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Tag:Matt Birk
Posted on: September 4, 2011 7:16 pm
Edited on: September 4, 2011 7:20 pm
 

Gurode helps, but Ravens still have depth issues



Posted by Ryan Wilson

If the Ravens can stay healthy they have as good a chance as any team in the AFC to make a Super Bowl run. But this is football and not ping pong; injuries are as much a part of the game as touchdowns and interceptions. And with the regular season four days away, Baltimore still has plenty of unanswered questions, mostly having to do with the lack of depth at key positions.

On Sunday, the team addressed one of their needs by signing five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode, who lost his job in Dallas when he refused to restructure his $5.5 million 2011 salary. Gurode isn't nearly the player he was during most of his nine-year Cowboys career, but he doesn't have to be in Baltimore.

The 2011 Ravens

The Ravens signed him as insurance in case their other veteran center, Matt Birk, isn't yet fully recovered from August 3 knee surgery. Though general manager Ozzie Newsome sounded absolutely ecstactic when talking about the news publicly. "We just got better as a team.," he said. "To have a successful season, you have to have quality depth across the board. We just added great depth to the interior of our OL with Andre."

It's amazing to think that the Ravens, a team that was committed to building a formidable offensive line through the draft, has been reduced to searching through the free-agent lost-and-found bin for warm bodies to protect Joe Flacco and open up holes for Ray Rice.  Late last month, Baltimore signed Bryant McKinnie to play left tackle. The Vikings had released McKinnie earlier in the offseason because he was out of shape.

Since 2005, the team has taken seven o-linemen in the first three rounds and the results have been mixed. A quick draft recap:

2005: T Adam Terry, 2nd round
2006: C/G Chris Chester, 2nd round
2007: G Ben Grubbs, 1st round; G/T Marshall Yanda, 3rd round
2008: T Oniel Cousins, 3rd round
2009: T Michael Oher, 1st round
2010: T Jah Reid, 3rd round

Reid, Oher, Yanda and Grubbs are still with the team, and the last three are starters. That said, McKinnie was signed after Cousins flopped as the Ravens' right tackle (and was subsequently cut), and Oher remained unimpressive at left tackle. The plan is for Oher to move to right tackle (where he's previously had some success) and install McKinnie at left tackle. The other players listed above either weren't re-signed once their contracts expired, or in the case of Terry, released.



Baltimore also has issues at wide receiver and quarterback. They traded for Lee Evans after rookie Torrey Smith proved he wasn't ready to be the No. 2. (And rightly so -- he's a rookie who didn't have the benefit of OTAs or minicamps; no idea why coach John Harbaugh thought it was even a possibility.) And he'll team with Anquan Boldin and, well, that's it. The Ravens have Ray Rice, who was second on the team in receptions last season behind Boldin, and much will be expected of second-year tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

A much bigger concern is the backup quarterback. As it stands, rookie sixth-rounder Tyrod Taylor won the job by default. We'll have to wait and see if Newsome brings in a just-released veteran (Trent Edwards, Josh McCown and Dan Orlovsky are all looking for work), or risks sticking with Taylor. Flacco hasn't missed a start in his three-year NFL career, but without him the Ravens go from double-digit wins to a staring 6-10 right in the face.

A year ago, Marc Bulger dutifully held down that role but he retired this offseason. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron recently called Bulger to gauge his interest in returning to the Ravens and he was kindly rebuffed, at least for the time being. The Carroll County Times' Aaron Wilson tweeted Saturday that "Bulger has decided to stay retired at this time, but told Ravens he would be interested in case of emergency if Flacco got hurt."

It's a nice sentiment, but it's not exactly an ideal set up. The last thing a team wants to do after losing its franchise quarterback for any amount a time, is bring in a guy off the street to start in less than a week. Even one who is intimately familiar with the offense. There's the matter of being in shape, not to mention developing timing and chemistry with the receivers.

