Tag Archive | "Baltimore"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Indianapolis

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens continuing the preseason with a 19-18 win over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens didn’t give up any first-half touchdowns, but the starting defense struggling again against the opposing first unit was disappointing as Andrew Luck completed all eight of his passes. The group tightened up in the red zone, but surrendered three long drives and missed too many tackles.

2. The second of those long drives was halted thanks to a forced fumble by Albert McClellan, who continues to make a good case to be Baltimore’s strong-side outside linebacker in early-down situations. He set the edge well and finished with three tackles.

3. John Harbaugh was displeased with 11 penalties for 91 yards, including three defensive pre-snap penalties in the first half that resulted in first downs. When you have a shortage of play-makers, it’s even more critical to play smart and disciplined football, something the Ravens failed to do last year.

4. After a terrible first quarter, the offense came alive with Kamar Aiken drawing a 41-yard pass interference flag and catching a 14-yard touchdown on a beautiful crossing route. I’m interested to see what Aiken’s role looks like with Steve Smith’s return, but he deserves his share of targets.

5. The Ravens re-signed Shareece Wright this offseason to be a starting cornerback and he was solid down the stretch of a lost 2015 season, but he remains shaky in coverage — even against the Colts’ second offense — and is the logical target for opponents to test in this secondary.

6. He has plenty of stickers on his suitcase as a journeyman, but Josh Johnson has performed better than anyone expected and has outplayed Ryan Mallett for much of the summer. Harbaugh acknowledged it now being a competition for the backup job, but I’d still be surprised if Mallett is unseated.

7. It was interesting to see Will Davis play quite a bit at slot cornerback in the nickel, especially after Jerraud Powers struggled for the second straight week. Normally an outside corner, Davis made some plays inside and finished the game with five tackles and a sack.

8. Despite being a versatile backup, center Ryan Jensen had arguably the most embarrassing play of the evening when he was completely pancaked back into running back Kenneth Dixon on a third-and-goal play from the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Not a good look.

9. Rookie edge rusher Matt Judon impressed for the second straight week, collecting another sack and showing a promising combination of strength and quickness. The Grand Valley State product is still raw, but you can see why the Ravens were so happy to land him in the fifth round.

10. Known for his deep-threat ability at Cincinnati, Chris Moore ran crisp routes and showed strong hands in catching three passes for 20 yards after missing the preseason opener with a foot injury. With Breshad Perriman’s Week 1 status remaining in doubt, Moore becomes more interesting in this offense.

11. Credit the NFL last year for adopting the college rule allowing the defense to run back a conversion try for two as Anthony Levine did to win the game. It’s a rare play that might occur only once or twice a year around the league, but what excitement it brings.

12. Sitting Joe Flacco again was probably the right move, but the third preseason game now carries more importance than normal for the Ravens. With so many starters playing so little this summer, it’s hard to get a feel for just how good this team will be in 2016.

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Ravens-Colts preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 19 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are moving closer to looking like a complete team.

Saturday’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts probably won’t reflect that, but both Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith returned to the practice field this week and are on track to be ready for the season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 11.

After resting a number of healthy veterans against Carolina, head coach John Harbaugh isn’t sharing his plans for playing time on Saturday night. In the past, Harbaugh had played most of his starters into the second quarter of the second preseason game, but the Ravens are merely following a league-wide trend of trying to keep veteran players out of harm’s way as much as possible while maximizing the opportunity to evaluate unknown commodities.

“You want to see the young guys play in game situations when the tackling is live,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged the artificial surface at Lucas Oil Stadium being one of many factors to consider in determining which veterans will play. “There’s not quite as much practice as there was before — certainly not even close to as much as it was way before. We practice really well, and we see a lot from our guys in practice. The game is a confirmation. Or, sometimes, guys that don’t practice as well play well in games. Sometimes guys practice great and don’t show up in games. That’s something you really need to know.”

Joe Flacco continues to practice every day while only experiencing mild soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee, but Harbaugh may rest his franchise quarterback for a second straight game and wait until next week’s “dress rehearsal” for his first preseason action. Such a timetable would be concerning if not for the fact that Flacco has yet to miss a single rep during training camp.

