Around the League / AFC North
In the midst of a crowded quarterback race, Ravens first-round pick Joe Flacco said he believes he could be the starter immediately.
"I'm going to go out there and act like I am (the starter), just like everybody else should do," Flacco said. "I'm going to go out there and prove to the coaches, myself and my teammates that I can play. And at the end of training camp, we're going to find out."
Flacco has looked like a rookie during the first week of camp, making some erratic throws and appearing overwhelmed in a two-minute drill.
Kyle Boller has been the most consistent quarterback in camp, showing improved poise in running the offense.
And Troy Smith has been up-and-down, connecting on some deep passes in one practice and fumbling several times in another.
Ravens first-year coach John Harbaugh said the only timetable is to decide on a starter by the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"We've said this from Day One: Our plan is to go with the best quarterback at that time," Harbaugh said. "Our goal is for those guys to make that decision based on the way they play."
The Ravens drafted Flacco with the 18th overall pick because of his size (6 feet 6), arm strength and demeanor.
He then surpassed expectations during minicamps with his ability to pick up the offense. There has been talk around the team that Flacco knows the system better than Boller or Smith.
But the trend in the NFL is to sit rookie quarterbacks to allow them to learn and grow. And Flacco's youth will be part of the Ravens' decision at quarterback.
"The fact that he hasn't played an NFL game before and his long-term development, we have to factor that into the equation. That probably weighs against him," Harbaugh said. "But all those things being considered, if he's the best guy and gives us the best chance to win, he'll be the guy."
The Ravens' search for a franchise quarterback began long before Harbaugh's arrival.
The franchise had high expectations when it drafted Boller, but he failed to hold on to the starting job after struggling with consistency. Now, its hope has been placed in Flacco, who said he doesn't mind the pressure.
"Anytime you feel the way I do about yourself and about the way you play football, it doesn't bother you when other people expect you to do something," Flacco said. "I've put enough expectations on myself."
The Ravens and the Miami Dolphins are the only two teams holding an open competition with three quarterbacks.
Harbaugh said the quarterback competition shouldn't be a distraction for the team, but he doesn't want this battle to become a trend for the Ravens.
"It'll probably be the last time we're ever in this situation here, I would hope, for a long time to come," he said. "It's a very unique situation, but it's a fun situation to be in. It's competition in its truest form. It's an opportunity to roll the balls out there and let guys compete for the job."
CAMP CALENDAR: Camp concludes on Aug. 15.
--With defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs beginning what could be a lengthy holdout, the Ravens defense won't have the same time to jell.
But defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said Suggs' absence might not be hurting just the Ravens.
"Does it hurt him? That's what you're always worrying about," Ryan said. "I know he's working out, but there's nothing like football shape."
Suggs skipped the start of training camp to protest the franchise tag, which kept him from becoming a free agent this offseason. It is unknown when the two-time Pro Bowl performer plans to report.
Edgar Jones and Antwan Barnes took turns replacing Suggs with the starting defense.
--Four players, as well as general manager Ozzie Newsome, attended the funeral for Samari Rolle's father. Rolle's father died of a heart attack last week.
The players who went to the service were wide receiver Derrick Mason, linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and cornerback Chris McAlister.
"Like I told Samari, sometimes it's not what you're going through, but it's how you deal with it while you're going through it," Lewis said. "Like I told him, anything that we can do for him, we're going to be there for you. That's when you really get away from the game of football, when life issues hit you that much. He's going through a lot, but as a man, I think he's handling it very well. As a family of teammates, we want to be there for him by any means necessary. That means just having a listening ear or just giving him a word of prayer, whatever it may be. Just to be there for him is what he needs the most."
--The Ravens drew an estimated 6,625 fans to their first full-squad practice of training camp. It marked the team's second-largest crowd for a non-scrimmage.
The Ravens' camp attendance record is 6,900, which was set on Aug. 10, 2006. Last year, the Ravens drew 3,008 fans to the first practice.
--It's going to take a while for people to get used to John Harbaugh as the Ravens head coach.
After his first training-camp practice, Harbaugh was stopped by security at the team hotel because he didn't have his pass. He eventually convinced them that he was supposed to be there.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The fact that they're friends and they're good guys, that's just being good sports. But make no mistake about it -- every one of those three guys want the job. It's really not a 'nice guy contest.' We're all nice guys, but it's a quarterback contest." -- Ravens first-year coach John Harbaugh, on his three-way quarterback battle.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
To address some voids at the start of camp, the Ravens signed WR Darnerien McCants, TE Aaron Walker and CB Anwar Phillips.
