For all intents and purposes, the inside linebacker position beside Ray Lewis has amounted to little more than a revolving door. Jameel McClain remains the starter and that has more to do with his dependability than superior skills. Coaches prefer to play guys that they can count on and they are willing to accept less accomplished athletes simply because they know what they are working with. It helps coaches to coordinate an entire unit better when they know what they are getting from each position.
Tavares Gooden clearly has superior athleticism when compared to McClain but the knock on Gooden is that he doesn’t adjust well to post snap changes. Consequently his assignments are fairly defined pre-snap. It’s a strategy that works well when the right calls are made but it can leave a hole in the defense if coordinator Greg Mattison loses the chess move on a given play call.
Dannell Ellerbe makes more impactful plays than the others – he’s the one who will jump off the screen during film study more than McClain or Gooden but the knock on Ellerbe is consistency and focus. When engaged Ellerbe shows promise but the team has had trouble keeping Ellerbe locked in. Many feel it’s a question of maturity and at some point the light will come on and stay on much like it did for another former undrafted free agent linebacker the Ravens once employed.
Bart Scott started very little early in his career but when he decided to grow as a professional, so too did the number of snaps he received on the field eventually paving the way to permanent starter status and a 2006 Pro Bowl nomination.
Ray Rice struggled a bit against the Jets last Monday night and some within the organization believe that his ineffectiveness in part stems from his inactivity during the preseason. The adrenalin of the high profile Monday Night game coupled with few lives snaps against opposing teams challenged Rice’s patience and he didn’t allow blocking schemes to shape up prior to accelerating.
Rice wasn’t the only player affected by the large Monday Night Football stage. Joe Flacco clearly seemed star struck on the Ravens first offensive play and he paid the price. Holding the ball far too long on a three step drop, Flacco was crushed by Bryan Thomas and Shaun Ellis. While the play was well covered by the Jets, it’s incumbent upon Flacco to always look to the read closest to the sideline and just chuck it out of bounds to cut the loss. He’s been reminded of this QB 101 principle repeatedly this week.
One of Flacco’s miscues in the Jets’ game was an interception thrown into a crowd of defenders deep along New York’s sideline. Antonio Cromartie came up with the pick but according to one source had Anquan Boldin run the correct route (a post) then the former Charger would not have been in the area which attracted far too many players. Todd Heap had run and out and up down the same sideline on the play.
Speaking of Boldin, together with Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh the three comprise the most accomplished 1-2-3 punch at receiver in Ravens’ history. As long as the Ravens are successful all should be well. However if the offense struggles and any of these players aren’t seeing the ball as often as they like or should, expect a little diva action from one or all three.
While the team is clearly focused upon winning Super Bowl XLV it will be interesting to see what players remain in 2011 receiving corps. Will Mason retire again? Will Houshmandzadeh who is currently a one year rental want to hang around? It’s possible that the Ravens receiving corps could be just as unsettled this coming March as it was in March of 2010.
One receiver making a mark for himself without catching a single pass is rookie David Reed who registered four special teams tackles against the Jets. Early during summer camp Reed struggled on special teams but so far he’s shown signs of accelerating the learning curve.
“He never did [coverage teams] before”, said John Harbaugh. “He really struggled early. He was kind of getting his rear end handed to him early on, and then all of a sudden, about halfway through camp, he started flipping that. He did a nice job.”
That’s a good thing for Reed because wide receiver mate Marcus Smith is also a popular player for special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. Some believe that one of the two will have to go when CB Cary Williams two game suspension is completed after the Bengals game.
Not so fast.
From what we hear, both Reed and Smith will remain on the 53 man roster because their roles as gunners are coveted. Don’t be surprised if the odd man out upon Williams’ return is one of the linebackers down on the depth chart. Prescott Burgess and Jason Phillips better recognize!
While we’re on the topic of special teams, the coaching staff seems willing to give Tom Zbikowski as a pass for the major mental blunder during the Jets game. It will however be interesting to see how long Zbikowski keeps that job given the return of Prince Miller.
Miller was reclaimed from the Patriots practice squad and placed on the 53. Miller was decent as a dime back during the preseason but the team is more interested in the former Georgia Bulldog as a punt returner. To make room for Miller the Ravens parted ways with Bryan McCann who they claimed after the Cowboys released him. McCann has loads of athleticism but the coaching staff believed (with push back from the scouts) that they would never use McCann in the secondary this season and they didn’t feel as comfortable with him as a potential punt returner as they do Miller.
Remember that name, Bryan McCann.
Le’Ron McClain has championed his cause McClain 4 RB on his Twitter account and even printed tee shirts to distribute to teammates and coaches to support his cause. It’s no secret that McClain wants to be featured more as a runner and pass catcher and not just as a battering fullback. But that’s unlikely to happen given the running skills of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Maybe McClain should just let it go and focus upon honing his craft as a lead blocker.
On Monday against the Jets, save an impressive block during McGahee’s TD plunge the two-time Pro Bowl fullback had an outing that I’m sure he’d like to have back. There is an opinion held by a few close to the team that McClain knows that the featured back is and should be Rice but McClain wants some of the carries that now go to McGahee – so much so that there are rumors that he’s a less engage blocker when McGahee is carrying the ball. Perhaps there is little to no substance to the story but it is worth watching.
While we’re on the topic of blocking, the Ravens offensive line was supposed to be one of the team’s strengths this season. However, the deck has been shuffled a bit on the offensive front and now three starters are new to the mix: Michael Oher LT; Chris Chester RG; Marshal Yanda RT. The Ravens have invested coaching time with this unit and they are hoping that they gel. Don’t expect any lineup changes unless they falter and if they do, don’t be surprised if it’s Oniel Cousins who gets the call before Jared Gaither.
The former Terp is recovering from a back injury which isn’t believed to be season threatening but the bet here is that Gaither will assume the doghouse seat formerly occupied by Chris McAlister and Willis McGahee even when he says he’s fit to go. Gaither’s dependability is shaky and many question his love (or lack thereof) for the game.
And that as John Harbaugh would say, isn’t “Playing Like a Raven.”
Finally, our very fine sponsor Ravenstrips.com is hosting a Ravens Cruise this coming March featuring Haloti Ngata and former Raven Edwin Mulitalo. The Royal Caribbean cruise will travel from Miami to Key West to a couple of ports in the Bahamas. For more information click here.