Vikings-Ravens Preview

On paper, the Vikings should have the more talented, but the Ravens take the prize for biggest injured list. Baltimore could have half of its expected starters sitting out with injuries, which should give the Vikings a distinct edge early. Find out more about the M*A*S*H unit that is the Baltimore Ravens in a position-by-position review.

The Vikings have broken camp for 2008 and are getting closer to the business at hand for the 2008 regular season. That continues with a preseason matchup with the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night, as the Vikings head on the road for the first time this season. The team the Vikings are going to see is likely going to be severely depleted as several Ravens players are expected to be sidelined with training camp injuries under first-year head coach John Harbaugh.

One position that isn't plagued with injuries, but is under the microscope in training camp, is quarterback. With Steve McNair out of the picture, the starting job is up for grabs. Training camp has featured a spirited battle between former first-round pick Kyle Boller and second-year pro Troy Smith. Boller has been the on-again, off-again starter for the Ravens the last five years and has never played consistently enough to make the job his for the keeping. Smith was a great college QB at Ohio State, but was saddled with the tag of not being able to transition into an NFL quarterback. He tried to prove skeptics wrong last season. In the final two games of the Brian Billick era, Smith started both games and played pretty well. He completed 32 of 60 passes for 370 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and ran 11 times for 48 yards. Each player is expected to play about a quarter with quarterback of the future Joe Flacco playing the second half. Flacco was one of the fast risers on draft boards last April and eventually went 18th overall to the Ravens. Blessed with a rocket arm, he is capable of throwing a ball 70 yards on the fly. The second half of Saturday's game should feature a matchup of the rookies, as Flacco and John David Booty both get their shot at picking apart the second- and third-team defenses.

Running back has been something of a sore spot for the Ravens in recent years. In the last three offseasons, the Ravens have allowed Chester Taylor, Jamal Lewis and Musa Smith all to leave via free agency. The man brought in as the new featured back, Willis McGahee, had a surgery on his left knee early in minicamp and is expected to be sidelined until the start of the regular season. With McGahee down, it has opened the door for the competition among the backs behind him. Much of the preseason talk has been about rookie Ray Rice of Rutgers, taken on the second round of the 2008 draft. He's small by running back standards at 6-0, 200, but is a hard between-the-tackles runner that makes defenders miss and keeps his knees churning to pick up additional yards. Third-year man Cory Ross only got one chance to play last year and made the most of it, gaining 72 yards on just 12 carries. Ross is the greybeard of the backs behind McGahee, since the other competition for roster spots is between untested second-year man Alex Haynes and seventh-round rookie Allen Patrick. One bright spot in camp has been fullback Le'Ron McClain. As a rookie last year, McClain proved to be a man-beast who seeks out linebackers to drill. He will be a player to watch Saturday because he harkens back to another era, when fullbacks were used to knock down and knock out defenders. As a hedge, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron convinced the Ravens to sign fullback Lorenzo Neal, who was the lead blocker for LaDainian Tomlinson when Cameron was in San Diego. His role in this game should be minimal, if any.

The receiver corps hasn't been anything to write home about for years in Baltimore, but things aren't getting any better due to injuries. Starter Derrick Mason, who caught a whopping 103 passes last year, injured his knee in practice this week and is doubtful to play. So is anticipated No. 3 receiver Demetrius Williams, who has been battling a strained left Achilles tendon injury and has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since the start of camp. With both of them likely out, the Ravens are going to patch together a receiver corps. Fortunately, they still have 11 wideouts in camp. Mark Clayton, who was part of the dismal 2005 draft class, is expected to start and likely will be joined by second-year pro Yamon Figurs. As a rookie, Figurs was used almost exclusively as a kickoff and punt return specialist, but with injuries to frontline players, he may have to step up. Veteran Darnerian McCants is making Baltimore his third stop in three years after having a promising start to his career in Washington. A receiver known for big plays, he will bear watching. Beyond them, it is a veritable "who's that?" of receivers, including untested Matt Willis, Kerry Reed and rookies Marcus Smith, Ernie Wheelwright, Patrick Carter and Justin Harper. It's a muddled group that may find out who stays and who goes by how they perform on Saturday. The tight end position is also a question, since veteran Todd Heap is down with a calf injury and backup Daniel Wilcox is still recovering from offseason toe surgery. Much of the onus Saturday may fall on third-year man Adam Bergen, who spent two years with the Cardinals before being out of football in 2007. This is a banged-up group that doesn't appear to be getting any healthier as the days go by.

