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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to free agency

Posted on 15 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of NFL free agency only three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the Ravens, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens now have until March 1 to potentially use their franchise tag on one of their pending free agents, but a projected $13.5 million number for nose tackle Brandon Williams would cripple Ozzie Newsome’s efforts to improve the roster. I’d be surprised if it’s a real consideration.

2. With 19 teams having more than $30 million in salary cap space, it’s tough to like Baltimore’s chances of re-signing either Williams or right tackle Rick Wagner once the league-wide negotiating window begins on March 7. The clock is ticking.

3. Even if you buy into the continuity with Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, John Harbaugh not hiring a new quarterbacks coach is a tough sell in light of Joe Flacco’s body of work since Mornhinweg was hired as his positional coach in 2015. Rattling some cages wouldn’t have hurt.

4. The promotion of Chris Hewitt to secondary coach will be interesting to monitor after he was demoted in favor of Leslie Frazier after the 2015 season. The absence of Jimmy Smith aside, the defensive backfield was much more organized this past season, a credit to Frazier and safety Eric Weddle.

5. I understand the temptation to cut Mike Wallace to save $5.75 million in cap space, but the organization’s history at the wide receiver position makes it extremely difficult to trust the decision to willingly part with a 1,000-yard wideout with excellent speed.

6. Little free-agent discussion has centered around Lawrence Guy, but you wonder how easily the Ravens would replace him at the 5-technique defensive end spot. Injuries have hindered Brent Urban’s development, and Bronson Kaufusi missed his rookie year with a broken ankle. There’s a lot of unknown at that position.

7. When I hear critics say that the coaching staff has failed to develop talented draft picks in recent years, I then wonder why these “suppressed” talents aren’t catching on elsewhere to a meaningful degree. Linebacker John Simon did become a productive player in Houston, but who else?

8. I’ve opined plenty about Dennis Pitta and his $7.7 million cap figure, but there’s no diminishing the human element with what he’s been through. Asking him to take a pay cut with incentives for the second straight offseason is a tough sell, but it would probably be for the best.

9. If the Ravens covet a specific offensive playmaker, pass rusher, or cornerback in the pre-draft process, I’d like to see a greater willingness to jump up in the first round to get their guy. The roster needs a high-end difference-maker more than additional solid players in later rounds.

10. Despite much discussion about the tight end position, Maxx Williams has been all but forgotten. Few specifics are known about the procedure the 2015 second-round pick had to correct a cartilage problem in his knee, but he doesn’t turn 23 until April. You hope the issue is finally behind him.

11. The money may not make sense in the end, but I still see Pierre Garcon as the best free-agent fit at receiver. The 30-year-old eclipsed 1,000 yards in a deep receiver group and plays with toughness. The close proximity to where he’s played the last five years doesn’t hurt, either.

12. With Matt Birk eligible for Hall of Fame consideration next year, it reminds me of the issues the Ravens have had at center since his post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement. Jeremy Zuttah’s 2014 arrival brought improvement from the overmatched Gino Gradkowski, but upgrading this spot would help the offense immensely.

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Ravens officially announce subtle changes to coaching staff

Posted on 14 February 2017 by Luke Jones

After a few weeks of silence, the Ravens officially confirmed the remaining subtle changes to their coaching staff on Tuesday morning.

Head coach John Harbaugh has not hired a new quarterbacks coach, meaning offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will continue to serve in that capacity. There had been discussion about adding a quarterbacks coach to more closely work with Joe Flacco, but Mornhinweg will continue to handle those duties with offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg also helping out.

Chris Hewitt has been promoted to secondary coach and will take over for Leslie Frazier, who departed last month to become the new defensive coordinator in Buffalo. Now in his sixth season with Baltimore, Hewitt was in charge of the secondary in 2015 and served as Frazier’s assistant last season.

Mike Macdonald will work under Hewitt with the title of defensive backs coach. He served as a defensive assistant the last two seasons.

Drew Wilkins was also promoted from defensive assistant to become the assistant defensive line coach. He will work with Joe Cullen, who enters his second year as Baltimore’s defensive line coach.

