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mariota

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 October 2018 by Luke Jones

A stretch of three consecutive road games concludes Sunday with the Ravens having the chance to position themselves favorably in the AFC and put last week’s ugly loss in Cleveland behind them.

A win puts Baltimore at 4-2 with four of the next five games coming at home — albeit against some tough competition — but a loss creates more doubts about this year being any different from the last couple in which Baltimore fell short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 20th time in the all-time regular-season series with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are 2-3 against the Titans in the John Harbaugh era — counting their dramatic 13-10 road win in the 2008 postseason — and Tennessee won last year’s Week 9 meeting at Nissan Stadium, a 23-20 final.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will set a season high in rushing yards in a workmanlike effort. The Tennessee defense ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per play and tied for third in points per game surrendered, but the Titans are banged up at linebacker and are vulnerable to the run (4.4 yards per attempt allowed) when opponents have shown some patience. The Ravens must be more consistent getting positive yards — eight of the 20 carries split between Collins and Buck Allen went for no gain or worse last week — but Marty Mornhinweg can’t be so quick to bail on the running game.

2. Running back Dion Lewis will lead the Titans in receptions. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota appears to be over his early-season elbow injury, but he’s averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt and will need to be selective in his attempts to push the ball down the field against a pass defense allowing an NFL-low 5.9 yards per attempt. That will lead to opportunities for Lewis, who has 21 catches on the season. The Ravens will try to counter that by frequently using Anthony Levine in the dime package, but Lewis will find some room against Baltimore linebackers underneath and in the flat.

3. The Baltimore defense will force two turnovers to frustrate Mariota and the Tennessee offense. Trying to poke too many holes in a defense that allowed only 12 points in 70 minutes of play last week is unfair, but the Ravens surprisingly have only six takeaways through their first five games after leading the league last year and only forced one against a rookie quarterback last week. Mariota will try to force some intermediate-to-deep throws to former first-round pick Corey Davis, but Jimmy Smith now having a game under his belt makes the Ravens secondary that much more dangerous.

4. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will collect a sack and be disruptive much of the day. Casey is easily Tennessee’s best defensive player and is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, meaning the Ravens better be prepared to give Alex Lewis and Matt Skura as much help as they can. Baltimore will run away from Casey and roll the pocket away from him at times, but he’s fully capable of taking over like Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins did in Week 2. Space on inside runs will certainly be at a premium, but the Ravens have had more success running to the perimeter anyway. 

5. A late Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst will be the difference in a 20-13 win. What better way to win against Dean Pees than to break through in the fourth quarter against his strong Titans defense? Flacco is excited to involve the first-round tight end in the offense as he’s a fan of Hurst’s skill set, and the rookie should be more comfortable in his second NFL game. Ravens defenders said all the right things about their former defensive coordinator this week and hold no animosity, but they’re motivated to show they’re better than ever with more freedom and flexibility under Wink Martindale than they had with Pees. This is an AFC separator game the Ravens could really use, and they’ll get the job done despite it not being all that pretty at times.

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pierce

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Pierce still sidelined as Ravens return to practice field

Posted on 10 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are still waiting on the return of a key member of their defensive line ahead of a third consecutive road game at Tennessee on Sunday.

After suffering a setback with a lingering foot injury that kept him out of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland, defensive tackle Michael Pierce was absent from Wednesday’s practice and is in danger of missing his third game in four weeks against the Titans. The third-year defensive lineman was spotted in a walking boot prior to the Browns game, but he was not wearing it in the locker room before Wednesday’s workout.

Pierce’s absence in Week 5 was eased by the return of defensive tackle Willie Henry after a four-game absence, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t downplay how important Pierce is to the league’s top-ranked scoring defense. He missed the Week 3 win over Denver and played the following week in the victory over Pittsburgh before resurfacing on the injury report late last week.

“That’s a firm ‘maybe.’ I’m very hopeful, and I say that in all sincerity,” said Harbaugh about Pierce’s availability for Sunday. “I’m very hopeful. We’ll find out, but we could use him. He’s a factor inside. He’s a big difference.”

Six other players missed Wednesday’s practice, but the only real concern in that group appears to be rookie cornerback Anthony Averett, who has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) also missed last Wednesday’s practice before practicing the rest of the week and playing against the Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams returned to practice after missing the Cleveland game due to a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back De’Lance Turner was listed as a limited participant on the injury report after tweaking his hamstring during the opening portion of practice open to reporters. Turner left the field with a member of the training staff, and it’s unclear whether he returned later in the session. If the injury is serious, the Ravens would have only two healthy running backs — Alex Collins and Buck Allen — on the 53-man roster, which would likely necessitate a roster move. Rookie running back Gus Edwards is on the practice squad after spending the spring and summer with the Ravens.

