THE GOOSE SHOULD’VE BEEN COOKING

Lombardi's Way THE GOOSE SHOULD’VE BEEN COOKING

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THE SECONDARY COULD BE PRIMARY

TL,

I enjoyed Dev’s write up on how the Ravens might attempt to handle the free safety position formerly held by Will Demps. When tying this to the write-up in Lombardi’s Way, one could argue that fixing the free safety slot is the second biggest impediment the Ravens face in attempting to get back to the play-offs. The number 1 hurdle to most Ravens fans is the question of whether Kyle Boller will emerge as a player that is capable of taking this team to the next level, maybe even beginning to win a game or two on the road.

Assuming Steve McNair comes to the Ravens and stabilizes the offense, the replacement to Will Demps, who arguably struggled in pass coverage anyway, will come under the microscope in a large way this year. Consider that the Ravens will be facing teams that include a number of excellent pass catching tight ends such as Kellen Winslow, Jr. (twice), Heath Miller (twice), Antonio Gates, Alge Crumpler, Tony Gonzales, and Robert Royal — and that’s only one half of the schedule.

While most ardent Ravens fans appreciate the talents of Adalius Thomas, you would have to concur that he is no match for any of these guys over the course of an entire 60 minute football game. The opposing QB will target the bulls-eye on the back of Adalius’ jersey and this will place added pressure on the rest of the secondary.

I’m not sure that either BJ Ward or Dawan Landry is quite ready to handle this type of workload. With additional questions at the nickel-back slot, which could potentially be filled by the rookie draft choice Dave Pittman, and Chris McAlister’s penchant to lose focus against the top receivers, perhaps the Ravens should consider making a play for Dwight Smith, or even Ty Law.

This may not have been an issue for the team if they would have given Gerome Sapp a chance to prove his worth. You wonder why Corey Fuller was kept around instead when he was most assuredly washed up. It appears that this decision has come back to bite the team.

The secondary is anything but stabilized at this point. I am however happy to see that the team is infusing youth in this group as opposed to the failed Dale Carter, Corey Fuller and Deion Sanders experiments of the past three years.

Here’s to new purple blood!

Eric, Owings Mills

Eric,

As always, your notes are thoughtful and insightful.

The Ravens secondary certainly will be interesting to watch this coming season.  I can tell you that every time I’ve been to Owings Mills over the past few weeks, I’ve seen Chris McAlister there.  He looks healthy, strong and he appears to be very upbeat.  Last season, McAlister had some physical ailments – nothing major but a nuisance nonetheless, and it affected his play.  The Ravens kept that on the down low for obvious reasons.  I expect a strong season from CMac this year.

Samari Rolle while not spectacular in 2005, he was solid and is eager to get back on a winning track.  Ed Reed is healthy.  This all bodes well for the Ravens yet it still does not address the open safety slot.  Dev did a nice job in explaining alternative ways of defending sans a second starting safety.  I would add that a veteran currently not on the roster is a possibility (you mentioned the Saints’ Dwight Smith as did I last week in The Grapevine).  Don’t rule out a rookie – Dawan Landry.  Landry is a hard hitter and strong in run support.  He might give opponents a thing or two to think about when crossing the middle.  His former coach at Georgia Tech Chan Gailey, likens Landry to John Lynch – not the guy you want covering a speedy receiver downfield but certainly someone that brings passion and a zest to the game. 

You mentioned that Demps didn’t play well when healthy last year and therefore a drop off might not even be felt if Landry is inserted.  Demps will be missed more on special teams than anything else in my opinion.  Last year he wasn’t even a sure tackler in run support.

Another player to keep in mind during nickel and dime situations besides rookies David Pittman and Derrick Martin is special teams ace Corey Ivy.

As for Gerome Sapp, while I don’t believe he’s a big loss, he could help the team now and when compared to Corey Fuller, that decision in retrospect is actually embarrassing.  Not only did they let a more productive player go, the Ravens in keeping Ray’s boy Fuller, also helped to perpetuate a divisive locker room that while seemingly dormant today, still has the potential to rear its ugly head again if the Ravens aren’t careful.

