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Ravens take further hits to secondary in Sunday’s win

Posted on 14 December 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens secondary continued to be hammered by injuries Sunday with cornerback Asa Jackson and rookie safety Terrence Brooks both leaving the game with right knee injuries.

Brooks hurt his knee on the opening kickoff and did not return. Head coach John Harbaugh said after the 20-12 win over Jacksonville that the 2014 third-round pick would miss the rest of the season with an injury to his posterior cruciate ligament.

“Terrence Brooks does not look good,” Harbaugh said. “Terrence Brooks is at least a PCL — it might have been [a medial collateral ligament] in there, too, I think. So, he’ll be out for the year.”

Harbaugh did not have an update on Jackson, but he was unable to put any weight on his right knee after he was injured covering a sideline route in the third quarter. He was immediately helped to the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

Jackson was replaced by young cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who played well in the first action of his NFL career. After being inactive for four straight games upon being acquired in early November, Melvin finished the day with five tackles and a pass breakup.

“Melvin came in there and did a great job and played really well and was excited to get out and get a chance,” Harbaugh said. “The next guy has to step up, and they will. This is a team sport, and our guys have done a good job with that so far, and they’ll keep doing it.”

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Ravens activate cornerback Asa Jackson from IR-designated to return

Posted on 06 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Searching for answers for their 31st-ranked pass defense, the Ravens hope to receive some help with the return of cornerback Asa Jackson on Sunday.

The third-year defensive back was activated from injured reserve-designated to return on Saturday before the Ravens traveled to Miami ahead of their critical Week 14 game against the Dolphins. To make room for Jackson on the 53-man roster, Baltimore placed rookie cornerback Tramain Jacobs on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.

It will be interesting to see how extensively Jackson fits into the defensive game plan in his first action since suffering a serious turf toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 5. With cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine, and Danny Gorrer all continuing to struggle, Jackson could find himself thrown back into the starting lineup after making four starts earlier this season.

“I think he was playing good before he got hurt,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think he’s playing really, really well. Now, time will tell. You can’t really tell out here in practice until the bullets start flying if he’s back to where he was. But he seems to be moving well and doing fine. I think he’ll really help us back there, at least basically in the slot.”

Jackson returned to the practice field on Nov. 21 but wasn’t eligible to return to game action until Sunday.

Of course, expectations should be tempered for a young cornerback who hasn’t played in two months and wasn’t playing at a particularly high level before the injury. Jackson received a minus-4.9 grade in pass coverage from Pro Football Focus in what had been the first defensive snaps of his career earlier in the year.

Should Jackson be used inside to cover the slot as Pees indicated, he’ll face a challenging task in covering Dolphins rookie wide receiver Jarvin Landry, who has a team-leading 57 receptions for Miami in 2014.

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Harbaugh calls Torrey Smith “day-to-day” with apparent knee injury

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Uncertainty continues to surround the health of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound overly concerned about his status on Monday.

Despite Smith leaving Sunday’s game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent right knee injury, Harbaugh downplayed the severity of any injury and didn’t even acknowledge what was wrong with the fourth-year receiver after he missed the final two offensive series.

“Torrey really didn’t have anything too serious,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t even know how to describe it right now. [Head athletic trainer Mark Smith] hasn’t explained to me what it was. He’ll just be getting ready for Miami. I guess I’d call him day-to-day.”

Smith spoke to reporters following Sunday’s 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but he declined to discuss his injury and was seen walking with a limp. He caught six passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort.

Harbaugh confirmed wide receiver Marlon Brown will continue to go through the concussion testing protocol after leaving in the second quarter of Sunday’s game and not returning. Brown caught three passes for 25 yards in a little over a quarter of play in what was easily his best performance of the year.

He was ruled out for the game with a diagnosed concussion shortly before halftime.

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) missed his fourth straight game on Sunday, but Harbaugh expressed cautious optimism that he might be ready to return while also acknowledging frustration with the slow healing process. The 5-foot-9 wideout returned to practice on a very limited basis last week.

“It’s just been slow. I don’t know what else to say,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been slow. It was supposed to be two weeks ago. Now you’re just at the point where it’s, ‘Let me know when you’re ready.’ And hamstrings are like that. That’s just the fact of it. He’s working really hard, and I think there’s a chance for this week. Now you get to the point where I’m just not going to count on it until he’s back.”

