Ravens' Birk, Reed finally reach the Super Bowl

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Ravens' Birk, Reed finally reach the Super Bowl

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The only reason why Matt Birk brought his aching knees and battered body to training camp for a 15th NFL season was to get to the Super Bowl.

The 36-year-old Birk was bothered by neck, elbow and knee injuries during his previous three years with the Baltimore Ravens, yet he never missed a start. During the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl center underwent surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.

Still, Birk knew the Ravens had a shot at a championship, and he wanted to be a part of it.

``At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you,'' Birk said. ``I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think there was a legitimate chance that I could help the team.''

Birk, safety Ed Reed and guard Bobbie Williams head a list of longtime veterans who will be making their first Super Bowl appearance when the Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3.

``It means a lot for all the guys to have an opportunity to be a part of that,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``To be able to be involved with that as a leader is a huge thing. It makes you feel really good, and now you try to make the most of it.''

Birk endured 11 fruitless years in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs five times without a conference title. Then, after joining the Ravens as a free agent in 2009, he was part of three more playoff runs that ended short of the Super Bowl.

Now, Birk is poised to be part of the NFL's biggest game.

``It's great, obviously,'' he said. ``That's the goal. That's your dream. That's why you play.''

Maybe Birk deserved it, after everything he went through over his first 14 years. But Birk exudes no such feeling of entitlement.

``Nobody deserves it more than anybody else. It doesn't matter how long you play,'' he said. ``To be doing it with this team and just, I think, the closeness of this team and kind of the journey that we have been through my four years here - every year getting close and getting close - to finally break through, it's pretty special.''

Reed, 34, has earned nine Pro Bowl invitations in 11 years with Baltimore and has long been recognized as one of the finest free safeties in the game. But he never got into the Super Bowl until now, and to make it even sweeter, his first appearance will be in his home state of Louisiana.

``It's been a long time coming, but it takes time,'' Reed said. ``We've built up to this point.''

Teammate Jacoby Jones, who grew up in New Orleans, will be making his Super Bowl debut in his sixth season. After the Ravens beat New England 28-13 in the AFC championship game, Reed prepared for a trip to familiar territory with Jones in tow.

``I really don't have any words for it,'' Reed said. ``I rushed into the locker room to call my mom, because I know that my family has been going through some things, so I'm just thankful to be going home and for the whole of New Orleans to see some hometown guys. Jacoby, we talked about it. We haven't been there since (Hurricane) Katrina. We're just grateful.''

The Ravens failed to win the AFC title game in 2008 and 2012 under Harbaugh before finally breaking through.

``For everything we've been through since coach Harbaugh got here, he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build something and to create this moment,'' Reed said. ``We believed it, but it was just something we had to go through as men and understand each other and understand the process together.''

Williams, a backup on the line, played for Philadelphia and Cincinnati before getting into the Super Bowl in his 13th NFL season. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (10th season) and former Houston Texans stars Vonta Leach (ninth) and Bernard Pollard (seventh) signed as free agents with Baltimore for the chance to perform on the sport's grandest stage.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who needed only five years to get it done, takes delight in seeing some of his older teammates finally heading to the Super Bowl.

``No doubt about it, I am excited for everybody that has been in the league as long as those guys have been,'' he said. ``To have this opportunity is pretty cool.''

Looking at the Ravens roster locks heading into OTA's

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Looking at the Ravens roster locks heading into OTA's

With 90 players on their roster, the Ravens need plenty of trimming to reach the 53-man limit by Week 1 against the Bills. Heading into OTA’s that start on Tuesday, and before some unfortunate injuries that are bound to occur, here are the players I see as locks to make the roster:

Offense: (21)

Quarterback (2) – Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett

Running back (3) – Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon

Fullback (1) – Kyle Juszczyk

Tight end (3) – Crockett Gillmore, Ben Watson, Maxx Williams

Wide receiver (5) – Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore

Offensive line (7) – Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Jeremy Zuttah, Rick Wagner, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, Alex Lewis

It’s going to be an interesting battle at running back, with Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, and Trent Richardson vying for a spot, and Forsett being pushed to keep his starting job. I don’t see the Ravens cutting Forsett, even if he doesn’t start. If Dennis Pitta is cleared for contact, I would expect he’d make the roster at tight end. If the Ravens don’t release or trade Eugene Monroe, he’ll likely be the starting left tackle, with Stanley playing left guard. Maybe I shouldn’t make Lewis and Moore locks, but it would surprise me to see either fourth-round draft pick getting cut. The wide receiver competition will be intense. Michael Campanaro, Kaelin Clay, and rookie Keenan Reynolds are also part of a crowded wide receiver field.

