NFL Nation: Terrence Cody

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens scratched backup nose tackle Terrence Cody even though they activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week.

Cody, a second-round draft pick in 2010, was sidelined for most of the year because of offseason hip surgery. The Ravens are going with five defensive linemen by making Cody and DeAngelo Tyson (who started four games this season) both inactive.

Cornerback Rashaan Melvin is inactive after being signed off the Miami Dolphins' practice squad on Saturday.

RAVENS INACTIVES

DT Terrence Cody, DE DeAngelo Tyson, C Gino Gradkowski, OL Jah Reid (hand), CB Rashaan Melvin, WR Michael Campanaro (hamstring) and S Brynden Trawick
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he doesn't know yet when injured nose tackle Terrence Cody will return.

Cody is on the Physically Unable to Perform list because he is recovering from offseason hip surgery.

Cody
"He's progressing well," Harbaugh said. "He's done a really good job. Whether he's ready to play yet or not, we'll have to decide and determine. I don't want to say at this time. We really don't know."

The Ravens have a couple of options with Cody. They could activate him any time up until Saturday, which could push someone like linebacker Albert McClellan or safety Brynden Trawick off the 53-man roster. The Ravens are in need of another defensive lineman, and Cody can serve as the primary backup to starter Brandon Williams.

The more likely scenario is putting Cody on the Reserve PUP list when the final cut is made Saturday. He wouldn't count against the 53-man roster, but he would be prevented from playing and practicing during the first six weeks of the season.

The Ravens re-signed Cody to a one-year, $730,000 contract during free agency. He was their second-round draft pick in 2010.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens finished their busiest day of free agency by retaining nose tackle Terrence Cody.

Cody
The Ravens needed another defensive lineman as part of their rotation after losing Arthur Jones in free agency. Cody, though, will have to fight to get on this year's roster. Baltimore signed Cody to a one-year deal (likely for the league minimum), which allows the team to still draft a defensive lineman.

Besides keeping Cody, the Ravens also officially signed tight end Owen Daniels and running back Justin Forsett.

Cody has been a disappointment as a 2010 second-round pick, but he's young (turns 26 in June) and has experience (56 games played in four seasons). He started 16 games in 2011 after long-time nose tackle Kelly Gregg was cut. But Cody was replaced in the starting lineup in the Ravens' Super Bowl season by Ma'ake Kemoeatu and served as a backup the past two seasons.

Injuries hurt Cody last season. He had hip surgery in the offseason and then missed four games after spraining his knee.

"I can be a lot better now that I'm full-go and actually healthy for the first time in a while," Cody said Friday after signing his deal. "It's going to be a lot of good things this season."

Cody and tight end Dennis Pitta are the only players remaining from the Ravens' 2010 draft class. The others selected by the Ravens that year were linebacker Sergio Kindle (second round), tight end Ed Dickson (third round), wide receiver David Reed (fifth round), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (fifth round), and offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (sixth round).
Let's continue the ranking of the Baltimore Ravens' 13 unrestricted free agents:

No. 10: TERRENCE CODY

Position: Nose tackle

The good: Unlike linebacker Sergio Kindle, who was taken 14 spots before Cody in the 2010 draft, Cody wasn't a complete bust. He started every game in 2011 and finished with 21 starts in four seasons. His biggest contribution was flattening the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles, forcing a fumble and knocking the speedy running back out of a 2010 AFC wild-card game.

The bad: His four seasons with the Ravens were disappointing. When they selected Cody in the second round, the Ravens envisioned him as the long-term replacement for Kelly Gregg. Instead, in 2012, Cody lost his starting job to Ma'ake Kemoeatu, who had been out of football for a year. Last season, he missed four games with a knee injury. His final regular-season stats: 87 tackles, no sacks, two passes defensed, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries.

The bottom line: The Ravens will only bring him back if they feel they need experienced depth on the interior of the defensive line. Brandon Williams, a third-round pick in 2013, should see an increase in playing time at nose tackle in his second season. For that reason, the odds are against Cody returning.

