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BC-AP Sports Preview Digest

BC-AP Sports Preview Digest

Some of the sports stories The Associated Press is covering Wednesday. A full Sports Digest will be sent about 3 p.m. All times EST:

NEW ORLEANS - A day after calling a report that said he sought help from a company which makes a product containing an NFL banned substance ``stupidity,'' Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis meets with the media.

NEW ORLEANS - In the role of New Orleans ambassador, Drew Brees is all but obligated to help his city put on a good face for the Super Bowl. Still, it's hard for the quarterback to take part in a title game in his adopted home city and not be playing in it.

NEW ORLEANS - Kyle Williams is elated, yet empty. The punt returner whose mistakes cost the 49ers a chance to win last year's NFC championship now is on a Super Bowl team. But he won't be playing against Baltimore on Sunday, and that hurts as much as his damaged left knee.

NEW YORK - Again linked to performance-enhancing drugs and sidelined for at least the first half of the season after hip surgery, Alex Rodriguez's future with the New York Yankees is uncertain.

BOSTON - The Boston Celtics play their first game since learning that point guard Rajon Rondo will miss the rest of the season when they face the Sacramento Kings.

PHOENIX - Steve Nash returns to US Airways Center for the first time since leaving the Suns to go to Los Angeles when his Lakers face the Suns in the opener of a marathon seven-game road trip.

MINNEAPOLIS - Rick Adelman makes his return to the Timberwolves bench after an 11-game absence to be with his ailing wife when Minnesota hosts the Los Angeles Clippers, who have scuffled a bit with point guard Chris Paul out with a knee injury.

ASPEN, Colo. - After snowmobiler Caleb Moore's crash - along with other harrowing wipeouts - some wonder whether dialing up the degree of difficulty each year at Winter X Games improves action sports or simply make it more dangerous.

LUBBOCK, Texas - Baylor's Brittney Griner needs three points to break the Big 12 career scoring record held by Oklahoma State's Andrea Riley in the top-ranked Lady Bears' game at Texas Tech.

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Ravens under the Microscope: Best case, worst case for QB Joe Flacco

Ravens under the Microscope: Best case, worst case for QB Joe Flacco

Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka have put 25 key Ravens under the microscope this month, forecasting a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day.

This is the final installment, ending with the Ravens’ most important and highest-paid player.

RELATED: RAVENS PLACE SIX ON PUP LIST

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Joe Flacco, 31-year-old quarterback

Best-case scenario:

Flacco enjoys his best season, becomes a more consistent regular season quarterback, and leads the Ravens to the playoffs.

Why it could happen:

Already a Super Bowl MVP, Flacco is entering what should be the prime of his career.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees all had their best statistical seasons at age 30 or older. It’s a great sign that Flacco has recovered well enough from knee surgery to be ready for training camp. Barring any setbacks, the knee shouldn’t be an issue.  It’s also important that Flacco is working with the same coordinator, Marc Trestman, for a second straight season. Trestman and Flacco had growing pains in 2015, but they’re beginning this season with far more familiarity with each other. Meanwhile, the additions of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Ben Watson give Flacco two additional veteran targets.

On paper, Flacco has more weapons than ever, particularly if tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Breshad Perriman are healthy enough to be factors. Flacco’s arm strength, toughness, composure in pressure situations, and ability to make every throw are hard to question.

If rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and the rest of the offensive line give Flacco time to survey the field, the stage is set for Flacco to have his best season.

Worst-case scenario:

Flacco’s game doesn’t ascend to another level, and as a result, neither does the Ravens’ offense.

Why it could happen:

Stats aren’t everything, but Flacco has never thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a season, has never thrown for 30 touchdown passes in a season, and has never had a quarterback rating higher than 93.6, which he had in 2010.

All of that may have to change for the Ravens to make the playoffs. Flacco has been a phenomenal post-season quarterback, but it remains to be seen if he can eliminate some of his regular season valleys. The Ravens invested more heavily in Flacco during the offseason, rewarding him with a three-year, $66 million contract extension that included a $40 million signing bonus.

To whom much is given, much is expected.  

