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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to training camp

Posted on 14 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of Ravens training camp now less than two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The addition of Brian Billick to the preseason broadcast team is a good move and the latest step that should lead to his induction into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor. Nearly a decade after his dismissal, it’s time for the Super Bowl XXXV champion coach to be recognized.

2. Darren Waller was hardly a sure thing to become a major contributor in 2017, but he brought the most athleticism of any tight end on the roster. I’m concerned with this group, especially if Maxx Williams’ return from knee surgery doesn’t go smoothly.

3. I wish Zach Orr nothing but the best in his attempt to play football again, but his claim late last month that he’d taken the advice of only one doctor to retire completely contradicted his comments in January and made the Ravens look bad. That wasn’t a good look.

4. The hiring of Greg Roman has probably been undersold with much of the criticism and concern expressed for the offensive line, but he also had Pro Bowl running backs Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy at his previous stops. He’ll have a chance to cement his genius with this offensive personnel.

5. Lorenzo Taliaferro could have the opportunity to be a meaningful offensive piece, especially early in the season with Kenneth Dixon’s suspension. A Le’Ron McClain-type role at fullback wouldn’t be out of the question, but he must first prove he can stay on the field.

6. The hype for the defensive backfield is through the roof, but the re-installation of Chris Hewitt as secondary coach is worth monitoring. The talent wasn’t as good when he was in charge in 2015, but communication was a total mess. Of course, the cerebral Eric Weddle should alleviate that concern.

7. This will mark the third straight summer in which Jerry Rosburg will field questions about the return specialist job. I understand the desire not to have a one-trick pony filling the role — Devin Hester didn’t work out anyway — but this offense needs all the field position it can get.

8. Brandon Williams is a beast and Michael Pierce impressed as a rookie, but the Ravens need several unknowns to fill larger roles on the defensive line. Stopping the run shouldn’t be a problem, but the pass rush is a different story with interior rushers Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy gone.

9. The addition of Jeremy Maclin certainly helps, but it’s still tough to feel dramatically better about this offense than last year’s group. Despite the efforts of some to skew the narrative, the defensive struggles late in 2016 shouldn’t mask how inadequate the offense was all year.

10. Breshad Perriman’s development may not be as critical for 2017 with Maclin’s addition, but he needs to play well enough to look like a slam-dunk starter for 2018. As we recently witnessed with Matt Elam, it can take years — and many dollars — to recover from a first-round bust.

11. This is a pivotal time for Joe Flacco. A poor season from the 32-year-old could cost people jobs and bring a new coaching regime that wouldn’t be as invested in him. His contract makes him bulletproof through 2018, but he must be better than he’s been the last two years.

12. My final thought isn’t on the Ravens, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their old foe Peyton Manning host the ESPY Awards, a show I hadn’t watched in years. I never would have imagined that kind of comedic timing watching the often-robotic quarterback work early in his career.

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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2017 Ravens roster

Posted on 20 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp in the rear-view mirror and training camp several weeks away, the Ravens now turn their sights toward the preseason and eventually paring the 90-man offseason to 53 by the start of the regular season.

Few conclusions should be drawn from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — without live contact — but my still-too-early look at the roster suggests as many as 38 players would be considered locks if the deadline to trim the roster took place now. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the roster lists 24 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some positions lacking enough quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or cornerbacks or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other abilities and overall athleticism in addition to what they bring to their specific position when filling out the bottom of the roster.

