Ravens notebook

OWINGS MILLS -- If the Baltimore Ravens' offense is going to take the next step in its development, then it's up to quarterback Joe Flacco to lead them. And general manager Ozzie Newsome reinforced previous statements from coach John Harbaugh that Flacco will be granted greater responsibility this year in terms of audibles and direction of the offense.

"I think he's more than ready to do it," Newsome said during a conference call with season ticket holders. "As we move forward this year, this will become Joe's offense. It won't be Cam's offense, it will be Joe's offense.

"Cam may call the plays, but I think Joe's going to have more of an opportunity to change some things. This has to be Joe's offense." Last season, Flacco registered career-high numbers with 3,622 yards and 25 touchdown passes. After a strong game in an AFC wild-card playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs, he faltered in the Ravens' divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "We've seen him do it," Newsome said. "What he has to do after three years is take ownership of the offense. That's where Joe Flacco has to get to. I think he's more than ready to do it. "What he has to do now, after three years, is take the ownership of the offense. "I've been in the huddle with some great quarterbacks. And all of the great ones, they take ownership of the offense. It's their offense. Right now, that's where Joe Flacco has to get to in order for him to take it to the next step." The Ravens have drafted Flacco some new weapons in second-round wide receiver Torrey Smith and fourth-round wide receiver Tandon Doss. Last season, he engineered a game-winning drive against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field capped with his touchdown pass to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. It was Flacco's play-call. And Flacco nearly led the Ravens to a comeback against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome with Matt Ryan ultimately outdueling him. "If you want to know the reasons why, you just think about the Pittsburgh game at Pittsburgh, when we came back with the great throw he had to T.J." Newsome said. "You think about down in Atlanta on a Thursday night, when we couldn't get anything going. But in the second half he's just hot and brings us back. We've seen him do it." RAVENS MAKING A LIST: Should the free agent signing period ever launch after a nasty labor dispute is eventually resolved, the Baltimore Ravens have a specific checklist. Newsome indicated that the Ravens are looking for an experienced backup quarterback, a fullback and a pass rusher. They might not need a fullback if Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain is back as a restricted free agent, provided that the 2010 free agent rules are in effect again. "We had a meeting, and those are the areas we talked about as we move forward that we will try to get better at," Newsome said. "It's going to be a unique situation because we don't know whether the four-year guys are going to be free or the six-year guys are going to be free. We've been working on formulas where we can deal with both." The top free agent fullback is Pro Bowl selection Vonta Leach. At fullback, the Ravens could also go with veteran Jason McKie. The former Chicago Bears starter was signed to a one-year contract after last season. Last year, the Ravens had three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger back up Flacco. Bulger isn't expected to be back as he'll be pursued by several teams as a free agent commodity, including the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals reportedly already have an understanding with Bulger. "We need a backup," said Newsome, who drafted Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the sixth round. Among the free agent quarterbacks: Todd Bouman, Kerry Collins, Todd Collins, Charlie Frye, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, J.T. O'Sullivan, Patrick Ramsey, Jim Sorgi, Brian St. Pierre and Billy Volek. Bruce Gradkowski may nor may not be restricted or unrestricted. Among the free agent defensive ends: Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Raheem Brock, Jacques Cesaire, Shaun Ellis, Jonathan Fanene, Cullen Jenkins, Travis Johnson, Bobby McCray, Robaire Smith and Marcus Spears. Among the free agent outside linebackers: Charlie Anderson, Keith Bulluck, Thomas Davis, Travis LaBoy and Matt Roth "We could use another rusher," Newsome said. "Someone to put pressure on the passer." GAITHER NOT RULED OUT: The Ravens aren't crossing offensive tackle Jared Gaither off their list when they make plans for this season. Provided he's still a restricted free agent if last year's rules are in effect, then Gaither could wind up competing with rookie Jah Reid for the starting right tackle job. However, the Ravens are unlikely to give Gaither a new contract with a major financial commitment if he's an unrestricted free agent after he didn't play a snap last season due to upper back problems. "If we have to operate under the 2010 rules, we would still have Jared Gaither," Newsome said. "If he's healthy, he'd get a chance to come back and start also." Meanwhile, Newsome expressed confidence that Michael Oher will improve at left tackle after committing eight false start penalties last season and struggling with assignments in pass protection at key moments. "Michael, I feel after him getting one year under his belt, he will take the next step," Newsome said. "If he has to be our left tackle, he'll take the next step and he'll be able to do a very good job at that position."