The 31-year-old hasn’t been in a live pocket since last November, but he sees no need to play extensively in the preseason ahead of his ninth NFL season.

“I’m not worried about it; I’ve played plenty of games,” Flacco said. “I think the biggest reason to get back out there is to get back in live action and see what it feels like again. But it doesn’t really take too long to do that, so whatever we do is going to be for a reason. Whatever happens, happens, and I’m going to be comfortable either way.”

Thursday marks the first time these AFC teams have met in the preseason, but Indianapolis holds an 8-3 edge in regular-season matchups and a 2-1 lead in the postseason. Baltimore has compiled a 21-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Saturday night’s game against Indianapolis.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players — like Flacco — who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G John Urschel (contusion), WR Chris Moore (foot), CB Tavon Young (hamstring), TE Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), WR Michael Campanaro (unspecified strains), CB Maurice Canady (undisclosed), TE Daniel Brown (undisclosed), CB Sheldon Price (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: QB Joe Flacco (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Justin Forsett

The performance of Terrance West, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon this summer certainly should have the attention of Forsett, who didn’t play in the preseason opener. I’m not buying any sentiment that the 30-year-old is in danger of being pushed off the roster, but he’ll certainly want to present himself well in what game action he sees between now and the start of the season. He’s still the best pass-blocking tailback on the roster and breaks more tackles than you’d expect with a 5-foot-8, 195-pound frame. The young backs might be closing the gap, but Forsett’s experience is still invaluable to the backfield.

CB Jimmy Smith

It was clear that the No. 1 cornerback wasn’t 100 percent last year coming off foot surgery, but the Ravens need much more from the man in which they invested a huge contract. Smith got off to a quiet start in camp after having the surgical screws removed from his right foot this spring, but he’s looked much better in recent practices. If the Baltimore defense is to return to a high level, the 28-year-old needs to be a Pro Bowl-caliber kind of cornerback as he looked to be before suffering the Lisfranc injury. Seeing him stack some quality live-game reps would be encouraging going into the regular season.

OT Ronnie Stanley

The rookie left tackle played 22 snaps and graded out well against Carolina despite having suffered a minor injury less than a week earlier. The Ravens just want to see him continue that in more extensive action against the Indianapolis front. The best compliment you can pay an offensive lineman is that you don’t notice him that much, a description that fits the first-round pick in his first training camp. The Ravens were impressed with his pedigree coming out of Notre Dame, and he’s done everything so far to make you think he can handle a very demanding position in his first NFL season.

LB Albert McClellan

Not many would have predicted McClellan to be atop the depth chart at the strong-side outside linebacker position, but the Ravens need a replacement for Courtney Upshaw and McClellan is more consistent setting the edge on run plays than second-year linebacker Za’Darius Smith at this point. It’s critical that someone — McClellan, Smith, or even rookie Kamalei Correa — emerges to handle the “Sam” spot in order to allow Elvis Dumervil to return to more of a situational role in 2016. A special-teams standout for a number of years, McClellan has more trust with the coaching staff than many would think.

WR Chris Moore

With Breshad Perriman’s status for the start of the regular season looking in doubt, more attention will fall on the rookie fourth-round pick to be a decent complement to veteran Mike Wallace in the vertical passing game. Moore was arguably the biggest star over the first couple days of camp before a foot injury sidelined him until this week. The Ravens have had other receivers in and out of practice, but Moore has received plenty of second-team reps as well as some work with the first team. It’s not a guarantee that Moore will play so soon after a two-week absence, but his explosiveness is worth watching.

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Home runs continue to stunt Gausman’s success

Posted on 19 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman is having a strange season in 2016.

He’s pitched better than his 4-10 record indicates as he entered Thursday’s start having the fourth-worst run support among qualified American League starters. His 4.11 ERA has still made him Baltimore’s No. 2 starter behind Chris Tillman, but he hasn’t taken the major step forward that many hoped to see.

It hasn’t been all bad for Gausman, who is striking out a career-best 9.1 batters per nine innings as a starter to rank 14th among qualified major league pitchers. Despite walking a career-high six in San Francisco last weekend, the 25-year-old has issued a very reasonable 2.6 free passes per nine innings in 2016.