The Ravens hope Sunday will bring the return of cornerback Asa Jackson to the secondary for the first time since suffering a turf toe injury on Oct. 5. The third-year defensive back was placed on injured reserve-designated to return and is eligible to return to game action in Week 14.

Jackson returned to practice on Nov. 21 after he started four of five games earlier this season when veteran Lardarius Webb was still working his way back to form after a summer back injury.

“We’ve just got to see that he’s moving and he’s bursting,” Harbaugh said. “Then, the [toe] feels good the next day and you get back out and do it again. [We have to see] that he’s healthy and that he can play at an NFL level, which is a high level. He had a good week last week, and I’m very optimistic. You don’t know until you see it.”

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Ravens pass defense on pace to be worst in franchise history

Posted on 30 November 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens entering the final quarter of the regular season following Sunday’s disappointing 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the pass defense will need to raise its level of play substantially to avoid a dubious distinction.

Giving up 376 yards in the air as San Diego’s Philip Rivers picked them apart, the 7-5 Ravens are now on pace to surrender 4,383 yards through the air in 2014, which would shatter the franchise-worst mark of 3,969 set in the inaugural 1996 season. That year, Baltimore finished 4-12 with a pass defense that finished last in the NFL.

The Ravens woke up Monday morning ranked 31st in the league in pass defense with only the Atlanta Falcons surrendering more yards through the air.

Where are Isaac Booth, Donny Brady, and Antonio Langham when you need them?

Of course, we’re in the midst of a pass-happy era in which offense reigns supreme — making the numbers difficult to compare to those of 18 years ago — but the Ravens haven’t had any answers in a secondary that was already facing questions long before significant injuries suffered by starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Smith is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury, and Webb continues to look like a shell of his former self after a back injury that took away his entire training camp and forced him out of three of the first four games of the regular season.

The Ravens have been unfortunate, but they were also poorly prepared to handle any injuries on the back end of the defense.

After former No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham departed via free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome did not add any quality depth behind his starters in the offseason, instead counting on Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown to pick up the slack. Instead Jackson suffered a serious turf toe injury in Week 5 — he could return as soon as next Sunday’s game in Miami — and Brown struggled so mightily that Baltimore waived him in early November.

As a result, defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been forced to turn to journeyman Danny Gorrer and former safety Anthony Levine to go along with a struggling Webb. Many are inclined to blame coaching whenever a unit struggles, but you can only be so creative with schemes — the Ravens tried just about everything on Sunday — to overcome such personnel deficiencies.

The safety position has been just as problematic with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam being a major disappointment in his second season. Pees has used a carousel of names — Darian Stewart, Jeromy Miles, Brynden Trawick, and rookie Terrence Brooks at various times — with only Will Hill looking to be a solid option at this stage of the season.

As for the record books, the Ravens will receive a respite from playing Pro Bowl quarterbacks as they’re slated to face Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, and either Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel — maybe both? — in the season finale against Cleveland. That said, Tannehill is in the midst of a good third season with the Dolphins and Fitzpatrick is coming off a six-touchdown performance in Week 13, so it won’t be a total cakewalk of opposing quarterbacks.

You can only hope Sunday was rock bottom for the pass defense as the Ravens will need an excellent final month to catch the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North or at least advance to the playoffs after last year’s absence.

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Ravens cornerback Jackson returns to practice field

Posted on 21 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson returned to the practice field Friday for the first time since injuring his toe in the Oct. 5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Jackson was placed on injured reserve-designated to return on Oct. 8 and is now aiming for a return in Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins, the first game in which he’s eligible to play. Under NFL rules, an injured player must remain on IR-designated to return for six weeks before practicing and a minimum of eight weeks before returning to game action.

“I felt good. Pain-free for the most part,” Jackson told reporters following the workout. “Hopefully, I don’t have any more setbacks and will be ready to go when my time is here.”

Starting four of five games and making 19 tackles before suffering a significant turf toe injury, Jackson would provide some much-needed depth to a secondary that lost top cornerback Jimmy Smith for the season. Baltimore is currently relying on former reserve safety Anthony Levine and journeyman Danny Gorrer to play meaningful snaps opposite veteran Lardarius Webb.

