Street Talk - The latest street talk and Baltimore Ravens related News from the Russell Street Report Team.
Lombardi’s Way - A column from the 24×7 founder that focuses on the Ravens, the NFL, Baltimore, the world of sports or life’s inspirations.
Word on The Street - In the spirit of the CBS Sports Minute with Boomer Esiason, RSR brings you Word on The Street, a 90 second (or less) podcast on topics exclusively relating to the Baltimore Ravens.
Ravens Links - We’ll give you the best stories about the Ravens from around the web three times per week.
The Fanimal - If you are an animal about the Baltimore Ravens, then you are a Fanimal! Follow the Russell Street Report blog Fanimal Crackers!
The Edgar Awards - The Edgar Awards will range from the Maryland county that is home to the best Ravens fans to the best Ravens podcast; from the best collection of displaced fans to the best local craft brews that should be part of your next tailgating party.
The Road to RSR - Our writers explains their journeys as fans and how they came to write for our little corner of sports media.
OWINGS MILLS — Todd Heap accelerated into his pattern, dashing past linebackers and safeties incapable of matching his speed.
Looking back for a high spiral from quarterback Steve McNair, the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ tight end leapt into the air and extended both arms for a classic over-the-middle reception.
Two aspects of the difficult feat Heap rendered routine at the Ravensâ€™ minicamp in June resonated.
One, there was a relative ease at which Heap planted his cleats and cut, further proof that his ankle and foot injuries of the past remain in the past. Two, there wasnâ€™t even a wince or other evidence of any strain from his surgically-repaired shoulder.
Unlike the past few years, Heap enters training camp at McDaniel College completely healthy without having had to undergo offseason surgery or rehabilitation procedures.
â€œThis is the first time in a couple of years that Iâ€™ve felt this good,â€ Heap said prior to the Ravens wrapping up their offseason practice drills. â€œIâ€™m a lot further ahead than where we were the last few years, and that just makes me a little more excited for the season.â€
Heap isnâ€™t alone in that sentiment as his teammates and coaches have noticed a difference in the prolific tight end.
The Ravensâ€™ all-time leading receiver with 316 receptions, 3,658 yards and 26 touchdowns, Heap is a two-time Pro Bowl selection. A year ago, he led Baltimore with 73 receptions and six touchdowns while ranking second with 765 receiving yards.
Thereâ€™s a strong sense at One Winning Drive, the Owings Mills address for the Ravensâ€™ training complex, that much more could be in the offing from Heap, barring any injury setbacks.
â€œI think heâ€™s one of the best tight ends in the league,â€ Ravens coach Brian Billick said. â€œHeâ€™s excited about spending an entire offseason, coming out of what we did and knowing the ways we were able to highlight him last season, of basically just getting ready for the season and not rehabbing. Heâ€™s in a very good place right now.â€
That’s true in terms of his health and his personal statistics.
Over the past five seasons, Heap ranks third among all NFL tight ends with 3,452 yards and 300 receptions. Only the Kansas City Chiefsâ€™ Tony Gonzalez (387 catches, 4,752 yards) and the New York Giantsâ€™ Jeremy Shockey (314 catches, 3,609 yards) have surpassed him for catches and yards.
With 25 touchdowns, Heap ranks just ahead of Shockeyâ€™s 24 and behind the San Diego Chargersâ€™ Antonio Gatesâ€™ 34 and Gonzalezâ€™ 31.
â€œAll of the other personal things, stats or whatever, those will come and will be all fine and good as long as weâ€™re winning,â€ said Heap, whose steady production has dwarfed former Ravens wide receiver Travis Taylorâ€™s No. 2 franchise-ranking totals of 204 catches, 2,758 yards and 16 touchdowns. â€œIâ€™m not too worried about that. I want to win games and go to the Super Bowl.â€
Just like the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Heap, all of his elite tight end brethren combine several traits: athleticism, hands, size, speed and body control.
Traditionally, modern NFL offenses thrive when their tight end creates several mismatches with slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs. Thatâ€™s a large portion of how the Ravensâ€™ offense is set up.
â€œThe standard tight end has kind of gone out of the window,â€ Heap said. â€œItâ€™s a more versatile position now. Every team is looking for somebody that can bring a little more versatility to the table.
â€œThe tight end has become more of a threat. You have to account for where he is on the field, as a deep threat, in motion, all over the place. One thing that hasnâ€™t changed is tight ends still need to be able to block. When you watch the good ones, they can do both.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.