Art Jones is inactive for the Ravens

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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CINCINNATI -- Art Jones, the Baltimore Ravens' best defensive lineman this season, is inactive for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Jones
Jones
Jones, who leads the Ravens' linemen in tackles (52) and sacks (four), didn't practice all week after suffering a concussion last Sunday. This marks the first time he is inactive since the season opener.

The Ravens will likely start Terrence Cody or DeAngelo Tyson in place of Jones.

Four Ravens starters will play after being listed as questionable on Friday's injury report: running back Ray Rice (thigh), wide receiver Torrey Smith (thigh), linebacker Elvis Dumervil (ankle) and center Gino Gradkowski (ankle).

Here's the Ravens' complete inactive list: DL Art Jones, CB Asa Jackson, S Omar Brown, C Ryan Jensen, WR Deonte Thompson, LB John Simon and TE Dallas Clark.
Brandon WilliamsMichael Chang/Getty ImagesBrandon Williams, who played at Missouri Southern State, is getting his shot with the Ravens.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Brandon Williams is known as the 335-pound nose tackle who can walk on his hands for about 10 seconds. His YouTube video has made the rounds, and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh brought it up after the team selected him in the third round.

So, it's not a surprise that a couple of his newest teammates asked him to do it at the start of rookie minicamp.

"I've been doing that since I was a kid," Williams said. "I don't think I could do that anymore."

That's the only thing Williams acknowledged he can't do. In talking to him for a couple of minutes, he makes it very clear he's a small-school player who is determined to prove he belongs on the big stage.

Coming from Missouri Southern State, Williams was a three-time All-American in Division II, showing strength and agility rarely seen at that level. The Ravens were obviously impressed with him. It's the first time they've taken a small-school player in the first three rounds since drafting cornerback Lardarius Webb in the third round in 2009.

"I've got a huge chip on my shoulder coming from DII. It's that much more of a challenge for me," Williams said. "I'm up for the challenge, just to get out here and show, 'Hey I'm DII but I can still play. I'm here. I'm in Baltimore jersey right now playing with all of you guys from Division I, and I'm playing as hard as you, playing better than you and I'm here to stay.'"

Williams also wants to change the perception that small-school players need time to develop. He'll likely get a chance to compete with underachieving Terrence Cody for the starting nose tackle job. The Ravens are focused on improving last year's run defense, which ranked 20th in the NFL.

"I'm driven and I'm motivated to work harder than the person in front of me," Williams said.

There will be a transition in going against centers from Lindenwood and Pittsburg State (the school in Kansas that is a long ways from Heinz Field). In the AFC North, Williams will face the likes of Maurkice Pouncey and Alex Mack.

Williams certainly has the tools to succeed. He was one of the strongest players in the draft, tying new Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt for the most bench presses of any prospect at the NFL scouting combine.

Plus, Williams is extremely agile for his size, although he probably won't need to ever walk on his hands again.

"You got to be quicker than guy in front of you," Williams said. "He knows the count and he knows where he's going. You got to mirror him and beat him across his face or beat him to the quarterback. You definitely rely on mobility, speed and agility."
The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals had the most successful drafts in the NFL. This isn't me saying it. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave three teams an 'A', and two of them were last season's playoff teams from this division. Take a bow, Ravens and Bengals.

You'll need a subscription to read all about Kiper's 2013 draft grades Insider, but I'll give you a portion of what Kiper had to say about the Ravens, Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, along with my take on each one:

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Kiper Jr.'s grade: A-minus

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "The Ravens had another excellent draft because they needed starters at some key spots and pulled it off. That's not easy to do when you're slotted in at No. 32."