The Ravens plan to bring Jackson along slowly to make sure the toe is sound, but the hope is he’s ready to go for the final month of the season as they try to make it back to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

“We didn’t have him in too many of the main drills today,” head coach John Harbaugh said Friday. “I’ll have to watch the tape and talk to some of the guys that worked with him in more of the individual drills. But it’s good to see him out there. It’s good to know that he’s now basically been activated to prepare. The first opportunity for him to play would be against the Dolphins, so we’ll be hoping for that.”

Meanwhile, Harbaugh confirmed that rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro will miss Monday night’s game in New Orleans while continuing to recover from a hamstring injury suffered against Cincinnati on Oct. 26. The head coach had previously expressed optimism that the seventh-round pick might be ready to return after the bye week.

Campanaro has six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown this season.

“There was no setback. It’s just not ready yet,” said Harbaugh about Campanaro’s hamstring. “When it’s ready, he’ll be out there. We were hoping for this week, and that was the original time frame, but he wasn’t cleared to go this week.”

History isn’t on the Ravens’ side Monday as they try to not only improve to 7-4 to keep pace in a very competitive AFC North but also end the Saints’ incredible run of home success in prime-time games. New Orleans has won 14 prime-time home games in a row and hasn’t suffered a defeat since 2009. However, the Saints are reeling after losing two straight games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and have limped to a 4-6 start this season.

Asked about the Saints’ long run of success in prime-time contests, Harbaugh used the opportunity to take a playful dig at the NFL — that certainly had some truth to it.

“Getting to play a Monday night at home, is there something to that? I wouldn’t really know,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “I don’t know much about that. We don’t get those chances too often.”

Of course, the Baltimore coach is referring to the fact that his team has only played one Monday night home game in his seven-year tenure, which came against Cincinnati in the 2012 season opener. The Ravens are 5-3 in Monday night games in the Harbaugh era.

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Harbaugh expects Jimmy Smith to return “even better” next year

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Expressing confidence that his secondary would move past the season-ending loss of Jimmy Smith, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh offered a few more details about the procedure the top cornerback underwent Thursday.

Smith visited orthopedist Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C. after the swelling had subsided in his left foot that was injured against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 26. Further testing revealed Smith would not be able to return in 2014 as the Ravens hoped when Harbaugh initially said he’d miss a few weeks.

“Listen, I’m not a doctor. I go by what they tell me,” Harbaugh said. “A Lisfranc [injury] is a tear, I guess, in the ligament. There’s not a tear. There’s a stretch, and when the swelling went down, they did a weight-bearing exam. There’s more of a spread between the bones than they wanted, so more of a stretch than what they were hoping for. And when they put him under anesthesia and took a look at it, Dr. Anderson decided to go ahead and do the surgery.”

The loss of Smith is a major blow for a pass defense currently ranking 24th in the NFL and giving up 263 yards per game through the air. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 94.0 passer rating against the Ravens, which is the 12th-highest in the league.

Several teammates expressed disappointment for Smith, who was blossoming into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this season after a strong, injury-free 2013 campaign. In eight games, the 26-year-old had registered 28 tackles, eight pass breakups, and an interception while opposing passers had completed just 20 of 39 passes for no touchdowns against him in coverage.

Fellow starter Lardarius Webb can relate to Smith’s misfortune after twice suffering season-ending knee injuries in his six-year career.

“I feel for him. I’ve been on the sideline before, looking in,” Webb said. “I know how much it hurts inside to want to be out there on the field. I just wish him luck and to get back healthy as soon as possible. And whenever he gets back, we’ll continue to be that great duo.”

Harbaugh was pleased with the work put in by the newly-acquired Danny Gorrer and recently-promoted Tramain Jacobs this week as they prepared to receive action in Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans.

But there’s no shying away from the loss of arguably the Ravens’ best defensive player this season and how big of a challenge it will be to compensate in the back end of the defense.

“I feel bad for Jimmy. We’ll be fine as a team. We’ll recover,” Harbaugh said. “We have good players at every position, and we’ll pick up the slack as a group and as a unit. We always do. That’s what you do. It’s happens all around the league. It’s just the way it is. It’s football. But I feel bad for Jimmy. He was having a great, great year. But he’ll bounce back, and he’ll be even better next year.”

