OWINGS MILLS — After weeks of downplaying the severity of quarterback Joe Flacco’s right hip contusion and bruised quadriceps, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the injury did have a negative effect.
Harbaugh and Flacco had repeatedly said that his hip wasn’t a serious issue.
In dismissing an ESPN report that claimed that Flacco was forced to stand up for a six-hour flight back to Baltimore following a regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders, Harbaugh admitted that Flacco did play through pain.
“It was a six-hour flight, and I saw him sitting down, so I think he was able to sit down,” Harbaugh said. “He had a bad contusion on his thigh, on the outside of his thigh and hip area there, and it swelled up legitimately so I think it was restrictive for him. If any of you guys have had that kind of a serious bruise, you know how much that hurts.
“You get on a flight, and that’s when swelling starts to happen a little bit more. I think Joe showed some real toughness throughout the last five, six weeks playing through that.”
Flacco never missed a game, but was hobbling during warmup drills prior to an AFC wild-card playoff win over the New England Patriots.
Flacco wasn’t listed on the injury report heading into the Ravens’ AFC divisional playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Harbaugh said that was because Flacco was no longer receiving treatment for the injury.
Flacco reiterated Monday that he didn’t believe the injury affected his play.
He threw two touchdowns and four interceptions during his final four games, including two playoff games.
“I feel pretty darn good right now,” he said. “I just need to get some relaxing, get away for a little bit and give your mind a break. I was not affected in any way.”
DEFENSE: Harbaugh defended middle linebacker Ray Lewis’ helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts rookie wide receiver Austin Collie.
Lewis broke up a potential touchdown pass with a big hit on Collie in the end zone, but was flagged for referee Carl Cheffers’ depiction of “a blow to a defenseless receiver.”
On the play, Lewis’ helmet struck Collie’s helmet when the receiver lowered his body to protect himself. Lewis was already airborne at the time.
Harbaugh predicted that Lewis won’t be fined by the league office.
“It was not a cheap shot,” Harbaugh said. “I had a chance to look at all those plays, obviously. That was a good, hard football tackle, and Ray Lewis made a perfect form tackle. The receiver caught the ball, was going to protect himself and dropped his head to a certain level that was below his shoulder pad level after Ray had committed to the tackle.
“At that point in time, you’re committed to the tackle. You’re not going to stop. You can’t stop in mid-air. It’s not humanly possible. So when he went in to make that play, he was definitely in the strike zone. The player ducked and got hit in the head. That’s how I saw it.”
COULD STOVER RETURN?: Harbaugh said he wouldn’t rule out re-signing former kicker Matt Stover, who’s currently with the Indianapolis Colts and scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
After 13 years in Baltimore as the Ravens’ only kicker in franchise history, Stover wasn’t retained by the Ravens after seeking a guaranteed contract last offseason.
“Matt’s a possibility coming back,” Harbaugh said. “That could work out that way.”
Stover is unlikely to be back in Indianapolis next season when Adam Vinatieri recovers from a knee injury.
When asked why the team would want to explore the Stover option after passing on him last offseason when Stover wanted to return, Harbaugh replied with a question.
“Why wouldn’t I?” he said. “We don’t rule anything out. He’s a great guy and good person and a heck of a kicker, and that may work out, but it may not.”
The Ravens could also opt to stick with current kicker Billy Cundiff or draft a kicker.
“Billy Cundiff is a big possibility for us,” Harbaugh said. “He’s proved that he can make field goals under pressure situations. There’s going to be guys in the draft that we’re going to look at.”
PRYCE STILL RIGHT?: Veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce lost his starting job to Dwan Edwards this season, but still led the Ravens with 6 ½ sacks.
And the 34-year-old is due a $4.5 million base salary for next season.
Nonetheless, Harbaugh still envisions Pryce remaining in Baltimore.
The prospect of an uncapped year changes the personnel decisions that would normally be made in that situation.
“Trevor can still play, no question about it,” Harbaugh said. “Trevor can still rush the passer, he’s a solid run defender, he’s at tremendous leader and he knows the defense inside and out. Trevor’s got a few more years left in him no doubt.”