Of course, this breakdown can change at any point with owner Steve Bisciotti even expressing his desire earlier this month to add a veteran to an offensive line that lost two starters in the offseason.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. As we move into the preseason, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Dustin Vaughan
Skinny: All eyes will be on Flacco to provide more consistent play being another year removed from his 2015 knee injury. The fact that the Ravens didn’t even give Vaughan a special non-contact quarterback jersey this spring suggests he’s not a real threat to Mallett for the backup job.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon
BUBBLE: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
LONG SHOT: Ricky Ortiz, Taquan Mizzell
Skinny: Taliaferro is an intriguing option at fullback if he stays healthy, but keep an eye on Ortiz if that doesn’t happen. Allen is the most interesting bubble name to watch in this group as he could have a tough time sticking on the roster, especially once Dixon returns from a four-game ban in October.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
LOCK: Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Tim White, Kenny Bell, Tim Patrick, Aaron Bailey, C.J. Board, Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The top four are clearly defined, but there will likely be one or two more spots up for grabs, making it a big summer for the likes of Campanaro and Reynolds. Special teams will be a major factor here, and it’s worth noting that White showed some ability as a returner this spring.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller, Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams
LONG SHOT: Vince Mayle, Ryan Malleck
Skinny: Depending on whom you ask, the lack of a lock here is a reflection of a deep and talented group or of an inventory having too many question marks. Health will be the biggest determining factor, and Williams is a strong candidate to start the summer on the physically unable to perform list.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Nico Siragusa
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, Matt Skura, Stephane Nembot
LONG SHOT: Brandon Kublanow, Jarell Broxton, Jarrod Pughsley, Roubbens Joseph, Maurquice Shakir
Skinny: The addition of a veteran center or right tackle could push any combination of Urschel, Jensen, and Hurst to the bubble line, but those three of easily received the most first-team reps in trying to replace Jeremy Zuttah and Rick Wagner. It’s difficult to trust this group as it’s presently constructed.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Willie Henry
LONG SHOT: Patrick Ricard
Skinny: Davis was lining up as the starting 3-technique defensive tackle to begin OTAs, but a pectoral injury once again leaves you wondering about his ability to stay on the field. Urban is a surprising lock at this stage of the offseason, but he handled virtually all 5-technique reps with the first team.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Albert McClellan
BUBBLE: Patrick Onwuasor, Lamar Louis
LONG SHOT: Boseko Lokombo, Bam Bradley, Donald Payne
Skinny: Onwuasor would be a good bet after shining on special teams as a rookie, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens add a veteran to the mix if Correa struggles in the preseason. There’s a clear opportunity here for the lesser names in this position group to earn a roster spot.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Za’Darius Smith, Brennen Beyer
LONG SHOT: Randy Allen
Skinny: This is a critical summer for Smith after he disappointed in his second season and fell behind Judon in the pecking order, but playing time is up for grabs off the edge, especially with Suggs turning 35 in October. Beyer has worked some as an inside linebacker to improve his roster chances.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady, Brandon Boykin, Sheldon Price
LONG SHOT: Robertson Daniel, Jaylen Hill, Al-Hajj Shabazz
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: Canady could be viewed as a lock based on the way he practiced in the slot in place of the injured Young, but many corners have stood out in the spring before fading and Boykin isn’t far removed from being a solid nickel in the NFL. Despite the improved depth outside, don’t sleep on Price.

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Daniel Henry, Otha Foster
Skinny: The Ravens may have the best safety group in the AFC, which will make it challenging for the sixth-round rookie Clark to make the team. There’s potential to be creative with Weddle, Jefferson, and Webb all on the field at the same time, so it will be interesting watching their usage this summer.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kenny Allen
Skinny: There’s no roster intrigue with this group, but Allen only needs to look at the success of Wil Lutz with New Orleans last year as evidence to soak up as much knowledge and experience as he can from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and the incumbent specialists this summer.

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Flacco excited to have Maclin, would also welcome Decker

Posted on 13 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco said two months ago that he didn’t believe the Ravens needed to sign a wide receiver after the early waves of free agency had come and gone without an addition.

The quarterback was understandably expressing confidence in a group of young options that included 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore, but we all knew the truth about what the offense still lacked. A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl wideout Jeremy Maclin on a two-year contract worth a reported $11 million, Flacco acknowledged it being a game-changing addition for the passing game.

The Ravens are confident that the 29-year-old will rebound from an injury-plagued 2016 in which he caught just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games and look more like the versatile target who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015. Doing so would make him the latest veteran receiver to enjoy a renaissance in Baltimore, joining the likes of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, and, most recently, Mike Wallace.

“Anytime you can add a good player, it helps your team,” said Flacco, a southern New Jersey native who first met Maclin when he played in Philadelphia earlier in his career. “I think we have a lot of guys out there competing, and putting him in that room will just up that ante a little bit.”

In fact, if it were up to the 10th-year quarterback, the stakes could still be raised higher. Asked about reports of the Ravens still being interested in former New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, Flacco praised a track record that includes three 1,000-yard seasons, two of them coming while playing with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver.