Webb needs to step up

Webb expressed confidence that the secondary will bounce back from last Sunday’s 43-23 loss in which the Ravens surrendered six touchdown passes to Ben Roethlisberger, but he added that the improvement needs to start with himself.

After missing all of training camp and three of the first four games of the regular season, Webb is still working his way back to pre-injury form as he’s now the top healthy cornerback on the roster with Smith out. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 105.0 passer rating against Webb in six games this year and he was burned for a long touchdown against the Steelers in Week 9.

“It’s OK, man. I’ve got to get better myself,” said Webb of his performance in 2014. “Speaking about the group, me first. I’ve got to get myself together, which I’m feeling good. We’ve just all got to get on the same page.”

Jackson on track to return

Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that cornerback Asa Jackson is on track to return from a turf toe injury that landed the third-year defensive back on injured reserve-designated to return in early October.

Jackson is no longer in a walking boot and is eligible to return as early as Dec. 7 when the Ravens take on the Miami Dolphins. He made four starts earlier this season in the first defensive action of his career.

“I’m just doing everything to get better for that point,” said Jackson, who hasn’t played since Oct. 5. “When it gets there, we’ll see. I’m just working to get back for Week 14.”

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Jimmy Smith sidelined “a few weeks” with mid-foot sprain

Posted on 27 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after a disappointing road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens received troubling news about the status of cornerback Jimmy Smith’s injured foot.

Smith exited Sunday’s game with a left foot sprain on the first drive of the game and didn’t return. A magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday confirmed the fourth-year defensive back will be sidelined at least until after the Ravens’ bye week, but head coach John Harbaugh is remaining optimistic that the injury isn’t as bad as some feared.

“Jimmy’s going to be out for a few weeks. It’s not a Lisfranc deal, which was speculated,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a mid-foot sprain, and he’ll be out for a few weeks, but he’ll be back soon.”

The Ravens are currently ranked 22nd in pass defense and now have just three healthy cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. With struggling fourth-year cornerback Chykie Brown inactive the last two weeks, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used Dominique Franks in Smith’s place opposite fellow starter Lardarius Webb. Safety Matt Elam was used in the nickel position as he was earlier in the year when Webb was still working his way back from a back injury.

The NFL’s trade deadline falls at 4 p.m. Tuesday, but the Baltimore coach did not sound optimistic about being able to add a quality corner, whether through trade or the free-agent market. General manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed Franks on Oct. 8 after the Ravens cut him at the end of the preseason.

“We don’t have to [add someone]. If we can find the right guy, we would do that,” Harbaugh said. “They’re scarce. If you’ve got a name for me, I’m willing to hear it.”

There’s no understating the loss of Smith, who is ranked as the fourth-best coverage cornerback in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Regarded by many as the best player on the Baltimore defense this season, Smith has collected 28 tackles, an interception, and eight pass breakups in eight games.

The timing couldn’t be worse for an already vulnerable pass defense that will now face Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9 after he threw for 522 yards and six touchdown passes against a highly-regarded Indianapolis defense on Sunday. The Ravens also have post-bye games in late November against New Orleans and San Diego, two teams with Pro Bowl quarterbacks and passing games currently ranked in the top 10.

Even though the Ravens have already exercised their fifth-year option on his rookie contract, Smith has now been stricken with substantial injuries in three of his four NFL seasons. As a rookie in 2011, Smith suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him sidelined for four games. In his second year, the former first-round pick missed five games after undergoing sports hernia surgery.

Smith started all 16 games for the Ravens in 2013 and was a bright spot for a defense in transition.

After many pointed out their lack of depth at the cornerback position throughout the offseason, the Ravens have now seen Webb, Smith, and third-year defensive back Asa Jackson miss time with injuries this year. Jackson is currently on injured reserve with the designation to return after suffering a toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

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Ravens officially place cornerback Jackson on IR-designated to return

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Luke Jones

After suffering a severe toe injury in last Sunday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson was officially placed on injured reserve with the designation to return on Wednesday.

The third-year cornerback is currently in a walking boot and will now be sidelined a minimum of six weeks before he can begin practicing again. Jackson can return to game action after a minimum of eight weeks under the rules of the IR-designated to return exemption that was introduced at the start of the 2012 season. The earliest game in which Jackson could return would be the Ravens’ Week 14 meeting with the Miami Dolphins.