Juney Barnett has also been named the strength and conditioning coach after serving as an assistant the past five years. He replaces Bob Rogucki, who had been with the Ravens since 2008.

The Ravens had already made two significant coaching hires last month with Greg Roman coming on as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach and Joe D’Alessandris becoming the new offensive line coach. Juan Castillo left last month to become Buffalo’s offensive line coach and run-game coordinator.

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Perriman “frustrated” not to be on field, position coach says

Posted on 03 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman hasn’t spoken publicly since the eve of his first NFL training camp, only adding to the mystery of his knee injury suffered on July 30.

Three months later, the 2015 first-round pick still isn’t playing as Baltimore suffered its worst start in franchise history. After suffering a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, Perriman aggravated the injury on Sept. 27 and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery a few days later.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Perriman still had a “chance” to play this season, a stark contrast from the initial diagnosis that the 6-foot-2 wideout had merely fallen on his knee and would only miss a day or two of practice.

“He has been a little frustrated,” wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said on Tuesday. “I think he wants to be out there. He wants to compete. He wants to play. But at the same time, he realizes he has to go through this process and get himself healthy.”

Harbaugh called Perriman’s injury “one of the all-time slowesthealing sprained PCLs ever” last month, a description that might be accurate but didn’t do much to help the Central Florida product’s perception with some fans questioning his toughness.

With Steve Smith suffering a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over San Diego, the Ravens would surely like to see how Perriman would perform as Joe Flacco’s No. 1 receiver, especially if Smith follows through with his previous plan to retire. He’s not the only 2015 first-round receiver not to play this season — Chicago’s first-round pick Kevin White is on the physically unable to perform list with a stress fracture in his lower leg — but Perriman has been frustrated not to be able to prove the Ravens right for selecting him with the 26th overall pick this spring.

“I’ve been disappointed for Breshad, because he put in so much work and preparation to give himself that opportunity,” said Engram, who played 14 years in the NFL. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s a part of this business that we take part in. Football, it’s a physical sport, and sometimes these things happen.

“But he has been around [the facility]. He has been in the meetings. His spirits have been good, and we look forward to getting him healthy and getting him back.”

Upshaw, Z. Smith not filling sacks void

A season ago, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, and Pernell McPhee combined for a whopping 36 1/2 sacks.

But with McPhee now in Chicago and Suggs lost for the season in Week 1, the Ravens haven’t been able to fill the void with fourth-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw and rookie Za’Darius Smith, who have combined for just two sacks despite extensive opportunities to rush the quarterback. Serving almost exclusively as a run-stopping strong-side linebacker in his first three seasons, Upshaw hasn’t collected a sack since the 2013 season even though he’s received more playing time in 2015.

“You’ll see that Courtney is dominant on the edge of the run game,” linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “He would love to have more production as a pass rusher. We would all love for him to have more production as a pass rusher. We’ve got combination of rush and coverage. We’ve got to find a way to tie those two things together better than what we have.”

The lack of an established threat on the opposite edge has allowed offensive lines to focus more on Dumervil, limiting the Pro Bowl linebacker to just 2 1/2 sacks in eight games. Assuming Suggs’ role as the every-down rush linebacker, Dumervil has still been able to generate pressure — even if not finishing plays with as many quarterback takedowns — and has graded as the ninth-best edge defender in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

A fair question for the second half will be how well Dumervil holds up after seeing his most extensive action of his three years in Baltimore.

“I think that Elvis, as a run defender, is improving,” said Monachino, who added that Dumervil had previously served as a full-time player in Denver. “I think Elvis as a first- and second-down guy with some opportunity in the pass rush, I think that helps.

“We all recognize the fact that 55 [snaps in a game] is different than 35 reps for a guy that’s a pass rusher, especially a high-effort pass rusher. We’ve got to continue to find ways to get Elvis singled, and when we can, he has to take advantage of those opportunities.”

J. Smith still “dominating” despite inconsistency

After Jimmy Smith’s play was recently described as “tentative” by defensive coordinator Dean Pees, defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt took a more positive stance in assessing the No. 1 cornerback’s play in 2015.

