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Ravens defense prepares for both Batch and Big Ben

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Ravens defense prepares for both Batch and Big Ben

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Less than two weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens frustrated fleet-footed quarterback Byron Leftwich and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to take control of the AFC North.

In the rematch Sunday, the Ravens will face a quarterback with a different skill set. Whether it will be soft-tossing Charlie Batch or the gritty and poised Ben Roethlisberger remains to be seen.

Batch went the distance last week in a loss to last-place Cleveland. The 37-year-old completed 20 for 34 passes for 199 yards but threw three interceptions, explaining in part why Pittsburgh didn't score in the second half and finished with a whopping eight turnovers.

Roethlisberger has been sidelined since hurting his ribs and right (throwing) shoulder in a Nov. 12 win over Kansas City. The two-time Super Bowl winner threw in practice this week but is questionable for Sunday.

The Ravens (9-2) have no idea whether Batch or Big Ben will be calling the signals at M&T Bank Stadium. So they're preparing for both.

``We really don't care who lines up at quarterback,'' Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said. ``For us, it's a game that's going to be physical. They're going to try to win whoever's under center. If Ben plays, I know what kind of competitor he is. This guy is probably one of the strongest quarterbacks in the National Football League and one of the most competitive, him and Philip Rivers. But when it's all said and done, whoever lines up, lines up. We have our own situation to take care of. We really don't care.''

The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the desperate Steelers (6-5), who have lost two straight with Roethlisberger watching from the sideline. Leftwich broke his ribs in a 13-10 loss to Baltimore on Nov. 18, and last week Batch was part of an attack that lost the ball four times in the fourth quarter.

In the days leading up to the first meeting between the teams, the Ravens knew by Wednesday that Leftwich would start at quarterback. There is no such certainty this week, but the course of action remains identical.

``We'll do the same thing we did last time and the same thing we do every week: We'll prepare for their offense,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``Whatever quarterback ends up playing in this game, he's going to be very capable of running their offense very well. We've seen that before. We've seen that from experience.''

Leftwich was rusty, yet he still managed to throw for 201 yards and score a touchdown. Batch lost last week, but he's 5-3 as a starter with Pittsburgh.

Roethlisberger is in a category of his own, with statistics and a winning percentage that can be measured up against any quarterback in the league. But he's hurting, which could influence his effectiveness.

Still, an injured Roethlisberger is better than no Roethlisberger at all.

``If he's in there, he's in there. It definitely changes things if he plays,'' Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ``But if he doesn't play, we still have to go out there and play the game. No game is won on paper. It's still the Pittsburgh Steelers. They're going to come in, they're going to be hungry and will be trying to get a win.''

Whether it's Batch or Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's quarterback will have more talent at his disposal than Leftwich did in the earlier meeting between these AFC North rivals. Wide receiver Antonio Brown returns after missing three games with a high-ankle sprain, and the Steelers added wideout Plaxico Burress last week.

``Obviously he's a heck of a player. A red-zone threat,'' Harbaugh said of Burress. ``He can run every route, he can make every catch. Just a great player.''

The key for the Steelers is having someone who can effectively get Burress the ball. The Ravens don't know if it will be Batch or Roethlisberger, or maybe even Leftwich again?

``We need to watch film on Leftwich, Batch and Roethlisberger,'' Pollard said. ``When it's all said and done, they still have the same concepts. We're going to be ready.''

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Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst

The Ravens have their entire 2018 draft class locked up.

The team agreed to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Hurst's rookie contract - like all first-round picks - is a four-year deal with a team option of a fifth year. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the 25th overall pick is due $11.1 million. 

The 24-year old, who was a walk on at South Carolina at 21-years old after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, finished his three-year career with 100 receptions, 1,281 yards and three touchdowns.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Hurst will be a nice addition to the TE corps with Nick Boyle and third-round draft pick Mark Andrews. 

Fellow first-round pick Lamar Jackson signed his rookie contract on June 5th.

Training camp kicks off for the Ravens July 19th. 

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

Since drafting Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have made it clear that Joe Flacco is their starter. That doesn't mean they're not experimenting with having them both on the field at the same time, however. 

During this week's minicamp, the team has been lining Jackson up at multiple positions. 

"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson during Tuesday's minicamp, via ESPN.com.

"If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."

While at Louisville, Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. That's more rushing yards than No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That unique skill set could be the creative options the Ravens are looking for. 

While at the NFL Combine, however, Jackson refused to workout at any other position than QB. 

"I have a lot of fun seeing what they come up with and what they're going to come up with next," Jackson said. "We'll see where it goes. You have to use your good players."

The Ravens are already viewing Jackson as one of those 'good players.' 

"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," LB C.J. Mosley said after minicamp practice. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."

Harbaugh has alluded to the fact that the rookie will be active on game days, just exactly how they get the most out of him is what's in play.

"There's a lot of considerations that go into that," Harbaugh said of using two QBs at the once. "Everybody has an opinion. I've read a few. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys."

While Flacco isn't the fasted QB in the league, he has shown glimpses of running ability in the past. Figuring out how to utilize Flacco when Jackson is under center is where things will get interesting.

Interesting - as long as it works - is what Ravens fans have been searching for over the last several seasons. 

"Joe has to be able to do other things if [Jackson is] throwing the ball," Harbaugh said. "It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard on that."

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