For the first time in more than a decade, the Ravens enter the season without Jonathan Ogden at left tackle. Ogden retired after 12 seasons, opening his position for second-year man Jared Gaither, who started only two games last year. He has been in a training camp battle with Chad Slaughter, who was career backup in four years with the Raiders. The rest of the Ravens line is extremely young, but all four were starters last year – second-year guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda, fourth-year center Jason Brown and fourth-year right tackle Adam Terry. Depth is thin at guard, with rookies Davie Hale and Oneil Cousins pushing fourth-year journeyman Adrien Clarke, who has played with the Eagles and Jets. At center, Chris Chester has a leg up on undrafted rookie Adam Kraus, and practice-squader Mike Kracalik is battling undrafted free agent Joe Reitz for the backup ORT spot. No matter how you view this group, it is young and burnable, especially against a veteran defensive front like the Vikings will bring.

For years, the Ravens' calling card has been defense. That isn't expected to change this year either. Kelly Gregg isn't your standard nose tackle at 6-0, 310, but he makes plays everywhere along the line and led all Ravens linemen in tackles last year. Second-year pro Haloti Ngata has the look of a nose tackle, but plays right end at 340 pounds. He is almost unmovable and forces many runs back inside for the linebackers to chase down. On the left side, Trevor Pryce is the best interior pass rusher on the team. That's the good news. The bad news is that the M*A*S*H list heavily involves all three. Pryce, who had surgery on his left wrist last year, left practice early this week clearly in pain with the same wrist, which was re-taped on the field and he missed the rest of practice. Gregg is slow in recovering from arthroscopic left knee surgery and Ngata has been slowed in training camp with a sprained right MCL. Because of the specifics and uniqueness of the Ravens defense, the backups need to be adept at playing the nuances of the Baltimore 3-4 and, considering that all three starters may end up sidelined or severely limited, they will be tested early. Seven-year vet Justin Bannan is experienced at both nose guard and end and fourth-year linebacker Dan Cody has been converted to the DE spot. Others to watch Friday are former starter Dwan Edwards and third-year man Amon Gordon at the ends and former Bears practice quad player Darrell Campbell (signed just Tuesday) and former Seahawks practice squader Kelly Talavou at nose tackle.

While injuries haven't disabled the linebacker corps, starting OLB/DE hybrid Terrell Suggs still hasn't reported to the team after being hit with the franchise designation. He is likely to end his holdout now that camp is finished in Baltimore, but he won't be available for Saturday's game. On the inside, the Ravens are as tough as they get with Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Lewis is a first-ballot Hall of Famer that has been one of the top linebackers in the league for all of his 12 seasons. He has been a great mentor for Scott, who in his seventh year is also starting to show the signs of age. With Suggs holding out, the competition for roster spots on the outside has heated up. Six-year vet Jarret Johnson is a converted defensive end who is strong against the run but clearly the weak link of the four starting linebackers. He is trying to hold off challenges for his spot from special teamer Edgar Jones, 10-year vet Gary Stills and undrafted rookie Jameel McClain. With Suggs out, his position is being manned by power pass rusher Antwan Barnes and Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has been the talk of training camp with his strong performance. In the middle, seven-year vet Nick Greisen is mentoring practice squader Robert McCune, third-round rookie Tavares Gordon and recently signed former Saint Terrence Melton.

