Browns fans brace as Modell up for Hall of Fame

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Browns fans brace as Modell up for Hall of Fame

CLEVELAND (AP) For countless Browns fans, time has not healed. Art Modell's move remains an open wound.

And even in death, he torments them.

Modell, the late Cleveland owner credited with helping the NFL grow in prominence but whose decision to relocate his franchise to Baltimore 17 years ago obscures his accomplishments, is one of 15 finalists up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Modell's case for induction - he was also a finalist in 2002 - could spark the liveliest debate in New Orleans on Saturday among 46 Hall of Fame committee members, who will select between four and seven new members on the eve of the Ravens meeting the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

His supporters contend Modell helped create America's most popular sport.

His detractors will never forget one despicable deed.

``It would be a terrible thing for the NFL if he ever got in,'' said Michelle DiBartolo, president of Canton's chapter of the Browns Backers, a worldwide fan club of more than 100,000. ``I haven't met one Browns fan who said he deserves it. Anyway, he doesn't have the qualifications. How do you put Art Modell next to Paul Brown? That blows my mind.''

Modell will be considered for enshrinement along with coach Bill Parcells, former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., single-season sacks leader Michael Strahan, offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, running back Jerome Bettis, wide receivers Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed, defensive standouts Charles Haley and Kevin Greene, guard Will Shields and defensive back Aeneas Williams.

Also up for consideration, two senior nominees: defensive tackle Curley Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson.

The inclusion of Modell on this year's ballot has provided another subplot to this year's Super Bowl, which has had no shortage of juicy story lines. The Ravens' unexpected run to the championship game has been, in part, fueled by the team dedicating its season to Modell. Baltimore's players have worn patches with ``Art'' on their jerseys to honor Modell, who died on Sept. 6 just four days ahead of the opener.

There's no denying Modell's impact on the game. As Browns owner in the 1960s, he was involved in negotiating TV contracts that brought the NFL into more of the nation's living rooms and eventually spawned ``Monday Night Football,'' an institution Modell helped create as the league's broadcast chairman.

Before the move, Modell was adored by Cleveland's players and fans, who watched him agonize with them over every dropped pass and missed tackle while sitting in his owner's box high above the field inside cavernous Municipal Stadium.

His many missteps: firing Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown; hastening legendary running back Jim Brown's retirement because of a contract dispute; trading wide receiver Paul Warfield; signing free agent Andre Rison; financial losses, went mostly overlooked - or were at least forgiven.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end in Cleveland, believes Modell's contributions warrant a bronze bust.

``You look at what Art has done for this league,'' said Newsome, hired by Modell to run the Ravens. ``He was involved in the collective bargaining agreement, involved in the TV deal, involved in the merger, won a championship in `64, won a Super Bowl. He had diversity, the first one to hire an African American. You look at the body of work, why shouldn't he be in it? If this game is as good as it is today - we all think we have a very good game - then Art was the architect.''

All of the finalists have impressive resumes. Parcells was the first coach to lead four teams to the playoffs. He went 183-138-1 and won two Super Bowls with the Giants. DeBartolo hired coach Bill Walsh, drafted quarterback Joe Montana and transformed the 49ers into a model franchise that won five Super Bowls.

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Strahan recorded 22 1/2 sacks in 2001 and finished with 141 1/2 in a 15-year career with the Giants; Ogden, the first player drafted by the Ravens, made 11 Pro Bowls in 12 seasons; Allen played every offensive line position but center during 12 seasons with Dallas. He opened holes for Emmitt Smith, the league's career rushing leader; and Sapp had 96 1/2 career sacks, a remarkable number for an interior lineman.

Bettis finished with 13,662 career rushing yards in 13 seasons for the Rams and Steelers; Carter retired with the second-most career receptions (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (130); Brown, a nine-time Pro Bowler, recorded 14,934 yards receiving and 100 TDs; and Reed had 951 career catches, and played in four consecutive Super Bowls with Buffalo.

Tough to block as a defensive end or linebacker, Haley is the only player to win five Super Bowls; Greene reached double digits in sacks 10 times for the Rams, Steelers and Panthers; Shields never missed a game in a 14-season career with the Chiefs, who won four AFC West titles with him up front; Williams made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback and safety, finishing with 55 career interceptions; Culp was mainstay for Chiefs' dominating defense before helping the Oilers reach consecutive AFC title games (1978-79); and Robinson was a big-play starter on three straight Packers' title teams under Vince Lombardi.

As for Modell, his critics point to him uprooting one of the league's cornerstone teams as indisputable evidence he doesn't belong in the hall.

``It overshadows all his accomplishments,'' said Tony Grossi, a selection committee voter since 1999. ``It can't be dismissed.''

As one of those who will help elect Canton's class of 2013, Grossi, who has covered the Browns since 1984, feels a responsibility to state the case against Modell. He will speak once Modell is presented for consideration by a representative from Baltimore's market.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti understands Cleveland's pain. He witnessed Baltimore fans rebel when the Colts went to Indianapolis, so he can relate.

He just hopes Modell gets his due.

``I'm not even asking Cleveland to forgive,'' he said. ``I just don't know that Cleveland's rabid fans should be the reason that they keep him out. Because it seems like a spite thing and not a legitimate `let's look at the resume thing' and that's really what I hope changes this year.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Secretary of Defense gives thumbs-up for Reynolds to pursue NFL

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Secretary of Defense gives thumbs-up for Reynolds to pursue NFL

Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds can officially defer his military service to play in the NFL, secretary of defense Ashton Carter said Friday. Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech at the Naval Academy.

Two weeks ago, Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, strongly recommended that Reynolds be allowed to pursue his NFL career. Now Reynolds has the official go-ahead.