The timing of the injury comes as veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb saw his most extensive action of the season by playing 44 of 82 defensive snaps against the Colts. Jackson started four of the Ravens’ first five games, making 19 tackles and a pass breakup.

The Ravens also announced Wednesday morning that they had officially re-signed veteran cornerback Dominique Franks, who was with the team during the preseason and is familiar with defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ system. He is expected to compete for the No. 3 cornerback spot with Chykie Brown, but the Ravens have also used strong safety Matt Elam extensively at the nickel position this year.

Baltimore has now used the IR-designated to return tag in three straight seasons as it was given to inside linebacker Ray Lewis after a torn triceps in 2012 and to tight end Dennis Pitta after he sustained a dislocated and fractured hip in the first week of training camp last season. Both players were able to return later in those season.

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Ravens re-sign veteran Franks to boost cornerback depth

Posted on 07 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Following the long-term toe injury suffered by Asa Jackson, the Ravens are bringing back a familiar face to boost depth at the cornerback position.

According to a Yahoo Sports report, the Ravens will re-sign veteran cornerback Dominique Franks with Jackson expected to be placed on injured reserve with the designation to return. The 27-year-old Franks was signed by the Ravens after their mandatory minicamp in June and spent the entire preseason with Baltimore before being let go during final cuts.

After spending four years with the Atlanta Falcons as a special-teams contributor and reserve defensive back, Franks recorded seven tackles, two pass breakups, and an interception in four preseason games with the Ravens. With Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson all dealing with injuries over the summer, Franks even started in two of the four preseason contests.

In 48 career games (including four starts) over his four-year career in Atlanta, Franks accumulated 30 tackles, nine pass breakups, and three interceptions.

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Jackson out indefinitely with toe injury, Canty sidelined after wrist surgery

Posted on 06 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day that veteran Lardarius Webb saw his most extensive action of the season, the Ravens lost cornerback Asa Jackson indefinitely with a major toe injury suffered in the second half of Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Jackson has “a very severely sprained toe” that has him in a walking boot and will keep him out for a number of weeks. The third-year cornerback is likely to be placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, which would keep him sidelined for a minimum of eight weeks.

“Ozzie [Newsome] will decide that. I’m pretty sure that will happen,” Harbaugh said. “Again, until it happens, something might change. That’s where we’re at with that right now. We’re looking at our corner options there.”

With Webb still working his way back to full strength from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp and the preseason, Jackson started four of the Ravens’ first five games, recording 19 tackles and a pass breakup. He played 42 of 82 defensive snaps against Indianapolis before exiting the game in the second half.

Harbaugh also announced the Ravens would also be without defensive end Chris Canty for a couple more weeks after he underwent surgery for an infection in his wrist. The veteran missed Sunday’s game against the Colts with what was listed as an illness and was hospitalized over the weekend after having the procedure.

“[His thumb and wrist] swelled up on him last week,” Harbaugh said. “They didn’t know what it was; they thought it might be gout or things like that. It turned out to be an infection [and] he had to have surgery on it. He’s going to be [out] a couple weeks with that. That takes a while.”

The Ravens coach expressed satisfaction with how newcomers Christo Bilukidi and Lawrence Guy played in the defensive line rotation as Canty and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus) were both inactive for Sunday’s game. Third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson started in place of Canty and made five tackles while playing 38 snaps.

However, Baltimore will look to add depth at the cornerback position even though Webb saw his most extensive action of the season in playing 44 snaps against the Colts. He was targeted often by Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who completed seven passes for 91 yards on nine pass attempts his way.

Even if Webb is ready to assume a full-time role in time for this Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Ravens will once again be looking at either using strong safety Matt Elam in the nickel position or Chykie Brown as their No. 3 corner, two options defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like to avoid moving forward.

“We’ve been pushing [Webb] hard. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to go,” Harbaugh said. “He looked better in practice, and he went out there and played pretty darn well. It’s only going to get better. He’s only going to improve physically — he knows how to play. He’s not there; he’s not 100 percent, but he’s on his way.”

Harbaugh provided positive news on the health of left guard Kelechi Osemele (hyperextended knee) and Elam (shoulder contusion). Both players were sore Monday, but neither player’s status is in doubt after returning to Sunday’s game despite their ailments.

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