I haven’t been writing too much lately.Part of that has to do with not totally being over the way the Ravens season ended in New England. After all, like most of you, I’m still just a normal Baltimore sports fan. Unfortunately with the Orioles being the Orioles and with the Terps being down, there just hasn’t been too much else to be excited about around here.Yes, Brian Matusz has looked good this spring, and that’s such a big positive for an organization trying to find its way in the now absurd American League East. The quickest way to the top is by finding pitching, and more pitching, and more pitching, and more pitch….you get the picture. So, I guess I could spend more time talking about Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta and J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, but will the performance of any or all of those players really make a difference when the optimism of spring subsides and the dog days of July and August (aka swoon time) arrive in Charm City? Probably not.Once upon a time, however, the Baltimore Orioles had many players that could be described as difference makers on a championship contending team. Mike Mussina was one of those players.Mike Mussina was a home-grown product for the Birds. Drafted out of Stanford with the 20th pick in the 1990 draft, Mussina went on to spend 10 seasons in Baltimore. He was the unquestioned ace of the staff, compiling a record of 147-81 with a 3.53 ERA during his time with the O’s. He played 10 seasons in Birland, ultimately leaving for between three to five million more per season (depending on whether or not you count the last-ditch effort the O’s made to sign Moose after he had already decided he was leaving for the Bronx) to play for the most prominent, historic, and successful team in MLB history.Mussina made this career move as the Orioles were three years into their now 14 straight (15 if you cheat and chalk 2012 up as a lost cause already) losing seasons. He jumped ship after he witnessed Peter Angelos run off Davey Johnson, whose two years in Baltimore happened to coincide with the only two years the Orioles made the playoffs during Mussina’s tenure.In other words, Mike Mussina jumped off the Titanic and landed on a billion dollar yacht headed for nothing but sunshine. Did I blame him then? Honestly, I did a little bit. I was young and I felt betrayed by one of my favorite baseball players. And the Orioles were still a pretty legitimate franchise back then, even if signs of their eventual demise were starting to appear.But do I blame him now, looking back? Absolutely not! Are you kidding me?
We spent the better part of five seasons acknowledging the accomplishments of Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens, but the focus would inevitably revert to what they hadn’t done in the John Harbaugh era.Flacco had never led the Ravens to a Super Bowl as many wondered even just a few short weeks ago whether the fifth-year quarterback really had the ability to do.Baltimore was the only team in the NFL to have advanced to the postseason and won at least one playoff game in each of the last five seasons, but the Ravens were always a bridesmaid but never the bride to represent the AFC on the biggest stage in professional sports.Despite coming within a Lee Evans catch of toppling Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in last year’s conference championship, Flacco didn’t take the quantum leap many thought he would during the regular season. His Week 15 interception returned for a touchdown in a blowout loss at home to the Denver Broncos appeared to be the lowest point of his career.Anyone who watched these Ravens play over the course of the 2012 season would agree that they weren’t the best team in the conference. They certainly weren’t the most talented as critics dismissed a 9-2 start while pointing out their many flaws and shortcomings due to a significant number of injuries. An inconsistent offense and a diminishing, aging defense didn’t exactly scream “Super Bowl contender” in the eyes of even the most optimistic Ravens fans.A three-game losing streak to start the month of December that included the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron appeared to be a death sentence. Instead, it was the precursor to three straight wins in the month of January as the Ravens flattened New England in the second half Sunday night to win 28-13 and advance to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.Even if they weren’t the AFC’s best from September through December, Flacco and the Ravens proved to be the superior quarterback and the superior team when it really mattered.As Harbaugh preached about the entire team’s effort following Sunday’s game, pointing to a second half when the Ravens outscored New England 21-0 to turn a 13-7 halftime deficit into a comfortable 15-point victory in Foxborough, the biggest story was once again Flacco. Arguably scrutinized more than any quarterback