Harbaugh confirmed former New England cornerback and Gilman product Cyrus Jones will be in the mix for the return specialist job after being claimed off waivers on Monday. The Ravens have already used Janarion Grant and Tim White — who are both on the practice squad — in that role, but ball security was a problem for each of them. Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg will evaluate other in-house options in addition to Jones this week.

“He’s done it before, so he’s in the mix,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, the thing about Tim and Janarion, we could bring those guys up on Saturday if we wanted to. We just have to figure out the roster stuff. We have some other guys who are going to do it. John Brown is going to practice up back there. Of course, Willie [Snead] is back there practicing. I guess we’ll just kind of find out on Sunday and let them figure out who it’s going to be.”

Meanwhile, the Titans were without three starters for their Wednesday practice with two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan being the most notable. Lewan left Sunday’s loss at Buffalo with a foot injury and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam for it earlier in the week. He told reporters after Sunday’s game that he dealt with a similar injury last year despite playing in all 16 games.

“I would probably anticipate this thing hopefully improving,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said on a Wednesday conference call. “But then we’ll have to see where he’s at at the end of the week and if he’s able to practice.”

Starting inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out in Week 5. Safety Kenny Vaccaro remains sidelined with an elbow injury and is unlikely to play against the Ravens.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB De’Lance Turner (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Will Compton (hamstring), OT Taylor Lewan (foot), S Kenny Vaccaro (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Wesley Woodyard (shoulder), LB Robert Spillane (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Dennis Kelly (illness)

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higgins

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 12-9 overtime loss at Cleveland

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 following the ugly 12-9 overtime loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore has had past performances like Sunday’s at FirstEnergy Stadium, but the difference was you could always count on a lousy football team to “Brown” it up at the most critical moment. The Browns were far from perfect, but Baker Mayfield clearly makes them a better team.

2. You hate criticizing a group that surrendered only 12 points, but the two-minute defense left a lot to be desired, allowing a 78-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half, a 38-yard drive in the final minute of regulation, and the 65-yard game-ending drive in overtime.

3. Had anyone heard of Derrick Willies before his 39-yard reception on third-and-8 in overtime? The rookie free agent caught a combined 40 passes in three collegiate seasons at Texas Tech and Iowa and hadn’t caught an NFL pass before the fourth quarter.

4. Arguably worse was Duke Johnson’s 15-yard run on the next play that put the Browns at the Baltimore 28. It was a less-than-stellar showing from Tyus Bowser and C.J. Mosley on that run since Cleveland kicker Greg Joseph wasn’t inspiring any confidence that he’d make a longer kick.

5. I’ve written extensively about the running game this week, but Lamar Jackson leads the team in yards per carry (min. 15 rushes), making it understandable why the Ravens want to keep him involved. Still, bringing him on the field for an inside rush on first-and-16 in overtime made little sense.

6. The defense recorded five sacks and a total of 27 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens allowed Mayfield to escape the pocket a few times, but the pass rush bounced back from a quiet performance in Pittsburgh. Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith were particularly good in that area.

7. Joe Flacco was among those complaining about the illegal block in the back call on Chris Moore that wiped away Alex Collins’ 17-yard run in overtime, but it was avoidable just like Matt Judon’s that canceled out a touchdown against Denver. You have to see what you’re hitting.

8. Anthony Levine continues to play terrific football after recording three pass breakups for the second straight week. He’s a good example of how using creativity with sub packages can work to your advantage. Levine isn’t a pure safety, linebacker, or cornerback, but he’s a good football player.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged not planning to use Willie Henry for 39 defensive snaps in his return from August hernia surgery, but he played well, registering a sack and another tackle. He provides another inside pass-rushing option to rotate with Smith and Brent Urban.

10. The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring defense and rank in the top five in a number of other categories, but they’ve recorded just six takeaways in their first five games after having 10 in the first two contests last year. I suspect that’s going to change sooner than later.

11. Browns cornerback Denzel Ward was responsible for taking as many as 10 points off the board from the Ravens with his goal-line interception and field goal block. He, Mayfield, and defensive end Myles Garrett sure look poised to make Cleveland an interesting team over the next few years.

12. Watching a 9-9 contest in the final seconds of overtime brought memories of the only tie in Ravens history, which came against Philadelphia at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 16, 1997. I recall leaving that day as fans from both teams argued over which team stunk more. Both finished 6-9-1.

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jimmysmith

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Seven Ravens players designated as questionable for Cleveland game

Posted on 05 October 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Saturday 1:30 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have designated seven players as questionable and ruled two others out for Sunday’s AFC North meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams and cornerback Anthony Averett won’t play after missing practices all week with hamstring injuries while the list of questionable players is headlined by defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring), and rookie first-round tight end Hayden Hurst (foot).

