Ravens to measure themselves against Eagles' 'Dream Team' OWINGS MILLS - The Philadelphia Eagles' epic free agent bonanza hasn't escaped the attention of their NFL brethren.
Not to mention how some of their new acquisitions have called the NFC East franchise a ‘dream team' and compared themselves to the NBA's Miami Heat.
Building a roster with major star power to go along with quarterback Michael Vick and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the Eagles have spent more money and acquired more big names than anyone else in the league.
The centerpiece of the Eagles' expensive moves was landing star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for $60 million. Plus, they added defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, defensive end Jason Babin, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, running back Ronnie Brown, wide receiver Steve Smith and quarterback Vince Young.
Now, the Baltimore Ravens get to measure themselves against the star-studded, reshaped Eagles tonight at Lincoln Financial Field as they open the preseason after undergoing significant changes of their own.
"It's going to be a great test for us," Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "Yeah, they went out and bought, I don't know, the greatest team ever, but I don't know if you can just do that. There's so much that has gone into this place over a long period of time. I don't think you can just do that. So, we'll see where we're at."
Where are the Ravens at? In transition.
They've lost wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, nose guard Kelly Gregg, fullback Le'Ron McClain, cornerback Josh Wilson and offensive lineman Chris Chester. And they've retained offensive guard Marshal Yanda and cornerback Chris Carr while bringing in All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard and backup running back Ricky Williams.
The Ravens are trying to rapidly build chemistry and timing on offense with a new-look backfield while they audition rookie wide receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
After an offseason erased by the NFL lockout, all preseason games seem to have taken on added importance.
"It's hard to say a preseason game is big," coach John Harbaugh said. "It's big for a lot of guys. Is it going to be big for the team? Well, it's big in the sense of, ‘Where are we?' I think that's going to be very important for us. It's going to be very interesting to see where we're at."
Harbaugh indicated that quarterback Joe Flacco would play roughly the first quarter before being relieved by rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor playing for two quarters and change followed by third quarterback Hunter Cantwell in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens' top players such as middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs will only play roughly a series.
"I haven't played in preseason in the past couple years, so preseason for me isn't anything," Reed said. "I don't feel like I have to prove anything. I'm not trying to be an individual. Preseason is preseason, it doesn't mean anything. As long as I'm ready come September, which I will be and I am, I don't feel there's anything I have to prove."
An emboldened Flacco doesn't share that opinion.
He's got his work cut out for him, getting accustomed to the subtraction of his most trusted targets, Mason and Heap, and breaking in new downfield options as well as improving his connection with former Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
"There's always importance to these first couple of games to see if we have some guys that can play for us this year, make some plays," Flacco said. "We haven't gotten a lot of work, but, to be honest with you, camp has been going pretty good. I think this is a big deal. We are back to football.
"The fans are going to be able to kind of really, really start it up again and really rev it up again. It's definitely a test to see where we are at. Wherever that is, we know that we are going to have to come back here, make improvements and move on towards the season."
How will this changed offense fare?
The Ravens may emphasize the running game initially, sticking with their strengths with former Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice. And they'll be closely scrutinizing new players such as rookie offensive tackle Jah Reid.
"Practice is important, but now the lights come on," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We'll see if guys can duplicate the fundamentals and techniques that they have done here. I want to see if they can transfer what they have done in practice to the game, not try to go into the game and try to do too much. This is the most important first preseason game of my coaching career."
The offense struggled during an open practice Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium as it surrendered 10 sacks and the defense snagged four interceptions.
There were some ugly moments in pass protection and confusion reigned.
That might be the case against Asomugha and Co. tonight.
"It'll be fun to go against Nnamdi," Flacco said. "Anytime you go against a corner like that, it's kind of just fun to have that challenge for the receivers, for myself. We would like to see us get some first downs, go down there, move the ball down the field and put some touchdowns on the board.
"We're going to have some guys that are going to be out there for the first time, the first time they will set foot on an NFL field and actually play in a game. So, there's going to be a lot of emotions. At the end of the day, it's about going out there and being confident when everything is kind of flying around you, adapting to the situation and just playing loose."
Ravens decide to pass on Cotchery
OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens have decided to pass on veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
Cotchery visited the Ravens and took a physical on Tuesday, but isn't being offered a contract.
A former New York Jets starter, Cotchery passed his physical. However, he underwent offseason back surgery and failed his exit physical with the Jets.
Cotchery attended practice and met with general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh one day after visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Neither AFC North team made a move to sign him, though.
That suggests that Cotchery might not be completely ready to play and that both teams want to evaluate their younger wide receivers at this time.
The Ravens drafted Torrey Smith (Maryland) in the second round and Tandon Doss (Indiana) in the fourth round.
The latest wide receiver linked to the Ravens on the NFL rumor mill is Buffalo Bills veteran Lee Evans. However, Evans might not be on the trading block.