in the league, Flacco followed up an outstanding performance against Peyton Manning in the divisional round with a brilliant second half at Gillette Stadium while Tom Brady wilted against the Baltimore defense to lose the first home game of his career in which the Patriots led at the half.In the Ravens’ path to Super Bowl XLVII, Flacco has thrown for 853 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions for a 114.7 passer rating in three playoff wins. He hasn’t tossed an interception since that fateful day when he laid face-down on the turf at M&T Bank Stadium following Chris Harris’ 98-yard return for a touchdown on Dec. 16.The question really isn’t whether Flacco is an “elite” quarterback as so many like to ask. The University of Delaware product has been the best the AFC had to offer in the playoffs and is now 60 minutes away from an invitation to join a select group of Super Bowl winners that includes Manning, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Drew Brees.Instead of chastising him for what he’s not, it’s time to recognize Flacco for what he is — a great quarterback with an unwavering ability to remain cool under pressure. His demeanor over this last month never changed as he adjusted to Jim Caldwell’s new role as offensive coordinator and put the Ravens on his back to land them in the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years.This is far from Harbaugh’s most talented group of players, but the difference is the Ravens have a quarterback not only capable of leading them to the Super Bowl, but they have one who did it with an exclamation point on Sunday night.For years, the vaunted Ravens defense was always looking across the field at a Brady or a Manning or a Roethlisberger and could only wonder what might have been if the unit had a signal-caller like that on its side. Baltimore no longer has to do that as many teams around the league will now begin to look at Flacco with a similar kind of reverence.If we’ve learned anything about him over these last three weeks, it’s not only that he’s a great quarterback, but we now expect — not hope for — him to be great on the biggest stage. The Ravens will once again be underdogs against Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, but the confidence once enjoyed only in places like New England, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh is now bursting at the seams in Baltimore over its quarterback.They will have a great chance to win because they have a great quarterback. It’s that simple, even if it’s been a long time coming for the Ravens.It doesn’t matter that Flacco wasn’t the best quarterback and the Ravens weren’t the best team in the AFC in the regular season.They’re standing at the top and they earned it by toppling the best the conference had to offer in January.
(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A little more than a month after stating his goal of being the best left tackle in the NFL this season, Bryant McKinnie was nowhere to be found on the practice field as the Ravens’ held their first full-squad workout of the summer on Thursday.Unlike last year, McKinnie was present at the team’s Owings Mills facility for the first full day of camp, but the veteran wasn’t cleared to practice due to concerns over his weight. Coach John Harbaugh said it was his decision to keep McKinnie off the field, but the offensive lineman was not placed on the non-injured football list like teammate Jacoby Jones after the wide receiver failed the conditioning test earlier in the week.“Bryant’s just too heavy right now,” Harbaugh said. “He needs to lose weight. My guess is he lost quite a bit today. He’s in good shape and he [has] good cardiovascular fitness and you can tell he’s worked hard, but I wasn’t real comfortable putting him out there today at that weight.“We’ll figure it out in the next 24 hours, the next 48 hours what we want to do and the best way to deal with it, but he’ll be out there.”The overall sense from the Ravens was this being more of a precautionary move despite disappointment in McKinnie’s weight. Entering his third season in Baltmore, he is roughly carrying 10 extra pounds of water weight, but his overall conditioning is not as concerning as last year when he reported late to training camp after informing the Ravens he hurt his back after falling outside his Florida home days before training camp.McKinnie does not have to take the conditioning test due to his exceptional attendance for the Ravens’ offseason conditioning program. The expectation is that he could be back on the field within the next few days if he’s able to shed the weight quickly.Harbaugh praised McKinnie throughout the spring for his dedication to working out after the Ravens re-signed the 32-year-old to a two-year contract worth a maximum of $7 million. Needless to say, the left tackle’s absence from practice wasn’t the way Harbaugh or McKinnie wanted to begin the summer.