Ozzie Not Panicking, Signings May Be Coming
The Ravens received a kick to the gut with the loss of Dennis Pitta for the season.
But as the sky falls in Baltimore, guess who isn't panicking?
General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
Newsome understands better than anyone what Pitta's serious hip injury could mean to the Ravens as they prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. He knows the impact it could have on quarterback Joe Flacco, who just lost his favorite target. He knows the impact it could have on Jim Caldwell's offense, in the red zone, on third down, in the middle of the field, etc.
"These typesof injuries happen in football," Newsome told Sports Illustrated's Don Banks. "We're not the only team that will lose a valuable guy. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us.''
There is one silver lining to Pitta's costly injury: the timing.
And Ozzie plans on using it to his advantage.
"[B]y the time we chatted in his office Sunday morning, he seemed to have fully digested the shock of Pitta's cruelly abbreviated 2013 season," Banks observed.
"Y]ou're not going to get Ravens longtime General Manager Ozzie Newsome to panic or give in to any [woe-is-me sentiment. Not in late July. Not on the first weekend of training camp, when there's still a whole season to contend with and so many different approaches he could take to help fill the gaping void created by Pitta's fractured and dislocated hip."
As is expected with a general manager who has more than a decade of experience, Newsome has been through this before. Early in 2001, fresh off the Ravens' first Super Bowl win, the team lost running back Jamal Lewis who was vital to the offense and considered irreplaceable. The Wizard of Oz went to work to fill the void, and the team went on to finish the season 10-6 and won a playoff game.
Now, Newsome has already started the work of making up for the loss of Pitta with the signing of veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe Sunday. He also "took pains to point out" to Banks that he has a reputation for waiting to make significant moves until late in the preseason.
"We have a history of making moves just a week or two before the season starts, to be able to put the final pieces together,'' Newsome said. "It's awfully early. We don't play [season-opening opponent] Denver tomorrow, and the season is 16 games long. What you worry about is needing to play real good football going into November and December.''
Examples include the signing of offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie (2011), who started every game that season and later became instrumental in Flacco's historic 2012 playoff run. There was also offensive tackle Willie Anderson (2008) and cornerback Josh Wilson (in 2010).
Newsome also noted that with Pitta going down on just the third day of full-team training camp practice, the offense wasn't set in stone. The unit still has time to figure out its personality and what it does best.
"We don't know yet what our identity is going to be on offense yet, because it hasn't been established yet,'' Newsome said. "It's not there yet, but it wasn't there yet when Dennis was out there working. It's going to be developed through training camp and in the preseason games. Now if Dennis is not going to be a part of the offense all year, the offense has to figure out what it is and what it can do best.
"Are we capable of running the football? Are we capable of getting the ball out faster? It could be an offensive identity where we're running, going play action, and having speed at receiver. Because we've got three guys who are going to get behind people now. And people are more afraid of that than the 10-12-yard completion. They don't want anybody to get behind them, so they're going to have to defend the full field because of Torrey [Smith], Jacoby [Jones] and Deonte [Thompson].''
Ravens That Must Step Up
Tight end Ed Dickson now becomes the No. 1 tight end on the roster, and he already knows the team needs him to step up.
But he's not the only one.
Let's take a look at the others expected to help fill the Pitta void:
Flacco must help his receivers raise their level of play: "Joe Flacco is paid like a top-five NFL quarterback, and he'll have to play like one," wrote NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. "Perhaps it's not fair to compare Flacco to Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning. But that's the company Flacco is now keeping financially; the pacesetters at the quarterback position. All of those quarterbacks routinely make the players around them much better."
Jim Caldwell may adjust his schemes to more three-wide receiver or two-back sets: "Not having Pitta will impact how Caldwell, the offensive coordinator, formulates his game plans," wrote CSNBaltimore.com’s Clifton Brown. "The Ravens were expected to use more two tight-end sets this season featuring Pitta and Dickson. Not anymore."
Ray Rice, the receiver, could get more looks over the middle:Rice was Pro Football Focus' top-ranking receiving back last year as he was targeted on 23.4 percent of the routes he ran. Look for that number to rise as he tries to pick up "much-needed" yards after the catch, says Khaled Elsayed.
Bernard Pierce in the running game: "Not just Ray Rice must step up], but [Bernard Pierce as well," said NFL Network's Shaun O'Hara. "He did a great job last year when they called on him when he was sharing the load with Ray Rice."
Kyle Juszczyk may play more tight end and H-back: "Juszczyk is expected to operate in a multi-faceted role that includes tight end and H-back duties," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. "In the Ivy League, Juszczyk caught 125 career passes for 1,576 yards and 22 touchdowns."
Other than Torrey Smith rounding out his game, who else in the receiver corps can be expected to step up? "The truth is we don't know, and given how little experience they all have (except for Jacoby Jones), that should scare Ravens fans," wrote Elsayed. "Finding a guy to step up and replace that level of production [from Boldin and Pitta] is at best wishful thinking, with even the experienced Jacoby Jones highly inconsistent as evidenced by his failures to take his chance in Houston to emerge as a starter opposite Andre Johnson."
Where's Vonta Leach When You Need Him?
