Baltimore Ravens: Dallas Clark

The Baltimore Ravens have 13 unrestricted free agents, if you count wide receiver Brandon Stokley as retired. The Ravens are expected to make more cuts before the start of free agency (March 11), but I will focus my ranking on the 13 who are currently not under contract with the team. Let's start with No. 13 ...

No. 13: DALLAS CLARK

Position: Tight end

Clark
The good: Clark gave the Ravens what they expected. When they signed Clark to help soften the loss of Dennis Pitta, I made the comment that 40 catches out of Clark would make it a positive signing. He finished with 31 catches and didn't play the final four games. Clark did come up big at times in the fourth quarter, tying the game in Pittsburgh with a touchdown catch and converting a fourth down in Chicago.

The bad: The Ravens thought they would get more out of Clark in the red zone. He only managed three touchdowns. Also, if you take away his season-opening performance (seven catches for 87 yards), he had 24 catches for 256 yards in his final 11 games. By the end of the season, he looked like a player who had nothing left.

The bottom line: There's a good chance that Clark will follow Stokley's path and retire. He turns 35 before the season starts and his 31 catches were his fewest since 2006. The Ravens are going to need tight ends, but they'll likely re-sign or tag Pitta and add another in the draft. Clark was inactive for the four games Pitta played last season. There's no chance he's returning to the Ravens.
For the next two weeks, let's a take a position-by-position review of the Baltimore Ravens' 2013 season and give a sneak peek of what lies ahead:

TIGHT ENDS

Under contract (2014 salary-cap number): Matt Furstenberg (future-reserve contract), Nathan Overbay (future-reserve).

2014 free agents: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark.

The good: Pitta was able to return to the field only five months after having hip surgery. That falls in the "remarkable" category. Pitta made an immediate impact in his first start with six catches for 48 yards, including a touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal. Clark had a strong game in the season opener with seven catches for 87 yards, both of which ended up being season highs for him. Clark's 1-yard touchdown catch in Pittsburgh tied the game with 1:58 remaining, but the Ravens ended up losing that game.

The bad: Dickson dropped a lot of passes early, and Joe Flacco never had any trust in him after that. This is probably Dickson's final season with the Ravens. Clark had two or fewer catches in half of the 12 games that he played, and he looked like a player who had nothing left in the second half of the season. If not for the major struggles on the offensive line and in the backfield, this would've been the weakest position on the team.

The money: The Ravens know they have to keep Pitta. It's just a matter of whether it's a long-term deal or the franchise tag. Because Pitta splits out so often, he may try to get classified as a wide receiver. The franchise tag for tight ends is projected to be $6.7 million, and it's expected to be $11.5 million for wide receivers. In free agency, Pitta is expected to command a deal that averages $4 million to $5 million per season.

Draft priority: Moderate. The Ravens are going to need to draft a tight end at some point because there are no experienced tight ends under contract. This led Mel Kiper Jr. to link North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron to the Ravens in the first round. From my perspective, there are only two reasons why the Ravens draft a tight end in the first round: they don't believe they can sign Pitta long term or the prospect is ranked so high on the board they can't pass on him.
BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta will play his first game since the Super Bowl, and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will miss his first game since 2011.

Pitta
Pitta, the team's second-leading receiver last season, was activated off the injured reserve-designated for return list Saturday. He dislocated his hip on July 27 and practiced for the first time Nov. 20.

With Pitta active, the Ravens scratched Dallas Clark, who is third on the team with 31 catches and three touchdowns.

Dumervil, the Ravens' sacks leader, will not play after not practicing all week with an injured ankle. He was listed as doubtful on Friday's injury report.

Dumervil
This marks the first time he will be sidelined since September 2011. He wasn't expected to play a lot against the run-first Minnesota Vikings.

Here's the complete injury report for the Ravens and Vikings:

VIKINGS: CB Josh Robinson, DT Chase Baker, G Jeff Baca, TE Kyle Rudolph, QB Christian Ponder, T Mike Remmers, WR Rodney Smith.

RAVENS: OLB Elvis Dumervil, TE Dallas Clark, DT Brandon Williams, WR/RS Deonte Thompson, S Omar Brown, S Brynden Trawick, C Ryan Jensen.