Jamison Hensley's take: What stands out about the Ravens' draft is they might have found three immediate starters despite selecting at the bottom of the round for two of them. The player I like the most is Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown. The Ravens aggressively traded up for him, and he should supplant Rolando McClain. Matt Elam should replace James Ihedigbo at safety, although his size is a concern. Missouri Southern State's Brandon Williams has a chance to beat out underachieving Terrence Cody at nose tackle. I would give the Ravens a grade slightly lower, because they were unable to address wide receiver and offensive tackle earlier. By just a few picks, Baltimore saw West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey get taken before them in the third round and watched Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton go in the fourth. Excellent draft for defense, a below-average one on offense.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Kiper Jr.'s grade: A-minus

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "The Bengals somehow didn't address a pretty big need early (and they don't have many) and still really impressed me. The Bengals seem to be a groove with the draft, the only downside being the picks that came via the Carson Palmer deal are now spent. It was fun while it lasted."

Hensley's take: The Bengals raised expectations because of productive drafts the past couple of years, and they might have surpassed them with this group of players. Using the 21st overall pick on Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, a player some draft experts had going as high as No. 6, is one of the best values in the first round even though this position wasn't a need for Cincinnati. It's true North Carolina's Giovani Bernard wasn't the top-rated running back of this draft, but his ability to break big plays and catch the ball is exactly what the Bengals coveted. Plus, it's a bonus pick from the Palmer trade. Southern Methodist defensive end Margus Hunt, an athletic freak, intrigues me more than any other pick in this division. The biggest knock is the Bengals didn't address their biggest need (safety) until the third round. Georgia's Shawn Williams isn't on the same level as an Elam or Johnathan Cyprien, both of whom were available in the first round, but he'll get a chance to start.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Kiper Jr.'s grade: B

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "The Steelers got a little bit of their bite back. I love the selection of Jarvis Jones in Round 1. I just thought Le'Veon Bell was a bit of a reach. I'll say this for him, however: Bell played behind some pretty awful blocking last year and still managed to be productive."

Hensley's take: If you read my post-draft analysis, you already know that I think taking Jones was the best move when looking at the drafts for every AFC North team. The Steelers needed a pass-rusher after cutting James Harrison, and they got the best one coming out of college this year at No. 17. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the pick I'm most skeptical about is the Michigan State running back Bell. He's a finesse back who could turn out to be another Rashard Mendenhall in terms of running style. I'm not enamored by Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton or Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne, but it's hard to criticize given the Steelers' history with wide receivers in the third round and cornerbacks in the middle of the draft. The second-best player in Pittsburgh's draft class could turn out to be Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas, a fourth-round selection.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Kiper Jr.'s grade: C-plus

Kiper Jr.'s comment: "I don't know if it's a good thing, per se, but the guy who will impact the Browns most in 2013 might not be the player they took at No. 6 overall. The hope is (LSU linebacker Barkevious) Mingo becomes a star, and (San Diego State cornerback Leon) McFadden can perform early. The good news is, both could happen."

Hensley's take: When looking at the players the Browns drafted over these three days, I would give the Browns a C-minus. When you look at the big picture, the Browns deserve a solid B. I like the fact that the Browns took a pass-rusher with the upside of Mingo in the first round over Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. I like how the Browns traded two picks in the middle rounds of this mediocre draft for higher ones next year. And, even though it was a move made by the old regime, I like the decision to draft wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round of last year's supplemental draft even more when looking at the wide receivers that were available in the second round Friday night. You also have to add veteran wide receiver Davone Bess to this class after the Browns picked him up for basically nothing during this draft. My biggest criticism, and I brought it up in the post-draft analysis, was failing to sign a veteran cornerback in free agency. That would have strengthened the reason to pass on Milliner in the first round and would have taken pressure off McFadden, the 11th cornerback taken in the draft, to start right away.
After losing a couple of key players early in free agency, the Ravens made their first free-agent signing, reaching a deal with Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty. That's according to the signed contract he posted on his Twitter. He unfortunately didn't include the terms of the contract in the pic.

The addition of Canty bolsters the middle of the Ravens' defensive line, which was among one of the areas that general manager Ozzie Newsome wanted to address in free agency. The Ravens were unhappy with the play of nose tackles Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody last season and had little depth behind defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Canty, 30, brings a huge physical presence inside with his size (6 feet 7, 315 pounds). He was rated the seventh-best free-agent interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.

