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Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

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Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You’d be hard pressed to find too many Ravens fans who knew Anthony Levine’s name prior to Sunday’s 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Making his first career start for a revamped and injury-riddled secondary that was still licking its wounds from an embarrassing performance in Pittsburgh, the former safety seized the opportunity after previously playing just five defensive snaps in his entire NFL career. Levine finished with four tackles and two pass breakups while also earning Pro Football Focus’ highest single-game grade in pass coverage for any Ravens cornerback not named Jimmy Smith this season.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Levine said after Sunday’s win. “To call myself a starting something in the NFL — whether it was safety, corner — I was happy to say that I was a starting corner today for the Baltimore Ravens.”

Of course, Levine’s success came against a rookie quarterback and a Tennessee passing game lacking bite and it remains to be seen if he’ll survive against more potent aerial attacks, but it’s difficult not to feel good for a third-year player who spent parts of three seasons on practice squads — originally with Green Bay and then Baltimore — before even getting a chance as a special-teams contributor. The Tennessee State product played all 16 games for the Ravens last season without receiving a single defensive snap, finishing second on the team in special-teams tackles and serving as the protector on the punt team.

After watching Levine serve as a core member of his units for the last two years, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg takes pride in seeing him become the latest special-teams player to make the transition to starter. Several former Ravens have made similar jumps in recent years, including linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe as well as cornerback Corey Graham.

“We hope that our players that are just playing special teams develop into players on their sides of the ball as well,” Rosburg said. “It’s my belief — perhaps it’s a slanted belief — that if you can be a good special-teams player, you should be a good player on offense and defense because it takes a lot of skill to play on special teams. It’s not a surprise to me that he’s developed skills that he can go out there and play for the Ravens in the secondary.”

To be fair, Levine’s opportunity to start wasn’t as much about improvement as it was about the Ravens’ injuries and attrition as the coaching staff didn’t anticipate throwing him into the fire this quickly until the Smith injury made the secondary’s issues even worse. After Levine practiced at safety in his first two years with the Ravens, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo had moved him to cornerback in training camp when injuries to Lardarius Webb, Smith, and Asa Jackson left the secondary shorthanded.

It was a position at which Levine had worked some before, and he’s downplayed the change because of how comfortable he’s always felt backpedaling, a skill needed at both safety and corner. The 27-year-old really began turning heads a couple weeks ago while practicing with the scout team against the starting offense as Pees and Spagnuolo noticed how effectively he was competing against the likes of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith in coverage.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks higher on the depth chart such as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown continued to struggle, culminating with Ben Roethlisberger’s six-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. Two days later, those two were cut and Levine received a text message from Spagnuolo saying to be ready to practice leading up to the Tennessee game.

“He just has run with it. He’s a confident guy that competes,” said Spagnuolo, who told Levine he was starting the morning of the Titans game. “He loves to practice and is passionate about the game. There’s not a guy out there he doesn’t think he can cover. That’s a good quality for a corner.”

Sharing time with newly-acquired veteran Danny Gorrer, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Levine was strong in run support and did a fine job keeping receivers in front of him, allowing only one reception for 13 yards on three passes thrown his way in coverage. Despite the first-quarter struggles of the defense, Levine made his presence felt on the opening drive when he dropped running back Bishop Sankey on a stretch play for only a 1-yard gain.

The post-game locker room featured several teammates praising Levine as a hard worker who had done everything he could for the opportunity. While most media and fans expected Gorrer to be the one to start at cornerback in the buildup to the Tennessee game, Webb complimented Levine’s performance in practice without being prompted last week, a hint that the special-teams player just might be the next man up.

“We all know that Levine can make plays in practice against the top receivers, Steve and Torrey,” Webb said following the game. “That’s how he is in practice, he’s always going 110 percent on special teams — all phases of special teams — and playing defense. You have to look up to that. He did a great job doing everything. He’s a corner, he’s a playmaker.”

Those labels are different than what Levine’s used to hearing after years as a practice-squad member, special-teams contributor, and scout-team player who remained anonymous with most of the outside football world.