Ravens report card vs. Bengals

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
12:00
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Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 20-17 overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterback: After Joe Flacco bought time before throwing his first touchdown, it was a shaky performance for most of the way. He would've been picked off four times if the Bengals defenders could catch. His first interception was a case of him doing too much. When you're wrapped up, you need to just take the sack and, to his credit, Flacco didn't make that mistake again this game. His fumble, when he got stripped while trying to throw the ball, showed a lack of pocket awareness. Despite the struggles, Flacco did make the two short passes in overtime to get in range for the winning field goal. Grade: C-minus.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tucker
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsBaltimore's Justin Tucker celebrates his game-winning FG to beat the Bengals 20-17 in overtime.
Running backs: Just like he has all season, Ray Rice struggled to run the ball and break tackles in the open field. He averaged 1.7 yards per carry (30 yards on 18 attempts) and managed 4.3 yards per reception (26 yards on team-high six catches). His longest run was five yards and, as fantasy owners know, he failed to score a touchdown on two red-zone carries. Bernard Pierce ran harder than he's had this season, although the effort only produced 31 yards on eight carries (3.9-yard average). The longest run of 18 yards was from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who took a pitch after lining up in the slot. Grade: D.

Wide receivers/tight ends: The Ravens did what they should do all season -- get the ball to Torrey Smith. He only totaled 46 yards, but Flacco targeted him 14 times. Smith made a leaping grab for a seven-yard touchdown, which proved he has no fear in going over the middle. The tight ends came up big at critical times. Ed Dickson's eight-yard catch put the Ravens in field-goal range in overtime, and Dallas Clark's only catch was a one-yard touchdown. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones drew a 48-yard pass interference penalty after getting behind the defense on a flea flicker, setting up that Clark score. The other receivers were nonexistent. Grade: C-plus.

Offensive line: It's easy to access the line's play when you see the Ravens' running backs averaged 2.8 yards per carry and Flacco got sacked five times. The line is getting beat physically in run blocking. In pass protection, there are too many lapses in communication. A Bengals defender had a free run at Flacco by coming up the middle after left guard A.Q. Shipley and center Gino Gradkowski failed to pick him up. Right tackle Michael Oher struggled against Carlos Dunlap and allowed too much penetration on that forced fumble of Flacco. Left tackle Eugene Monroe was the team's best lineman for a second straight week. Right guard Marshal Yanda does get style points for hoisting up Torrey Smith after his touchdown. Grade: D.

Defensive line: Haloti Ngata must have been hearing the criticism because he delivered his best game in recent memory. He was a force inside and slammed shifty running back Giovani Bernard to the ground in the first quarter when there was a lot of space on the left side. Even after he injured his left knee, Ngata made an impact and finished with five tackles and one batted down pass. Arthur Jones sacked Andy Dalton in the red zone, which held the Bengals to a field goal on the opening drive in the third quarter. Chris Canty added a quarterback hit. Grade: B.

Linebackers: It's been a hot-and-cold season for Elvis Dumervil, who led the team with 2.5 sacks after disappearing in Cleveland. He made his presence known Sunday with three quarterback hits, two tackles behind the line and one batted down pass. In the fourth quarter, Dumervil had 1.5 sacks. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith did his best in trying to limit Bernard and stopped him short of the first down in the opening drive. Terrell Suggs had a quiet day with no sacks or quarterback hits. Grade: B.

Secondary: This was the secondary's most aggressive effort of the season, and it came against a talented group of Bengals receivers. Cornerback Lardarius Webb ripped the ball away from receiver Marvin Jones for an interception and caused havoc on his repeated blitzes. Jimmy Smith stripped Mohamed Sanu to break up another pass. The star of the defensive backfield was James Ihedigbo, who had his first two career interceptions and helped stop Bernard on fourth down in overtime. What kept this from being an 'A' game was the "bone-head" play by Ihedigbo on the Hail Mary touchdown that sent the game to overtime. Grade: B-plus.

Special teams: Justin Tucker won the game with a 46-yard kick in overtime, but don't forget about him making a 36-yarder into the swirling wind earlier in the game. He's automatic these days. Sam Koch had a more consistent effort with three punts inside the 20-yard line and a 55-yarder that helped change field position. Returners Tandon Doss and Jacoby Jones were non-factors. Grade: B-plus.