Considered a better-than-average pass-rusher, Canty was not as effective last season because of a knee injury. He finished with three sacks and four quarterback hurries. Canty also held his own against the run.

This wasn't a splash by any means. This isn't Cullen Jenkins or even Desmond Bryant. But Canty was a popular free agent this offseason for a reason, taking three visits before coming to Baltimore. It was a solid first step for the Ravens.
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Baltimore Ravens: Days after the Ravens won the Super Bowl, general manager Ozzie Newsome pointed to the middle of the defense as the team's biggest need. Inside linebacker is the popular choice as the Ravens' biggest void, considering the retirement of Ray Lewis and the uncertainty with Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion). That's why LSU's Kevin Minter has been linked to Baltimore. But Newsome was also talking about defensive tackle and safety. Nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu was average at best, and backup Terrence Cody has been a disappointment. Safety could end up being the Ravens' biggest need if they are unable to re-sign Ed Reed. There always seems to be good value at that position at the bottom of the first round.

Cincinnati Bengals: Strong safety is the biggest area of concern for the Bengals. Actually, it's been a need for the past two years, but the Bengals essentially ignored it last offseason. The hope was for Taylor Mays to take over that spot. When that didn't work out, Cincinnati tried to convert cornerback Nate Clements to safety. When that didn't work out, the Bengals brought back Chris Crocker, who is merely a stopgap player. Texas' Kenny Vaccaro makes a lot of sense for the Bengals at the No. 21 pick. Florida's Matt Elam is another highly-rated prospect at safety who could start immediately. The Bengals also need to add more youth at linebacker and speed at running back.

Cleveland Browns: The hope is for the Browns to address one of their top needs -- outside linebacker and cornerback -- with the No. 6 overall pick. That means keeping their fingers crossed that either Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner will fall out of the top five. Jones and Milliner are the top prospects at their positions. The Browns are transitioning to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton and need to find versatile outside linebackers. Cleveland won't find a better one than Jones, who is an elite playmaker off the edge. Under Horton, the Browns are expected to blitz more, which puts more pressure on the cornerbacks. The Browns could play that style if they pair Milliner with Joe Haden.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As I addressed at length Tuesday, the Steelers need to find a way to come away with a feature running back in this draft. The biggest need on defense is at linebacker. There's a chance the Steelers could return all four starters from last season: LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the outside and Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote on the inside. If Pittsburgh is able to do this, and it could take a pay cut from Harrison, no one expects this to be the starting group in 2014. Foote would be 34 by the start of 2014, and Harrison would be nearing Ray Lewis territory at 36. It would be solid forward thinking to take a linebacker with the No. 17 overall pick. Could the Steelers be the team to take Notre Dame's Manti Te'o? His showing the combine (on the field and in interviews) could determine whether or not he slips out of the top half of the first round.
Joe Flacco and A.J. Green Getty ImagesBaltimore's Joe Flacco, left, and Cincinnati's A.J. Green could hold the keys to victory Monday.
Thanks to Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals match up pretty well against the Baltimore Ravens.

Even though the Ravens have been a perennial playoff team, Lewis, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator from 1996-2001, builds his Bengals roster to counter his division rival. Because he helped hand-pick several of the top defensive players who have helped make the Ravens one of the best defenses in the league, the Bengals usually know they can give the Ravens a game.

Since 2006, this competitive series has had only two games in which the margin of difference was bigger than 10 points. In fact, Lewis has a 10-8 lifetime record against the Ravens. Since John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008, he’s won five out of eight against the Bengals.

