Ravens seek edge against big receivers with corners Jimmy Smith, Cary Williams
OWINGS MILLS - The trenches aren't the only part of the football field where wills are imposed, where brawn and power still matter.
NFL teams seeking an edge against tall, athletic receivers are deploying large cornerbacks in press coverage to shut down pass patterns at the line of scrimmage before they can even start.
By jamming receivers in the chest, big, strong cornerbacks can disrupt timing and prevent quarterbacks from having a downfield target to choose from. The NFL still allows bump-and-run coverage techniques as long as contact ceases after 5 yards.
And the Baltimore Ravens have been experimenting with a tandem of tall, mobile, long-armed cornerbacks in Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams.
Smith and Williams have been working in with the defensive starters in practice, providing a different look for a secondary populated by mostly smaller corners.
Smith is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound physical prototype drafted in the first round. And Williams is a rangy 6-1, 190-pound reserve cornerback and special teams contributor.
"They played really well," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "When they prance out there, it's very comforting. You've got two 6-1, 6-2 guys out there with long arms and guys that can run. It makes it very difficult.
"When you play tight coverage, it forces the quarterback to put it in tight windows and makes it really hard for the receivers to get off the line."
Smith remains a strong candidate to start, but needs to stack together several practices and preseason games after being hampered at the start of training camp with a nagging groin injury.
To overtake Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb while veteran Domonique Foxworth continues to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Smith will need to utilize his best assets: superior size and speed.
At the NFL scouting combine, the All-American from Colorado ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times and registered a 36-inch vertical leap.
Plus, Smith has long arms and big hands.
"It definitely helps out if they're literally like half a foot away from me," Smith said. "My arms can go past them, so I get my hands on them every time. I've just got to get my feet moving now."
Even for a swaggering high pick like Smith who's accustomed to success, the NFL is an adjustment.
Grappling with 6-1, 223-pound receiver Anquan Boldin is different from the receivers Smith encountered in the Big 12.
"These receivers run right into you and throw you off of them," Smith said. "I like it, I like the physicality of it."
It's difficult to judge how well Smith is faring considering he has missed a lot of practice time and made only a cameo appearance during the Ravens' 13-6 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Smith is slated to play significantly more Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Jimmy is a really, really bright guy. He really has a lot going on and he's savvy," Pagano said. "Nothing really bothers Jimmy. He's a cool cucumber. He's just learning everything. He's not where he should be because of the setback, but now that we've got him out here we're kind of force-feeding him in there. It'll be interesting. We're going to up his reps this game. I can't wait to see him play."
Williams will likely continue to operate in nickel and dime packages as well as having a big special-teams role. He has intercepted several passes since camp began. And he's not far behind Smith athletically with 4.43 speed in the 40-yard dash and a 9-11 broad jump.
"He's done nothing but great things out here and he's earned the opportunity to work with the ones," Pagano said. "Now, what he's got to do is he's got to be consistent. We've got great competition in the back end, so these guys are pushing each other."
A year ago, Williams began the season with a two-game suspension for a violation of the NFL personal conduct policy. This year, he's in contention to play in the first game as part of the secondary rotation.
"Being in the system definitely helps," Williams said. "It's hard work, going through the hours and doing all the intangible things. Last year, nothing was set in stone.
"I want to come out and compete to the best of my ability and stack practice after practice. It's the same old thing for me. I'm a firm believer in hard work. I'm willing to accept whatever role Coach Pagano wants to put me in."
Bisciotti discusses hiring Harbaugh, Ngata contract talks.
OWINGS MILLS - It was three years ago that Rex Ryan parked his red pickup truck in the spot designated for the Baltimore Ravens' head coach when he showed up for his job interview.
The Ravens wound up hiring former Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh instead of Ryan, their swaggering, popular defensive coordinator.
Three years later, Ryan has led the Jets to consecutive AFC title game appearances while Harbaugh has coached Baltimore to three consecutive playoff appearances with one trip to the AFC championship
Why did owner Steve Bisciotti and the rest of the hiring committee opt for Harbaugh?