The Ravens' top configuration on the offensive line is probably Oher at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda moving back to his natural right guard position and either Reid or Gaither on the right side. "We'll put the five best guys on the field," Newsome said. "We realize that when Michael was at right tackle and Marshal Yanda was at right guard that it provided a very strong right side for us. We have to put the best five guys on the field to run the football and protect Joe Flacco. "Jah will come and we feel like the right side is the best side for him to start, where he's played for the last four years. Nothing is etched in stone."

Gaither spent last season on injured reserve due to a thoracic disc injury to his upper back, and he says he would prefer to remain with the Ravens. "I have no control over that, and I just hope everything gets worked out," Gaither told the Carroll County Times in a telephone interview following the season. "However that works out, if they do tender me or don't, there's not that much I can do about that. I'm prepared for anything. You just don't know what's going to happen. "It was an unfortunate injury. It kind of took me for a whirlwind. I'm really looking forward to the season. This was just another bump in the road. I hope I'm with the Baltimore Ravens and I'll come back even stronger next year." Gaither said he hasn't spoken with team

officials, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has spoken with Newsome about his client's status. No contract negotiations were launched with the former University of Maryland lineman. "I let Drew handle all of that for me," Gaither said. "I just hope they get the deal done. My focus has always been on being the best player I can be."

Should Gaither return, he wants to go back to his old left tackle position. Last season, the Ravens installed Oher as their left tackle and he struggled with penalties, including eight false starts, and had issues with speed rushers. Gaither said it definitely matters to him where he lines up.

"Yeah, it does," Gaither said. "I've been playing left tackle my whole career. It wouldn't make much sense to change now and get a whole new position underway at this point in time." Gaither made two trips to California during the season to visit noted back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins.

While Gaither says he won't need to have back surgery and has been conditionally cleared medically to play football again, he'll still need to pass a physical to be allowed to play again.

"Basically, I'm cleared," Gaither said. "I just have to be cleared by the ballclub and take that physical, so, yeah, I'm doing a lot better. I'm feeling great. I can't wait for next season. I'm blessed to be OK. I'm glad to be on the right track for redemption." Gaither remains wary of his back flaring up again after experiencing back spasms last August during training camp.

"The biggest thing was I let it calm down, so my back would settle down," Gaither said. "I'm not trying to aggravate it every week. That hasn't been successful. I've got to trust and believe in it. I know everything will be fine and I'll keep working at it."

There was a disconnect between Gaither and the organization during the offseason last year when he declined to report initially to the voluntary offseason training program before showing up after coach John Harbaugh spoke out publicly about the situation and privately to Rosenhaus. Then, Gaither suffered a bruised foot during minicamp after being moved to right tackle. There was a disagreement between the team and Gaither about the severity of the injury.

"That's all in the past," Gaither said. "Everything is fine now. I love this organization. I love my teammates. This is where I want to play. I just hope I can come back and I'm waiting to hear what's going to happen." The Ravens traded up five spots to acquire Reid out of Central Florida, sending their third-round pick and sixth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to draft the 6-foot-7, 325-pounder. "We traded up to get Jah," Newsome said. "Looking at the board, there was no one else we were really excited about. We wanted to make sure we got him. Two things, his size and his arm length, that's very important for a tackle. "The other thing, he is a very good knee-bender, so that will allow him to be a very good run-blocker. We hope he can come in and compete right away to be a starter for us."

TESSENDORF RETIRING: Head trainer Bill Tessendorf has informed the team that he's retiring. The Carroll County resident has been with the organization for 38 seasons. He'll be replaced by Mark Smith, who's being promoted from assistant trainer after spending the past two decades with the franchise. Tessendorf is an award-winning trainer who's regarded as one of the top trainers in the league. He won the National Athletic Trainers Association's Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award in 1998.

Two years ago, he won the NFL Physician Society's Fain Cain Memorial Award.

Tessendorf's contribution to the AFC North franchise included supervising the rehabilitation of numerous players from major injuries as well as taking a major hand in the construction details of the Ravens' ultra-modern training complex.

NEWSOME ENDORSES MODELL: Newsome is concerned that Art Modell won't be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame until after the former Ravens and Cleveland Browns majority owner is dead.

"I don't know what we can do," Newsome said. "My biggest fear is once he passes away then he'll get the opportunity to go in. I don't think that's fair."

Modell has been a controversial Hall of Fame candidate since moving the original Browns to Baltimore in February of 1996, making him an extremely unpopular figure with Cleveland fans. Modell suffered a mild stroke and a mild heart attack nine years ago. After moving the franchise to Maryland, he eventually sold majority interest of the Ravens to Maryland businessman Steve Bisciotti.