Here’s what to watch for in this competitive Monday night game:

Baltimore Ravens

1. Will the Ravens have a pass-rush? The loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs was huge for the Ravens. His Achilles tendon injury has created an Achilles’ heel for their defense. They need a pass-rush. This goes beyond replacing Suggs’ 14 sacks. During the preseason, the Ravens didn’t show they were consistently getting to the quarterback. Second-round linebacker Courtney Upshaw is still getting his feel for the NFL and might offer some hope. The pressure will fall on Paul Kruger, who takes over Suggs’ spot. The Ravens are blessed with good coverage cornerbacks, which might allow them to try some blitzes.

2. More will fall on the arm of Joe Flacco: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron plans to let Flacco take more leadership on the field and let him use more no-huddle. Though the Ravens don’t plan to abandon the run, they will be running an offense with a quicker tempo. Normally, the Bengals play the Ravens to low-scoring games in which both teams often end up scoring in the teens. Last season, offense became more of a factor. The Ravens won, 31-24, and 24-16. Flacco would love to get three or four touchdown drives against the Bengals.

3. More speed at wide receiver: One of the reasons the Bengals and Lewis keep the scores low against the Ravens is because the Bengals use plenty of man-to-man schemes. In the past, the Ravens didn’t have a lot of speed at wide receiver. This year they have speed. Torrey Smith, in his second season, is now a complete receiver with speed instead of only being a deep threat in his rookie year. Jacoby Jones adds a sub-4.4 threat. LaQuan Williams is fast. Watch to see if the Ravens receivers can win the battle against the Bengals cornerbacks.

4. Are the Ravens solid up front? The Ravens are fielding one of the oldest offensive lines in football. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is 32. Guard Bobbie Williams is 35. Center Matt Birk is 36. One of the keys to the running game is how Williams and Birk do against defensive tackle Geno Atkins. If Atkins’ quickness beats the aging legs of Birk and Williams, the Ravens might have trouble running the football up the middle. They might also be vulnerable to inside blitzes.

5. Will Ray Rice’s role change? Rice has carried the Ravens offense for years, but the subtle changes in this year’s offense could adjust his role. First, will the no-huddle limit some of the runs Rice could make? Second, if the Ravens have problems in the middle of the line, will he have to bounce more plays to the outside? Rice is a threat running and receiving, but the new emphasis on throwing the ball could make him more of a threat through the air.

Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Problems in the middle of the Bengals offensive line: The Bengals lost guard Travelle Wharton and center Kyle Cook for the season, and they have to make do with Clint Boling at left guard and Jeff Faine at center. Faine is an established NFL veteran, but he sometimes has trouble against big 3-4 defensive tackles. How he handles Terrence Cody, Haloti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu could be the key to the game for the Bengals. If the pocket collapses in the middle of the field, it could be a tough day for quarterback Andy Dalton.

2. Establishing the man-to-man matchups: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a master of matching up his cornerbacks against receivers. He has plenty of options. Nate Clements and Leon Hall are the starters, but at his disposal is longtime Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, Adam “PacMan” Jones, and Jason Allen.

3. Making sure Taylor Mays has a good game: Taylor Mays won the strong safety job, so this will be his most extensive playing time as he enters his third year in the league. Mays has cornerback speed and is a big hitter, but he is still raw at the position. The Ravens will try to challenge him by sending tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in his direction. Flacco will also try to get him out of position with play-action fakes that could free up Torrey Smith for some deep completions.

4. Establishing a running game: The Bengals had a solid running back with Cedric Benson. Now, the BenJarvus Green-Ellis era begins. Green-Ellis is a smart player who doesn’t fumble, but he has yet to prove he can be an every-down back week in, week out. The Bengals still have a young quarterback in Dalton, so it would be nice if he could count on Green-Ellis getting 16 to 18 carries a week.

5. Sorting out the receiving corps: Everyone knows A.J. Green has established himself as one of the best young receivers in football. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a big-play tight end. But the Bengals have revamped everything behind him. Andrew Hawkins takes over as the slot receiver. Brandon Tate is the starter at wide receiver for now, but third-round pick Mohamed Sanu is an intriguing prospect. With defenses figuring to double Green, Dalton has to see who can establish themselves as dependable pass-catching options.
The Baltimore Ravens will only lose newly signed nose tackle Ryan McBean for three games, according to the Denver Post.