Ravens notebook:Paul Kruger having an impressive camp
OWINGS MILLS - Since the Baltimore Ravens drafted outside linebacker Paul Kruger in the second round out of Utah two years ago, he's been largely forgotten.
Recording only a dozen tackles, one sack and an interception tends to create that kind of obscurity in the NFL.
Now that Kruger has returned to outside linebacker after primarily playing defensive end in the past, Kruger has been having a strong training camp as he approaches his third NFL season.
"Kruger has been killing it," veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "Kruger is the guy nobody has been talking about that's been killing people. You can definitely tell he's finding his niche. He's starting to understand the game more. His awareness on things is really good. The sky's the limit for that dude."
Tired of being criticized for not contributing more and not playing special teams, Kruger is hoping to prove himself this year.
"Why not?" Kruger said. "I want to do a lot of great things here, and I want to be a good player. I want to be out there every play and doing my best to help the team. I'm doing what I can to get there."
Backing up Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs Kruger has become a difficult blocking assignment.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder is too fast for most offensive tackles to cut off when he rushes off the edge, and he's become strong enough to bull-rush linemen.
"I think he's taking himself more serious," Suggs said. "I think he wants to be a player now. He definitely wants to add to the defense. I think he knows, definitely, he could make some plays on this defense.
"He's bought in now. Not to say he didn't before, you'd have to ask him about that - but from what I can tell, he's really in there with the rest of us guys and he really wants to be a part of this team."
Under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, Kruger has lined up everywhere from Suggs' rush end spot to strongside linebacker behind Johnson and a traditional defensive end spot on third downs with his hand in the dirt.
"I've been floating around a bit,, so now I feel like I have more of a solidified outside spot," Kruger said. "I'm just looking forward to getting going."
Last season, the Ravens had a franchise-worst 27 sacks as only Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata could be counted upon.
If Kruger can live up to expectations, he could provide a boost to the pass rush.
"Absolutely, I want to help the team in any way I can, and that's definitely an area I feel confident," Kruger said. ‘So, we'll see what happens."
The Ravens want to create a true rotation in the front seven with players like Kruger and Sergio Kindle after struggling to finish games last season.
"It's going to be a situation this year where on third down, somebody is going to be coming off the field," Johnson added. "Is it going to be me? I don't know, but that's what we need. We need guys to roll in. Our group is used to playing 100 percent of the snaps. You look around the league and teams don't play 100 percent of the snaps.
"They rotate. We don't rotate, but with the way guys like Kruger has been playing and we've got Sergio (Kindle) coming on, it's going to be a good situation to roll guys in and out."
Suggs also complimented Kruger for his ‘buffness' in a reference to his physique.
"He's a funny guy, because he's really buff," Kruger said. "I appreciate the compliment. I'm sure he's joking around, but it's all good. I gained a couple pounds, but nothing serious."
BIG NIGHT: Lacking a veteran presence to back up quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens are going to take a long look at rookie Tyrod Taylor tonight against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The sixth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech is slated to play at least the second and third quarters and possibly well into the fourth quarter.
"It's a great opportunity for me to go out there and show what I'm capable of doing," Taylor said. "I feel comfortable with everything that we've put in so far. So I'm just looking forward to having fun and going out there and helping the team win."
Taylor has drawn praise from teammates and coaches, but the mobile former Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year needs to be more consistent overall.
Undersized and appearing to be shorter than the 6-foot-1, 215 pounds he's listed at on the roster, Taylor has dealt with passes being knocked down and seems to throw better on the move.
"I put more pressure on myself than I think anybody else," Taylor said. "I want to succeed. Of course there's a lot of naysayers, a lot of haters, a lot of doubters that think I won't do well. At the end of the day, I answer to myself."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't concerned about how Taylor will handle a high-pressure NFL environment, not after starting four years for the Hokies.
"The guy has played a lot of football games," Harbaugh. "I don't think it's going to be in any way overwhelming for him to play a football game. He's a four-year starter at big-time college football. But, it'll be interesting to see how he applies the trade at this level."
Taylor said he's looking forward to seeing Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, a fellow former Hokie.
"It's definitely fun," Taylor said. "We talked about it all offseason."
BOO BIRDS: Flacco grew up in the heart of Philadelphia Eagles country, raised in Audubon, N.J., roughly 10 minutes from Philadelphia.
And it wouldn't necessarily bother Flacco if he gets booed. Hey, the Philadelphia fans once booed Santa Claus.
"I can get booed, that'll be great," Flacco said. "Hopefully it's when I'm throwing a touchdown pass. Throw a touchdown pass, get booed, that'll be awesome."
Other than his wife, parents and friends, he expects his friends to root for the Eagles.
"I hope all my buddies, I hope they're rooting for Ravens," Flacco said. "I know they're all Eagles fans, but when they have to make a decision, I hope they make the right one.
"Yeah, they're crazy about their Eagles in South Jersey. I mean, I'm not going to convert all of South Jersey, hopefully just the people I know. I've got to remind them, ‘Hey, I got you the tickets, so you've got to root for us.'"