For now, though, Bulger's staying put and the Ravens are headed into the 2011 season with a couple of o-line veterans let go by their previous teams and a backup quarterback who has been in the NFL for a grand total of six weeks.

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Posted on: March 24, 2011 12:35 pm
 

Offseason checkup: Baltimore Ravens

Posted by Andy Benoit 



Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups. Also, check out our checkup podcast:





Another strong Ravens season ended with a playoff loss to the Steelers. While a 12-4 regular season record is nothing to scoff at, in the absence of postseason success the Ravens presumably at least wanted to see more progress from their young offense.

Joe Flacco made strides in his third season, but it wasn’t reflected in his numbers. Very telling was that Flacco’s de facto mentor, Jim Zorn, was fired less than 12 months after coming aboard. Fellow third-year star Ray Rice wasn’t healthy early on and struggled to find his rhythm.

A superstar-laden defense continued to mask most of the offensive inconsistencies (and to be clear, Baltimore’s wasn’t a bad offense overall). Ed Reed was in his usual All-World form (NFL leading eight interceptions), while defensive lineman Haloti Ngata surpassed Ray Lewis and the perpetually underrated yet still well known Terrell Suggs as the brightest star up front.




SYMPTOMS, SYMPTOMS

Willis McGahee was stellar as the team’s backup running back and short-yardage specialist. But Le'Ron McClain, though considered a fullback, could be a cut better than that. For starters, recall that McClain rushed for 902 yards as the team’s featured ballcarrier in 2008. At 260 pounds, he’s one of the most physical lead-blockers in the game. That physicality can easily apply to short-yardage running situations.

Surprisingly, McClain is also light-footed enough to handle the rock in space. What’s more, he has softer hands than McGahee and quicker hips which allow him to catch and turn upfield. This isn’t to say the fifth-year pro is a lightning bolt, but in filling McGahee’s void, he’d be an upgrade.

If McClain became the No. 2 running back, the Ravens could still use him as the primary fullback. In that case, they would just need to find a No. 2 fullback (if they want someone other than incumbent Jason McKie). A No. 2 fullback can be had on the cheap.




1. Wide Receiver
This somehow is a need every year in Baltimore. The addition of Anquan Boldin has given Joe Flacco a true go-to target, though watch closely and you’ll see that Derrick Mason was actually Flacco’s first option whenever the chips were down last year. Mason is 37 but shelved his annual retirement vacillation early this offseason. Even with his return, a long-term replacement must be sought. And in the short-term, that long-term replacement could fill the No. 3 receiver void if petulant T.J. Houshmandzadeh and non-achieving Donte’ Stallworth are not brought back. In that case, consider the Ravens not just in need of a wide receiver, but rather, a speedy wide receiver. There’s no one on this offense fast enough to stretch the field at this point.

2. Running Back/Fullback
GM Ozzie Newsome will wisely not pay Willis McGahee the $5 million he’s owed in 2011, so a backup to Ray Rice is needed. Fullback Le'Ron McClain could fill this void (as mentioned above) but either way, depth is an issue.

3. Cornerback
Getting Domonique Foxworth back healthy helps, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be the same as before his knee operation. Lardarius Webb is arguably the best deep ball defender in the NFL, but he lacks size and might be better suited for a No. 3 role (the jury is still deliberating). Josh Wilson came on strong down the stretch, making cornerback a less dire need than it’s been in recent years. But Wilson is not under contract long-term.




The Ravens remain stacked on both sides of the ball. If Flacco can take that next step (which includes having greater presnap authority in shifting formations and plays, as well as throwing more over the middle of the field) the rest of this offense will follow.

Defensively, Ray Lewis is aging, but he’s surrounded by enough stars to still thrive. The expectations for 2011 are pretty simple: win the AFC.