Not only is the Ravens secondary not immune from the injury bug, it has been decimated by it. This isn't unusual since last year's starters Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister combined to miss 18 of a possible 32 games. Heading into training camp, the Ravens depth chart listed six cornerbacks as first-, second- and third-team. Both of the starters – McAlister (right knee) and Rolle (left leg) have been out or limited in practice. Nickel back Fabian Washington has missed with neck spasms. Third-stringer Derrick Martin has missed time after suffering a concussion in the preseason opener. With four of the top six corners banged up, things got so desperate in practice that wide receiver Mark Clayton played the nickel for the Ravens' first-team defense in practice. If any or all of them can't go, the Ravens will have personnel problems. Sixth-year man and special teams ace Frank Walker moves up from the fourth corner spot to potentially starting, as does former starter Corey Ivy, an eight-year vet who lost his starting job late last season. Third-year man Ronnie Prude played 15 games last year but was primary used on special teams, as was third-year man David Pittman, who likely will see plenty of action on the defense vs. the Vikings. The safety position hasn't been immuned either. Pro Bowler Ed Reed began training camp on the P.U.P. list and has missed practice with an undisclosed health condition apparently unrelated to the shoulder. Reed has said his ailing left shoulder will need surgery after this season, but he intends to play as long as he can. If that's the case, risking him in the preseason makes little sense. Third-year man Dawan Landry came into his own last year and, combined with Reed, makes a formidable combination. There isn't much depth at safety behind them, however. With so many injuries elsewhere, the team had just five safeties in camp and, aside from the starters, there is fourth-year man Jim Leonhard and rookies Tom Zbikowski, taken in the third round, and Haruki Nakamura, taken in the sixth round.

There are few teams in recent memory that have come into a game with as many key injuries as the Ravens are faced with. There is a very good chance they will be without 11 of their expected starters – McGahee, Mason, Terry, Heap, Pryce, Gregg, Ngata, Suggs, McAlister, Reed and Rolle –Saturday and that doesn't include the retired Ogden. What this means is that second-stringers are going to have to start, third-stringers are going to play the second and third quarters and street free agents will finish this game. This has all the potential to be ugly and, if the Vikings can't put away a team like this, there should be some reason for concern. Resting your starters is one thing. Being forced to sit them down is another, and the Ravens may be the most banged-up team heading into the regular season of any in the league.




Viking Update Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" The Vikings have broken camp for 2008 and are getting closer to the business at hand for the 2008 regular season. That continues with a preseason matchup with the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night, as the Vikings head on the road for the first time this season. The team the Vikings are going to see is likely going to be severely depleted as several Ravens players are expected to be sidelined with training camp injuries under first-year head coach John Harbaugh.

One position that isn't plagued with injuries, but is under the microscope in training camp, is quarterback. With Steve McNair out of the picture, the starting job is up for grabs. Training camp has featured a spirited battle between former first-round pick Kyle Boller and second-year pro Troy Smith. Boller has been the on-again, off-again starter for the Ravens the last five years and has never played consistently enough to make the job his for the keeping. Smith was a great college QB at Ohio State, but was saddled with the tag of not being able to transition into an NFL quarterback. He tried to prove skeptics wrong last season. In the final two games of the Brian Billick era, Smith started both games and played pretty well. He completed 32 of 60 passes for 370 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and ran 11 times for 48 yards. Each player is expected to play about a quarter with quarterback of the future Joe Flacco playing the second half. Flacco was one of the fast risers on draft boards last April and eventually went 18th overall to the Ravens. Blessed with a rocket arm, he is capable of throwing a ball 70 yards on the fly. The second half of Saturday's game should feature a matchup of the rookies, as Flacco and John David Booty both get their shot at picking apart the second- and third-team defenses.

