Friday, January 10, 2014
Ravens' winners and losers this week
By Jamison Hensley
A look at the players who should feel good about their status and those who should worry following the hour-long "State of the Ravens" press conference this week:
Tight end Dennis Pitta: Pitta didn't have an outstanding four games after returning from a dislocated hip, making 20 catches for 169 yards (8.5-yard average) and one touchdown. The Ravens, though, didn't hide the fact that Pitta remains a priority free agent for them. General manager Ozzie Newsome complimented Pitta, saying he's a mismatch for defense and plays "winning football." A new contract or the franchise tag appears to be in Pitta's future.
Running back Ray Rice: The Ravens could have put the pressure on Rice by saying he has to prove himself once again. He is coming off his worst season in the NFL. Instead, Newsome and coach John Harbaugh continue to express confidence in Rice and his determination to rebound. Newsome believes Rice can be a Pro Bowl running back in the NFL again.
Assistant coach Juan Castillo: Life would have been easier for Harbaugh if he fired Castillo and made him the scapegoat for the worst running game in Ravens history. But Harbaugh reaffirmed his commitment to Castillo by giving him a new title (offensive line coach) and taking blame for Castillo being the team's lightening rod. In Harbaugh's eyes, Castillo wouldn't have taken so much criticism if Harbaugh gave him a different title than "run game coordinator" last season, especially in a season when the Ravens averaged a franchise-worst 83 yards per game.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs: Suggs was essentially put on notice by Newsome, just a couple of seasons removed from being the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Asked if Suggs was definitely going to be on the team in 2014, Newsome said he was "not a virgin" when it comes to letting players walk. It was the Ravens' not-so-subtle way of publicly telling Suggs that he needs to reduce his $12.4 million salary-cap number in order to stay. Suggs is usually the one delivering the hits, not taking them.
Center Gino Gradkowski: When asked about the Ravens' priorities this offseason, Newsome pointed out first that the team needs to get bigger in the interior of the offensive line. I'm sure that Newsome wasn't talking about former Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda or the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Kelechi Osemele. That's right, Newsome is pointing directly at Gradkowski. If I was Gradkowski, I would've shown up in the Ravens' weight room that next morning.
Safety James Ihedigbo: Also on the Ravens' list of improvements is finding a "more athletic safety," according to Newsome. Starting two strong safeties proved to be a problem with the Ravens' secondary. The Ravens can't afford to play Matt Elam, a first-round pick, out of position again. That means Ihedigbo, who had a strong season (second on the team in tackles with 101), is the odd man out. The Ravens basically replaced Bernard Pollard with two players and never filled Ed Reed's role.