RAVENS NOTEBOOK: Ravens take on imposing look at corner

Street Talk RAVENS NOTEBOOK: Ravens take on imposing look at corner

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BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens’ defense took on a bigger, more imposing look at cornerback Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Experimenting with young defensive backs Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams, the Ravens used a different combination at cornerback with their first-team defense.

The Chiefs targeted Smith as Pro Bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe caught two passes for 40 yards against him. There was one play where Smith got a hand on it and Bowe still caught it.

On a precise 26-yard pass, quarterback Matt Cassel connected with Bowe just past the Ravens’ first-round draft pick from Colorado.

"I thought that I had good coverage on all the plays, but I’ve got to figure out a way to get that ball out," Smith said. "It’s not like college because it’s the pros, but I felt comfortable. I tried the slow the game down, but I still have the rookie jitters because it’s the first game for me really getting out there.

"I went against a Pro Bowler and I felt like I had blanket coverage. He just made great catches. Just to get my feet wet gave me confidence, more confidence to see what you really expect out of a Pro Bowl receiver like that."

Williams got off to a fast start, knocking down three passes, including one directed at Bowe.

However, he was left trailing behind former Ravens wide receiver Terrance Copper on his touchdown catch with 12 seconds left in the first half.

"The touchdown was something I shouldn’t have given up," Williams said. "I just let my technique down and he got inside. I should have just stayed in my technique, stayed in my form, and I didn’t. Whether it was fatigue or whatever it was, I still needed to come out there with the mindset that my technique needs to be great every play, every down."

The coaching staff is impressed with Williams’ work, though.

"Cary is very talented," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s worked very hard. He really understands the defense, but what I like about him is he’s playing with great technique. At corner, that’s so important. He’s got a lot of talent, but he’s playing with great technique."

Smith played sparingly against the Philadelphia Eagles after missing several practices with a groin injury.

"Jimmy has done really well," Harbaugh said. "We were really patient with the groin and he did a great job rehabbing it. I think he was learning the whole time.

"He’s had a chance to get out there and apply some of the things he’s learned about our defense to playing. He’s very smart, he works really hard. He’s learning to be a technician, and the sky is the limit."

For Williams, this marked his biggest audition to date in the Ravens’ secondary.

He operated as a dime back and on special teams last season.

"I wanted to go out there and show I could compete as a first-team starter, and I think I put on a good showing," Williams said. "I don’t think I’m worthy of a starting position. I just think that every day I need to work on something. It’s nothing that I’m worthy of yet, because I haven’t proved myself.

"Eventually, those decisions will be made by the coaches. I’m not here to make that decision. They’re going to put the best 11 out there."

Williams’ best play was when he broke on the ball to prevent receiver Jerheme Urban from catching a slant and he nearly intercepted a pass.

Williams got into a back-and-forth with Urban.

"Yeah, because he’s pushing me in the back," Williams said. "I got across his face and he’s pushed me in the back. He’s playing a little dirty. I guess he was upset that we won the playoff game against them and he wanted to be physical. Whatever that was. But I wasn’t worried about it. It just was what it was.

"It’s just a part of the game. He just wanted to come out and be physical and stuff like that, and that’s cool. I don’t shy away from the physicality of the game. It is what it is. I invite that actually. It makes it fun."

ANOTHER BIG PLAY FOR MCPHEE: One week after he caused a fumble on a sack of Eagles quarterback Mike Kafka that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Lardarius Webb that was overturned after an instant-replay review, rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee was at it again.

The aggressive fifth-round draft pick from Mississippi State crushed Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko in the second quarter for a sack. However, the fumble ruling was overturned on an instant-replay challenge.

Nonetheless, the Ravens are highly impressed with McPhee’s motor.

"The guy has what we call Raven traits," Pagano said. "He plays like a Raven. I mean, he’s relentless. He’s a violent, violent football player. So, this guy is a great kid. He doesn’t say anything; he just comes in here every day and he’s like a sponge.

"He’s soaking everything up, and then he comes out to practice and he’s just going at a thousand miles per hour. He’s nonstop, and he’s getting better every day. I think his production in the game is just a byproduct of what he’s doing during the week."

For McPhee, it’s getting a tad frustrating to have his sacks and forced fumbles nullified by officials.

"You’ve just got to stay humble and stay focused," he said. "I’m just trying to keep my mind straight and continue to run to the ball. It’s a lot of frustration because this is my opportunity to show the coaches that I’m worth playing for the Ravens’ defense."

FOXWORTH MAKES PRESEASON DEBUT: One year after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and missing an entire season, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth made a quiet, uneventful preseason debut.

