Free agency leaves Ravens with more questions than answers

Free agency in the NFL got off to a busy start when it began on March 10. As a result, the Baltimore Ravens have lost several popular players who’ve been keys to their success over the last several seasons, providing several players from last year’s draft class with an opportunity to play a bigger role in 2015.

Just before free agency began, the Ravens released receiver/kickreturner Jacoby Jones. Jones had been a game- changer with his ability to make big plays in the kick return game. He was also on the receiving end of“The Mile-High Miracle,” catching Joe Flacco’s 70-yard touchdown pass to tie the game in the 2013 AFC Divisional Round at Denver, which the Ravens won in double overtime. However, Jones struggled with catching the ball in the passing game, and as a returner muffed several kicks. Jones signed a two-year contract with San Diego.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith, a 2011 graduate from the University of Maryland, has also left the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent. He signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, where he’ll join another former Raven in Anquan Boldin. Last year with the Ravens, Smith caught 49 passes for 767 yards, and was 10th in the NFL with 11 touchdown catches. However, he’s been knocked for his perceived inability to run more complex routes. Baltimore is also down a tight end after Owen Daniels joined former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak by signing with Denver. Free safety Darian Stewart also signed with the Broncos.

DefensivetackleHalotiNgatawas scheduled to make $16 million this season, and was going to count for $8.5 million against the salary cap. On March 11, the Ravens traded Ngata to Detroit for the Lions’ fourth and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft. Ngata thanked the Ravens and their fans with a full-page ad in the March 15 edition of The Baltimore Sun. He ended the letter with the Samoan phrase “Ofa Lahi Atu,” which means “Love you.” The Ravens also released defensive tackle Terrence “Mount Cody,” who’s been charged with animal cruelty in Baltimore County. Meanwhile, linebacker Terrell Suggs did agree to restructure his contract to give the team some space under the salary cap, and cornerback Lardarius Webb took a pay cut to re-sign with the Ravens. Cornerback Anthony Levine has also re-signed with Baltimore, and defensive end Chris Canty has signed a new two-year, $4.65 million contract with the team after being released in late February.

In the backfield, running back Justin Forsett agreed to terms on a three-year, $9 million contract to stay in Baltimore. Baltimore will be looking for a new backup quarterback after Tyrod Taylor signed with the Buffalo Bills.

The Ravens are once again dealing with players who’ve had run-ins with the law. Running back Bernard Pierce was pulled over by Baltimore County Police for speeding after allegedly being clocked going 55 mph in a 30 mph zone near the Beltway on St. Patrick’s Day. He reportedly failed a field sobriety test. Pierce has been charged with DUI and exceeding maximum speed, among other charges, and has since been released by the team. He’s the second Raven to be released after being arrested for DUI this offseason, joining cornerback Victor Hampton.

Ravens hurt by injuries, poor play in secondary

The secondary was considered a weak spot for the Ravens coming into the 2014 season. Now, that weak spot is catching up with them.

Baltimore came into its bye week at 6-4 and in last place in the competitive AFC North, where all four teams have winning records. However, the Ravens currently have a losing record against the division (2-3) after losing both games to Cincinnati and splitting their two games against Pittsburgh. The secondary was badly exposed by Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for six touchdowns for the second straight game to lead the Steelers to a 43-23 win over the Ravens on “Sunday Night Football” on Nov. 2.

The game got nasty, as linebackers Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw were both fined for illegal hits. Suggs was fined $8,262 for a late hit on Steelers running back LeGarrete Blount, and Upshaw was fined $20,000 for a hit in the neck area on Roethlisberger. During the week that followed, top cornerback Jimmy Smith underwent foot surgery, and will be out for the rest of the season. The Ravens also shook up their secondary by releasing cornerback Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, promoting Tramain Jacobs from the practice squad, and give more playing time to safety Anthony Levine. The moves seemed to work, as the defense shut down the Tennessee offense and help the Ravens go into their bye week with a 21-7 win over the Titans on Nov. 9.

While the secondary is struggling, the outside linebacker duo of Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are causing major problems for offensive lines and quarterbacks. Dumervil is second in the NFL with 10 and a half sacks, while Suggs has five of his own. Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosely has 90 tackles, including four for loss, and also has two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The Ravens are fifth against the run, allowing just under 85 rushing yards per game, but with their problems in the secondary are 21st in pass defense, allowing just over 251 passing yards per game.

Even with those issues in the secondary, the Ravens are still fifth in scoring defense, allowing just 18.1 points per game. Baltimore has struggled with consistency on offense at times, but is 10th in the league in rushing, averaging just over 124 yards per game. Quarterback Joe Flacco has the Ravens squarely in the middle of the league at 16th in passing, averaging just under 241 yards per game. Baltimore is tied for sixth in the league in scoring, averaging 26.1 points per game, even after losing tight end Dennis Pitta to a hip injury for the second straight season.