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Posted on: March 7, 2011 10:38 am
 

Matt Birk responds to Obama's remarks

Posted by Andy Benoit

President Obama has essentially indicated that he will not be choosing sides in the NFL’s labor negotiations. Asked about it last week, he said, “You’ve got owners, most of whom are worth close to a billion dollars. You’ve got players who are making millions of dollars. People are having to cut back, compromise and worry about making mortgage [payments]. . . . The two parties should be able to work it out without the President of the United States intervening. . . . [F]or an industry that’s making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way.”

Matt Birk, the Ravens’ Harvard-educated center, took a little exception to the President’s words. “He talked about the NFL being $9 billion, which is correct, but he kind of said it a little bit sarcastic,” Birk said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I mean, the U.S. government brings in a couple trillion [dollars], don’t you think they’d know how to balance the budget? . . . .

“And ‘millionaire players’ isn’t really correct.  Most NFL players are not millionaires.  They don’t make millions of dollars.  But that’s OK.  You know what, that kind of right there is the general feeling. . . .  Billionaires and millionaires and nobody really cares about their problems. ‘Work it out.’”

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Posted on: March 6, 2011 7:24 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2011 7:25 pm
 

Hot Routes 3.6.11: Are the Pats short-sighted?



Posted by Josh Katzowitz


  • Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe thinks the Patriots are a bit short-sighted in the way they chose not to renegotiate a player’s contract until the final year of the old deal. He writes the club’s insistence on conducting business this way is one reason why the Patriots and All-Pro G Logan Mankins haven’t been on great terms lately. Bedard also points out that Mankins’ representation also hasn’t helped matters either.

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Posted on: February 9, 2011 10:14 am
 

Matt Birk to play in 2011

Posted by Andy Benoit
M. Birk (US Presswire)
A month ago, Matt Birk was unsure about his NFL future. But this week, the Ravens center told head coach John Harbaugh that he’ll be back in 2011.

Despite neck, shoulder and, most recently, knee problems, the 34-year-old Birk has not missed a game in his two years with the Ravens. Birk says for the first time in his 13-year career that he’s still feeling the effects of the season a month later. But he has not surgeries scheduled and figures he’ll be OK with rest.

"The older you get, the more beat up you get," Birk told Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun. "When you have injuries, it's hard to remember what it's like when you feel good. It's part of the deal. It's what you signed up for. The older you get, the more you have to embrace that part of the challenge. Otherwise, it comes to the point where you say you can't do it anymore."

Birk’s return is great news for the Ravens. His veteran presence (and continued high level of play) have been vital to the development of Baltimore’s young front five.


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Category: NFL
Posted on: February 1, 2011 3:55 pm
Edited on: February 1, 2011 6:30 pm
 

Ward lets loose on NFL and concussions

H. Ward had plenty of interesting things to say in the latest issue of GQ. Posted by Josh Katzowitz

ARLINGTON, Texas – I spoke with players on both teams at Media Day today about concussions and about the effect they have on their personal lives. I probably interviewed five or six guys about the issue, and most of them went fine.

But I kind of wish I would have spoken to Steelers WR Hines Ward instead.

In the latest issue of GQ magazine, Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver talked to a number of players about the concussion issue and the new NFL rules that go along with it.

Some interesting comments from the likes of Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber, Ravens C Matt Birk and Browns LB Scott Fujita.

But Ward? Man, Ward was in a class of his own with these comments (FYI, the video he’s talking about is the tutorial the NFL sent out in the middle of the season to showcase what IS and what is NOT a legal hit. Seems like everybody who saw it was a little more confused afterward than they were before).

“Man, nobody paid attention to that video,” Ward told Silver. “We don't know what they want. They're so hypocritical sometimes. They came out with these new helmets that are supposed to stop concussions. If they care so much about our safety, why don't they mandate that we wear the new ones? If they're so worried about what concussions will do to us after our careers, then guarantee our insurance for life. And if you're going to fine me for a hit, let the money go to veteran guys to help with their medical issues. To say the league really cares? They don't give a f--- about concussions. And now they want to add on two extra games? Are you kidding? Come on, let's be real.

