Ravens Notebook

Ravens' confidence growing in revamped receiving corps

BALTIMORE – It almost sounds like an old movie, the repetitive kind that usually wraps up with a snoozer of an ending containing all of the excitement of a box of stale popcorn.

That's how many times the Baltimore Ravens have attempted to energize their receiving corps only to be let down by how their well-constructed plans went awry on the field. Just a year ago, the Ravens traded for former Pro Bowl selection Anquan Boldin and signed Donte' Stallworth before adding T.J. Houshmandzadeh when Stallworth broke his foot.

With the exception of Boldin, though, their impact was negligible.

Fast forward to today and the Ravens' revamped wide receiver situation has quarterback Joe Flacco convinced that the offense is truly headed in the right direction: downfield and moving toward the end zone. "I can't wait to see what happens," Flacco said. "I think we are really on our way." The trade with the Buffalo Bills to acquire speedster wide receiver Lee Evans has dramatically changed the dynamic of the Ravens'offense so far during the preseason. In a 34-31 Ravens victory Thursday night over the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium, Boldin and Evans combined for eight receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns.

The Ravens fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, and they got back into the game by Flacco airing it out to Boldin and Evans. Unlike a year ago where Boldin, Derrick Mason and Houshmandzadeh all ran similar trademark patterns with none of them having the speed to gain separation, Evans is a burner.

Flacco lofted a 35-yard strike to Evans for a touchdown where the former Wisconsin star bolted past coverage to scoot into the end zone. "Quick-strike ability, you have to have it," coach John Harbaugh said. ‘Guys like Lee, that's what they do." While Boldin excels at muscling defenders on short to intermediate routes and turning into a running back with his violent running style after the catch, Evans' territory is challenging defenders deep.

"He's the guy that pretty much takes the top off of defenses," Boldin said. "Opens up everything underneath for guys like myself and Ray Rice and other guys."

And Flacco placed the football exactly to Evans, allowing him to run away from the Redskins' secondary without having to wait for the pass to arrive.

"The ball Joe threw was great, and I just wanted to go up and try to make a play on it," Evans said. "He put it in a good position, and I just tried to run and catch up with it. It was a well-executed play."

Added Harbaugh: "I guess when you're that fast, you just throw the ball out there and go chase it. Maybe, that's an easier transition. .. The play that Evans made, wow. To be able to go get that ball the way he did, there was a point in time where I didn't think he was going to be able to catch up with the throw. I guess Joe knew he would be able to catch up. He put it right where it had to be."

Flacco misfired early in the game when he stared down Boldin as cornerback DeAngelo Hall jumped the route and returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown.

Later, though, Flacco connected with Boldin for a 12-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to tie the score as he hit him in the back of the end zone. Boldin finished the game with five receptions for 73 yards. Extra work together is beginning to pay dividends one season removed from Boldin dipping to a career-low 64 receptions for 837 yards and seven touchdowns last year during his first season in Baltimore.

The timing and chemistry is evidently improving. "That's what we're working towards," Boldin said. "We kind of spend a little time after practice making sure we're on the same page, going through extra routes. It's not something that happens overnight. The great ones always put in extra time, and that's what we're trying to do now." Flacco also traveled to work with Boldin this offseason.

Communication and trust are growing as Flacco adjusts to no longer havingMason and tight end Todd Heap to throw to with their salary-cap related releases prior to training camp.

"Me and Anquan have been hooking up this training camp, and we have been talking to each other about what we're seeing," Flacco said. "I am really confident about where we are at right now." That's the biggest change afoot in the Ravens'offense, one that still has issues to deal with because of an offensive line that's still in transition with the signing of former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to play left tackle, Michael Oher moving to right tackle and center Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda sidelined with injuries. Still, the Ravens' perimeter game is beginning to shed the well-deserved predictable labels of the past.

"You talk about timing and chemistry and maturing together," Harbaugh said. "I don't know even what the word is, but I think they are getting to know each other in the passing game. And that bodes well for us."

Notebook: Torrey Smith plagued by dropped passes


OWINGS MILLS – Visibly frustrated at his locker after dropping two passes, Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith thinks he's identified the problem.

It's all in his head, believes the second-round draft pick from the University of Maryland. "I had two of them I would like back," Smith said. "I've been a playmaker forever. That hasn't changed. It's more trying to get in a groove and I've kind of been pressing. I've really been wanting to make a play. Everyone has been making plays around me, the whole receiving corps. I just got to be patient and let it come to me instead of pressing the issue." The worst drop was on a third-down route where he was all by himself.

"Obviously I can catch the ball," Smith said. "I know I can catch the ball. It's just a concentration issue. I've been practicing, wanting to make a play, wanting to make an impact instead of letting it come to me. I was wide open on one of them. I've got to get back to the basics and starting feeling like myself."

Smith caught just one pass for six yards during the Ravens' 34-31 victory over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium. For the entire preseason, he has managed to haul in just two passes for eight yards.

Quarterback Joe Flacco thinks that Smith is simply thinking too much rather than letting his natural abilities show.

