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Dependable 49ers offensive linemen carry big load

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Dependable 49ers offensive linemen carry big load

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Right guard Alex Boone arrives for work most days and swears at left guard Mike Iupati. From Boone, it's always considered a term of endearment directed at his 49ers offensive linemates.

Iupati is so used to such greetings he gets a kick out of it. San Francisco right tackle Anthony Davis pops off plenty, too. The one rule: make sure not to take it too far.

``As an offensive line, we have a great personality,'' Iupati said. ``Every one of us has different personalities, and it's fun to come to work, and there's always a person in your face - Boone cussing at you, because that's his personality. It's no disrespect.

``That's saying, `I love you,' in Boone's way.''

Aside from the good-natured locker room antics, this group has been as dependable as they come on game day for San Francisco - a big reason the Niners returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years. The unit is one of just three in the NFL this season to start all five players in every game, joining the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings.

``Oh wow, that's awesome,'' Iupati said.

They'll have to keep a good thing going against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

``It's a big advantage to have all five guys start all 16 games of the regular season and play almost every snap together,'' Boone said. ``When you're out there every game together, you grow from each other, you learn, you grow a bond. It's a big advantage when you know what everybody else is thinking on the offensive line. Not every team has had that this year.''

Davis and Iupati were both first-round draft picks in 2010, Davis at No. 11 and Iupati six spots later at 17. Those selections were the first with Trent Baalke running the draft, and they paid off so well he was later promoted to general manager.

Iupati and Davis became instant starters and stayed with the No. 1 offense for all 16 games as rookies. Now, they're veterans.

``It's come very far, as opposed to last year, just to get that groove,'' Boone said of his line. ``Playing every week together, game in game out, it has been tremendous for us in helping us take huge strides. We're hitting our peak right now, and there's so much more that we can learn from and grow from.''

These guys have something to prove against the Ravens after allowing Baltimore to tie a franchise record with nine sacks in a 16-6 road loss on Thanksgiving night 2011. Baltimore's defense attacked the right side at every chance, so coach Jim Harbaugh moved Boone from tackle to guard to help improve the coverage.

``It was different. It just felt weird being between two guys, but I'm learning to love it,'' he said.

Boone credits Iupati and left tackle Joe Staley for helping with that transition. Those two were Pro Bowlers this season for an O-line that received the Most Valuable Protectors Award from Hall of Famer John Madden as the league's top line.

``The offensive line is the unsung champion of many teams but is not often celebrated, therefore with this award we honor the guys who provide the critical run blocking and pass protection,'' Madden said. ``I've followed San Francisco all season long; they have proven they have the mental and physical toughness that enables their team's offense to put up impressive numbers on the ground and in the air.''

Center Jonathan Goodwin can offer the line some advice about playing on the big stage. He won a Super Bowl with the Saints after the 2009 season, and realizes just how important the unity becomes for an offensive line when playing for a championship.

Goodwin credits Boone for his part.

``He's kind of come in there and given us our final piece,'' Goodwin said.

2012 newcomer Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore even report eligible as extra linemen in some packages.

It's taken each contribution to get this far.

They razz each other one moment, then hit the field and turn on the intensity the next.

When asked about the dance skills of his line mates, Staley said wouldn't offer much credit to the rest of them.

``I do not know about the whole offensive line, but I have the moves,'' he said. ``The hip shakers.''

Even Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has noticed these guys have a lot of fun together.

``Staley, I think he's a guy like me,'' Suggs said. ``He likes to have fun when he plays and that's how I like to play. The last time we played each other, when a play was going on we were serious. In between plays we would kind of just (be) chopping it up, having fun.''

When Harbaugh switched starting quarterbacks from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick midseason, the line also had to adjust to the swap. It has been seamless.

Kaepernick makes his 10th career NFL start Sunday at the Superdome.

It sure hasn't hurt that they know each other so well.

``We just like to be together,'' Iupati said. ``We're close.''

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Report: Boldin to sign with Lions

Report: Boldin to sign with Lions

Former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin is back for a 14th season.

Boldin, who turns 36 in October, will sign a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. In Detroit, Boldin will be reunited with Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who became the Ravens offensive coordinator during their run to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.

The Lions had a major void at wide receiver with All-Pro Calvin Johnson's retirement.

RELATED: RAVENS AGREE TO ONE-YEAR DEAL WITH OL JAKE LONG

A former second-round draft pick, Boldin spent seven seasons with the Cardinals before the Ravens traded for him in 2010. In three seasons with the Ravens, Boldin averaged 62 catches and 882 yards. He came up huge in the 2012 playoff run, with a team-best 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He had six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the 49ers.

After that Super Bowl run, though, Boldin was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. Boldin led the 49ers in catches and receiving yards in each of the past three years. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the 49ers in 2013 and 2014, leading many to question the Ravens decision to trade him. Last season, Boldin led the 49ers with 69 catches for 789 yards.

Boldin enters this season ranked 17th in NFL history with 13,195 receiving yards. One of the few players ahead of him is current Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr., who ranks 11th (13,392). Boldin last season became the 13th player in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions and now has 1,009. Smith, incidentally, needs 39 catches this season join Boldin in the 1,000-catch club.

MORE RAVENS: RETURNING PUNTS KEY FOR 3 RAVENS WR'S ON BUBBLE

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long

Ravens agree to one-year deal with former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long

The Ravens are expected to sign veteran offensive lineman Jake Long after he flies into Baltimore on Tuesday night, CSN has confirmed. The impending Long-Ravens deal was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, who reported that Long and the Ravens had agreed to a one-year deal. That contract is expected to be signed if there were no last-minute concerns once Long arrived in town.

Long is a former Pro Bowl left tackle with the Dolphins who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft. He spent five seasons with the Dolphins, before joining the Rams for two seasons, then playing four games with the Falcons last season. Long is still only 31 years old, but he has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons, including two torn ACL’s.

The Ravens view Long as insurance at left tackle to as a backup to first-round pick Ronnie Stanley. While the Ravens believe Stanley can handle the starting job, the Ravens were left thin at the position after releasing veteran Eugene Monroe, who has since retired. James Hurst has been the Ravens’ backup left tackle, but in Long, the Ravens would have a more experienced option should Stanley struggle or suffer an injury.

RELATED: RETURNING PUNTS KEY FOR 3 RAVENS WR'S ON BUBBLE

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For three Ravens WR's on bubble, returning punts could be key

For three Ravens WR's on bubble, returning punts could be key

The Ravens don’t know who their primary punt returner will be, but they have plenty of options heading into training camp.

Keenan Reynolds, Michael Campanaro, and Kaelin Clay should all get reps returning punts. All three of those wide receivers are on the roster bubble, making their contributions on special teams even more important.

Campanaro has shown he can contribute as a wide receiver when he’s healthy.  However, avoiding injuries has been a major issue for Campanaro during his first two seasons.

The Ravens would prefer their punt returner to help the 53-man roster in another capacity, which may give Campanaro an edge. But if Campanaro, Reynolds, and Clay are not among the top six wide receivers when final cuts have to be made, will the Ravens decide to keep any of them strictly for their ability to return punts?

Reynolds will be a popular storyline during camp, as he tries to make the transition from Navy quarterback to NFL wide receiver. If Reynolds shows promise as a receiver, it will increase his chances of making the team, because his speed and ability to change direction will likely translate well to returning punts. Meanwhile, Clay had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Browns last season, so he has already shown explosiveness as a returner.

Figuring out their best option for returning punts is one of many things on the Ravens’ to-do list, with the first full-squad practice scheduled for Thursday.