“Now that these new guidelines are in place, you'll see more and more guys lying to doctors to stay on the field. Contracts aren't guaranteed. If a guy's contract is coming up and he gets his bell rung – and if he has a concussion, he'll have to leave the game and maybe miss another one – trust me, he ain't tellin' nobody. Look at [49ers running back] Brian Westbrook. He was an elite player who had concussion issues, and he struggled to find work after the Eagles cut him. Guys saw that. I'm telling you, if you're a guy on the bubble or playing for your next contract, you're going out there and jeopardizing your life to get that payday.”

You might think Ward is crazy, but I’m telling you the guys to whom I spoke today would certainly agree.

Hines Ward discusses Ben Roethlisberger's status in the clubhouse.



And I’ll also let you read Fujita’s anger as well.

“Everybody doubts the league’s sincerity,” he said. “Quit pretending to be the flag-bearers for our health care and safety when you're telling us in the next sentence that we need to go to 18 games. That doesn't cut it. Obviously you don't give a s--- about our health and safety. Remember that photo of [Steelers linebacker James] Harrison making a hit on [Browns receiver Mohamed] Massaquoi? They fined him $75,000 for that – and at the same time, they were selling it on NFL.com for $24.99. They kept it there until someone shamed them into taking it down. I was so pissed off by the hypocrisy of it all.”

Wow, great stuff in the article. Make sure to read it.

More Super Bowl coverage.

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Posted on: December 19, 2010 8:46 pm
 

The 50 greatest Vikings ever

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

One day before Minnesota takes on the Bears in what should be a strange Monday Night football game, the Vikings held a gala to honor their 50th season. In doing so, they honored the top-50 players in club history.

Here’s the list:

1. Grady Alderman, T, 1961-74
2. Jared Allen, DE, 2008-present
3. Matt Birk, C, 1998-2008
4. Matt Blair, LB, 1974-1985
5. Bill Brown, RB, 1962-74
6. Joey Browner, S, 1983-91
7. Bobby Bryant, CB, 1967-80
8. Anthony Carter, WR, 1985-93
9. Cris Carter, WR, 1990-01
10. Fred Cox, K, 1963-77
11. Daunte Culpepper, QB, 1999-2005
12. Chris Doleman, DE, 1985-93, ’99
13. Carl Eller, DE, 1964-78
14. Chuck Foreman, RB, 1973-79
15. John Gilliam, WR, 1972-75
16. Bud Grant, coach, 1967-83, ’85
17. Wally Hilgenberg, LB, 1968-79
18. Steve Hutchinson, G, 2006-present
19. Tim Irwin, T, 1981-93
20. Steve Jordan, TE, 1982-94
21. Tommy Kramer, QB, 1977-89
22. Paul Krause, S, 1968-79
23. Gary Larsen, DT, 1965-74
24. Carl Lee, CB, 1983-93
25. Jim Marshall, DE, 1961-79
26. Randall McDaniel, G, 1988-99
27. Keith Millard, DT, 1985-91
28. Randy Moss, WR, 1998-2004, ’10
29. Dave Osborn, RB, 1965-75
30. Alan Page, DT, 1967-78
31. Adrian Peterson, RB, 2007-present
32. John Randle, DT, 1990-2000
33. Ahmad Rashad, WR, 1976-82
34. Ed Sharockman, CB, 1962-72
35. Jeff Siemon, LB, 1972-82
36. Robert Smith, RB, 1993-2000
37. Scott Studwell, LB, 1977-90
38. Doug Sutherland, DT, 1971-81
39. Fran Tarkenton, QB, 1961-66, ’72-78
40. Henry Thomas, DT, 1987-94
41. Mick Tingelhoff, C, 1962-78
42. Stu Voigt, TE, 1970-80
43. Gene Washington, WR, 1967-72
44. Ed White, G, 1969-77
45. Sammy White, WR, 1978-86
46. Kevin Williams, DT, 2003-present
47. Antoine Winfield, CB, 2004-present
48. Roy Winston, LB, 1962-76
49. Ron Yary, T, 1968-81
50. Gary Zimmerman, T, 1986-92

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Posted on: July 13, 2010 12:22 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2010 12:18 pm
 

Position rankings: centers

 Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit resume their debate, with today’s focus on centers.