“We’re both disappointed,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not sure who’s more disappointed — Bryant or I — because he was pretty darn disappointed, but I was feeling pretty disappointed myself. We had a long talk about it. It’s not that effort wasn’t put in. It’s an issue, but we’re going to get it fixed together.”Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele slid over to left tackle in McKinnie’s absence while Jah Reid lined up at left guard with the starting offensive line. Unlike last summer when he moved to left tackle in McKinnie’s absence at the start of camp, veteran tackle Michael Oher remained on the right side.Of course, last summer’s tumultuous start led to McKinnie losing his starting job for the entire regular season before he was placed back with the first unit at the start of the playoffs. He started all four playoff games and was considered a significant reason why the Ravens went on to win their second Super Bowl title.Webb aiming to be great in return from ACL injuryTop cornerback Lardarius Webb was present and working on a limited basis during the first day of full-team practice in Owings Mills, but the fifth-year defensive back is looking to do more than just recover from the second ACL surgery of his brief NFL career.“I want to be great,” Webb said. “I don’t want to just be good. I want to be more than that, so I’m working my butt off just to get back on the field.”He signed a six-year, $50 million contract in April 2012 but saw his season end when he injured his left knee on Oct. 14 in a win over the Dallas Cowboys. Regarded as one of the up-and-coming cornerbacks in the league prior to the injury, Webb has every intention of picking up where he left off.Before he can reach loftier goals, the Ravens will bring Webb along slowly at the start of camp, but Harbaugh confirmed the 27-year-old is on track to play in the Sept. 5 season opener and very well could see game action even sooner.“It’s reasonable that he would be playing against Denver with the state of ACL surgery in recovery,” Harbaugh said. “That’s definitely our target. I think he has a very good chance to get back and play in the preseason at some point in time, but it’s not the most important thing. But it would be helpful.”Veteran linebacker “better than advertised”CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>
Roberto Luongo has historically given the Washington Capitals fits, going 15-1 in his last 16 starts against the Caps.So Sunday’s tilt with the Panthers at the Verizon Center, against a pesky Florida squad that is big and had previously taken the Capitals to two shootouts, loomed like a tough one coming off of the big Winter Classic victory on Thursday.Despite being shorthanded five times, including three times in the final period, the Capitals carried the play for much of this contest and garnered a well earned 4-3 victory over the Panthers to improve to 20-11-7 (47 points).The Capitals are now 10-1-3 in their last 14 games.Alexander Ovechkin (goal and an assist) had another stellar game and it was his open ice collision with Luongo in the first period that eventually drove the net minder from the cage after forty minutes. Luongo gave up three goals but because his club also tallied three times, he wasn’t saddled with the loss. Al Montoya, who played the third period, gave up a goal on five shots to take the defeat.Braden Holtby was in net for Washington, his 15th straight start, and he stopped 29 of 32 shots en route to his 18th victory (18-8-6). His save percentage on the season is at .920 and he continues to play well. About the only goal you could fault him on was the third Florida tally, by Nick Bjugstad, which came from down low and beat #70 top shelf in the closing minutes.After a strong opening period that was scoreless, the Caps struck first on the PP with Ovechkin’s 19th tally of the season off of a sweet pass from Nicklas Backstrom. That first goal is so important this year since the Capitals are now 19-1-2 in that situation against a 1-10-5 record when the opponent gets on the board first. Despite the early lead, the Capitals would play keystone cops at the offensive blue line which led to a two on zero Cats rush. Somehow Holtby managed to stop the first two shots on that sequence, but his defensive help didn’t come quickly or properly enough and the third shot found the back of the twine. Just 85 seconds later Florida took the lead.In the past, the Caps might have wilted, but not this more resilient bunch under Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals would storm back, thanks primarily to the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward to grab a 3-2 edge heading into period three. From there Ovechkin set up Andre Burakovsky for the fourth goal that ended up being the game winner.Overall, the Capitals played well but they still have issues taking penalties. They were shorthanded for a total of 9:13 and as chronicled after the Winter Classic win, the number of infractions they are taking must decrease. Granted the call against Brooks Orpik that gave the Cats a 5 on 3 was downright ridiculous and Trotz called out Vincent Trocheck for diving on that play in his post game presser.Florida is a big and physical team, but the Capitals outworked them on Sunday and that’s why they won the game and the Panthers coach, Gerard Gallant, made that clear afterwards.