Running back has been something of a sore spot for the Ravens in recent years. In the last three offseasons, the Ravens have allowed Chester Taylor, Jamal Lewis and Musa Smith all to leave via free agency. The man brought in as the new featured back, Willis McGahee, had a surgery on his left knee early in minicamp and is expected to be sidelined until the start of the regular season. With McGahee down, it has opened the door for the competition among the backs behind him. Much of the preseason talk has been about rookie Ray Rice of Rutgers, taken on the second round of the 2008 draft. He's small by running back standards at 6-0, 200, but is a hard between-the-tackles runner that makes defenders miss and keeps his knees churning to pick up additional yards. Third-year man Cory Ross only got one chance to play last year and made the most of it, gaining 72 yards on just 12 carries. Ross is the greybeard of the backs behind McGahee, since the other competition for roster spots is between untested second-year man Alex Haynes and seventh-round rookie Allen Patrick. One bright spot in camp has been fullback Le'Ron McClain. As a rookie last year, McClain proved to be a man-beast who seeks out linebackers to drill. He will be a player to watch Saturday because he harkens back to another era, when fullbacks were used to knock down and knock out defenders. As a hedge, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron convinced the Ravens to sign fullback Lorenzo Neal, who was the lead blocker for LaDainian Tomlinson when Cameron was in San Diego. His role in this game should be minimal, if any.

The receiver corps hasn't been anything to write home about for years in Baltimore, but things aren't getting any better due to injuries. Starter Derrick Mason, who caught a whopping 103 passes last year, injured his knee in practice this week and is doubtful to play. So is anticipated No. 3 receiver Demetrius Williams, who has been battling a strained left Achilles tendon injury and has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since the start of camp. With both of them likely out, the Ravens are going to patch together a receiver corps. Fortunately, they still have 11 wideouts in camp. Mark Clayton, who was part of the dismal 2005 draft class, is expected to start and likely will be joined by second-year pro Yamon Figurs. As a rookie, Figurs was used almost exclusively as a kickoff and punt return specialist, but with injuries to frontline players, he may have to step up. Veteran Darnerian McCants is making Baltimore his third stop in three years after having a promising start to his career in Washington. A receiver known for big plays, he will bear watching. Beyond them, it is a veritable \"who's that?\" of receivers, including untested Matt Willis, Kerry Reed and rookies Marcus Smith, Ernie Wheelwright, Patrick Carter and Justin Harper. It's a muddled group that may find out who stays and who goes by how they perform on Saturday. The tight end position is also a question, since veteran Todd Heap is down with a calf injury and backup Daniel Wilcox is still recovering from offseason toe surgery. Much of the onus Saturday may fall on third-year man Adam Bergen, who spent two years with the Cardinals before being out of football in 2007. This is a banged-up group that doesn't appear to be getting any healthier as the days go by.

For the first time in more than a decade, the Ravens enter the season without Jonathan Ogden at left tackle. Ogden retired after 12 seasons, opening his position for second-year man Jared Gaither, who started only two games last year. He has been in a training camp battle with Chad Slaughter, who was career backup in four years with the Raiders. The rest of the Ravens line is extremely young, but all four were starters last year – second-year guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda, fourth-year center Jason Brown and fourth-year right tackle Adam Terry. Depth is thin at guard, with rookies Davie Hale and Oneil Cousins pushing fourth-year journeyman Adrien Clarke, who has played with the Eagles and Jets. At center, Chris Chester has a leg up on undrafted rookie Adam Kraus, and practice-squader Mike Kracalik is battling undrafted free agent Joe Reitz for the backup ORT spot. No matter how you view this group, it is young and burnable, especially against a veteran defensive front like the Vikings will bring.

For years, the Ravens' calling card has been defense. That isn't expected to change this year either. Kelly Gregg isn't your standard nose tackle at 6-0, 310, but he makes plays everywhere along the line and led all Ravens linemen in tackles last year. Second-year pro Haloti Ngata has the look of a nose tackle, but plays right end at 340 pounds. He is almost unmovable and forces many runs back inside for the linebackers to chase down. On the left side, Trevor Pryce is the best interior pass rusher on the team. That's the good news. The bad news is that the M*A*S*H list heavily involves all three. Pryce, who had surgery on his left wrist last year, left practice early this week clearly in pain with the same wrist, which was re-taped on the field and he missed the rest of practice. Gregg is slow in recovering from arthroscopic left knee surgery and Ngata has been slowed in training camp with a sprained right MCL. Because of the specifics and uniqueness of the Ravens defense, the backups need to be adept at playing the nuances of the Baltimore 3-4 and, considering that all three starters may end up sidelined or severely limited, they will be tested early. Seven-year vet Justin Bannan is experienced at both nose guard and end and fourth-year linebacker Dan Cody has been converted to the DE spot. Others to watch Friday are former starter Dwan Edwards and third-year man Amon Gordon at the ends and former Bears practice quad player Darrell Campbell (signed just Tuesday) and former Seahawks practice squader Kelly Talavou at nose tackle.