"It felt good, I’m happy to be back out there doing stuff," Foxworth said. "It wasn’t emotional at all. The knee felt really good. I’ll just keep working. Fortunately, we have enough talent that it doesn’t matter who we put out there.

"I’m really impressed with Jimmy and Cary. I’ve been singing their praises for a while. I’m happy to see it translate on the field."

A member of the NFL Players Association Executive committee, Foxworth fiercely negotiated against Chiefs owner Clark Hunt. Before the game, though, they enjoyed no longer being adversaries.

"We had a nice little pregame conversation, a talk and a hug," Foxworth said. "I’m sure he’s happy to be where he is and I’m happy to be where I am."

D. REED SHINES: Lee Evans wasn’t the only Ravens receiver to have a big game.

Playing for the first time since tearing a ligament in his left wrist that required offseason surgery, Reed caught three passes for 68 yards. That included a 41-yard reception.

Reed had an early dropped pass on a Tyrod Taylor throw.

"I was so anxious," Reed said. "I just got a little anxious and I dropped it. After that, I knew I had to make plays. It’s what I do. I’m a receiver. I’m a football player, and it’s what I do. I’m glad I’m able to catch like I used to and get back into my groove as a receiver."

Reed led the NFL in kickoff return average last season.

"The first drop, obviously I wasn’t too happy with," Harbaugh said. "And then he came back and made the very next catch and then Tyrod came to him again with a big play. To see the guy come up with that play was really huge. For only practicing a few days, that was great to see."

Against the Chiefs, Reed averaged 22.7 yards per catch.

"That’s what I did all through college," said Reed, a fifth-round draft pick last year out of Utah. "I feel like I can make those plays. That was my thing through high school and college."

Reed now enters the receiver competition behind starters Anquan Boldin and Evans.

"We’ve got a lot of great receivers," Reed said. "I still got to compete for a job just like the rest of those guys, compete week in and week out in practice and games."

OFFENSIVE LINE IMPROVES: The Ravens allowed only two sacks one week after surrendering six against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Rookie right tackle Jah Reid seemed to make the most improvement.

"I feel like I improved," Reid said. "I know there’s a long way to go, and I just need to keep working. I want to help this team the best way I can, and I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work in practice to get there. I think I progressed. They worked with me hard and told me to try to improve week to week.

"I thought I had a little more confidence in what I was doing. I knew a little more about what I was doing out there. I felt I matched the opponents’ speed. It was good, but I still have a long way to go."

Oniel Cousins looked more comfortable at right guard than he did at right tackle last week.

"I enjoyed playing there and I’m glad we won the game," Cousins said. "We improved from last week. That’s the most important thing. We’re going to watch the tape, and we’re going to try to fix it and be better next week."

DICKSON RETURNS: After missing the first preseason game with a hamstring injury, tight end Ed Dickson started and caught one pass for four yards.

"It felt good to get my hands on the ball a couple times and be a part of the offense after sitting out a couple days," Dickson said. "I still have to shake off some rust, but I’m getting there."

RICKY WILLIAMS DEBUT: Backup running back Ricky Williams had a solid game in his debut with the Ravens since signing a two-year contract.

He didn’t put up big numbers, though, rushing for 14 yards on four carries in relief of Ray Rice.

"It was a great experience," Williams said. "It’s been an acclimation and it’s been difficult a little bit, getting used to the way things are done around here.

"It’s nice because I think our running backs complement each other. I’m the kind of guy that likes to get downhill and run hard. Ray definitely hits homeruns. Teams are definitely going to have trouble with us this year."

SPECIAL TEAMS: Outside linebacker Sergio Kindle is known mostly for his pass rushing ability, but the former All-Big 12 pass rusher displayed another facet of his game.

He nearly blocked two punts, narrowly missing the football.

"I had the wrong block technique," Kindle said. "You’re supposed to have your hands out and I had my hands up. Happy about the rush, but unhappy about the end result."

Kindle missed his entire rookie season with a fractured skull, so contributing and playing at all is a positive.

"The organization kept me here for a reason, and I’m just happy that I get a chance to prove to them that I’ve still got what they saw back in Texas," said Kindle, a second-round draft pick last year from the University of Texas. "That’s why I’m here. It feels good just to contribute to this organization, this team, this defense, because it don’t get no better than that.

"With time, I’ll fine-tune my skills even more, but I don’t think I’m where I need to be until I actually get a sack, you know? Close ain’t good enough. I need to get there."

