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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

Posted on 03 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens look to be in good shape from a health standpoint as they continued preparations for Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

All 53 players on the active roster were present and working during the portion of practice open to media on Tuesday. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest), and Asa Jackson (ankle), tight end Owen Daniels (hamstring), running back Bernard Pierce (head), safety Matt Elam (leg), and offensive lineman Jah Reid (head) all took part in practice and appear on track to play against the Bengals.

Of those players with recent injury concerns, only Webb and Pierce were even listed on Wednesday’s injury report, but both were designated as having full participation.

“It’s good to have guys out there practicing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The more guys you have practicing, the better practice you have. The numbers always help a lot.”

Smith, Jackson, and Webb appeared to be moving well during individual drills as there will be extra focus paid to Webb after he missed the entire summer while dealing with a back injury. The sixth-year defensive back also underwent sports hernia surgery in the offseason, so it remains to be seen how so much missed time since last season will impact his play in the secondary.

The Bengals ranked eighth in the NFL in passing offense a year ago, but quarterback Andy Dalton will be without No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones, who is recovering from a broken foot sustained on Aug. 9. Jones was officially ruled out Wednesday along with running back Rex Burkhead.

A day after initially filling their practice squad, the Ravens made a change to their developmental group by signing former Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jamell Fleming and cutting cornerback Deji Olatoye. Fleming was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, but Arizona cut him after only one season.

He saw action in eight games with Jacksonville last season but was cut by the Jaguars last weekend. In his rookie season, he appeared in 15 games and made three starts, registering 23 tackles and one pass breakup.

Rookie safety Terrence Brooks is now wearing No. 31, which was his jersey number at Florida State and was worn by safety Oman Brown in the preseason.

Here is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Max Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion), G/C Mike Pollak (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), OT Andre Smith (concussion)

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Ravens’ banged-up secondary returns to practice Saturday

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Ravens’ banged-up secondary returns to practice Saturday

Posted on 30 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens hit the field to a welcome sight Saturday as four key members of their secondary returned to practice.

Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest), and Asa Jackson (ankle) as well as safety Matt Elam (leg) were all present and working during the portion of practice open to the media. Jackson and Elam appeared to be participating at a fairly high rate while Webb and Smith were more limited to individual work.

The return of Webb was particularly positive as he hadn’t practiced since being stricken with back spasms on July 25. With just over a week to go before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens will need their full array of defensive backs against Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and a potent offense.

“Very encouraging to get all those guys practicing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think we had everybody practicing today. It was encouraging to see that. Those guys all looked good. We’ll just take it one day at a time from there.”

Running back Bernard Pierce and offensive lineman Jah Reid also returned to practice after both had been dealing with concussions.

With running back Ray Rice beginning his two-game suspension, Pierce will become the starting running back and is expected to handle a bulk of the carries in Gary Kubiak’s new offensive system.

 

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Harbaugh sees no “desperation” for Ravens to make trade

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Harbaugh sees no “desperation” for Ravens to make trade

Posted on 26 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Eighty percent of the Ravens’ projected nickel secondary remains sidelined less than two weeks away from the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but you won’t observe any sense of panic from John Harbaugh.

Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson as well as strong safety Matt Elam are currently out with various ailments, but the head coach remains optimistic that all will be ready when Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and a talented Bengals offense comes to Baltimore on Sept. 7. Harbaugh said Tuesday he expects Webb — who’s been sidelined with back spasms since July 25 — and Smith to be practicing by early next week while Jackson was running and working on lateral movement during Tuesday’s practice. Elam is expected to be practicing again by the end of the week after suffering a minor leg injury in Saturday’s preseason game against Washington.

Even if those expectations become reality for the Baltimore defense, serious questions remain at the No. 3 corner spot that’s essentially become a starting role in today’s pass-happy NFL. Jackson has never played a defensive snap entering his third season while fourth-year corner Chykie Brown saw only 39 defensive snaps during the 2013 regular season.