And finally, while I would agree that the Dale Carter experiment was a failure, I don’t think Deion Sanders’ was.  Last year Deion was out of position as the nickel.  Throughout his career Deion used the sidelines to his advantage.  From the slot, that advantage was taken away and at his age, the fluidity in his hips just wasn’t there.  He was a corner, not a nickel and in 2004 when he was used that way, he played much better when Baxter dropped in from the corner to cover the slot.

As you suggest, it could be one of the Ravens’ biggest challenges in 2006.  But suffice it to say the youth movement in the secondary is long overdue.

Rave on,

TL 

POP

TL,

I just read your article about fixing a hole.  You talked about McNair averaging 20.5 ppg in games he started and finished last year compared to the Ravens 16.5.  Just so you can get your facts straight.  Boller average 21 ppg in games he started and finished last year (168 Points in 8 games with a 4-4 record).

I don’t want to burst your bubble but I don’t think the Ravens fortunes hang on McNair or Boller being QB.

To me there are 2 primary functions that the Ravens must improve to be successful.  They need to run the ball effectively and the defense has got to stop Carson Palmer.  Palmer hung up 63 points in 2 games last year, and his come back victory in 2004 is what kept the Ravens out of the playoffs.

If they don’t improve in those 2 areas it won’t matter who is the quarterback.

Bruce, Baltimore

Bruce,

The Ravens scored 20+ points 3 times last year, once during a game against the Bengals when they fell behind 34-0.  I think you would agree that the Bengals more than likely packed it in for the day when up by such a margin and clearly with the game in control.

The other two times they scored 20+ were at the end of the season when the Ravens had little to play for and 78 of Boller’s points came during such games (v. Green Bay and Minnesota).

During the other 6 games that Boller started, he produced a whopping total of 58 points.

Sorry, Boller isn’t getting it done particularly on the road.  And as long as Boller is the QB, they won’t be able to run the football.  He’s been exposed and with him behind center, it invites 8 and 9 in the box until he can begin to threaten opposing defenses vertically.  Isn’t a 69.2 QB Rating after 34 starts and a 4-13 record on the road enough?  In only 5 of those road games was his QB rating about 77 and in 11 his rating was 65 or lower, the lowest of which was a 22 against the Redskins during a win!

I like Kyle Boller the person.  I like Kyle Boller the competitor.  I like him for his toughness and willingness to accept blame.  I no longer like him for the Ravens starting QB.  And if by some painful twist of fate he is the opening day starter, I hope I’m completely wrong.  But you must admit the evidence is compelling and to think he isn’t the biggest problem is so Pollyanna.

As for Carson Palmer, the Ravens play him twice and he doesn’t play defense.  If Boller is the starter, it won’t matter how effective they are at stopping Carson Palmer.  They won’t be able to run consistently, they won’t be able to win on the road and they will suffer through another sub .500 season.

Hate to burst YOUR bubble Bruce!

But I think our hearts are in the same place…..

Steve McNair…….Come on down!

TL

YA NEVA KNOW

TL,

I believe, as you so articulated in your article, that it starts with a cohesive Offensive line, with 1 years experience playing together in the same system, and the acquisition of McNair, that the Ravens will surprise many this year.  Everything which was pointed out in your article is definitely plausible, and realistic.  If the defensive secondary can come together, which is the area that I’m most concerned about (assuming, of course, that McNair comes on over), that the Ravens can rebound this year and make the playoffs.  We shall see.

Keep up the good work…

Raven Joe

RJ,

It all starts with McNair.  Without him, brace yourself, approach 2006 like you did in 2002 and hope for spirited play, 100% effort from the first whistle on opening day to the last on the season’s finale and for momentum heading into 2007.

To the future…short and long-term,

TL

“JACKED” UP

TL,

Since the end of last season I have spent quite a bit of time objectively thinking of the possibilities regarding our Ravens.  My conclusion has been to temper my enthusiasm and look at the Ravens as a team in decline that might age gracefully but could very well crash and burn.  There has been little to get jacked up about this off season. 

Until recently.

