From Comcast SportsNetOWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have spent 11 seasons together with the Baltimore Ravens, making one big play after another for a defense that is perennially among the best in the NFL. Although it's difficult to imagine the Ravens without Lewis in the middle of the huddle and Reed as the last line of defense, the unit has plenty of young players eager to make an imprint after the two aging veterans finally walk away from the game. Baltimore's defense, which ranked third in the NFL this season, is the main reason the Ravens (13-4) are in the AFC championship game and stand a decent chance of defeating the high-powered New England Patriots (14-3) for a berth in the Super Bowl. Lewis and Reed are the most recognizable stars, but they're getting help from 29-year-old Terrell Suggs, 27-year-old Haloti Ngata, 23-year-old Terrence Cody and rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was 8 when Lewis played his first game with the Ravens in 1996. "You need that veteran presence and you need enough young people to run around and make the plays," Smith said. "I think it's a great mix on this team." It is quite by design. Lewis was drafted in the first round of the NFL in 1996, the Ravens' first season after making the move from Cleveland. Since that time, general manager Ozzie Newsome has worked to surround his sensational middle linebacker with enough talent to keep the defense operating at an extremely high level. Reed was plucked from the University of Miami in the first round of the 2002 draft, Suggs was the 10th overall pick in 2003 and Ngata came aboard as a No. 1 pick in 2006. Pass-rusher Paul Kruger (2009) and Cody (2010) were second-round selections, and Smith was taken in the first round last April. "Sixteen years I've been in this business," Lewis said. "Do you know how many men I have seen come walk in and out of this door?" When Lewis went to the Super Bowl during the 2000 season, Tony Siragusa was one of the defensive tackles. One year ago, Kelly Gregg was playing in front of Lewis. Now it's Cody, and there's been no drop off in production. The Ravens have been ranked in the top 10 in total defense in each of the last nine years. The cast has changed around Lewis and Reed, but the blend remains the same. "We've got veteran experience, guys that have been around a long time, and young, raw talent. When you mix those together, it's a great combination," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "Ozzie deserves a lot of credit. You've got your veteran guys that do things right, good guys that are also good football players. Then you bring in good talent and they watch and learn, then pretty soon those guys are the old veteran players and they're bringing in a new batch of young guys." Baltimore is the only NFL team to reach the postseason in each of the past four years. Much of the credit goes to Lewis, Reed, and a defense that has withstood the test of time. "Old? I call it experienced," Smith said. "You've got two of the best at key spots. Their experience is what guides us, and it's helped us get to the position we're in now." Defensive end Cory Redding, a 10-year pro, said, "This is what you want to have. The veterans set the tone for the young guys on how things are run, how we jell together, how we hold each other accountable. So when they get to five, six, seven years in the league, they can say, OK, I've learned from Haloti Ngata, Cory Redding, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. I know how to conduct myself. I know how to lead, because I saw them do it.'" John Harbaugh has been in the AFC title game twice in his four seasons as Baltimore's coach. Under his guidance, young players such as Kruger, cornerback Lardarius Webb and former sixth-round pick Haruki Nakamura, a solid safety and special teams ace, have matured into key contributors. "It's always good not to be a bunch of young guys or a bunch of old guys, or whatever," Harbaugh said. "It's good to have a nice mix of experience. Some guys can train some younger guys into a certain way of doing things. It begins to permeate everything that you are. And then those young guys, in turn, teach others. It just becomes a perpetuating type of situation." Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said, "Ray and Ed and Suggs and Ngata have strung along those younger guys and they've picked up the speed. So it looks like regardless of who they have out there, a second- or third-year guy looks as if he's been playing there for eight, nine years with those guys. So you're playing with the best." At the center of it all are Lewis and Reed, who endlessly preach the importance of film study and dedication to the game. The Patriots are certainly aware of the overall ability of the Baltimore defense, but New England's game plan starts and ends with accounting for those two playmakers. "They're great players," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "I've played against both those guys quite a few times. You always enjoy going up against the best because you can really measure where you're at. You can't take plays off against those guys. You can't take things for granted when you're out there against them. You have to see where they're at on every play because they're guys who change the game." Reed has eight interceptions in 10 playoff games, including a key pick in last week's 20-13 win over Houston. "Ed Reed is the best weak safety I have seen since I have been in the NFL in my career," Patriots coach Bill Belichick declared. "He's outstanding on everything, including blocking punts, returning then for touchdowns, returning interceptions for touchdowns. Pretty much anything he is out there for." Lewis and Reed won't be around forever, but it might a while before the Ravens' defense drops from the top 10. When Lewis missed four games this season with a right toe injury, Baltimore went 4-0 with 26-year-old Dannell Ellerbe and rookie Albert McClellan in the middle. "In my opinion, we're built to last a long time," said Kruger, who contributed 5 sacks. "I think next year we'll be just as effective."
SAN FRANCISCO — In a quiet moment in the dugout Friday, manager Bruce Bochy tried to figure out a nickname for his new budding star. During a week where Christian Arroyo has made the game look so easy, this has turned out to be the most difficult part.
Bochy briefly settled on “Yo” before that was scuttled because the team’s video coordinator is Yo Miyamoto. Joe Panik said some players have tried C.A. or YoYo, but admitted that neither is all that good. The team’s Twitter account spent a few days trying to make Boss Baby a thing, but Arroyo wasn’t thrilled with that one and the experiment appears to be over. In a back room of the clubhouse, there’s a printout showing Arroyo and Buzz from “Home Alone,” but that comparison is much better made with Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman.
