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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 3 win in Jacksonville

Posted on 27 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 with a 19-17 victory at Jacksonville on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much praise has already been offered to the fourth-quarter performance of the Ravens defense, but the numbers were just sensational. Jacksonville ran 17 plays for four net yards while Baltimore collected four sacks, two interceptions, and two batted passes. That’s how you finish games.

2. Mentioning last week how methodical the Jacksonville defense has forced the Ravens to be, Joe Flacco threw 40 times with only completions of 20 or more yards. The Jaguars used deep safeties and an underwhelming running game didn’t help matters, but the Ravens must take more vertical shots.

3. Speaking of the running game, many want Terrance West to receive the bulk of the carries, but the Ravens don’t trust him as much in pass protection, which can’t be overlooked in a pass-happy offense. Still, you hope rookie Kenneth Dixon can eventually give a sputtering ground attack a spark.

4. John Harbaugh quipped that rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa needs extra work on the JUGS machine after dropping an interception that could have been a touchdown, but it was good to see the second-rounder make on impact with his first defensive action. Now he needs to build on that.

5. I had concerns after his Week 1 performance in which he had only 19 receiving yards on eight targets, but Steve Smith looked like his old self against Jacksonville, gaining yards after the catch and making four receptions in the fourth quarter. Maybe Jalen Ramsey did him a favor?

6. Many have criticized Shareece Wright after two rough games in a row, but shouldn’t Jimmy Smith be traveling with a receiver as talented as Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson? Wright does need to be better in coverage, but the Ravens gave Smith a big contract for those types of matchups.

7. Just 8-for-19 on tries from at least 50 yards in the previous two seasons, Justin Tucker is living up to a fat contract by nailing all three tries from that range so far, including the game-winning 54-yarder in Jacksonville. He’s easy to take for granted, but he shouldn’t be.

8. It’s ironic that Flacco’s franchise record of 21 consecutive completions ended on his best throw of the day that was dropped in the end zone by Mike Wallace. It wasn’t the best day for the veteran receiver or Breshad Perriman, who also dropped a couple of passes.

9. One of the big differences in the defense has been the improved pass coverage from the inside linebackers. C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr are getting better depth in their drops, and both came away with interceptions on Sunday.

10. Brent Urban gave the Ravens’ their 10th blocked kick since 2014, which proved to be the difference in the game. Special teams can be a great equalizer in overcoming deficiencies on offense or defense, and blocks have swung momentum two weeks in a row.

11. Alex Lewis did leave Sunday’s game with a concussion, but the Ravens listing the same seven inactives for the third straight week illustrates how healthy they’ve remained since the start of the regular season. They need Elvis Dumervil and Dixon to return, but they should feel fortunate otherwise.

12. Harbaugh says he isn’t superstitious, but his gray T-shirt worn on the sideline two weeks in a row will apparently be donned again against Oakland. It’s a more relaxed look for the ninth-year coach than we’re used to seeing, and it reminds a bit of Bill Belichick with the hoodie.

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Defensive position battles to watch for Ravens at start of OTAs

Posted on 25 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are holding their first organized team activities this week and with them come plenty of questions as on-field preparations begin for the 2016 season.

Few conclusions can be drawn from the voluntary workouts that will be conducted without a number of veterans, but the practices will provide an early look at some players returning from injuries as well as rookies competing with established NFL talent for the first time. Thursday’s workout will be open to media to conclude the first week.

Coming off their worst season in nearly a decade, the Ravens have plenty of jobs up for grabs on both sides of the ball.

After examining the offensive battles on Tuesday, below is a look at the top defensive competitions:

1. Inside linebacker

The candidates: Zach Orr, Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan

The reality: It remains to be seen whether Ozzie Newsome will add a veteran after cutting Daryl Smith, but Orr saw 142 defensive snaps and replaced Smith on passing downs late in the 2015 season. Brown is a 2013 second-round pick, but he’s been a non-factor in three seasons and has a ton to prove this summer. A special-teams ace, McClellan provides depth but probably isn’t a serious contender to start.