I think the Ravens had a good draft.  Now we hear that Ozzie’s biggest off-season bet might actually become reality in the name of Steve McNair.  Wow, that is something to get excited about.  A former Co-MVP of the league, all of the leadership, toughness and skill he brings.  So what if he plays only ten or twelve games, Boller will benefit immensely from the experience.  Now, if I can make a ton of assumptions (Ray Lewis shut’s up and plays ball, Ed Reed gets his contract, McNair actually suits up in a Ravens Jersey and Brian Billick adjusts and the team responds) we might have something here!

These developments/assumptions combined with the free agent/retirement exodus from Steelers and the significant number of turds now employed by the Bengals I think I can see the Ravens being competitive.  And if our beloved Ravens were to go relatively injury free who knows, maybe lightening strikes twice here in the land of pleasant living. 

Can’t wait…when does training camp open?

Jack, Baltimore

Jack,

Although it’s very early, I believe that when all is said and done, we will look back at the draft classes of 2005 and 2006 and say that those two were among the best in the Ravens’ history.

Until then, 75 days and counting…

TL

YOUR GOOSE IS COOKED!

TL,

My man, you’re missing the best Ravens hit ever!!  Not McCrary’s sack on Gannon in the AFC championship game, but when Goose hammered Gannon.  Goose exploded through the line sacking/flattening Gannon then while on top gave a wing flap forcing more weight on the helpless Raider.  This hit KO’d Gannon and the Raiders.  I suppose you may have left this out because some considered the hit to be dirty.  Maybe so, but it personified the Ravens ultra physical blue collar style of D.

This was a historic moment, how could this go overlooked??!!??

JD Walker

JD,

The beauty in Top Guns is that the topics are often debatable.  When we decided to offer that page, our collective intent was to serve up topics that might make for great pub conversations.  The “Greatest Hits” certainly fit that description.

I would argue that your choice certainly affected that AFC Championship Game yet it wasn’t the difference between a win and a loss.  The Ravens win that game with or without Rich Gannon going against them.

And let’s face it, that wasn’t exactly a clean play by Goose and it wasn’t as much of a hit as it was a belly flop.

Like I said, Top Guns is always debatable.  I even argued with myself.  Today I think Jamie Sharper’s hit on Hilliard was the greatest because it altered the way the Giants attacked the Ravens – it certainly influenced Armani Toomer as he telegraphed his route to Duane Starks.  Toomer rounded his route thinking that Ray Lewis or Jamie Sharper was lurking in the middle.  His tip to Starks enable the Ravens CB to jump the route and convert the Kerry Collins pass into a Pick 6 and he did it on the grandest stage of all in professional sports – the Super Bowl.

Pluck the Goose,

TL

DEMPS DUMPED?

TL,

I know Demps wasn’t a fan favorite, but I’m surprised at the flat out showing him the door. You can’t have an all pro at every position. I remember during his rookie year, there was talk about hitting the rookie wall and the Raven’s found out that he had more snaps than anybody on the team!  

An undrafted rookie on the field more than anyone!

Secondly, this whole ordeal of playing AD at every position is out of hand. Everybody has a “best scenario”. It’s like batting from leadoff to the five hole.

Thanks,

David, Baltimore

David,

I agree that you can’t have Pro Bowl players at every position.  But the fact is, Demps had a sub par season in 2005 before his injury and he made over $1.4 million.  He was beaten repeatedly by tight ends (see Heath Miller) and his tackling left much to be desired.  If you aren’t good in coverage as a safety, you better at least be good in run support.  In 2005, Demps was neither and given that he was a free agent and looking for a bump in money, I have to disagree with you.  It was time to say goodbye.

On the topic of AD, hey if you are that versatile, why not use the versatility?  If you’ve got it, flaunt it.  AD’s ability to play so many positions on the field keeps opponents guessing.  When you guess, you make mistakes and that’s exactly what Rex Ryan wants to do – force mistakes.

Keep on truckin’ AD,

TL

DUMP DEMPS!

TL,

I can’t believe we are even discussing a viable replacement for Demps. He was, and still is a bum. I was glad when he was released. He was an undrafted free agent who made the team when he intercepted a pre-season 2nd string QB a few years ago. He is slow and missed more tackles than he made. His blown coverages were in many cases responsible for Ravens losses. There will be many decent safety’s available when the cut-down happens to sign the rookie class. I hope that with the McNair signing that we have cap room to pick them up. Can you tell me under the proposed McNair deal and rookie signing allotment, how much money will be left for filling holes?

