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Ravens’ depth equipped to endure disappointing Urban injury

Posted on 09 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were intrigued with defensive end Brent Urban’s upside for 2015, but a deep defensive line appears equipped to overcome his second serious injury in a little over a year.

As was the case last summer prior to Urban tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the Ravens anticipated the 2014 fourth-round pick being an important part of the rotation with the potential to eventually move into the starting lineup. However, the presence of veterans Chris Canty, Lawrence Guy, and DeAngelo Tyson makes the injury easier to stomach despite the disappointment for the talented 6-foot-7 defensive end.

“That’s why coaches [always talk about] the next person to come up and execute and step up,” nose tackle Brandon Williams said. “We’re ready to go. We definitely wish him the best going in with his biceps and all, but the show must go on.”

A pair of offseason decisions now carry more significance in the aftermath of the Urban injury as the Ravens elected to re-sign both Canty and Guy after they hit the open market. After starting 24 games for Baltimore over the last two seasons, Canty was cut to save salary cap space this offseason before eventually being re-signed at a cheaper rate.

Some had believed the Ravens were prepared to get younger at the position before deciding to reunite with the 32-year-old. Now, they’ll need Canty to hold off Father Time a little longer after he contemplated retirement over the winter.

“Chris Canty is playing like a kid. He’s running around out there,” Harbaugh said. “I saw him chasing down a crack toss. He came under a block and was picking up his knees and chasing the thing down the line of scrimmage like he was 23 years old again. He looks good.”

Defensive line coach Clarence Brooks stresses the importance of his players being versatile enough to line up at multiple positions, but the Ravens’ biggest strength will be their sheer numbers in the trenches as there are eight linemen who project to have a reasonable chance to make the 53-man roster. The likes of Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Christo Bilukidi now see their roster chances likely improve with Urban’s injury.

Harbaugh didn’t give any indication that the Ravens would actively seek defensive line help after losing Urban, who has yet to play in even a preseason game in an injury-riddled start to his career. The group’s ceiling is likely lower without Urban, but the Ravens defensive line remains in good shape.

“We’re really deep in the [defensive] line, so I like the guys we have,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a deep group, and I’m really confident those guys will step up.”

Receiver concerns continue

The Ravens could be inching closer to getting rookie Breshad Perriman and the 6-foot-5 Marlon Brown back from injuries, but they continue to be hamstrung at the wide receiver position in the meantime.

In addition to the pair being sidelined, veteran starter Steve Smith was excused from Saturday’s practice due to a family matter and Kamar Aiken was given the day off due to being “fatigued,” according to Harbaugh.

With Baltimore’s top four receivers missing from the workout, Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro, and Darren Waller took most of the reps with the starting offense. Overall, the trio struggled to get consistent separation when competing against the starting defense.

The receiver absences created an opportunity for under-the-radar wideouts to make a statement, and rookie free agent DeAndre Carter caught a touchdown pass from backup Matt Schaub with cornerback Cassius Vaughn in coverage. Meanwhile, former Washington Redskin Aldrick Robinson was the opposite of impressive, dropping several passes over the course of the afternoon.

Harbaugh wouldn’t rule out Perriman for the preseason opener just yet, but it appears highly unlikely that the first-round pick will be ready to play on Thursday with only one partial practice under his belt to this point in the summer.

Meanwhile, Brown appears closer to returning as Harbaugh said his back is feeling better, but the Ravens are still waiting for his hamstring to improve, meaning he is unlikely to play against New Orleans, either.

Mosley in coverage

One of the more encouraging developments early in the summer has been the improved pass coverage from second-year inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.

In what was an otherwise standout Pro Bowl season as a rookie, Mosley struggled in pass coverage a year ago, but he’s been much sharper covering tight ends and running backs so far in training camp.

Early in Saturday’s practice, Mosley broke perfectly on a Joe Flacco throw to Crockett Gillmore in the flat, intercepting the pass from the starting quarterback. However, the starting tight end got the best of Mosley later in practice, catching a touchdown during an 11-on-11 red-zone period.

