How has Ravens' defense managed to stay great?

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How has Ravens' defense managed to stay great?

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."

Report: 49ers TE Vance McDonald available for trade

Report: 49ers TE Vance McDonald available for trade

Vance McDonald is reportedly on the trade block.

The 49ers tight end is available, according to The Ringer's Michael Lombardi.

In December, McDonald inked a five-year extension, with the final two years being club options at base salaries of $5.5 million annually.

As NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reported:

"McDonald receives a $7 million signing bonus, according to the figures obtained Tuesday by CSNBayArea.com. His base salary of $2.1 million for 2017 is fully guaranteed for skill and cap.

McDonald is scheduled to earn $3.7 million in base salary in 2018 and $4.2 million in 2019. In addition, McDonald has 46-man roster bonuses of $46,875 per game, which total $750,000 annually if he suits up for all 16 games. McDonald also has a scheduled $150,000              in annual workout bonuses for participating in 90 percent or more of the team’s offseason program.

The deal would make McDonald the 16th highest-paid tight end in the NFL if he collects all of his per-game roster bonuses.

If McDonald remains on the 49ers’ 90-man roster on April 1, 2018, all $3.7 million of his 2018 salary becomes fully guaranteed. If he’s on the roster on April 1, 2019, $3.2 million of his $4.2 base salary is fully guaranteed.

There are also incentives in the deal for receptions and receiving yards that begin with 55 receptions ($75,000) and 700 yards ($75,000)."

The 49ers took McDonald in the second round (55th overall) of the 2013 draft.

In 11 games last year, he caught 24 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

After making two selections in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, the 49ers enter Day 2 of the draft with two third-round picks -- No. 66 and No. 67 overall.

The 49ers also currently have two picks in the fourth round, two picks in the fifth round, two picks in the 6th round and one seventh round pick.

Down on the Farm: Q&A with San Jose Giants 1B/3B Jonah Arenado

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San Jose Giants/Tim Cattera

Down on the Farm: Q&A with San Jose Giants 1B/3B Jonah Arenado

The Giants know Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado all too well. In 76 games, Arenado has a .308 batting average against the Giants with 20 home runs, his most off any team in all of the majors. 

Playing in Advanced Single-A, the Giants have their own Arenado. Brother Jonah Arenado plays first and third base for the San Jose Giants and hit 19 home runs in 2016. 

Before the younger brother went 2-for-4 against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on Thursday night, NBC Sports Bay Area spoke over the phone with Arenado. Below is the full transcript where we talk his hitting approach, frustrations with the Lakers, trash talk with Nolan in ping pong and much more. 

Dalton Johnson: “You guys are now three weeks in, but I want to actually go back to Opening Day real quick. I know you guys ultimately lost, but it was a 16-inning game. Was that the longest game you’ve ever played in?” 

Jonah Arenado: “No, the longest game I ever played in was 17 innings.” 

DJ: “Really?! Wow! When was that?” 

JA: “I played 17 innings in Lakewood. I was playing for Augusta at the time. We were playing in New Jersey. So we went 17 innings, but we didn’t even get to finish the game. The fog got so extreme that we had to just cancel the game.” 

DJ: “The fog? That’s just crazy. So you were out in Augusta for the GreenJackets?” 

JA: “Yeah.”

DJ: “I was actually out in Savannah for college ball. I’m not sure if you guys ever played against the Sand Gnats.”

JA: “Yeah we were there the last year they had that stadium.” 

DJ: “Grayson Stadium. That was a really fun park. But a 16 or 17-inning game, I’m going to guess that the dugout has to get a little weird at some point, right?” 

JA: “Yeah you're just getting like... it gets kind of monotonous you know. It’s kind of like okay, when are we gonna score or when are they gonna score. And obviously you don’t want to lose the game, but you just want something to happen.” 

DJ: “What are you guys bringing out the rally caps or doing anything different?” 

