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Ravens news, notes and opinions

John Elway and Gary Kubiak are former roommates. Do the Ravens have anything to worry about?

The excitement over offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s comments that he would remain with the Ravens rather than interview for head-coaching jobs lasted all of about 20 hours, or until the Denver Broncos suddenly had a head-coaching vacancy after parting ways with John Fox.

Kubiak spent 20 seasons in the Broncos organization, nine as a player and 11 as a coach. John Elway, the Broncos’ general manager, is one of Kubiak’s best friends. Several team sources told The Sun last night that they didn’t think the Broncos’ opening changes anything for Kubiak, and that would make sense. After all, it apparently was no secret around the league that Fox could be on the way out if the Broncos exited the playoffs early. Kubiak presumably was aware of that, either from the media reports or from hearing it straight from Elway or his other Broncos’ connections.

So, it would stand to reason that Kubiak wouldn’t have pledged to stay with the Ravens two hours after the Broncos' loss to the Indianapolis Colts if he knew there was a chance Denver head-coaching job was coming open and he was interested in it. But you never know – Elway apparently can be quite persuasive, and Kubiak’s ties to Denver are thick.

** In a related note, my colleague, Aaron Wilson, reported last night that because of the Broncos’ coaching upheaval, John Harbaugh’s Ravens’ staff will be asked to lead one of the teams in the Pro Bowl. The game will be played  Jan. 25 in Glendale, Ariz., the week before Super Bowl XLIV. The Ravens currently have three Pro Bowlers – right guard Marshal Yanda and linebackers Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley, but that list could grow, depending on what happens in this weekend’s conference championship games. Pro Bowl invitees would obviously bow out of the game if their respective teams are preparing for the Super Bowl, which would mean first alternates would garner the invite and the Ravens have five of them.

That means if the Green Bay Packers win Sunday, fullback John Kuhn would be replaced by the Ravens’ Kyle Juszczyk, and linebacker Clay Matthews spot could be filled by Terrell Suggs. If the Seattle Seahawks beat the Packers, running back Marshawn Lynch would likely be replaced by his former teammate, Justin Forsett of the Ravens. If the Colts win, punter Pat McAfee would be out and the Ravens’ Sam Koch would likely be in.

** At this time last year the Ravens had no idea who would play left tackle, center and right tackle, or whether left guard Kelechi Osemele would make it back from back surgery. Juan Castillo, the man who was set to coach the offensive line, was public enemy No. 1 with the team’s fan base because of the group’s performance when Castillo was the run game coordinator. Now, Castillo is deservedly being hailed for the job that he did in developing the team’s young offensive linemen, and the Ravens appear to be as deep in the position as they’ve been in years.

The Ravens have seven offensive linemen – Osemele, Marshal YandaJeremy Zuttah, Eugene MonroeRick WagnerJames Hurst and John Urschel – whom they consider worthy starters heading into the offseason. All but Yanda are 28 or younger. That bodes extremely well for the organization’s future. For the first time in a while, the Ravens front office can go into a draft knowing that adding an offensive lineman would be a luxury rather than a necessity. You could probably say the same about the defensive line, too.

** There were times during training camp when I not only wondered if veteran tight end Owen Daniels would be able to help the Ravens, I wondered if he’d play for them at all. Daniels missed a lot of time with a hamstring injury and when he was on the practice field, he struggled, dropping balls and not getting much separation. But there he was in Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game, making clutch end zone and fourth-down catches in traffic and being double-teamed at times by the New England Patriots.

In two playoff games, he had eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, and he was targeted 16 times by Joe Flacco. He finished the regular season third on the team in receptions (48), passing yards (527) and touchdown catches (four) and stepped up huge after Dennis Pitta’s season-ending hip injury.

Credit Daniels for how hard he worked to come back from a broken leg a year earlier and credit Harbaugh for giving him the necessary time off during practice to make sure he was fresh for games. I could see the Ravens making a push to re-sign Daniels, who is a free agent, especially with the uncertainty about whether Pitta will play again.

If Kubiak does indeed stay, that may help the Ravens retain Daniels and Forsett, perhaps at a little lesser rate that they may be able to get elsewhere. Both guys love Kubiak.   

** The Ravens had a 1st-and-goal situation Saturday in a tie game early in the fourth quarter and the running back that they had on the field was Fitzgerald Toussaint, an undrafted free agent who didn’t play his first NFL game until Dec. 21. Forsett was in the process of getting a brief rest because he had already carried the ball eight times on the first 12 plays of the drive, but Toussaint being on the field rather than Bernard Pierce seems pretty telling of how far Pierce’s stock has fallen with the team.

Pierce had two total carries in two playoff games, though one was a 5-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In what was supposed to be a breakout season with Ray Rice not around, Pierce finished the season with 93 carries for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

He still struggles in blitz pick-up, he’s not much of a threat catching passes out of the backfield and he’s not used on special teams. With Forsett due to hit free agency, the Ravens have some uncertainty at the running back position, but it’s tough to see where Pierce fits after back-to-back disappointing seasons. He’s under his rookie contract and he doesn’t have much trade value at this point, so I guess the Ravens have little choice but to bring him back and hope he regains the form that he showed in his rookie year.

But it sure is jarring to see him have little to no role, especially with how clutch he was during the team’s Super Bowl run two years ago.

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