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Ravens hold final practice before heading south

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Ravens hold final practice before heading south

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The music blared in the Baltimore Ravens locker room Saturday as the players threw their football gear into black duffel bags lying in front of their cubicles.

Next stop, New Orleans.

After one final practice at their own training facility, the Super Bowl-bound Ravens will take Sunday off before heading for the Big Easy on Monday afternoon in anticipation of their matchup on Feb. 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.

``We're right where we want to be,'' wide receiver Torrey Smith said. ``Now we have an opportunity to play in the big one. But at the end of the day, we're still getting ready for a football game.''

Coach John Harbaugh conducted practice from Thursday through Saturday as if it was a normal work week. They went hard on Thursday and Friday and eased up Saturday.

``We've had a great week. We had an excellent practice,'' Harbaugh said after the closed two-hour session. ``The guys are very sharp and they're excited. We'll have to go down there and do just as well (or) do better.''

The next time the Ravens hit the practice field, it will be in New Orleans. This week, at least, there were no distractions.

``I think it's always important to have a good practice no matter what,'' Harbaugh said. ``You've got to practice well to play well. You pretty much play the way you practice. That's something that we learned when we were kids and that's not going to change.''

It was final practice at the team's training complex for Ray Lewis, who intends to retire after the Super Bowl. Center Matt Birk has made no such announcement, but there is a possibility the 36-year-old is also preparing for his last game.

``I don't think like that,'' Birk said. ``I just try to live in the moment. That's just kind of my mindset. I don't think about the future or if this could be it. It drives my wife nuts, but that's just not how I operate.''

Now in his 15th NFL season - the fourth with Baltimore - Birk's knees are scarred from several operations and he had surgery during the offseason to repair varicose veins in his legs. But he played in all 16 games during the regular season and remained solid in the middle of the offensive line during the postseason.

``I'm not sure about Matt's plans,'' Harbaugh said. ``If he decides to come back next year that would be awesome. He's smart, he's tough. To my eye, he's playing the best football that he's played since he's been here, right now. To have that be true at the end of a (long) season is very impressive. We would not be where we are without Matt Birk.''

Looking ahead to the challenge next Sunday, Harbaugh called the 49ers ``a very well-coached football team.'' He said it with a grin, because San Francisco is coached by his little brother, Jim.

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League has official date for Ravens' game in London

League has official date for Ravens' game in London

On Friday morning, the league announced the official date of the Ravens-Jaguars game in London.

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The Ravens could have had a Week 3 or 4 date against the Jaguars, but the time of the kickoff remains a mystery until a later date.

MORE RAVENS: Rare spinal condition forces Zach Orr to retire

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Ravens' Zach Orr forced to retire due to rare spinal condition

Ravens' Zach Orr forced to retire due to rare spinal condition

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens inside linebacker Zach Orr had no choice but to retire, after a physical examination detected a spinal condition that made it extremely dangerous for him to continue his career.

“I have a condition that I was born with,” Orr said Friday, making his formal retirement announcement during a press conference. “I’m forced to walk away from the game of football.”

Orr said a CAT scan revealed a rare congenital abnormality, and that the top of his spinal column had never fully developed. Orr was never aware of his issue until he suffered a shoulder injury against the Steelers on Christmas that led to further testing.

While Orr never imagined he would retire at age 24, he felt blessed to be leaving the game before his condition led to a catastrophic injury. Orr has been playing football with his spinal condition since he was nine years old, and said doctors could not explain how he had played so long without his issue being detected.

“When I first found out the news, it was shocking,” Orr said. “Football is something I’ve done my whole life.”

Orr said retirement was his only option, because he would never pass an NFL physical. He also said that reports the Ravens tried to talk him out of retirement were inaccurate.

“They’ve supported me through this,” said Orr, who added that one of his high school teammates was paralyzed playing football.

Orr kept his composure during the press conference, but admitted he took the news hard at first. One of those emotional moments came after a telephone conversation with recently retired wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.

“I broke down a couple of times, as recent as a couple of days ago,” Orr said.

Three of Orr’s teammates attended Friday’s press conference – linebackers C. J. Mosley and Albert McClellan, and safety Eric Weddle. General manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and linebackers coach Don Martindale were also in attendance. Orr is one of the most popular and respected players in the locker room. An undrafted free agent in 2014, Orr made the team as a special teams standout and earned a starting job for the first time this season. He led the Ravens in tackles (130), finishing 10th in the NFL in that department.

Orr had a bright future as a player. Now, that future will head in another direction.

“Instead of asking – ‘Why me?, ask ‘What’s next?’” Orr said.

“I’m very proud that he’s been a Raven,” said Harbaugh. “I can’t wait to see what the next door holds.”

Related: Ravens name their new offensive line coach