McCants will get a chance as the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver if Demetrius Williams continues to be sidelined with a lower leg injury. Walker fills the need for a blocking tight end because Quinn Sypniewski is done for the season with a knee injury. And Phillips was signed after LB Terrell Suggs failed to report, creating an extra roster spot.
--LB Terrell Suggs has not reported to protest the franchise tag. He is expected to miss the entire training camp. He has been replaced in the starting lineup by Edgar Jones.
--LB Edgar Jones has replaced Terrell Suggs in the starting lineup. Suggs is skipping training camp to protest the franchise tag.
--RB Willis McGahee is going to be used as an every-down back. Last season, McGahee worked on first and second downs. He was replaced in passing situations.
--OT Jared Gaither was carted off the field Saturday with his right ankle wrapped. The injury is not considered serious. He is considered day to day.
--S Ed Reed was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list. The Ravens wouldn't reveal his injury. He has been running off to the side.
--CB Chris McAlister was placed on the non-football injury list. He had knee surgery in the offseason.
--WR Demetrius Williams was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list with a lower left leg injury. He is wearing a brace. There is a chance he could return by the end of camp.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Troy Smith vs. Kyle Boller vs. Joe Flacco for starting QB -- Smith has taken the most snaps with the first team but has looked sloppy, fumbling several times. Boller has been the most consistent of the quarterbacks. Flacco has looked ragged, showing his inexperience.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Aaron Walker vs. Daniel Wilcox for backup TE -- Walker has looked solid after being signed at the start of camp. Wilcox hasn't practiced because of offseason toe surgery.
Samari Rolle vs. Fabian Washington for starting CB -- Rolle has been absent because he attended his father's funeral. Washington has just begun practicing because he has had a hamstring injury.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RB Ray Rice -- The rookie second-round pick is showing his toughness early. After appearing to be bottled up by four players, he spun right and beat everyone to the outside for a 40-yard touchdown. He could take some carries away from Willis McGahee.
ROOKIE REPORT: QB Joe Flacco (first round) has been erratic early in camp. He is still competing for the starting job. ... RB Ray Rice (second round) has made some impressive runs. He looks like he'll be the backup to Willis McGahee. ... LB Tavares Gooden (third round) has shown off his quickness. He will make an impact on special teams and be the backup dime back. ... WR Justin Harper (seventh round) has been working as the No. 3 receiver with Demetrius Williams injured.
INJURY REPORT: The Ravens placed S Ed Reed (undisclosed), WR Demetrius Williams (lower left leg), TE Daniel Wilcox (offseason toe surgery) and CB David Pittman (foot) on the physically-unable-to-perform list. The team also designated CBs Chris McAlister and Fabian Washington and FB Le'Ron McClain on the non-football injury list. Washington and McClain have since practiced and were taken off the list.
The Bengals, after an eventful, sometimes rocky offseason, enjoyed a relatively quiet check-in day Sunday for training camp -- Chad Johnson showed up on time but didn't talk to reporters.
The only glitch was the fact that the Bengals didn't get first-round pick Keith Rivers, the former Southern Cal linebacker, signed in time for the 3 p.m. team meeting and 4:30 p.m. light workout on the main stadium field at Georgetown College in Kentucky.
The Bengals need Rivers in camp quickly. He is projected to start at one of the outside linebacker spots.
The Bengals did announce that five more of their draft picks -- wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, defensive tackle Pat Sims, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and safety Corey Lynch -- signed four-year contracts, and third-year starting offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth signed a four-year contract extension through the 2013 season worth $30 million in new money.
Rivers missed the 1 p.m. check-in deadline, the 3 p.m. team meeting and 45-minute light workout of stretching and running that started at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Johnson was limited. Most of the players wore a new gray camp workout T-shirt with the word PHYSICAL emblazoned across the back. The Bengals and Packers were the last two NFL teams to report to camp. They will play the final game of the first preseason weekend, Monday night, Aug. 11, at Green Bay's Lambeau Field.
Coach Marvin Lewis' move to get his players on the field Sunday afternoon could be seen as a preventative measure. The first practice was scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday morning and likely would find the team in full pads with live contact.
"For the NFL, it's the only time where you can really do some of the things that you need to practice in order to be productive in the fall," Lewis said, "so that's why it makes it special, the opening of training camp, because now we can have physical contact and some of the things that you really can't do at other times."