2. Cornerback

The candidates: Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Will Davis, Kyle Arrington, Tavon Young

The reality: We know Jimmy Smith will start at one cornerback spot, but how the Ravens will line up at the other outside spot and in the nickel remains to be seen. Wright is the early favorite to start in the base defense after receiving $4.76 million guaranteed, but Powers brings extensive starting experience to Baltimore and can play outside and inside. Davis and Young are interesting names to watch this summer.

3. Defensive end

The candidates: Lawrence Guy, Bronson Kaufusi, Brent Urban

The reality: The Ravens don’t appear too concerned over replacing veteran Chris Canty as Guy has been solid when asked to fill in over the last two seasons. However, Kaufusi brings potential as this year’s third-round pick out of Brigham Young. This could be a make-or-break year for Urban, who finally got on the field in the second half of last season but has battled too many injuries going back to college.

4. Outside linebacker

The candidates: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za’Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa, Matt Judon

The reality: We know Suggs and Dumervil own pedigrees as Pro Bowl talents, but how will that ultimately translate in 2016? It’s tough to say whether Suggs can still be an every-down rush linebacker coming off his second Achilles injury in four years, and we know Dumervil’s rush ability was optimized sharing snaps with Courtney Upshaw in 2013 and 2014. Smith is the favorite to take Upshaw’s early-down Sam linebacker role, but Correa and Judon offer intriguing upside as rookie pass rushers.

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Youth comes up big for Ravens in thrilling victory

Posted on 01 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Monday will go down as one of the most thrilling finishes in the 20-year history of the Ravens as well as in the annals of Monday Night Football.

But as Crash Davis from “Bull Durham” would remind you, “The moment’s over.”

If you’re trying to focus on the long haul, what can the 4-7 Ravens really take away from Monday’s win that worsened their 2016 draft position?

Though all players and coaches continue to fight admirably with all 11 of Baltimore’s games being decided by a single possession in 2015, the performances of five players under the age of 25 might bring the most hope from Monday’s win as it relates to the Ravens’ goal of returning to a championship level.

Below is a look at each in no particular order of significance:

WR/RS Kaelin Clay
Age: 23
Impact: Prior to Monday, the rookie from Utah was best known for a major gaffe against Oregon last season, but the sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced his presence with authority by returning the Browns’ first punt of the game 82 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Even better was the fact that Clay returned three other punts and two kickoffs without putting the ball on the ground, a factor that’s been a concern for Baltimore returners this season. Clay played only one offensive snap, so it remains to be seen what he can offer as a receiver, but his big return energized the Ravens early.

DE Brent Urban
Age: 24
Impact: After missing the first 26 regular-season games of his NFL career due to injuries, the 6-foot-7 Urban made a major impact in blocking Travis Coons’ 51-yard field goal attempt, which allowed safety Will Hill to return the ball 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining. The 2014 fourth-round pick also made two tackles in his 11 defensive snaps and offered a glimpse of why the Ravens elected to use their designation to return on him after he tore his biceps early in training camp. He will be one of the most intriguing young players to watch over the final five weeks of the season.

RB Terrance West
Age: 24
Impact: We all know the local kid’s story and the baggage he already carries in only his second NFL season, but the 225-pound back showed good vision against his old team, rushing for 37 yards on seven carries in his Ravens debut. With Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro both out for the season, West will have every opportunity to make an impact for an offense lacking established weapons. It will be up to him to show the maturity and work ethic that will warrant more carries in the coming weeks, but the former Towson star made valuable contributions for his hometown team in Week 12.

DT Timmy Jernigan
Age: 23
Impact: After beginning the season in John Harbaugh’s doghouse due to a foolish roughing the passer penalty in Oakland, the 2014 second-round pick has quietly picked up his play over the last seven games, registering three sacks and eight quarterback hits. In 42 defensive snaps against Cleveland, Jernigan finished with three tackles, a half-sack, and three quarterback hits to wreak havoc in the pocket along with veterans Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty. Jernigan’s sack total doesn’t stand out, but he ranks second behind Dumervil with 10 quarterback hits and has been the Ravens’ best interior rusher.