Modell retains a one-percent ownership and has an office at the Ravens' training complex. There's a large painting of Modell in the lobby of team headquarters located above the Ravens' lone Vince Lombardi trophy.

Modell hasn't been a finalist for the Hall of Fame in a decade. He didn't make the cut to the finalists again this year. "He deserves to be in there," said Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end with the Browns who was inducted in 1999. "He deserves to go in before I did."

NEWSOME NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Newsome didn't put a timetable on how much longer he'll continue to run the AFC North franchise, but emphasized he remains happy in his job. Newsome is often the subject of unfounded rumors that he's going to return to Alabama to become the athletic director at his alma mater. "Well, I don't know," Newsome said. "I'm enjoying it. I've got a young quarterback, a young back, a stud defensive tackle. Terrell Suggs has been here for seven years and is only 27 years old. "I'm still enjoying this. I've got a great working relationship with the owner, the president and the head coach. I've got a great building to come to work. Now that they've got Nick Saban, they don't need me. Nick is running everything. Now that Nick's down there, it allows me to stay up here and enjoy this." A Hall of Fame tight end with the Cleveland Browns, Newsome starred for the late Bear Bryant at Alabama.

The Ravens have a contractual arrangement with director of player personnel Eric DeCosta that gives him financial incentives to remain in Baltimore under Newsome rather than take a general manager position elsewhere. DeCosta is expected to eventually succeed Newsome as the Ravens' general manager.

"We've given Eric a contract that gives him incentives to stay," team president Dick Cass told the Carroll County Times at the annual league meetings this spring. "It doesn't keep him from leaving for the right situation, but it would have to be absolutely the right situation for him to leave. So, hopefully he'll be with us for a long time as well as Ozzie."

"This is not new because we had Phil Savage in the same position years ago and we were faced with the same thing and, at the time, I just said to Ozzie that I didn't want to end up losing both of them in a few-year period," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told the Times last year prior to giving DeCosta a new contract. "All I asked Ozzie was if you want to stay long-term we're going to ultimately lose Phil because someone is going to give him an opportunity. Fortunately and unfortunately, we're in the same position. I wouldn't be happy if Ozzie said he was ready to leave in two or three years and I couldn't guarantee Eric something. So, right now, Ozzie is happy in his job, plans on staying a long time and we will talk to Eric and try to build in some incentives to make it even more palatable to him and reward that patience.

"I built my other business and the people that are running that business today are young people that I hired in the late 80's. I have a lot of experience with promoting from within and I would like nothing more than for Eric to be patient enough and interested enough in staying. I think we've got a well-run organization. I think things are pretty smooth. I think he sees that. It's just a matter of is a perfect job going to come available while Ozzie still has five-plus years on the clock and really that's what we're trying to do is limit our exposure that there's only a couple of jobs out there that Eric would leave for. If he stays and takes over Ozzie's responsibilities, five, 10 years from now, it would be great for me. It would be great for Baltimore."

TORREY SMITH IN LINE FOR TIME: The Ravens didn't draft University of Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith in the second round to have him sit on the bench as a rookie.

Newsome said that Smith will immediately compete for a starting job after being drafted in the second round last week. The Ravens envision Smith operating as a deep threat for Flacco. "He's coming in to compete and be a starting wide receiver for us," Newsome said. "The vertical speed he brings to us will be a big asset. Joe is a very good deep thrower. Torrey also has the ability to be a returner. We can utilize him there, but he's competing to be a starting wide receiver."

Newsome said the Ravens were going to draft UCLA safety Rahim Moore in the second round if Smith had been off the board. He also said the Ravens would have likely drafted Texas cornerback Aaron Williams or Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling if they had traded back in the first round and were unable to draft Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith. Newsome said that fourth-round wide receiver Tandon Doss will also get an opportunity for early playing time.

"They complement each other," Newsome said. "Torrey has very good speed, clocked under 4.4 at the combine. He has a vertical presence. Tandon has an inside presence. He's a very smart kid. He's very good on the hashes like Anquan Boldin. "He has the ability to make the catch. They bring two strengths to the table that we need on the offense and will allow them to get on the field very early."

The Ravens are hoping that Smith could make a difference in key division games against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I think if we can get the quick strike when we're playing against Pittsburgh because they have that ability to get a turnover, if you can trump that with an easy score, it balances the books," Newsome said. "We have to find an equalizer. We have to find ways to get that easy touchdown against them to compete with them and beat them, so we can be the defending AFC North champions."