Though the Ravens will continue to face questions in their secondary week after week, Levine was able to provide an answer for at least one Sunday. And he earned another shot after the bye against a more imposing opponent in the New Orleans Saints to prove that he’s not just a special-teams player playing out of position.

“Sometimes you have to be careful of pigeonholing guys like that,” Pees said. “Give them an opportunity, [and] then it’s up to them to run with it. I just think that’s a credit to them when they get the opportunity to seize it.”

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Revamped Ravens secondary passes first test against inexperienced Titans

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Revamped Ravens secondary passes first test against inexperienced Titans

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day the Ravens shook up their secondary by cutting Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, backup Anthony Levine received a text message from secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo telling him to be ready.

You’d forgive the reserve safety and special-teams player if he didn’t know exactly what his position coach meant on Tuesday night after he had played all of five defensive snaps through the first nine games of the season, but months of practicing at cornerback finally paid off Sunday with Levine making his first career start in the Ravens’ 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans. The 27-year-old finished the game with four tackles and two pass breakups while splitting time with the newly-acquired Danny Gorrer at cornerback opposite starter Lardarius Webb.

“It’s something that we’ve kind of been watching for a number of weeks and months, I guess,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Levine’s play. “And he gets better every single week. I guess we’re not going to call him a safety anymore. He deserves to be called a corner, and he deserves it. He has played really well throughout the year, but he showed it in this game.”

After allowing the Titans to march down the field on their first two drives to start the game, the Ravens finally dialed up pressure and the secondary settled down to hold rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger to just 179 passing yards on 27 attempts. Five sacks and eight quarterback hits allowed the defensive backfield to play with some cushion as the Titans completed only one play greater than 17 yards, a 20-yard completion to Kendall Wright that came late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.

A play later, Gorrer made his second career interception in his first game with the Ravens since the 2011 season. It was only the second pick made by a Baltimore defensive back all season, but it was an encouraging sign for a secondary trying to fill the void left by top cornerback Jimmy Smith in the final six games of the season.

Of course, Mettenberger and the Titans’ 24th-ranked passing offense aren’t exactly intimidating threats, but many wondered this week if the Ravens’ current secondary was capable of stopping anybody, making Sunday’s performance something on which to build. If anything, the win was a nice confidence boost before the reality sets in that the Ravens will be facing Pro Bowl quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in consecutive weeks after the bye.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Gorrer, who began the week as a member of the Detroit Lions before being waived last Monday and rejoining Baltimore a day later. “This is our profession, so no matter how it goes, you always have to be ready to step in. With Jimmy going down, it was time for me to step in and for the secondary to come together well and play decent.”

Levine and Gorrer weren’t the only ones with strong days in the secondary as rookie safety Terrence Brooks returned to action after being a healthy scratch in the Week 9 loss at Pittsburgh. Entering to play free safety in place of Darian Stewart in obvious passing situations, Brooks delivered what several defensive players called the game-changing play of the day with a vicious — but legal — hit to Delanie Walker that forced an incompletion and knocked the Titans tight end out of the game with a concussion late in the first half.

The Tennessee offense never threatened again and would gain only four more first downs the rest of the way and 45 total yards in the second half.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees once again used a committee approach to his pass defense with Webb, Gorrer, and Levine playing in the traditional nickel defense, safety Matt Elam serving as a big nickel for extra run support at times, and Will Hill making his second straight start at the safety position, registering three tackles and a pass breakup.

The questions will remain in the secondary, but Sunday provided a glimmer of hope that the secondary — supported with a consistent pass rush — might be able to hold up enough to keep the Ravens within striking distance of their sixth playoff appearance in the last seven years.

“We won, so I feel like we played well,” Levine said. “That was the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was to win, and not get beat deep — and I don’t think they had any big plays today. I think we did a good job.”

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Ravens tender contracts to Bynes, five other exclusive-rights free agents

Posted on 11 March 2014 by Luke Jones

With the free-agent signing period officially beginning at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the Ravens addressed their six exclusive-rights free agents by tendering each to one-year deals.

Linebackers Josh Bynes, Adrian Hamilton, and D.J. Bryant and safeties Omar Brown, Anthony Levine, and Brynden Trawick were all tendered contracts, according to USA Today’s Tom Pelissero.