RELATED: BRADY TO PETITION FOR REHEARING ON DEFLATEGATE SUSPENSION

Defense (20)

Defensive line: (7) - Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Carl Davis, Willie Henry

Linebacker  - (7) C. J. Mosley, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa, Zach Orr, Albert McClellan

Defensive back (6) – Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, Shareece Wright,  Lardarius Webb, Tavon Young, Jerraud Powers

I think pass rusher Matt Judon (fifth-round pick) will make it, but too early to call him a lock. The defensive backfield will be most interesting. I’m tempted to call safety Kendrick Lewis a lock, but I won’t this early. The same holds true for safety Terrence Brooks and cornerback Kyle Arrington. Matt Elam is fighting to win a spot at safety, but he has been major disappointment so far as a former first-round pick.

Special teams (3)

Justin Tucker (K), Sam Koch (P), Morgan Cox (LS)

That makes 44 roster locks by my count, leaving nine spots wide open. Get ready for an interesting spring and summer. Coming off a 5-11 season, playing time is up for grabs at many positions.

MORE RAVENS: HOW PRODUCTIVE WILL THE RAVENS' TIGHT ENDS BE IN 2016?

Brady to petition for rehearing on Deflategate suspension

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Brady to petition for rehearing on Deflategate suspension

New England quarterback Tom Brady will file a petition to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday for a second hearing in the never-ending saga that is Deflategate. NFL Players Association attorney Theodore B. Olson made the announcement on "Good Morning America" on Monday.

The court reinstated Brady's four-game suspension in April by a 2-1 decision, ruling that the punishment was fair and within Roger Goodell's authority as determined by the collective bargaining agreement.

Brady is now filing for a rehearing of the appeal in front of the full panel of judges on the court. The panel consists of 13 judges, but only three were assigned to the original hearing. Seven of the 13 judges would have to agree to hear the case. Normally that would be a long shot, but, as Pro Football Talk points out, the Chief Judge was the one judge who sided with Brady in the original hearing.

If you're hoping Brady's petition is denied just so we can be finished with this, then I've got some bad news. If the petition is denied, Brady can file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. And o course, you would have to expect Brady's legal team to file for a stay, delaying the suspension until the case is finally resolved.

Regardless, it looks like this is going to continue to drag on.

RELATED: HOW PRODUCTIVE WILL THE RAVENS' TIGHT ENDS BE IN 2016?

How productive will the Ravens' tight ends be in 2016?

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How productive will the Ravens' tight ends be in 2016?

How productive will the Ravens’ tight end-by-committee system be?

That’s another key question for the Ravens as they head into on-field OTA’s this week. Regardless of what happens with Dennis Pitta, who is trying to come back from his second major hip injury, the Ravens are deep at tight end. They signed Ben Watson during free agency, and have drafted three tight ends since 2014 – Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Nick Boyle.

However, with Boyle facing a 10-game suspension due to his second PED violation, the Ravens know he won’t see game action until at least November. Meanwhile, Gillmore had offseason shoulder surgery, leaving his readiness for Week 1 still uncertain.

If the season began today, the Ravens would be leaning on Watson and Williams. The addition of Watson during free agency indicates the tight end position will remain a priority in the Ravens attack. Watson is coming off a career-best season with the Saints – 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns. The Ravens should not expect Watson to duplicate that at age 35. But Watson’s reliability in third down and red zone situations gives Joe Flacco another veteran to target in clutch situations.

Still only 22 years, Williams struggled at times as a rookie (32 catches, 268 yards, one touchdown), but his play improved as the season progressed. The Ravens will take a close look at Williams this offseason, hoping they will see more consistency from their second-round pick in 2015.

Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman likes throwing to tight ends, and so does Flacco. The Ravens don’t have a prolific tight end like Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, or Greg Olsen, who all topped 1,000 yards in receiving last season. However, the Ravens want to mix two tight-end sets into their attack on a regular basis, making depth at that position important.

The Ravens got a combined 83 catches and five touchdowns from their tight ends last year. In 2016, they will be counting on those numbers to rise.

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