As always, a concerned season ticket holder,

Rob, Baltimore

Rob,

As mentioned above, Demps certainly struggled last season although I have to say, I think you are unnecessarily harsh on the undrafted free agent.  However I do agree that letting him go was the right choice. 

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Ravens make a play for a veteran safety.  Those released in the summer don’t often have much negotiating leverage and the Ravens could offer a free agent safety a very attractive job – as a possible starter on a top ranked defense.  Safeties aren’t the highest paid players on the field so even after a possible McNair signing, I’m sure the Ravens will leave some room for such a safety and there have been reports (although I’ve received no confirmation at this point) that McAlister re-structured his deal to create space.

Don’t be shocked if another rookie is starting at safety in 2006 – Dawan Landry.  He’s a fiery player with outstanding character and a passion for the game.  Yesterday at rookie camp he was spirited and vocal.  He’s strong up in the box and as my colleague John Gehrig recently suggested to me, he could be the “46” that the Ravens were missing last year.  Time will tell but don’t be surprised if No. 26 is your opening day starter.  And as you suggest, the shoes he’s filling aren’t all that big anyway.

Where there isn’t a Will, there’s a way,

TL

YOUR WITNESS COUNSEL

TL,

As always a great show yesterday.  As you talked about McNair though something came to me as I thought like a lawyer.

The question about why his agent leaked the terms of the deal with the Ravens may not be for the teams not already in the mix.  McNair was disrespected and could have his agent not talking with the Titans.  But with his history and status there he may not really want to leave.  So what better way to negotiate with the Titans than to publicly roll out the terms that are "acceptable" to him.  A three-year deal (while waiting on Young) with the same guaranteed money serves their purposes and gets the Titans the cap room they need.  I know that the beat writer from Nashville gives the odds at 25% that he is back next year, but I smell a bidding process involved here.  Of course, I could be totally off-base too.

Again, great show and thanks for the time to bleed purple.

Steve, Baltimore

Steve,

Interesting thought but I think that Jeff Fisher ideally would like to have both McNair and Young together.  But McNair doesn’t want to restructure and end up playing for just one year unless he’s paid handsomely to do so.  If he doesn’t get his $9 million this season, he would restructure but with no loss in income.  And if the Titans do restructure, they will eventually face more of the dead money that has crippled their cap for the past two seasons when economics will eventually force McNair out and Young in as the starter.

Never say never but at this point, it is an extreme long shot in my opinion that McNair stays with the Titans.

Thanks for writing and listening.  Your support is very much appreciated.

TL 

TL,

I’m not crazy about adding Steve McNair at this point, as a starter.   A year or two ago, yes, but the whole idea behind giving Kyle Boller all those starts was to develop him into an NFL starter.  Putting KB on the bench now is a step backwards, isn’t it?

I can definitely see McNair as a backup.  It’s about impossible for a QB to take every snap, anymore in this league.   I agree that starting McNair at this point gives the team a better chance to win, but it won’t help us down the road (I can’t see him playing 2-3 years from now).  And I can’t see him starting more than 6-8 games this year, considering his age and history [of injuries].

To me, the most likely scenario, if they make Steve McNair starter, is the Ravens start 2-2 and he gets hurt in game five, and KB comes off the bench, and hasn’t developed much this year since he hasn’t played.   I don’t see this as going forward.

Speaking of QB’s, there must be some serious flaw with Drew Olson.  A QB at a big-time school to puts up decent numbers and does not get drafted?   UCLA does have a reputation as a ‘bottom-feeder’, so maybe he didn’t produce against big-time competition.   Whatever the deal is, it can’t hurt the Ravens to try him out.

Sail  on,

Sailor Sam Bozman

Sailor Sam,

Can Kyle go any more backward?  I don’t see how putting him at No. 2 hurts him.  He seems to do much better when he feels less pressure.  Think of meaningless games and games during which the Ravens were well behind and he could just air it out (no pun intended) with reckless abandon.  He performed much better then.  One could argue that those performances took place when expectations and pressures were low.  Coming off the bench could be another such situation.

