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Ravens must be first-half team

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' 2007 NFL schedule has been upgraded from a year ago with more quality opponents, but there isn't much to complain about. The hardest stretch doesn't come until late in the season, and two of those games are at home. Plus, the Ravens have four games on national television.

The Ravens open the season on Sept. 10 at the Cincinnati Bengals, which is tough, but the Ravens could go 7-0 or 6-1 heading into the bye week Oct. 28. OK, maybe that's wishful thinking or I've been drinking the purple Kool-Aid, but it's not that difficult a schedule in the first half of the season. The key for the Ravens is not losing three of the first eight games.

In the first half, the Ravens get the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams at home, with the Bengals, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers on the road. Even before the Ravens play the Steelers on Nov. 5 in a Monday night game, they get a bye and extra time to rest and prepare.

The tough stretch comes after Thanksgiving, when the Ravens travel to San Diego and then host the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Those three games are followed by road games at the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks. Now that's a tough stretch.

But overall, the schedule isn't that bad. The AFC North is expected to be down this season, with coach Romeo Crennel fighting for his job in Cleveland, where he has already fired several assistant coaches. New coach Mike Tomlin is trying to establish himself in Pittsburgh after replacing longtime Steelers coach Bill Cowher. We can put both of those teams in the rebuilding stages.

As for those Ravens fans who believe the league has something against Baltimore, this would have been the perfect time to stick it to them with three games on the West Coast in 2007. But each of those games is being played in a different month.

Oops, there goes the conspiracy theory.

Quarterback targets

Ravens offensive coordinator-quarterback coach Rick Neuheisel has been busy this offseason putting together an offense and scouting quarterbacks. The Ravens have been to the pro days of quarterbacks Trent Edwards of Stanford, Michigan State's Drew Stanton, Houston's Kevin Kolb, Brigham Young's John Beck, Ohio State's Troy Smith and Washington's Isaiah Stanback.

Edwards and Stanback are considered solid prospects but lack consistency in their mechanics. Edwards is reportedly smart, can read coverages and find open receivers, but he lacks good footwork and forces passes into tight spots. Beck is not accurate on passes longer than 20 yards. Stanton and Kolb have drawn praise from most scouts, but the player the Ravens might really want is Oregon State quarterback Matt Moore.

He reportedly is a good athlete, is quick and has good enough footwork to avoid pressure. He is accurate rolling out and has both strong mental and physical toughness. The drawback is that he played well only last season after struggling in 2005. The Ravens might not want to take another shot on a one-year wonder coming out of college.

Other prospects

Three college players who have supposedly visited the Ravens are Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock, Tennessee guard Arron Sears and Nebraska outside linebacker Stewart Bradley.

Blalock and Sears are both excellent run blockers, but Sears supposedly struggles at pass-blocking. Blalock seems to be more of the Ravens' type. He is an intense competitor who can play either guard or tackle. Bradley also has a fiery temperament but lacks the athleticism the Ravens usually prefer in their linebackers. He is a ferocious tackler but can't run sideline to sideline.

Optimism for Ogden

No word yet on whether Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden is going to retire, but it seems likely he'll play in 2007. In two separate conversations with Ogden within the past year, including one several weeks ago, he said he would definitely let the Ravens know by the draft in case they wanted to pick a tackle. The draft is only two weeks away.

Ogden has bothered some Ravens officials with his criticism in the past, but he has been extremely loyal to the organization and his teammates. If he was going to retire, I think he would have told the team by now.

Good management

When Phil Savage was the Ravens' director of scouting, he got a lot of praise for being the brains behind the team, sometimes more than general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Savage is a bright, young man, and he'll eventually do well in the league, but he has struggled as the GM in Cleveland. Newsome is the person this franchise can't afford to lose. Despite the loss of Savage and the ups and downs of head coach Brian Billick as far as X's and O's on the field, this team consistently gets good players, and it all points to Newsome.

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