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Twelve Ravens thoughts following mandatory minicamp

Posted on 15 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp to conclude their offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A year ago at this time, tight end Dennis Pitta and cornerback Tavon Young had already been lost for the season. The Ravens are dealing with some minor ailments, but the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith to practice this week further signaled the good health so far.

2. Alex Lewis and John Brown being among those dealing with minor health concerns isn’t as encouraging. These two could be pivotal in determining whether this offense makes meaningful progress from last season, but they must stay on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson was given the keys to run Thursday’s practice from the quarterback position as several veterans rested on both sides of the ball, and he responded with his most consistent passing performance to date. The rookie knows he has a long way to go, but his confidence is impressive.

4. Some pundits have cherry-picked quotes complimenting Jackson while ignoring the parts about him being a work in progress, but anyone who’s watched this spring knows Joe Flacco has been head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks. Ignore any noise from those pushing a quarterback controversy this early in the game.

5. It’s been evident that new quarterbacks coach James Urban has stressed mobility, pocket movement, and footwork timing with Flacco. The quarterback being healthy and another year removed from the knee injury is crucial, but these skills have been lacking since Gary Kubiak was in Baltimore.

6. Linebackers coach Mike Macdonald labeled Tyus Bowser the most productive linebacker of the spring as he even recorded an interception return for a touchdown on a Flacco pass. Bowser making a Matt Judon-like leap from his first to second year would create some much-needed long-term stability at outside linebacker.

7. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs is again in great shape as he enters his 16th year and comes off his first double-digit sacks season since 2014. He’s entered that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed territory in that the Ravens won’t easily replace what he’s brought to the table for so many years.

8. It’s difficult to evaluate line play in the spring, but Orlando Brown Jr. definitely showed growth from rookie camp until the end of spring workouts. This next month will be critical for him to keep himself in good shape to continue that momentum into the summer.

9. Willie Snead is developing a good rapport with Flacco as they frequently connected over the middle. Flacco complimented the slot receiver for having “a knack for seeing the game the way the quarterback does.” You can see why Drew Brees liked him a couple years ago in New Orleans.

10. I’ve been as critical as anyone about this Ravens offense, but I do believe it has more intrigue and potential than it’s enjoyed the last few years. The problem is there are so few sure things, meaning the floor remains very low.

11. Hats off to John Harbaugh for offering this truth about spring workouts: “This isn’t football practice. This is just getting ready for football practice. … Nobody is going to make a play here that’s going to make the team.” We now return to our regularly-scheduled overreacting.

12. Between Eric Weddle dropping a Wolverine reference about Smith and Wink Martindale joking that Suggs must have done his offseason training in Wakanda, this week’s quotes were a Marvel fan’s dream. You just hope Thanos stays away from the roster when training camp gets underway.

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Unresolved contract doesn’t keep Mosley away from Ravens

Posted on 12 June 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — At a time of year when many NFL players seeking contract stability choose to skip voluntary workouts or even mandatory minicamp, Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley has continued to show up.

The long-term contract extension that many anticipated hasn’t yet come to fruition, but that hasn’t prevented the three-time Pro Bowl selection from regularly attending the offseason workout program. Mosley once again shied away from discussing his contract situation on Tuesday, but he explained why it hasn’t impacted his attendance in Owings Mills this spring.

“It’s just what I’m used to,” said Mosley, who is set to make $8.718 million this season. “Coming to work, being here with my guys in the offseason, building new relationships with the rookies and the new players on the team. For me, it’s just what I’ve been used to the last four years.”

With Don “Wink” Martindale taking over as the defensive coordinator this offseason and much discussion centering around the flexibility and responsibility being handed to veteran players with tweaks to the defensive system, the Ravens have been pleased to have their “Mike” linebacker on the practice field and in the huddle to ease the transition.

“We’re doing a lot of really neat things on defense; things that are really good,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “C.J. is excited to be in there and learn them and do them. The fact that we’re putting more than ever on our players on the field in real time to make decisions, you want your decision-makers out there practicing now.”

Mosley’s presence serves as a reminder of the stability he’s brought to the position despite being tasked with following in the colossal footsteps of Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. Whether the Ravens reward that productivity with something north of $10 million per year — the going rate for a top inside linebacker — remains to be seen.