Needless to say, general manager Ozzie Newsome has been scanning the market to potentially add veteran cornerback help following the free-agent departure of Corey Graham in the offseason. The Ravens signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dominique Franks in mid-June, but his play this summer has been inconsistent after he was largely relegated to special-teams duties last season.

The poor health and lack of experience behind Webb and Smith have prompted many pundits and fans alike to clamor for an impact move as soon as possible.

“Maybe there will be a guy that will fall and somebody is going to have a real need for something that we have to offer,” Harbaugh said. “I know Ozzie and Eric [DeCosta] and Vince Newsome and George [Kokinis] and those guys are all talking with everybody around the league in terms of what’s out there. Not that we feel we have any desperation things that we have to get, but from the standpoint that [if] there’s something that we can get better, we want to do that.”

Trades at the end of the summer have been sparse in the Harbaugh era as the only impact swap came at the end of the 2010 preseason when the Ravens traded a fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for cornerback Josh Wilson. Needing another defensive back after starter Domonique Foxworth suffered a season-ending knee injury at the start of training camp, Baltimore benefited greatly from that acquisition as Wilson — now with the Falcons — started nine games and intercepted three passes to help the Ravens to a 12-4 record and a third straight trip to the playoffs.

Might the Ravens draw from a position of strength such as linebacker or wide receiver and possibly couple that with a draft pick to nab an established cornerback?

Harbaugh isn’t betting on it.

“We look at that every year, the opportunities to make trades and things like that,” Harbaugh said. “And every year, I’m usually disappointed that we don’t get anybody, because people don’t want to trade good players. It’s not as predominant as you would like to think it is going to be.”

Options are slim on the current market with veterans such as Asante Samuel, Chris Houston, and Dunta Robinson carrying age- or injury-related baggage that hasn’t been attractive to teams this summer. If the Ravens were interested in any of those veteran options, they likely would have pulled the trigger by now to give them sufficient time to learn Dean Pees’ defensive system.

Over the years, Newsome has been known to find a gem or two who was let go by another team at the end of the preseason such as offensive tackle Willie Anderson in 2008 or safety James Ihedigbo in 2012, but cornerback talent is at an ever-increasing premium with rules consistently trending toward offense. The odds simply aren’t great to be able to complete a reasonable trade that will help, but that’s fine with the seventh-year head coach as the Ravens prepare to play their final preseason contest in New Orleans on Thursday night.

“I like our team right now the way it stands,” Harbaugh said. “If we can get better, great. You get your hopes up, [then] they’re probably going to be dashed. But you can never count Ozzie out. He’s pretty special.”

NOTES: Harbaugh said he has decided whether suspended running back Ray Rice will play in the preseason finale, but he chose not to disclose his answer to the media. It would be surprising to see the three-time Pro Bowl selection playing behind a second-string offensive line that’s been suspect this summer. … Sixth-round quarterback Keith Wenning’s future remains in limbo as the Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster since 2009, but Harbaugh downplayed the difficulty of the decision. “You just decide who your best 53 players are. If the third quarterback is in the top 53, he’s on the team. If he’s not, he’s not. It’s simple.” … Quarterbacks are wearing new practice jerseys (modeled by backup Tyrod Taylor below) that are black with purple numbers, replacing the red models worn since Harbaugh arrived in 2008. The change was likely inspired by the practice jersey worn by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — a black top with red numbering — when his team practiced with the Ravens in Owings Mills earlier this month.

 

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Most of Ravens secondary continues to be sidelined during practice

Posted on 26 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Completing their final full practice before the preseason finale in New Orleans, the Ravens continued to be without most of their projected starting secondary on Tuesday.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (chest), Lardarius Webb (back), and Asa Jackson (ankle) and safety Matt Elam (leg) were not working on Tuesday afternoon as the Ravens desperately try to get their secondary healthy for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7.

Jackson was doing some running and working on his lateral movement with head athletic trainer Mark Smith during the portion of practice open to the media. Webb was an observer on the practice field as he has been periodically since being stricken with back spasms on July 25.

