Both quarterbacks, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, threw interceptions as Cleveland combined for 191 yards of offense. But after that kind of preseason opener, the Browns' offense now is in a nowhere-to-go-but-up scenario.
  • In the midst of Cleveland's offensive futility, a new candidate for the No. 2 receiver job may have emerged in Josh Cribbs. The return specialist got the start Saturday over more natural candidates such as Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Mike Furrey, and Cribbs led the team with two catches for 30 yards. He also ran a reverse for a 29-yard gain. But an interesting wrinkle is that Cribbs is in the middle of a contract dispute and it is still questionable if he will play in the regular season. Would Cribbs hold out if he ends up winning the starting job at receiver?

What to watch: Ravens vs. Redskins

August, 13, 2009
8/13/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens will make their 2009 preseason debut Thursday night hosting the Washington Redskins.

 
  Getty Images
  Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco make their preseason debuts Thursday night.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Thursday will be the debut of Baltimore's defense under the leadership of new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Former coordinator Rex Ryan is now the head coach of the New York Jets, leaving many to wonder how similar or different Mattison's scheme will be in terms of schematics and aggressiveness.
  • With starting receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton both out, it will be difficult to get a true gage on quarterback Joe Flacco entering his second season. But it will be interesting to see Flacco on the field again for the first time this year and where he's progressed.
  • How will tailback Ray Rice look in his second season? A possible starter, Rice needs to have a good preseason to solidify his position as the lead threat in Baltimore's three-headed monster. Rice packed on some muscle and worked with the first team most of this offseason.
  • Linebacker Tavares Gooden will start his first game in place of the departed Bart Scott. Gooden has been getting good reviews in summer and spring workouts and is expected to play a major role in the defense next to Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.
  • With Mason and Clayton out, this is a golden opportunity for young receivers such as Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper and Marcus Smith to step forward. A receiver or two from this bunch is expected to provide depth in a reserve role this season. It's no better time than the present for one of these young receivers to start making plays in a game situation.

Morning take: Derrick Mason injured

August, 12, 2009
8/12/09
7:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:

  • Baltimore Ravens starting receiver Derrick Mason dislocated his finger and could miss Thursday's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins.

Morning take: Mason could join fellow starter Mark Clayton (hamstring) on the sidelines against Washington. That would leave young receivers such as Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper and Marcus Smith to get a lot of quality reps.

  • The starters for the Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to get a couple of series Thursday in their preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

Morning take: Teams use the exhibition season for different reasons. But for veteran club like Pittsburgh, this summer should be mostly about staying healthy.

  • In his return following a season-ending elbow injury, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer also is expected to play one or two series Friday against the New Orleans Saints.

Morning take: It's probably best not to rush Palmer. The offensive line needs to step up and make sure their quarterback gets out of his first game back unscathed.

  • The depth chart of the Cleveland Browns lists co-starters Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson at quarterback.

Morning take: Realizing the potential frenzy it would cause to give one quarterback the edge, coach Eric Mangini decided to list both as starters. Smart move.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:

Morning take: The Ravens will need someone to step up in a reserve role at receiver. I'm curious to see whether it's Harper or another backup receiver who performs best in the preseason.

  • Does new Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini need to loosen up?

Morning take: The Browns coach has undoubtedly changed the culture in Cleveland with his disciplinarian style. But the only true litmus test is whether this translates into more or less victories by season's end.

Morning take: The Bengals went from a team without pressure to suddenly having high expectations. Can they handle the difference?

  • Instinctive plays are part of what separates Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

Morning take: Polamalu always has a nose for the football and making the key play. It's something you can't teach and is ingrained in many of the league's greats.

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