Lewis sidelined with back issue

Two weeks after receiving an extended look at the center position, third-year offensive lineman Alex Lewis was sidelined with a back issue that could keep him out through the end of minicamp.

According to Harbaugh, Lewis started experiencing spasms in the weight room recently. The 2016 fourth-round pick showed promise as a rookie, but he’s played in just 10 of a possible 32 games so far in his career, a factor making one take pause about entrusting him with the all-important center spot.

“We’re just holding him out right now. We’ll be evaluating it,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think it’s anything, according to our trainers, serious that would keep him out of training camp or even keep him out for very long. But I didn’t see any reason to bring him out here today with all the work he’s got in already.”

With Lewis absent from Tuesday’s practice, Matt Skura was once again manning the center spot with Jermaine Eluemunor and James Hurst at the left and right guard spots and Ronnie Stanley and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. at the left and right tackle positions. The versatile Hurst has already lined up as the starting right tackle, starting left guard, and starting right guard at different points this spring.

“That’s part of the job, moving around,” said Hurst, who signed a new four-year, $17.5 million contract in March. “We have so many young guys out there right now that they have that flexibility. Marshal [Yanda] isn’t out there right now, and Marshal is the right guard. Everyone knows that. Because of that flexibility, it gives us the chance to try guys and move guys around and get everyone in their best position, which is promising.”

Attendance report

A total of 11 players were not taking part in Tuesday’s workout, a list that included Lewis, Yanda (ankle), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), Maurice Canady (knee), and Jaylen Hill (knee), safety Anthony Levine (foot), linebackers Albert McClellan (knee) and Bam Bradley (knee), defensive tackle Carl Davis (shoulder), tight end Vince Mayle (undisclosed), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

On the flip side, defensive end Brent Urban (foot) increased his activity level from earlier spring workouts by taking reps in full-team drills, an encouraging step ahead of the grind of training camp. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 3 of last season

“He looks good from what I can tell,” Harbaugh said. “He has a lot of rust, sure. It’s all new to him. But it’s good to get this in before he gets the time away [and] then back to training camp to get a little feel for it again. He’s a big guy. It’s fun seeing him out there.”

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Ravens getting “creative juices flowing” with Lamar Jackson

Posted on 12 June 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — First-round pick Lamar Jackson remains a work in progress at quarterback, but it’s becoming increasingly clear the Ravens still want the talented rookie on the field this fall.

As Baltimore conducts its mandatory minicamp this week, the former Heisman Trophy winner continues to line up at different positions in addition to taking extensive reps as a more conventional quarterback working with the second and third offenses. There’s hardly a quarterback controversy brewing with the start of the season now less than three months away — veteran starter Joe Flacco has been head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterback group this spring — but the Ravens are walking the line between trying to win now after missing the playoffs in four of the last five years and preparing for the future.

“If we put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense?” head coach John Harbaugh. “That’s what we try to figure out, so [Jackson’s] back there throwing the ball, he’s back there doing other things. Then, Joe has to do some other things, too, if he’s throwing the ball.

“It gets to be — I don’t want to say challenging — but it gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they’ve worked hard at it.”

It’s an unconventional strategy with few modern examples from which to draw. However, hearing players continue to marvel at Jackson’s combination of special athleticism and arm strength makes you understand why offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and assistant head coach Greg Roman have embraced the challenge.

An offense that’s lacked play-makers for years should be exhausting every avenue for an edge, and even his defensive teammates have taken notice of Jackson’s skills.

“Once he gets out of the pocket, it’s like watching a young Michael Vick. It’s amazing to watch,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “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. It’s fun to watch him.”

The experiment doesn’t come without risk.

The league’s 29th-ranked passing offense from a year ago is already trying to assimilate three new veteran wide receivers atop the depth chart as well as two rookie tight ends expected to play significant roles. When an offense tries to extend itself with too much change and innovation, it runs the risk of mastering too little, leaving the unit incomplete and unproductive. Striking a balance between a more traditional offense with one quarterback on the field and implementing a Jackson package of plays over the course of a game requires strong feel as a play-caller, a trait Mornhinweg hasn’t always been credited with having during his time as Baltimore’s offense coordinator.