“We weren’t good enough. I mean, we battled back and found a way to come close there at the end, but not good enough. We didn’t play hard enough. They were more physical than we were tonight. They wanted the puck battles and that’s why we ended up losing the game at the end,” said Gallant.Burakovsky, who is only 19 and played in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season, received his first start on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom and he played well in 12:05 of even strength time. His skill, primarily his hands and shooting ability, is something sorely needed in that top line position and he delivered on Sunday. Trotz liked #65’s play and commended him afterwards.“He was playing with two big stars, and he didn’t look intimidated. A couple times he shot the puck where sometimes you should make the extra pass, but he got the puck and he just made plays. I like that. Defensively he was pretty sound. We didn’t spend much time in our own end, but he was pretty sound in terms of his tracking and all that, so I was really happy for him. He’s such a great kid and he comes from a great family. He’s a really good hockey player…but I think in the scheme of things, looking at his whole career, he’s going to be a really good player for us,” said Trotz.So the Capitals continue to keep finding ways to win hockey games and they get two days of practice at Kettler Ice Plex before facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto Wednesday and then they finally play the Flyers, for the first time this season, on Thursday, in Philadelphia. Those are two tough games in a back to back situation and the Caps last loss was on the 2nd night of one of those in New York right before Christmas. It will be interesting to see if Trotz goes with Holtby in net twice or turns to Justin Peters for a start for the first time since November 29th.Notes: Washington won the face off battle 43-29 with Backstrom going 18-8 from the dot…shot attempts favored the Caps, 63-60…the Panthers were 0 for 5 on the power play while the Caps went 1 for 2 in only 3:16 of man advantage time. Yes, the Caps have been taking too many penalties lately, but some of the calls recently have been beyond bad. Bottom line, the officiating needs to improve too and they need to start penalizing the divers, like Trocheck, and not the players with integrity, such as Orpik.
Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals continue to be on a serious roll.The cuddly Ovi scored a goal and assisted on three others, center Nicklas Backstrom scored his first goal in 22 games and added two helpers, and top line Tom Wilson was a human wrecking ball notching the first four point night (two goals, two assists) of his career in a 6-2 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks at Capital One Arena.Braden Holtby did his part in this win, as well, stopping 37 of 39 shots, including all 16 he faced in a Hawks assault in the middle frame.The victory increases the Caps record to 17-11-1 (35 points) and they are just a point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division heading into Friday’s big tilt at home against the New York Rangers.Coach Barry Trotz’ club has now won six of their last seven games and are 12-0 when they score four or more goals this season.Let’s get right to the highlights and analysis of Washington’s third straight victory.There’s no better place to start than with the Gr8, he was simply fabulous with his all around play against Chicago. His pass to get Backstrom off of the schneid was dynamite and then his follow up rebound goal on Wilson’s breakaway was another example of Ovi’s improved physique and speed this season. When things got testy in period two, his hammered power play shot ricocheted off of J.F. Berube’s pads and right to Brett Connolly, who potted his third goal in three games to make it 4-1 and give Washington some much needed breathing room. Alex then really closed this one out with a great fore-check and pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot that Kuzy buried to make it 5-1 and end any potential for late game Blackhawks heroics. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 21 and he has 32 points in 29 games. Yeah, he’s washed up, haters.Backstrom, despite his goalless streak, has still been playing well. Night after night Coach Trotz puts him out against the opposition’s top center and he delivers a strong two way game. Now that he’s back where he should be, with Ovechkin, because he’s the one who knows best how to get the Gr8 the puck, he’s starting to get his points again. Backy was in the right spot in the slot for the all important first goal of the game at 11:54. His offensive zone faceoff win just under three minutes later resulted in Wilson’s first goal, which made it 2-0. That was a weak tally allowed by starting goalie, Anton Forsberg. On Connolly’s goal, the whole play was made by #19 fighting for a loose puck in the slot and getting it over to the Gr8 for his howitzer.There were some skeptics when Coach Trotz bumped Wilson up to the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but that move is paying off. Remember when the Caps first line used to be Ovi, Backy, and Troy Brouwer? Well Willy is filling the Brouwer role quite nicely, if not better. His steal set the first goal up. #43 is playing the best hockey of his career, right now, and he drew the penalty on Lance Bouma that led to the Connolly marker late in period two. This was after Bouma hurt Tom on a clean check where Willy had his arm extended and it got pinched on the boards in the defensive zone. Wilson went to the locker room and things looked ominous for the Caps with T.J. Oshie out due to Jumbo Joe’s cheap shot hit on Monday and Andre Burakovksy not likely back in the lineup until Friday. Luckily Tom was okay and returned, looking no worse for the wear. Wilson is performing well because he’s shooting the puck and is an absolute beast on the fore-check. His PK skills are excellent and it was fitting that he closed the scoring out in this game with a shorthanded empty net tally. If Ryan Hartman wasn’t such a gutless coward, Willy would have had the Gordie on this night. Hartman’s late game despicable trip of Ovechkin, which could have caused a serious knee injury, really deserved an ass beating, but Ryan skated away.Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana continue to play some excellent hockey on the second line, even without the Osh Babe on this night. Vrana is really using his speed to open up lanes and he’s been really solid in his own zone. He’s especially excelling with his pesky fore-checking that has been causing turnovers. Since the Calgary game, Kuzy has been insanely good and worthy of numerous fist bumps. He’s making the right plays all over the ice and his shoot versus pass decisions have been SPOT ON. #92 now has nine goals with seven of them coming in the last 10 games. When Washington gets the kind of one-two center play they are getting from Backstrom and Kuznetsov, they are hard to beat.Goaltending is the strength of this Capitals team and both Holtby and Philipp Grubauer are currently delivering the big save when the team needs it. It is scary how well the Holtbeast is playing right now and there’s a serious argument to be made that he’s playing better than the last two seasons. He made several big stops when things were really dicey and the game was still in doubt. Over his last five starts, Holtby is 4-1-0 with a .932 save percentage and has stopped 69 of the last 74 shots he’s faced (h/t to the Capitals excellent PR staff).Connolly has really taken advantage of the opportunity to fill the Oshie role on the first power play unit. Brett is doing the right things on the ice and he’s getting rewarded for it. He’s moving his feet and finding the soft spots in the defensive coverage on the ice where goals can be scored, in the slot and around the net.Matt Niskanen probably had his best game of the season. He and Dmitry Orlov are returning to last year’s form. Nisky was +4 with an assist. Orlov continues to lead the charge on successful Capitals break outs and his long flip pass to Wilson on the third goal was just outstanding. #9 is getting better and better and his defensive zone play features some sneaky good physical play.The Caps have done a better job at lowering the number of penalties they have been taking. On Monday they were whistled for four shorthanded situations, but two of the calls were horrendous, the board on Wilson when Gustav Forsling turned his back as #43 was about to hit him clean from the side (even the NBC announcers hated that call) and then the interference call on Ovechkin, when he stayed in his lane and didn’t move one way or the other to impede Bouma. Somehow clueless Dan O’Halloran and Jon McIsaac thought otherwise.One thing the Capitals still have to work on is their defensive zone clears and their propensity to make offensive zone turnovers. Devante Smith-Pelly had a very soft behind the back defensive zone giveaway that led to a two on none for Chicago, but Holtby bailed DSP out. Ovechkin had a late turnover that led to a Jonathan Toews breakaway goal, but John Carlson was also to blame there for not being more responsible up four goals. Finally, Lars Eller had a bad offensive zone turnover when it was 5-1. #20 went across the blue line on a one on three and with no help coming he peeled off and tried a crazy cross ice pass that was stolen. The right play was a shot or