RB Buck Allen
Age: 24
Impact: It helped facing the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense, but the 2015 fourth-round pick continued to impress in his first start, carrying 12 times for 55 yards and catching four passes for 29 yards that included a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It remains to be seen whether the 220-pound Allen can consistently thrive running between the tackles, but his receiving ability out of the backfield is as dynamic as anyone the Ravens have used since Ray Rice at his best. After facing questions at running back for a few years now, the Ravens would love to see Allen show No. 1 back production.

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Even in rough season, Ravens remind us how fun sports can be

Posted on 01 December 2015 by Luke Jones

It was nice to forget about the Ravens’ big picture for one night in a thrilling 33-27 win over Cleveland.

No, I don’t think Brent Urban’s blocked field goal and Will Hill’s 64-yard return for the game-winning touchdown as time expired will sabotage Baltimore’s 2016 draft position. It was always going to difficult to secure the first overall pick when every game the Ravens play is decided by one possession, leaving too many chances for some breaks to go their way like they did on Monday.

In the same light, the exhilarating victory shouldn’t be viewed as “redemption” or a catalyst that will allow the Ravens to climb back into a mediocre AFC wild-card race. After all, the only thing the Ravens really proved on Monday is that they were better than the perennial doormat of the AFC North.

But that chaotic final play reminded us just how much fun sports can be. Nothing more, nothing less.

It hasn’t exactly been the greatest few months in local sports with the Orioles failing to return to the playoffs, Maryland football being dreadful, and the Ravens in the midst of the most disappointing season in franchise history. It’s easy to become jaded watching a team that’s already out of the race and looking toward next season, especially after losing your franchise quarterback to a season-ending knee injury last week.

In fact, I counted myself among those seeing no benefit to the Ravens winning any games down the stretch as they’d only be worsening their position in a draft in which general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to come away with high-impact talent. But a funny thing happened as I watched the injury-ravaged Ravens take on the hapless Browns in one of the worst matchups of the season.

I enjoyed myself.

Make no mistake, Baltimore and Cleveland did not play a great game, but it was entertaining with big plays, backbreaking mistakes, questionable coaching decisions, and one of the craziest finishes in the long history of Monday Night Football. And as the teams exchanged multiple possessions in the final two minutes and Matt Schaub threw his second interception of the night to set the Browns up in Baltimore territory, I still pondered the most absurd way in which the game could end and decided on the following:

Of course, it was nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek prediction — I’ve been awful in forecasting Ravens games this season — but I couldn’t believe my eyes just a couple minutes later as Urban blocked Travis Coons’ 51-yard attempt and Hill scooped up the football to streak down the sideline for the score.

It was one of those moments that reminds fans — and even cranky reporters — why we watch sports in the first place. Of course, Baltimore’s joy was Cleveland’s agony as the Browns picked the worst time to, well, “Brown” away a game.

You couldn’t help but feel good for Hill, who had blown the deep middle coverage on Travis Benjamin’s game-tying touchdown catch with 1:47 remaining in the game. I felt even better for Urban, a 2014 fourth-round defensive end who was playing in his first NFL game after seeing his entire rookie year and most of his second season lost due to injuries.

Two players the Ravens hope will factor into their future making the game-winning play on Monday night.

It will be fine going back to feeling conflicted about the remaining five games of the season as the Ravens travel to Miami to take on the 4-7 Dolphins on Sunday. I can understand a fan never wanting to root against his or her team, no matter what it means for draft implications. At the same time, the Ravens only stand to benefit in the long run by losing more than winning the rest of the way.

But I hope we all could enjoy what transpired on the final play of Monday night’s game.

The wild win doesn’t make up for a losing season and doesn’t mean the Ravens will fail to come away with excellent players in next year’s draft. It’s also not a sign of an upcoming miraculous run to the postseason.

It was just a really fun moment that we hope to witness from time to time as sports fans.

One in which silly imagination suddenly sprung into fun reality for a team experiencing far too much of the cruel kind this season.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 29 November 2015 by Luke Jones

What do two bad teams with headaches at the quarterback position need more than anything?