Running back Bernard Pierce (concussion), offensive tackle Jah Reid (concussion), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip) were also missing from Tuesday’s practice. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the significance of Pierce’s concussion Monday while also acknowledging that recovery time can often be unpredictable.

“I was told by Mark [Smith] he’s feeling a lot better today,” Harbaugh said. “It was described as a mild concussion. Nowadays, with those things, I don’t take any stock in that until they tell me that he’s back. The concussion thing is just hard to predict.”

Wide receiver Kamar Aiken returned to practice a day after sitting out. He is currently competing for one of the last spots on the 53-man roster with final cuts needing to be made by 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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J. Smith, Jackson, Webb missing from practice, won’t play Saturday

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J. Smith, Jackson, Webb missing from practice, won’t play Saturday

Posted on 21 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to take the field for Saturday’s all-important third preseason game against the Washington Redskins without three key members of their secondary.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (chest), Asa Jackson (ankle), and Lardarius Webb (back) were all missing from the open portion of Thursday’s practice and will miss Saturday’s game, which is viewed as the final tuneup for the start of the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh had already ruled out Webb for the remainder of the preseason while expressing optimism that Smith and Jackson might be able to play against Washington.

“Our top three corners are going to be out,” said Harbaugh, who added that Smith would probably be able to play if it were a regular-season game. “It’s going to be an opportunity for those [backups] to go against the best for a long period of time. Those guys are among the best receivers in football and have a great quarterback. The whole offense is very well stocked with talent. It’s going to give us a good chance to evaluate where we’re at and give those guys an opportunity to prove they can play with the best.”

Starters are not expected to play in next week’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints as a season-opening matchup with All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals only 17 days away.

Against Washington, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will likely turn to fourth-year veteran Chykie Brown, former Atlanta Falcon Dominique Franks, rookie free agent Tramain Jacobs, and third-round rookie safety Terrence Brooks as cornerback options to rotate with the starting defense on Saturday night. In 2013, Brown played just 39 defensive snaps in the Baltimore secondary while Franks took only 13 in the Falcons defense, according to Pro Football Focus.

Since Webb has been sidelined with back spasms since July 25, the Ravens have gone through the entire summer without an opportunity to see what their starting secondary will look like, which is concerning as Brown and Jackson were competing for the No. 3 cornerback position.

“[It's] always a concern. We want guys that are going to play,” Pees said. “Somebody asked [Wednesday] about who we’d have out there [for the] first game, and I said, ‘Whoever we have healthy.’ But even when you get guys back, if a guy has been off for three or four weeks, he hasn’t played game tempo — all that stuff. It’s always a concern at any position.”

Other players missing from Thursday’s workout included tight end Owen Daniels (legs), offensive linemen Jah Reid (head), Will Rackley (head), and Brett Van Sloten (knee), fullback Shaun Chapas (undisclosed), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (active physically unable to perform list – hip surgery).

Daniels hasn’t practiced since Aug. 11 as Harbaugh has repeatedly said the 31-year-old veteran is resting his legs and not dealing with a specific injury.

 

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Jimmy Smith still sidelined after suffering bruised lungs against Cowboys

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Jimmy Smith still sidelined after suffering bruised lungs against Cowboys

Posted on 18 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to the practice field on Monday without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but the prognosis appears encouraging after he suffered a scary chest injury in Saturday’s preseason win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Head coach John Harbaugh said a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed the 2011 first-round pick suffered bruising and bleeding from the lungs when he slammed his back on the turf while defending a sideline pass intended for Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant early in the first quarter. Smith was coughing up blood even after the game and was initially diagnosed with a chest contusion, according to the Ravens.

“They said it’s not a serious thing and just needs a couple days to heal up,” Harbaugh said. “We do anticipate him to play against the Redskins unless something changes that I’m not aware of.”

Running back Ray Rice practiced on Monday after leaving Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury. X-rays were negative for Rice after he was limited to just 21 yards on two carries. With Rice facing a two-game suspension to begin the regular season, Harbaugh had planned to focus on getting work for primary backup Bernard Pierce as well as veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, but he may elect to give Rice a few more reps since he saw little action against the Cowboys.