“It is a blessing to hear the news from Defense Secretary Carter,” Reynolds said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I am truly excited to proudly serve my country while having the ability to fulfill my dream of playing for the best organization in the NFL.

“I would like to thank the Navy for allowing me to represent them while taking advantage of this unique opportunity. I would also like to thank (Ravens owner) Mr. (Steve) Bisciotti and the Ravens organization for believing in me and giving me this chance.”

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement, “This is good news, and congratulations on to Keenan on his graduation today.”

The Ravens selected Reynolds in the sixth round of the draft, and are intrigued by his potential as a returner and receiver after a stellar career at Navy as a quarterback. Reynolds finished his Navy career as the FBS all-time leader in touchdowns (88).

Reynolds has sought advice on making the transition from quarterback to receiver-returner from CSN’s Brian Mitchell, who was a Pro Bowl returner with the Redskins, and from Hines Ward, a Pro Bowl receiver with the Steelers. The next challenge for Reynolds is to win a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, and many people will be rooting for him.

Can Ravens WR Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to secure roster spot?

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Can Ravens WR Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to secure roster spot?

OWINGS MILLS – Third-year wide receiver Michael Campanaro will have a difficult time making the Ravens in 2016 if he does not stay healthy. He is not off to a good start. A calf injury forced Campanaro to miss the first week of OTA’s, and his return date remained uncertain.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed empathy for Campanaro following Thursday’s practice.

“He tweaked his calf a couple of weeks ago and he’s working hard,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve just never seen a guy work as hard as this guy has worked in the last year and a half. There will be a time he will get past this stuff. This stuff will stop happening and hopefully it’s training camp, and that’s what we’re hoping for him. The guy works tremendously hard and he was in phenomenal shape, and we’re still expecting really good things from him.”

Campanaro’s season ended last year after just four games due to a herniated disc. As a rookie in 2014, Campanaro was plagued by hamstring injuries that did not clear up until late in the season.

When Campanaro has been healthy, he has produced as a slot receiver. During the Ravens’ 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots that ended his rookie season, Campanaro had four catches for 39 yards, and looked unfazed by postseason pressure.

However, Campanaro’s injuries have kept him from building momentum as a player. Meanwhile, the Ravens have added Mike Wallace and rookies Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds to a wide receiver group that also includes Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Jeremy Butler, Kaelin Clay, and Chris Matthews.

Campanaro could help the Ravens as a returner, but so can Reynolds and Clay. The Ravens have been waiting for Campanaro to show he can remain healthy. If that does not happen during training camp, it might be too late.

Five observations from Ravens OTAs

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Five observations from Ravens OTAs

The Ravens are wrapping up their first of three -- oops, make that two -- weeks of OTA workouts this week, and Thursday's session was the first open to the media. Here are five observations after catching the first partial glimpse of the 2016 Ravens (partial because more than a dozen players, including many starters, sat out the voluntary workouts either by choice or because of injury.)

This wide receiver group appears impressive

Steve Smith Sr. wasn't even there, but Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace and rookie Chris Moore all look like they will be nice options for Joe Flacco (who, incidentally, watched the OTAs in a T-shirt as he continues his knee rehab.). Heck, the fact that Perriman was on the field is already a big improvement over last year. Kamar Aiken reverts to being a very solid No. 3 or No. 4 option if this group stays healthy. Speaking of health, Michael Camapanaro (calf) missed the workout, and with this group of receivers, including Navy's Keenan Reynolds, Campanaro is one more nagging injury from not making this roster. 

Dennis Pitta could leave the Ravens in a very tough spot

Good for Dennis Pitta to work back from his second major hip injury and get back on the field, even if for noncontact OTAs. He ran, cut and caught well, and he said after the workout that he felt great physically. "My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year," he said. "Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play." But if Pitta, who turns 31 next month, is indeed healthy, then what? The Ravens brought in Ben Watson this year, and already have two promising young tight ends in Crockett Gillmore and second-year, second-round pick Maxx Williams. None of them are going anywhere. Would the Ravens cut Pitta, one of the most likable players on the team and a close friend of Joe Flacco's, after his grueling rehab? Would they keep four tight ends? That would be highly unusual, but not out of the question with Marc Trestman's offense. Incidentally, tight end Todd Heap was 31 when the Ravens let him go.

Interesting look at inside linebacker

With Daryl Smith gone and C.J. Mosley sitting out, rookie second-round pick Kamalei Correa, billed as an edge rusher, spent a lot of time at inside linebacker. Coach John Harbaugh said afterward that Correa "has inside linebacker traits." The Ravens also appear to be looking at safety Anthony Levine as a linebacker option. He did some individual work with the inside linebackers and spent some time as an inside linebacker in 7-on-7 drills. Coverage was a big issue for Ravens linebackers last year, so if Levine and Correa show they can cover well over the middle, that versatility could be a big plus.

Lardarius Webb seems at home at safety

The move from corner to safety should agree with Lardarius Webb. He drifted over well in deep coverage, but it wasn't encouraging to see a potential interception bounce off his hands. This team had a franchise-record-low six interceptions last year. Webb said moving to safety has been "a great transition. I’m loving it. I have more control of the defense."

Losing a week of OTAs isn't the end of the world

The Ravens have been docked next week's OTA workouts as a penalty for reportedly having players in pads for a brief portion of their rookie minicamp in violation of the current collective bargaining agreement. It certainly isn't a good look, but it shouldn't have much bearing on whether the Ravens can beat the Steelers on Christmas night. Many veterans weren't on the field this week anyway. It might be a speed bump in development for Ravens rookies and other newcomers, but there's a lot of training camp for that. Three days off in June might do some bodies good. If anyone is hurt by this it might be Keenan Reynolds -- the former Navy quarterback is trying to quickly learn the wide receiver position, and he missed the OTAs this week because of his graduation in Annapolis.