With the Ravens having lost roughly half of their receiving production from a year ago with wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, tight end Dennis Pitta, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk no longer on the roster, you can hardly blame Flacco for welcoming the possibility of adding another weapon. Of course, what precious salary-cap space that remains for the Ravens might be better spent adding a veteran offensive lineman before the start of the regular season.

Decker’s ability to work in the slot and to make catches on third down to move the chains would give the Ravens something they lost with Pitta’s third catastrophic hip injury and release earlier this month.

“Eric would be a great guy, too, especially [after] losing Dennis Pitta and getting a guy who can go inside, go outside and can run and separate and do a lot of those things,” Flacco said. “I think Marty Mornhinweg was probably with him up in New York when he was there. He’s been a great receiver, and he’s played with some good quarterbacks.”

Of course, Maclin’s addition is expected to alter the projected role for Perriman, who has been working as a starter opposite the speedy veteran Wallace in spring workouts. It will be interesting to see how the talented 23-year-old responds to having more veteran competition atop the depth chart after it looked like he might have a largely uncontested path to a starting role.

Flacco has seen much growth in Perriman from last year when they often weren’t on the same page. If the passing game is to thrive after finishing 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt in 2016, the young receiver needs to make meaningful strides to at least complement Maclin and Wallace.

“You can just see the confidence in his eyes. That’s the first thing,” Flacco said. “Then, when you go out there, it’s kind of back to how I felt probably the first couple of practices his rookie year when he was running by people, and you could tell he had something. He’s back at that level running, and his confidence is at an all-time high.”

With Maclin arriving in Owings Mills Tuesday and expected to be on the field for the second day of mandatory minicamp, the entire Ravens offense should also be feeling more confident with another accomplished receiver now part of the equation.

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Ravens land veteran wide receiver Maclin with two-year deal

Posted on 12 June 2017 by Luke Jones

It took longer than most envisioned at the start of the offseason, but the Ravens have finally landed a coveted veteran wide receiver.

Just a few days after a productive visit in Owings Mills, Jeremy Maclin agreed to a two-year deal and will fly to Baltimore to sign his contract on Tuesday morning, just in time for the start of a three-day mandatory minicamp. Released by Kansas City as a salary-cap casualty on June 2, the 29-year-old also visited Buffalo last week and told the Ravens he wanted more time to make a decision before leaving the team’s training facility without a deal on Friday afternoon.

Maclin was recruited on social media by Ravens safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson with the latter hosting the free agent for an NBA Finals viewing party with several other Ravens players last Thursday.

The 6-foot, 198-pound Maclin is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 in which he set career lows in catches (44), receiving yards (536), and touchdown receptions (two) while battling a groin ailment, but he enjoyed the best two seasons of his career just before that. His career-best 1,318 receiving yards with Philadelphia in 2014 prompted the Chiefs to sign him to a lucrative five-year, $55 million deal, and Maclin responded by collecting a career-high 87 catches with 1,088 receiving yards in 2015.

A first-round pick of the Eagles in 2009, Maclin has recorded at least 60 catches and 800 receiving yards in five of his seven active NFL seasons. He missed the entire 2013 campaign with a torn ACL suffered early in training camp.

Players no longer on the roster accounted for 53 percent of the Ravens’ receptions and 49.7 percent of their receiving yards a year ago as the offense struggled to produce consistently. This reality made it clear that general manager Ozzie Newsome needed to do more than simply hope that 2015 first-round wide receiver Breshad Perriman and a deep inventory of tight ends would emerge to replace the likes of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Kamar Aiken. Baltimore did not select a wide receiver in the draft for the first time since 2009, creating even more angst within the fan base.

Pitta’s unfortunate hip re-injury and subsequent release earlier this month made it even more critical for the Ravens to add an experienced threat for quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens’ projected top receiving trio of Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Perriman should provide more than enough speed with Maclin also offering the route-running ability and toughness to play in the slot and work the intermediate portion of the field. Baltimore has also shown interest in soon-to-be-released New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker — an ESPN report said his addition was still a possibility despite Maclin’s signing — but it would be difficult to fit both veterans under an already-tight salary cap.

Maclin has registered 474 receptions, 6,395 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns in his NFL career.