The Ravens will wrap up November by going to New Orleans for Monday Night Football on Nov. 24, and then will wrap up Thanksgiving weekend by welcoming San Diego on Nov. 30. Baltimore will go to Miami for the second straight season on Dec. 7, and then host Jacksonville on Dec. 14. The Ravens will go to Houston to face J.J. Watt and the Texans on Dec. 21, and then will have a chance to even their record against the division when they wrap up the regular season at home against Cleveland in Week 17. Given how tight the AFC North is, the game is likely to have major playoff implications.

UB student issues challenge to Ray Rice fans on YouTube

By Andrew R. Koch

Throughout Baltimore and across the country there has been no small amount of outrage over the video showing former Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée inside a casino elevator in Atlantic City last February. Businesses are accepting returns of Ray Rice memorabilia and are also making donations to organizations that advocate for victims of domestic violence. However, one University student is challenging his fellow Ravens fans to express their anger by making a fiery statement.

Brandon Simmons is a freshman Digital Communication major at UB. He’s been a fan of the Ravens ever since they moved from Cleveland to Baltimore. On Sept. 8, the day the now-infamous video showing what happened inside the elevator was released, Simmons posted a video on YouTube that starts by showing his Ray Rice purple home jersey laid out on a walkway.

“This is the Ray Rice Jersey Burning Challenge,” Simmons says in the video as he proceeds to pour rubbing alcohol on the jersey and then light it on fire. “I challenge everyone who owns a Ray Rice jersey to go outside tonight, tomorrow, some time, to burn his damn jersey, because he doesn’t deserve to be honored.”

Simmons goes on to call Rice’s jerseys “worthless.” Rice used to be Simmons’s favorite player ever since the Ravens drafted the former Heisman Trophy candidate out of Rutgers University in 2007. He liked how Rice, over time, “became one of the best running backs in the league.” Rice’s fall from grace has not been easy for Simmons to take as a fan.

“To see how he went from that (being one of the NFL’s top running backs) to now he’s not on the team, and it’s kind of disappointed me as a fan,” Simmons said. He said what Rice was shown doing in the surveillance video to the woman who’s now his wife (Janay Rice) is what angered him to the point of recording him burning his number 27 Ravens jersey.

“It’s not right to abuse other people in general, whether it’s your wife or a friend or a person you don’t know, it’s not right to attack people, period.

And I was angry that a person I looked up to did that, and so I decided to burn his jersey,” Simmons said.

Simmons says his video was “kind of a statement,” and was meant to disown Rice. In the video, he says

“Ray Rice doesn’t deserve to be on the Baltimore Ravens anymore. Ray Rice is not welcome in Baltimore anymore.”

In an interview with reporter Jim McKay of All News 99.1 WNEW-FM, Simmons said, “Even though I forgive him, it’s not right what he did.”

When McKay asked Simmons if he felt that the Ravens and the NFL made the right calls in terminating his contract and suspending him indefinitely, respectively, he said, “I think it’s the perfect call to do. Most fans agree with the call.” However, Simmons told The UB Post that the reaction he’s gotten to his YouTube video hasn’t quite been as warm.

“I’ve seen some people support it and do it themselves, while others have personally attacked me online. I’ve seen it from both sides,” Simmons said.

He added that he’s seen a lot of anger from other Ravens fans towards him instead of towards domestic abuse. The point of his video was to highlight domestic violence.

“It wasn’t just directed towards Ray Rice. I don’t like anyone doing that to anybody. It doesn’t matter who it is,” Simmons said.

Meanwhile, the NFL Players Association filed an appeal of Rice’s indefinite suspension just before the midnight deadline on Sept. 16. In the appeal, Rice and the NFLPA are asking Commissioner Roger Goodell to recuse himself from the review hearing. As part of the appeal, Rice is reportedly going to claim that the video was edited and not the extended version of what happened that February night at the Revel Casino.

Since Rice’s release and indefinite suspension, stores around the Baltimore area have been pulling his jerseys and T-shirts from their shelves. M&T Bank and Nike have dropped him from their ad campaigns and endorsement deals, and EA Sports, which produces the popular Madden video games, has deleted Rice from the Ravens roster for the Madden ‘15 edition. The Ravens held a jersey exchange at their official team store at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 19 and 20 that drew over 7,000 people, and Smyth Jewelers in Timonium has been accepting returns of Rice-signed pictures and other merchandise, including jerseys. Customers will receive a store credit, and Smyth will also make a matching contribution to House of Ruth Maryland, a shelter for young women and children who are victims of domestic violence in Baltimore.

Ravens cut Rice after video shows what happened in the elevator incident

After surveillance video was obtained by TMZ Sports in February showing Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging the unconscious body of his then-fiancee Janay Palmer out of an elevator inside the now-closed Revel Casino during Valentine’s Day weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey, many people were wondering what really happened inside the elevator that resulted in Palmer becoming unconscious. Now, video from inside the elevator has been obtained by TMZ Sports showing what happened inside the elevator that night. Rice’s football future is now very uncertain.