A national audience for Monday Night Football?

Much to the chagrin of ESPN and NFL executives, the Matt Schaub era begins Monday night with the 3-7 Ravens traveling to Cleveland to take on the 2-8 Browns. It’s never a good thing when a primetime game holds far more draft implications than influences on the playoff race, but head coach John Harbaugh will try to navigate his team to a win in his first-ever regular-season game without Joe Flacco under center.

Of course, Flacco is just one of many injuries that have gutted a team that entered the 2015 season with Super Bowl aspirations. Now, it remains to be seen whether the Ravens will even win another game over their final six weeks.

Meanwhile, the Browns are rested coming off their bye week, but controversy surrounds their football team with the latest off-field concerns leading to second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel being benched.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Cleveland meet for the 34th time in their regular-season history and the Browns look for their first regular-season sweep of Baltimore since 2007. The Ravens hold a 24-9 advantage in the all-time series and are 11-5 playing in Cleveland.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win its second road game of the season …

1. Buck Allen will surpass 135 total yards in his first NFL start. The rookie is the most compelling Ravens player to watch for the remainder of the season, and he’ll be facing the NFL’s 32nd-ranked run defense. Of course, Baltimore is far from 100 percent along its offensive line, and the Browns are likely to use eight men in the box to try to take away the run and force Schaub to make plays through the air. This will keep Allen from piling up huge numbers on the ground, but he’ll be a favorite receiver out of the backfield for his 34-year quarterback making his first start in almost two years.

2. Paul Kruger and Armonty Bryant will combine for three sacks against a battered Baltimore offensive line. As if life wasn’t difficult enough for Schaub without Steve Smith and Justin Forsett, Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele are doubtful to play and James Hurst and Ryan Jensen will be entrusted to protect his blindside. This spells trouble for someone who is already going to be readjusting his live-game clock after minimal playing time over the last two years. For all of the justified complaints about Monroe’s durability, Hurst is a major liability and Flacco paid the price for it last week.

3. Gary Barnidge and Crockett Gillmore will each catch touchdowns for their respective teams. The Browns tight end had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s Week 5 win over the Ravens and will follow that with another strong performance on Monday. Meanwhile, Gillmore will make the Browns pay for using a strong safety in the box by beating man coverage for a red-zone touchdown. Considering Schaub doesn’t have a particularly strong arm and his receivers have little experience, Gillmore will now become an even bigger part of what the Ravens do through the air.

4. Brent Urban will bat down a pass and collect a tackle in his NFL debut. Not even the Ravens know exactly what to expect from Urban, who has yet to play as much as a preseason game snap in his two years in the NFL. But this is the time for the organization to start to find out about the 2014 fourth-round pick. At 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, Urban should be an intriguing inside rusher in passing situations and will provide another option at the 5-technique defensive end spot. The Ravens thought enough of Urban to use the designation to return, so it will be interesting to finally watch him play.

5. Josh McCown will outplay Schaub in a listless 20-16 win for Cleveland. Neither of these teams are any good, but you generally side with the team who has the better quarterback and the Ravens likely would have preferred Manziel to start instead of McCown, who threw for over 450 yards in the Week 5 game at M&T Bank Stadium. Unless the Schaub from circa 2010 shows up — not the guy who has struggled mightily since 2013 — the Ravens just aren’t going to be a great bet to beat anyone for the rest of the season. There’s always a very real chance that the Browns self-destruct at a critical point in the game, but the Ravens have been just as guilty of doing that in this nightmare season.

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Ravens officially place Forsett on IR, activate Urban

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — What was a formality became official on Friday when the Ravens placed running back Justin Forsett on injured reserve and elevated defensive end Brent Urban to the 53-man roster.

Forsett suffered a broken right forearm in Sunday’s win over St. Louis. The injury will sidelined him for the rest of the season, but the 30-year-old is expected to be ready to participate in the Ravens’ offseason workout program.

Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that Urban would be activated from injured reserve with the designation to return. The second-year defensive lineman suffered a torn biceps in early August, but he began a 21-day practice window on Nov. 9 and needed to be placed on the 53-man roster by Monday.