JA: “No, no rally caps, but there’s times where a couple innings go by and someone will come into the dugout and try get jacked up or excite everyone. When it doesn’t work, it’s like alright here we go again.” 

DJ: “Off the field, I think you’re a Southern California guy and this is your second year out in Northern California in San Jose. Obviously you guys are always busy, but do you ever get to go out and check the Bay Area scenery at all?”

JA: “I’ve been to Santa Cruz and the beach over there. I’ve been to San Francisco. I went to San Francisco on an off day last year to watch the Giants-Rockies game. But besides that, no I rarely ever get to go out to San Francisco or anything like that.” 

DJ: “Off day, or you a golf guy or more of a relax guy? What are you trying to do on an off day?” 

JA: “I’m just trying to relax. Maybe hang out by the pool, just relax and hang out. Go to the beach. And if you do get to relax, I’m not trying to do anything that’s like a workout.” 

DJ: “Are there any places in San Jose where if someone’s coming from out town, you say, ‘Hey, this is where you need to go.’ San Jose, where would you go for one day?”

JA: “Oh, San Jose...” 

DJ: “Just go to a game? Tell them to go to a San Jose Giants game?” 

JA: “Yeah, yeah go to a San Jose Giants game and if not, Santa Cruz is 30 minutes down the road. I’d go to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is nice.” 

DJ: “And then on the field, you’re someone who hits for power. You hit 19 bombs last year. With the way different people are starting to look at the swing now, are you someone that’s actually trying to swing for the fences a little bit? Are you trying to hit a home run? What’s your approach?”

JA: “No, I feel like the more I try to hit a home run, the more I don’t. When I go in thinking line drive to the middle or stay through the middle, I feel a lot better. I know last year I didn’t start off well, and I’m not starting off well this year either, but I know if I think like I have to drive this ball or I have to hit a home run then that never happens. Try to stay simple, try to stay short is usually when things start working out.” 

DJ: “Well there’s all these different advanced analytics and you can track everything now. Are you someone that actually looks into something like launch angle or exit velocity? Or is it more see ball, hit ball?” 

JA: “I don’t like thinking about those 40-degree angles. Hitting is hard enough. To think about all that stuff is too much. But I know that a lot of people, that’s the new thing. Launch angle and try to lift the ball, and that’s all great. It’s whatever works for that person. I know Donaldson preaches it and he loves talking about it, but that’s him. That’s what works for him. I know for me, trying to lift the ball doesn’t work. When I try to lift the ball, I usually pop up. So when I’m trying to hit a hard line drive, that’s when I usually can drive that ball.” 

DJ: “Yeah it seems like when you’re practicing, you’re on the tee or getting front toss or whatever, that’s when you can kind of work on those things. But I couldn’t really imagine taking that over to the game. Once it’s game time, it’s get a pitch, be aggressive, hit it hard. Are you just trying to make things, like you said, as simple as possible once it’s go time?” 

JA: “Yeah, when I’m in the game I’m just trying to be as ready as I can for that fastball. Just see it and hit it. There’s nothing more to it, honestly. Obviously, when you’re struggling you start trying to fix things. When I’m going well, it’s never thinking about what this guy is gonna throw or make sure your foot is doing this. No, I never think about that. I think about see the ball and hit it as hard as I can.” 

DJ: “In the minor leagues, are these tracking systems as prominent or is that more available the higher you go?” 

JA: “I think it’s more available for the big leaguers. It’s hard to watch our swings on video because sometimes our games aren’t taped. We watch our home games because they are streamed, but besides that it’s hard to get all that stuff done.” 

DJ: “Can that almost be an advantage at the same time though? When you’re younger I think if you look too far into then you might press or try to do too much. If you’re just figuring things out on your own, that might even be a little better. Am I right or wrong there?” 