Lewis has spelled out his camp goals for his players. They are an extension of his emphasis for the offseason.
"No. 1 (is to) take care of the football and, No. 2, don't give up explosive plays," he said, "and be good at first down and third down. That's where things start with winning football games. You've got to overcome injuries. We've got to make sure we get in position to be a stronger, a deeper football team."
Johnson, after an uncomfortable offseason punctuated by complaints toward the Bengals organization made through the national media, showed up but said nothing to reporters. He didn't even acknowledge questions when he moved in to his dormitory quad with a pillow and an Xbox 360 Pro Edition game system.
He had told The Cincinnati Enquirer last week that he wanted to put the offseason behind him and was pointing to the regular season opener Sept. 7 at Baltimore. Johnson looks to be limited for the opening stretch of camp because he is still healing from arthroscopic ankle surgery five weeks ago.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, arriving with wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and younger brother Jordan Palmer, said he had spoken with Johnson and that they are in sync.
"Yeah, last I talked to him, about a week ago, he was still a little bit bothered by the ankle and hopefully he'll take it slow," said Palmer, who had found himself caught in Johnson's crosshairs once during the offseason.
Johnson might need time to heal physically, but Palmer said there was no damage to their relationship.
"No, there's nothing to mend, there's never been any hard feelings between the two of us," Palmer said. "He has his stance and whether I feel the same or feel different, it doesn't matter. We're teammates and we've been a great tandem and hopefully we'll continue to be a great tandem for years to come. There's nothing to mend between he and I."
CAMP CALENDAR: The Bengals reported Sunday morning, July 27, and they were scheduled to practice for the first time Monday, July 28, twice. The intrasquad scrimmage is Friday night, Aug. 1, and the mock game Aug. 2. The preseason opener is Monday night, Aug. 11, at Green Bay. Camp breaks Friday, Aug. 15.
-- Bengals president Mike Brown good-naturedly joined the Carson Palmer-Ohio State flap during the team's pre-camp luncheon, reminding the Bengals quarterback that Brown's father, Paul E. Brown, coached the Buckeyes for three seasons.
"I was going to talk to him through you," Mike Brown told reporters. "He may not know my dad coached at Ohio State and beat USC two years in a row. 33-0 and (28)-12, and if he wants to make something over that, he knows where he can find me."
Paul E. Brown, Bengals founder, coached Ohio State 1941-43. Last week, Palmer was asked in an interview with a Los Angeles radio station if he had to tread lightly in comments about Ohio State because he lives in Ohio part of the year.
"I don't watch what I say. ... I cannot stand the Buckeyes, and having to live in Ohio and hear those people talk about their team, it drives me absolutely nuts," Palmer said on the radio. "It's amazing to hear what those guys think about that university and that football program and (coach Jim) Tressel and all the crap I've got to put up with being back there."
Ohio State plays Sept. 13 at Southern Cal. The rematch is the following September in Columbus.
On the following Monday, Palmer retreated a bit from his previous comments. The Bengals public relations staff sent out this comment: "I'm a Trojan all the way, and I was talking to a Trojan audience in California. I guess I got a little fired up, as all good fans will do.
"But I really do respect the Buckeyes, and I know their fans are passionate, too. I hope they all understand I'm just looking forward to a big game for my school against a very tough opponent, and that it's all in the good fun of a rivalry. You don't have a real rivalry unless both sides are great teams."
Brown said he knew Palmer's comments were in fun and went on to praise the team's sixth-year quarterback.
-- The Bengals will have seven practices in five days, beginning Monday, before holding their annual intra-squad scrimmage Friday night, Aug. 1.
-- Wide receiver Jerome Simpson signed a four-year contract Sunday after telling his agent he would not miss a single practice. Simpson is, after all, on a mission to prove wrong all who criticized the Bengals for drafting him in the second round.
"No, no it won't," Simpson said when asked if the talk has gone away. "I'm still angry that people think they drafted me too early. I'm going out here to prove them wrong. I still have that chip on my shoulder."
The Bengals waived wide receiver Chris Henry in April, three weeks before drafting Simpson and Florida's Andre Caldwell a round later.