Ravens miss Pitta more than Boldin

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
10:30
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The uproar after Week 1 was how much the Baltimore Ravens missed wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and the Ravens certainly would benefit from his toughness and clutch plays. But the Ravens miss tight end Dennis Pitta much more than Boldin.

Pitta, who is on the injured reserve-designated for return list after injuring his hip in training camp, may have been the Ravens' leading receiver at this point. Now the tight end position is one of the biggest weaknesses for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Pitta
Boldin
The Ravens have gotten little production out of Dallas Clark, Ed Dickson and Billy Bajema. Joe Flacco has connected on a little more than half of his passes to them (20 completions on 39 targets). Compare that to last year with Pitta, who caught 65.5 percent of the passes thrown his way (61 of 93).

The Ravens' tight ends have scored no touchdowns and have produced no catches more than 20 yards. Pitta had seven touchdowns and eight receptions greater than 20 yards.

Entering the season, the Ravens looked like they were in better position to handle the loss of Pitta more than the void left by the trade of Boldin. But undrafted wide receiver Marlon Brown, who has filled Boldin's spot in the starting lineup, leads the team with three touchdowns.

The biggest disappointment for the Ravens is Dickson. He has dropped four of the nine passes thrown in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus. One pass in Buffalo went off Dickson's hands and resulted in an interception.

The Ravens are clearly losing patience with Dickson.

“Ed just needs to go catch the ball,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He needs to run fast, get open and catch the football, put it away and get up field. That’s all he needs to do. And if he’s thinking about anything besides that, he’s doing himself a disservice.

The pressure is on Dickson, who will be a free agent after the season. Through four games, he has more drops than catches (three).

"Mentally, it seems like a bad dream," Dickson said.

The Ravens' tight ends have produced the fewest receiving yards in the AFC North. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers, who didn't have Heath Miller for two games, have gotten 230 yards out of their tight ends, which is 12 more than the Ravens. Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron has more catches, yards and touchdowns than the entire tight end group in Baltimore.

The statistics would look different if the Ravens had gotten the projected production out of Dickson. A third-round draft pick in 2010, Dickson caught 54 passes and scored five touchdowns in 2011.

“The stats kind of speak for themselves that you’re alluding to,” Harbaugh said. “He’s not the same player right now that he was then, obviously.”
Here's your morning briefing on the Baltimore Ravens beat with the wake-up caw ...
  • Tight end Ed Dickson told The Baltimore Sun he isn't frustrated by his slow start. He's motivated. "Things may have gotten off to a rocky start but it is a long season," Dickson said. "As a team, it is working the way we want it to go. We want to keep getting better and I want to get better. Who knows? This might be a big week for me." Dickson's inability to catch the ball consistently has hurt the Ravens, and I would think twice throwing the ball to him. But he's too athletic to write off this quickly. He'll emerge again in the game plan.
  • Continuing our tight-end storyline, Dallas Clark told USA Today that his improvement comes from extra film study with quarterback Joe Flacco. "Joe has us in there and goes over where he wants us, what he expects on each play," Clark said. "That's a huge help so everyone can see the big picture of where they belong, what their responsibilities are."
  • Daryl Smith's sure tackling has impressed the Ravens. “When that guy grabs you, you go down,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via Comcast SportsNet. “I can’t say enough good things about the guy." Smith is one of three linebackers with at least 25 tackles, one sack and one interception this season.
  • A year after injuries limited his game plans, Pees is enjoying being more creative with his personnel groupings this year. “It’s a lot of fun,” Pees said, via the team's official website. “I think it gets boring to me as a coach and I think it’s boring as a player if you go out and every week it’s the same dang-gone thing. ... You put in little tweaks here and there. I think the players like it, and I like it.”
  • Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun broke down the snaps of the outside linebackers, which show the Ravens have been keeping their top pass-rushers fresh. Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw have played at least 60 percent of the defensive snaps. Suggs, the team’s starting rush linebacker, has played 161 out of a possible 191 snaps. Dumervil, who usually splits time with Upshaw at strongside linebacker, has played 125. Upshaw has been on the field for 119 plays.
  • Former Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce doesn't agree with Ray Lewis that the "party bus" incident means there is a leadership void in Baltimore. "Here's the thing about the Ray Lewis leadership thing, when you start telling the media that things would be fixed if you were there, that can be a little self-serving," Pryce told The Baltimore Sun.

