Ravens' receiving corps remains confident

OWINGSMILLS -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco rolled out to his right, scanned his targets and launched a deep spiral across his body to the left that landed safely in the fingertips of wide receiver Marcus Maxwell along the sidelines Friday.

For the Ravens' oft-criticized receiving corps, it was a snapshot of what they're hoping to build on as they launched a mandatory, full-team minicamp that concludes Sunday.

Nonetheless, questions persist about the NFL's 28th-ranked passing game from last season despite the success of Flacco as the only rookie quarterback to win two playoff games during a steady, encouraging first season. Especially since the Ravens didn't draft a wide receiver or sign one during free agency.

With starters Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton sidelined with injuries this week, Demetrius Williams still on the mend from Achilles' tendon surgery, veteran free agents Jerry Porter, Kelley Washington and Tab Perry auditioning at minicamp and constant trade rumors linking Baltimore disgru ntled Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, the Ravens' wide receiver situation remains under heavy scrutiny.

Despite the lack of flashy numbers as a stingy defense and the league's fourth-ranked rushing attack spearheaded a run to the AFC championship game, the Ravens are convinced that they're being undervalued.

"If we were a couple of plays short of making it to the Super Bowl, what more do you want?" said Mason, who led the Ravens last season with 80 receptions for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns despite a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. "This group has given a lot to this team. Some people don't appreciate it."

The Ravens are banking on Mason, 35, continuing to defy his age and Clayton displaying more consistency after catching 41 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns last season. They're hoping that Williams emerges as a true deep threat if he can regain and maintain his health.

"We love our wide receivers," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We have good players playing wide receiver. I guess people can write and believe what they want, but watch them play. Put on the tape."

Flacco, who completed 60 percent of his throws last season for 2,971 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, expressed confidence that the Ravens aren't in short supply of weapons outside even though Mason's production dwarfs the other receivers' combined 55 catches, 918 yards and five scores.

"We had a pretty darn good team last year, obviously, it was with the guys we had, so we don't need anybody else," Flacco said. "We feel like we have the guys to go get it done. We feel like we have the guys to run the field and be a Super Bowl team."

Added Mason: "We got to the AFC championship game with the guys that we have. You can't satisfy everybody around here. We've had a lot of injuries that kind of derailed some of the things that we wanted to do. Once we're fully healthy, we're just as good as any group."

For Flacco, it's an adjustment on the fly to get acclimated to so many unfamiliar receivers since the Ravens are shorthanded.

"We've got a lot of guys right here that are new faces, I don't even know if I know them really," Flacco said. "We're throwing them right in the mix."

During the first day of minicamp, Maxwell and Marcus Smith lined up with the first-team offense as the two receivers.

After Smith didn't catch a pass as a rookie last season following being drafted in the fourth round, they Ravens are looking for major improvement out of him in his second season. He turned in an acrobatic deep touchdown catch between two defenders Friday.

Like Mason, Smith isn't oblivious to the public discontent about the receivers.

"I wouldn't say offended. I just take that as a challenge," said Smith, who displayed inconsistent hands during his first season. "That's them saying they don't know about the other guys in this room. This is fuel to our fire for us to go out there every day and get better and make sure there is no doubt when the season comes around.

"Now, it's time for me to make plays and make a defining role for myself. I can take pressure of Derrick and Mark so they don't have to go out there and make every play."

Meanwhile, the Ravens began evaluating a trio of free agent hopefuls.

That includes Porter, a former Jacksonville Jaguars starter cut one year after signing a six-year, $30 million contract, Washington, an imposing former Cincinnati Bengals third-round pick who caught one pass last season for the New England Patriots, and Perry, a special-teams standout who was out all of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon with the Miami Dolphins.

D.J. Hackett was invited to try out, but changed his mind and visited the Houston Texans, according to his agent.

Washington was narrowly the most impressive of the three with the way he was able to move downfield and how he extended to snag a low pass.

Porter looked somewh at lethargic and wasn't as quick as the other receivers, but caught a few balls.