So, what’s been the problem beyond the shoddy run support?

The right-hander just hasn’t been able to keep it in the ballpark.

After giving up a pair of late home runs against Houston to soil what was shaping up to be a strong outing in Thursday’s 13-5 win, Gausman has allowed 1.63 homers per nine innings this season, the eighth-worst mark among qualified starters in the majors. Since giving up just three long balls in his first 36 2/3 innings of the season, Gausman has surrendered 20 over his last 90 1/3 innings. You can’t blame it on pitching at Camden Yards, either, as 15 of the 23 he’s allowed in 2016 have come on the road.

After giving up only 0.6 homers per nine innings in 20 starts in 2014, Gausman’s home run rate sits at 1.5 per nine over the last two years, the biggest statistical factor that has kept his ERA above 4.00. Of the 61 runs (earned and unearned) allowed by Gausman this year, 32 have scored via the home run. In contrast, just 24 of the 58 runs allowed by Tillman — another pitcher prone to giving up home runs — have scored on round-trippers.

Fans often question Gausman’s aggressiveness — particularly on the road — but that doesn’t paint the entire picture.

Fifteen of the 23 home runs in 2016 have come against Gausman’s fastball, but the issue isn’t really with that pitch itself. He’s allowed one long ball per 18.6 plate appearances against right-handed hitters but just one per 35 plate appearances against lefties.

His split-changeup has made him very effective against left-handed bats, but his breaking ball — whether you label it a slider, a curve, or a “slurve” — designed to help against right-handers continues to be a below-average pitch. Opponents are hitting .351 with four home runs and six doubles against the 293 sliders he’s thrown in 2016, according to FanGraphs. In contrast, opponents are hitting .216 with four homers and five doubles on the 462 splitters he’s thrown.

Gausman has thrown his breaking ball a career-high 13.1 percent of the time in 2016 as he continues to try to develop it as more than just a “show-me” pitch, but he remains too much of a fastball-dependent pitcher against right-handers. This unsurprisingly makes him more vulnerable to the long ball if his fastball command within the strike zone isn’t superb. Even with the great velocity, right-handed hitters generally know he’s going to lean on the fastball in big moments and aren’t afraid of his breaking ball.

The expectations have been high for Gausman since he was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft. The Orioles and their fans understandably want to see more, but his 3.98 ERA over the last three seasons has still made him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Without Gausman developing a pitch to better defend himself against the right-handed hitters who are hitting .290 with an .859 on-base plus slugging percentage against him in 2016, it’s difficult envisioning him being dramatically better than what he’s been to this point in his career. To be clear, that would hardly make him a bust as most highly-touted pitching prospects never become an ace.

It’s just very difficult for a two-pitch pitcher to become a top-of-the-rotation guy.

After 64 career starts in the majors, this might just be who Gausman is.

** J.J. Hardy continues to quietly have a solid season at the plate despite missing nearly seven weeks with a broken foot.

A two-homer night on Thursday doesn’t change the reality that he lacks the same power that he once possessed, but his hard contact rate of 37.5 percent is easily the highest of his career, according to FanGraphs. He isn’t going the other way more often than in the past, but a different approach focused on hitting line drives has prompted him to hit .409 to the opposite field compared to his .248 career mark.

After an abysmal 2015 in which he played with a torn labrum in his left shoulder all season, Hardy needed to bounce back and has done so with a .278 average, seven home runs, 19 doubles, and a .743 OPS.

** Mark Trumbo hit his 35th homer of the season on Thursday to set a new career high.

He is hitting just .156 with a .583 OPS since the All-Star break, but he does have seven home runs over those 32 games. In fact, Trumbo’s last four hits dating back to the final game of the Oakland series on August 11 have all been home runs.

Talk about all or nothing.

** Hyun Soo Kim registered the first four-hit game and first triple of his major league career on Thursday night. He is now hitting .329 with a .406 on-base percentage and a very respectable .449 slugging percentage in 244 plate appearances.

Remember when the Orioles were convinced he couldn’t play in the majors after a poor start in spring training?

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It’s unwise to count out and easy to root for Steve Smith

Posted on 18 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith did it all in his first day back at practice for the Ravens.