Drafted 58th overall, Smith unofficially ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

"We play against other teams and a slip here, and it's a touchdown," Newsome said during the draft. "And that's deflating. With everything we already have, we just added the 3-point shooter. At any point, the ball gets in his hands and Billy Cundiff is coming out to kick an extra point." An elated Smith quickly put on a Ravens T-shirt that his mother, Monica Jenkins, held in her lap while praying that the AFC North franchise would draft her son.

"I did have a good feeling for the Ravens from the get-go," Smith said during a conference call from his home in Fredericksburg, Va. "The way I play kind of fit the way they do things up there. So, I thought it would be a fit. When I visited, they agreed. I knew it would be a great possibility of me going there.

"That's like the dream scenario for me. My mom talked about it. She said, ‘You're going to get drafted by the Ravens, watch.' She was saying that for like the past week. For that to actually happen is kind of a surreal feeling." The Ravens had a hunch that Smith might fall to them.

Director of college scouting Joe Hortiz predicted that the Ravens would draft Smith in the second round Friday morning during a conversation with Harbaugh.

"I looked at him and I told him Torrey Smith would be there at No. 58," Hortiz said. "I was a skeptic," Harbaugh said. "I think my comment was, ‘There's no way.' I might have added a word in there, too. He fits us. He's our kind of guy. He's our kind of personality, but he's also the kind of player that we really want and we really need.

"I was so proud of this young man. My thought was, ‘We've got to find a way to make Torrey Smith a Raven.' This guy is what this organization is all about."

Smith draws high marks for character, dealing with extreme adversity throughout his childhood. He's the oldest of seven children born to a single mother and is the first man in the family to earn a degree, graduating with a criminology diploma.

Former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen once said of Smith, "God created a perfect person." Smith's mother was frequently a victim of domestic violence in her relationships with men. After a while, Smith could tell if someone was wrong for his mother.

"I'm like a psychic," Smith said. "I can sense a person's character from a mile away." Later, Jenkins got into a violent altercation with a female relative as she pleaded guilty to felony unlawful wounding and served time in a Virginia prison.

"It had its ups and downs," Smith said. "There were certain times when other kids would be able to go and have fun doing something, and I had responsibility, but that's something I would not take back. It definitely helped me a lot. "Seeing her mistakes, I was able to go out and not make those mistakes myself as I got older. I knew what I had to do to stay focused on my goals as I got older."

At the combine, Smith said he wasn't aware that Harbaugh knew so much about him. "That's really cool, I didn't even know the guy knew my name," Smith said. "It's something I hope a lot of people can learn from. I hope the story is getting out. I'm just honored. It's a blessing to be here. I've obviously went through a lot to be here and it helped me a lot more than it hurt me."

Newsome isn't exaggerating about the 6-foot, 205-pounder's physical qualities. Smith caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards last season, setting a Terrapins record with a dozen touchdown catches.

For his career, Smith averaged 14.57 yards per reception. He caught 152 passes for 2,215 yards for 19 touchdowns.

He set a school record with 5,264 all-purpose yards. As a sophomore, he set the school record with 51 kickoff returns for 1,309 yards as he returned two kicks for touchdowns. Smith is known for his mean stiff-arm, and his ability to run after the catch and break tackles. Smith is strong enough to beat press coverage, bench pressing 225 pounds 19 times and having set school receiver records with a 355-pound power clean and a 550-pound squat. He's a willing blocker, and he averaged 24.25 yards per kickoff return with three for touchdowns.

"He's a great kid, he's an explosive playmaker," Hortiz said. "We got bigger and faster. He's a special kid and a special player. We expect big things from him."

Smith insisted that he's much more than just a fast downfield target, but is confident that he can beat cornerbacks and gain separation. "I think so," Smith said. "I feel I can contribute on special teams and as a receiver in general, not just a deep threat. I'm looking forward to learning from guys like Anquan and Mason and trying to take my game to the next level."

The primary drawbacks on Smith are the need to catch the football with his hands on a consistent basis and concentrate on always looking the ball in to secure the reception.

Rookie wide receivers rarely make an immediate contribution as it's one of the toughest positions to excel at early in the NFL. "I understand there's an adjustment with receivers," Smith said. "I feel like I'm ahead of the game mentally. At Maryland, we ran the pro style, we ran West Coast. So, I understand offense. I can pick up an offense quick as far as picking up the playbook." The Ravens only had seven receptions of 40 yards or more last season. As a team, they averaged only 11.8 yards per reception.