These moves were considered nothing but a formality as exclusive-rights free agents have two or fewer accrued seasons in the league and own no negotiating rights. In order for the Ravens to retain the rights to these players, they simply had to tender contracts at the league minimum based on their respective service times in the NFL.

Baltimore signed linebacker Albert McClellan to a two-year contract over the weekend and chose not to tender a contract to wide receiver Tandon Doss as these two represented the team’s only restricted free agents. The Ravens are reportedly still open to the possibility of signing Doss to a deal, but he was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday afternoon.

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 28 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The Ravens have reached the light at the end of the preseason tunnel as they’ll conclude the summer against the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.

From an entertainment standpoint, the preseason finale has rarely been one in which you can cut the electricity with a knife as Joe Flacco has already been confirmed by head coach John Harbaugh to be a spectator on Thursday. The starting quarterback won’t be alone as many starters will not take the field at all at the Edward Jones Dome in a game that means nothing for players who have already sewn up spots on the 53-man roster.

Of course, Harbaugh and the coaching staff will be expecting a strong performance from the players who will see action, many of whom are fighting for no more than a few jobs.

“We’re getting ready to go play St. Louis,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to do our best to go out there and try to win that game within the parameters of what helps our football team going forward into the regular season.”

In all reality, most roster decisions have already been made with the preseason finale not doing much to change the dynamics of the 53-man squad that must be finalized by Saturday at 6 p.m. Players with no realistic shot of making the team are hoping to put forth a good performance that might garner attention from other teams looking to fill out their rosters and practice squads in the coming days.

Potential competitions remain for the third running job, the No. 3 tight end, and the fourth safety job if the Ravens elect to keep each of those positions. And, of course, much attention will be paid to the wide receivers currently on the bubble, but you have to wonder how many conclusions the coaching staff can draw from the wideouts playing with reserve quarterback Caleb Hanie and potentially the newly-signed Dayne Crist.

Harbaugh was asked Tuesday how many times he could recall roster spots being decided by just a play or two made in the preseason finale.

“Probably not often, in all reality,” Harbaugh said. “But I would say in this game, there are a couple of those. There are a couple guys that, perhaps if they really, really play well, they could really play themselves on [to the 53-man roster]. Or, guys could play themselves off. It’s possible.”

The Ravens will be meeting the Rams for the fourth time ever in the preseason as St. Louis enters the game with a 3-0 all-time mark in the exhibition contests. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 3-2 margin and won a 37-7 blowout in St. Louis in the teams’ last meeting in 2011.

Harbaugh is now 15-8 in preseason games with the Ravens holding a 42-28 overall mark in the preseason. Baltimore has won 14 of its last 19 preseason games.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to produce an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released.

Of course, the final preseason game will include many players sitting out due to Harbaugh’s preference with the regular-season opener against the Denver Broncos just a week from Thursday night. This estimated report does not reflect any of the veterans who will watch from the sidelines and is only an indication of the team’s current health.

Inside linebacker Jameel McClain (neck), defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton (wrist) are no longer on the active roster and are no longer included in the injury report.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: WR Deonte Thompson (foot), LB Pernell McPhee (knee), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Arthur Jones (personal health issue), QB Tyrod Taylor (head)
PROBABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. RB Delone Carter

While few fans are enthused to watch the fourth and final preseason game consisting of few starters, the contest will offer the first glance of Carter, who was acquired from Indianapolis in the David Reed trade. At 5-foot-9 and 232 pounds, Carter is a low-to-the-ground power runner with the reputation of being effective at the goal line and in short-yardage situations, two areas in which the Ravens struggled at times last season.

The real question may be how much of an impact Carter can bring to special teams as the potential No. 3 running back with third-year veteran Anthony Allen strong in that regard and Bobby Rainey having intriguing potential as a backup return specialist. Much discussion of last impressions being made in the preseason finale is overblown, but Carter has only had a couple practices to show off his ability, meaning Thursday will be critical for his potential future in Baltimore.

