When ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen rolled into Westminster Sunday morning in his touring bus, with "Mort goes to camp" painted on the sides, there was no welcoming party, no Ravens practice, and almost no one around.
By the time the afternoon practice ended, Mortensen had been duly recognized, though. The Ravens' public relations department presented him with two hastily-made, framed plaques, vice president Kevin Byrne said. One was for "outstanding reporting" and the other contained the Ravens' logo, serving as a key to "Ravenstown."
And Mortensen finally got his welcoming committee. Ravens PR rep Chad Steele led a group of 25 fans to the end zone where Mortensen was doing a live shot for ESPN. The group chanted Mort's name.
Mort also agreed to do a Q&A with The Sun, and this is what we came up with:
Who runs a tougher camp – Andy Reid of the Eagles or John Harbaugh?
Mortensen: I'm going to call it Andy Reid because he's had more years to show that he's not letting up. He's got 11 years. I think John is very compelling because he's run the same type of camp and I don't know if this team expected him to let up this year, but I know he didn't let up. He does have the plus-30 days, which is smart. When I visited Steve Spagnuolo (with the Rams) – he served eight years under Andy Reid, two under Tom Coughlin – I watched the Rams tackle to the ground in camp, which hardly anybody does anymore. So I asked Spags, "Did you get that from Andy or Tom or both?" He goes, "I say Andy." But John believes in what he's doing and he's not going to let up.
Will Joe Flacco ascend in his second season or will defensive coordinators start to catch up to him?
Mortensen: He'll ascend. It's funny, I've been asked sophomore jinx questions more and more about quarterbacks and players. That was a baseball terminology. People have applied it to football. In football, there's a tendency to get better, not worse, unless the people around them drop off. At quarterback, you get better. Defenses adjusting to them is a matter of defenses adjusting to the scheme. Now, it's like a game of chess. Cam Cameron is pretty good at chess.
OK, what assistant coach did a better job than Cam Cameron last year?
Mortensen: I would say Dan Henning [with the Dolphins] would be right there with him. It's funny because he succeeded Cam as the coordinator, in a way. But yeah, Cam would probably get the vote. The one thing that played well for Dan, too, is both have a dominating defense. It does make it easier on an offensive coordinator when you know you can do some things, or pull back, or take a shot deep, when your defense has a chance to get the ball back.
Who has the better year this season – Rex Ryan or Greg Mattison?
Mortensen: It's so easy to say Rex. It's the obvious one. He's going to energize the Jets. But what I'm getting a feeling of is that this defense feels it's going to be just as good, but maybe more sound. Just as aggressive, more sound, especially in their secondary coverages. And on that basis, if they're more sound in secondary coverages, maybe Greg would.
Why did you attach Michael Vick to the Ravens in reports on ESPN?
Mortensen: I try always to frame everything I said as speculating. I told people there are good beat reporters in every town and nobody has identified the team. So you take all the beat reporters, all the national reporters, then it was just a matter of speculating. I know there was discussion about it [within the Ravens]. Then there was the matter of what made sense. What I'm saying is the Ravens made sense because they met the Vick criteria, too – sound organization. The one area where it didn't meet is quarterback. And you don't want a young quarterback worrying about that. Plus, Troy Smith is making a move. But [Vick] is an extra weapon. Do you have enough weapons? What Michael was before, in terms of his athleticism, he was Barry Sanders. For all the reporters that were working the story, nobody was able to absolutely identify the team. Because we pushed the Steelers harder than we pushed the Ravens.
Will Vick resurrect his career in Philadelphia or will he not get all the way back?
Mortensen: I think it will be the ideal transition, because I have no doubt Andy and Marty Mornhinweg are going to use him [right], and yes it's going to be some of the Wildcat, but the guy's got a powerful arm. The Ravens stuffed the Wildcat against the Dolphins last year and the next step to it is finding someone who can throw it. The other thing is does, by Thanksgiving, what happens if Donovan McNabb goes down? And all of a sudden, they say "Michael knows this offense, he's been in the NFC championship game, been to the playoffs." I think Michael Vick will resurrect his career. I think he has a happy ending. The other thing is, he could get traded next offseason if he shows enough. He's a commodity.Will we'll ever see Kyle Boller again in a meaningful way?
Mortensen: I saw Kyle in St. Louis. Throwing the ball great. Like Kyle can do. I never say never on these guys. Like, it wouldn't surprise [Saints coach] Sean Payton if in year 11 or year 10 if Joey Harrington was a good football player. Rich Gannon had his success post-30s. Steve Young was really late in his career. I don't know that Kyle will. I think he's the same guy from when he came out – great physical skills, but more savvy because he's been in the league. So I'm going to say, if Sage Rosenfels can start in this league – again – and by the way, I actually liked Sage for a long time – I would say Kyle may have an opportunity again. And he may have an opportunity with St. Louis.
Will the lack of depth in the offensive line and rape allegations make this a difficult season for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger?
Mortensen: I would say offensive line more than the other. Now they think they're offensive line is in better shape than a year ago because it's settled. I think it's still unsettled. That's another reason I thought Michael Vick was a great fit for the Steelers. Charlie Batch is a wonderful guy, good locker room guy. But Ben has a chance of getting hurt. That was one reason I liked Michael Vick there, too.
Will Eric Mangini revive the Browns or keep them on a treadmill?
Mortensen: Well, he revived the Jets, briefly. Now, he had two winning seasons in three years, it just wasn't what they were expecting. I think the culture change … and they're going to watch a different talent level … I don't think they're going to be revived this year. I'm going to be anxious to see how Browns fans react to it.
What executive or coach doesn't return your calls?
Mortensen: Well, Bill Belichick, but I don't try anymore. That goes back to Cleveland. Occasionally when I cross paths with Bill, it's a friendly exchange. But it was just a couple of things that happened. That's OK. My feeling is, I think he gets along fine without me. [But] I'd like to have a relationship with everybody.
Who has a better career: Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford?
Mortensen: I'll say Stafford. Better talent. First of all, I think both are going to be successful. But one thing, I think Stafford has won over the veterans already. When I hear that from a guy who's been in the league for a while, tells me he is a pro. But I think both are going to be successful. It's not going to be Matt Leinart and what's happened to Vince Young.
Where will the Ravens finish?
Mortensen: The Ravens are going to win the AFC North. Then I put them in the pool of four or five teams that can win the Super Bowl. But every time I pick the Super Bowl, I get it wrong. I know this much – two months ago when anybody asked me, I said the Patriots and the Eagles, instinctively. I think the Ravens will be right there with the Patriots, I really do.