Harbaugh elected to award Saturday’s start to Pierce to give him an extra opportunity to begin a game with the starting offense before he begins the season as the starter in Week 1.

“It could impact us [to] maybe get Ray a few more reps going forward,” said Harbaugh about Saturday’s distribution of playing time. “But the main focus is going to be Bernard, Justin, and Lorenzo and getting those guys ready. You know Ray’s had a good camp.”

Veteran tight end Owen Daniels was absent from the field during the portion of practice open for media viewing and hasn’t been on the field since last Monday. The Ravens have insisted Daniels is being rested and is not dealing with an injury concern, but the 31-year-old has now missed three straight practices and did not play in Saturday’s game.

The former Texan was limited to just five games due to a broken leg last season.

“There’s no pull, there’s no strain of any kind,” Harbaugh said. “[His legs are] a little fatigued. You get a little swelling in there. You’ve got to take some time to get the legs back, and we really felt like he needed to get his legs back, especially as an older guy. We wanted to give him this time to do that. I’m counting on him being there this week. That’s what I’ve been told is there’s no kind of injury in there. It’s just a fatigue factor, and he needs time.”

Others missing from Monday’s practice included cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle), offensive linemen Will Rackley (head) and Brett Van Sloten (knee), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (physically unable to perform list – hip).

Harbaugh said that Webb would not play in the preseason after initially hoping the starting cornerback would be able to play in the third game of the summer. The sixth-year cornerback has been sidelined with a back injury since July 25.

Nursing an ankle injury since Aug. 10, Jackson has a chance to return to action this week, according to Harbaugh.

“Asa’s got a chance,” Harbaugh said. “‘Touch and go’ is probably a good way to say it, but I’ve been told he has a chance to get back for this game. It’d be great if he could.”

The Ravens were practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts after receiving Sunday off.

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Ravens’ cornerback situation can’t be overlooked in win over Cowboys

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Ravens’ cornerback situation can’t be overlooked in win over Cowboys

Posted on 16 August 2014 by Luke Jones

A 37-30 win for the Ravens over the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night doesn’t reflect what was the most concerning image from the opening minutes of the second preseason game of the summer.

Already without starter Lardarius Webb and No. 3 corner contender Asa Jackson due to injuries, the Ravens lost their most important piece of the secondary — and likely their entire defense — as Jimmy Smith landed hard on his back defending a sideline pass intended for Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. The good news is that X-rays were negative on his chest and the fourth-year watched the remainder of the game from the sideline despite spitting up blood on the sideline as he was helped off the field.

A bruised chest isn’t necessarily cause for panic — The Sun reported Smith was still coughing up blood following the game — but watching Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks handle the cornerback spots with the starting defense conjured memories of David Pittman and Willie Gaston manning the Baltimore secondary in the disastrous 2007 season. And it was another reminder of just how thin the Ravens’ cornerback depth is considering Brown has been picked on for much of the summer and Franks had been relegated to third-string duties until the last week.

Franks was beaten on a jump ball to Bryant for a 31-yard touchdown — a matchup that was simply unfair — while Brown was later burned by Cowboys wideout Terrance Williams on a deep route that was badly underthrown. To Brown’s credit, he did recover to break up the pass, but the play was more about a poor throw from Cowboys backup Brandon Weeden than an impressive play by the fourth-year cornerback.

It didn’t help that Dean Pees’ defense struggled to stop the run and generated little pressure in the pocket in the first half, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office must address what is obvious with the start of the season only three weeks away. The Ravens need to add an established cornerback to their secondary in order to not be exposed by potent passing games in the throw-happy NFL.