The next question will be whether Newsome adds a veteran offensive lineman after starting right tackle Rick Wagner departed via free agency and starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded this offseason. The Ravens have rotated the trio of Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Matt Skura at the starting center spot while fourth-year veteran James Hurst has worked as the first-team right tackle during spring workouts.

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Notes and observations from Ravens’ second week of OTAs

Posted on 02 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Ravens cornerback Tavon Young’s torn ACL Thursday was the latest reminder that the only substantial news to come from spring workouts is typically negative in nature.

Sure, many have gushed about how third-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman has looked this spring, but the significance of Young’s injury outweighs anything else happening on the field as players practice in helmets, jerseys, and shorts. Injuries can occur whether a player is participating in voluntary organized team activities or working out on his own, but you hate seeing an important member of the defense lost for the season several weeks before training camp even begins.

The silver lining is that this unfortunate development comes more than three months before the start of the regular season, giving the Ravens ample time to evaluate and figure out what they want to do at the nickel spot. Veteran Brandon Carr and first-round pick Marlon Humphrey are outside corners and wouldn’t appear to be suited to play inside, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Chris Hewitt have time to experiment with different alignments and evaluate young options like Maurice Canady, who had three interceptions in Thursday’s practice and showed some swagger playing with the first-team nickel defense after Young was helped off the field.

At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, Canady doesn’t look the part of a traditional slot corner, but his size would be useful inside if he can show the necessary footwork and quickness to stick with shiftier receivers. Of course, reserve safety and onetime cornerback Lardarius Webb may also fit into the nickel picture, but you’d like to be able to use him in deep center field if the Ravens have visions of being creative with new safety Tony Jefferson and using the dime package more often.

** Young wasn’t the only Ravens player to go down with an injury recently as wide receiver Michael Campanaro and defensive tackle Carl Davis were missing from Thursday’s practice.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, Campanaro will be out for “a little while” with a sprained toe. Harbaugh said that it wasn’t serious, but toe ailments are tricky for any player, let alone a slot receiver who relies on his sudden change of direction. It’s unfortunately the latest ailment for a talented player who has never been able to stay on the field for an extended period of time.

Davis, who lined up as the 3-technique defensive tackle with the starting defense last week, is dealing with a strained pectoral muscle, but Harbaugh said he will return to practice soon. In his absence, Michael Pierce was lining up at the nose with Brandon Williams moving to the 3-technique spot.

Cornerback Sheldon Price was helped inside after bumping his head during practice and was being evaluated for a concussion.

Others not participating in Thursday’s OTA included Webb, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Carlos Davis (lower leg), linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley (offseason shoulder surgery), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (offseason shoulder surgery) and Jarell Broxton, and tight ends Benjamin Watson (Achilles tendon), Max Williams (knee), and Darren Waller. Continuing to be held out of voluntary workouts, Suggs was once again in the building and has been a consistent presence in Owings Mills this spring.

** The starting offensive line displayed a new wrinkle as John Urschel worked at center and Ryan Jensen played right guard after their positions were flipped last week.

“Both of those guys are taking reps at center,” said Harbaugh, who noted that 2016 practice-squad member Matt Skura is also in the mix. “They are both going to have to play center and guard. Most of those guys inside do play all three positions. Marshal plays center. I do not know if you knew that, but he is kind of an emergency center.”

** It’s interesting to note that quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t been wearing his left knee brace in the two OTA workouts open to media after saying earlier this spring that he would continue wearing one. It may just be because these are non-contact workouts — though it’s not uncommon for an overzealous young lineman to forget that from time to time — but Flacco wore the brace for every practice that wasn’t a walk-through last season.

Thursday wasn’t the best day for the veteran signal-caller as he threw multiple interceptions. One did come on a pass bouncing off the hands of second-year wideout Chris Moore.

** Veteran running back Danny Woodhead had a good day as a receiver out of the backfield, making an impressive one-handed catch and showing good agility. The early reviews have been positive for a 32-year-old coming off a major knee injury, but durability will be a question as he’s played in just 21 games over the last three seasons.

** Lorenzo Taliaferro appears to be working exclusively as a fullback, which should help his cause to make the 53-man roster with so many tailbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. He and undrafted rookie fullback Ricky Ortiz worked off to the side from the running backs in individual drills Thursday.