MCGAHEE’S FUTURE: Harbaugh said he met with backup running back Willis McGahee, who’s interested in becoming a starter again in a different city.
Due a $3.6 million base salary, McGahee is expensive for a reserve even though he scored 14 touchdowns last season.
“Willis is a Raven,” Harbaugh said. “He’s under contract, and I had a chance to talk to him at length about it and that’s what he expressed to me. No really good player is ever satisfied with their season.
“I know Willis wants to carry the ball as much as possible. I think he’ll have a great offseason, and he’ll build on that going into next year.”
Commenting on both McGahee and Pryce’s contracts, Harbaugh said: “I can’t read the future, so I don’t know how that’s going to shake out. From a football coach’s standpoint I know one thing: They make our team better, and that’s a pretty good place to be with those two guys on your team.”
SUGGS’ STATUS: Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs struggled with heel and knee injuries, and didn’t produce as expected after signing a six-year, $62.5 million contract.
He produced just 4 ½ sacks and finished sixth on the team with 58 tackles.
He wasn’t in optimum condition at training camp after missing the entire offseason program as the Ravens’ franchise player, showing up several pounds over his listed 260 pounds.
Now, Harbaugh said Suggs has made a commitment to work out with his teammates this offseason.
“He’s told me he’s going to be here for the full offseason program,” Harbaugh said. “I’m sure he will. He’ll have commitments here and there, but I’m sure he’ll be here and we’ll be working with him.
“He’ll be out there in front. He’ll be leading those guys. That’s the way he trains, so I can’t wait to have him around.”
Although Suggs has rarely been in top shape over the past few years, Harbaugh praised his work ethic.
“Terrell’s a hard worker,” he said. “There’s no one who likes to practice as much as Terrell Suggs. He loves to play games. He loves to lift weights.”
TACKLE OUTLOOK: Harbaugh said he expects Michael Oher to remain at right tackle with Jared Gaither entrenched on the left side.
“I think, right now, Jared Gaither at left and Michael Oher at right is working pretty well,” Harbaugh said. “That’s going to depend on the ability of Jared to stay healthy and Michael to stay healthy and to be consistent.
“It’s ability and durability. If we’ve got Jared Gaither on the left side and Michael Oher on the right side next year, I think we’re going to be pretty pleased with that.”
QUICK HITS: Harbaugh said that he’ll be rooting for the New York Jets. Of course, the Jets are coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Their defensive coordinator is former Ravens linebackers coach Mike Pettine and their roster includes former Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard and defensive lineman Marques Douglas. “You look at Rex and Mike Pettine, Jimmy Leonhard, Marques Douglas, Bart Scott, those guys are our guys and we’re proud and excited for them,” Harbaugh said. “Even a guy like Scott Cohen, who is the director of personnel over there at the Jets, is a guy I had a chance to work with for eight years in Philadelphia, and what a great job he’s done. So, yeah, it’s exciting to see those guys doing what they’ve accomplished.” Harbaugh hasn’t been in touch with Ryan, though. “No, he’s pretty busy,” he said. “He’s pretty busy right now.” … There have been a few rumors about quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson possibly being on the Chicago Bears’ radar for their offensive coordinator vacancy. However, there hasn’t been any action involving any of the assistant coaches as far as interviews with other teams. “I think that guys are going to have opportunities probably to do some things to move up and improve their position professionally and have some more responsibility,” Harbaugh said. “If that happens we’ll be really happy for them, but we don’t have anything brewing right now.” Jackson was granted permission to interview for an unspecified position with the Oakland Raiders, according to ESPN. A former Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals assistant, Jackson has coached Flacco for the past two seasons. … Harbaugh said he expects rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to compete with Tavares Gooden and Brendon Ayanbadejo for the starting ‘Jack” linebacker spot opposite Lewis. “Dannell, he was the guy this year as a rookie, but obviously he’s got to get better to be that incumbent starter,” Harbaugh said. “Tavares Gooden is a heck of a player. Brendon Ayanbadejo will be competing for that spot. My guess is they’ll all be playing and rolling them in through packages because we’re going to try to get those guys on the field.” …
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.