All you need to know about the confidence level in the current batch of cornerbacks is the Ravens’ experimentation with using three safeties in the nickel defense with rookie Terrence Brooks lining up at the slot corner position. Jackson was emerging as a promising option for the No. 3 job, but he remains too much of an unknown and was spotted in a walking boot Saturday after injuring his ankle a week ago. John Harbaugh said it was a “minor” ankle sprain at the time, but the head coach is often ambiguous and vague when discussing injuries, making you wonder when Jackson will even make it back to the practice field.

Even if Smith and Webb are healthy for the start of the season — the latter has been sidelined with a back injury since July 25 — no one on the current roster instills enough confidence in being able to handle the No. 3 cornerback spot. That reality has made the free-agent departure of Corey Graham to Buffalo in the offseason that much more glaring as the Ravens didn’t draft a cornerback or sign a veteran at the position until the middle of June.

The problem will be addressing the problem at this stage as quality cornerbacks aren’t exactly waiting in abundance. A free-agent veteran such as Asante Samuel is always a possibility, but that won’t necessarily solve the problem as the Ravens already signed veterans Aaron Ross — who tore his Achilles tendon at the start of training camp — and Franks at the end of mandatory minicamp and have seen disappointing results. The Ravens’ best bet — or only hope — might be to dangle a future draft pick in hopes of acquiring another team’s second or third cornerback.

The nickel defense has become too much of a staple in today’s NFL to continue to expect an in-house candidate to handle the job. That concern will become a major problem if any of the Ravens’ current injuries linger into the start of the season with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh first up on the schedule.

The clock is ticking and the concern only grew as Smith landed hard on the turf at AT&T Stadium and needed to be helped off the field.

The Ravens need help in the secondary.

But it’s going to be difficult to find it.

 

 

 

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Live From Owings Mills: CB Jackson remains out of practice Wednesday

Posted on 13 August 2014 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens returned to the practice fields at their 1 Winning Drive facility Wednesday, the penultimate open session of their 2014 Training Camp.

Two injured Ravens returned to the practice field following Tuesday’s day off. OL Ryan Jensen (leg) and S Brynden Trawick (back) were both back on the practice field-both had been out since Saturday. Additionally, TE Dennis Pitta (ankle) was on the practice field again after missing Sunday’s session and being limited in Monday’s activities.

CB Asa Jackson missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday dealing with an ankle injury, continuing to deplete a unit that is already missing Lardarius Webb (back). Webb is not expected to return until at least the end of the preseason. OL Will Rackley was not participating in Wednesday’s practice-he continues to work his way back from a concussion suffered at the start of Training Camp. DL Terrence Cody remains on the active Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.

TE Owen Daniels was not present for the session Wednesday either, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak confirmed after the session there was no injury issue-the veteran had just received a day off.

Defensive Linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) and Brent Urban (knee) remain on the roster but are both expected to miss the entire 2014 season.

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Webb injury makes cornerback no secondary concern for Ravens

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Webb injury makes cornerback no secondary concern for Ravens

Posted on 02 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens entered training camp with cornerback depth high on the list of concerns following the free-agent departure of Corey Graham and the lack of a significant offseason addition through free agency or the draft.

The anxiety has only grown with a lingering back injury for starter Lardarius Webb that is likely to keep him sidelined for most of the preseason, according to head coach John Harbaugh. Webb “probably” won’t play in the first two preseason games and could even miss the all-important third game of the summer despite tests revealing no structural damage to the sixth-year defensive back.

“He has some things going on in there that aren’t long-term things,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to get into it and give you the exact diagnosis of it. It’s probably as much me as anything. This early part of camp –- I just don’t want to put him through this on his back. He’s had sports hernia surgery [earlier in the offseason], also. There’s still some scar tissue in there. I just would rather keep him out of this first part of training camp, and we’ll just see how it feels more toward the end of camp.”

As anyone could tell you, back injuries are tricky, and there’s no guarantee that Webb will be in the clear even when he returns to action. The Ravens are taking the prudent approach considering the regular-season opener against Cincinnati is still more than a month away, but that will only quell concerns so much in a day and age when the NFL is all about defending the passing game.

