Deep thoughts: Long ball could carry Ravens to win

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Deep thoughts: Long ball could carry Ravens to win

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Fear the dreadlocks, San Francisco.

Torrey Smith just might be the difference in a Super Bowl that will hinge on the 49ers' ability to prevent the Baltimore Ravens from scoring with the long ball.

You might remember Smith from that playoff game in Denver on Jan. 12. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey sure does. Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl star, watched the dreadlocks flapping from the back of Smith's helmet as he chased the speedy wide receiver into the end zone on touchdown catches of 59 and 32 yards.

Oh, and let's not forget that Baltimore forced overtime in that game on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left.

The Ravens have 17 pass completions of at least 40 yards this season, six of them involving Smith. Sometimes, Smith runs deep just to free up wideout Anquan Boldin or tight end Dennis Pitta or running back Ray Rice underneath, leaving Flacco a variety of viable targets.

``It all depends,'' said Smith, the speedy receiver from Maryland. ``It's not like they say, `Hey Torrey, just run straight down the field' all the time. Some of it is scheme-wise to open other guys up. Against certain coverages, I have certain responsibilities. We do attack vertically. That's a strength of ours, and I'm one of the guys that they definitely use to do that.''

Combine all that with a San Francisco defense that gave up 396 yards passing to Atlanta's Matt Ryan in the NFC title game, and it could add up to a very long night for the 49ers.

``Joe Flacco, he's playing excellent football right now,'' former 49ers star receiver Jerry Rice said. ``You've got Torrey Smith and also Anquan Boldin on the outside, and passes over 18 yards. They targeted Torrey Smith 109 times. So they're not afraid to throw the ball deep. The secondary of the San Francisco 49ers, they have had problems with the deep ball, so they can't let these guys run free.''

The 49ers know this. Whether they can prevent Smith & Co. from breaking loose is another story. Rice is also a threat - he caught 61 passes for 478 yards during the regular season.

``I think No. 1, you've got one (receiver) that's got track speed that will take the top off your defense, so he's going to draw some attention,'' San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers said. ``Anquan is a very physical guy. He doesn't go deep as much as Torrey, but he's got the ability to. He's just got that connection, strong arm guy, physical guy, so it's going to be a challenge with him, too.

``We're challenged at every position. The tight end in the red zone, he's got a connection, too. Ray Rice out of the backfield, people don't look at that, but when you break down film, he continues to make linebackers look silly and break yards. ... So everybody on our side of the ball has their hands full with those guys.''

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens' defense will be poised to hitch their emotions to middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the final stage of his last ride into retirement. The 37-year-old announced before Baltimore's first playoff game that he would quit when the Ravens ended their run, and since that time they've been played their best football of the year.

So has Lewis. He has a team-high 44 tackles during the playoffs after missing the previous 10 games with a torn right triceps.

``They're going to be up,'' San Francisco running back Frank Gore said. ``Ray Lewis means a lot to that organization. He's been playing the game for a long time, he's probably the best at his position and guys love him.''

Sure, the Ravens would love to win it for Lewis. But only one player on the roster owns a Super Bowl ring (Lewis), and the rest of the players are in it for themselves.

``There's no way in the world that you can imagine Torrey blocking better down the field because Ray is quitting,'' Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. ``There's no way in the world that (fullback) Vonta Leach is going to give that much more, knocking that linebacker in the hole. I believe if Ray was saying he was going to play another year, these guys would give us the same thing.''

Ravens offensive linebacker Bobby Williams was asked why the Ravens are going to win.

``The spirit of the team is something special,'' he said. ``Everybody works hard around the league. The 49ers work hard. But the spirit of this team is different.''

After thumping Indianapolis at home and outlasting the top-seeded Broncos in double overtime, Baltimore disposed of host New England. Flacco, in succession, outplayed Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Now he goes up against second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is fleet of foot but short on experience.

Unless Kaepernick runs wild or connects repeatedly with Randy Moss, the self-proclaimed ``greatest receiver ever to play this game,'' then big brother John Harbaugh will be the one smiling when shaking hands with little brother Jim, San Francisco's coach, as purple and black confetti falls from the roof of the Superdome.

PREDICTION: Ravens 24, 49ers 20.

Ozzie Newsome, Ronnie Stanley deny Laremy Tunsil was Ravens' choice before video

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Ozzie Newsome, Ronnie Stanley deny Laremy Tunsil was Ravens' choice before video

OWINGS MILLS -- Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome denied the Ravens were going to pick left tackle Laremy Tunsil over Ronnie Stanley, until the gas mask video of Tunsil appeared on social media prior to the draft.

“No,” Newsome said Saturday night, when asked point blank if Tunsil would have been the Ravens’ choice, absent the video. “There’s a lot of speculation.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Ravens were going to pick Tunsil at No. 6, but picked Stanley instead after the video became public. Tunsil plummeted to No. 13 where the Dolphins took him, costing Tunsil millions of dollars.

Stanley took exception to Schefter’s report, refuting it on Twitter Saturday.

Believe who you want. But the careers of Stanley and Tunsil will now be compared even more, with both the Ravens and Dolphins hoping their rookie left tackle has the better NFL career.

After finishing 5-11 in 2015, and having already dealt with the domestic violence elevator video of former running back Ray Rice in 2014, can you blame the Ravens for passing on Tunsil? The controversy would have hovered over the Ravens and Tunsil -- baggage the Ravens don’t need, and can’t afford.