"From a chemistry standpoint, we really liked John and we thought it was going to be tougher for Rex to bring the whole team together after him spending 10 years on one side of the ball that was the dominant side of the ball," Bisciotti said during a conference call with personal-seat license holders. "I've known Rex for an awful long time. We had struggled for so long on the offensive side of the ball, and we were so dominant on the defensive side of the ball. Through no fault of Rex's, I think it created a little bit of the haves and have-nots, kind of a big brother-little brother syndrome here."
The personalities of Harbaugh and Ryan, an outspoken coach prone to bravado, are vastly different. Plus, Ryan wasn't completely accountable during his interview about how some of his defensive players were disrespectful to former coach Brian Billick.
Harbaugh has won 32 of 48 games and four of seven playoff games.
"I will always be second-guessed," Bisciotti said. "Some people will agree with me and some people won't. I just had to make a gut decision, and so far it's worked out pretty well. I hope it gets us to the Super Bowl and brings back a couple of trophies to Baltimore."
Bisciotti remains upbeat about the prospects of the team brokering a long-term contract extension with franchise defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Haloti is going to be with us," Bisciotti said. "We're just trying to work out the details. I'm having a hard time giving away $60 million. That whole hometown discount with Ray Lewis didn't work out so well for me. I don't know if that's going to happen with Haloti."
Although no deal is imminent as talks continue between Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty and Ngata's agents, Bisciotti doesn't ask general manager Ozzie Newsome for constant updates.
Under NFL rules governing franchise players, the Ravens have until Sept. 20 to sign the Pro Bowl defensive lineman. It's going to be a very expensive undertaking to lock up Ngata, one of the top defensive players in the game regardless of position.
"I don't ask Oz if they are close or not," Bisciotti said. "I just have a feeling that things are going to work out."
The Ravens are roughly $2.8 million under the NFL salary cap limit of $120.375 million.
Signing Ngata would create several million dollars of salary-cap space since he's currently taking up $12.476 million on a one-year franchise tender.
Bisciotti said he doesn't get involved in contract talks.
"The players are real nice to me on the sidelines," Bisciotti said. "When I talk to them about signing, they tell me to talk to their agents."
The Ravens need depth on the offensive line and a backup quarterback, not to mention an emergency fund in case starters get hurt and need to be replaced.
"I sure wish we could get a little more cap room," Bisciotti said. "We are up against it, and there's still some good players out there and I think there is going to be more. I think there are going to a lot of veterans that get released.
"And a lot of veterans are going to want to play for a team like the Ravens for the minimum or a little more than that with some incentives. We still have a little room. We are still in the hunt for some offensive linemen and anything else that drops in our laps."
The Ravens prefer to not have to move offensive guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle.
"We know the best spot for Marshal Yanda is guard," Bisciotti said.
Although six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk has been sidelined since undergoing surgery on his left knee, Steve Bisciotti anticipates that he'll be ready for the first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Birk is expected to miss the majority of the preseason while recovering from having a bursa sac injury repaired
"Every indication is that he's going to play, we're counting on him," Bisciotti said. "The original prognosis was three or four weeks, which would put us right up against the season opener. I haven't heard anything different. ..
"We are hoping to have him, and we were planning on limiting his snaps like we do with a lot of the veterans anyway. After his exceptional career, I don't know that a lack of snaps is going to be important at a position like that. Say your prayers, I think he's going to be starting against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11."
Bisciotti expressed support for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron whose offense didn't perform as expected last season. The Ravens wound up firing offensive line coach John Matsko and quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn rather than dismiss Cameron.
"I have faith in Cam," Bisciotti said. "We fire coaches around here and we will continue to fire coaches. He's a good guy, a brilliant mind. I understand all the pressure that was put on Cam in the offseason. I like a Cam Cameron under pressure."
Bisciotti said he's an advocate of warm-weather sites for Super Bowls. What about Baltimore hosting a Super Bowl since New York is getting one?
"We got to get through this New York one first," Bisciotti said. "If it works, we'll be in line like everyone else. If they have bad weather, it might never come again. I'm not thrilled to have it in New York."
Bisciotti wants the Ravens to be competitive on an annual basis.