Returning to the practice field after the Thanksgiving holiday, the Ravens again were without the starting left side of their offensive line as tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) and guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) were both absent on Friday. Should the pair not be able to play against Cleveland on Monday night, the Ravens would use James Hurst at left tackle and Ryan Jensen at left guard.

“I thought he did very well. He played fast,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman about Jensen in his first NFL start. “I thought it was a really good start for him. And [John] Urschel moving in at center again did a very nice job as well.”

Wide receiver Marlon Brown (back) also remained sidelined with a back injury after he played just four offensive snaps against the Rams on Sunday.

The only new addition to Friday’s injury report was cornerback Shareece Wright, who was a limited participant due to a back issue.

Tight end Nick Boyle (foot) was again practicing fully after missing his first game of the season in Week 11.

The Browns continued to practice without several key players, but starting guard Joel Bitonio (ankle) participated on a limited basis on Friday.

Below is Friday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Marlon Brown (back), OT Eugene Monroe (shoulder), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Shareece Wright (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (foot)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Taylor Gabriel (concussion), CB Joe Haden (concussion), WR Andrew Hawkins (concussion), DE Randy Starks (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Joel Bitonio (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), QB Josh McCown (ribs), S Donte Whitner (concussion)

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Ravens defensive end Urban to be elevated to 53-man roster

Posted on 25 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Now in his third week of practice since returning from a torn biceps, Ravens defensive end Brent Urban will be elevated to the 53-man roster.

Head coach John Harbaugh did not immediately announce an official roster move as Urban would not have to be placed on the active roster until Monday if Baltimore elected to wait. The 2014 fourth-round pick injured his biceps in early August and was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return at the start of the regular season.

“Whether he’ll be active or not and play in the [Cleveland] game, we’ll have to figure that out, but Brent will come up and be on the 53-man,” Harbaugh said. “He’s done a really good job. He’s worked hard; he looks good. It’s going to be exciting to see him in real action at some point in time and see how he does, because he hasn’t played that much. But he’s practiced really well.”

It remains unclear when the move will be made official as running back Justin Forsett has yet to be placed on IR after suffering a broken right forearm in Sunday’s win over St. Louis. The Ravens are currently ailing along the offensive line with left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) and left guard Kelechi Osemele (knee) both injured and missing practice on Wednesday, so they may also need to add an offensive lineman to the roster ahead of Monday’s game with Cleveland.

Urban’s 21-day practice window doesn’t expire until Sunday, meaning he can continue to participate without being added to the active roster until then.

In addition to Osemele and Monroe, wide receiver Marlon Brown was also absent from Wednesday’s practice after playing only four offensive snaps against St. Louis.

Rookie tight end Nick Boyle returned to practice after missing the Rams game with a left foot injury that had him in a walking boot last week.

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Zuttah absent, Monroe returns to practice on Wednesday

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Conducting their first full practice since returning from their bye, the Ravens welcomed back a starting member of their offensive line while being without another.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) was a full participant in Wednesday’s workout, but center Jeremy Zuttah continues to recover from a left shoulder injury suffered in the Week 8 win over San Diego. Monroe had missed the Nov. 1 game against the Chargers, but head coach John Harbaugh had previously expressed optimism that he would return after the bye week.

The Ravens appear optimistic about Zuttah’s chances to be ready for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

“We’re anticipating — we’re hoping — that Jeremy will be out later in the week to practice,” Harbaugh said prior to Wednesday’s workout, “but he won’t be out [on the field] today.”

Rookie cornerback Tray Walker (concussion) participated fully in Wednesday’s practice after missing the San Diego game. Though still on injured reserve with the designation to return, defensive end Brent Urban (biceps) also took practiced with his 21-day participation window having opened on Monday.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) remains sidelined from practice.

Wednesday also brought the practice debut of former Towson running back Terrance West, who was signed to Baltimore’s practice squad a day earlier. Jettisoned by both Cleveland and Tennessee in the last two months, the Northwestern High grad hopes a return home will be the key to getting his once-promising NFL career back on track.