JA: “I think you’re both wrong and right. There’s times when you think too much and sometimes you think it’s your swing and it’s really not your swing, it’s your approach. I think that’s when it can hurt you. When you’re looking at it on video, but that was never really the problem, so then you’re changing a swing that was actually working, but your approach was what’s messed up so now you’re changing your swing and your approach. So that can hurt you. But it can also help you because if there is something mechanically wrong, you can fix it. If you can’t watch it, then how are you gonna know? When you’re in the box, you feel completely different. You never feel like that’s your swing. When you’re in the box, everything is different. When you see it on film, you see I’m dropping my hands, but in the box I’m telling myself to stay on top of the ball so you don’t think you’re dropping your hands, but you’re still dropping your hands, you know what I mean?” 

DJ: “It’s almost like a best of two evils.” 

JA: “Yeah, yeah.” 

DJ: “Back on the field, clearly you’re obviously from a very athletic family. For you, was it just baseball all the time?” 

JA: “My older brother played soccer, my oldest brother played basketball too and Nolan just played baseball. He played soccer for a little, but then went with just baseball. For me, I played basketball also. Basketball is my favorite sport.” 

DJ: “Oh, really?” 

JA: “Yeah, it was. Basketball is just so much fun. You go out and shoot down the street by your house and technically that’s practicing, you know what I mean?” 

DJ: “Oh yeah. Baseball obviously you can go hit off the tee, but basketball, I mean I shot for 20 minutes at the gym today and you feel great.” 

JA: “Yeah, you can work on so many different things. If you’re hitting like crap that day, then it’s really hard to fix it that day. Basketball, if you’re shooting and keep shooting, eventually it’s going to go in.” 

DJ: “So, who’s your team?” 

JA: “Oh, the Lakers. Unfortunately, yeah.” 

DJ: “Are you feeling good about the rebuild or how are you feeling about all that?” 

JA: “I don’t, man. Magic Johnson’s in there, so I hope he’s the answer. But they need to get a superstar. The Lakers are my team, they have always been my team, but the players on the team are bothering me lately.” 

DJ: “I’m sure you and your brother Nolan and all of your brothers competed against each other all the time growing up. Whether it be shooting hoops or playing video games or anything else, what was the one thing, especially with Nolan, where you knew you could beat him no matter what?” 

JA: “Oh man, that’s tough. It’s really hard to beat him. Him losing to me is like death, but he’ll do anything he can to not lose to me because he knows if I win I’ll talk. I’ll just keep talking about it. It’s hard to say. There’s days in ping pong, I’m not gonna say I’m a better ping pong player, but we’re both pretty competitive. If I beat him in ping pong, I mean, it’s over. He’s distraught and then he’ll just want to rematch me until he can beat me.” 

DJ: “If you beat him, you said you’re a talker. What’s your go-to angle when it comes to trash talk?” 

JA: “I just never let him forget it. If I beat him in ping pong that series or that day, you better believe all day I’m gonna wear it out.” 

DJ: “Were you guys video game guys at all or more outside?” 

JA: “We played video games here and there. Mostly it was outdoors. Wiffle ball was always big with me and my family. We still play to this day. We still play wiffle ball all the time.” 

DJ: “Wiffle ball, you’re in the backyard 1-on-1. Who wins between you and Nolan and if you have one pitch, what are you throwing him?” 

JA: “Throwing him? I’m throwing fastball at his face.”

DJ: “Fastball at his face?!?” 

JA: “I’m just kidding, just kidding.” 

DJ: “That might be the only way the Giants can slow him down.” 

JA: “I’ll throw some chin music and then try to throw a little changeup away.” 

DJ: “I got you there, I got you. One last question. Video game wise, if EA Sports could bring back college baseball or college football, what are you picking?” 

JA: “Baseball.” 

DJ: “That was the go-to right there.” 

JA: “I forgot, but there was a college baseball game. I forgot which one it was that we played all the time, but it was one of the best games we ever played.” 

DJ: “I remember they had Texas on the cover or something like that—”

JA: “Exactly! That’s exactly the one.” 

DJ: “They have to bring it back.” 

JA: “That game is the best.”