Andy's top five list

5. Matt Birk, Ravens

4. Andre Gurode, Cowboys

3. Alex Mack, Browns
N. Mangold chomping on a burger (Getty)

2. Olin Kreutz, Bears

1. Nick Mangold, Jets


The veteran stability provided by Matt Birk is a big reason the Ravens' young offensive line will be the best in football this season. Birk has always made his teammates better. Gurode can be comically inept in shotgun snaps at times, but opponents never laugh after facing him in the ground game.

Mack amazed me on film as a rookie. He plays with the savoir faire of a 10-year veteran. He sustains well in pass protection despite having questionable strength, which speaks to his well-honed technique. Most importantly, Mack gives the Browns a second source of mobility inside next to left guard Eric Steinbach.

Kreutz is aging, which only makes him meaner. He uses his hands as well as any blocker in the game. I’m part of the rest of the football universe that has decided Mangold is, far and away, the NFL’s best center. The fifth-year pro has no particularly-glaring weakness.

Josh's top five list

5. Jeff Saturday, Colts

4. Olin Kreutz, Bears

3. Andre Gurode, Cowboys

2. Matt Birk, Ravens

1. Nick Mangold, Jets


There’s no reason to argue the pick of Mangold, who only sometimes stuffs his face with a burger (pictured at right). He’s the best center in the NFL, and considering he’s entering only his fifth season, he has plenty of years left. Memo to the New York Jets: you might want to lock up this guy to a long-term deal.

Birk has been around forever, and he, somehow, doesn’t have any weaknesses. His run-blocking – as backs like Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Willis McGahee will attest – is some of the best around. Gurode is tough and a punishing run-blocker. You mentioned his shotgun snaps – a fair criticism – but I’ve got another critique. He takes way too many penalties. He had nine of them last year, which led the league. He had six the year before. You know who that doesn’t impress? Albert Haynesworth.

Kreutz, at 33, isn’t quite as good as he was, and he’s coming off Achilles tendon surgery. But you know what I like about him? He can get out in space on sweeps and screen passes, and he can make a block downfield. I LOVE centers who hustle to do that. Saturday has helped keep Peyton Manning upright for the past 192 starts. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler, and although he just turned 35, he’s still one of the best centers in the league.

I don’t mind the Mack selection, but I’m going to need to see him do it for more than one season before he displaces one of the veterans on my list who have been doing it for years. You see, I like my centers like I like my women: old and gritty and, if possible, missing some teeth.

Andy’s rebuttal

And I like MY centers like I like MY women: young, flexible and willing to do anything. That’s why I anticipate the 24-year-old Mack being at least No. 2 on my list by season’s end. But I understand you wanting to see more evidence at this point.

If you like old and gritty, you could have also gone with Kevin Mawae. He’s an unsigned free agent right now – owners might be blackballing him because he heads the NFLPA – but there isn’t a craftier, steadier leader in the game. The Titans will really miss Mawae in 2010. Another gritty veteran worth mentioning is the Giants’ Shaun O’Hara, an outstanding second-level run-blocker.

Two guys who didn’t make our lists were Tampa Bay’s Jeff Faine and St. Louis’s Jason Brown. I point them out because Faine became the league’s highest-paid center in ’08, and Brown became the highest-paid in ’09. Both have been decent, but only decent.

Josh’s final word

We also didn’t talk about Carolina’s Ryan Kalil, who grades out as one of the better pass-blocking centers in the league. I probably would have made him my No. 6 or No. 7 if we had expanded our lists.

Other positions: Safety | Cornerback | 3-4 Scheme Outside Linebacker | Punter  | Kicker | 4-3 Scheme Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker  | Defensive Tackle  | Defensive End | Offensive Tackle )

--Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com