Injury report

In addition to their top four receivers being absent, the Ravens were without offensive linemen John Urschel (concussion) and Robert Myers (concussion), cornerback Tray Walker (hamstring), and linebacker Zach Thompson (undisclosed) due to injuries on Saturday. Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) both observed parts of practice while remaining on the physically unable to perform list.

Tyson missed his second straight practice, but Harbaugh said he was unsure of there being an injury, adding that “something must have cropped up.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith and right guard Marshal Yanda were given the day off, according to Harbaugh.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele (foot) suited up to practice before leaving the field early in the session. He missed two days of practice after being stepped on during Wednesday’s workout. Tight end Maxx Williams practiced for a brief time after sitting out Friday, but he was still feeling the effects of being poked in the eye on Thursday.

With Yanda and Osemele both absent, Ryan Jense and Jah Reid worked as the first-team guards.

Free safety Kendrick Lewis tweaked his leg early on Saturday and observed the rest of practice from the sideline, an indication that the injury was unlikely to be serious.

Cornerback Chris Greenwood (hamstring) returned to practice.

Suggs on Schaub

Saturday was another difficult day for Schaub, who was repeatedly off-target with a number of throws.

At one point in practice, veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs took notice of Schaub’s errant passing before finally yelling, “Hey, Matt, your guys are the guys in purple!”

The offense dons purple jerseys while defensive players wear white during practices.

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Webb fails conditioning test at start of Ravens training camp

Posted on 30 July 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Convening for their first practice of the summer, the Ravens were only missing one projected starter as cornerback Lardarius Webb was not working on Thursday after failing his conditioning test.

The seventh-year defensive back was a full participant during last month’s mandatory minicamp, but he was not allowed to take part in the first full-squad workout of training camp. The 29-year-old missed all of last year’s training camp and the beginning of the 2014 regular season due to a lingering back injury.

“It’s always a big deal. You want to see guys pass it,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who cited several former players who had failed to pass the conditioning test in previous summers. “The conditioning test measures anaerobic conditioning. It measures the ability to recover, to get your heart rate way up and recover.

“Webby is in really good shape in a lot of different ways. I can see it in the way he moves in the weight room, but he’s not in the kind of anaerobic shape he needs to be in to come out here and practice. The idea being that if I go play after play after play and I begin to get fatigued and I can’t move the way I need to move, I’m going to have a fatigue type of an injury. That’s why it’s part of the physical.”

The conditioning test consists of six timed 25-yard runs in which players run up and back. Veteran newcomers have often mentioned over the years how difficult the Ravens’ test is compared to those of other teams.

In most cases, a player failing to pass isn’t a problem in the long run, but Webb not being ready to practice isn’t a good look after his disappointing 2014 season. For now, the Ravens won’t put too much stock into the delay to the start of his summer.

“He’s a little behind that way certainly, and he’s going to have to make up the ground,” Harbaugh said. “He took it hard on himself. He’s disappointed in himself just like you’d expect. I know he’s very determined to get through it.”

Webb was placed on the non-football injury list until he passes the test.

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Casey Walker was not practicing because he was placed on the active physically unable to perform list due to knee tendinitis.

Two other starters returned to the practice field after spring absences as center Jeremy Zuttah (hip surgery) and right tackle Right Wagner (foot) were working during the opening portion of practice. The Ravens are expected to bring the two along slowly to begin the summer.