"My receivers coach (Mike Sheppard) told me he's got confidence on me and he went up on that board to get me for a reason, because they believe in me and I believe in myself too," Simpson said. "I know what I can do on this field. I'm just going out here to go to work every day."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's our lead dog, isn't he? We go as he goes. He's a splendid player. And we are lucky to have him. I have great confidence in him." -- Bengals president Mike Brown, when discussing quarterback Carson Palmer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bengals released their 2008 media guide Sunday. In it, the first official depth chart of the season lists Stacy Andrews as the starter at right tackle, ahead of 13th-year pro Willie Anderson, who missed the first significant time of his career last season because of knee and heel injuries.
"In the spring time, we didn't know where Willie Anderson was," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "Then he came in here and proved he was in a pretty good spot. We have a good issue to deal with as we go forward. We have a good young player in Stacy and a guy who has been as good a player as there is in the NFL in Willie Anderson."
-- LT Levi Jones, who came to camp a year ago still needing to rehab an injured knee, said he arrives at the 2008 training camp feeling better than he has at any time of his seven-year career.
-- WR Antonio Chatman will get first shot at reclaiming the job as punt return man and improving what was the league's worst punt return average in 2007.
-- FS Marvin White said he is determined to keep the No. 1 job at free safety. The knock on him that he is not a smart player has motivated White to work hard in the classroom, where coaches say White is quick to provide correct answers on schematic questions.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Jerome Simpson vs. Andre Caldwell vs. Marcus Maxwell vs. Antonio Chatman vs. Glenn Holt for the job of third wide receiver. With Chris Henry no longer with the Bengals, the job is wide open. The Bengals would like Simpson or Caldwell, both rookies, to emerge, but they suspect it will be a veteran. Look for the eventual third receiving role to be filled by committee based on situation.
EXPECTED BATTLE FRONTS: Veteran Dexter Jackson will have to play well and work hard to hold off second-year player Chinedum Ndukwe for the starting role at strong safety. ... Fullback Jeremi Johnson is again battling his weight, and the Bengals moved tight end Daniel Coats, a backup and valuable special teams last season as a rookie, to H-back to challenge Johnson. ... Veteran Willie Anderson, for the first time since his rookie season in 1996, finds himself entering training camp as a backup. Stacy Andrews is the starter, and Anderson said he won't compete directly against Andrews but will work again to get himself into top shape for the Sept. 7 opener.
ROOKIE REPORT: Asked how much his four-year contract was worth, wide receiver Andre Caldwell said, "Enough." ... DT Pat Sims might be the most important rookie beside first-round linebacker Keith Rivers. The Bengals lack depth at tackle and need Sims to contribute, especially against the run. ... LB Keith Rivers remains the only unsigned Bengals rookie of the 10 draft picks.
INJURY REPORT: Running back DeDe Dorsey said he will miss another week because of a groin injury. ... Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the 2008 team is the healthiest of his six with the Bengals at the start of training camp. ... Offensive tackles Levi Jones and Willie Anderson, both of whom arrived to camp a year ago with physical problems, both are healthy this season.
Not as many questions circle around Mike Tomlin's second training camp as did his first, but he has to find some answers over his three weeks in Latrobe, Pa.
"Our goals are going to be simple and that is to come out of training camp a unified, hardened group,'' Tomlin said.
The Steelers remain a veteran team with some much-needed infusion of youth taking place this summer. Realistically, there are only three real competitions for starting jobs, although another veteran or two could lose his.
Two of the most intriguing and most important take place in an offensive line that could have a 60 percent turnover in the starting five from last season. Interesting enough, one of them is not at left guard, which seven-time Pro Bowl player Alan Faneca (UFA, Jets) relinquished after starting the past 10 seasons. Chris Kemoeatu will replace him.
Center and right tackle is where the real competition will take place and will help determine if their offensive line can improve over a mediocre 2007. Justin Hartwig was signed after his release by Carolina and he's the odds-on favorite to unseat Sean Mahan, who started there last season and did not perform well. Tomlin predicted "a hotly contested battle."
More intrigue takes place at right tackle, where Willie Colon, in his second season, took away the job Max Starks had held the past two years, including their Super Bowl season. Starks, in a move that still mystifies many, was made a transition player and will receive the nearly $7 million that goes with it this year. That makes him the second-highest paid player this season behind only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and he might not even start. The coaches made their statement last year when they installed Colon over him.
The only other true competition for a starting job comes at inside linebacker, where Larry Foote has started every game the past four seasons. He likely won't hold it for long because Tomlin has placed 2007 No. 1 pick Lawrence Timmons there to compete for the job and they have high hopes for him.