On the field, he made a touchdown catch and spun the football in the end zone, adding his trademark flavor to what was an otherwise bland walk-through session. Displaying his veteran leadership and his willingness to learn despite being in his 16th NFL season, Smith talked at length with rookie — and roster long shot — Darius White and said he even picked up a new route-release technique from former CFL wideout Dobson Collins, another player unlikely to make the 53-man roster.

Speaking to local reporters for the first time since mid-June, he got choked up explaining why he had decided to return, chastised media “jackasses” for doubting his 2016 prospects, and warned defensive backs that their vacation was over with the “bully” back on the field. Smith wouldn’t say directly whether this will be his final season, only acknowledging it was his last year “contractually” and that he’s only focused on playing this season.

The veteran then spent time posing for pictures and signing autographs with young Ravens fans and military personnel attending practice. He did make a point to say he’s going to smile more and have fun in what most assume to be his final season.

We know that conventional thinking says a 37-year-old can’t and won’t be the same player after a ruptured Achilles tendon, but what has ever been that conventional about Steve Smith?

A wide receiver standing 5-foot-9 and hailing from the University of Utah isn’t supposed to rank 15th on the NFL’s career receptions list, but he is one of the all-time greats when it comes to surprising people. Guys in their mid-30s aren’t supposed to play like a top 10 receiver, but that’s exactly what he was doing last year before the injury, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns in only seven games.

Of course, these feats aren’t surprising to Smith, who thrives on — arguably even obsesses over — proving his critics wrong. He was asked Thursday about the possibility of having more left in the tank than even he can imagine right now.

“Than I imagine?” Smith replied. “I’ve been rehabbing for nine months. I know exactly what’s left.”

It’s never been easier to doubt Smith than it is right now, but doing so feels no less unwise if you’ve paid attention to his career. General manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens made contingency plans by signing veteran Mike Wallace and drafting Chris Moore in the fourth round to fortify their wide receiver group that also includes Kamar Aiken and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but they’re not viewing Smith’s return solely through the lens of nostalgia, either.

The Ravens demanding him to be an 1,000-yard receiver this season would be unfair, but no one should be shocked if he turns out to be. It would be just like Smith to spike the ball and laugh in the face of Father Time once more before finally calling it a career.

Such a competitor is easy to root for and impossible not to respect.

“All I’m going to do is play ball,” Smith said. “You all worry about all of the wrong things, and all the good things that happen, you glance over. We’re going to have a good time. We’re going to have some fun, and we’re going to make some plays.

“Oh yeah, and I happen to be 37 years old while I’m doing it.”

It was anything but an easy rehabilitation process for Smith, who acknowledged there were a few different points along the way when he thought he might be done. We don’t have a clear picture of what he will do against younger opponents — some of whom were in kindergarten when he was a rookie with Carolina in 2001 — but Smith made it clear that this isn’t just a feel-good farewell tour.

As he so eloquently worded it, he still plans to rip his opponents to shreds.

Who are we to say he won’t?

If nothing else, it will be a blast watching him try to prove us “jackasses” wrong again.

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Ravens receiver Steve Smith makes return to practice field

Posted on 18 August 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 9:30 a.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just a few days after linebacker Terrell Suggs returned to the practice field, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith has joined his veteran teammate.

The 37-year-old passed his physical and was on the field for Thursday’s walk-through practice. Smith hadn’t played or practiced since tearing his right Achilles tendon on Nov. 1, 2015, a nightmarish development that prompted him to reconsider his retirement plans and return for a 16th NFL season.

Smith began the summer on the active physically unable to perform list as he continued to rehab a horrific injury that cost him the final eight games of the 2015 season. It remains unclear whether the five-time Pro Bowl receiver will attempt to play in the preseason, but he didn’t sound enthused about the prospects of doing so when asked about it in June.

“I’ve been very comfortable throughout my career not playing in the preseason, so I don’t have a problem with that,” Smith said. “Just four games that don’t count and [with] the liability of injury at the senior-citizen age that I am, I think probably staying out would be good.”

The 2001 third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers didn’t perform like a player on the verge of retirement last season, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns in only seven games. He is just 39 receptions shy of 1,000 for his career, a goal he mentioned when addressing the media during the team’s mandatory minicamp in June.