Wide receivers Michael Campanaro (quadriceps) and Aldrick Robinson (knee) both returned to practice after suffering injuries during spring workouts.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (wrist) were present and working after being limited in the spring.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) were limited to watching practice as they both began the summer on the active PUP list.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Linebackers

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore linebackers:

LINEBACKERS 
LOCK: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr, Steven Means, Brennen Beyer, Zach Thompson
LONG SHOT: Andrew Bose

Synopsis: The Ravens’ top four of Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, C.J. Mosley, and Daryl Smith are as good as any linebacker quartet you’ll find around the league, but depth is certainly a question mark for this unit as free-agent-to-be Courtney Upshaw is the only other linebacker on the roster who played more than 42 defensive snaps last season. This may not be a major factor for 2015, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has to be thinking about the need to get younger at the position with Suggs, Dumervil, and Smith all on the wrong side of 30. The good news is that it appears the Ravens found the anchor of their defense for years to come with Mosley becoming the first player in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. If the 2014 first-round pick can improve in pass coverage, he could quickly solidify his standing as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL.

One to watch: Saddled with the burden of needing to replace situational pass rusher Pernell McPhee this offseason, the Ravens selected Za’Darius Smith from Kentucky in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Besides wearing No. 90 and sporting dreadlocks, Smith plays with a similar style and reminded the organization of McPhee during the pre-draft evaluation process. Considering Upshaw has never shown consistent ability to get after the quarterback, it will be of the utmost importance for Smith to be able to step in for Suggs and Dumervil and to apply some pressure in the pocket on a part-time basis.

One on notice: There’s no way to sugarcoat how disappointing Arthur Brown has been after he didn’t take a defensive snap last season, meaning this summer could be make-or-break time for the 2013 second-round pick. Brown was active for just four games in his second season, meaning Baltimore didn’t even see enough value in him as a special-teams player. No one would suggest at this point that he needs to overtake Mosley or Daryl Smith for a starting job, but Brown must show a better understanding of the defense and improved ability on special teams or it might be time to cut bait.

Sleeper: Zach Orr was one of the surprises to make the 53-man roster out of training camp last year, but it will be interesting to see if the former undrafted free agent becomes a bigger factor as a defensive player in his second season. With Brown disappointing and special-teams standout Albert McClellan scheduled to carry a $1.2 million cap figure, Orr has a golden opportunity to step forward as the primary backup at the inside linebacker position and to further solidify his standing on the roster. With Mosley sidelined in the spring due to wrist surgery, Orr received quite a few of the defensive reps before Brown.

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Which 2014 Ravens draft pick breaks out in second season?

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2014 draft class offered one of the better immediate returns for the Ravens in recent memory.

First-round pick C.J. Mosley became the first rookie in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl, an impressive feat considering general manager Ozzie Newsome’s impeccable track record with selections in the first round over the last two decades. It will be difficult for Mosley to gain much more notoriety than he received in his first year, but a number of other 2014 draft picks appear primed for a breakout second season.

Below are my thoughts on four breakout candidates from last year’s draft and you can vote in our poll:

Which 2014 draft pick is primed to break out for the Ravens in his second year? (Select up to two)

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Favorite: DT Timmy Jernigan
Skinny: The Ravens are expecting the 2014 second-round pick to lead the way in filling the large shoes left behind by Haloti Ngata, but Jernigan dealt with injuries that limited him to 12 games as a rookie. Rookie third-round pick Carl Davis will factor into the Ngata equation as well, but Jernigan should offer plenty as a pass rusher and showed he could be stout against the run in his college days at Florida State. With a 6-foot-2, 300-pound frame, he doesn’t have an overwhelming physical presence, but Jernigan used his strength, leverage, and quickness to fill in admirably when Ngata was suspended last December.

Underrated: TE Crockett Gillmore
Skinny: The Ravens traded up in the second round last month to select Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, but that doesn’t mean Gillmore won’t be counted on to contribute in the passing game after catching only 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season. At 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, Gillmore has the frame to not only be a terrific blocker, but he should be more of a factor inside the red zone in his second season. Williams will receive the attention, but it isn’t always easy for a rookie to adjust quickly to the NFL, which could leave a few more opportunities for Gillmore than most expect, especially early on.

Falling back: RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
Skinny: The Ravens spent a fourth-round pick on a running back for the second straight year when they selected Buck Allen with the 125th overall selection. Taliaferro appeared slimmer and in excellent shape during last week’s voluntary workouts, but he didn’t look fully comfortable last year in Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone schemes that are expected to be used again under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. He will continue to be a strong option in short-yardage situations, but many consider Allen the favorite to be the primary backup behind veteran starter Justin Forsett.