After the video was picked up by media outlets early on Sept. 8, the NFL and the Ravens acted swiftly. The Ravens terminated Rice’s contract that afternoon, and the NFL followed suit by suspending Rice indefinitely. League spokesman Greg Aiello says league investigators had asked investigators in Atlantic City for all available video evidence, but the league hadn’t seen the video until it was released by TMZ, Local sportscasters are questioning how the NFL can say it had all the video when it made the controversial decision to suspend Rice for just two games.

The video shows Rice and Palmer appear to exchange words, and then Rice hit Palmer first. Palmer retaliated by slapping Rice, who responded with a punch that caught Palmer in the head, knocking her off her feet. Her head then hit the hand rail inside the elevator, knocking her unconscious. The surveillance camera inside the elevator then shows Rice dragging Palmer’s body out into the hallway.

The decision by the Ravens brings Rice’s time with the team, which started when the one-time Heisman Trophy candidate was drafted out of Rutgers in 2008.

Ravens looking to move past lackluster 2013 season

Will have to start without Rice

By Andrew Koch

A disappointing 2013 season that saw the Baltimore Ravens finish 8-8 with a struggling running game and offensive line was followed by an offseason dominated by news of offseason arrests. The highest-profile off-the-field incident will cost the Ravens one of their most important players for two games.

After being arrested for assaulting his now-wife inside an elevator in the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the NFL suspended running back Ray Rice for the first two games of the season. The suspension will go into effect on Aug. 30, and will continue through Sept. 12. That means Rice will miss the Ravens’ opener on Sept. 7 against Cincinnati, along with the Sept. 11 Thursday night game against Pittsburgh. The suspension that was handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has created a firestorm of controversy, raising questions about how seriously the league office takes the issue of domestic violence perpetrated by its players.

Rice wasn’t the only Ravens player to have a run-in with the law. He was one of five players who were arrested between February and July. Less than a week after Rice was arrested, receiver Deonte Thompson was arrested for marijuana possession in Gainesville, Florida. The case was later dismissed. Offensive tackle Jah Reid was arrested and charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery after a fight in a bar in Key West. Like Rice, Reid has been accepted into a pretrial diversion program. Over Memorial Day weekend, rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and being drunk in public after being accused of breaking a window in a cab. That case has been dismissed. On July 12, cornerback Jimmy Smith was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct when Baltimore County Police say he was helping an intoxicated woman inside a bar bathroom in Towson, he refused to comply with officers’ orders and after medics and officers arrived.

The Ravens offense is quickly adapting to the new system that’s being installed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Offseason acquisitions running back Justin Forsett and tight end Owen Daniels are helping the offense learn Kubiak’s system, having played under him when they were in Houston with Kubiak as the head coach. The offensive line under coach Luis Castillo has performed well in preseason play, and the running game featuring Rice, Forsett and Bernard Pierce has also looked good.

While the Ravens’ first teams on offense and defense have looked good in the preseason, the games have come with a physical cost. Smith and Rice were both taken out of the game at Dallas with injuries. Rice suffered an injury to his shoulder on Baltimore’s second possession. On the Cowboys’ first possession of the game, Smith went up to make a play on a pass intended for wide receiver Dez Bryant and landed on his chest. He then coughed up blood on the field and in the locker room. After undergoing an MRI, Smith was diagnosed with a bruised chest. His injury is challenging the depth of the Ravens secondary. Cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb haven’t been practicing because of ankle and back injuries, respectively.

The Ravens will open the season with three straight games against their division rivals (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and at Cleveland on Sept. 21). Baltimore will wrap up Sept. by facing Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers at home on Sept. 28.

Rice Admitted to Pretrial Diversion Program, Apologizes For Fight With Wife

Ravens running back Ray Rice will avoid a trial on aggravated assault charges, and spoke publicly to apologize for the first time since the fight with his then-fianceé (now wife) inside a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

During a press conference at the Ravens facility in Owings Mills on May 23, Rice, accompanied by his wife Janay Palmer, told reporters that he’d “failed miserably.” ESPN reports his voice cracked with emotion as he apologized to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, General Manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and the fans that look up to him. Rice says ever since the Valentine’s Day weekend fight with Palmer inside the Revel Casino, he’s been working to make himself a better person.

“One thing that I do know is that I am working every day to be a better father, a better husband, you know, and just a better role model,” Rice said. “We are better parents, we are better lovers, and we are also better friends throughout this situation. I failed miserable, but I wouldn’t call myself a failure because I’m working my way back up.”

Rice spoke for a little over six minutes and did not take any questions from reporters before turning the microphone over to Palmer, who said that she did regret the role she played in the fight. She expressed her love for her husband, and hopes that he’ll continue to show the person he really is to the greater Baltimore community.

On May 20, Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversion program. If he successfully completes the program, the aggravated assault charge handed down by an Atlantic County (New Jersey) grand jury will be dismissed. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office still hasn’t indicated whether or not the league will suspend Rice under the league’s personal conduct policy.