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McKinnie's 'strange journey' ends in Super Bowl

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McKinnie's 'strange journey' ends in Super Bowl

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Bryant McKinnie stood in the middle of the Superdome and marveled at the spectacle that surrounded him.

Behind the Baltimore Ravens giant left tackle, several of the team's most notable stars were seated individually at raised tables. Each space featured huge name plates and was surrounded by a blockade designed to keep the throng of interviewers at a reasonable distance. It was, after all, media day at the Super Bowl.

McKinnie looked over his shoulder in amusement. His assignment Tuesday was to simply to stand among the masses and field questions from people who crowded in with microphones held high to catch a few words from the 6-foot-8, 354-pounder.

Those who kept their arms raised long enough to hear McKinnie tell the story of his season were rewarded with quite a tale, one that began with a pay cut and ended with a starting role in his first NFL championship game.

``It's been a long, strange journey, but I like the way it's ending so far,'' McKinnie said. ``One step farther, I can complete it with a ring.''

Before starting his 11th training camp in the NFL, McKinnie was asked to accept less money because the Ravens needed to clear some salary-cap space. After a good bit of grumbling, he was OK with an incentive-laden contract.

But McKinnie's run of 60 straight starts ended in the opener, when coach John Harbaugh opted to start Michael Oher at left tackle and use McKinnie solely as a backup.

In his unaccustomed role off the bench, McKinnie hurt his hip in a game against Dallas on Oct. 14. When right tackle Kelechi Osemele got hurt the following week in Houston, McKinnie got the chance to steal away a starting spot. But he aggravated his hip injury and ended up back on the bench. One week after another went by without the opportunity to start.

Finally, before the season finale against Cincinnati, McKinnie was told by Harbaugh to prove he was healthy.

``The coach was like, `Show me that you're healed. Show me that you can move,''' McKinnie recalled. ``In the Cincinnati game, he said, `I'm going to let you play, show me you're back healthy.'''

McKinnie came off the bench and played well. In that game, left guard Jah Reid hurt his toe and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. So, in the playoff opener against Indianapolis, the Ravens put McKinnie back at his old left tackle spot, moved Oher to right tackle and plugged Osemele into Reid's spot.

It proved to be a winning combination. Now 3-0 with McKinnie as a starter, the Ravens look to complete their run Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

``This is a great reward,'' McKinnie said. ``I waited for my time and was able to step in there and help the team go to where it wants to be.''

Funny how things work in the NFL.

``What's Bryant been through can't be overstated,'' Ravens center Matt Birk said. ``All year, to sit and wait and wait. To his credit, he kept himself ready, kept himself in shape. He kept himself mentally ready to go. He didn't play all year, and here's (Indianapolis end) Dwight Freeney. The next week, here's (Denver's) Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. The man's done a great job. It's a tribute to his attitude and work ethic.''

Maybe it's because of Reid's toe, or perhaps it was just McKinnie's time. Whatever the reason, Baltimore's offensive front is better than it's been all season.

``McKinnie has played well for them, and it had a domino effect,'' San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. ``They put Oher at right tackle, who's playing right tackle better than the guy they had in there. They moved (Osemele) to left guard and he's playing that position better than the guy they had in there.''

The 33-year-old McKinnie, meanwhile, is feeling the benefit of limited playing time from September through December.

``I'm fresher than anybody else,'' he said.

His task in the Super Bowl will be to help neutralize 49ers right tackle Justin Smith, a 12-year veteran playing with a partially torn left triceps.

``McKinnie has been a good player in this league for a long time,'' Smith said. ``I think the run they've been on, he's out there playing real good football. The mix of their offensive line right now is really working for them. They're playing the best football when they need it.''

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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.