McBean had his original six-game suspension cut in half in exchange for dropping his lawsuit against the NFL, two sources told the Post. He was disciplined by the league for violating the league's performance enhancement policy, and he filed a lawsuit that accused the league of mishandling the test.

McBean's suspension will begin at the end of the Ravens' preseason and last through Sept. 23. A backup to Terrence Cody, McBean will miss games against the Bengals, Eagles and Patriots.

He started 21 games for the Broncos the past three seasons, but he had his restricted free agent tender rescinded last month after Denver signed Justin Bannan.

The six-year veteran was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
4:02
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin
AP Photo/Gail BurtonThe Steelers will probably focus on stopping hot Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin.
Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin is off to a fast start. He's fourth in the AFC in receptions (20) and yards (280) after torching the Cleveland Browns last week for 142 yards and three touchdowns. But do not expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to allow Boldin to beat them. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau specializes in taking away an opponent's best weapon. Boldin should see plenty of double-teams and extra coverage rolled in his direction. Therefore, other receivers such as Derrick Mason or T.J. Houshmandzadeh will have to step up for Baltimore to have offensive success.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 1-4 in his career against the Steelers. A major reason is because of the pressure Pittsburgh brings. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, Flacco has been sacked on 12 percent of his dropbacks against the Steelers, compared to only 5.5 percent against the rest of the NFL. Expect Pittsburgh to continue bringing the heat. The Cincinnati Bengals also proved in Week 2 that with pressure, Flacco is prone to mistakes.

Keep a close eye on Steelers first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. The rookie center is facing the biggest test of his career in what is his first taste of this nasty rivalry. Pouncey, who has been stellar so far, will get a steady dose of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, veteran Kelly Gregg and rookie Terrence Cody, whom Pouncey faced in college in the SEC. If Pouncey passes this test Sunday, he is more than prepared for the rest of the NFL.

Browns running back Peyton Hillis will try to run over another AFC North defense when he faces Cincinnati. Hillis is coming off a career-high 144 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore. The Bengals are No. 13 against the run and allow 4.5 yards per carry. If the Browns want to pull off the upset at home, Hillis will need another big game to control the tempo.

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is getting plenty of heat for their struggling offense. But Cincinnati's running game isn't producing, either. The Bengals are No. 27 in the NFL with 3.2 yards per carry. So far the running game hasn't resembled last season's power attack led by Cedric Benson, who is averaging 3.1 yards per attempt. Many of Cincinnati's inside runs have been stuffed early in drives, which sets up long down and distances for the offense.

Ravens at Jets inactives

September, 13, 2010
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Inactives for Monday night's opener between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets at the Meadowlands:

Baltimore Ravens
New York Jets

Camp Confidential: Baltimore Ravens

August, 19, 2010
8/19/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 5

WESTMINSTER, Md. -- Pro Bowl talent? Check.

Plenty of depth? Check.

A budding quarterback and tremendous coaching staff? Check and check.

There are plenty of reasons to buy into the Super Bowl hype surrounding the Baltimore Ravens this year. Most of the key ingredients are in place for Baltimore to make a deep postseason run.

On paper, this is perhaps the best collection of talent in Baltimore since the team's inception in 1996. It's certainly the most balanced, as last season's third-ranked defense joins quarterback Joe Flacco, Pro Bowl tailback Ray Rice and new receiver Anquan Boldin to give Baltimore a potentially high-scoring offense.

But expectations do not always equal results. Can the Ravens live up to the hype? First they must address these key issues.

THREE HOT ISSUES

Joe Flacco
AP Photo/Nick WassRavens quarterback Joe Flacco has plenty of weapons to be successful on offense.
1. Is Flacco ready to take the next step? There are plenty of weapons on offense, but it's up to the quarterback to make sure everything runs efficiently.

Flacco has improved every year in the NFL. He is entering his third season, and the Ravens expect him to take the next step to become a legitimate franchise quarterback.