** Perriman offered Humphrey a reminder of the speed he’ll see at the next level, beating the rookie cornerback inside on a slant for a short completion and blowing past the rest of the defense for a long touchdown.

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Five questions for start of Ravens organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now holding their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s workout to the media, below are five questions surrounding John Harbaugh’s team in late May:

1. What will the offensive line look like?

Many have said the Ravens are returning to their roots with such an offseason focus on improving their defense, but the accompanying thoughts of relying on the running game have come without any high-profile additions to an offensive line that no longer sports above-average right tackle Rick Wagner or center Jeremy Zuttah. Is John Urschel or Ryan Jensen even as good as Zuttah, let alone better? Is there a real solution at right tackle in a motley crew of candidates that includes James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, and Stephane Nembot? The biggest wild card could be where Alex Lewis ends up despite an internal belief at the end of last season that his best position was left guard. New senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris deserve the chance to leave their mark on this group, but you need a dominant offensive line to play ball-control football and the Ravens have a long way to go to prove they can have that kind of a group.

2. Are the front office and coaching staff really this confident in their wide receivers?

This offseason feels similar to 2013 when veteran Anquan Boldin was traded away for a sixth-round pick and nothing meaningful was done to replace him, leading to substantial problems for quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game. There is no shortage of speed with Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore, but who is going to be that short-to-intermediate receiver who moves the chains and makes tacklers miss like Steve Smith did over the last three seasons? With general manager Ozzie Newsome having not signed a free-agent wideout to this point and not taking one in last month’s draft, it’s become clear that the Ravens are counting on Perriman to live up to his first-round billing and Moore to emerge as another gem from last year’s impressive fourth-round haul. No matter how the likes of Perriman, Moore, and Michael Campanaro look practicing in shorts over the next few weeks, however, it remains almost inconceivable that the Ravens are again going down this path at this position.

3. How will new safety Tony Jefferson be used?

A four-year, $34 million contract is awfully rich for a traditional strong safety, so the bet here is that Jefferson will be deployed in a way unlike any other safety we’ve seen during defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ tenure. With the re-signing of veteran safety Lardarius Webb and the uncertainty at the weak-side inside linebacker spot due to the unfortunate retirement of Zach Orr, it makes sense for the Ravens to use the dime as their primary sub package with Jefferson essentially lining up as a hybrid linebacker in passing situations. His greatest strengths in Arizona were the ability to stop the run and to cover tight ends, which are critical responsibilities for a linebacker in a more conventional nickel alignment. Considering Webb played well in the second half of 2016 and will now be relegated to a part-time role, Jefferson needs to be a difference-making presence to justify the Ravens throwing him so much money that could have been used to address a below-average offense from a year ago.

4. Who steps into starting roles along the defensive line?

The Ravens have plenty of young options up front, but they will be replacing two starters in Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy who also served as useful interior rushers in passing situations. Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry will be vying for the starting 3-technique defensive tackle job previously held by Jernigan while 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley will compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for Guy’s old 5-technique defensive end spot. We’ve heard a lot about these names, but Pierce is the only one who saw extensive playing time a year ago and even he is only entering his second season. There isn’t a ton to take away from the non-contact nature of these spring practices, but it will be interesting to see who will be receiving the early reps with the first-team defense. The good news is that re-signed nose tackle Brandon Williams will be there to anchor the rest of a defensive line that will look quite different than it did in 2016.

5. Will Kamalei Correa begin living up to his second-round billing?

The Ravens passed on a few highly-touted prospects such as Myles Jack and Noah Spence to take Correa with the 42nd overall pick of the 2016 draft, making his rookie season that included only 48 defensive snaps that much more disappointing. With Orr having retired, the Ravens need someone to emerge as the starter in the base defense next to C.J. Mosley with Correa appearing to be the most logical candidate on paper. Outside opinions have been split on whether the Boise State product is better off playing inside or outside, but Newsome drafting edge defenders Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams last month signals where the Ravens stand in that debate. The coaching staff acknowledged that they may have put too much on Correa’s rookie plate by having him work at both inside and outside linebacker, but the Ravens need him to make a major leap in his second season or the groans from fans and media about another failed second-round pick will grow even louder. He has to at least begin looking the part this spring.