Chat Rewind: Revisiting Bobby Rainey

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
2:30
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The first-ever Baltimore Ravens chat was held Wednesday. You missed it? Well, lucky for you, just click right here for the full transcript. Or you can continue reading for the highlights ...

Chris (MD): Do the Ravens regret cutting Bobby Rainey now that Jacoby Jones is out for awhile?
Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I was surprised that the Ravens cut Rainey. I thought it did enough in the preseason to earn a job. The Ravens would be in better shape in the return game with Rainey (who is now the Browns' kickoff returner), and they wouldn't have had to sign Shaun Draughn this week to return kickoffs. But the Ravens went with the players who could contribute on the coverage teams like Brynden Trawick and Anthony Levine.

B (Parkville): Huge Ravens fan. We looked pretty lousy last week. Talk me off the cliff.
Jamison Hensley (ESPN): The Ravens were in a tough situation playing on the road against a team that wanted to exact revenge for the past eight months. Plus, the Ravens have new starters on defense and it will take time to get some chemistry. Playing Peyton Manning in warm weather was a tough draw for a secondary that clearly wasn't in sync. Hope that gets you to take a few steps backward.

Randy (Texas): How much improvement on the defense can we expect? Granted Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is not Peyton Manning, but what does this defense need to show in this game to quiet some questions about that unit?
Jamison Hensley (ESPN): The two keys for the Ravens defense is: Stop running back Trent Richardson and make sure tight end Jordan Cameron isn't running free. The Browns don't have the playmakers at wide receiver like the Broncos. If the Ravens secondary struggles against Cleveland, it's going to be time to worry about whether Baltimore can stop any passing attack.

Tony (Richmond, CA): Have you ever seen Dallas Clark look so pathetic on a football field? He looked like a deer-in-headlights rookie and not a veteran tight end in the league.
Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Clark has been a disappointment so far, but it's still early, Yes, he didn't show much in the preseason or Week 1. Last year with Tampa Bay, it took time for Clark to find his footing. He put up good numbers in his final six games there. The Ravens are going to give him a little time. Plus, because Clark is a vested veteran, the Ravens are going to have to pay him for the entire year whether he's on the team or cut.

Locker Room Buzz: Baltimore Ravens

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
2:10
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DENVER -- Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Clark
Sobering loss: The atmosphere in the Ravens' locker room was more disappointment than anger. "Any time you lose like this in front of the whole world, it's definitely humbling," safety Michael Huff said.

Not much reflection: Tight end Dallas Clark had a rough debut for the Ravens, dropping multiple passes, including one near the goal line. He didn't give much of an explanation other than to say: "It's disappointing, and you got to get the next one." He described the defeat as a "team loss."

Oher limping: Right tackle Michael Oher has never missed a game, so you know it's serious when he didn't return after injuring his ankle in the second quarter. When approached in the locker room, Oher declined comment, saying, "I've got to get treatment." As he walked across the locker room, Oher was noticeably limping.

Flacco in awe: Joe Flacco was certainly impressed with Peyton Manning's seven-touchdown performance, which tied an NFL record. "It's a sweet way to start a season and get ahead," he said. "He's almost halfway to 20 already. There's not too much to say. It's kind of self-explanatory."


DENVER -- My thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Ravens' title defense -- as well as life without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed -- opened with a dud. This is the first season-opening loss for coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco in their six years together, and it wasn't even close. An interception by Flacco in his own territory, a blocked punt and a drop near the goal line all led to the worst loss by a defending Super Bowl champion in a season opener, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 49 points are the most allowed by the Ravens in their history.

Stock watch: Falling -- Ravens secondary. The Ravens gave up an NFL-record-tying seven touchdown passes, and everyone took turns getting roughed up. Safety Michael Huff couldn't keep up with tight end Julius Thomas (two touchdowns), cornerback Corey Graham struggled covering Wes Welker (two touchdowns) and cornerback Jimmy Smith watched a good game turn bad when he was beaten by Andre Caldwell (one touchdown). The Ravens allowed Peyton Manning to throw three touchdowns in a disastrous third quarter, which turned Baltimore's 17-14 lead into a 35-17 deficit.

