THE GRAPEVINE: Local columnist stirs it up, a few Jets fly home but not that missed

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: Local columnist stirs it up, a few Jets fly home but not that missed

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Some team officials believe that the best rookie in Ravens training camp has been Lardarius Webb and that’s saying a bunch given the play so far of the team’s top 2 picks, Michael Oher and Paul Kruger. If Fabian Washington goes down for a game or two (and that’s pretty much an even money bet given his propensity for injury), don’t be surprised if Washington loses his job to Webb. Washington is playing for his next contract and given Webb’s promising future and the hardly dry ink on Domonique Foxworth’s contract, this is probably Washington’s final season in Baltimore barring some unforeseen circumstance.

Oniel Cousins received his share of criticism following the Ravens preseason game against the Redskins mostly due to the holding penalties he committed.  But keep this in mind – Cousins played the entire game at left tackle, a position he isn’t accustomed to. That’s 82 plays in the heat and humidity taking on fresher opponents who took far fewer snaps. And let’s not forget that he went face to face with Washington’s highly touted rookie DE Brian Orakpo. The Ravens believe that Cousins can be a competent back-up right tackle and that the mistakes he made against the Redskins are correctible technique issues.

Chris Carr was a bit disappointed by his Ravens debut. He looked a bit out of sorts on the outside as a corner but was very competent as the nickel assigned to a slot receiver. Look for the team to give him more snaps on the outside in the preseason so that he is more battle tested in the event that he is called upon to play corner due to injury. That said, look for him to contribute more in nickel and dime packages and add some punch to the return game.

It’s not going to happen no matter what rumors, newspaper sales, radio buzz and website hits Mike Preston tries to stir up. Give the man credit for all the above but take a few points away for being way off base. We’ve been saying it and we’ll keep saying it – the Ravens are not interested in Brandon Marshall and contrary to what many say, the team has never pursued Marshall.  They love his skills, hate everything else.

Marshall’s antics fly in the face of what John Harbaugh stands for. Steve Bisciotti has said in the past that he would like to model his franchise after that of the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you can park your emotions at the curb for a moment, be honest…you would love for the Ravens to have the consistency of that organization.

So if we can take Bisciotti’s words at face value, ask yourself this, “Would the Steelers pursue Brandon Marshall if their wide receiver corps consisted of the Ravens’ receivers?”

I think that would be a, “No!”

And it’s a “No!” for the Ravens too.

When the Ravens first lost Rex Ryan to the Jets only to be followed by Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, many in Baltimore fretted the departures and wondered if the voids could effectively be filled. To make matters worse the national media folk seemed to drive that worrisome point home even more, perpetuating those fears.

Today it seems that on the local front those fears have not only subsided, they’ve all but disappeared.

New Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison was hardly asleep during Ryan’s defensive meetings last season and he’s clearly incorporated some of the former coordinator’s flair into this year’s incarnation of the Ravens defense. Perhaps more importantly, Mattison wants to instill a bit more discipline and gap accountability into his unit. So far the results are solid.

Helping Mattison fill the voids (and then some) left by Scott’s and Leonhard’s departures are Tavares Gooden, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Dawan Landry, Haruki Nakamura, Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb.

Gooden has been a solid tackler during camp and is very quick to the ball exhibiting some explosiveness that Scott lacked. McClain is growing into an adept pass rusher, a skill that seemingly escaped Scott about midway through the 2006 season.  Over the course of his final 45 games in Baltimore, Scott registered just 7 sacks. Dannell Ellerbe may be the surprise of camp so far showing suddenness in short spaces while delivering eye opening hits.

Leonhard reached rock star status here in Baltimore more because of his return skills and not so much for his ball skills as a safety. Leonhard was an inconsistent tackler when supporting the run and he was caught out of position from time to time when defending the pass. To his credit Leonhard got hot at the right time down the stretch and he cashed in.

Replacing Leonhard is the man HE replaced in ’08, Dawan Landry. Landry looks leaner, faster and has improved as a cover safety. Nakamura provides the depth that Leonhard once did and the coaching staff has been very impressed with his ability to blitz the passer and he’s shown ball skills in the secondary that Rex Ryan once compared to Ed Reed’s.

Chris Carr assumes the punt return responsibilities from Leonhard.  Last year Leonhard averaged 11.3 yards to Carr’s 10.1 while with the Tennessee Titans. As a kick returned Carr was among the league leaders with a 28.1 yard return average. Waiting in the wings as a returner is the dangerous Lardarius Webb.

Miss their personalities and their place in the Ravens’ family.

Welcome them when they return on Monday.

But don’t fret the departures of Ryan, Scott and Leonhard.

The Ravens have it covered.

 
Photo by Sabina Moran.

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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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