Perhaps even worse than the potential drawbacks to the 2018 offense could be the impact of Jackson’s usage as a hybrid player on his overall development. The Ravens clearly have designs of Jackson being their quarterback of the future — whenever that time might come — but his uneven play from the pocket this spring reflects the need to improve his footwork and accuracy in addition to the general challenges any young quarterback faces entering the NFL.

Part of that process for a mobile quarterback is learning how to be judicious using his legs in an effort to keep himself healthy as much as being a successful passer for the long haul. Might that learning curve be stunted by asking Jackson to focus too much on going all out as a runner or even a receiver in more of a non-quarterback role right now?

“This is a little unique; you have the ability to put two quarterbacks on the field at one time,” Harbaugh said. “There are a lot of considerations that go into that, and everybody has an opinion. I’ve read a few that people might have, and there are a lot of ways to look at it, and we’re aware of that. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys.”

Bridging the gap between the present and future on offense will continue to be one of the biggest story lines going into the 2018 season, but the Ravens are embracing the creativity and the risk that comes with it.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from second open OTA workout

Posted on 02 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The accuracy of Joe Flacco’s strong throwing arm has left something to be desired in recent seasons, but that hasn’t been the case this spring as he’s thrown countless deep strikes, including a few that receivers haven’t caught. Pushing the ball down the field more effectively is an absolute must.

2. Chris Moore made the plays of Thursday’s session with a deep one-handed sideline catch against Brandon Carr and a leaping touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. His continued development isn’t as critical after the offseason additions, but he showed some growth late last season.

3. On the flip side, Breshad Perriman hasn’t flashed in the same way he would in past springs, dropping passes and not having good awareness along the sidelines and in the end zone. A fresh start for him elsewhere might be what’s best for both parties at this point.

4. C.J. Mosley’s attendance at OTAs really speaks to his level of commitment to the organization. I wouldn’t have blamed him for skipping voluntary workouts since he’s still without a long-term contract extension, but his presence is a plus for new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

5. John Brown has shown the impressive speed employed in his 1,000-yard season for Arizona in 2015, but his 5-foot-11 listing looks generous. It will be critical for a red-zone target beyond Michael Crabtree to emerge with rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews being obvious candidates.

6. Lamar Jackson worked extensively with other rookies on a separate field from the first-team offense. Improving his footwork remains a priority as he still has a tendency to make flat-footed throws that sail and lack accuracy. It’s a process.

7. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Willie Henry take on a starting role this season with Brandon Williams shifting from the starting 3-technique spot back to the nose and Michael Pierce moving to a rotational role. This says much more about Henry’s improvement than any disenchantment with Pierce.

8. With Anthony Levine still sidelined from offseason foot surgery, second-year safety Chuck Clark has an opportunity to state a case for more involvement in the dime package. He dropped what could have been a pick-6 on a Flacco pass intended for Hurst on Thursday.

9. You wouldn’t know Tavon Young was only a year removed from his ACL injury by watching him practice. He’s the favorite to handle the nickel, a spot where he excels. Maurice Canady currently being hindered by a knee issue is allowing Young to take even more first-team reps.

10. Much was made about Alex Lewis getting his first look at center, but the offensive line alignment used during mandatory minicamp in two weeks will provide more meaningful insight on what the Ravens are thinking at the center position. Matt Skura is still very much in the conversation.

11. Uncertainty exists at every spot beyond left tackle and right guard, but Ronnie Stanley said how confident incumbents are in their second year with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and assistant head coach Greg Roman, who did admirable work with a patchwork unit last year.

12. Yes, the wide receiver group had some drops on Thursday, but I caution about drawing too many conclusions — good or bad — from a limited sample this time of year, especially with rookie players. This becomes a bigger concern, of course, if it’s still occurring regularly in training camp.

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Alex Lewis gets look at center during Ravens OTA

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens using various offensive line combinations this time of year isn’t surprising, especially with six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda sidelined until training camp.

But Thursday’s first-team alignment included third-year lineman Alex Lewis at center, an idea discussed in each of the last two offseasons after the 2016 fourth-round pick started games at left guard and left tackle as a rookie.

“This is the time to kind of experiment,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re going to need your guards to play backup center anyway, so we need to get Alex that work anyway. But if it evolves into something bigger than that, then that’s great. That’s what you just kind of see how it goes and see what your best combinations are.”