Smith is returning from last year’s Lisfranc injury, which has led many to wonder whether he’s been fully healthy all season. The 2011 first-round pick’s play is low on Hewitt’s list of concerns for the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense, however.

“He’s giving up a couple of plays, but the guy — if you watch the entire film — the guy has been dominating people,” Hewitt said. “He has had some dominating plays. Has he had dominating games? No, but he has had dominating plays.

“I think he’s continuing to keep on getting better as a player. He’ll be the first to tell you that he wants to be better, and he has put a lot of weight on his shoulders and a lot of stress on himself to become that leader or that big-time playmaker that we need. He’s doing a great job. I’m not pressing too much on Jimmy.”

Rosburg not impressed with Tucker’s dance moves

Kicker Justin Tucker drew plenty of attention for his celebratory dance that followed his game-winning 39-yard field goal against San Diego, but his nod to Drake was lost on his special teams coordinator.

“I have no reaction whatsoever.” said Jerry Rosburg as he smiled when asked about Tucker’s “Hotline Bling” dance. “I’m not sure what it was, so I’m really not sure if I’ve seen it before.”

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Big plays — or lack thereof — hurting Ravens in 2015

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Big plays — or the lack thereof — have plagued the Ravens in their nightmarish 1-5 start to 2015.

The league’s 27th-ranked pass defense allowed three pass plays of 50 or more yards in Sunday’s 25-20 loss to San Francisco, bringing the total surrendered for the season to six. In all, Baltimore has given up 12 pass plays of 30 or more yards despite facing a relatively pedestrian list of quarterbacks through the first six weeks of the regular season.

Head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees are beginning to sound like a broken record when discussing the pass defense, but there’s been no apparent improvement as the Ravens are in the midst of the worst start in the 20-year history of the franchise.

“If we stop giving up big plays, we’re playing very good defense,” Harbaugh said. “But that’s how it always works when you give up big plays. That’s where all the yards are. That’s how most of the yards are made in this league — by big plays.

“It’s hard to methodically go down the field every single series and execute perfectly. There’s no margin for error with that, so you have to be able to make big plays. If you can stop big plays, then you’re going to stop an offense.”

After saying only three of Pees’ calls in a total of 90 defensive snaps in last week’s loss to Cleveland were bad decisions, Harbaugh acknowledged a “scheme issue” that resulted in 49ers fullback Bruce Miller’s 52-yard catch late in the first quarter that led to a field goal. The Ravens were in a heavy run defense for a third-and-1 play when Colin Kaepernick connected with a wide-open Miller, a play Harbaugh credited as good scheming on the 49ers’ part.

The Baltimore coach said San Francisco’s other long pass plays — the 76-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith and the 51-yard completion to Anquan Boldin — were results of poor coverage technique from cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Jimmy Smith, respectively.

“I didn’t have any problem with any of the [other] calls yesterday,” Harbaugh said, “but there are always calls that you’re going to look at and you’re going to say, ‘Hey, we could be better.’ You’re going to always try to find things that you could do better. There were no major issues with that yesterday.”

Opponents making big plays has been a theme in their five losses, but the Ravens have made very few big plays of their own, failing to recover a fumbled punt or to come away with two potential interceptions against San Francisco on Sunday. Baltimore ranks 30th in the NFL with just four takeaways in 2015 and hasn’t come away with one since the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati.

In the 20-year history of the franchise, the Ravens have had six or more takeaways in a single game seven times.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense continued to struggle to push the ball down the field with only one pass play of 30 or more yards on Sunday — the 34-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith in the third quarter. Through six games, Flacco has completed seven passes of 30 or more yards and only one of 50 or more.

“Offensively, we need to start making some big plays,” Harbaugh said. “We need to scheme some big plays in. We need to attack some weaknesses in coverages a little bit better, and we need to make some of those plays. We need to make some catches, need to make some throws, need to make some runs, some run blocks. And we have to do a better job of finding those things for our guys, as well as a coaching staff.”

