Ravens address receiving needs with signings of Clark and Stokley

August 11, 2013|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

In a span of 24 hours this weekend, the Ravens added two players with a combined 24 years of NFL experience, 858 career catches and 89 touchdowns.

Wanting to add more depth at wide receiver and give quarterback Joe Flacco a couple of reliable, veteran targets, the Ravens struck deals with wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark, two former Indianapolis Colts who have familiarity with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

Stokley, who has played four of his 14 seasons in the NFL with the Ravens and starred in the team's Super Bowl XXXV victory, finalized his one-year deal Sunday morning and watched practice later in the day at M&T Bank Stadium. The 37-year-old will practice Monday.

A 10-year veteran, Clark, 34, agreed in principle to a one-year deal and is expected to take a physical for the team Monday morning. If all goes well, he could be on the practice field at the Under Armour Performance Center on Monday afternoon.

"They're both veterans [and] they're both really accomplished players," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "We're excited to have them. By no means is anything guaranteed and they understand that. They wanted an opportunity to compete for a job. They'll be in competition for a job with the guys that are here and we'll see how things play out. That's how we like it."

The Ravens had been eyeing a veteran wide receiver since the offseason trade of Anquan Boldin, but several recent factors could have intensified their pursuit. On the third full-squad practice of training camp, starting tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a season-ending hip injury, costing the Ravens their best route runner and a red-zone and third-down target. Then, in last Thursday's 44-16 preseason-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, several of the Ravens' top wide receivers struggled.

Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson, who are battling for the No. 2 and No. 3 receiver spots behind Torrey Smith, were targeted five total times against the Buccaneers and they finished with one catch for 5 yards. Thompson also sprained his left foot in the game and will be out at least through Thursday's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

"I think more than anything, it's a need potentially in a certain area," Harbaugh said. "We still have guys who are in the process of stepping up here. Tandon Doss, we're going to put him more in the slot in the next week or two. David Reed will get healthy. There's going to be a real strong competition in that third down, move-the-chains type, underneath position, and it's going to be really fun to see how it plays out."

Flacco also maintained that he has a lot of faith in the team's younger wide receivers, but called the signings of Stokley and Clark "a bonus."

"They've been good players and I'm excited to see them out there," he said. "I met Brandon today and he seems like a great guy. Obviously, he's had a lot of success. For being a guy that's been in the league for so long, I know he had a lot of pop in his legs last year. He's just a really reliable guy. I've definitely heard good things about both of those guys and I'm just excited to get out there and see it for myself."

For Stokley, the return to Baltimore brings his well-traveled career full circle. It's been more than 12 years since he got behind Jason Sehorn and caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Trent Dilfer to start a 34-7 rout of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

Stokley played two more seasons with the Ravens and 10 more years with four other teams, including two stints with the Denver Broncos.

"This is where I started. I was thinking when I flew in [Saturday] night, about 14 years ago, I made the same trip as a rookie. It definitely brings back a lot of memories," said Stokley, who will wear his familiar No. 80. In four seasons with the Ravens, Stokley caught 60 balls for 993 yards and seven touchdowns in 33 games, including 11 starts. "There's not a better organization in the league. To have that opportunity to come back and play here again, you can't pass that up."

Stokley reunited with Peyton Manning last year in Denver and caught 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns in 15 regular season games. He also caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the Broncos' 38-35 double-overtime loss to the Ravens in the AFC divisional playoffs.

However, despite having a solid year, he admitted that he hadn't heard much from other teams after becoming a free agent. So he stayed in shape and waited patiently for the right opportunity to arise.

"There are not many teams that you can say have a chance to get to the Super Bowl," Stokley said. "I definitely think this is one of those teams. It's always important, and a lot more fun when you're on one of the teams."

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