Fully recovered after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August, Lewis worked at left guard during the first week of organized team activities with Matt Skura handling the first-team reps at center and Jermaine Eluemunor playing right guard. On Thursday, Skura was practicing at right guard with James Hurst shifting from right tackle to left guard and rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. receiving first-team looks at right tackle.

That kind of spring shuffling has been commonplace for the Ravens when trying to fill vacancies on the offensive line in the past. Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Skura each spent a week of last year’s OTA sessions as the starting center before Jensen ultimately won the job in training camp.

Those opposed to moving Lewis to center have pointed to questions about his durability — he’s missed 22 games over his first two seasons — as well as his 6-foot-6 frame being unconventional for a position dependent on having a low center of gravity. Skura is listed at 6-foot-3 and was considered the favorite to start at center entering offseason workouts.

“If a player can bend, that’s really the bottom line — bend and get leverage,” said Harbaugh, noting that Matt Birk being 6-foot-4 wasn’t a problem over his long and successful career. “Alex is a big man. We typically would like to see our centers be bigger guys, especially in terms of the run game that we have. Matt [Skura] is 315 pounds, so he’s a big guy, too, so that’s where we go with it.”

Young “almost at 100 percent”

While countless players around the NFL are still working their way back to full strength after suffering ACL injuries last season, third-year cornerback Tavon Young says he’s “almost at 100 percent.”

Working at the nickel position without any limitations this spring, Young is hoping to reestablish himself as a rising young player. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple intercepted two passes and started 11 games as a rookie and was in line for a big role last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury during OTAs. The silver lining for Young was having a longer recovery time compared to other players with in-season ACL injuries who then have preparations for the following season impacted by the lengthy rehab process.

“That was one of the things that kind of cheered me up,” Young said. “After I got hurt, I realized I had a lot of time to get healthy. I didn’t have to rush back into it or come back midway through the season. I came back at comfort, and now I just let loose.”

Levine recovering from foot surgery

Ten Ravens players didn’t take part in Thursday’s workout, a group that included Yanda (ankle), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, inside linebackers Albert McClellan (knee) and Bam Bradley (knee), wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg), and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), Maurice Canady (knee), and Jaylen Hill (knee).

Harbaugh revealed defensive back Anthony Levine underwent offseason foot surgery and is still working his way back to full strength. Levine suffered the injury in the Week 17 loss to Cincinnati and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp if he doesn’t take part in the mid-June mandatory minicamp.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) was present and working after missing last Thursday’s workout that was open to media. Some had wondered whether Mosley would attend voluntary workouts this spring since he is still seeking a long-term extension and is only under contract through the 2018 season.

Tight end Nick Boyle was excused to deal with a family matter, according to Harbaugh.

Cookout with coach 

Harbaugh invited rookies to his home for a post-Memorial Day cookout on Wednesday with the group posing for a picture in front of his swimming pool.

“They did not throw me in the pool. When we have the veteran party, I have a feeling that’ll be a possibility,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “But we had a great time. It’s a good group, and they get a chance to bond a little bit and relax and see the coaches in a different setting, too.”

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Harbaugh says Ravens offensive line in better shape than last offseason

Posted on 27 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens lost two 2017 starters from their offensive line this month, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.

Of course, they’ll welcome back six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda this year as well as third-year lineman Alex Lewis, who started eight games as a rookie and was considered an ascending talent before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August. But Baltimore didn’t pick up its 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard and lost free-agent center Ryan Jensen to Tampa Bay, who made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at the position.

This marks the second straight year the Ravens will need to replace the previous season’s starters at those positions.

“You compare it to last year, I think we are in better shape than we were a year ago at this time really,” Harbaugh said. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago, and it turned out pretty well for us. I thought [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys obviously. Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job, and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league.

“We’ve got some prospects there. I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens have substantial plans for James Hurst, who signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension that included a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. Making 15 of his 16 starts at left guard in place of the injured Lewis last season, Hurst is now expected to move to right tackle.

It’s a position where he’s made only two career starts, but the 6-foot-5, 317-pound lineman practiced there last spring and summer and received sparkling reviews from a notable teammate.

“Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner. He’s going to set the record this year,’” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s performance at right tackle last summer. “That’s how he felt going against him in training camp. I remember him saying that. Then, we had the injury to Alex and we moved him inside. That shows you how versatile he is. That’s how we’ll start off, but it could change.”

The 11th-year head coach also said former practice-squad member Matt Skura — who started 12 games at right guard last year — will receive the first crack at securing the starting center job as many anticipated. Nico Siragusa will also be in the mix if the 2017 fourth-round pick is fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury sustained last summer.

With Hurst moving outside, Lewis is in line to reclaim the left guard spot, but the 2016 fourth-round pick must prove he can stay on the field after missing 22 games in his first two seasons. In assistant head coach Greg Roman’s run schemes, guards are frequently required to pull, making the agile Lewis an ideal fit.

He also remains a consideration at center if Skura is not up to the challenge.

“We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of the thing that Greg and Marty put in last year. We run a lot of different schemes — gap schemes and pull schemes and lead schemes — where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”

Of course, Harbaugh was only speaking about offensive linemen currently on the roster as you’d expect the Ravens to be looking to add competition and depth in the draft since Hurst and Skura lack extensive NFL experience at their projected positions.

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Ravens re-sign offensive lineman Hurst, cut defensive back Webb

Posted on 12 March 2018 by Luke Jones

On the same day NFL teams could begin negotiating with other unrestricted free agents, the Ravens retained one of their own by re-signing offensive lineman James Hurst to a four-year contract.

The deal is worth $17.5 million with $8 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network. Hurst, 26, started 15 games at left guard last season as well as one at left tackle filling in for the injured Ronnie Stanley. The former undrafted free agent from North Carolina has struggled at both offensive tackle spots in the past, but he found a home inside while filling in for injured left guard Alex Lewis, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in training camp.

Many assumed the 6-foot-5, 317-pound Hurst would find a better contract elsewhere this offseason, but the Ravens clearly value his versatility and view him as a starting-caliber player with that type of a financial commitment. What that means for Lewis and the rest of the offensive line remains to be seen as starting center Ryan Jensen will hit the market this week as an unrestricted free agent.

“This is good news for our football team,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “James is a reliable, tough, and versatile player who has played a lot of football for us. He has started at both tackle and guard, and all he has been is productive and someone who has made us better.”

Pro Football Focus graded Hurst 55th among qualified guards last season while Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings listed him 49th among guards. He has never missed a game in his four-year career and has started 32 regular-season games as well as two postseason contests.

Reserve defensive back Lardarius Webb announced his departure via his verified Twitter account Monday as Baltimore has cut the longtime Raven for the second straight year. The 2009 third-round pick eventually re-signed with the Ravens at a cheaper rate last year and would begin the season as the primary nickel corner, but his role diminished as the year progressed and he was replaced by second-year corner Maurice Canady in many sub packages.

Webb was scheduled to make $2.15 million in base salary in 2018, but his release will save the Ravens $1.75 million in cap space. The Nicholls State product appeared in 127 games in his nine-year run with the Ravens, collecting 15 interceptions, 467 tackles, 91 pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles.

Baltimore entered Monday with just $4.878 million in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. Teams must be in compliance with the salary cap by 4 p.m. Wednesday when the free-agent signing period officially begins.

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2018

Posted on 16 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Urgency is at an all-time high in the John Harbaugh era with the Ravens falling short of the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in five seasons.

Most offseason attention has naturally fallen on free agency and the draft, but a less-than-ideal salary cap situation and picks falling in the middle of each round are challenges to making significant improvements to last year’s team. Those realities make it critical for the Ravens to see improvement from within as they did from Matthew Judon and Willie Henry in 2017.

It’s no secret that a number of underwhelming Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks in recent years have stunted the upside of rosters and have even forced general manager Ozzie Newsome to dump further resources into certain positions. Safety is one example as failed draft picks Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks and a number of underwhelming free-agent additions preceded the expensive contracts awarded to Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson in the last two offseasons.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2018 to improve their chances of making it back to the postseason:

2017 list
2016 list
2015 list
2014 list

1. LB Tyus Bowser

The 2017 second-round pick from Houston looked poised to become a standout rookie when he recorded a sack and an interception against Cleveland in Week 2, but a rough performance in London the following week led to him playing more than 10 defensive snaps in only three more contests the rest of the way. With Terrell Suggs turning 36 in October and entering the final year of his contract and backup Za’Darius Smith also a free agent after 2018, Bowser needs to look like a player ready to step into a starting role in 2019 if needed. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale shouldn’t hesitate to utilize Bowser’s athleticism and versatility in creative ways like Rex Ryan did with Bart Scott years ago.