Entering the summer, the competition was already wide open for the No. 3 cornerback spot with young defensive backs Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson expected to be pushed by veterans Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks, who were both signed following June’s mandatory minicamp. Instead, Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the conditioning test at the start of camp and Franks took several days to pass the test to even get on the field. The former Atlanta Falcons cornerback has done very little to distinguish himself while working with the second- and third-string defenses in practice.

Rookie free agents Tramain Jacobs, Deji Olatoye, and Sammy Seamster have all flashed ability and are intriguing candidates to potentially make the 53-man roster, but none can reasonably be counted on to handle a significant defensive role in Week 1.

The only certainty right now is 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith handling one of the starting spots.

“Somebody has to rise to the top,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “The cream has to come to the top and somebody has to take the job, and I don’t know right now who that is. I feel pretty good about Jimmy Smith on the one side, and then there’s a lot of competition over on the other side. Right now, I couldn’t tell you who that is. Those guys just have to keep competing.”

Through the early stages of camp, Jackson has played better than Brown, but neither has shown enough consistency to feel comfortable about penciling one into the nickel defense. When it comes to experience, Brown has the edge as he’s filled in as an outside corner in the nickel due to injuries while Jackson has yet to play a defensive snap as he enters his third season.

Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo prefer to slide Webb inside in the nickel package where his ability to play the run and blitz can be better utilized, and Brown is better suited to play outside, but the 2011 fifth-round pick consistently struggles to find the football in coverage. Meanwhile, Jackson is more of an inside corner with a height listed at 5-foot-10.

“That’s something that I went into this latest break trying to really work on and really working on my technique on the outside,” Jackson told AM 1570 WNST.net last week. “Being a smaller guy, it gets a little hairy out there sometimes, but I’ve put in a lot of good work this offseason. I’m excited to keep trying to improve and play on the outside.”

The Ravens have experimented with a variety of different looks including moving strong safety Matt Elam to the nickel spot, but it’s fair to wonder whether the defense’s No. 3 cornerback isn’t currently on the roster. General manager Ozzie Newsome has found contributors who have become available at the end of the preseason in the past, but there’s no guarantee a quality cornerback will shake free with the pass-happy nature of the league and the premium placed on coverage.

Newsome spoke highly of Brown and Jackson throughout the offseason, but the inability to add an impact cornerback this offseason is even more concerning with the absence of Webb.

“We may do some things that I may not normally do in a game just to put those guys out there and see what they can do,” Pees said. “This is the time to experiment and see if they can do it — not when the season starts.”

Of course, the Ravens are expressing confidence that Webb will be ready to go by the end of the summer, but they’ll need to find a comfort level with their No. 3 cornerback before they can even begin thinking about how to align the defense should Webb’s absence linger into the regular season.

It’s not a comfortable place to be with a group of unproven and unheralded cornerbacks competing for what has essentially become a starting position in the NFL. And that discomfort becomes a nightmare if the Ravens aren’t being completely transparent about Webb’s injured back.

For now, Harbaugh and his coaching staff can only hope one of the young cornerbacks answers the bell while Newsome keeps his eyes peeled for what might become available through trade or free agency.

“There is a lot of competition out here for that third spot,” Jackson said. “I think we’re all kind of raising each other’s level of play. Hopefully, we can keep doing that and then once the games get here, it’ll sort out how it will.”

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 27 July 2014 by Luke Jones

With 2014 training camp officially underway and the Ravens attempting to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, there are a number of early (too early?) takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. Steve Smith has looked like an elite player.

It’s fair to express doubts over a 35-year-old wide receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three consecutive years, but Smith has been as good as advertised going back to organized team activities in the spring, catching everything in sight and regularly beating cornerbacks during practices. On Saturday, he made an excellent catch on a deep ball defended by Chykie Brown and later made an impressive adjustment on a pass thrown behind him on a slant pattern. Of course, it’s important not to get carried away with how anyone performs in July, but if Smith can be that reliable target to help move the chains and provide a safety net for quarterback Joe Flacco, the investment in the 14th-year receiver will be well worth it.