Pierce hadn’t been included on the injury report all week before missing Friday’s practice, a concerning development since he missed the Denver game two weeks ago with a foot injury. Smith practiced on a limited basis on Friday, but he didn’t appear close to 100 percent during the media viewing portion of the workout, leaving Baltimore’s depth at outside linebacker potentially vulnerable. Hurst was still only a limited participant in practices all week, leaving some question as to whether he’ll be active against the Browns after missing the first four games of the season.

One player not listed on the injury report who will make his 2018 season debut on Sunday is cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Ravens officially elevated Smith to the 53-man roster on Saturday as he’ll officially make his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

“He obviously did a really good job of staying in shape [and] worked hard over the period of time that he was away,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That was good to see. He’s getting in football shape; I think he mentioned that. That’s part of it. You have to play the game to play the game. But I feel good about where he’s at and anticipate him playing on Sunday and playing well.”

Baltimore waived rookie cornerback Darious Williams to make room for Smith on the active roster, leaving the Ravens with four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns. Williams appeared in three games and would seem to be a logical candidate for the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), and running back Alex Collins (knee) were all full participants on Friday, leaving little doubt about their status for Week 5. Collins wasn’t even listed on the final game status injury report, backing up Harbaugh’s Friday assertion that the starting back was fine.

After practicing all week on a limited basis for the first time since undergoing hernia surgery in late August, defensive tackle Willie Henry was listed as questionable for Sunday.

“He looked good. Willie hasn’t done quite as much because of the nature of his injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see about that and see how he responds to practice today and things like that. Really, the other part of that is going to be the roster and where we’re at with the 46-, 53-[man roster] numbers and the injuries and things like that. That will all kind of play into that decision. He probably could go. Whether he will or not, I’ll probably know within 24 hours.”

Starting left guard Alex Lewis was a late addition to the injury report after being limited with a shoulder issue on Friday. Whether it’s the same shoulder that was surgically repaired last August is unclear, but Lewis was listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, the Browns officially ruled out reserve middle linebacker James Burgess with a knee injury and designated starting outside linebcker Christian Kirksey (illness) and starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast for Cleveland calls for partly cloudy skies with scattered thunderstorms and temperatures reaching the mid-70s. There is a 40-percent chance of rain with winds five to 10 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot). DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (hamstring)

CLEVELAND
OUT: LB James Burgess (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Christian Kirksey (illness), S Damarious Randall (heel)

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johnbrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 30 September 2018 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — The Ravens and Pittsburgh renew one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries Sunday night while trying to keep up with first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North.

With the Bengals pulling out a last-minute win at Atlanta earlier in the day, Baltimore will attempt to secure its first win at Heinz Field since the 2015 season and remain in a first-place tie through the first quarter of the season.

As expected after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) are active and will play after sitting out the Week 3 win over Denver. Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) will also play after all were listed as questionable. Suggs was limited in practices all week, but the 16th-year linebacker wasn’t about to miss a chance to renew his personal rivalry with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst’s NFL debut will have to wait another week as he was deactivated after practicing on a limited basis all week. The first-round pick was sidelined more than a month after sustaining a stress fracture in his foot in late August, and the Ravens are being cautious in easing him back into the picture. Hurst went through a pre-game workout with the other tight ends before the inactives list was released 90 minutes prior to kickoff.

Veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III was a healthy scratch for the fourth consecutive game.

As expected, the Steelers have deactivated starting safety Morgan Burnett (groin) and nickel cornerback Mike Hilton (elbow) after they were listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Tony Corrente.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Pittsburgh calls for mostly clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s with calm winds up to four miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons black tops with gold pants.

Sunday marks the 45th all-time meeting in the regular season between these AFC North rivals as the Steelers enjoy a 24-20 advantage. Pittsburgh has won three straight after the Ravens had prevailed in the previous four meetings, a stretch that included the 2014 postseason.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
OL Hroniss Grasu
DT Willie Henry
TE Hayden Hurst
DL Zach Sieler

PITTSBURGH
QB Mason Rudolph
WR Justin Hunter
S Marcus Allen
CB Mike Hilton
S Morgan Burnett
OT Zach Banner
DE L.T. Walton

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Seven Ravens players listed as questionable for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 28 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite listing seven players as questionable on the final injury report, the Ravens are getting healthier ahead of their Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) were among those officially receiving the questionable designation, but both are expected to play after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday. They sat out the Week 3 win over Denver and will offer a boost as Baltimore tries to slow a Steelers offense averaging 29.3 points per game so far in 2018.

“They both seem good. I don’t see any reason they wouldn’t play,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to make sure. I guess they could always have a reaction; I haven’t talked to the trainers yet in terms of how they reacted to today’s practice. That’s always a part of the evaluation, but based on what I saw today, they looked good.”