dump of the puck behind the net. Right after that turnover, Brooks Orpik was called for hooking. If Eller makes the correct decision, there is no Chicago power play. Overall the Capitals had 22 giveaways, that is far too many and the biggest reason they have spells where they get outplayed and out shot.I really liked the way both rookie defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos performed against a team with some high caliber players. There was one sequence where Djoos made a hit and a steal in his own end. We all know Christian is excellent in the offensive zone, but the key to his NHL tenure will be how much he improves defensively.Overall though, this was a very impressive win with Oshie and Burakovsky out. Hopefully both will be back soon with #65 very likely for Friday’s tilt against the Blueshirts. Things are looking up for Washington, but it’s a tight division and the league is very balanced. They need to keep working hard and improving the little things in their game, especially the turnovers, if they want to move their way up the standings.Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:47. Orpik was second with 22:19…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-30, but Backstrom went 14-11…shots on goal were 39-25, for Chicago. Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on goal…the Caps blocked 20 of the 68 shot attempts by the Blackhawks…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play and Chicago was 0 for 4.
With the first week of NFL free agency now in the books, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:1. I like the Michael Crabtree signing, but looking at past notable receivers’ first season with Baltimore is concerning. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Lee Evans, and Jeremy Maclin all saw their catch and yardage totals fall from the previous year. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace were the exceptions.2. Benjamin Watson signing with Kansas City would put the Ravens in line to receive a 2019 third-round compensatory pick for Ryan Jensen. These comp choices shouldn’t drive the entire offseason, but that’s a pick too valuable to pass up to sign any unrestricted free agents remaining on the market.3. Watson’s potential exit reiterates how big a need tight end remains. I’m not enthusiastic about anyone remaining on the market, but history suggests counting heavily on a rookie is a big mistake. This position may simply remain a question, but an early draft pick would bring enticing upside.4. The reported visits of restricted free agents Willie Snead and Cameron Meredith reflect the desire to further address wide receiver, but structuring an offer sheet is tricky. You don’t want to exhaust too much effort when you may just be negotiating a deal for the original team in the end.5. Declining the option on Austin Howard cleared $3 million in cap space, but was it wise to part ways with a reliable starting right tackle for only moderate savings? James Hurst hasn’t fared well at that spot in the past and Alex Lewis is a complete unknown there.6. Jensen becoming the NFL’s highest-paid center is a reminder that incumbents can get markedly better over time and late bloomers do exist. There’s still at least a glimmer of hope for the likes of Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, and Bronson Kaufusi, even if the Ravens aren’t banking on it.7. It appears Brandon Williams’ eye disorder is under control, but that’s still not something you want to hear about for anyone, let alone one of your best players who just received a lucrative contract 12 months ago.8. I’m interested to watch Tim White and Quincy Adeboyejo this summer, but I still see some fans putting too much stock into small glimpses of promise. We’ve seen this movie before, and the Ravens shouldn’t expect any of their young incumbent receivers beyond Chris Moore to make the 2018 roster.9. Wink Martindale attending Derwin James’ pro day garnered attention, but a team needs to be sure any prospect — not just James — praised for athleticism and being able to line up at multiple positions will truly excel at at least one spot before using such a high pick.10. Ryan Grant wasn’t going to get the same deal elsewhere after failing Baltimore’s physical, but a one-year, $5 million deal with Indianapolis is such a drop-off that you wonder if others had concerns about his ankle. I feel for him, and this still wasn’t a great look for the Ravens.11. Eric DeCosta hasn’t been made available to local reporters since Steve Bisciotti announced the longtime assistant general manager would be taking over for Ozzie Newsome next year, but he shared his thoughts on the pending change with the team’s website HERE.12. I’m amused by anyone believing the proposed language changes will fix the catch rule, but at least the league is trying to fix it. I can’t wait for those heated debates over what “the ability to perform a football move” really means.