Smith is entering the final season of a three-year, $10.5 million contract that’s turned out to be a bargain for the Ravens. He spent the first 13 seasons of his career with the Panthers where he became one of the best receivers in the NFL.

“I may catch that in my uniform, get in my car and go home,” said Smith about the 1,000-catch benchmark earlier this summer. “Straight from there, drive all the way from M&T Bank [Stadium] straight to Charlotte in one shot.

“You want to challenge yourself. It’s the ultimate challenge. I think the last challenge that I really have is to be 37 years old, have an opportunity to play in the black and blue division [of the AFC North] — very tough, very physical — and I get an opportunity to experience it for hopefully more than 17 weeks.”

NOTES: The Ravens were without 12 players for Thursday’s walk-through practice, a group that included wide receivers Mike Wallace, Chris Mathews (soft tissue injury), and Breshad Perriman (knee), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), tight ends Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta (finger), offensive lineman John Urschel (contusion), defensive backs Kendrick Lewis and Kyle Arrington (head), linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle).

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Sizing up the 2016 Ravens roster before the second preseason game

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the preseason opener against Carolina now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to project the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current look at the roster suggests 45 players are locks if the deadline to trim the roster to 53 took place today. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the preseason roster lists 22 players on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, with certain positions lacking depth and others enjoying extensive talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the remainder of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of keeping a balanced number of players at each position, trying to boldly pinpoint a specific number of wide receivers or linebackers or safeties isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens will look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their respective offensive or defensive positions.

The Ravens must trim the roster from 90 players to 75 on Aug. 30 and will go down to the regular-season number of 53 on Sept. 3.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players’ names that are underlined are part of the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 17.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Josh Johnson, Jerrod Johnson
Skinny: Mallett hasn’t had a sharp training camp, but he remains entrenched as the backup quarterback with a similar style of play to Flacco. Josh Johnson is having a decent summer, but Flacco not missing a single practice rep to this point speaks to how little the Ravens need a No. 3 quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West
BUBBLE: Lorenzo Taliaferro
LONG SHOT: Stephen Houston
Skinny: No one has done more to solidify his roster standing this summer than West, who is making a strong push for an extensive role in the Baltimore rushing attack. Taliaferro’s best bet might be to start the year on the physically unable to perform list where the Ravens can reassess his status after Week 6.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
LOCK: Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Chuck Jacobs, Dobson Collins, Darius White
Skinny: On ability alone, Campanaro would be a lock, but the Ravens would probably hate to lose a solid option like Butler while the former has shown little ability to stay on the field to this point in his career. With Perriman still not practicing, the reserve PUP list becomes a greater possibility.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
LOCK: Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Daniel Brown
SUSPENDED: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller
Skinny: Pitta has missed over two weeks with a finger injury, but he showed in the spring and the early days of camp that he is still good enough to contribute if healthy. Waller has shown potential at his new position and would have made for a difficult decision if not for his pending four-game suspension.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Rick Wagner, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Alex Lewis
BUBBLE: Ryan Jensen, Vlad Ducasse, De’Ondre Wesley, James Hurst
LONG SHOT: Anthony Fabiano, Matt Skura, Jarell Broxton, Blaine Clausell, Stephane Nembot
Skinny: The Ravens probably wouldn’t mind adding a veteran tackle to back up Stanley and Wagner, but Lewis is considered a future starter and handled left tackle well in the first preseason game. Hurst appears to be the odd man out as he has flipped between tackle and guard all summer.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Michael Pierce
LONG SHOT: Trevon Coley
INJURED RESERVE: Bronson Kaufusi
Skinny: The Ravens have enough depth to survive the season-ending loss of the third-round rookie Kaufusi, but Urban needs to show more as the primary backup to Guy. There might be one roster spot for Lewis-Moore or Pierce, and the latter is built similarly to Williams at the nose tackle spot.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Kamalei Correa
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown
LONG SHOT: Kavell Conner, Patrick Onwuasor
Skinny: Correa initially looked like he was the early favorite to start next to Mosley, but Orr has seized control of the job over the last week or so. The ability of other players on the roster such as Albert McClellan and Anthony Levine to shift to inside linebacker leaves Brown in serious trouble.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za’Darius Smith, Albert McClellan, Matt Judon
BUBBLE: Chris Carter, Victor Ochi
LONG SHOT: Brennen Beyer, Mario Ojemudia
Skinny: Carter excelled against Carolina and can play outside and inside, making him an interesting bubble player. Meanwhile, Ochi, a rookie free agent from Stony Brook, has flashed potential in practices and appears to be a player the Ravens might try to hide and sneak onto the practice squad.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young
BUBBLE: Will Davis, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady, Kyle Arrington
LONG SHOT: Julian Wilson, Carrington Byndom
Skinny: Davis has looked healthier and quicker over the last couple practices after a slow start to the summer, but depth is again a concern with even Wright and Powers struggling in the preseason opener. Price, Canady, and Arrington have dealt with recent injuries to further cloud the competition.