If the Ravens can get 2 or 3 seasons out of McNair, there’s still a chance that Boller could be the man in 2008 or 2009.  In all likelihood as you’ve indicated, he’ll get starts along the way anyway.  And if that is the case, all is not lost with Boller or the club’s investment in him.  Maybe he’s a late bloomer like Matt Hasselbeck.  I don’t see how his 34 games as a starter hurt him.  It can only help in my opinion.  Some folks worry that being benched might hurt his psyche.  If it does, do you want such a fragile mind leading your team?  I know I don’t.

A little tough love is warranted and if he can’t take the heat…well you know the rest…

TL

LET’S NOT RUIN THIS BRUIN!

TL,

Even though I’m excited about seeing Steve McNair play for the Ravens next year, I may be even more excited to see how undrafted free agent QB Drew Olson works out for the team.  I think for the first time in a long time there will be some good talent at the QB position in Baltimore.  Hopefully with the addition of these two guys, it will help Boller step up his game which could only help the Ravens.  I just hope that the Ravens keep Olson on their roster and not let some other team (mainly the Browns again) snatch him up.

Rick, Perry Hall

Rick,

Hopefully the Ravens have learned a lesson from past dealings with Josh Harris and Derek Anderson, both snatched from the Ravens’ Practice Squad by Phil Savage.  I watched both of these players closely during Summer Camps, particularly Anderson.  What you saw against the Redskins during that preseason game, was the equivalent of a desert mirage.  Keep in mind that Anderson was going up against many Redskins’ defenders that never even made the team.  More often than not in camp, Anderson looked shaky while staring down receivers.  He also tripped over his own feet many times.  His performance against the Redskins has become borderline folklore. 

As for Olson, I think he has a shot.  Brian St. Pierre will be his primary competitor and that’s a player that couldn’t even bump Charlie Batch on the Steelers’ depth chart.  I see little ceiling in St. Pierre and that being the case, why not try and develop Olson?  QB coach Rick Neuheisel thinks highly of him and that could influence a roster move come August.  My bet is that unless Olson trips over himself like Anderson did, they won’t risk sliding him onto the Practice Squad. 

He’ll beat St. Pierre for the No. 3 spot if their camp and preseason performances are comparable.  They’ll go with Olson because of a higher ceiling.

The roof is on fire,

TL

PARANOIA WILL DESTROY YA

TL,

It seems that once again you have underestimated Ozzie and the Ravens. If Adam Schefter is correct and he usually is than your crazy unsubstantiated worries about the Browns have been refuted. The Ravens and McNair have agreed to an 11 mil signing bonus that no other team will dare match. What I can’t understand about your Phil Savage paranoia is why you thought.  McNair would want to go to another team that has a young QB ready to start. Let alone a franchise as pitiful as the Browns. It’s now apparent that the Ravens are willing to wait because of this agreement. So don’t expect a trade anytime soon.

Sincerely,

Eric in Reisterstown

Eric,

I hope you are right and that my concerns prove to be “crazy unsubstantiated worries.”

However, if this alleged agreement with McNair doesn’t pan out will it then be worth not coughing up a fourth round pick?  After the Ravens gave up the same for Kevin Johnson?  It’s like any insurance….an unnecessary expenditure unless you need it. 

And you are delirious if you think the Vikings or the Browns wouldn’t step up to play ball with McNair if Johnson or Frye go down.  They have significantly more cap space than the Ravens.  The same with the Chargers should Rivers goes down.  You remove these concerns by offering a fourth.

Schefter is a mouthpiece for the NFL.  He should be correct….he works for NFL.com.

Let’s hope that he is right about McNair and the Ravens….

FYI….my column was an opinion.  You should learn the difference between reporting and opinion. When you have the stones to publish an opinion, come talk to me.  If you have all the answers, let’s hear them.  I’m sure our visitors would be interested in reading something other than “unsubstantiated worries.” 

Bring it on brother.  Really!  The next guest column is yours.  Can you step up?

The gauntlet has been thrown!

TL

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is the founder EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com. His work has been featured on various sports websites and he hosts The Russell Street Report and Armchair Quarterback both seen and heard on Fanimal Radio. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi
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