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Durable Flacco gives Ravens edge against Steelers

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Durable Flacco gives Ravens edge against Steelers

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) If a Super Bowl ring is necessary for an NFL quarterback to earn elite status, then Joe Flacco has some work to do before joining the ranks.

If durability, victories and playoff appearances are the necessary attributes, then Flacco - the leading passer in Baltimore Ravens history - has few peers.

During a week in which the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) face the Ravens (7-2) without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Flacco is preparing to make his 74th consecutive start for Baltimore. He has never missed a game since being drafted in 2008, and under his direction, the Ravens are the only team to reach the postseason in each of the last four years.

No other quarterback in NFL history has ever led his team to the playoffs in his first four seasons.

``We've always said we think the world of Joe,'' Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. ``I personally hold him in the highest regard. We all believe in him, and we're excited to go into this game with him as our guy.''

And why not? Including the playoffs, Flacco has more wins over the past 4 1/2 years (63) than any other quarterback. Included in that total are two comeback victories in Pittsburgh, most notably last year's classic when Flacco connected with Torrey Smith for a 26-yard touchdown in the final minute of a 23-20 triumph.

Just as impressive is Flacco's ability to line up under center every week. Since the start of the 2008 season, only Eli Manning (129) and Phillip Rivers (105) have more consecutive starts among NFL quarterbacks. Tom Brady is a distant fourth with 57.

``I haven't played too long yet, but you want to show up for your teammates every Sunday,'' Flacco said. ``You do everything to make sure that happens.''

The Ravens have confidence in backup Tyrod Taylor, but Harbaugh will do whatever it takes to keep Flacco healthy.

Well, almost.

``My wife rides horses and she says when a horse throws you, you're supposed to kind of lean forward, grab the neck and then when you jump off, you're supposed to roll to take away the momentum out of it. We have not worked on that drill with Joe,'' Harbaugh said with a grin. ``But he is durable. I think he's just a tough guy and we've protected him over the years.''

No one is prepared to compare Flacco to Cal Ripken, who put together a major league record run of 2,632 consecutive games with the hometown Baltimore Orioles. But Flacco's streak is impressive enough to bring up the question as to whether there have ever been any close calls.

``The toughest was back whenever we beat New England in that (January 2010) playoff game,'' Flacco said, recalling a deep hip and thigh bruise. ``I never thought I wasn't going to go, but I definitely had a tough time moving around that week. At times at practice it was tough to keep my legs underneath me. I could drop back and throw pretty comfortable, but moving around was tough.''

Flacco didn't have to do much that game except hand the ball to Ray Rice, who ran for 159 yards in a 33-14 victory. But there have been other games when Flacco had to carry load, such as last week against Oakland when he passed for 341 yards and three touchdowns. The quarterback took a seat during the fourth quarter of the 55-20 rout, but there have been plenty of Sundays when he was knocked on the rear of his pants after taking a tough hit in the pocket.

Every time, though, Flacco bounced back.

``Joe's tough. I don't want to go into weight room numbers, but the quarterback is actually pretty strong,'' Rice said. ``Our goal as an offensive group is to not let Joe get hit. We take pride in that. But even when he does get hit, I always look back and check on him and he's getting up and ready to roll.

``It says something about our quarterback. He's really unprotected. They say the running back position is tough, but I get to brace for some of those hits. I can protect my body. Usually when you get a hit on the quarterback, it's a free shot. He's taken a few of them but has been able to bounce back.''

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5 Ravens under the radar when camp opens

5 Ravens under the radar when camp opens

The Ravens officially open training camp next Wednesday and will hold their first practice on Thursday. Over the ensuing five weeks, the annual process of culling a 90-man roster down to 53 will take place. Here, in alphabetical order, are five players who will be under the radar when camp opens but could have an impact on the Ravens this season:

WR Jeremy Butler

The receivers group is going to generate a lot of buzz this camp. Steve Smith Sr. is back from his Achilles injury after all at age 37, Mike Wallace is an intriguing addition and Breshad Perriman might finally get on the field after his latest injury. Then of course a lot of local eyes will be on former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and River Hill product Michael Campanaro. But don't sleep on Butler, who has always produced some of his best work on the Owings Mills practice fields, which is how he ultimately earned a promotion to the active roster last year and produced 31 catches for 363 yards.

CB Will Davis

Davis played just two games for the Ravens last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. But the four-year veteran showed promise in his brief time with the Ravens, who traded a seventh-round draft pick to the Dolphins last September to acquire Davis. With Jimmy Smith likely to be slowed early in camp after offseason foot surgery, Davis should have a lot of opportunity to state his case.

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G Vladimir Ducasse

John Urschel appears to be the front-runner to replace Kelechi Osemele at left guard for the Ravens, and Ryan Jensen and rookie Alex Lewis also could get a look. Ducasse, 28, though, has more experience than all of them; he is a former second-round draft pick who has made 22 career starts, including 11 for the Bears last season.

S Anthony Levine

Levine has been a versatile player in four seasons with the Ravens. He's seen time at cornerback and at safety and has been one of the top special teams players the past few years. During OTAs, Levine even spent some time working with the inside linebacker group. The Ravens will probably continue using him as a jack-of-all-trades utility player.

OLB Victor Ochi

Might Ochi be the next undrafted rookie to make the Ravens? Ochi set a Stony Brook record with 32 1/2 sacks and ranked second in FCS (formerly Division I-AA) football with 13 sacks last season. With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil both coming off injuries, Ochi should get plenty of reps in camp. He also is out to prove the doubters wrong after going undrafted; draft expert Mel Kiper predicted he could go as early as the third round.

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Former Ravens defensive lineman suspended for PED violation

Former Ravens defensive lineman suspended for PED violation

Former Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2016 for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances, his new team, the Indianapolis Colts, announced in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Jones, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Ravens, played three seasons in Baltimore. He played his first season in Indianapolis in 2014. His 2015 ended before it began after he suffered an ankle injury in a preseason game against the Rams. 

In three years in Baltimore, Jones appeared in 44 games and registered 8.5 sacks and 120 combined tackles. In his most recent healthy season, 2014 with the Colts, he played in nine games and registered 23 combined tackles and 1.5 sacks.

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Ravens under the microscope: Best case, worst case for Jimmy Smith in 2016

Ravens under the microscope: Best case, worst case for Jimmy Smith in 2016

As we countdown to training camp, Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka will take turns putting 25 key Ravens under the microscope. They’ll speculate on a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day.

They’ll begin with players looking to carve out a role or roster spot, then wrap up with the most important players, concluding with quarterback Joe Flacco on July 25.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE - Jimmy Smith, sixth-year cornerback

Best-case scenario:

Smith is not only the Ravens’ best corner, but one of the top 10 corners in the NFL.

Why it could happen:

Before his Lisfranc injury in 2014, Smith was playing the best football of his career and winning matchups against premier wide receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.  Smith has the tools to be a top corner - the length to deal with bigger receivers, and the confidence to be left alone on an island. After having screws removed from his foot this offseason, the lingering effects of his injury should finally be over. Even last season, when he was clearly not 100 percent, Smith led the Ravens with three picks. He turns 28 years old later this month (July 26) – still young enough to play at a high level, with experience to accompany his talent.

Worst-case scenario:

Smith’s game doesn’t distinguish himself as a shutdown corner, and the Ravens’ secondary gives up too many big plays.

Why it could happen:

Smith will see a slew of top receivers in 2016, including Antonio Brown (twice), A. J. Green (twice), Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and Amari Cooper, who beat Smith for a 68-yard touchdown last season. We’ll find out if Smith is back to where he was in 2014, because he’s going to be tested.

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