RAVENS HIRE NEW RB, WR COACHES
Earlier this week the Ravens got a little bit closer to rounding out their staff for 2014. The position of running backs coach will be filled by former Wisconsin assistant head coach, running backs coach, and recruiting coordinator Thomas Hammock . Hammock has no previous experience in the NFL although he has had multiple collegiate gigs, working primarily on the running games of Northern Illinois and Minnesota before coaching at Wisconsin.
Hammock has developed running backs at Wisconsin since 2011, and is largely credited with the success of former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who set the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns in 2012. Hammock will replace Wilbert Montgomery and work alongside Juan Castillo to try to repair a Ravens running game that averaged the worst YPC mark of any team since 2007.
Former wide receivers coach Jim Hostler’s departure to the Buffalo Bills earlier this month opened the door, and now University of Pittsburgh wide receivers coach Bobby Engram will step through it join the Ravens. Engram has previous NFL experience, having served as an offensive assistant in San Francisco in 2011.
Engram is also a former player; he spent 14 seasons in the NFL among multiple teams, and had his best year in 2007 with the Seattle Seahawks, catching 94 passes for 1147 yards and six touchdowns. Engram’s experience at the wide receiver position as well as his resume at the University of Pittsburgh made him the favorite to land the job early on in the process.
SHOCKER – VEGAS DOESN’T LIKE THE RAVENS
Heading into the 2014 season the Ravens are not expected to be realistic contenders for the Lombardi trophy, at least according to Las Vegas. The opening odds for the Ravens are listed at 40-1, down from the 20-1 odds they were given coming into the 2013 season after hoisting the Lombardi following the 2012 season.
The Ravens trail 14 teams in odds, and are tied with many more at 40-1. The favorites according to Vegas are the Seattle Seahawks, who won the most recent Super Bowl last Sunday, and the Denver Broncos, who represented the AFC in the game. The Seahawks’ odds are listed at 7-1 and the Broncos’ at 8-1.
The other teams besides the Broncos in the AFC ahead of the Ravens are the New England Patriots (12-1), Indianapolis Colts (30-1), Kansas City Chiefs (30-1), and Cincinnati Bengals (25-1). The Ravens are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second-best odds in the AFC North, substantially ahead of the Cleveland Browns at 75-1.
For those interested in betting on the biggest upsets to make it to the big game this year, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders are both facing 200-1 odds of making the Super Bowl, and the Minnesota Vikings have the lowest odds of any NFC team at 100-1.
HARBAUGH VISITS TURKEY AND AFGHANISTAN
Earlier this month, head coach John Harbaugh won the NFL’s Salute to Service award. Harbaugh now is taking his second trip to the Middle East, and will spend a week visiting the countries of Turkey and Afghanistan. Harbaugh will be joined on the trip by U.S. General Ray Odierno.
Harbaugh left the United States on Monday, and has spent the week visiting with American troops. Harbaugh’s first trip overseas was to Baghdad and came in 2009 when he participated in the NFL-USO Coaches Tour.
Harbaugh gave an update on his trip Friday morning on SportsCenter, and talked about appreciating the Army’s teamwork. He also said, “We’ve had a chance to talk to leaders and soldiers alike and take notes on things that can translate to our team. I’ve got a lot of great ideas for our team. Got a couple training ideas for our guys. Think they’re ready for that?”
Harbaugh’s visits to the Middle East are nothing new for a man who spends as much time as Harbaugh does working with domestic programs such as the Wounded Warrior Program. To see pictures of Harbaugh’s trip, including the signing of autographs for American fighters, check out this link.
MOCKING TIGHT ENDS TO THE RAVENS
ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay released updated mock drafts earlier this week, and both analysts see the Ravens drafting North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round. Ebron is listed at 6-4 and 245 pounds, and last season at North Carolina the big target hauled in 62 receptions for 973 yards, averaging an impressive 15.7 yards per reception.
Kiper compared Ebron to former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, saying he would be a trustworthy target for quarterback Joe Flacco. “Ebron is the kind of new-breed tight end who can split out, line up in the slot or take a hit from a strong side linebacker and get into a route where he becomes a matchup threat and a likely winner for contested passes.”
Meanwhile, both Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBSsports.com see the Ravens selecting wide receiver Mike Evans from Texas A&M. Evans has been linked to the Ravens in many mocks, as the Ravens made a point of saying at the end of year press conference that they need to upgrade at wide receiver.
The direction the Ravens go in will likely be determined by the decisions the team makes before the draft about pursuing free agents, including their own. If they lose tight end Dennis Pitta to free agency and sign a receiver in free agency such as Eric Decker or Julian Edelman, tight end becomes the likely direction. If Pitta is retained, a receiver may be a more likely choice. As many Ravens fans are quick to point out, the offensive line is a position of need as well.