2. The No. 3 cornerback for the 2014 Ravens may not yet be on the roster.

The organization spent plenty of time this offseason talking up the potential of Brown and Asa Jackson, but it’s difficult to find anyone on the field in which defensive coordinator Dean Pees would have confidence using in the nickel package along with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown has bit on play-action fakes and has struggled to find the ball when he is in position while Jackson — who is an inside defender in the nickel package — has also been beaten deep on a couple occasions. To make matters worse, Dominique Franks still hasn’t passed his conditioning test after fellow veteran newcomer Aaron Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the same test. The Ravens would prefer to use Webb inside in the nickel, but there have been no signs of anyone currently on the roster being capable of handling duties as the third cornerback.

3. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is moving well and is the biggest key for the offensive line.

The third-year lineman has moved well early in camp and will be the key in determining how effective the interior offensive line can be in 2014 after it was undersized and ineffective last season. It’s still too early to gauge whether his surgically-repaired back will be in issue, but Osemele delivered an impressive block 10 yards downfield that sent safety Darian Stewart to the ground on Saturday afternoon, a telling example of the improved mobility he simply didn’t have early last year. If the Ravens can be strong inside with Osemele and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda flanking new center Jeremy Zuttah, it will alleviate much of the pressure on Rick Wagner or whoever mans the right tackle position.

4. Veteran newcomer Darian Stewart has impressed and is the early favorite to start at free safety.

His unfortunate encounter with Osemele aside, Stewart has displayed good athleticism at the safety position and looks to be the favorite to line up next to Matt Elam in the starting defense. The former St. Louis Rams safety is versatile with the ability to line up closer to the line of scrimmage or to play the more traditional free position, and Pees has said on a number of occasions that he’s looking to mirror his safeties more than just having a traditional strong and free one. Rookie Terrence Brooks will need to make significant strides between now and the start of the season as he appears to be thinking too much when lined up on the field and has worked primarily with the third-string defense to this early point. Secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo is familiar with Stewart going back to their days in St. Louis, so the Ravens hope they’ve found another value signing like they did with Corey Graham a couple years ago.

5. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to move his skill players around in formations.

The Ravens are sure to experience growing pains implementing their new offensive system, but Kubiak has experimented plenty with his skill players to find strengths and weakness as well as potentially exploit vulnerabilities in a defense in a given matchup. His creative use of tight ends is a well-documented characteristic of his West Coast system, but it will be fun to watch how he uses fullback Kyle Juszczyk and big wide receiver Marlon Brown in addition to Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels this season. Ultimately, offensive success in the NFL comes down to winning 1-on-1 matchups no matter how clever your schemes might be, but pre-snap movement has been a regular feature of what we’ve seen so far in Owings Mills.

6. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw looks too heavy for the third straight preseason.

Coach John Harbaugh was more complimentary of Upshaw’s conditioning in the spring, but the third-year linebacker looks bigger at the start of training camp than he did during OTAs, continuing a theme of the 2012 second-round pick not taking the best care of his body. In fairness to Upshaw, he hasn’t noticeably labored during his first few practices, but temperatures have also been favorable thus far. He has been solid in his first couple seasons and has flashed potential to be better than that, but it’s just difficult to project a player to improve when he spends too much time playing catchup with his weight every summer. The early expectation is that Upshaw will once again split time with Elvis Dumervil at the strongside outside linebacker position.

7. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has a rare combination of strength and quickness that’s fun to watch.

More attention has been paid to first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley, but Jernigan is becoming an early favorite of Pees as he’s been very active and has shown plenty of power in the trenches early in camp. Brandon Williams is the favorite to line up as the starting nose tackle, but there’s no reason Jernigan won’t be a regular member in the rotation, and his play could be a deciding factor in how the Ravens handle the final year of Haloti Ngata’s contract after the season. Pees quipped on Saturday that Jernigan doesn’t always follow his assignment, but he’ll make a big play anyway, which is pretty high praise for a rookie defensive lineman just a few days into his first training camp.

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