Timeout questions

Facing criticism for the use of two of his second-half timeouts in Sunday’s loss, Harbaugh defended his decisions a day later.

After a 17-yard completion to fullback Kyle Juszczyk to open the second half, the Ravens burned a timeout less than a minute into the third quarter because of a play call that was “going to be a disaster” on a first-and-10 at their own 37-yard line with San Francisco leading 16-6.

“We wanted to get a good play off there,” said Harbaugh, who did not consider taking a delay-of-game penalty in that situation. “A timeout is not always the most important thing, especially when you’re behind. Sometimes we want to keep drives alive. [When] you start backing yourself up with penalties, I think you’d be asking me that question.”

With the 49ers leading 19-13 early in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh elected to challenge the 51-yard completion to Boldin to the Baltimore 25.

Despite no visual evidence from camera replays that the play had a chance to be reversed, Harbaugh rolled the dice and ultimately lost his second timeout of the half when referee John Parry ruled the catch to stand. The 49ers scored a touchdown three plays later.

“I took a shot there, because it was a big play,” Harbaugh said. “You couldn’t get it on the [stadium video board]. We really didn’t have it on TV [in the booth]. I took a shot there, because it was a big play in the game. We thought we had a chance to win it, and we were hoping we could get it. We had nothing definitive, because we didn’t get much on TV, and we got nothing on the screen.”

No update on Lewis

Harbaugh had no news on starting safety Kendrick Lewis, who injured his left knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s game and didn’t return. Lewis exited the post-game locker room on crutches and was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday.

“I don’t have any updates on injuries, I apologize,” Harbaugh said. “I have been grinding away on [game] tape. I haven’t had a chance to get to that yet.”

James back to Houston

After being waived over the weekend to make room on the 53-man roster for running back Terrence Magee, cornerback Charles James was claimed by Houston on Monday.

The Ravens signed James to their practice squad in early September after he was waived by the Texans at the end of the preseason. The 5-foot-9 defensive back was promoted to the 53-man roster last week after spending more than a month on the practice squad.

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Ravens appoint Hewitt to be assistant secondary coach, hire DeLorbe

Posted on 19 March 2014 by WNST Staff

TEAM RELEASE

The Baltimore Ravens have appointed Chris Hewitt to be their assistant secondary coach and have hired Billy DeLorbe as their cross-training specialist, head coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday.

A three-year NFL coaching veteran, Hewitt was originally hired as the Ravens’ assistant special teams coach in 2012. Prior to his Baltimore arrival, Hewitt served in various coaching capacities for Rutgers University, most recently as running backs coach (2010-11). Hewitt also spent time as the Scarlet Knights’ cornerbacks coach (2008-09), director of speed and skill development (2005-07) and as a graduate assistant (2004). He began his coaching career as a strength and conditioning assistant for Notre Dame (2003).

In addition to his 11 years of coaching, Hewitt brings to the Ravens’ defensive staff three years of NFL playing experience as a defensive back with the New Orleans Saints (1997-99). Hewitt signed with the Saints as a rookie free agent in 1997 and played in 39 games (four starts) both at defensive back and on special teams. He totaled 29 tackles (22 solo) from scrimmage, three sacks, one pass defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Prior to signing with New Orleans, Hewitt was a four-year letterman at Cincinnati and a two-time All-Conference USA selection (1995-96) as a defensive back.

DeLorbe, who enters his first season in the NFL, spent the past 10 years (2004-13) as a master personal trainer at the Maryland Athletic Club. In that role, he led structured group training exercises while also providing private, high-intensity workout sessions for several athletes. DeLorbe brings an added dimension to the Ravens’ fitness staff, which consists of head strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki and assistant strength and conditioning coach Juney Barnett. As cross-training specialist, DeLorbe will focus on boosting players’ flexibility and mobility with an emphasis on core strengthening and improved balance.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2002, DeLorbe began his fitness career as a trainer while earning his master’s degree in applied industrial mathematics from Towson University. DeLorbe was born in San Francisco and currently lives in Lutherville with his wife, Megan, and their son, Will.

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