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Perriman takes jersey number of former Ravens teammate

Posted on 01 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With more pressure apparently comes a new jersey number for Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman entering his third NFL season.

The 2015 first-round pick will wear No. 11 in 2017 after being assigned No. 18 for his first two seasons in Baltimore. Perriman donned his new jersey number in his final two seasons at Central Florida — he wore No. 81 as a freshman — but Kamar Aiken had worn No. 11 with the Ravens over the last few years before signing with Indianapolis in March.

With veteran Steve Smith retired and general manager Ozzie Newsome not doing anything to address the position so far this offseason, Perriman will be expected to fill a bigger role after catching 33 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns in his first healthy season last year. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver will need to show more consistent hands and better route-running ability to live up to expectations as the first wide receiver selected by the Ravens in the first round since 2005.

The 23-year-old missed his entire rookie season with a partially-torn PCL in his right knee and missed most of training camp last year after sustaining a partial tear in his left ACL in the spring. However, he returned in time to play in all 16 games in 2016.

Of course, you could say that Perriman leaving No. 18 behind is a good idea considering it didn’t work out too well for this guy.

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017

Posted on 13 February 2017 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens are facing one of their most critical offseasons in franchise history.

Most focus in the coming weeks will be on the quest to find the next Steve Smith or Terrell Suggs via the draft, free agency, or trade, but a team with as many needs as the Ravens must see real improvement from within. It’s not realistic to expect general manager Ozzie Newsome to be able to address every positional concern by external channels, and the lack of contributions from several early draft picks in recent years is a big reason why the Ravens have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. When you’re also picking in the middle of each round in the draft and don’t have a lucrative amount of salary-cap space, young players already on your roster must be ready to take a meaningful step forward.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017 in order to make it back to the postseason:

1. LB Matt Judon

The edge rusher topping the list is a product of need more than a reflection of his 2016 performance as Judon collected four sacks and played as well as you could expect from a fifth-round rookie hailing from a Division II program. With Suggs turning 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil potentially being a cap casualty, the Ravens view Judon as their best internal option to boost a pass rush that lacked punch. At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, he possesses the ideal frame to go along with a great deal of confidence to eventually step into a starting role. The Ravens should seek a real addition in this department, but improvement from Judon would go a long way in helping make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

2. WR Breshad Perriman

The 2015 first-round pick would move to the top of the list if the Ravens were to cut speedy veteran Mike Wallace for cap purposes, but it’s difficult to project Perriman being anything more than a No. 2 option without dramatic improvement in his third season. Injuries have stunted his development, but he hasn’t shown the route-running ability or hands to make you believe he can be a No. 1 guy, making this a big offseason for him. Of course, this doesn’t mean he can’t become a productive vertical threat along the lines of former Raven Torrey Smith, but expecting more than that feels too ambitious at this point.

3. LB Kamalei Correa

The debate continues whether Correa is better suited to play inside or outside linebacker, but the fact that he saw only 48 defensive snaps as a rookie is eerily familiar to failed 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown. Whether it’s replacing the retired Zach Orr inside or working as an edge defender, Correa should find ample opportunities in 2017 if he’s able to play at this level. After spending minimal time with him during the pre-draft process, the Ravens probably weren’t thrilled to run into some coachability issues with Correa, but he wouldn’t be the first to initially struggle with the maturity learning curve of the NFL.

4. LB Za’Darius Smith

Appearing on this list two years in a row is never a good sign for a player’s development, but Smith was unable to establish himself as an every-down edge defender despite receiving extensive playing time in the absence of Dumervil over the first three months of the season. The 2015 fourth-round pick managed only one sack in 494 defensive snaps and struggled to set the edge as a run defender, which led to him being a healthy scratch in three of the final six games of 2016. There’s still hope that Smith can become an effective defensive player, but regression from his rookie season was hardly an encouraging sign.

5. G Alex Lewis

Like Judon, Lewis’ inclusion on this list is a product of circumstance more than his performance as he played respectably as a rookie shifting between left guard and left tackle. The 2016 fourth-round pick fared much better at left guard, and the Ravens would love to see him become their third-best offensive lineman behind perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley. With right tackle Rick Wagner a free agent and the Ravens ideally seeking an upgrade from Jeremy Zuttah at center, Lewis needs to make left guard a spot at which the organization need not worry.

