LETTERS 2 TL: Ravens Q&A

Lombardi's Way LETTERS 2 TL: Ravens Q&A

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Joe Flacco has been receiving rave reviews for his mini-camp performances.  Do you think he will be the Ravens starter to open the season? Mike D., Pensacola, FL
TL: Mike I certainly hope not.  In my opinion the best thing that could happen for the Ravens at the position of quarterback both short term and more importantly long term is for Kyle Boller or Troy Smith to step up and provide competent QB play as a starter for the 2008 season.
I would really like to see the Ravens embrace the developmental process that the Bengals employed with Carson Palmer.  If you recall, Jon Kitna quarterbacked the entire 2003 season and he kept Palmer on the sidelines with a clipboard in hand a baseball cap on his head every single snap.  Kitna had a very good season in ’03 and for the Ravens to follow that same process, Boller or Smith has to step up.
Normally I would say that Boller is the safe bet to be the starter against the Bengals on September 7.  But one of the advantages he had over Smith was taken from him with the departure of Brian Billick and his antiquated offense.  Training camp and the preseason games will determine the starter and together let’s hope that the starter is one of the two throughout the season.  If not it will be an indication that the season has gone awry and if so, they’ll go Flacco.
I’ve heard you compare Joe Flacco to Ben Roethlisberger.  I’m sure you recall Big Ben’s success during his rookie season.  Why couldn’t Flacco enjoy similar success? Wayne S., Towson, MD
TL: Wayne, judging from film I’ve been able to watch on Flacco his pocket presence and awareness are reminiscent of Roethlisberger.  Not to get you too excited but from what I’ve witnessed Flacco is also fleeter afoot and his arm is significantly stronger than his divisional rival’s.
That said you have to keep in mind that Roethlisberger was supported by a pretty stout offensive line, a solid running game and an offensive system that the team had had in place for quite some time.  The Ravens have some questions on their offensive line and the new Cam Cameron offense arrives with a learning curve that will affect the team’s efficiency particularly early on during the season.
The offensive line had a poor season in ’07.  How do you think they will perform in 2008? Bruce P., Overlea
The play of the Ravens offensive line will affect wins and losses more than any other unit on the team in my opinion.  There is talent there – young talent.  Adam Terry is no Jonathan Ogden but then again, few are.  Terry however is a competent left tackle and he’s proven as much when called upon to sub for an ailing J.O.  Keep in mind that Terry did a great job against Aaron Schobel in the 2006 regular season finale against Buffalo.  Schobel registered 14 sacks that season and against Terry his only stat of the evening was an assisted tackle.  Schobel has even given J.O. problems in the past.
My biggest questions regarding the O-line are at the positions of center and right tackle.  Chris Chester has been a big disappointment and I don’t think he is stout enough to successfully engage the behemoth defensive tackles that populate the NFL.  He’s very good in space and getting to the second level but I am concerned about a collapsing pocket with Chester being the weak link. 
Ideally I would like to see someone other than Marshal Yanda step up and be efficient at the right tackle position.  John Harbaugh seems committed to developing Jared Gaither as a left tackle so he may be out of the right tackle equation.  If rookie O’Niel Cousins steps up and can handle the position that would enable Yanda to assume his more natural position at one of the two guard spots and allow Jason Brown to move to center.
I also think that improvement in the offensive line play will be a natural byproduct of an improved offensive system and improved coaching.  Efficiency, less predictability and more effective management of down and distance will help sustain drives and keep defenses on their heels.  A defense on its heels can’t react as quickly and those split seconds can be the difference between success and failure.
Last season the Ravens found themselves in so many third and long situations.  Mix in the fact that opponents completely disrespected the Ravens’ ability to attack downfield and the results in a short, compressed field are pretty predictable and pretty unsuccessful.
The Ravens failed to address their obvious problems in the secondary.  Will we see more of the same breakdowns and big plays in 2008? Jerry J., Pasadena, MD
TL: Certainly the proof is there that the Ravens secondary failed in ’07.  But don’t count me among those who think the problems were all on the DB’s.  As a result of injury and the departure of Adalius Thomas, the Ravens’ defenders were asked to do things differently in ’07 than in ’06.  Assignments were blown, a pass rush could not be sustained and quarterbacks consequently found the secondary to be easy pickings as they stood in the pocket seemingly counting to 7 Mississippi.
Corey Ivy was heavily criticized but let’s face it, he was out of position.  Ivy is an effective nickel or dime back.  The team also brought in Frank Walker and while the argument could be made that Walker was slightly overpaid, he can provide competent play as a nickel or dime.  Fabian Washington cost the team only a fourth round pick and he could prove to be their best offseason acquisition.  The knock on Washington is his tackling but keep in mind that defenders oftentimes amp up their game when they become Ravens.  Don’t be surprised if Washington is the starter in ’08 taking over for the incumbent Samari Rolle.
I also think the team’s pass rush will get back on track.  Trevor Pryce may not be the 13 sack player he was in ’06 but his presence will free up space for Terrell Suggs and the promising Antwan Barnes.  Look for Bart Scott to attack the line of scrimmage more in ’08 than in ’07.  Pressuring the quarterback has always been a secondary’s best friend.
Mark Clayton has fallen short of expectations.  Is it fair to officially label him a bust? Dave B., Ellicott City
I think it’s too early to label Clayton a bust.  If anything he could be labeled a bit soft but the skills are there and now those skills appear to be paired up with a big chip on his shoulder created by the naysayers.  Clayton has been hamstrung (no pun intended) by a predictable offense that isn’t receiver friendly unless of course you want 4 yard passes thrown your way on third and 9.  He also had some off-field distractions in ’07 that challenged his focus.  Word is that those distractions are now under wraps.  I look for Clayton to return to the ’06 form when he fell just shy of the 1,000 yard receiving mark.
Do you think the Ravens should offer a contract extension to Ray Lewis? Craig B., Sykesville, MD
TL: Absolutely not!  No one asked me (well actually you did Craig) but if I am Ozzie Newsome, I would let Ray play his heart out in ’08 in an attempt to prove that he has four or five years of gas left in the tank. 
I don’t think the gas is there to sustain that many more years.  Give me a productive ’08 and let’s see what the free agent market is willing to spend on a 34 year old linebacker with little tread left on the tires to go along with ailing shoulders.  It wouldn’t be the prudent thing to give Ray a lot of money before the team can get a read on what other clubs are willing to spend for the aging superstar.  If the market offers reasonable numbers to Ray, he’ll be back. 
However, if someone like Dan Snyder wants to dress him in burgundy and gold and is willing to pay through the nose, the Ravens MUST be just as willing to say goodbye.  I hope it doesn’t end that way but as Ray will tell you, “It’s just business.”
Photos by Sabina Moran

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24×7 Networks, LLC’s founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts “The Fanimal” also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. 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.

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