There is no reason to believe Flacco will not make the jump this year from a good to great quarterback. He has the best receiving corps of his career, a top-notch running game and a quality offensive line. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Flacco is keeping everyone happy, as every starting skill player with the exception of the quarterback has been to the Pro Bowl.

2. Will the cornerbacks hold up? Baltimore's secondary issues are well-documented.

Top corner Domonique Foxworth (knee) is out for the season and starters Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are both coming off major knee surgeries. Washington will make his 2010 debut Saturday against the Washington Redskins, while Webb is waiting to be cleared for practice. There's also no guarantee both players will instantly get back to their old form once they return.

Players like Cary Williams, Travis Fisher and Chris Carr have been filling in for the time being. But starting roles are simply too big for this group, and that won't cut it in the regular season. In this pass-heavy NFL, you need quality depth at cornerback, and it turns out this is Baltimore's one glaring weakness on an otherwise stacked roster.

3. Can Baltimore survive the AFC North? Here is a fact Ravens fans often ignore: At least two division rivals currently have Baltimore's number.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have given Baltimore fits in recent years. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 8-3 against the Ravens in 11 career starts, which includes last year's 2-0 sweep. Pittsburgh also is 4-1 (including playoffs) in its last five meetings against the Ravens. The only Baltimore win in that span came against the Dennis Dixon-led Steelers in overtime last November.

A deep postseason run would be a lot easier for Baltimore if it won the AFC North division. With that comes a home playoff game(s) and possibly a bye in the first round. But the Ravens will have to play more consistently against their division rivals this season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargeTom Zbikowski
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesRavens safety Tom Zbikowski is having an outstanding training camp.
The Ravens are not panicking over safety Ed Reed's offseason hip surgery, because Tom Zbikowski is having the best training camp of his career. The third-year safety is leaner and quicker this year, as Zbikowski continues to earn the confidence of the coaching staff.

Zbikowski has some natural instincts that the Ravens want to take advantage of. He's versatile enough to play in the box, and has very good timing and angles on blitzes. It's unknown if Reed will be ready for Week 1 of the regular season. The Ravens probably can't win a Super Bowl without Reed, but they can win in the short term with an improved Zbikowski.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Jared Gaither's offseason has been a disaster. The offensive tackle got off on the wrong foot by making contract demands, and things have gone downhill from there.

Right now Gaither has a back injury that's kept him out of camp. He also surprised the Ravens by reporting to the team much lighter than his usual playing weight.