Perry was fairly quiet on the field, but reported in good shape.

"This seems like it could be a perfect fit for me," Perry said. "I can play special teams and all of the receivers positions and I'm big and fast, but we have a lot of big and fast guys here. It's a numbers game, so you never know if it's going to work out or not."

Wearing a red jersey signifying he's off-limits to contact, Williams ran routes during drills and estimated that he's at 80 percent physically.

Having gained 15 to 20 pounds, Williams still looked quick. However, he had a noticeable limp when he was walking back to the huddle, a hitch that wasn't evident during his routes.

"Really, walking hurts more than running," Williams said. "I think when I'm running I've kind of trained my mind to run smoothly, not to think about it.

"But when I'm walking, I feel it because it's a slower motion. I'm probably going to walk with a limp for a little while. As long a s I can run, I'm all right."

Retained by the Ravens as a restricted free agent with the low tender of $1.01 million, Williams caught 13 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown last season.

The former fourth-round draft pick from Oregon is regarded as the Ravens' top deep threat when he's healthy.

"We're talking about having a deep threat, but you look at the games last year and I wasn't there," Williams said. "Mark was making plays downfield, Mason was making plays downfield, so it's not just me.

"All of us can make those plays. I think it's just a lot of people who don't get a chance to see us work every day, so they don't get to see everything that's going on. "

While the Ravens work at upgrading their passing game practice by practice, the speculation about Boldin never seems to stop.

Boldin's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, fired off another salvo Friday morning on his Twitter page, predicting: "I still believe Anquan will be traded before training camp. I hope to work together with the Cardinals to resolve this situation by then."

Boldin wouldn't seem to fit into the Ravens' tight salary cap structure as they're in the neighborhood of $1 million under the salary cap.

Plus, Cardinals general manager Rod Graves isn't going to just give away a Pro Bowl wide receiver with two years remaining on his contract.

All of the Boldin talk appears to have provided the Ravens with some motivational fuel.

"Anquan is a good player," Mason said "If you can add a guy like that, that would be great. To say this team needs him, we don't.

We've made it this far without him. We'll continue to go. We have guys that are capable of doing the same things that he's been doing in Arizona."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

OWINGS MILLS -- Rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher had to be an extremely quick study during his inaugural NFL practice.

Oher didn't have much time to get his bearings before being thrust into the huddle immediately with the Baltimore Ravens' first-team offense.

The first-round draft pick from Ole Miss operated as the starting right tackle at a full-team minicamp Friday because veterans Willie Anderson and Adam Terry were both out with knee injuries.

"It was amazing," Oher said. "I saw Ray Lewis across from me, so I was kind of excited. Me and coach, we worked on a lot of plays the night before, so I was comfortable. I know I'm going to work hard to be the best player I can be. I was very calm."

With the exception of veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce bursting past the 23rd overall pick on a swim move, it looks like Oher is off to a fast start.

"I thought he did well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "There was nothing glaring. I didn't see anything jump out that didn't look right."

After battling chronic foot injuries last season, Anderson's medical status remains unresolved due to a different problem now: sore knees.

"He's working with the trainers, so we've just got to see what he's going to do," Harbaugh said. "He's got some things that just don't allow him to practice right now or be out here."

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason is hoping that his lobbying for a contract extension will pay off in the form of a new deal prior to the season.

"I'm very confident that it will get done," Mason said. "I hope management has the same confidence that I have that it will get done. "I'm not going to worry about it until need to worry about it. Right now, I'm just concentrating on getting healthy and trying to do what I can to make this football team better."

Mason, 35, is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but led the Ravens with 80 receptions for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns last season. He has registered a total of 183 catches over the past two seasons.

Team officials have said they're open to the idea of extending Mason's deal as he approaches the final year of his contract.

McGAHEE UPDATE: Running back Willis McGahee was sidelined after undergoing offseason arthroscopic surgery to repair his ankle. However, team officials have said that he had a cleanup procedure on his knee.