"When you add Torrey to the mix, as one of our scouts said, ‘He can peel the top off the defense," Newsome said. "He brings that added dimension to the passing game, and Joe is a deep thrower. Joe has the ability to throw the deep ball. He has the arm strength to do it. So, now we're giving Joe an additional weapon. You add this element to it that strikes fear."

NOT GIVING UP ON KINDLE: Newsome expressed optimism that outside linebacker Sergio Kindle will eventually play football again after missing his entire rookie season with a fractured skull. The second-round draft pick from the University of Texas fell down two flights of stairs last July, days before the start of training camp. "Well, Sergio has made a lot of progress from the time he fell down the stairs," Newsome said. "Right now, it's still in medical hands. We are very optimistic that there may be an opportunity for him to get back on the field. When will that happen? We're not sure. We're very optimistic that Sergio will get back on the field at some point."

Newsome's comments echo what Harbaugh said about Kindle earlier this spring.

"There's some hope there, there's a chance," Harbaugh said. "I'm more optimistic now than ever before that he has a chance to come back and play. It will just be a matter of seeing how well he does."

Kindle recently visited neurological specialists in Boston and Michigan and told the Carroll County Times that it went well, but emphasized there was nothing definitive learned about his status.

"I don't know how to describe it exactly in medical terms, but they're very pleased with his progress," Harbaugh said. 'There's a chance he could be cleared to compete in football at some point and time."

Harbaugh was adamant that Kindle has to get medically cleared before the team can begin making any plans for him on the field. Kindle is also subject to the NFL personal conduct policy for his DWI and is due in Howard County District Court on May 18.

If Kindle returns, the Ravens will get a former All-Big 12 pass rusher back on the field. "He'll go out there and compete with everybody else," Harbaugh said. "If he can regain some of that form he had at Texas, here's a guy that's a big, fast, strong, aggressive guy who loves football and can rush the passer, that would be a bonus for us. That's for sure." Earlier this year, Kindle said he feels much better.

"I feel great," Kindle said in a telephone interview. "I feel like I'll get that clearance. How I feel about things could be different than what the doctors say. It's up to the doctors. Based on how things are going, I feel like I'll have good results." How will Kindle know if he can withstand the rigors of football?

"The main thing is the actual contact," Kindle said. "There's no way to really evaluate that until you do it. They're going to be looking at the healing of my head and whatnot and my body. It looks like I'll be able to take a hit. My balance is improved by far. "One thing I've done is put a helmet on and banged my head against a wall. I'm careful about how hard I do it. I haven't had any problems. I think I'm ready to hit. I can't wait to play football again." Kindle has been training in his hometown of Dallas and taking online classes toward his degree.

Kindle works out four times per week, including drills, running and lifting weights at a performance facility run by Michael Johnson, outside of Dallas.

Kindle said he currently weighs roughly 240 pounds. He has been taking online classes toward completing his degree in youth and community studies. He would like to be a coach one day when he's done playing football.

"One of my coaches came down and worked me out and I showed him around the facility to show them I'm not going to be slacking off," Kindle said. "When or if I get cleared, I can get back on the field in stride."

The Ravens signed Kindle to a one-year, $320,000 contract last fall that didn't include a signing bonus. They can retain his rights by assigning him an exclusive rights tender. Kindle is looking forward to putting the pending driving under the influence case behind him.

"The main thing is I want to get it over with and figure out what they're going to do," Kindle said. "I don't know how the Maryland law works, but I want to get it behind me and not have to worry about it anymore."

OHER CALLS OUT MCSHAY: When Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher was heading to the NFL out of Ole Miss, he was downgraded by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay for unspecified character issues. Oher had no known issues with the law and had a good reputation with his teammates and coaches and was the subject of the best-selling Michael Lewis book, "The Blind Side" that was eventually adapted into a popular movie with Sandra Bullock starring as his adopted mother.

Oher was angry about the characterization from McShay at the time. And he remains fired up about McShay's remarks regarding him and other NFL draft prospects, especially since he said he never met the draft expert.

"What is Character issues?!?" Oher wrote on his Twitter account in a rare rant from him. "Somebody tell me? I never got in trouble with the Law . . . yes sir no sir guy . . . But this Todd Mcshay guy acts if he knows ppl on a personal level get real!" What if someone was to talk about your son . . . and he had character issues!!

"Thats how my family felt. You need to meet ppl first and then judge them not go off what you hear!! . . .@McShay13 tell me what are character issues because I dont know... you said I had them and you never met me?! And I respect Mel Kiper way more then I respect you...your a joke!!" McShay hasn't responded to Oher's verbal assault.http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/sports/ravens/

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