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OWINGS MILLS — In the spirit of the ever-popular alphabet and since school and minicamps are over, hereâ€™s a little A-to-Z look at the Baltimore Ravens. Well, actually just the first 13 letters in todayâ€™s installment. We can do the second half later on this summer.
A is for Antwan Barnes, the aggressive, speedy rookie linebacker who, based on glowing first impressions during minicamp, is beginning to greatly resemble a fourth-round steal reminiscent of nabbing wide receiver Demetrius Williams last year. Barnes could wind up as the Ravensâ€™ situational pass rusher, barring any setbacks. One more thought: You just canâ€™t teach a 6-foot-1, 240-pound athlete how to run the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds. Wisely, you just send him after the quarterback.
B is for Kyle Boller, the backup quarterback whose tenure as a starter ended last year with the trade for Steve McNair. Boller has quietly gone about his business, improving his reads and bulking up about 10 pounds in the upper body. Expect him to be a good soldier again on the bench. If thereâ€™s one thing to be said for Boller, he doesnâ€™t make waves. I anticipate a change of scenery for him once he become an unrestricted free agent.
C is for Dan Cody, the oft-injured former second-round draft pick pensively anticipating word from a doctor next month on whether a thumb-sized piece of cartilage in his hyperextended knee will require surgery. If it heals on its own, the hard-working, hard-luck outside linebacker could be in line for a significant defensive role. If it needs surgery, it takes four months to recover and will end his season. For those keeping score, thatâ€™s three knee injuries in three NFL seasons.
D is for Derrick Mason, the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver who sounded off loudly in January about his reduced role. Mason said heâ€™s put his frustrations behind him, chalking it up to angst from the bitter playoff loss to the Colts. My prediction? Heâ€™ll be a little quieter, but he wonâ€™t be happy if heâ€™s not utilized enough to satisfy his thirst for serious involvement.
E is for Ed Reed, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year safety who seems intent on improving communication in the secondary while battling his penchant for gambling. Reedâ€™s first instinct is to take risks, anticipate throws and blitz. Unfortunately, the Ravens need him to account for coverage breakdowns and shadow receivers downfield. It seems like Reedâ€™s productivity has subtly dipped ever since Will Demps left town.
F is for Yamon Figurs, the ultra-fast rookie wide receiver drafted to ultimately unseat incumbent return specialist B.J. Sams. Although Figursâ€™ acceleration is incredible, he needs to do a better job of catching punts and kickoffs with his hands, not his body. The same goes for playing receiver, where the Ravens could really use a legitimate fourth option to emerge from a pool of Figurs, Clarence Moore and Devard Darling.
G is for Ben Grubbs, the first-round draft pick from Auburn whoâ€™s apparently not going to start immediately at right guard as initially expected. Grubbs is going to have to pay his dues as a reserve behind Chris Chester, who enters training camp as the starter on the right side. Look for an eventual interior lineup of Jason Brown at left guard, Chester at center and Grubbs next to him, but not right away. Mike Flynn remains entrenched in the middle and valuable because of his line calls and experience. Grubbs appears to be as advertised: a mobile, talented blocker.
H is for Haloti Ngata, the second-year defensive tackle who improved steadily last year as an instant starter. The 6-foot-4, 340-pound former first-round pick has markedly improved his footwork and techniques and looks much quicker and leaner. Primarily, heâ€™s a run-stopper, but it wouldnâ€™t shock me if he did more in terms of penetrating the line of scrimmage as he matures.
I is for Corey Ivy, the diminutive reserve cornerback who bravely overcame a lacerated kidney that prompted an emergency landing in Pittsburgh for medical attention. Although undersized, the Ed Block Courage award winner remains a scrappy competitor who hasnâ€™t relaxed his grip on the nickel back job.
J is for Jarret Johnson, the replacement for All-Pro outside linebacker Adalius Thomas. Although not well-known around the league, Johnson obviously has the confidence of the organization behind him as they rewarded him with a multi-year contract with Thomas bolting to the New England Patriots for $35 million. While not as athletic or as versatile as Thomas, Johnson is a tough customer against the run. Look for him to primarily be a two-down linebacker.
K is for Keydrick Vincent, the former starting right guard who has been demoted and shifted to the second team at left guard behind Jason Brown. Vincent isn’t making waves about losing his job after a successful rehabilitation from sports hernia surgery.
L is for Le’Ron McClain, the burly rookie fullback from Alabama whose selection in the fourth round prompted congratulatory text messages from rival NFL executives to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. McClain is competing with veteran Justin Green for a starting job and has impressed the coaching staff with his 260-pound size, blocking skills and soft hands.
M is for Willis McGahee, the running back Baltimore traded three draft picks to acquire and entrusted with a $42 million contract. So far, his attitude problems and verbal gaffes that plagued his tenure with the Buffalo Bills havenâ€™t repeated themselves in Baltimore as he undergoes a honeymoon period with his new football team. He has looked fast, sharp and caught passes cleanly, all with a smile.
As Jamal Lewisâ€™ replacement, McGahee had better be the solution to the running game woes. Especially with the investment theyâ€™ve made in him So far, heâ€™s been a model citizen. From what Iâ€™ve heard from Buffalo insiders, McGahee is happy and productive as long as the team is winning, heâ€™s getting the ball plenty and his bank account is filled to the brim. Baltimore should provide all three ingredients.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.