Sleeper: DE Brent Urban
Skinny: A forgotten man after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in training camp, Brent Urban would have factored heavily into the defensive line rotation as a rookie. Veteran Chris Canty is back with the Ravens, but Urban appears to be a prime candidate to eventually start at the 5-technique defensive end position if he can prove he’s healthy. Because the injury occurred late July, Urban has had plenty of time to recover and should be fully cleared for training camp. The coaching staff will probably bring him along slowly, but the Virginia product is a player to watch this summer.

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Brandon Williams on Ngata’s exit: “The show must go on”

Posted on 22 April 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens know they have large shoes to fill after the departure of five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, but at least one member of the defensive line won’t be caught reflecting on the past.

After proving himself as an above-average nose tackle in his first year as a starter, 2013 third-round pick Brandon Williams expects no drop-off for the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense despite Ngata being traded to the Detroit Lions last month.

“It was surprising, but at the same time, you get the opportunity to step up and show what you’re actually capable of,” William said. “I love Haloti, great guy, wish him the best in Detroit, but we’re in Baltimore right now. The show must go on. Someone else has to step up.”

That someone is expected to be 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who filled in for Ngata during his four-game suspension for Adderall use in the final month of the regular season. Though not as massive as the 340-pound Ngata, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Florida State product collected 23 tackles and four sacks in 12 games as a rookie.

Jernigan has been complimented by teammates for having an impressive motor, which will be necessary as he takes on a larger role in his second season.

“He’s definitely ready. I call him the little pit bull, because he never stops,” Williams said. “He might be smaller than Haloti — not a lot of people are as big as Haloti — but he still gives it his all, 100 percent every single time. He never quits, so he’s definitely ready.”

Many have pointed to the performance of the defensive line in Ngata’s absence as a major reason why the organization took a firm stance in contract negotiations this offseason. In the four games Ngata missed, the Ravens allowed just under 3.6 yards per carry, which was right in line with the 3.6 yards per attempt allowed for the entire season.

While the offense struggled to find consistency in the final month of the season, the defense continued to excel without Ngata to help the Ravens qualify for the postseason with a 3-1 finish.

“It kind of got us ready for this point right here,” Williams said. “Haloti’s not here, so [Jernigan is] going to have to step it up. Someone’s going to have to step up — whoever it is. And we still had a great defensive line when Haloti had his stint away [on suspension]. It will be fine.”

Mosley on mend

Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley continues to wear a protective cast over his surgically-repaired left wrist, which will likely lead to him being limited in organized team activities set to begin next month.

“I’m going to do everything I can. I don’t know how much physical stuff I can do,” Mosley said. “But I’m going to be out on the field definitely.”

Mosley has visions of building on a successful rookie year in which he was the only player in the NFL to collect at least 125 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. He finished second behind St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Becoming the first rookie to make the Pro Bowl in franchise history, Mosley is currently limited in his ability to lift weights, but the 17th overall pick of last year’s draft is upbeat about his progress after he initially injured the wrist in December.

“Everything is progressing,” Mosley said. “I haven’t had any major setbacks so far, so I’m just getting back into it with the workouts and everything.”

Marlon Brown excited to work with Trestman

Wide receiver Marlon Brown isn’t paying much attention to the speculation of the Ravens needing to draft another receiver, but he cracked a big smile when asked about his early impressions of new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

The 6-foot-5 Brown took notice of how Trestman used bigger wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago and expects big things from himself in his third season.

“He’s so excited and so detailed about the offense,” said Brown about Trestman. “I like that he’s breaking it down, so the whole team can understand the aspects of the offense and everything. I’m loving him.”

It’s no secret that Brown struggled to find his way in his second year after the offseason signing of veteran Steve Smith and the implementation of Gary Kubiak’s offensive system, but the tall wideout eventually became a solid option on third down, finishing with 24 catches for 255 yards.