"He does a lot of things well," Tomlin said. "He's an explosive blitz man, he can cover a lot of people, and he can run. He's had a nice offseason. His role specifically and where it goes and the speed in which it goes and whatever direction it goes will be determined by the quality of his play in Latrobe."
Overall, Tomlin hopes to improve the play of his offensive line, his pass rush and his special teams, particularly in the return game. There are minor issues such as whether Ryan Clark, who missed the second half of last season after losing his spleen, can hold down the job at free safety against younger Anthony Smith, and whether a youngster can crack the top six of an aging defensive line. There will be a new third-team quarterback, rookie Dennis Dixon. More luxury than a problem will be for the coach to determine how he mixes rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall in with veteran Willie Parker, who led the NFL in rushing until he broke a fibula in the second-to-last game.
CAMP CALENDAR: Players reported to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe Sunday and had their running test that day. Practices in the afternoon (3 p.m.) are open to the public, as are the two night practices -- at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at Latrobe High School Stadium and at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at Saint Vincent College. No scrimmages are scheduled. The last practice at camp is Aug. 17.
--There won't be as many twice-daily practices as coach Mike Tomlin held in his first summer camp on the job. He cited the smaller roster as a reason. "Some of the changes that we have made in terms of scheduling indicate that it is a concern," Tomlin said.
--Mike Tomlin acknowledged that the uncertainty of Rooney ownership could become a distraction for his players if they let it.
"Potentially," he said, "because there will be questions that I'll have to answer in regards to that and there will be questions that potentially our team has to answer in regard to that.
"I don't have the answer to those questions and neither does our football team; I'm here to coach, they're here to play. Those questions will be answered by the Rooneys."
--The Steelers were interested in running back Kevin Jones after his release by the Lions. Their plan was to sign him to a one-year contract and put him on the PUP list until he was healthy. Jones was interested, then signed with the Bears. Mike Tomlin said their interest had nothing to do with Willie Parker, who broke a fibula in the 15th game last season but practiced in the spring with no apparent lingering problem.
"I think you do it for just that purpose, to create great competition so that you can come away with the best 53," Tomlin explained. "Anything that we did in that regard had no bearing on Willie Parker's situation."
--The Steelers used their fullback less last season and, with veteran Dan Kreider unsigned after tearing his ACL late last season, it's likely they'll phase it out even more in 2008.
"I don't have the answer to that, I really don't at this point," Tomlin said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love football, I love this process. I love going to camp, I love team-building, readying ourselves to pursue our goals. I am extremely excited." -- Coach Mike Tomlin, as he prepared to open his second training camp.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Their top two draft picks both came to terms two days before training camp opened. First-rounder Rashard Mendenhall signed a five-year contract worth $12.55 million, with $7.125 million in guarantees. Second-rounder Limas Sweed signed a four-year deal. That leaves them with all seven rookies under contract and no veteran holdouts. They released WR Matt Trannon, a first-year pro, to put their roster at the required 81, which includes one international exemption.
EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Sean Mahan vs. Justin Hartwig for starting center -- Mahan signed as a UFA last year from Tampa Bay, where Mike Tomlin served as secondary coach while he was there. Mahan showed he could not handle the big nose tackles, especially when facing a 3-4 defense. They signed Hartwig for a song after Carolina released him and believe he can return to the kind of form that made him a good center for the Tennessee Titans.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Second-year LB Lawrence Timmons will try to take Larry Foote's starting job on the inside. ... OT Max Starks wants to reclaim his job on the right from Willie Colon, who took it from him last summer.
ROOKIE REPORT: The plan for RB Rashard Mendenhall is to work him in with Willie Parker and also see if he can return kicks. Coach Mike Tomlin said how Mendenhall is used will depend on the rookie. ... WR Limas Sweed will be given a chance to take the No. 3 job from Nate Washington, but it's more likely he will settle in at No. 4. ... OLB Bruce Davis must learn the position after playing end at UCLA, where he had 24.5 sacks the past two seasons. He will get a chance to be an occasional situational pass rusher. ... OT Tony Hills has a real shot at making the team as the No. 4 tackle. ... QB Dennis Dixon is ticketed to be No. 3 this season with a chance to take over for backup Charlie Batch next year. ... ILB Mike Humpal is a sleeper who will get a real opportunity to be the No. 4 man inside. ... S Ryan Mundy is slow but smart and likely will challenge Tyrone Carter for a roster spot.
INJURY REPORT: As of their reporting day Sunday, only DE Travis Kirschke (ankle) might be somewhat limited unless something new develops.
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