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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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wormley

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Ravens finish signings for 2017 draft class

Posted on 18 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With organized team activities set to begin next week, the Ravens officially have all seven of their 2017 draft picks under contract.

The organization announced the signings of third-round defensive end Chris Wormley and third-round outside linebacker Tim Williams on Thursday, nearly two weeks after first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey and four other draft choices inked their contracts. Humphrey’s signing on May 5 was the earliest date the Ravens had signed a first-round draft choice in franchise history.

Wormley is expected to compete for the starting 5-technique defensive end spot previously held by veteran Lawrence Guy while Williams will be vying for a role as a situational pass rusher. The release of five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil leaves a huge opening in a pass-rush rotation that also included six-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs, 2015 fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith, and 2016 fifth-round pick Matt Judon last season. Second-round outside linebacker Tyus Bowser will also factor heavily into the competition.

Having used their first four draft choices and virtually all of their free-agent resources on defensive players this offseason, the Ravens will be counting on their revamped defense to lead them back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

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humphrey

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What to expect from each of Ravens’ seven 2017 draft picks

Posted on 30 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The picks are in for the 2017 draft, so what can we now expect from the Ravens’ seven selections?

Below is the early look at how each rookie fits:

CB Marlon Humphrey
Drafted: First round (16th overall) from Alabama
2017 projected role: One of the youngest players in the draft, Humphrey will compete with Brandon Carr for the starting job opposite Jimmy Smith and will serve as needed outside corner depth at the very least.
Long-term view: Having left other highly-touted players on the board, the Ravens better feel that Humphrey will eventually become a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. He has the size and pedigree that you like to see in a corner, but his struggles with the deep ball are something to monitor in his development.

LB Tyus Bowser
Drafted: Second round (47th overall) from Houston
2017 projected role: With Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster and Albert McClellan the only established veteran behind Terrell Suggs, Bowser will compete for playing time at outside linebacker.
Long-term view: He is raw, but Bowser is a terrific athlete who has experience dropping into coverage, something the Ravens like in a starting “Sam” linebacker. His pass-rushing skills need further development, but his upside is very high for someone selected in the middle of the second round.

DE Chris Wormley
Drafted: Third round (74th overall) from Michigan
2017 projected role: Wormley will have every opportunity to compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for the starting 5-technique defensive end spot after Lawrence Guy’s free-agent departure.
Long-term view: The Ravens should have a good read on Wormley after he played for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, and he has the skill set to become a dependable starter in the base defense. He would further enhance his value if he can become a productive interior rusher in passing situations.

OLB Tim Williams
Drafted: Third round (78th overall) from Alabama
2017 projected role: Williams has a long way to go to be considered an every-down player, but his pass-rushing ability off the edge should put him in the mix for situational snaps in sub packages.
Long-term view: His off-field concerns and limited experience playing the run caused his slide down the draft board, but Williams showed impressive explosiveness off the edge playing in the SEC. He may only be a one-trick pony in the NFL, but getting to the quarterback is a premium skill for any team.

G Nico Siragusa
Drafted: Fourth round (122nd overall) from San Diego State
2017 projected role: A three-year starter at left guard for the Aztecs, Siragusa has the size and power to compete for a starting job if the Ravens move Alex Lewis or even Marshal Yanda out to right tackle.
Long-term view: The Ravens have had recent success selecting Day 3 offensive linemen as both Lewis and former right tackle Rick Wagner blossomed into starters in a short period of time. Siragusa’s physicality is his strength, making him a logical fit for Greg Roman’s power running game schemes.

OT Jermaine Eluemunor
Drafted: Fifth round (159th overall) from Texas A&M
2017 projected role: Considering Eluemunor didn’t play football until high school and was only a one-year starter for the Aggies, expecting him to offer more than depth as a rookie would be ambitious.
Long-term view: The 6-foot-4, 330-pound lineman lacks experience and needs developing, but his rapid improvement from junior college player to SEC starter bodes well for his ceiling. Eluemunor has a long way to go to become an NFL starter at tackle or guard, but his physical tools make it a possibility.

S Chuck Clark
Drafted: Sixth round (186th overall) from Virginia Tech
2017 projected role: With the high-profile names ahead of him on the depth chart, Clark will be competing for a spot on the 53-man roster as a special-teams player and developmental defensive back.
Long-term view: A three-year starter for the Hokies, Clark has good instincts and is a good tackler, but little about him screams future NFL starter. With Lardarius Webb serving as the current No. 3 safety, Clark figures to have a decent chance to stick around if he can shine as a special-teams player.