SAFETIES (6)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb
BUBBLE: Anthony Levine, Kendrick Lewis, Terrence Brooks, Matt Elam
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: This might be the toughest position group to gauge as Lewis is a favorite of the coaches while Elam and Brooks have had solid camp performances. Levine is a very good special-teams player and has worked extensively as a hybrid linebacker this spring and summer.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Wil Lutz
Skinny: There’s still nothing to see here with Lutz merely easing the workload of Tucker and Koch.

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Mike Harmon dishes on NFL in LA

Posted on 17 August 2016 by WNST Staff

Mike Harmon of Fox Sports caught up with Nestor this week to discuss all things NFL, including the preseason debut of the Los Angeles Rams.

Who will start for the LA Rams? Which golden rule was broken by a Rams WR during the first Hard Knocks episode?

To hear Nestor’s full conversation with Mike Harmon, listen here:

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Don Banks: Sense of Urgency for Ravens in 2016

Posted on 17 August 2016 by WNST Staff

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated caught up with Nestor Aparicio this week as the NFL regular season continues to get closer.

Don was out in Owings Mills recently and he had some positive observations to share about Joe Flacco.

“I was using the words locked in, because the day I was there, I barely saw the ball touch the ground,” Banks said. “He told me that the knee is not really on his mental radar screen. He feels like he can trust it, and hasn’t really had to clear much of a hurdle on that front. He’s excited. I feel like he’s poised for a big bounce back year. The question is, how many others on Baltimore after that injury plagued year are ready to bounce back as well.”

Don sees 2016 as a key season for the Ravens, and he sees them being in a position that they haven’t found themselves in for quite some time.d

“They are a very interesting team this year Nestor,” Banks said. “I think we’e always kind of known what to expect from Baltimore, but last year altered the perception a little bit. I think a lot of us are wondering ‘Does this team pick up where they left off, always a playoff perennial contender, 10-11 wins? Or was last year in any way the first sign of a team on the decline, and getting a little older in some key spots?’ That’s what this year is about. I think there’s a little bit of a sense of urgency in Baltimore that there hasn’t been in a number of years, to kind of continue the program the way it has been under John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome.”

To hear Nestor’s full chat with Don Banks, listen here:

 

 

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Suggs, Ravens defense dominate in Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Leaping high in the air to snatch a Joe Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage, Terrell Suggs returned the ball the other way before heaving it into a crowd of Ravens fans on Wednesday.

It was one of the highlight plays in all of training camp in what was only the third day of practice for the 33-year-old linebacker. In good shape and increasing his activity level from the first two days of limited work, Suggs looked a lot like the high-impact force he’s been for well over a decade in Baltimore.

“I saw Anthony Levine and said, ‘I guess he’s back,'” said head coach John Harbaugh about the impressive interception. “We heard him before that. It was good to see him make a play like that though.”

Suggs wasn’t the only one to shine on Wednesday as the defense dominated the offense in a fully-padded practice ahead of Saturday’s preseason contest in Indianapolis.

Third-year safety Terrence Brooks intercepted an overthrown Flacco pass during a seven-on-seven period of practice. Ryan Mallett was also victimized by the secondary as cornerback Jerraud Powers picked him off and later broke up another pass from the backup quarterback.

It’s likely no coincidence that the defense has picked up its intensity this week with Suggs back on the field for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon in Denver just over 11 months ago. Younger players also value his underrated mental preparation and the knowledge he shares when stepping on the field.