Depending on whether the Ravens add a wideout in this year’s draft, Brown could find himself with many more opportunities as he competes with the likes of Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro. The continuity that Trestman wants to maintain will certainly help as the Ravens try to replace the production of Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, who both departed via free agency.

“There’s been a couple changes with alignment issues and verbiage maybe,” Brown said. “Other than that, everything is pretty much the same.”

Attendance strong for first week of offseason program

The Ravens officially began their voluntary offseason conditioning program this week with attendance estimated to be in the high 50s, according to head strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki.

Sixty-three players are currently listed under contract on the Ravens’ official website, but that doesn’t include restricted free agents and exclusive-rights free agents who have yet to sign their tenders. Since the program is voluntary, the organization is cognizant of new training methods being introduced every year and tries to implement them to make it more attractive for as many players as possible to train at the Owing Mills facility.

“We try to bring something in every year just to add a change to what we do,” Rogucki said. “Our method and philosophy stays the same. If we don’t bring something new in, there’s going to be something out there that we’re not aware of. Players may find it and see it, so we try to keep up on the trend that’s out there. That’s just good business on our part.”

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Flacco turns down invitation to Pro Bowl

Posted on 20 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never made the Pro Bowl, but he’s choosing family over an invitation at the conclusion of his seventh year.

With many fans surprised to see Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton selected to replace the Super Bowl-bound Tom Brady and the injured Aaron Rodgers, it turns out Flacco was invited to participate in Sunday’s game in Arizona. However, the 30-year-old elected to remain with his wife, Dana, who is expecting the couple’s third child this month.

Ravens wide receiver and teammate Torrey Smith broke the news via his official Twitter account after initially questioning why Dalton was chosen for the game instead of Flacco.

 

In his only season under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak — who has now become the head coach of the Denver Broncos — Flacco set career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27). His 91.0 passer rating was his highest since the 2010 season, and Flacco completed 62.0 percent of his passes, the third-highest completion percentage of his career.

In addition to head coach John Harbaugh coaching one of the rosters, the Ravens are sending four players to this year’s Pro Bowl including linebackers Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley and right guard Marshal Yanda. Initially a first alternate, running back Justin Forsett was added to the game last week after Houston’s Arian Foster bowed out with an injury.

Vinny Testaverde is the only quarterback in franchise history to be chosen for the Pro Bowl, and that selection came in the Ravens’ inaugural 1996 season.

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Ravens set to pick 26th overall in 2015 draft

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Luke Jones

With their 2014 season officially in the books, the Ravens now know where they’ll be picking in the 2015 draft set to begin in Chicago on April 30.

By advancing to the divisional round, Baltimore will now pick 26th overall in hopes of building on a 10-6 regular season. The Ravens are currently scheduled to have six draft picks, but that number will increase when compensatory choices are awarded later this offseason.

General manager Ozzie Newsome will have his original choices in the first four rounds, but the Ravens traded their 2015 fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for center Jeremy Zuttah last offseason and sent their sixth-round choice to Cleveland for the 2014 seventh-rounder spent on wide receiver Michael Campanaro.

Baltimore will receive Dallas’ sixth-round pick in exchange for its original seventh-round choice as part of last summer’s Rolando McClain trade. The Ravens will also have the Miami Dolphins’ seventh-round pick as part of last year’s Bryant McKinnie trade.

After losing unrestricted free agents Arthur Jones, Michael Oher, Corey Graham, and James Ihedigbo last offseason while only signing one notable unrestricted free agent — safety Darian Stewart — the Ravens are projected to receive three compensatory picks, which would bring their total to nine selections. Players who were cut or signed after being released elsewhere — such as wide receiver Steve Smith — do not impact the compensatory pick formula.

This will mark the seventh consecutive year in which the Ravens will be picking in the bottom half of the first round. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was selected 17th overall in last May’s draft before going on to become the first rookie in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl.