Perhaps the answer is as simple as the path Arroyo’s bat takes to a fastball. As he watched Arroyo field grounders during batting practice, Dick Tidrow was asked about the 21-year-old. Tidrow, the team’s senior VP of player personnel, has seen and worked with Arroyo since he was drafted.
“We always just called him The Kid,” Tidrow said. “He would turn around when I called him Kid.”
The Kid is growing up quickly. Arroyo’s second homer of the week was the game-winner Friday, an eighth-inning blast that put a lead in Mark Melancon’s hands. The new closer made sure the new third baseman’s homer didn’t go to waste, clinching a 4-3 win that got the Giants out of the National League West’s cellar.
The homer might have surprised Arroyo as much as anyone. He came here with a reputation as a mature and talented hitter, but power is not his calling card.
“I’m not trying to hit a homer there,” he said. “Get the head out, see a pitch over the plate, barrel something, just keep the line moving. I got a good pitch, elevated it, and fortunately it went out.”
Arroyo already speaks like a hitting coach, but he is not afraid to admit that there are things he doesn’t know. It’s easy to get film on opposing starters, but there’s little a rookie can do to prepare for late-inning pitching changes. Arroyo consulted Buster Posey and Conor Gillaspie before facing Ryan Buchter, who has been in the division for two years. Gillaspie told him Buchter’s fastball has some late life and gets on a hitter.
“I wanted to see it and the first pitch was a little low so I got a good read on them,” Arroyo said.
The second one was right at the belt and Arroyo pulled it down the line for his second big league homer. He had just three last year in Double-A, but the Giants felt the 36 doubles showed that power was on the way.
“He’s got pop,” Bochy said. “He’s not a guy trying to hit homers. He tries to put a good swing on it. But he drives balls and you saw it tonight. We see him more as a gap guy, but he’ll get more power as he gets older. We’re not asking him to hit homers, trust me, but it’s good to see him letting it go.”
The homer secured a win on a night when a lot went right. Jeff Samardzija was sharp, paying for one pitch to Ryan Schimpf that left the park but otherwise pitching seven strong. Panik and Brandon Belt ignited the offense early and Michael Morse came through with a game-tying sacrifice fly in the fifth. Derek Law and Mark Melancon closed it out, with Melancon getting help from Panik, who made a spectacular tumbling catch on a flare to shallow right-center. It was a big first out given that Melancon was pitching for the third straight day.
“It was going to be in no man’s land,” Panik said. “You give it everything you’ve got. Fortunately the ball stayed in the glove.”
When it was over, the youngest Giant was in for another round of interviews to cap a hectic week. On Monday he made his debut and on Tuesday he picked up his first hit. Wednesday brought the first homer and Thursday was the first multi-hit game. What will the weekend include? Maybe a real nickname?
For now, the Giants are fine with leaning on The Kid, because many of them didn’t even know how young the star of the week was until he was a couple of days into his big league career.
“I was thinking he was 23 or 24,” Samardzija said. “This has been really impressive.”
ALAMEDA – Eddie Vanderdoes knows his UCLA game tape is inconsistent. The powerful defensive tackle admits he wasn’t always at his best, especially after tearing his ACL in 2015. Before that, he was difficult to stop. Afterward, he wasn’t the same player. He doesn’t blame the knee.
He struggled with ankle injuries and weight issues in 2016, a lackluster campaign by his own standard. Since that season ended, Vanderdoes has returned to 100 percent. His ankles are fine. His knee is great. And he lost 40 pounds heading into the NFL scouting combine, preparing for a return to his old self.
The Raiders see great potential in the former Bruin and made him their third-round pick on Friday evening. The Auburn native was excited by the prospect, and believes the Raiders will get his absolute best. His voice was passionate, his determination clear even on a conference call with local press.
“I am going to be the player I was earlier in my career,” Vanderdoes said. “I had a bad season. That wasn’t me. That’s not the person that I am. That’s not the character that I hold. I’m definitely going to bring that to the Raiders’ defensive line. I’m going to bring that energy and I’m really happy to be an Oakland Raider.”
The Raiders will be thrilled if that’s true. They liked what he showed at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, where he showed traits that should translate to NFL production.
“I am definitely back 100 percent, very confident with the combine, the Senior Bowl,” Vanderdoes said. “I got my explosiveness back. I got my speed back, my athleticism back. I am definitely at the top of shape right now, so I’m ready to get back to work and show them the player that they saw on the film and the player that they wanted to draft and I’m also looking to turn even more heads and do things that some people might expect that I couldn’t do.”
That includes rushing the passer, being a consistent three-down tackle in the Raiders scheme. He might be a rotational player first, filling the void created when Stacy McGee left in free agency.
“He’s a good, active defensive lineman that we think his best football is in front of him,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He had an ACL (injury) a couple of years ago. His weight has been up and down. We expect him to come in here and be a real professional and work hard with (head strength and conditioning coach) Joe Gomes and the strength staff and get himself ready to roll. He needs to come in here and add depth to our defensive line and give us a little interior push.”
Vanderdoes believes he can do more than that if he does things right. If his weight stays down, strength stays up and he learns the system well, he wants to compete for a significant role as a rookie.
“I’m coming in expecting to contribute and play right away,” Vanderdoes said. “That’s the mindset that I’ve always had. I’ve came with that mindset that I need to be the guy to step in and do what I do and dominate. I definitely think people slept on me a little bit this past offseason.
“I love the fact that (the NFL) slept on me, I think that’s what motivated me every morning waking up, knowing that I get to prove people wrong. I think I’ve done a good job so far of that, and I’m going to keep doing as well being an Oakland Raider because I know I’m at the bottom again. I have to work my way back up.”