A former Eagles special teams coach, Harbaugh doesn't expect a warm reception as he returns to Philadelphia.
"It's going to be interesting," Harbaugh said. "I don't know if I know where the visiting locker room is. It'll be my first time in the visiting locker room. I fully expect to be cheered rabidly when I walk out onto the field. I'll be highly disappointed if that doesn't happen."
TRADE WINDS: Buffalo Bills veteran wide receiver Lee Evans addressed the trade rumors surrounding him.
Most often linked to Evans: the Arizona Cardinals and the Baltimore Ravens
"I don't really know," Evans said in remarks distributed by the team. "Obviously that is something that is out of my control. There are always rumors like that out there so we will have to just see what happens.
"It's hard for me to comment on it now. It's just one of those things that you have to find out how much substance is behind it and see what happens. So I can't really comment on it."
Evans said he found out about the rumors by reading about himself.
"Like you said, you see some blogs and things around the Internet," he said. "So we just have to see what the scoop is."
Evans was asked specifically about playing opposite Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals' star wide receiver.
"Well, I know Larry and I've known him for a long time so we have a really good relationship," Evans said. "Anything outside of that you just have to see how much is really behind it." Evans acknowledged that it's flattering that other teams are apparently interested in him.
"Absolutely. I think what it shows is a lot of the hard work that I put in doesn't go unnoticed," Evans said. "I guess you can say that is flattering but the reality of it is I am here now and I am getting prepared to play a game in Chicago on Saturday."
R. LEWIS TALKS RETIREMENT: Should the Ravens win the Super Bowl this season, Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said he will seriously contemplate retirement.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is 36 years old and heading into his 16th season.
"My son will be a junior this year. I only play this game for another ring," Lewis told CBS Sports. "If we can win it this year, and I'm being brutally honest with you, if we win it this year, I'm going to then spend as much time as I can with him. I'm gone to be with my son. And I feel like now we have enough pieces in place to make a good run at the Super Bowl."
Drafted in the first round in 1996, Lewis has twice been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
When will he hang up his cleats?
"I don't know when it will all be over for me," Lewis said. "People want to use my age against me. They say I'm too old. People fear getting old. I don't fear that because now I have wisdom and a tough body to go with that wisdom."
MOLL TO JAGUARS: One day after former Ravens offensive tackle Tony Moll worked out for the Detroit Lions, he was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Moll is the latest Ravens free agent to sign with another team.
Moll is a sixth-year veteran who entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick with the Green Bay Packers before heading to the Ravens via a trade in exchange for defensive back Derrick Martin.
Dime package: Six things to watch
1. The Baltimore Ravens' thin wide receiver and tight end situations are under major scrutiny since cutting veterans Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith is expected to start opposite Anquan Boldin, who will shoulder an even bigger workload this year. The Ravens are pleased so far with Smith, and even more so with fourth-round wide receiver Tandon Doss. Doss' hands and route-running have been impressive. Dennis Pitta will start at tight end with Ed Dickson out with a pulled hamstring. Pitta is an excellent receiver, but his blocking skills are in question.
2. Unable to afford an experienced blocker, the Ravens are auditioning third-round offensive tackle Jah Reid and former third-rounder Oniel Cousins on the right side. Reid appears to have greater upside due to his ideal size and athleticism. Cousins is a mauler who has struggled in the past against elite pass rushers such as LaMarr Woodley. This is a competition that bears watching.
3. Joe Flacco will make a brief cameo appearance tonight against the Eagles' so-called ‘Dream Team.' Then, it's Tyrod Taylor's turn. The multi-dimensional, undersized former Virginia Tech standout is slated to play the majority of the game after Flacco gets the first quarter. The Eagles figure to try to confuse Taylor, whose first instinct is usually to take off and run. He has a strong arm, but needs to be more accurate and consistent.
4. The Ravens' three-man strong safety competition officially starts tonight as preseason contests will go the furthest toward determining who will replace Dawan Landry between Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura and newcomer Bernard Pollard. Zbikowski is the frontrunner as he balances tackling and coverage responsibilities well. Nakamura is the rangiest of the three. And Pollard is a big hitter at 6-foot-1, 228-pounds who carries an enforcer reputation.
5. This marks the first NFL game situation for outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, who missed his entire rookie season with a fractured skull. Kindle has been lauded by coaches for being big, strong, fast and a good blitzer. There's still a lot of rust for Kindle to knock off, though. Plus, his hearing in his left ear was affected in the accident.
6. Who's not playing? Among those not expected to play or already ruled out: wide receivers James Hardy (hamstring) and David Reed (wrist), running backs Ricky Williams and Matt Lawrence (knee), Dickson (hamstring), center Matt Birk (knee surgery), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (groin) and Domonique Foxworth (knee), linebacker Tavares Gooden (neck), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee) and long snapper Morgan Cox (knee).
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