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) was also listed as questionable, but he was able to return to practice on a limited basis on Friday, easing concerns about his availability on Sunday night. It’s worth noting the seven-time Pro Bowl selection didn’t talk with the media this week, an unusual development suggesting his knee won’t be 100 percent as the Ravens try to secure their first win at Heinz Field since 2015.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) are also officially questionable, but all are expected to play after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday.

The most interesting injury question will be the status of rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, who practiced this week for the first time since sustaining a stress fracture in his foot last month. The first-round pick was a limited participant in practices all week, but the Ravens liked what they saw from him after a month-long layoff.

“You can’t really say he didn’t miss a beat just because who knows?” Harbaugh said. “We’re not really playing padded football in practice as much, but it didn’t really seem like there was a difference between when he left and what he did this week. I thought he looked very good, very strong. As far as his availability to the game, it will depend on what the trainers say. We’ll just have to see how that goes. It’s something they’ll evaluate between now and then.”

Defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) and rookie cornerback Anthony Averett (hamstring) have been officially ruled out for Week 4. With Averett missing his second straight game, the Ravens have only four healthy cornerbacks available, making a weekend roster move possible with cornerbacks Robertson Daniel and Makinton Dorleant currently on the practice squad.

Only two players — safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Mike Hilton — appeared on Pittsburgh’s final injury report, but they are listed as doubtful to play on Sunday. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was removed from the injury report after dealing with an abdomen injury earlier in the week, but he practiced fully on Friday.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday night calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s with calm winds at six miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday night:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (knee)

PITTSBURGH
DOUBTFUL: S Morgan Burnett (groin), CB Mike Hilton (elbow)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on opening of training camp

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first full-squad workout on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much has been made about the risks of a longer training camp, but John Harbaugh believes it provides the opportunity to extend the normal three-day acclimation period to try to curtail early-camp injuries. We’ll see how it works out, but easing key veterans into action certainly makes sense.

2. With Joe Flacco conducting off-site passing sessions with his receivers last week, when do the playoff tickets go on sale? In seriousness, there’s no downside to doing it and the optics are favorable, but I’ve always filed this over-discussed topic more into the eyewash department than anything moving the meter.

3. You could have made good money if you’d wagered last December that Jimmy Smith would be taking part in 11-on-11 drills on the first day of training camp. The oft-injured cornerback turns 30 next week and enters a critical season as he carries a $16.175 million cap figure in 2019.

4. Harbaugh wouldn’t confirm ESPN’s report that the organization will pay Breshad Perriman his $649,485 roster bonus, but the 2015 first-round pick practiced Thursday and drew groans from fans when he dropped a routine pass during an individual drill. As I wrote recently, the Ravens hate giving up on early picks.

5. Inside linebacker depth behind C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor is a concern with Albert McClellan coming off an ACL injury and Bam Bradley’s return from his own ACL tear not imminent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore explore a veteran addition, especially if Kenny Young is slow to develop.

6. It appears Matt Skura will get the first chance to nail down the starting center job. His 12 starts at right guard last year provided valuable experience, but he must prove he can be physical enough and won’t lose ground as a pass blocker up the middle.

7. Tony Jefferson labeled last year a learning experience and believes new defensive coordinator Don Martindale will effectively use his strength of playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Dean Pees didn’t always use Jefferson correctly, but the high-priced safety still needs to show much more this year.

8. Maxx Williams made a nice sideline catch off a Jefferson tip during an 11-on-11 session on Thursday. With rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the picture and Nick Boyle a better blocker, the 2015 second-round pick needs a strong and healthy summer to maintain his roster spot.

9. One of Thursday’s highlight defensive plays was Chuck Clark intercepting a Lamar Jackson pass that either went off Hurst’s hands or was tipped by Tavon Young in tight coverage. Clark could push Anthony Levine for dime snaps, especially with the latter missing much of the offseason with a foot injury.

10. Alex Collins being a veteran excused from practice early a year after he was cut by Seattle was surprising, but it speaks to the need to keep the undersized back fresh. After playing at 200 pounds last year, he’s carrying five extra pounds to see how his body responds.

11. The other quarterbacks in camp receive all the attention, but Josh Woodrum threw a beautiful deep touchdown to DeVier Posey in an 11-on-11 drill. I’ll set the over-under on my remaining mentions of Woodrum this summer at 3.5.

12. Speaking of quarterbacks, seeing Flacco, Jackson, and even Robert Griffin III throw the football reminds me how painful it was to watch Ryan Mallett with Flacco sidelined all last summer. It’s no wonder the passing game was an utter disaster over the first half of the 2017 season.

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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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