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12042518

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Back to the future – recap of Baltimore Ravens 2017 NFL Draft

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Dennis Koulatsos

After the Baltimore Ravens selected Chuck Clark with their last selection in the 6th round of the 2017 NFL draft, the vision that the front office and scouting staff had for the 2017 season began to come into focus.  Clark – a defensive back from Virginia Tech – was one of 5 picks for the defense versus 2 for the offense.  In fact Joe Flacco, Marty Mornhinweg and company had to wait until day 3 of the draft before hearing an offensive player’s name called.

Based on Joe Flacco’s performance last year, his penchant for the untimely turnover, coupled with the defense’s inability to hold a 4th quarter lead in 4 November and December games, led to the defensive windfall. It looks to me that they will try to do all they can to “Dilferize” the offense, limiting turnovers, and relying on the defense and special teams to win games.  They will put a premium on field position, and they will scrap the zone blocking scheme for one that is of the  power blocking hat on hat variety.

Justin Tucker will take over the role that Matt Stover had in 2000.  The 4 defensive players (the Ravens took 5 but I do not expect Chuck Clark to make the team) will have to have an immediate impact, as will newly signed free agents Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr.  Of course this defense will not be anywhere near as good as the historically good 2000 version was, but it should be dramatically better than last year’s which couldn’t hold a lead.

Georgia’s Tuys Bowser (2nd round pick) and Alabama’s Tim Williams (3rd round pick) will both get opportunities to rush QBs from the edge, while Michigan’s Chris Wormley will see playing time at defensive tackle as a 5-technique end (lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle).  First round pick Marlon Humphrey will see get some valuable time early in the season, in case Jimmy Smith’s legs do not hold up as has been the case the past two years.

The Ravens also selected guard Nico Siragusa (absolutely no relation to Tony – although how great is it going to be to yell “Goooooooose” at M&T Bank once again:) a huge guard out of San Diego State in the 3rd round, and fellow guard Jermaine Eluemunor out of Texas A&M.  Eluemunor was told he was going to compete for the right tackle position, presumably against holdovers De’Ondre Wesley, Stephane Nembot and James Hurst.

Siragusa in particular is very intriguing.  He is a mauling guard who excels at pulling and blowing up defenders are the line of scrimmage as well as turning up field.  The fingerprints of new run coordinator Greg Roman are already evident. This team will employ a similar power running scheme that the 49ers used effectively back in 2012, when they played the Ravens in the Super Bowl.  It is a scheme that allows offensive linemen to pin their ears back and fire off of the ball.

The key is going to be who’s going to start on the offensive line and how quickly it comes together. Perhaps the Ravens will sign former Jet Nick Mangold to anchor that line from the center position, or maybe former Duke center Matt Skura – with one year in an NFL weight room – has progressed enough to man the position.

The Ravens have enough running backs to get the job done. Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, Buck Allen, Ken Dixon and Stephen Houston are all solid between the tackles, and Danny Woodhead offers the team a great change of pace back as well as a third down threat. This scheme also requires a fullback that’s very much an anvil, and currently they don’t have one on the roster.  Moving TE Nick Boyle (6’4, 265 pounds) may be an option, but look for the Ravens to be very active in the undrafted free agent market for a couple of stout blocking fullbacks.

In the NFL if you run the ball effectively, if you don’t turn it over, and if you have a great defense and special teams you will win a lot more than you lose. It is a formula that worked in 2000 and it looks like the Ravens brass are hedging their bets that it will also work in 2017.

I was also thinking about titling this blog “Saving Joe Flacco from himself.”  That’s what the Cowboys did with Tony Romo a few years ago.  They put a huge offensive line around him, and then they had DeMarco Murray run in excess of 400 times behind it.  The end result was a 12-4 record, and after three successive 8-8 seasons they finally made the playoffs.

Joe Flacco does not need to put the ball up 40-50 times a game.  That’s a formula for disaster.  The Ravens need to run the ball effectively.  This way the safeties come up in the box, the cornerbacks come closer to the line of scrimmage, and then Flacco can do some serious damage.  Plus he’s always been a “chunk” quarterback.  He has a big arm and he is not wired for a West Coast offense.  He excels when the Ravens are running the ball effectively (as they did in 2102 with Ray Rice), where he can plant his feet and let if fly downfield.

The last thing is that the Ravens final roster is nowhere near complete.  There will be the June 1 cuts, and there will be several veteran players available that can help the team. No need to panic at this time that there are no clear starters at inside linebacker next to CJ Mosley, or at right tackle and center.  The Ravens will address all of those needs well before the pre-season commences.

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