The only player to be selected 26th overall in franchise history was linebacker Ray Lewis in 1996.

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How much more can the Ravens endure in 2014?

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter what lies ahead for the Ravens in the final four weeks of the regular season, 2014 has been a year to forget.

Thursday brought the latest reminder with the news of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended four games for testing positive for Adderall.

The black cloud from the Ray Rice saga that continues to linger nearly three months after his release, four other offseason player arrests, the season-ending injuries to Dennis Pitta and Jimmy Smith, and one of their longest-tenured players and a team leader being busted for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy just days before the biggest game of the season in Miami.

What’s next?

With the news of Haloti Ngata's suspension, will the Ravens make the playoffs?

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“It does feel like it’s always something, but, shoot, that’s life,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “Stuff pops up all the time. It’s all about how you deal with it. If Haloti’s back, we’ll be looking back at it like, ‘Alright, that’s something we already brushed off.’ Again, we’ll be in the playoffs [then].”

The loss of Ngata for the rest of the regular season hurts, but it doesn’t necessarily doom the Ravens’ chances of making the playoffs as they’ll now turn to a deep group of defensive linemen led by rookie second-round pick Timmy Jernigan. The league’s fourth-ranked run defense certainly takes a hit, but it’s not unreasonable to expect younger options to step in and do a respectable job in Ngata’s place.

News of the suspension was surprising as it was such a lapse in judgment from a nine-year veteran who has served as one of the Ravens’ most prominent leaders and has earned a positive reputation in the locker room and in the local community. In addition to the stigma of being linked to performance-enhancing drugs — even if it is Adderall — tainting Ngata’s impeccable career, failing a drug test in his ninth year reeks of foolishness more than anything else.

“We know the rules and we have to abide by them,” rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “It is what it is. We have to move on. We just wish the best for him and hope we make it to the playoffs so we can have him back.”

After enduring the loss of Jimmy Smith in late October, the Ravens have now suffered a major blow to the defense up front where they have been robust enough to help account for arguably the worst secondary in franchise history en route to a 7-5 record. From a mental standpoint, the Ravens must handle Ngata’s absence in the same way they would an injury, but his self-inflicted blow certainly can’t sit well with his teammates.

Whether we see the big defensive tackle again this season now falls on the shoulders of a roster that’s endured more than its share of off-field turmoil.

“It was definitely difficult to hear,” Torrey Smith said. “He’s expressed how disappointed he is. I know he’s hurt for it, and we’re going to be hurt by it. We have a lot of guys who have the ability and they’ve got to step up. That’s the philosophy around here.”

To their credit, the Ravens have held true to that mindset as they responded to Rice’s release with a convincing Thursday night win over Pittsburgh in Week 2. The organization continues to come under scrutiny from top to bottom for its handling of the Rice situation, but you’ve never gotten the sense that it’s impacted the play on the field, especially with such a surprising season from veteran Justin Forsett.

The Ravens lost Pitta for a second straight year and then Smith — their most important defensive player — and have still remained within striking distance of the playoffs as they enter the final quarter of the season.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, head coach John Harbaugh and his players deserve credit for navigating through such rough waters in 2014.

But at some point, it’s human nature to throw your hands up and wonder if it’s just not your year.

“We’ve dealt with adversity throughout the course of the season in one form or another,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “We’ll step up and meet the challenge. We’ll try to put ourselves in the best position we can to be successful.”

You wonder when enough will be enough.

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Ravens readying for challenge against tough San Diego secondary

Posted on 27 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates still garner the headlines, but the defense has been the most consistent unit for the San Diego Chargers en route to a 7-4 start in 2014.

The Chargers rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense this season, making them one of the bigger challenges quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game have faced all season. Led by two-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, the Chargers are allowing only 221 passing yards per game and 6.8 yards per attempt from opposing quarterbacks.

“It could arguably be the best safety tandem we’ve played this year,” said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak about Weddle and strong safety Marcus Gilchrist. “Those two guys are really good players and like quarterbacks back there. They do a great job.”