2. DE Chris Wormley

Wormley became the latest 5-technique defensive end drafted by Baltimore to make little impact in his rookie year, but it’s a position requiring strength and discipline, making it less than shocking that the third-round pick from Michigan played only 120 defensive snaps. This is a critical offseason for him with the oft-injured Brent Urban being a free agent, 2017 starter Carl Davis recovering from shoulder surgery, and 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi rapidly approaching bust territory. There’s a golden opportunity for Wormley to seize the starting job and become a meaningful contributor as an inside pass rusher in sub packages, another need for the Baltimore defense.

3. LB Tim Williams

Are you noticing a trend here? The Ravens went all in on defense in the 2017 draft and received very little from their trio of Day 2 picks as Williams was inactive for eight games and played only 125 defensive snaps. It was hardly a shock to see the Alabama product struggle to set the edge and establish a role on special teams, but he’ll need to improve in these areas to put himself in better position for meaningful playing time. That said, Williams being a rush specialist in college was hardly a secret and the coaching staff needs to find ways to get him on the field to take advantage of that valuable dimension. As previously mentioned with Bowser, more snaps should be there if Williams is ready to capitalize.

4. G Alex Lewis

Of course, Lewis sat out the entire 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in training camp, but this came after he missed eight starts due to injury as a rookie, making his durability a legitimate concern. The 2016 fourth-round pick showed promise at left guard as a rookie and even filled in at an acceptable level at left tackle when Ronnie Stanley was injured, but the time is now for Lewis to firmly entrench himself as a dependable starter, especially with starting center Ryan Jensen a free agent and questionable to return. With there being so many questions at wide receiver and tight end, the Ravens need their offensive line to be as strong as possible and Lewis is a major key to that happening.

5. WR Chris Moore

The special-teams standout’s mention on this list is a product of circumstance as he is the only sure bet among the incumbent wide receivers to be on next year’s roster. Moore received praise for his play down the stretch and recorded half of his season receptions and two of his three touchdowns in December, but that excitement was more a response to the terrible play of Breshad Perriman than anything else. The second-year wideout only reined in 18 of 38 targets and needs to be more consistent to be considered as much as a No.3 option. Make no mistake, Moore has met expectations as a fourth-round pick with his play on special teams alone, but the Ravens need as much help as possible at wide receiver.

Others considered: WR Breshad Perriman, LB Kamalei Correa, DE Bronson Kaufusi, G Nico Siragusa, RB Kenneth Dixon

Perriman, Correa, and Kaufusi landed on the wrong side of this list after being non-factors at positions that had major opportunities for playing time in 2017. There’s always the chance of any of these former early draft picks being late bloomers, but that sentiment now falls more into the category of wishful thinking rather than there being serious expectations. We’ve heard little about Siragusa’s recovery from a serious knee injury, but the Ravens had high hopes for him as a 2017 fourth-round pick and could have an opening at center. Dixon is a wild card after suffering a season-ending knee injury in July and serving two drug-related bans. The talent is there, but is he healthy and truly committed to playing in the NFL?

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Ravens, Green Bay providing interesting contrast to start of offseason

Posted on 05 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are again preaching continuity after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but a contemporary with an even better track record over the last decade is proceeding quite differently.

If any team had an excuse for missing the playoffs in 2017, it was probably Green Bay after six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed over half of the season with a broken collarbone. The Packers fared exactly how you’d expect with backup Brett Hundley under center as the Ravens even contributed to that misery with a 23-0 shutout victory at Lambeau Field in Week 11. But that hasn’t stopped Green Bay from making substantial changes after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

In place as the general manager since 2005, Ted Thompson has stepped aside and will now serve in an advisory role. Head coach Mike McCarthy has fired both his offensive and defensive coordinators as well as his defensive line and inside linebackers coaches. The Packers also allowed their quarterbacks coach’s contract to expire after Hundley wasn’t up to the task of filling in for Rodgers.