Baltimore has already moved forward by making Michael Oher its left tackle, which is the most important position on the offensive line. But if Gaither doesn't straighten things out, the Ravens also may have to figure out what to do next at right tackle. We will explain their options below.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Remember the name Oniel Cousins. He will be one of the most important Ravens in the next several weeks. With Gaither working to get back on the field, Cousins could do Baltimore a huge favor by playing well at right tackle. Marshal Yanda also is a possibility, but he's better suited as Baltimore's starting right guard. If Cousins proves to be the answer, the Ravens can maintain continuity with the other four spots on the offensive line.
  • [+] EnlargeHaloti Ngata
    AP Photo/Rob CarrRavens' Haloti Ngata looks like one of the league's top defensive linemen.
    By the end of this season, Haloti Ngata may be mentioned as the top interior defensive lineman in football. It's impressive watching Ngata routinely blow up offensive linemen in practice. He makes it look easy. In one sequence Wednesday, Ngata pushed rookie offensive tackle Ramon Harewood about 5 yards into the backfield. Ngata then yelled to the offensive coaches "get him out," because Harewood's best effort barely offered Ngata any resistance.
  • I would be surprised if Baltimore doesn't improve its pass rush this season. The "pressures" in camp look more crisp and aggressive this year. It also doesn't hurt that linebacker/defensive end hybrid Terrell Suggs is in great shape and motivated to have a bounce-back season. Last year, the Ravens were ranked 18th in the NFL with 32 sacks in 16 games. The Steelers (47), Cleveland Browns (40) and Bengals (34) all had more sacks in the division.
  • From what I saw this week, it's pretty clear Marc Bulger deserves to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Flacco. Bulger has a quicker release and more accurate arm than Troy Smith. Bulger still shows flashes of the Pro Bowl-ability he had in St. Louis and can make throws that Smith simply cannot. Bulger would be a better short-term fill in if Flacco goes down.
  • Webb looked good running and cutting on his surgically repaired knee while doing individual drills this week. He's yet to practice with the team but is very close to being cleared. Baltimore believes Webb could eventually develop into the team's best cornerback. But the team has to be careful and make sure he returns at full strength.
  • Despite the bad press rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody received after failing his conditioning test, he is a force once he's on the field. Cody is hard to move in the trenches and has surprisingly good feet for someone his size. The Ravens are experimenting with Cody in various ways, including pairing him with Ngata and also giving Cody an occasional look at fullback in goal-line situations.
  • I thought I would see more from rookie receiver David Reed this week. Not to put unnecessary pressure on the fifth-round pick, but Reed generated a significant buzz in Baltimore during minicamp and organized team activities. My first impressions of Reed in training camp is that he's still inconsistent. Reed had some drops, but he also had one of this week's best catches by leaping over a defender in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Baltimore will need to see more of the latter.
  • Switching Paul Kruger to full-time defensive end and adding bulk is already paying dividends. Kruger looks more powerful and explosive this summer. The second-round pick was drafted as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid and couldn't find a role on the team his rookie year. Now he's more productive focusing on one position.

Observation deck: Baltimore-Carolina

August, 12, 2010
8/12/10
11:19
PM ET
After an offseason filled with Super Bowl hype, the Baltimore Ravens made their 2010 debut with a 17-12 preseason victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Here are seven observations on the Ravens:

1. Baltimore's air attack looks improved. Twelve of the first team's 17 plays were passes. The Ravens know they can run. But the coaching staff wants to see where the passing game is after making several key acquisitions at wide receiver and tight end. Led by third-year quarterback Joe Flacco, the passing game looked much improved. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

2. Flacco throwing to Anquan Boldin is still a work in progress. Flacco targeted Boldin three times and two passes were a bit off. Boldin made his first catch at the end of the first quarter on a 12-yard comeback route. Expect the pair to continue working on their timing and ball placement.

3. Don't forget Mark Clayton. The former first-round pick became the forgotten receiver after Baltimore acquired Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals. Clayton is now a backup, but he's still talented and will provide depth. He recorded two catches for 48 yards against Carolina, including a stellar, 30-yard touchdown reception from Flacco.

4. Tom Zbikowski is coming into his own. Star safety Ed Reed (hip) may not be ready for the start of the regular season. Zbikowski's play in relief last year and solid start to training camp makes him the leader in the clubhouse. The former Notre Dame star was physical and recorded a forced fumble and a sack against Carolina's Matt Moore in the first quarter. Zbikowski also had a 28-yard punt return.

5. Questions remain at cornerback. Baltimore's defense shut out Carolina's first-team offense. But I'm still not convinced Thursday's starting cornerbacks -- Chris Carr and Travis Fisher -- are the answer. Moore only threw for 32 yards, but two big passing plays were negated by Jordan Gross' holding penalties in the first quarter.

6. Baltimore's young defensive linemen showed potential. Rookie Terrence Cody and second-year player Paul Kruger are expected to provide depth in the defensive-line rotation, and both were able to penetrate the backfield. Kruger recorded 1.5 sacks, and Cody made some impressive plays behind the line of scrimmage. Cody even lined up at fullback near the goal line. But a missed block and a false start on back-to-back plays may make Baltimore reconsider that experiment.

7. Kicker Shayne Graham had a mixed debut with Baltimore. Graham was successful on his first field goal for 32 yards, but he also was wide right from 50 yards before halftime. Every kick for Graham will be under the microscope during his competition with incumbent Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff.

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