Harbaugh said he spoke with wide receiver Steve Smith following his successful Achilles tendon surgery in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday.

“He’s in great spirits,” Harbaugh said. “He’s looking forward to the rehab, and he was pretty fired up about the way [the surgery] went.”

Meanwhile, the Jaguars were without two starters during their Wednesday workout as standout second-year receiver Allen Hurns (foot/thigh) and outside linebacker Dan Skuta (groin) were non-participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Breshad Perriman (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (shoulder), CB Tray Walker (concussion)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Michael Bennett (hamstring), DE Chris Clemons (non-injury), WR Allen Hurns (foot/thigh), LB Dan Skuta (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marqise Lee (hamstring), S James Sample (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Zane Beadles (knee), RB Toby Gerhart (groin), WR Rashad Greene (thumb), TE Julius Thomas (abdomen)

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Ravens defensive end Urban returns to practice field

Posted on 09 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Ravens defensive end Brent Urban practiced on Monday for the first time since suffering a biceps injury in early August.

Returning from the Week 9 bye, the team announced the 2014 fourth-round pick has returned to practice after beginning the regular season on injured reserve with the designation to return. Urban now enters a 21-day practice window in which the Ravens may elevate him to the 53-man roster at any point or leave him on IR for the remainder of the season if deemed unable to return at the conclusion of the period.

Urban, 24, suffered a torn biceps on Aug. 8, an injury that was initially feared to sideline him for the entire season. The Ravens are intrigued by the 6-foot-7, 295-pound defensive lineman’s potential, which is why they used their one designation to return on him at the start of the season instead of saving it for another injured player.

“I don’t know if you’d say Brent Urban is going to be some kind of premier pass rusher,” head coach John Harbaugh said last week. “Maybe he’ll develop into that, and we’ll all be excited. But he’s going to pressure the quarterback. He’s going to get push-back. He’s going to get knock-back. He’s going to create problems, just because of his leverage and his size, and he’s going to be definitely hard to throw the ball around.

“I think if nothing else — at the very least — he’s going to get batted balls, and that’s going to be good for us. He’s such a young player. We’re going to have to find out what kind of a player he is once he gets out there and gets going again.”

Urban suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee early in his first training camp, meaning expectations should be tempered for a player who hasn’t taken as much as a preseason snap in his NFL career. But the Ravens believe he can be a factor at the 5-technique defensive end spot — currently manned by veterans Chris Canty and Lawrence Guy — and as an inside rusher in passing situations.

 

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Seven Ravens players needing more snaps in second half of 2015

Posted on 05 November 2015 by Luke Jones

It sounds encouraging to say the Ravens can make a second-half run for postseason contention.

After all, expectations were soaring going into the season and the AFC currently consists of three undefeated teams — New England, Denver, and Cincinnati — and just two other teams (New York and Oakland) above .500. Baltimore’s second-half schedule consists of five home games and just two contests against teams currently sporting winning records.

Anything could happen, right?

Then, you remember the Ravens have two wins in two months.

Two.

And they just lost Steve Smith — their best pass-catching target in an otherwise underwhelming group — for the rest of the season.

While still expecting the Ravens to win more games and to remain competitive in the second half of the season — all eight of their contests have been decided by one possession — it would be irresponsible not to have at least one eye toward the future. Finishing closer to .500 while continuing to rely more on veterans and street free agents with no long-term future would only give the Ravens an inferior draft pick for 2016 and not really assist in the goal of building the next championship-caliber roster.

The Ravens can continue trying to win while still taking a longer look at some younger players in the second half of the season. It makes more sense for 2016 and beyond to give a few more opportunities to younger options in hopes of seeing at least a couple real pieces emerge by season’s end. Needless to say, general manager Ozzie Newsome must improve talent on both sides of the ball, so wouldn’t you prefer seeing what some recent picks can do — good or bad — instead of those players remaining as unknowns?

It’s worth remembering that the Ravens are just 2-6, so how much drop-off could there really be evaluating some younger players at certain spots?

