The AFC coaches met with the media today at the NFL owners meetings. Here are the top five issues addressed by Ravens coach John Harbaugh (via the Baltimore Sun) and my reaction:
On bringing in competition for kicker Billy Cundiff: “If we can get a kicker that is capable of competing with Billy, we’ll do it. Do you have to draft a guy? Is there a free agent? Is there a guy that will be on the street. That’s kind of hard to determine. We want competition for pretty much every position. I say that so I’m not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker." Hensley's reaction: The Ravens simply can't give the job back to Cundiff after he missed the game-tying field goal in the AFC Championship Game -- and missed it badly. His struggles go beyond hooking one critical kick. After a Pro Bowl season in 2010, Cundiff missed 10 field goal attempts in 2011, all of which came on the road. Harbaugh needs to bring in competition even if it's Shayne Graham again.
On the importance of upgrading the offensive line: “I think we have to upgrade the offensive line. I don’t even know if we have a full complement of linemen to be on our 53-man roster right now. We don’t have our five starters set. We have guys where [you say], ‘Can they play a position or not?’ We’re talking about Jah [Reid]. Can he play left guard? The thing I’ve learned over the years in Philadelphia and everywhere else, it starts with the offensive line on offense." Hensley's reaction: The left guard position is the biggest hole on the team. I still think they look to the draft to fill this spot and use Reid as a fallback option.
On whether Ray Rice will hold out to protest the franchise tag: "I don’t know what their strategy will be, if they feel like they even need a strategy. That kind of goes back to the agent more than the player. But Ray Rice is a man. He loves football. He wants to be in there with his teammates. I’m hoping he’ll be there from Day 1. I would expect him to be there from Day 1. But if he’s not, I’m not going to hold it against him as a coach. We just need the best Ray Rice that’s possible for the first game.” Hensley's reaction: Even if Rice holds out, there shouldn't be any concern about his conditioning. He's as dedicated to the weight room during the offseason as he is during the season. Rice will be ready for the season opener.
On linebacker Paul Kruger: “I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the SAM linebacker job. I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost Jarret [Johnson], I went back and watched all of Paul’s tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year, just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we’d be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well. Obviously, he’s a very good pass-rusher. I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it. I talked to him on the phone. He’s committed to doing it. It means everything to him." Hensley's reaction: It's been a struggle for the Ravens to find a position for Kruger, who has bounced every year from linebacker to defensive end to linebacker again. I think he can handle the linebacker position on passing downs, whether it's rushing the passer or playing in coverage. His biggest challenge will be stopping the run.
On adding a kick returner: “We definitely think we could add a returner. Not to say that we don’t have guys in-house that could do it because we do. But we want to put some competition in there. We tried to do it in the offseason and it hasn’t worked out so far. We’ll keep trying and the draft is certainly a big part of that.” Hensley's reaction: The Ravens missed their opportunity when they let Ted Ginn Jr. leave without a contract, but they weren't the only ones (the Lions and Vikings did also). It seems like the Ravens aren't comfortable going with Lardarius Webb on punt returns and turnover-prone David Reed on kickoffs.