While injuries haven't disabled the linebacker corps, starting OLB/DE hybrid Terrell Suggs still hasn't reported to the team after being hit with the franchise designation. He is likely to end his holdout now that camp is finished in Baltimore, but he won't be available for Saturday's game. On the inside, the Ravens are as tough as they get with Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Lewis is a first-ballot Hall of Famer that has been one of the top linebackers in the league for all of his 12 seasons. He has been a great mentor for Scott, who in his seventh year is also starting to show the signs of age. With Suggs holding out, the competition for roster spots on the outside has heated up. Six-year vet Jarret Johnson is a converted defensive end who is strong against the run but clearly the weak link of the four starting linebackers. He is trying to hold off challenges for his spot from special teamer Edgar Jones, 10-year vet Gary Stills and undrafted rookie Jameel McClain. With Suggs out, his position is being manned by power pass rusher Antwan Barnes and Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has been the talk of training camp with his strong performance. In the middle, seven-year vet Nick Greisen is mentoring practice squader Robert McCune, third-round rookie Tavares Gordon and recently signed former Saint Terrence Melton.

Not only is the Ravens secondary not immune from the injury bug, it has been decimated by it. This isn't unusual since last year's starters Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister combined to miss 18 of a possible 32 games. Heading into training camp, the Ravens depth chart listed six cornerbacks as first-, second- and third-team. Both of the starters – McAlister (right knee) and Rolle (left leg) have been out or limited in practice. Nickel back Fabian Washington has missed with neck spasms. Third-stringer Derrick Martin has missed time after suffering a concussion in the preseason opener. With four of the top six corners banged up, things got so desperate in practice that wide receiver Mark Clayton played the nickel for the Ravens' first-team defense in practice. If any or all of them can't go, the Ravens will have personnel problems. Sixth-year man and special teams ace Frank Walker moves up from the fourth corner spot to potentially starting, as does former starter Corey Ivy, an eight-year vet who lost his starting job late last season. Third-year man Ronnie Prude played 15 games last year but was primary used on special teams, as was third-year man David Pittman, who likely will see plenty of action on the defense vs. the Vikings. The safety position hasn't been immuned either. Pro Bowler Ed Reed began training camp on the P.U.P. list and has missed practice with an undisclosed health condition apparently unrelated to the shoulder. Reed has said his ailing left shoulder will need surgery after this season, but he intends to play as long as he can. If that's the case, risking him in the preseason makes little sense. Third-year man Dawan Landry came into his own last year and, combined with Reed, makes a formidable combination. There isn't much depth at safety behind them, however. With so many injuries elsewhere, the team had just five safeties in camp and, aside from the starters, there is fourth-year man Jim Leonhard and rookies Tom Zbikowski, taken in the third round, and Haruki Nakamura, taken in the sixth round.

There are few teams in recent memory that have come into a game with as many key injuries as the Ravens are faced with. There is a very good chance they will be without 11 of their expected starters – McGahee, Mason, Terry, Heap, Pryce, Gregg, Ngata, Suggs, McAlister, Reed and Rolle –Saturday and that doesn't include the retired Ogden. What this means is that second-stringers are going to have to start, third-stringers are going to play the second and third quarters and street free agents will finish this game. This has all the potential to be ugly and, if the Vikings can't put away a team like this, there should be some reason for concern. Resting your starters is one thing. Being forced to sit them down is another, and the Ravens may be the most banged-up team heading into the regular season of any in the league.



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