Of course, every situation is unique and can be driven by factors other than the results on the field, but it’s a substantial shakeup for the Packers, who had been tied with New England for the longest active playoff appearance streak in the NFL at eight consecutive seasons. This is a team coming off an appearance in last year’s NFC Championship, so it’s more than fair to argue this being an overreaction when you lose one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Regardless, it’s an interesting contrast from Ravens head coach John Harbaugh defending offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and the rest of his offensive staff by citing quarterback Joe Flacco missing all of training camp with a back injury and starting guards Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda being lost for the season. No one would compare Flacco’s impact to that of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but the Ravens did have their franchise signal-caller available for all 16 games — even at less than 100 percent. And while there’s no understating the Week 2 loss of a six-time Pro Bowl right guard for the remainder of the year, Green Bay also dealt with a number of injuries on its offensive line this season.

One approach isn’t necessarily more correct than the other as time will tell whether these teams who have both won a Super Bowl in the last eight years will get back on track, but the Packers are certainly being aggressive trying to address their 2017 failures after a 7-9 finish while the Ravens have so far only been tasked with replacing their defensive coordinator after Dean Pees’ retirement. The juxtaposition of those two reactions to missing the playoffs will be interesting to monitor in 2018.

Jimmy Smith ready for start of next season?

It’s been just over a month since veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a torn Achilles tendon, leaving his status for the start of the 2018 season up in the air.

In the midst of the best campaign of his career at the time of the injury, Smith missed the final four contests and also served a four-game ban for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. It marked the fifth time in seven years that the 2011 first-round pick played no more than 12 games, making many understandably skeptical that he’ll be ready for Week 1 in September.

“You saw how fast [Terrell Suggs] came back from his,” said Harbaugh, referencing his remarkable 2012 return from an Achilles tear in under six months. “Then, there’s always a building back to your skill set, too, so we understand that. If you do the math, eight months [to recover would] be September for Jimmy. That’s conservative; it’s really a little more than that.

“We’ll see where he’s at. I’m hopeful, but we’ll have a bunch of corners here, too, to make sure that we have enough corners.”

Smith’s injury could open the door for veteran Brandon Carr to remain in Baltimore. The 31-year-old struggled down the stretch, but he has never missed a game in his career and cutting him would leave the youthful trio of Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Maurice Canady atop the depth chart until Smith is ready to return.

Releasing Carr would save $4 million in salary cap space for the 2018 season.

Infirmary report

Harbaugh said he will likely hold Yanda out until training camp, but the 33-year-old will be ready to go before then and is “already moving and doing some things” after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on Sept. 17.

According to the coach, Lewis (shoulder), Young (knee), and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) will be ready for the start of the offseason conditioning program in April while linebacker Albert McClellan (knee) should be ready to return by the start of training camp. Rookie wide receiver Tim White has been 100 percent for roughly the last six weeks after suffering a serious thumb injury in the first preseason game. Defensive end Brent Urban (foot) will also be ready by the spring, but he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Harbaugh said he hasn’t had any contact with tight end Darren Waller, who was suspended for a year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy in June.

Young backup for Flacco

Harbaugh acknowledged the possibility of the Ravens drafting a young quarterback this spring.

Flacco will turn 33 later this month and has been hampered by knee and back injuries over the last three seasons and sustained a concussion in Week 8. He is under contract through the 2021 season, but the Super Bowl XLVII MVP is coming off one of the more trying seasons of his 10-year career. Backup Ryan Mallett has served as his backup for the last two seasons and struggled this past preseason, leading many to clamor for the Ravens to draft a quarterback with some long-term upside.

“It’s something that we will talking about for sure,” Harbaugh said. “Every position, certain positions are going to be more important than others, but when you have a veteran quarterback at this stage, that is the time you are always looking for a young backup. I don’t think that jeopardizes Joe at all. He is our guy, and I am excited about our chances next year having a great season, and Joe is too.

“If we draft a quarterback, if it turns out to be the thing we do, it is only going to make our team stronger.”

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Amid Ravens’ offensive line trials, Jensen emerging as answer at center

Posted on 12 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ask any Ravens player which teammate is most likely to get into a scuffle in training camp, and the answer would be unanimous.