It’s quite a change from last season when San Diego qualified for the playoffs despite having the league’s 23rd-ranked defense and finishing 29th against the pass. The offseason acquisition of Brandon Flowers has paid major dividends as the 5-foot-9 veteran has the fourth-highest grade of any cornerback in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Chargers rank 15th against the run in 2014, but Kubiak added that their depth has been a major reason why they’ve allowed only 19.6 points per game, good for fifth in the league. They’ve only collected 18 sacks all season, but veteran Dwight Freeney remains a player to watch despite being relegated to a situational pass-rush role at age 34.

“I think the biggest thing with this team is they’re playing a lot of people,” Kubiak said. “You have Dwight Freeney on your team and he’s playing 25 or 30 snaps a game, it tells you how deep they are. They’re rotating a lot of people [and] a lot of new faces when it’s third down and time to rush the passer. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Another “basketball” tight end to deal with

After doing an admirable job against All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham last Monday, the Ravens will face another challenge at the tight end position with the 34-year-old Gates still creating problems for defenses.

“You’re hoping that he’s going to age out at some point,” said head coach John Harbaugh as he laughed. “We all do at some point, but he hasn’t yet. He continues to adjust his game. He really does a great job of bodying up and making plays as a receiver. He’s still a downfield threat. He’s a go-to guy for Philip Rivers.”

He’s no longer a candidate to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but Gates has nine touchdown catches — the fourth-highest total of his career — and 491 receiving yards this season.

His 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame presents a challenge as he uses his physicality to outmuscle defensive backs and still has the speed to beat linebackers in coverage.

“He’s kind of a basketball player, kind of like how Graham is,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “When I’m on him or whenever we cover him, we’ve just got to make sure that we keep our hands on him. The big thing as far as covering guys like him is to just keep our eyes on him. He’ll pop out of the ground and make good plays.”

Koch, Mosley honored to be among Pro Bowl fan vote leaders

The latest Pro Bowl voting update had Sam Koch leading all punters and rookie C.J. Mosley second among inside linebackers.

After seeing teammate Justin Tucker make the Pro Bowl last year, the nine-year veteran Koch has been close before in his career and acknowledged how meaningful a trip to Honolulu would be. He ranks third in the NFL in net punting and seventh on punts inside the 20 this year.

“It would mean a lot,” said Koch, who was also the holder for 2010 Pro Bowl selection Billy Cundiff. “For all the support I’ve had from my family and my kids and all the people here, just going out and almost making it a couple of times, winning the fan vote to one year to becoming an alternate [in 2010], it’s on my bucket list in football.”

Meanwhile, Mosley is sixth in the league in tackles and has graded as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL by PFF.

“It’s an honor and a blessing for people to notice all the hard work I put in and the great coaching I’ve received here,” Mosley said. “At the end of the day, the last thing I want is a Pro Bowl. We all want that Super Bowl and to play in the last game. But when your play is going good, you like to be recognized.”

The fans account for a third of the total voting with players and coaches making up the rest.

Rosburg plays peacemaker

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg found himself in the middle of the sideline altercation between wide receiver Steve Smith and Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro Monday night, which might have created a flashback to the coach’s younger days.

The 59-year-old assistant recalled being a bouncer back in 1976 when asked about his role in breaking up the scrum in New Orleans.

“I was saying the right things,” said Rosburg as he smiled. “I was trying to keep the peace as best I could. It came to me. I didn’t go seek it. It landed on my lap. At first, I defended myself and then I tried to help others.”

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Mosley, Koch among Pro Bowl leaders at their positions

Posted on 26 November 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
11/26/14

DENVER BRONCOS QB PEYTON MANNING LEADS

PRO BOWL CHARGE WITH THREE WEEKS OF VOTING

REMAINING ON NFL.COM

— All-Stars to be announced on Pro Bowl Selection Show on

NFL Network on Tuesday, December 23 —

— Stars will be realigned using Fantasy Football-style draft format during

Pro Bowl Draft Show live on NFL Network —

Denver Broncos quarterback PEYTON MANNING, with 576,445 votes, leads all NFL players in balloting for the 2015 Pro Bowl, NFL.com announced today.

