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Zach Orr
Photo Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens Twitter
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Why Zach Orr Could be a Secret Weapon

Ravens linebackers coach Zach Orr is a native of Loudoun County, Virginia, roughly 80 miles from his current place of employment in Owings Mills, Maryland. He grew up as a Redskins fan, the son of former NFL tight end Terry Orr who played in DC for 8 seasons and is a two-time Super Bowl Champion. Zach spent his formative years in DeSoto, Texas, graduating from DeSoto High School before moving on to the University of North Texas and their Mean Green football program.

Orr wasn’t highly regarded by NFL scouts. He went undrafted in 2014, eventually signing with the Ravens where he played for three seasons. Orr was primarily a special teams ace during his first two campaigns in Baltimore. But during his third season in Charm City, Orr seized an opportunity to start beside C.J. Mosley at inside linebacker.

Lacking ideal size and speed, Orr relied on preparation and keen instincts while contributing 133 tackles in 2016, eventually being named a 2nd-team All Pro by the Associated Press. Zach’s timing from a career perspective, was as spot on as he was when filling gaps in Dean Pees’ 3-4 defensive scheme. Free agency awaited and it was time for Orr to cash in.

Or so we thought.

Orr was born with a rare spinal condition. His C-1 vertebrae, the one located at the top of the neck, just below the skull, was not fully developed. Medical experts warned that the wrong type of impact could force the vertebrae to explode and potentially result in death. Zach had no choice but to retire at the age of 24.

After consulting with doctors, Zach presumably found one who gave him the answer he hoped for and announced that he would be making a comeback. But after speaking with several teams, none wanted to place the player and the man at risk. Orr remained retired. Now, at the age of 29, he looks to put those preparation and diagnostic skills to work for the Ravens as a coach and advance the careers of players like Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison.

At this point in his life, it’s hard to think of a better spot for Orr and given his relative youthfulness and intelligence, he could enjoy a long and successful career as a mentor, teacher and coach. He could prove to be a secret weapon for the Ravens defense in 2022.

[Related Article: Optimism Soars For 2022 Ravens]

The Nick of Time

November 15, 2020, the Ravens travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots in a Sunday Night Football clash. Torrential rains and strong winds heavily influenced the game’s outcome as the favored Ravens lost by the score of 23-17. The game never felt that close and it wasn’t the only thing John Harbaugh & Co. lost that night. Following a dump off pass, Nick Boyle took a devastating blow to his knee that would ruin the balance of his 2020 campaign and for all intents and purposes his 2021 season as well.

Boyle’s career was in jeopardy. Perhaps he even realized it and accepted a pay cut to remain with the team. But the lighter W-2 did not derail his commitment to the game, to the team and to himself. He worked diligently this offseason to get back on the field in 2022 and to re-engage with his crucial role in the Ravens rush-heavy offense. Everyone has taken notice, particularly his skipper.

Grading The Grades

I recall a conversation with a member of the Ravens organization about Pro Football Focus and the grades that they assign to players. I wanted to assess how the real pros – the coaches, scouts and front office execs view their work. And while they do pay attention to some of the analytics that the acclaimed website provides, the grades are widely considered to be a joke.

When I asked why the grades are frowned upon, the response wasn’t exactly condemnation directed towards PFF, but more about their limited intel as it relates to assessing a player’s performance. You see even the scouts and execs don’t know for sure a given player’s assignment on each play. Player A might have completely blown his assignment while Player B tries to overcome his teammate’s mistake, yet fails. On film it might appear that the fault of the failed play lies with Player B when in fact the play broke down because of Player A’s mental or physical error(s).

So the evaluation that has the most merit is that of the coaching staff and those grades can vary widely from the published content of PFF. I was reminded of this conversation recently when offensive coordinator Greg Roman shared this:

“As a professional, we’re all our harshest critics, and I think we know the truth, and you just believe in that and keep trying to get better every day.”

Nick Boyle OTAs
Photo Credit: Shawn Hubbard, Baltimore Ravens

The Blind Side

There was a time, prior to Ronnie Stanley signing his second contract with the Ravens, when I thought that it might be a cap savvy move to let Stanley go, lock up Orlando Brown, Jr. well before his rookie contract came to term and give him a long-term deal to be the team’s left tackle. Things didn’t go down that way – quite the opposite actually. The Ravens inked the superior player and jettisoned Brown to Kansas City where he is currently the Chiefs left tackle.

KC has applied the franchise tag to Zeus, Jr. – one that he’s yet to sign, preferring instead to reach an agreement on a big, second contract. The deadline to do so is July 15. According to sources Brown is seeking to become the league’s highest paid protector of the blind side.

In a recent interview with Mike Garafolo and Shaun O’Hara on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access, the Ravens former 2018 3rd-round pick didn’t try to disguise his ambition nor his quasi-threat to the Chiefs. Brown made it sound as if the Chiefs are now pressured to appease him, given the AFC West’s burgeoning level of competitive talent.

How confident is Brown that a long-term deal will be reached by the deadline?

“Very confident. Very confident, especially simply based off the things that have come into effect within our division, the type of defensive ends that have been brought in, the type of players and all of that type of stuff. It’s not the year to go into the season with a backup left tackle. So, I’m very confident that the Kansas City Chiefs will get that done.”

You can’t fault an ambitious player for wanting to advance his career and boost his earnings. It’s just business. But Zeus, Jr. doesn’t seem to be cut from the same cloth as Zeus, Sr. In the grand scheme of things, I’m glad the Ravens moved on from Brown and the decision by GM Eric DeCosta will have even great shine if Ronnie Stanley bounces back from his ankle injury and Odafe Oweh becomes the player that his physical tools suggest.

The Saga of Deshaun Watson

It’s hard to avoid the discussion of the Deshaun Watson scandal. Admittedly, I thought to sit on the sidelines and let this thing play out in the court of law before judging. And maybe the media and the league felt the same way. But after reading and listening to two brilliant journalists opine on the topic, both of whom are women, I now think just the opposite. Brighter lights need to be cast in the direction of Watson’s alleged off-the-field behavior and the Browns narrow-minded focus in their pursuit of a franchise quarterback.

Sixty-six women in 17 months!

“Innocent until proven guilty” – I get it.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

And this scandal is developing into a raging Cleveland forest blaze. At risk is Roger Goodell’s treasured shield. It’s time for the NFL to get in front of this regardless of what happens in the courtroom. Don’t bumble this investigation like the Browns have. Don’t be as embarrassing as The Haslam Family and their hired slappies who have collectively chosen to turn a blind eye for the sake of their careers and at the expense of the women who’ve been violated.

Oh yeah, allegedly.

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