"I had my ankle done in the offseason, keep the knee out of it," McGahee said. "I'm trying to get over that hump. I don't know how long before I'm running full speed."

McGahee predicted he would be=2 0recovered prior to training camp.

After rushing for a career-low 671 yards last season while dealing with multiple injuries, McGahee is trying to get healthy and regain his old role as the centerpiece of the running game.

"Believe it or not, I'm excited about this season," McGahee said. "I don't know why, but I am. Maybe because I actually took care of the little bumps I had in the road last year. It's all working toward the better."

Ray Rice took the majority of the carries with the first team in McGahee's absence.

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS: The Ravens signed a dozen undrafted free agents, including Florida State kicker Graham Gano, the Lou Groza Award winner.

Baltimore also signed: fullback Jason Cook (Ole Miss), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Georgia), cornerback Kevin Gerard (Northern Arizona), defensive lineman Will Johnson (Michigan), cornerback David Jones (Kentucky), wide receiver Eron Riley (Duke), center Greg Ryan (Western Kentucky), defensive end Will VanDeSteeg (Minnesota), linebacker-defensive end Luis Vasquez (Arizona State), wide receiver Isaiah Williams (Maryland) and quarterback Drew Willy (Buffalo).

Gano, who is competing with Steve Hauschka for the kicker job, VanDeSteeg, who saw action with the first-team defense at rush linebacker, and Ellerbe, who received a $2,000 signing bonus, seem to have the top chances to make the team.

INJURY UPDATE: Besides Anderson, Terry and McGahee, several other players were sidelined, limited with injuries or off-limi ts to contact.

That includes: wide receivers Mason (shoulder surgery), Demetrius Williams (Achilles' tendon surgery) and Mark Clayton (undisclosed), tight ends Todd Heap (back), L.J. Smith (undisclosed) and Quinn Sypniewski (knee), offensive linemen Ben Grubbs, Oniel Cousins and Marshal Yanda (knee surgery), defensive backs Ed Reed (nerve impingement), Samari Rolle (groin), Chris Carr (shoulder surgery), Frank Walker (shoulder surgery) and Fabian Washington (shoulder surgery), linebackers Jason Phillips (meniscus surgery) and Antwan Barnes (left pectoral surgery) and nose guard Kelly Talavou (shoulder surgery).

Nose guard Kelly Gregg and strong safety Dawan Landry, who were out last season with injuries knee and neck injuries, respectively, practiced without restrictions.

SUGGS ABSENT: As an unsigned franchise player, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs wasn't required to attend the mandatory minicamp. Suggs has yet to ink his one-year, $10.2 million franchise tender.

Harbaugh said that he has been in touch with Suggs about football matters, leaving the financial discussions to general manager Ozzie Newsome and Suggs' agent.

"He wants to come back, and you can bet on that," Harbaugh said. "He'd like to be here at practice, that's for sure."

QUICK HITS: Four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenz o Neal, who started five games for the Ravens last season, has agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders. ... Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had the top line of the day when asked about new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "He's so old-school it's ridiculous, that's what you love about him," Lewis said. "He's like your granddad. It's cool because he has a great personality about himself and his humble spirit is overwhelming." ... Tavares Gooden lined up with the first-team defense next to Lewis at inside linebacker and displayed outstanding mobility after missing the majority of last season as he underwent hip flexor and sports hernia surgeries. "Tavares looked fast," Harbaugh said. "To me, he looked like a linebacker. He was really patient, stayed square, played downhill, stayed on the backside of the play. It wasn't just running around like crazy. He played fast as a linebacker, which is good to see." ... Newly-signed reserve quarterback John Beck is off to a good start, completing several passes on crisp spiral. A former second-round draft pick, Beck is expected to compete with Troy Smith for the backup job behind Joe Flacco. "John's really smart and he picks up the offense quickly," Harbaugh said. "He's been in this offense before, which probably helps him. He can really throw. He's got a quick, compact release. He throws a good, tight, accurate ball."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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