THE GRAPEVINE: Gaither could be the key to Ravens’ season

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: Gaither could be the key to Ravens’ season

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Joe Flacco has yet to play a down in the NFL.  In fact he has yet to see an NFL defense in a live full speed practice.  All the perfect throws during passing camps in the world, amount to absolutely nothing if Flacco can’t get it done when it counts.
 
Take a little tour around the Ravens’ locker room and ask a few of the players both on and off the record what they think of the team’s No. 1 pick in 2008 and the reviews are unanimous with everyone predicting a very successful NFL career for the player soon to be labeled Bazooka Joe.
 
And boy can this guy fling it!
 
Joe Flacco can make all of the throws.  He lofts a deep sideline pass with enough trajectory to hit a receiver in stride but not too much so as to enable the safety rolling over to make a play on the ball.  He scans the field and knows where to go with the football when the primary, secondary and tertiary options are covered.  I think he even knows what tertiary means too.  Besides a powerful and accurate arm that loses no zip regardless of his arm angle, the lights are actually on upstairs and apparently someone is home.
 
No wonder the players are excited.  Samari Rolle compared Flacco to Carson Palmer!
 
But slow down!
 
Is he really that good or are the players so used to incompetent play at quarterback that relatively speaking Flacco does look like Palmer?  Let’s face it the guy didn’t beat Towson University last year.  No offense to TU but you know what I mean, right?
 
But the yearning for a good quarterback is so strong here in Baltimore. From the owner right on down to the guy who cleans up the dirty discarded adhesive strips in the locker room, everyone connected to the Ravens wants the team to find a dependable signal caller. After all we are talking about a franchise whose fans think that either Trent Dilfer or Vinny Testaverde is the best QB in franchise history.  How bad is that?
 
Look players know players and they can usually spot talent.  And when enough players say the same thing, it starts to shape you into a believer.  Remember though this is Baltimore and in Baltimore we think that good QB play is only true in fairy tales and even then for some other team, not ours.
 
With this Flacco guy, Ozzie & Co. might be on to something good.
 
But let’s wait until Sundays in the Fall before we get as happy as a sailor on Bourbon Street.
 
The key to the Ravens’ season could lie in some rather questionable hands.  Those hands belong to Jared Gaither.  If Gaither doesn’t quickly become a more focused and professional athlete, the hole at left tackle stemming from Jonathan Ogden’s retirement could be as gaping as the now bankrupt pockets of Michael Vick.
 
Gaither’s work ethic was questioned while he played for Ralph Friedgen at the University of Maryland.  Apparently not much has changed and the Ravens’ coaching staff and front office personnel are rumored to have had a little powwow with Gaither to put it in no uncertain terms that it’s now or never for the skilled offensive lineman.
 
If Gaither doesn’t work out, it could bring Cam Cameron’s offense to its knees.  Adam Terry who in spot duty filling in for Ogden has been very serviceable at left tackle leaving many to wonder why the team is entering camp with Gaither penciled in at the top of the depth charts at LT.  Terry hasn’t been nearly as dependable at right tackle but that appears to be his job to lose.
 
If Gaither fails, the team could switch Terry back to his more natural left tackle position and let a couple of other camp battles determine the remaining configuration of the Ravens’ young offensive line.  Rookie Oniel Cousins has been very combative in team OTA’s and he could press for time at RT if Terry flips over to the left or if he fails to hold down the right flank.  The team could also move Marshal Yanda to RT assuming that Chris Chester can establish himself at one of the interior line positions.  But that is a big assumption. Chester has been a disappointment thus far particularly considering that he cost the Ravens a second round pick in 2006. 
 
Chester could be yet another player whose Scouting Combine measurables lured scouts more so than his productivity on the field. That is always a risky proposition, particularly on day 1 of the draft. Just ask the Jacksonville Jaguars.
 
Back in 2005 with the draft’s 21st pick the Jaguars’ GM James “Shack” Harris selected WR Matt Jones from Arkansas one pick ahead of the Ravens who were jubilant over the availability of Mark Clayton.  One of Jones’ huge supporters prior to the ’05 draft was ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
 
Mortensen’s son Alex played with Jones at Arkansas and perhaps that influenced the NFL insider’s love affair with Jones.  Mortensen then referred to Jones as “the best player in the draft.” Between his Razorback ties and Jones’ measurables, Mortensen was so sucked in that he concluded in a 2005 article for ESPN Insider, “Matt Jones won’t be among the top 10 players selected in the April 23-24 draft, but I will venture to say that he’ll play in more Pro Bowls than almost any of those guys.

“And I will laugh, knowing I told you so.”

 
Apparently Jones prefers bowls of a different nature and substance.
 
This week said “best player in the draft” was arrested in Fayetteville, AK for possession of cocaine. I’m sure at some point after being confronted by the authorities Jones dropped the bag of white powder.  After all he’s dropped everything else thrown his way over the past two seasons.  Look for this incident to be the snorting straw that broke Jack’s back in Jacksonville.
 
Laughing yet Chris?
 
And finally while we’re on the subject of laughing, Baltimoreans will probably find delight in a report from the Philadelphia Daily News that the Jaguars may be up for sale and headed to Southern California. As you probably painfully recall, Baltimore was used like a back-up prom date by the league’s expansion committee spearheaded by former Commish Paul Tagliabue.  Tagliabue was enamored with the more attractive Sun Belt and pushed for teams to enter virgin NFL territory.
 
Despite being the home of a legitimate Super Bowl XLIII contender, the city of Jacksonville continues to struggle to sell out Municipal Stadium.  The city probably should have remained virgin NFL territory. 
 
Things have apparently become so tight for Jags’ owner Wayne Weaver that he recently laid off members of the team’s marketing staff.  Although judging from the poor ticket sales it could be argued that their ineffectiveness probably had something to do with the pink slips.
 
Naturally Weaver publicly denies any interest in selling and has reaffirmed his commitment to the city of Jacksonville.
 
The Los Angeles Jaguars…not exactly music to the ears now is it?
 
Hey maybe the L.A. Leopards would work.  After all who among us can really tell the difference between a jaguar and a leopard (see pictures)?

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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