It’s the man who’s helped stabilize the middle of an offensive line that’s endured more than its share of injuries this season. And after years of competing and scrapping in relative obscurity, center Ryan Jensen has been one of the Ravens’ biggest surprises in his first full season as a starter.

“He gets a little feisty; he’ll throw a helmet here and there,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s a great competitor, and you want that kind of play with all your players, especially on the o-line. He’s not going to let anyone [bully] him. He’s always going to get the better end of it. Playing against him in practice, that keeps you aware.

“Even though you think he’s being a butthole, he’s actually making you better because you’re protecting yourself.”

Jensen says he takes such a description from a teammate as a compliment and quips that his red hair explains why he’s so “ornery” on the field, but such a temperament can be a challenge for a young player trying to establish himself among veteran teammates. A 2013 sixth-round pick out of Division II Colorado State-Pueblo, Jensen didn’t appear in a game as a rookie after breaking his foot early in his first training camp and was then waived at the end of the 2014 preseason, which led to him spending most of that campaign on Baltimore’s practice squad.

If those setbacks weren’t enough to make Jensen wonder if he would ever become a full-time NFL starter, the 6-foot-4, 319-pound lineman was a healthy scratch for the final nine weeks of 2016 after he’d made three fill-in starts early in the season. He’d also started six games because of injuries late in 2015, but the Ravens always seemed to end up going in a different direction whenever he’d receive a look as a starter.

“My second year when I got released, there is always a little doubt that gets put in the back of your mind,” Jensen said. “Working through that is big.”

Despite appearing to fall out of favor last season, Jensen received a $1.797 million tender as a restricted free agent in March. And after incumbent starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to San Francisco later that month, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff liked that Jensen had gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason. Senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris wanted more size and physicality at the center position in the transition from an outside-zone blocking system to a multiple approach that would include more man blocking and downhill running.

As many continued to clamor for former New York Jets center Eric Mangold and the focus on the in-house competition remained on John Urschel before his abrupt retirement in late July, Jensen lined up as the starting center on the first day of training camp and never relinquished the job. In fact, he was the only constant on the field throughout the summer as projected starters at every other position battled injuries or were working their way back from offseason surgeries.

Jensen’s first career start at center was uneven as he helped the Ravens run for a season-high 157 yards in the season-opening win at Cincinnati, but he also committed three holding penalties, prompting critics to wonder if he could channel his aggressiveness to play with enough discipline. Since then, however, he hasn’t committed a penalty and is coming off arguably the best game of his career last Sunday in Oakland as he was graded out higher than any center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I feel good about my performance. I feel good about the offensive line performance,” said Jensen, who currently ranks third among centers in PFF’s grading system for 2017. “We have been meshing together really well. We have injuries and stuff like that, but we are plowing forward and we are getting there.”

Making Jensen’s emergence even more impressive has been the disruption at both guard positions. Second-year left guard Alex Lewis underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in August — and has since been replaced by James Hurst — and six-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda was lost for the year due to a broken ankle in Week 2, leaving Jensen to work with three different players at right guard since then. With Matt Skura now expected to miss action with a knee injury, the Ravens will be on their third different starting right guard in the season’s first six weeks.

Yanda’s absence in particular has forced Jensen to grow up quickly as he’s responsible for assessing the defense’s pre-snap alignment and making protection calls at the line of scrimmage.

“He is a great communicator. He’s a fine player. He’s a tough guy,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “You guys know how up front that stuff happens fast and furious. It is wicked fast, so the communication has to be there. We have been through several guys [at guard], and he has done a great job of sort of running the show there.”

An offense still trying to find its footing is also benefiting from his attitude. With so many of his offensive teammates having more reserved personalities, Jensen isn’t afraid to get in the face of an opponent, something the Ravens had lost in the offseason with the retirement of wide receiver Steve Smith.

Jensen has managed to harness his temper that was so often on display during those practice-field scuffles in Owings Mills over the last few years and is forcing the rest of the league to take notice of his play.

“Ryan is a confident person. I think he has always been that way,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “The thing that you see with him the most is how nasty he is on Sunday and the style that he plays with. We play football, so that’s what it’s all about.

“You need that kind of player. You love to have those guys on your side.”

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