(Updated: Tuesday 11:30 a.m.)OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Turning their attention toward their annual trip to western Pennsylvania, the Ravens hope to welcome at least a couple key players back to the field against Pittsburgh in Week 4.Starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and top reserve defensive lineman Michael Pierce missed Sunday’s game against Denver, but head coach John Harbaugh said both were “really close” to being able to play in the 27-14 win over the Broncos. Mosley sustained a bone bruise in his left knee in the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati while Pierce missed the first game of his career with a foot injury.“They just didn’t make it this week,” Harbaugh said. “Still, you have to say it’s ‘day-to-day’ because you don’t know. But I’m really hopeful.”Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst and third-year defensive tackle Willie Henry have been sidelined since last month, but their return to the practice field could be just around the corner. Hurst had a screw inserted in his foot on Aug. 24 to help heal a stress fracture while Henry underwent surgery for an umbilical hernia around the same time. The Ravens would certainly like to add Hurst, their first-round pick, to an improved aerial attack that entered Monday ranked ninth in the NFL in passing yards per game. Henry appeared on the verge of securing a starting role along the defensive line during the preseason.“We’ll see. I don’t know yet,” said Harbaugh about the possibility of the two practicing this week. “There’s probably a better chance for Hayden. Willie is going to see a doctor here this week. It’s a little different with Willie because it’s not an orthopedic deal. The doctor — internist — has to clear him on that kind of stuff.”After working out a number of free-agent offensive linemen two weeks ago, the Ravens signed former Chicago center Hroniss Grasu to their 53-man roster on Monday. A 2015 third-round pick out of Oregon, Grasu made four starts and appeared in six games for the Bears last season and has started 12 games in his career. He was waived by Chicago at the end of the preseason and gives Baltimore a third reserve offensive linemen again after 2017 fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor was waived over the weekend.To make room on the active roster, the Ravens waived defensive back Robertson Daniel, who had just been promoted as an extra healthy body after rookie cornerback Anthony Averett suffered a hamstring injury late last week.Harbaugh labeled new return specialist Tim White’s debut as “very solid” despite the rainy conditions, complimenting his ball security and decision-making with the Ravens holding a second-half lead. Baltimore waived returner Janarion Grant on Saturday after the rookie had fumbled a punt in each of the first two games.“We’re very hopeful that we’ll get him back on the practice squad,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “I really think those guys were a tossup anyway. Janarion did a good job, a couple balls on the ground. That’s part of it probably, and he knows that. No way do I think he’s not going to be a really good player. He’s going to play certainly this year.“But Tim was doing such a good job in practice. He’s been around, he’s more of a veteran guy, and we just felt that he should get a chance.”Both Grant and Eluemunor cleared waivers and were re-signed to the practice squad on Tuesday morning.