Only including players who’ve taken fewer than 100 snaps on offense or defense — rookies like Maxx Williams and Za’Darius Smith have played more — below are seven players who should receive more playing time in the second half of the 2015 season.

7. CB Tray Walker
2015 defensive snaps to date: 8
Rationale: The Ravens acknowledged Walker was more of a project when they selected him in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but it still hasn’t been encouraging that he remains behind Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington — two veterans who haven’t played well — on the depth chart. Throwing the 6-foot-2 Texas Southern product into the starting lineup would be hasty, but you’d like to see him receive enough snaps to determine whether he can be a viable No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback in 2016. If he’s not up to that task by then, it’d be difficult to label his selection in the fourth round as anything but a major reach.

6. LB Arthur Brown
2015 defensive snaps to date: 0
Rationale: C.J. Mosley has struggled in coverage and Daryl Smith hasn’t played the run particularly well in 2015, making it fair to ask whether the Ravens should finally attempt to carve out a role for their 2013 second-round pick to determine whether he can even be a part-time player in Baltimore. Given Brown’s speed, defensive coordinator Dean Pees could even consider using the linebacker as an occasional blitzer off the edge in an effort to put more pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens have seen something in Brown to hold on to him even this long, so why not give him a real look, even in nickel situations?

5. WR Chris Givens
2015 offensive snaps to date (with Baltimore): 82
Rationale: The former St. Louis Ram has more experience than anyone else on this list, but the Ravens need to continue giving him more snaps, especially with Smith done for the season. Givens had been a sponge around Smith prior to the latter’s injury, so it will be interesting to see if the speedy receiver can apply any of the veteran’s lessons to his own play. No one should confuse him with a starting-caliber receiver, but you’d like to see if Givens can establish himself as a No. 3 or No. 4 guy for the future. In his four games with the Ravens, he’s outperformed Marlon Brown and deserves to play over him.

4. DE Brent Urban
2015 defensive snaps to date: 0
Rationale: It’d be nice to see the 2014 fourth-round pick finally get on the field after not even playing in a preseason game to this point in his career. John Harbaugh recently said Urban is close to returning to practice after suffering a torn biceps early in training camp. Though Lawrence Guy has emerged as a solid option at the 5-technique defensive end spot behind Chris Canty, Urban’s 6-foot-7, 295-pound frame makes him an intriguing option as an interior pass rusher. With Canty turning 33 next week, the Ravens would feel good about that position if Urban can stay healthy and contribute down the stretch.

3. S Terrence Brooks
2015 defensive snaps to date: 54
Rationale: The Ravens have had problems at the safety position dating back to Ed Reed’s final season in Baltimore, and veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis hasn’t done much to quell those concerns in 2015. Brooks has had an up-and-down start to his NFL career, but he showed good athleticism and aggression against Cleveland in Week 5 before injuring his thumb. Whether Pees uses him at the nickel spot or at safety next to Will Hill, Brooks’ development would go a long way in improving a secondary in need of more athleticism and play-making ability than it’s had in recent years.

2. RB Buck Allen
2015 offensive snaps to date: 81
Rationale: This isn’t a plea for the Ravens to bench veteran Justin Forsett in favor of the rookie fourth-rounder, but Allen has shown more burst recently and is more likely to impact the future than the 30-year-old starter. In general, Baltimore needs more from a running game currently tied for 21st in the NFL and Forsett won’t be able to carry that workload alone. In a perfect world, you’d like Allen to show enough to at least pencil him in as a strong No. 2 option in 2016 after the Ravens invested fourth-round picks at the position in each of the last two drafts. At least 10 touches per game seems reasonable.

1. WR Breshad Perriman
2015 offensive snaps to date: 0
Rationale: Many have called for the first-round pick to be placed on injured reserve considering he’s only practiced a couple times since spraining the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp. But at 2-6, it’s worth waiting a little longer to see if Perriman can make it back for the final month of the season. His absence is even more frustrating with Smith out for the year as the Ravens had hoped they were drafting their No. 1 receiver of the future. They won’t be able to make that determination, but a healthy Perriman on the field for at least a few games in 2015 would be a good sign.

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