"My goal is to never have a 4-12 team out on the field," Bisciotti said. "I'm going to work my butt off to make sure that doesn't happen.'
And he predicted that the Ravens will make the playoffs and defended quarterback Joe Flacco.
"I believe in our team," he said. "I believe in Joe. I believe in our coaches."
Bisciotti said he's aware that he's not a trained football expert, but said: "I've got a little bit of a feel."
The Anne Arundel County businessman said he tries to play devil's advocate when it comes to personnel decisions and reminds the football people about the financial ramifications.
Although the Ravens haven't been contacted by the NFL about playing a game in London, he's all for it.
"I would love to get some more Ravens fans across the pond," Bisciotti said. "They haven't come to me. My time is going to come up and I'm going to accept it when it does."
Bisciotti closed the call by expressing his appreciation for the fans .
"Baltimore fans, Ravens fans, I love you," Bisciotti said. "You're the best. Everything I do is trying to bring you a winner. I appreciate your support. We're not perfect here, but lord knows we try. Hopefully, we'll be setting up a parade in the near future. I certainly hope so."
Notebook: Carr sidelined with tweaked hamstring
OWINGS MILLS - Baltimore Ravens starting cornerback Chris Carr is dealing with a left hamstring injury and didn't practice Tuesday.
"Chris Carr tweaked his hamstring a little bit," coach John Harbaugh said. "So, we held him out."
The Ravens also gave cornerback Lardarius Webb a day off even though he's not injured.
Webb tore his anterior cruciate ligament as a rookie and returned last season.
"We just gave him a day off with his knee," Harbaugh said. "He's been pushing it all the way through, so we wanted to give the knee a little break."
Offensive guard Marshal Yanda (back spasms), wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring), running back Damien Berry (ankle) didn't practice.
Offensive guard Ben Grubbs practiced after getting a day off Monday following offseason ankle surgery to remove bone spurs.
Strong safety Bernard Pollard practiced, working with the first-team defense. However, he had an ice pack applied to his left knee during the latter portion of the workout.
Cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee) practiced without incident.
Multiple veterans were granted a day off, including defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, defensive end Cory Redding, linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jarret Johnson, running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
"No, it's not arbitrary, but there's not a formula to it as much," Harbaugh said. "Some of the guys are a little bit older, who probably don't need as much practice. You look at who they were."
NO COMMENT: Ravens inside linebacker Tavares Gooden was allegedly one of the players who accepted extra benefits from rogue University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports that he gave Gooden a watch and a suit..
Gooden declined to discuss the report.
"All that stuff has to go through my attorney," Gooden said. "I can't really answer no questions about anything like that."
QUICK HITS: Wide receiver Lee Evans obtained his No. 83 jersey he wore with the Buffalo Bills from tight end Ed Dickson. Dickson is wearing No. 84. ... The Steelers continue to pick at Joe Flacco with wide receiver Hines Ward predicting that the departures of Todd Heap and Derrick Mason will affect the Ravens' quarterback.
"When you lose a Mason or a Heap, that does a lot to a locker room," Ward told Pittsburgh reporters. "Those guys were emotional leaders out there. All of the pressure comes on Flacco probably." ... Harbaugh praised rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who was sacked five times and intercepted twice during a 13-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. "We've said a lot of great things about him, and I think they're all merited," Harbaugh said. "He's a talented guy. He picks up the offense very quickly and he's a very accurate passer. That goes on top of all the other obvious abilities he brings to the table. He's amazing." ...
The Kansas City Chiefs have signed three former Ravens starters in free agency: fullback Le'Ron McClain, nose guard Kelly Gregg and offensive tackle Jared Gaither. The Ravens trounced Kansas City during the playoffs last season and host the Chiefs Friday night at M&T Bank Stadium. "Yeah, I think it is a compliment to those guys and to the organization," Harbaugh said. "Those guys are all good players. They've all proven themselves, and they've been contributors here, and it'll be fun going up against those guys. Three guys that we just had here, and thought we had a chance, maybe to keep here as recently as two weeks. Now, you're playing against them. So, that'll be kind of an odd thing."
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