Why not challenge?: With the Ravens ahead 17-14 early in the third quarter, Welker trapped a ball that was ruled a completion, which converted a third down. If Harbaugh had challenged, the drive would've ended. Instead, Manning rushed to the line to snap the ball, and three plays later, Caldwell scored a 28-yard touchdown. The Broncos took a lead they would never relinquish.

Too many drops: The loss of tight end Dennis Pitta (hip injury) was felt right away. Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson dropped at least five passes. The devastating one was Clark failing to hold onto a third-down pass inside the 5-yard line. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal and a 17-14 lead at halftime.

Self-inflicted: Two Ravens starters were hurt in the second quarter by their own teammates. On a punt return, Jacoby Jones was leveled by rookie Brynden Trawick and suffered a sprained knee. Then, on Ray Rice's one-yard touchdown run, right tackle Michael Oher sprained his ankle when guard Marshal Yanda rolled into him. Two rookies, wide receiver Marlon Brown and offensive tackle Rick Wagner, replaced the veterans in the starting lineup.

What's next: The Ravens (0-1) get nine days before playing the Cleveland Browns at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 15. Baltimore has a 10-game winning streak over Cleveland.
DENVER -- I'll be heading to the Baltimore Ravens' season opener a little later, and the strange part is Ray Lewis and Ed Reed won't be. Life without the two future Hall of Fame players officially begins Thursday night in the season opener against the Broncos.

The Ravens have had either Lewis or Reed on the field for 117 straight games, or a span of nearly seven and a half seasons. That streak obviously ends with Lewis retired and Reed playing for Houston. Since 2002, when Reed entered the NFL, the Ravens have been without Lewis and Reed for only five games (all in 2005). Baltimore went 1-4 with both Lewis and Reed sidelined, giving up an average of 25.2 points.

We'll see if the Ravens fare better in their new era Thursday night. Here's your wake-up caw ...
  • The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec tackled the big issue facing the Ravens this season: Replacing the leadership void left by Lewis and Reed. While many wonder whether the team can handle this loss, former Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce gave another viewpoint, saying the leadership questions are "completely overblown." Said Pryce: "The leader of the team is John Harbaugh, and he has no problem telling you that. He's the guy in charge. Fans are going to miss their leadership. The players are just going to miss them as people. That's how it is. They'll be fine. Trust me." The answer is no one will really know how much the Ravens will miss them until they're put in a difficult situation. That's when the new leaders will have to step up.
  • Wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark, two of Peyton Manning's former targets, don't have to stop the Denver Broncos quarterback. But they do know what it's going to take to beat him. “We’re going to have to play a really good game and score a lot of points, because he’s going to get his points," Stokley told the team's website. Added Clark: “I love the defense we have, but Peyton is special."
  • The Ravens' unofficial theme for this season is stay hungry, The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston writes. "Last year's champions are last year's champions and this year's champions will be this year's champions, and that's a fact," coach John Harbaugh said. "The one and only thing I have said about repeating is that this is a great opportunity and that this year's Ravens team is the only one with that opportunity. Thirty-one others won't, and that's unique."
  • Even though he was limited to one preseason game, guard Marshal Yanda is set to start in the season opener. "Ready to go," Yanda told Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. "I feel good." Everyone knows Yanda is one of the best guards in the NFL. But, after seeing how the offensive line struggled without him, there's a new appreciation for Yanda.
  • Get your stopwatches ready. According to Football Outsiders (via The Baltimore Sun), the Ravens and Broncos are among the three fastest-paced offenses in the NFL. At an average of 27.54 seconds of game clock per offensive play, the Ravens had the third-fastest offensive pace in the NFL last season. The Broncos were second at 27.45 seconds. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who ran more offensive plays than any other team, led the NFL at 24.53 seconds.
  • Following the same schedule as last year, the Ravens arrived in Denver roughly 24 hours before kickoff to minimize the negative effects of altitude on the players, The Baltimore Sun reported. Most the Ravens are experts when it comes to handling the Mile High altitude after playing two overtimes eight months ago.
  • Matt Birk, the Ravens' former center, is not suiting up Thursday night. But that didn't stop him from delivering another shot at the Broncos. Birk posted on Twitter: "Why are Broncos upset about Flacco banner hanging from their stadium. Not like its a picture of Jacoby Jones. #stillstings #sorry #SNF"

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