2. WR LaQuan Williams

It’s difficult to predict whether the performance of any of the bubble receivers on Thursday night will carry much stock in final roster decisions if the likes of Hanie and Crist are under center, but Williams hasn’t followed up his strong performance in the preseason opener in the way he would have liked. Always a good special-teams player, Williams has lacked consistency as a wideout this summer and saw rookies Marlon Brown and Aaron Mellette receive opportunities with the first-team offense in recent weeks while he only received a few token reps here and there.

A standout play or two on special teams would likely put an exclamation point on his case for a spot on the 53-man roster for the third straight season, but Williams would like to leave a lasting impression as a wide receiver as well. The coaching staff has always been complimentary of his work ethic, but Williams doesn’t have the impressive height or blazing speed of other receivers with which he’s competing and his value on special teams can only go so far with so much uncertainty at the wide receiver position as a whole.

3. DE DeAngelo Tyson

It’s remarkable to think how far the defensive line has come since last season when Tyson was seeing critical snaps in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII after Haloti Ngata went down with a knee injury. The 2012 seventh-round pick hasn’t necessarily had a poor summer, but he is clearly seventh in the pecking order of a deep group of options with various skills against the run and pass.

Tyson’s fate will come down to the simple numbers as the coaching staff decides whether players at other positions would be better fits for roster spots than keeping Tyson as a seventh defensive lineman. Statistics usually aren’t a great indication of how well a defensive lineman has fared, but Tyson’s two tackles reflect the quiet preseason we’ve observed from the Georgia product.

4. TE Billy Bajema

Following the Ravens’ decision to terminate the contract of veteran Visanthe Shiancoe last weekend, many assumed this opened the door for rookie Matt Furstenburg to be the No. 3 tight end, but veteran Billy Bajema is a reliable blocking tight end with some ability as a pass catcher when given opportunities. He saw a great deal of action late last season when Ed Dickson was sidelined with a knee injury and held up well as the blocking tight end behind Dennis Pitta.

In most cases, teams will go with the younger, cheaper option when rookies and veterans are evenly matched in a competition for a roster spot, but the Ravens were using Bajema over Furstenburg with the starting offense prior to the free-agent signing of Dallas Clark a couple weeks ago. Bajema is also a positive special-teams contributor, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked when the Ravens make their final decision on a potential third tight end.

5. S Anthony Levine

Fellow safety Omar Brown might be more of a household name after a strong 2012 preseason, but Levine has appeared to receive more opportunities with the starting special-teams units during the preseason, which could be an indication of which way the Ravens are leaning for the fourth safety spot — if they decide to keep one. Levine is bigger than Brown and was signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad last November before eventually going on injured reserve, which paved the way for Brown to be promoted in December.

This might be a rare roster battle that comes down to a matter of who can make a play or two in the preseason finale to sell the coaches on a potential decision. Levine has eight tackles this summer while Brown has five; however, Levine has made one special-teams tackle but appeared to be one of the guilty parties to misplay his lane assignment in the Ted Ginn Jr. 74-yard punt return for a touchdown last week in Baltimore.

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Ravens safety C. Thompson placed on IR with knee injury

Posted on 17 November 2012 by Luke Jones

A day before a crucial AFC North showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens announced rookie safety Christian Thompson has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Baltimore promoted safety Anthony Levine from the practice squad to take Thompson’s spot on the 53-man roster.

Thompson, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina State in April’s draft, was active seven games this season but did not record a tackle as he served on special teams. He was added to the Ravens’ injury report on Thursday, meaning he may have suffered the knee injury during that practice. The rookie was a non-participant during Friday’s practice and had been listed as questionable for Sunday night’s game.

Levine had spent the entire season on the Ravens’ practice squad after spending most of two years on Green Bay’s practice squad during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The former Tennessee State product has yet to appear in an NFL game.

Thompson’s injury is the third of the season-ending variety for the Baltimore secondary this year after losing safety Emanuel Cook to a broken leg in the preseason and top cornerback Lardarius Webb to an ACL injury in mid-October. Earlier this week, cornerback Jimmy Smith underwent sports hernia surgery, but the Ravens remain optimistic the 2011 first-round pick will return before the end of the season.

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