Late signings help spark Ravens success

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Right player, right price.

That is the mantra the Ravens have followed for years when it comes to signing free agents. In recent years, Baltimore has discovered a knack for bringing in established veterans who have joined the team after training camp began, and in some cases, even close to the regular season.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark represent the latest of such players to join the Ravens deep into training camp. Stokley, 37, practiced with the team on Sunday while Clark, 34, officially signed with the Ravens Tuesday. It's unclear what action, if any, they will see Thursday night when the Ravens host the Atlanta Falcons in their preseason home opener.

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For the most part during head coach John Harbaugh's tenure, dating back to 2008, such late additions have produced more positive than negative results.

Such additions have included offensive tackle Willie Anderson in 2008 and running back Ricky Williams in 2011. Both players provided key contributions in helping the Ravens reach the AFC Championship Game during their respective seasons. At the same time, there were also acquisitions like wide receiver Lee Evans in 2011, who caught just four passes all season and dropped the game-winning touchdown pass in the AFC Championship Game.

"To me, it's [finding] the right kind of guy," Harbaugh said. "It's the guy who's interested in this kind of a situation – usually the guys who want to compete. They're not afraid to compete and work hard, and they want to have a chance to win…So, [we've had] just good guys who want to work hard and compete."

Harbaugh said both Stokley and Clark will be afforded the chance to make the roster and compete for playing time. At the same time, he stressed that there are no guarantees and future rewards won't be based on past performances.

"You earn the job on your merits," Harbaugh said. "It's not about who's here [and] who's not here. It's about how you play. If you play well enough, you're going to make it. And if you play well enough and you don't make it here, you'll make it somewhere else.

"So, it's really more of a competition against yourself and how well you can play and how good you can get and then see what happens. That other stuff is pretty much out of their control, and I think they understand that."

For veterans like Clark and Stokley, it was important at this point at their career to sign with a team that is the right fit and gives them the best chance to compete for a Super Bowl title; something both accomplished while they were teammates with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006.

In addition, veterans are also looking for teams where the transition will be simpler, especially given that they did not have the luxury of an offseason and mini-camps to learn the offensive or defensive schemes and terminology.

"You do your best learning out here [on the practice field], making the mistakes and looking like an idiot and just causing a whole big ruckus and just being in the wrong position," Clark said. "That's the only way you can truly learn how to play football.

Stokley said it is difficult to digest a playbook in a shorter amount of time, and that all you can do is study more and work hard.

"It's very difficult," said Stokley on entering training camp at the mid-way point. " You've just got to study really hard and get yourself up to speed and do the best that you can. But it is [difficult], because the guys are a lot further along than you, because they had the whole offseason and the training camp so far. But I'm just going to do the best that I can."

Here is a look at some of the Ravens late signings over the past five seasons:

2008

FB Lorenzo Neal (signed Aug. 12) – Was a key blocker and backup running back that appeared in all 16 games, including five starts in his lone year with the team.

DT Marques Douglas (acquired via trade Aug. 28) – Made 36 tackles while appearing in all 16 games. Was released Feb. 27, 2009.

LT Willie Anderson (signed Sept. 3) – Helped solidify the offensive line and started 10 games in the Ravens first year without Jonathan Ogden. Retired after the season.

2010

CB Josh Wilson (acquired via trade Aug. 31) – Had three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown in overtime en route to a 34-28 win against the Houston Texans. Signed with the Redskins following the season.

WR T.J. Houshmanzadeh (signed Sept. 6) – Finished with only 30 receptions for 398 yards and three touchdowns. Also dropped a critical fourth-down pass in the AFC Divisional Round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Was not resigned following the season.

2011

FB Vonta Leach (signed July 31) – Made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons with the team as he was utilized mainly as a blocker for running back Ray Rice. Was re-signed July 29, 2013.

S Bernard Pollard  (signed Aug. 3) – Combined for 126 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions

over two seasons. Was released by the Ravens on March 13.

RB Ricky Williams (signed Aug. 8) – Rushed for 444 yards and two touchdowns on 108 carries and had 13 receptions for 83 yards while appearing in all 16 games. Retired following the season.

WR Lee Evans (acquired via trade Aug. 13) – Had an injury-plagued season and finished with just four catches for 74 yards. Will be remembered by many as the one who dropped the game-winning pass in the AFC Championship Game.

OT Bryant McKennie (signed Aug. 24) – His playing time was sporadic during the regular season, but eventually rounded into form during team's run to the Super Bowl last season. Signed a new two-year deal with the team May 2, 2013.

2012

S James Ihedigbo (signed Sept. 2) – Finished with 25 tackles and a sack in 16 games (three starts) last season. Is competing for playing time this season.

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