“He brings a special kind of energy with him,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “He’s definitely one of those guys that’s almost like having another coach on the field with you. When we’re out there together and he sees something, sometimes he’s telling me, ‘The play’s coming to you.’ Before the ball is snapped, it’s easier to make pre-snap reads and things like that with a guy like Suggs beside you.

“He hasn’t told me anything wrong in three years. Every time he has been beside me and said, ‘This is what is about to happen,’ it has happened.”

The Ravens are still dealing with a long list of absences just a few days before their second preseason contest, but Harbaugh confirmed that running back Justin Forsett, offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Jeremy Zuttah, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro were just given Wednesday’s practice off.

Tight ends Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams, and Daniel Brown, wide receiver Chris Matthews, guard John Urschel, defensive backs Kendrick Lewis, Kyle Arrington, Sheldon Price, and Sam Brown, and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi were all missing due to various ailments. Wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro remain on the physically unable to perform list and did not participate.

However, the Ravens confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Smith has passed his physical and will return to the practice field in the near future, putting him on track to be ready for the start of the season.

Rookie cornerback Tavon Young returned to practice after missing three days of practice with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason opener.

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After promising stretch, Orioles pitching again looking too vulnerable

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitching staff appeared to be turning a corner not long ago.

Despite a maddening offensive slump that led to three straight losses in Oakland last week, the starting rotation had rattled off seven straight quality starts as the latest sign of its second-half improvement. There had been some hiccups here and there from the bullpen, but Darren O’Day had finally returned a couple weeks before and the group still led the American League in ERA.

All the Orioles needed was their all-too-powerful offense to awaken from its second-half slumber and they’d seemingly be ready to take off at the right time in an all-too-tight AL East battle with Toronto and Boston.

Then, word came over the weekend that O’Day was dealing with a strained rotator cuff that required a cortisone injection and another trip to the disabled list. Manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that the hope is for the veteran right-hander to be ready to return at the end of the minimum 15-day DL period, but a shoulder issue is one of the last things you want for a pitcher, particularly one as important as O’Day to Baltimore’s success over the last five years.

Making matters worse are the recent struggles of All-Star setup man Brad Brach, who pitched incredibly well during O’Day’s extended absence earlier in the season. The right-hander gave up the deciding two-run homer to Boston’s Mookie Betts in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to elevate his ERA to 4.50 in 12 innings of work since the All-Star break. It would have been unfair to expect Brach to maintain the microscopic 0.91 ERA he posted in 49 1/3 innings in the first half, but you do wonder if such a stressful workload and some simple regression to the mean are catching up to him down the stretch.

If they’re to endure this latest O’Day absence, the Orioles need Brach to find his first-half form sooner rather than later.

Of course, Showalter revealing Tuesday night that 15-game winner Chris Tillman would not pitch on Wednesday due to shoulder soreness creates more restlessness. Tillman is currently slated to start against Houston on Saturday, but there is clearly enough concern to scratch your ace from a critical game against the AL East foe who just pulled even with the Orioles for second place in the division.

Dylan Bundy will now try to continue his impressive run as a starter against the highest-scoring offense in the major leagues.

It could all be fine with Tillman making that Saturday start without any issue and a rested and healthy O’Day returning to action before the end of the month, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should be feeling more urgency to fortify the pitching staff ahead of the waiver trade deadline in two weeks. At the very least, the Orioles would benefit from another reliable reliever to ease the burden on Brach and Mychal Givens in trying to bridge the gap to All-Star closer Zach Britton.

Right now, the remainder of the bullpen consists of three long relievers — Vance Worley, Tyler Wilson, and the seldom-used Ubaldo Jimenez — and unproven left-hander Donnie Hart. The Orioles entered Tuesday’s game still sporting an AL-leading 3.15 bullpen ERA, but the parts just don’t breed confidence right now.

Doubts have persisted all year about the pitching, but the latest developments aren’t doing the Orioles any favors.

The offense rising to the occasion like it did in the first half would surely quell concerns, but the Orioles can only hope that a couple of sore shoulders won’t derail what’s been a surprisingly strong season.

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