Honorable mentions: RB Kenneth Dixon, DE Bronson Kaufusi, DT Carl Davis, DT Willie Henry

Dixon possesses more upside than any other back on the roster, but the presence of the effective Terrance West and the bigger need to improve the offensive line — and overall commitment to the running game — keep him out of the top five after a solid rookie campaign. The status of free-agent defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Lawrence Guy will factor heavily into how much need the Ravens will have for the development of these three defensive linemen, but they’d still like to get some real bang for their buck with talents selected in the third and fourth rounds of the draft.

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How did Ravens offense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their offensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

QB Joe Flacco
NFL1000 ranking: 27th
PFF ranking: 26th
Skinny: These kinds of sites have rarely been kind to the veteran over the years (Football Outsiders also ranked him 29th), but Flacco must be better in 2017 if the Ravens are to return to the playoffs.

RB Terrance West
NFL1000 ranking: 38th
PFF ranking: 12th
Skinny: West may not be a game-changing back, but he did enough to establish himself as a regular contributor in an NFL backfield after his career was at a crossroads just a year ago.

RB Kenneth Dixon
NFL1000 ranking: 39th
PFF ranking: 23rd
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick was trending upward late in the season and displays impressive toughness for a 212-pound back, making him the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

FB Kyle Juszczyk
NFL1000 ranking: first
PFF ranking: first
Skinny: You can debate how much value a fullback brings to an offense in today’s NFL, but there was apparently no arguing over who was the best all-around talent at the position in 2016.

WR Steve Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 37th
Skinny: The 37-year-old didn’t catch as many passes or finish with as many receiving yards as Mike Wallace, but replacing the retired Smith is clearly one of the top challenges of the offseason.

WR Mike Wallace
NFL1000 ranking: 24th
PFF ranking: 42nd
Skinny: The speedy Wallace profiles best as a No. 2 wideout, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more from the 30-year-old as he posted his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2011.

WR Breshad Perriman
NFL1000 ranking: 78th
PFF ranking: 88th
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick flashed at times, but these sites agree with the consensus opinion that the Ravens can’t count on the inconsistent Perriman to step into a starting role in 2017.

WR Kamar Aiken
NFL1000 ranking: 102nd
PFF ranking: 95th
Skinny: Targeted 77 fewer times than he was in 2015, Aiken didn’t receive enough opportunities, but he didn’t always take advantage of those chances, either, and is a likely departure via free agency.

TE Dennis Pitta
NFL1000 ranking: 16th
PFF ranking: 50th
Skinny: The fact that Pitta caught more passes than any tight end and was ranked so low by both outlets reflects a yards per catch (8.5) average that was 55th of 56 players with 60 or more receptions.

TE Crockett Gillmore
NFL1000 ranking: 45th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 third-round pick showed exciting potential in 2015, but he’s played in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of various injuries.

TE Darren Waller
NFL1000 ranking: 75th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens have quite an inventory of tight ends — all with baggage — but Waller has the most upside if the former receiver puts in the work and continues learning the finer points of the position.

TE Nick Boyle
NFL1000 ranking: 85th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Delaware product looks like a reliable blocker as a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end, but two performance-enhancing drug suspensions in two years make him difficult to trust in the long run.

LT Ronnie Stanley
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 25th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: A four-game absence due to a foot injury disrupted an encouraging rookie season, but Stanley allowed only one sack over his final eight games and made PFF’s top 25 players under age 25 list.

RT Rick Wagner
NFL1000 ranking: 21st among right tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: Wagner isn’t a Pro Bowl talent, but the Ravens would be wise to retain his rock-solid services if the free-agent bidding doesn’t get out of hand this offseason.

G Marshal Yanda
NFL1000 ranking: first among all guards
PFF ranking: first among all guards
Skinny: It’s amazing that Yanda continued to play at an elite level after a left shoulder injury eventually forced him to move from right guard to the left side, but he’s just a special player.