The Ravens did not shun Tunsil to reach for somebody who had no business being drafted No. 6. Some scouts had Stanley rated over Tunsil even before the video.

“He (Stanley) was right at the top row, with the top row of players,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Newsome has admitted the Ravens tried to trade up to No. 4 to get defensive back Jalen Ramsey. But the Cowboys stayed put at No. 4 and took running back Ezekiel Elliott. After Ramsey went No. 5 to the Jaguars, the Ravens took Stanley at No. 6.

The fact Newsome was willing to disclose how badly he wanted Ramsey was revealing. Newsome is not worried about protecting Stanley’s feelings. There is already pressure on Stanley, and if he can’t handle that, he is going to struggle anyway.

Remember, Tunsil wasn’t the only top player the Ravens passed on at No. 6. Any of the next five players drafted would have addressed one of the Ravens’ primary needs - defensive end DeForest Buckner (No. 7, left tackle Jack Conklin (No. 8), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (No. 9), and cornerbacks Eli Apple (No. 10) and Vernon Hargreaves (No. 11).

Stanley’s job is to prove Newsome made the right choice. But Tunsil’s video? That was one video too many for the Ravens.

Ravens draft grade: Solid, not sensational

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Ravens draft grade: Solid, not sensational

After a draft that featured a whopping 11 players, the Ravens should be better, and they are. We’re all guessing at this point, but I’d give them a B grade for this draft. Here are five takeaways Ravens’ which should explain why I like their draft, but can’t love it at this point:

1. The Ravens attacked their need for pass rushers

Unless the Ravens missed in the second-round (OLB Kamalei Correa), the third-round (DE Bronson Kaufusi), and the fifth-round (DE Matt Judon), their pass rush will improve. With those three, along with Elvis Dumervil and Za’Darius Smith, the Ravens can get after quarterbacks even if Terrell Suggs is not the same after his second Achilles injury.

2. Not taking a cornerback sooner could haunt the Ravens

They need corner help, but did not get any until drafting Tavon Young of Temple (fourth-round) and Maurice Canady (sixth round). If those two are slow to develop, the Ravens could find themselves scrambling to find cornerback help in August, especially if there is an injury or two at that position.

3. More playmakers should make the Ravens more explosive

The pass rushers on defense should create more turnovers.  And keep an eye on running back Kenneth Dixon (fourth round) and wide receiver Chris Moore (fourth round). Dixon is shifty, and he has good hands. Moore is a deep threat with superb ball skills. Both have the potential to be Sunday playmakers, not only in 2016, but beyond.

4. Taking either pass rusher Noah Spence or inside linebacker Miles Jack would have given this draft more star potential

After Laremy Tunsil’s gas mask video surfaced, I agreed with the Ravens’ decision to take left tackle Ronnie Stanley at No. 6. But the Ravens may regret passing on both Spence and Jack in the second round. After wide receiver Breshad Perriman missed all of last season with a knee injury, it’s hard to blame the Ravens steering clear of Jack due to his knee issues. But without Jack, the Ravens still need help at inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley. As for Spence, maybe the Ravens’ background check told them it was too risky to take him, after he left Ohio St. for Eastern Kentucky due to drug issues (ecstasy). But Spence went No. 39 to the Buccaneers, and if he becomes a double-digit sack artist immediately, that will be tough for Ravens fans to watch.

5. Keenan Reynolds could be much more than just a popular sixth-round pick

Ravens’ officials had tears in their eyes talking about the reaction of former Navy star Reynolds, after he received the Ravens’ phone call. It’s a feel-good story, but it could be much more. Reynolds has all the traits to be a dynamic punt returner – toughness, vision, open-field quickness, and sound judgment. Reynolds usually makes the most of an opportunity. Don’t be surprised if he does it again.

Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

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Ravens take chance on Navy QB Reynolds after position change

After his memorable career at Navy, Keenan Reynolds fulfilled another dream Saturday when the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round (No. 182 overall).

Reynolds has been told by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome that he will compete for a roster spot as a wide receiver – punt returner, after playing quarterback at Navy. When he received the phone call from Newsome, Reynolds described it has one of the most emotional moments of his life. 

“Relief, excitement,” Reynolds said during a conference call. “I was upset (watching the draft). I know I can play with these guys. To see my name, to see my phone ring…It’s a dream come true. All I ever wanted to do was play on Sundays.”

It remains to be seen if Reynolds’ Navy obligations will interfere with his dream of an NFL career. Reynolds said he had already talked with some Navy officials, and hoped a resolution could be reached.

“I think being in the DMV area is going to help my cause, but again that’s a call that’s up to the Navy,” Reynolds said. “It’s up to the secretary of the Navy and the Navy. But right now I’m just trying to bask in what the now is, and I’m just blessed to be picked up, and I’m ready to get started.”

Asked when he would get an answer from the Navy, Reynolds said, “It will be soon. It will probably happen within the next few days. 

Reynolds believes he can make a quick transition to wide receiver. 

“I’ve been running routes like crazy, trying to get quicker in and out of my routes, I’ve been catching punts – everything that they want me to do. To get to work with Steve Smith Sr. and learn from him, try to get better from him? It’s going to be an awesome ride.”

CSN analyst Brian Mitchell, a former returner with the Redskins, has been working with Reynolds on his punt return technique. 

“He kind of gave me some extra drills,” Reynolds said. “He brings an innovative style, also perspective from somebody who has returned punts. I’m just extremely excited.”