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Ravens' offensive line shaping up nicely

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Ravens' offensive line shaping up nicely

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens can only hope the performance they received from their offensive line last weekend is an indication of what lies ahead for a unit that relies on an unexpected mixture of experience and youth.

Baltimore amassed a season-high 533 yards Sunday in a 33-14 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Joe Flacco had enough time in the pocket to throw for 309 yards and two touchdowns, the Ravens converted 11 of 18 third downs and Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce each topped 100 yards rushing.

Flacco, Rice and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin are the big names on Baltimore's offense, but success in the playoffs could depend on what happens up front.

``The offensive line continues to improve,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``It's a young group, so that's something that we really expect to have happen.''

Rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele and second-year left guard Jah Reid have played well enough to force longtime NFL veterans Bryant McKinnie and Bobbie Williams to the sideline. Coming into the season, McKinnie and Williams had a combined 277 starts and compared to zero for Osemele and Reid.

So perhaps the line could be forgiven for its inconsistent performance in the weeks leading up to Sunday's masterpiece - a dominating performance that provided the Ravens with their second straight AFC North title.

``It's just a matter of having confidence in our guys,'' guard Marshal Yanda said. ``There's no magical formula. We didn't reinvent the wheel. It's just football.''

The offensive line yielded 34 sacks in the first 14 games before holding New York without one Sunday. Flacco, who had six turnovers in the previous three games, was flawless against the Giants.

``Anytime you pass protect the way that we did against a team that can rush the passer like the New York Giants, that's a big plus,'' Harbaugh said. ``The run blocking was good. We rushed for a lot of yards, and it's because those guys were very physical up front.''

Baltimore (10-5) hopes to ride the momentum into Sunday's regular-season finale against Cincinnati (9-6) before heading into the playoffs.

Yanda, Reid, Osemele, 36-year-old center Matt Birk and fourth-year left tackle Michael Oher make up an offensive front that has endured a bit of shuffling since September.

Ramon Harewood began the season at left guard after spending his first two NFL seasons in injured reserve. Harewood took a seat on the bench after five weeks and was replaced by Williams, who stayed there until Reid made his first NFL start on Nov. 18 in Pittsburgh.

When Yanda missed the Dec. 16 game against Denver, Williams took his place.

Now, finally, the unit appears set. Plus, Harbaugh has the luxury of summoning rookie center Gino Gradkowski or two solid veterans in case of emergency.

``We probably have more depth in the offensive line than we have had in quite a while,'' the coach said. ``We have some veterans that can step in and play. Bobbie has done a real nice job when he's been in there. And of course, Bryant McKinnie hasn't had a chance, because the tackles have been so healthy, but Bryant's a guy that is going to be very valuable for us here down the stretch if something happens. That's definitely a blessing for us.''

Rice is exceptional once he gets past the line of scrimmage, and while fullback Vonta Leach has proven to be an exceptional escort through the hole, nothing happens if the line can't create a void in the defense.

``Those guys, they work very hard. They are the hardest working group in the building,'' Rice said. ``They meet, they work, they just work and work. One thing I like about our line is that we're athletic, and we've got guys that can do multiple things. You don't see tackles moving as fast as our tackles. Then we've got our inside guys who are big and physical guys, along with the leadership of Matt Birk. Those guys really got the job done.''

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Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

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USA Today Sports

Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

On Wednesday, February 14, a horrific school shooting claimed the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. 

The tragic event impacted people far and wide, and hit especially close to home for Ravens running back Alex Collins.

The former Arkansas star was born in Plantation, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale and went to high school just 15 miles south of Douglas High School. 

In the offseason, Collins took Irish dancing lessons to improve his footwork, and following the act of terror, the Ravens' tailback learned that one of his dance partners had been killed in the mass shooting.

17-year-old Cara Loughran attended The Drake school of Irish Dance with Collins in addition to two other Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and was fatally shot by the gunman on Wednesday afternoon. 

Collins took to his Twitter account to issue this heartfelt message.

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“The school shooting yesterday hit home,” Collins wrote.

“We received confirmation a few hours ago we lost one of the girls, Cara Loughran. Two other girls saw and experienced unspeakable tragedy. My heart goes out to these girls, all their families and their teacher Chrissy.”

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Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

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USA Today Sports

Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will launch the NFL's 99th season by playing in the annual Hall of Fame game on Aug. 2.

The Ravens' first appearance in the Hall of Fame game, which launches the league's 2018 Enshrinement Week. Former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis is among the inductees, along with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Lewis, who played 17 seasons with the Ravens, and Urlacher, who played all of his 13 seasons with Chicago, both were elected on the first ballot.

Lewis joins Jonathan Ogden as the only Ravens in the Hall of Fame. Both were selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1996 draft.

The other members of the Class of 2018 include Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. All will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 4.

This will be the record-tying fifth time that the Bears will play in the Hall of Fame game. They won the previous four, most recently 27-24 over Miami in 2005.

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