While Juszczyk could help in the Ravens' passing game, he may need some help as a blocker.
The rookie was pushed around by the Ravens defense in the team's first goal-line drill of the summer Saturday. Safety James Ihedigbo, fellow rookie Matt Elam and linebackers Arthur Brown and Bryan Hall all had their way with the young fullback.
Per The Sun, when the drill ended, linebacker Terrell Suggs yelled out, "Where is Vonta Leach when you need him?"
Leach and the Ravens are still in talks after he became a salary cap casualty last month, and recentreports areindicating that the All-Pro fullback is on his way back to Baltimore.
With the Ravens perhaps needing to run the ball more now, Leach's return may be more important than ever.
Following his interview with Newsome, Banks tweeted: "Ravens fans can expect return of fullback Vonta Leach any day (minute?) now."
Remember, there were two similar reports last week, but a signing never occurred.
So just were is Leach? Tackle Michael Oher has one guess.
"@vleach44 about to now what's your deal I bet you waiting around for camp because your 290 pds and can't take being in camp right now," he tweeted.
Surprised No Mention Of Dallas Clark
While the signing of Shiancoe was expected after his visit to practice last week and Pitta's injury, ESPN’s Jamison Hensley was surprised there was no mention of another unrestricted free agent tight end.
"I am surprised that the Ravens weren't linked to Dallas Clark at any point," Hensley wrote.
"Clark had 47 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and played under Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell when they were both with the Indianapolis Colts. Maybe the Ravens did reach out to Clark and things didn't work out. Maybe the Ravens felt Clark didn't have anything left. Either way, the Ravens brought in Shiancoe for the minimum of $940,000."
Pitta Provides A Lesson To Restricted Free Agents
While Pitta's injury hurts the Ravens offense, it also hurts his own pocket book.
The Ravens had talked about getting Pitta extended before the season, but that never happened. Pitta signed his one-year, $2.023 million second-round tender in May.
Mike Florio believes Pitta decided to follow the example of his best friend on the team, Flacco, and bet on himself, hoping to cash in later.
"Now, Pitta may cash in never," the ProFootballTalk.com writer proclaimed. "Pitta's situation reconfirms that restricted free agents and franchise players should strongly consider staying away until they get the long-term security they want. … For Pitta, he could have refused to sign the tender and made it clear to the Ravens that he wouldn't be showing up until he gets the contract he wants. And he could have stayed away until Week 10 of the regular season, showed up for the final seven weeks, and become a free agent (or franchise player) in 2014.
"With Anquan Boldin gone, Pitta had leverage. He didn't use it. And now he may never have it again."
- Ihedigbo was defending Pitta on the play that he was injured, and the safety said there wasn't much contact between the two when they jostled for the ball in the back of the end zone. "We just got tangled up," Ihedigbo told Wilson. "It was a tough situation, it wasn't really a collision. It was the way he landed. It was one of those freak accidents, going for a jump ball and you land awkwardly. I've been praying for him every day and wish Dennis a speedy recovery."
- @untouchablejay4: RAVENS NATION MAKE SURE Y'ALL FOLLOW OUR NEW STARTING MIKE LINEBACKER @bynestime56! THIS KID IS THE TRUTH!!!!!
- Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was drafted ahead of Flacco in 2008, talks about what it was like to watch his Ravens counterpart win the Super Bowl. "You know what? I know Joe, and I’m happy for him." Ryan said. "[It was] tough that I feel like we had a chance to get there and you wish you were, but I'm happy for him.He played great, made some unbelievable plays down the stretch through the course of the playoffs and did what it took to get a win so I'm happy for him." [ESPN]
- Overheard at training camp practice: "Right here, J-Lo!" That was Secondary Coach Teryl Austin calling out to rookie cornerback Marc Anthony, who received the nickname because singer Marc Anthony was married to Jennifer Lopez. [The Baltimore Sun]
- @mattvensel: People nationally talking about #Ravens receivers. I'll reiterate, Doss and Deonte Thompson battling for #3. Streeter down the depth chart. …Tommy Streeter has a lot of ground to cover on Doss and Thompson. David Reed also appears to be ahead of him right now."
- The Boldin trade is haunting the Ravens, says Jason Butt. "Hindsight can be cruel sometimes. With a healthy Pitta, the Ravens made all the right moves by sacrificing Boldin to bolster the defense. Without Pitta, the Ravens are missing a reliable target to take pressure off of the outside receivers. You can't fault the Boldin move in the moment, based on what the organization did after the fact. But the Ravens sure could use Boldin right about now." [Baltimore Beatdown]
- @RavensInsider: Besides including annual $200,000 reporting bonuses in Bryant McKinnie deal, his contract has $100,000 weight clauses, paid $6,250 per game
- @gerrysandusky: From what I've seen so far from Ravens top pick Matt Elam he has amazing quickness, strong ball instincts, and looks coachable. Strong start
- @ravensinsider: A bit more on Terrence Cody, he just doesn't seem to have his normal leg strength yet after undergoing offseason hip surgery
- @SI_PeterKing: MT @BillCampbelll: Which loss will be tougher for team to overcome, Maclin or Pitta? ... Pitta. Not close. He's everything to Flacco.