Rangers coach Gbenga Ogunbote has admitted the Flying Antelopes are under pressure ahead of their CAF Confederation Cup second leg playoff tie against Bantu FC of Lesotho tomorrow in Enugu.The Aiteo Cup champions won the first leg 2-1 a week ago in Maseru, and just need to avoid defeat at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium on Sunday to progress to the lucrative group stage of the competition.“It is an unfinished assignment that we need to wrap up tomorrow by God’s grace,” the former Enyimba coach told busybuddiesng.com exclusively.“There is a lot of pressure on us, not on them because they are down already. And I think that might make it easier for us.“The first thing we have taken off us is complacency. So we will do our best, taking the game like we are playing it like the first leg.”Regarding his team’s preparation and readiness for the match, Ogubote said: “We’ve done our best; we’ve done the needful, in my opinion, that is good enough by His grace to give us the day, even though we came back late (from Lesotho). Everybody knows that.“But I think we’ve had enough training sessions that will make us triumph tomorrow.”Rangers will advance to the group stage of this year’s CAF Confederation Cup if they emerge aggregate winners of the two-legged tie.Related
The Super Eagles of Nigeria have dropped one spot to 35th in the world in the latest FIFA men’s football world rankings released on Thursday.The three-time African champions failed to improve their position despite playing a 1-1 draw with five-time world champions Brazil in their last friendly match in Singapore. Nigeria occupy third spot in Africa behind Senegal and Tunisia who occupy the top two positions.African champions Algeria are ranked fourth in Africa and 38th in the world. Morocco are fifth in Africa and 42nd in the world, while Egypt are 6th on the continent and 49th in the world. Meanwhile, the top four positions on the World Rankings remain unchanged from September with the only movement from Uruguay taking the place of Portugal in the top five.Belgium are still at number one while world champions France in second place. Five-time world champions Brazil are third in the world, while 2018 World Cup semifinalists England remained in fourth position. Uruguay move one spot up to fifth.Africa Top 10Senegal (20)Tunisia (29)Nigeria (35)Algeria (38)Morocco (42)Egypt (49)Ghana (51)Cameroon (52)DR Congo (54)Cote d’Ivoire (56)RelatedNigeria Drops in Latest FIFA RankingNovember 30, 2018In “FIFA”Super Eagles Move Up In Newest FIFA RankingApril 12, 2018In “National Team”Super Eagles Benefit From International Break in Latest FIFA RankingsApril 4, 2019In “National Team”
Rivers United coach Stanley Eguma has berated the League Management Company (LMC) for its organization of the 2019/2020 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season, citing lack of television coverage, fixture congestion, poor health care for players as some of the issues that bedevilled the current campaign.However, the experienced tactician also commended the organisers for improved officiating in the current season, which has been suspended indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.“Generally, other areas of organisation was zero,” he said. “Like no TV, which was the worst of it all.Audio Playerhttps://www.busybuddiesng.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Eguma-April-14.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Download Audio“And if you see what poor medical management has caused (the death of Chineme Martins) and then, very poor facilities were provided.“Also, this issue of travelling long distances, and matches are being played in between two games in a week – three games in a week. Considering the journeys that we make, every week, you can travel long distances twice, especially if you have to travel for two away games within a week. It is not helping the teams. It doesn’t help the players to play at their best and it doesn’t enable teams to get good results. The wears and tears from the journeys in the league affect the teams’ performances. It is not good for us.“The LMC should do something. The worst of it all is not putting the league on TV.”Despite sealing a mouth-watering Television deal in November with a ‘projected revenue’ of $225m with Chinese outfit NEXT TV for five years, no league game was televised on any platform before the season was suspended last month after 25 Match Days.His complaints notwithstanding, Eguma also praised the organisers for improved officiating in the league this season.“In the past, we have had better league than the present. The only thing that changed was just the officiating,” he remarked. “Officiating improved so much this season. Outside officiating, every other thing went bad.Audio Playerhttps://www.busybuddiesng.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Eguma-2-April-14.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Download Audio“I give kudos to the league organisers (LMC), especially, the Nigeria Referees Association for bringing out credible referees, and the officiating was near perfect. Teams were going to different venues and getting good results. There was no too much complaints of referees robbing teams and all those kind of things.”RelatedNPFL: Eguma Charges LMC To Harmonize Fixtures With CAF Calendar (AUDIO)February 26, 2019In “NPFl”AUDIO: Eguma Explains Striker Udechukwu Transfer SagaDecember 7, 2017In “Nigeria”NPFL: Lobi Stars’ Anaezemba Wants Season Completed (AUDIO)May 25, 2020In “Featured”