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Ravens news, notes and opinions ahead of the season opener vs. the Bengals

When the Ravens waived outside linebacker John Simon and guard-center Ryan Jensen -- both ultimately were re-signed to the practice squad -- I pointed out that in a little more than 16 months, they had cut four of their 10 selections from the 2013 draft.

Neither of their seventh-round picks -- wide receiver Aaron Mellette or cornerback Marc Anthony -- ever played a game for the team, nor has sixth-rounder Kapron Lewis-Moore, albeit because of injuries. When you throw in the fact that first-rounder Matt Elam had a disappointing rookie season and Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, Kyle Juszczyk and Rick Wagner had limited roles last year, it’s fair to say that the organization has gotten disappointing early returns from the 2013 draft class.

What’s not fair is to label the class a bust.

Four players from the class -- Elam, Williams, Juszczyk and Wagner -- will start in Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Brown also will likely play a lot on special teams and as a backup to rookie C.J. Mosley at weak-side linebacker. I think every general manager in football would be happy to land four starters in any draft.

Now, let’s see how these guys play in their sophomore season. The opinion on this class could be altered significantly with a solid 2014.           

** There was a lot of talk that the Ravens could be a potential landing spot for rookie defensive end Michael Sam, but the reality is that it was never a fit football-wise.

Sam, who is trying to become the league’s first openly gay player, was cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday and he has yet to be picked up by another team. The Ravens play a 3-4 defense, and Sam projects more as a 4-3 defensive end.

There also has been no indication that Sam could be a factor on special teams, which would be an issue for the Ravens.

** The position breakdown of the Ravens’ final 53-man roster had some interesting numbers:  seven wide receivers, six inside linebackers, six safeties, not including suspended Will Hill, and only four cornerbacks and five defensive linemen. I’ve mentioned these numbers several times without really offering an explanation.

The most obvious one is that the Ravens put a ton of emphasis on special teams, probably even more than other teams because of John Harbaugh’s background. When they are looking at those final three or four roster spots, special teams play is traditionally the deciding factor.

Those final three safeties who made the team? Jeromy Miles, Brynden Trawick and Anthony Levine are among the Ravens’ top special teams players. The same can be said for two of those reserve inside linebackers -- Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan. Inside linebacker Zach Orr, an undrafted rookie free agent out of North Texas, also made the team, largely on the strength of his special teams potential.

So my point is, in a lot of these cases, the positions these guys play isn’t all that significant if they can be assets on special teams.       

** Several former Ravens have landed on their feet. Veteran offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley, who was claimed by the Indianapolis Colts after the Ravens cut him, took all the first-team snaps at center for his new team Monday. The Colts have some injury issues at center, and Shipley is in line to start their opener. Good for Shipley, a tough guy and hard worker who was probably miscast at guard.

Rolando McClain, who never actually played for the Ravens despite being under contractual control by the team for about a year, is also expected to start at middle linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. And before you ask, no, I don’t think the Ravens regret one bit dealing McClain to the Cowboys for a late conditional pick. They knew he was talented, but McClain’s actions indicated very little desire to play for the Ravens. His act just wasn’t going to play here.

The Cowboys are obviously more desperate for middle linebacker help than the Ravens are, and perhaps they’ll benefit from a personal and professional rebirth from McClain. But you can’t blame the Ravens for not wanting to wait around for that.    

** Every year, we seemingly write about the importance of the fourth and final preseason game, and all the jobs that are on the line. Remind me to avoid that narrative next year.

Simon and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint both starred in the Ravens’ victory over the New Orleans Saints. A day later, they were both cut. Quarterback Keith Wenning also played well, but he was let go the next day as well.

On the other end of the spectrum, Levine and Trawick struggled at times against the Saints, yet they survived final roster cuts. The moral of the story is that teams evaluate these players through nearly a month of training camp, through weeks of minicamps and organized team activities and again through the preseason games. One game, with mostly second- and third-stringers on the field, only reveals so much. It may break a tie for one or two spots, but more often than that, these decisions are almost already made.   

** Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com did an interesting piece looking at the average age of each NFL team as of Saturday night when the 53-man rosters were unveiled. The Rams have the youngest roster, and the Oakland Raiders have the oldest.

The Ravens, meanwhile, fall right near the league midpoint with an average age of 26.04. According to Kempski, the Ravens’ average age was 26.16 last year, which ranked 18th, and 26.4 in 2012, which ranked 21st. So while the Ravens have progressively gotten younger, so have most other teams.  

** David Steele, my former colleague at The Baltimore Sun, ranked the top NFL general managers for The Sporting News, and it didn’t take long to find the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome. Steele ranked Newsome first. He mentioned the Ravens’ two Super Bowl victories, the fact that Newsome’s first two draft picks (Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis) will both be in the Hall of Fame and that Newsome has only employed two head coaches in the last 16 years.

But he also included something rarely discussed about Newsome, that he has either groomed or served as a mentor to front-office personnel all across the NFL. Steele rounded out the top five with Green Bay’s Ted Thompson, the New York Giants’ Jerry Reese, Seattle’s John Schneider and New England’s Bill Belichick.

The Cowboys’ Jerry Jones ranked last.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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