Meeting higher expectations, while bouncing back from his first major injury, is the challenge facing Flacco.

RELATED: CAN SUGGS STILL BE AN IMPACT PLAYER?

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Will Suggs still be an impact player when he comes off PUP?

Will Suggs still be an impact player when he comes off PUP?

Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka are taking turns putting 25 key Ravens under the microscope leading up to veterans reporting to training camp. They’ll speculate on a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day, concluding with quarterback Joe Flacco on July 25.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Terrell Suggs, 33-year-old outside linebacker

Best-case scenario:

Suggs makes a full recovery from Achilles injury and returns as a double-digit sack artist and three-down linebacker.

Why it could happen:

Suggs knows people are wondering how much quality football he has left. It’s dangerous to write off great players too soon. Suggs would love to silence skeptics with a strong season, and if some of the young Ravens pass rushers develop, they won’t have to overwork Suggs. If he stays healthy once he comes off the PUP list, a player with Suggs’ talent and experience can still be a valuable defensive leader.

Worst-case scenario:

The Achilles injury limits what Suggs can do, and he is no longer an impact player.

Why it could happen:

It’s asking a lot of Suggs to remain a cog in the Ravens’ defense, after 106 ½ career sacks, and entering his 14th NFL season. Sooner or later, the NFL road will end for Suggs, just like it ended for his former great defensive teammates like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It will be interesting to hear Suggs’ thoughts on his career when he meets with the media Wednesday. If 2016 is not Suggs’ last ride, the end of the journey is getting closer.

RELATED: FIVE YOUNG PASS RUSHERS TO WATCH

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Five young pass rushers to watch, with Suggs and Dumervil on PUP

Five young pass rushers to watch, with Suggs and Dumervil on PUP

With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil starting training camp on the PUP list, the Ravens’ young pass rushers have an opportunity to show what they’ve got.

It’s not surprising, or overly alarming, that Suggs (Achilles) and Dumervil (foot) aren’t ready to participate in full-team practices, which begin Thursday. The priority for them is to be ready by Week 1.

But the reality is that Suggs is 33 years old and Dumervil is 32 – closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Remember when the Ravens loaded up on pass rushers in the draft? Training camp and the preseason will shed light on which young pass rushers are ready to contribute, and which ones are not.

RELATED: RAVENS NAME SIX PLAYERS TO THE PUP LIST

Here are five young Ravens pass rushers to watch closely during training camp and the preseason:

Kamalei Correa, rookie OLB

Correa might see more time at inside linebacker as a rookie, because the Ravens are looking for a starting inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley. However, Correa’s skills as a pass-rushing outside linebacker at Boise St. convinced the Ravens he was worthy of being a second-round pick. If Correa is getting pressure on quarterbacks, the Ravens will find consistent snaps for him.

Matt Judon, rookie DE

He led the nation in sacks last season with 20 at Grand Valley State. As a fifth-round pick, Judon is making a major leap to the NFL and he is raw. But he also has size (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) and athleticism. Judon could earn an immediate role as a situational pass rusher.

Bronson Kaufusi, rookie DE

He’s huge (6-foot-6, 285 pounds). He’s mature, already 25 years old after completing a two-year Mormon mission before attending BYU. And he’s athletic, good enough to spend one season on BYU’s basketball team before focusing on football. The Ravens’ third-round pick, Kaufusi could also earn a role as a situational pass rusher.

Victor Ochi, undrafted OLB

Ochi (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) has a body build like Dumervil – powerful with a low center of gravity. The Ravens have had at least one undrafted rookie make their roster for 12 straight years. Ochi could extend that streak. He was hoping to be the first player from Stony Brook ever drafted. Now he’s hoping to prove he should have been drafted.   

Za’Darius Smith, second-year OLB

Smith finished strong as a rookie. Of his 5 ½ sacks, 3 ½ came over the final three games. According to Smith, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants 10 sacks from Smith this season. If Smith becomes a double-digit sack artist, the Ravens’ pass rush will take a major leap.

MORE RAVENS: WILL SMITH'S BODY BETRAY HIM AGAIN?