G Alex Lewis
NFL1000 ranking: 35th among all guards
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Switching between tackle and guard so frequently in the first half of the season hurt the rookie’s development, but Lewis was settling in nicely at left guard before his Week 10 ankle injury.

G Vladimir Ducasse
NFL1000 ranking: 47th among all guards
PFF ranking: 59th
Skinny: Re-signed to the roster in October, the 29-year-old played the way you’d realistically expect him to and shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than veteran depth if he were to be re-signed.

C Jeremy Zuttah
NFL1000 ranking: 26th
PFF ranking: 13th
Skinny: Though PFF graded Zuttah as a slightly above-average center in 2016, the Ravens believe upgrading this position is a major key to improving their below-average offense next season.

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Ravens back in familiar position with Smith’s expected retirement

Posted on 28 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The free-agent signing of Steve Smith more than two years ago helped rectify one of the biggest mistakes in Ravens history.

But his “89 percent” likely retirement following Sunday’s season finale in Cincinnati puts the franchise back in an all-too-familiar position.

Even at age 37 and coming off a horrific Achilles injury, Smith still served as quarterback Joe Flacco’s most reliable weapon in a trying season. He may not have enjoyed the same team success in his three seasons in purple, but Smith put up similar numbers to those produced by Anquan Boldin, the man he eventually replaced after a post-Super Bowl XLVII trade blew up in the Ravens’ faces in the 2013 season.

“I feel very fortunate to be with him,” Flacco said. “His competitive nature and the way he plays his game and the talent that he has, he’s definitely unique and a rare breed. Anytime you get a chance to play with a guy that’s really a legend in this game is, count yourself lucky.”

Once the Ravens sort out their offensive coaching staff for next season, replacing Smith will be one of the top priorities of the offseason.

The cupboard isn’t completely bare at wide receiver with Mike Wallace under contract for 2017 and on the cusp of completing a 1,000-yard season, but the speedy veteran fits better as the No. 2 wideout to stretch the field vertically with explosive plays. Expecting him to be the well-rounded top guy would likely fetch similar results to what happened in 2013 when Torrey Smith was miscast as a No. 1 receiver.

There’s also 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but injuries and inconsistency have made it difficult for the Ravens to plan for him to be anything more than a No. 3 option with upside entering next season. It’s much too soon to declare Perriman a bust, but he has a lot of work to do to become a integral cog.

Kamar Aiken led the Ravens with 944 receiving yards in 2015 and has shown physicality that you like to see in a possession receiver, but he’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and has been unhappy with his diminished role this season. That leads you to believe he’ll be looking to move on this winter.

Whether general manager Ozzie Newsome pursues an accomplished veteran such as Pierre Garcon in free agency or once again dips his toes into draft waters that have been unkind in the past, the Ravens will need a receiver to aggressively work the intermediate portion of the field and to gain yards after the catch. Even with his speed not being what it was in his early days with Carolina, Smith always played bigger and tougher than his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame suggested.

“He’s powerful. He’s not very big, but he’s so explosive, so powerful, can change directions like that,” Flacco said. “He’s just so strong for his size — not even just for his size. He’s just a strong dude. The ferociousness that he runs with the ball, how he runs with the ball, so many things. I think that comes out in people saying ‘competitiveness.’ He’s just got a lot of ability, and he’s not afraid.”

Of course, Smith brought much more to the table than what showed up in the box score.

Like Boldin, he provided attitude to an offense led by the even-keeled Flacco. His intensity occasionally ruffled feathers — including when he got into a fight with veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb during his first minicamp in Owings Mills — but teammates on both sides of the ball respected that fire.

Smith brought the kind of swagger to the offense that was typically found on many Ravens defenses of yesteryear. Of course, performance on the field is paramount, but that ferocity is something Baltimore frankly needs more of after missing the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

The intangibles will be difficult to replace, no matter how the Ravens go about replacing Smith’s production.

“Whether it is walking around the locker room yelling at someone or on the field [during] one-on-ones, he is definitely one of a kind,” said safety Eric Weddle, who shared a close friendship with Smith long before he signed with Baltimore this past offseason. “You have to get adjusted to that, just his personality and how big it is and to know this is who he is. This is what drives him. This is what makes him special.”

And with Smith’s decision to walk away, the Ravens are back in a familiar spot looking for someone special at wide receiver.

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