RETURN APPEARANCE: A trio of former Ravens returned to Baltimore as newly-minted Chiefs: nose guard Kelly Gregg, fullback Le’Ron McClain and offensive tackle Jared Gaither.

Gregg decked Ray Rice for a one-yard loss in the first quarter and chased quarterback Joe Flacco from the pocket.

The popular former Ravens defensive lineman had four tackles in the first half.

"It was fun being back," Gregg said. "I was telling my wife, I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, but, as I was thinking about it, I got a little nervous. I haven’t been nervous in a long time.

"All the fans are great. They were great my whole time here. I appreciate them. There are good people here in Baltimore. I have no complaints on that end."

Gregg praised Ravens center Bryan Mattison.

"He is doing great," Gregg said. "He has a bright future."

A former Pro Bowl selection that left the Ravens after complaining about not touching the ball much last year, McClain rushed for two yards on one carry and caught one pass for 15 yards.

Gaither didn’t play at all.

RAY LEWIS EXCUSED FROM GAME: Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis was excused from the game due to his aunt being seriously ill.

"Prayers go out to my man ray and his entire family while we ask for a miracle to restore his aunties’ health," Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo wrote on his Twitter account.

Lewis missed practice Wednesday.

"Family matters," Harbaugh said.

With Lewis absent, the Ravens starter Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe at inside linebacker.

Ellerbe split a sack with cornerback Lardarius Webb, finishing with three tackles.

"It felt good to be out there with the ones," Ellerbe said. "It felt good starting. It’s been a long time since I started. I felt like I played average. I didn’t make that many plays I feel like I could have played better."

INJURY UPDATE: Several players were sidelined Friday night for Baltimore, including six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk (knee surgery) and offensive guard Marshal Yanda (back spasms).

Yanda was on the sidelines in street clothes and appeared to be walking without any trouble. He hasn’t practiced in a week.

Also not playing: wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring), cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring), linebacker Tavares Gooden (neck), safety Marcus Paschal (quadriceps), running backs Matt Lawrence (undisclosed) and running back Damien Berry (ankle).

"Yeah, I’m getting better," Carr said. "I’ll be back soon."

Offensive tackle Ramon Harewood was activated this week from the physically unable to perform list and made his preseason debut after undergoing surgery on both knees last year and spending his rookie season on injured reserve.

"It’s a part of taking the field, you get the butterflies and all that," Harewood said. "After the first play, I was straight, though I’ll give myself a passing grade, but there’s still room for lots of improvement."

"I’ve got to work a lot on my pass sets, staying square to the line of scrimmage, working on keeping my post foot up and not getting beat inside. Other than that, just basic stuff. I think I did alright, but the eye in the sky never lies."

BEARS TRADE DEBACLE REVISITED: In the wake of Harbaugh and owner Steve Bisciotti ripping the Chicago Bears after an aborted trade controversy during the NFL draft, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said he has mended fences with the Ravens’ head coach

"I was surprised that he said that publicly," Angelo told a Chicago radio station "I knew they were upset, and I would be upset too. I did call John, and we cleared the air. There was no intent on our part."

Harbaugh was furious that the Bears never called in the trade to the league office after a verbal agreement was reached for the Ravens and Chicago to switch places in the first round in exchange for the Bears to give Baltimore its fourth-round draft pick. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suggested that Chicago compensate the Ravens with a fourth-rounder, but the Bears declined.

Even though the trade fell through, the Ravens wound up with the player they had targeted: Smith.

"Whatever facts that he thought were facts I said were misrepresented," Angelo said. "I explained some things to him from our side. We’d be more than willing … I said check the phone logs, do what you want, talk to whoever you want. What I said initially is what it was. I think John understands that. We left it wishing each other well. I think it’s in the past and it’s behind us."

Earlier this summer, Harbaugh said: "It was disappointing. They can get mad at me if they want, but I’m not buying the mistake thing. It wasn’t a mistake. They knew what they were doing. They put their guy on the phone. They agreed to a pick. They got their guy on the phone.

"They recognized he wasn’t getting calls from the team behind them, and they basically stalled for over a minute, telling us they had called the trade in. They hadn’t called the trade in. They said it was a mistake. Those guys have been doing it for a long time, c’mon."

Angelo reiterated that he meant no harm to the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

"I have nothing but the highest respect for the organization," Angelo said. "Ozzie Newsome and I have gone back a long, long way. It was unfortunate. It was a mistake. I’m embarrassed by it. These are good people. There was no intent involved in the least.

"I feel John understands that, and I certainly respect the job that he and Ozzie do. They’re a great organization and I certainly wish them well."

 

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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