Fan voting for the 2015 Pro Bowl, presented by McDonald’s, will continue online and on web-enabled mobile phones by going to http://www.nfl.com/probowl/ballot until Monday, December 15.

Green Bay Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS (498,826 votes) ranks second overall, while Indianapolis Colts quarterback ANDREW LUCK (468,412 votes), New England Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY (461,043 votes), and Dallas Cowboys running back DE MARCO MURRAY (447,561 votes) round out the top five on NFL.com.

Balloting will conclude on Monday, December 15. The Pro Bowl players will be announced on Tuesday, December 23.

Players will later be assigned to teams through the Pro Bowl Draft during the week leading up to the game, which will also air on NFL Network.

The 2015 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 25, 2015 and televised live on ESPN at 8:00 PM ET from University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, site of Super Bowl XLIX.

The Pro Bowl will be “unconferenced” for the second consecutive year.

Last season, the familiar AFC vs. NFC match-up that had existed since 1971 was eliminated. Instead, players are selected without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players. For example, the top six quarterbacks following voting will earn distinction as All-Stars, regardless of how many are from AFC or NFC teams.

Then, the NFL’s All-Stars will be realigned through a fantasy football-style draft.

The Pro Bowl players are determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining the 88 All-Star players who will be eligible for the Pro Bowl Draft.

NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on December 19. The NFL is the only sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine its all-star teams. It was the first professional sports league to offer online all-star voting in 1995.

Fans interested in purchasing Pro Bowl game tickets may go to www.nfl.com/probowlonsale for more information.

NFL ALL-STAR TOP-TEN VOTE-GETTERS

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES
QB

Peyton Manning, Denver

576,445
QB

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

498,826
QB

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

468,412
QB

Tom Brady, New England

461,043
RB

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

447,561
RB

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

355,059
WR

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

344,629
RB

Arian Foster, Houston

321,461
WR

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

319,920
RB

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle

309,038

NFL LEADING VOTE-GETTERS BY POSITION

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES

POS.

NAME, TEAM

VOTES
QB

Peyton Manning, Denver

576,445

DE

J.J. Watt, Houston

265,215
QB

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

498,826

DE

DeMarcus Ware, Denver

217,401
RB

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

447,561

DT

Marcell Dareus, Buffalo

177,998
RB

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

355,059

DT

Ndamukong Suh, Detroit

144,995
FB

John Kuhn, Green Bay

145,977

OLB

Von Miller, Denver

165,045
FB

Darrel Young, Washington

119,382

OLB

Justin Houston, Kansas City

125,106
WR

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

344,629

ILB

Luke Kuechly, Carolina

182,900
WR

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

319,920

ILB

C.J. Mosley, Baltimore

126,670
TE

Rob Gronkowski, New England

302,878

CB

Darrelle Revis, New England

142,876
TE

Julius Thomas, Denver

241,570

CB

Aqib Talib, Denver

131,715
T

Tyron Smith, Dallas

139,729

SS

Kam Chancellor, Seattle

77,180
T

Ryan Clady, Denver

122,432

SS

Donte Whitner, Cleveland

61,487
G

Zack Martin, Dallas

127,908

FS

Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland

120,728
G

Josh Sitton, Green Bay

118,221

FS

Earl Thomas, Seattle

75,001
C

Travis Frederick, Dallas

143,929

P

Sam Koch, Baltimore

66,753
C

Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh

128,232

P

Thomas Morstead, New Orleans

59,069
K

Stephen Gostkowski, New England

122,348

ST

Matt Slater, New England

63,126
K

Dan Bailey, Dallas

101,209

ST

Jarrett Bush, Green Bay

50,187
RS

Devin Hester, Atlanta

87,186

RS

Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

57,243

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