"Torrey just has to go out there and play, use his abilities," Flacco said. "Got to make a move, run by guys, use his hands, go out there and play confidently and use his ability and make moves. I think he has a tendency to overthink things. He always wants to do the right thing. He always comes up to me and tells me he wants to do the right thing.

"Sometimes when you go out there on Sundays, you just have to let it go and play. If you go out there and make mistakes, you make mistakes. You just have to go out there and play. He's just going to have to learn that. He has all the ability to go out there and let it come to him."

BUILDING CONFIDENCE:
Rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor executed his first NFL comeback, leading the Ravens to a win with his nine-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.

"Well, Tyrod, I would say he's made the team. Newsflash," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Tyrod played well. There are things that he needs to learn from. You have the ball third-and-two down there, you don't take a sack. "I think that's something he'll learn from. Yet and still, some of the throws he made in the teeth of pressure were just exceptional for us. He was using his feet to get out of trouble a couple of times."

Taylor completed 11 of 18 passes for 125 yards, a touchdown and a 100.5 quarterback rating. In three preseason games, Taylor has completed 35 of 57 passes for 392 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a 73.1 passer rating.

The Ravens are still expected to sign a veteran to back up Flacco, but Taylor is doing his best to convince the team he can handle the job. "I know I have to impress people and people are going to be watching me as far as the No. 2 job," Taylor said. "At the same time, I'm just trying to be the best quarterback I can be and show the coaches that I can be that guy if they need me to."

OHER HANDLING CHANGE: As a hulking Bryant McKinnie walked around the sidelines in workout clothes one day after passing his physical and signing his $7.5 million contract, there was already change on the Ravens' offensive line. With the arrival of the former Pro Bowl offensive tackle triggering a watershed change with Michael Oher about to move to right offensive tackle from the left side, the Ravens still had Oher start at left tackle against the Redskins

Harbaugh indicated that Oher will be moving to the right side, though, as McKinnie takes over at left tackle.

"Our plan right now is to move Michael to right and to move Bryant to left.," Harbaugh said. "We'll see how that goes. Everything is fluid. I'd love to say that's set in stone, but that's not set in stone. Bryant has played there, Michael has played the right side. Michael is about as good a person and as great a team guy as I've ever been around in my career.

"Ozzie [Newsome]and I brought him in, and we talked to him the night before last. He said it before we said it: ‘Whatever I need to do to help this be the best football team and the best offensive line it can be, all the career stuff can wait.' We're trying to be the best football team we can be, and that's exactly what he said." Although this marks the second time he's had to change positions, Oher seemed to take the pending change in stride.

"Whatever is the best situation for the team for us to win, that's the No. 1 thing," Oher said. "He's a good guy. Obviously, he's a pretty good player, a Pro Bowl player. He's been blocking for great running backs, great quarterbacks. He's going to be a big help to the offensive line. "I think we'll do great this year with him. You always want a good player. You want to play with the best guy. I'm a team guy. I'm trying to win and I want the best for the team. That's what it's all about.

Oher said he's comfortable going back to right tackle where he played as a rookie after being drafted in the first round out of Ole Miss. "You got to adjust, you got to play football,"Oher said. "You got to do what the team needs. As long as you're out on the field making holes for the running back and protecting Joe Flacco, we'll be all right."



McKinnie didn't look anywhere near the nearly 400-pound girth he reportedly showed up weighing when he showed up to the Minnesota Vikings'training camp prior to being released. He looked to be in reasonable shape, albeit hefty, for an offensive lineman. McKinnie went through a workout with the coaching staff before the game.

"He's been working out and he's been eating right," Harbaugh said."He's been working on football. We just had a great meeting with him. I'm very impressed with him. He's a very mature guy, very excited to be here, very intelligent guy. He picks up football like that, and I'm looking forward to getting him to fold." LEVOIR ON THE MOVE: New offensive lineman Mark LeVoir normally plays offensive tackle, but he lined up with the starters at right guard ahead of Oniel Cousins with Marshal Yanda still sidelined due to back spasms.

"'It's the second time I've ever played right guard," LeVoir said. "The first time was my first preseason game with New England. Wherever I can help the team, I'm willing to do it.

"The spacing is a lot smaller. Guys are on top of you. It's a lot quicker than being on the edge where you have a lot of area. I'll get comfortable over time. You just got to go out there and play."

Rookie third-round draft pick Jah Reid started at right offensive tackle for the second time this preseason.

CAUGHT IN THE WEBB: Cornerback Lardarius Webb intercepted a Beck pass in the third quarter, also sacking the former Raven for a nine-yard loss.

"I've got to come back and get better and improve on the things, covering the guys one-on-one in the slot," Webb said. "I guess you all could say I had a good game, but I don't think so." BIG PLAY: Tight end Ed Dickson hauled in a 33-yard pass from Flacco where he used his body and leaping ability to wall off defenders.

"Dickson made some huge plays," Harbaugh said. Added Dickson: "We took what the defense gave us. We've watched a lot of film and know these guys. We wanted to come out and play hard. It was important for us to get the tempo up because we started a little slow, but I liked that we fought back and picked things up."

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