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Rookie running back Dixon returns to practice for Ravens

Posted on 28 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Struggling to get their ground attack going despite a 3-0 start, the Ravens are moving closer to welcoming back a talented rookie who could provide a lift.

Running back Kenneth Dixon practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday for the first time since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Aug. 27. Wearing a knee brace, the fourth-round pick was working off to the side during the portion of practice open to media, but Dixon turned heads in the preseason by averaging 4.9 yards per carry, leading many to believe he might be Baltimore’s best back.

The Ravens enter Week 4 ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 30th in yards per carry at just 3.3, but head coach John Harbaugh is trying not to place unreasonable expectations on Dixon.

“He’s a rookie, so I think a lot of what he can provide is yet to be determined,” Harbaugh said. “He showed flashes in the preseason, which was exciting. I think we’re all excited about what he might do. We’ll just have to see. That will be fun to see.”

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) was a full participant in practice after missing his third straight game on Sunday. The 32-year-old was a limited participant in workouts last Wednesday and Thursday  before ultimately sitting out against Jacksonville.

A good week of practice would put him in position to make his return against Oakland in Week 4.

Seven players were missing from Wednesday’s practice: wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken (thigh), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee), and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda, Jeremy Zuttah, Alex Lewis (concussion), and Ronnie Stanley (foot).

The organization confirmed that Smith, Yanda, and Zuttah were attending the funeral of longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks in Massachusetts on Wednesday. Assistant coaches Don Martindale, Chris Hewitt, and Drew Wilkins were also at the funeral. A team spokesman said a number of other coaches and players went to the viewing for Brooks on Tuesday as Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti chartered a plane for members of the organization to attend the services.

“It was just really a great moment in terms of seeing the family that ‘C.B.’ had around him and the family that he built in so many ways,” Harbaugh said. “We see how he affected us every single day here and the lives that he impacted — guys who are here and guys over the years — but it was cool to see the impact he had in his own town and with his own family.”

Brooks died on Sept. 17 at the age of 65 from esophageal and stomach cancer.

Oakland was without two starting members of its offensive line on Wednesday as center Rodney Hudson (knee) and right tackle Menelik Watson (calf) were both absent from practice.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), G Alex Lewis (concussion), WR Steve Smith (non-injury), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), RS Devin Hester (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Austin Howard (ankle), C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), OT Menelik Watson (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Nate Allen (quadriceps), OT Matt McCants (knee)

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Dumervil questionable to play after sitting out Friday’s practice

Posted on 23 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrated his 54th birthday on Friday and would welcome the present of a returning Elvis Dumervil for Sunday’s game in Jacksonville.

Despite not participating in Friday’s walk-through practice, the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was listed as questionable to play after working on a limited basis in previous workouts this week. Dumervil told reporters on Thursday that he hoped to play, but he’s not yet 100 percent physically after undergoing offseason foot surgery and suffering a setback a few days into his initial return to practice in late August.

Harbaugh indicated that Dumervil’s availability against the Jaguars would be a game-time decision after he practiced for the first time in nearly a month.

“I thought he looked good. He’s worked really hard, and he’s put a lot of time in,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just a matter of you get to that point and decide whether it’s going to give you the best chance to win or not based on where he’s at physically. We know what kind of player he is and what he’s capable of, and that’s the decision that will just have to be made.”

As expected, the Ravens officially ruled out running back Kenneth Dixon for the third straight game as he continues to work his way back from a left knee injury. However, the rookie was doing some running on the side field during the open portion of practice and was moving pretty well despite wearing a brace.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) and interior offensive lineman John Urschel (shoulder) were both listed as questionable to play against the Jaguars. After missing Wednesday’s practice, Stanley was a full participant on Thursday and Friday and is fully expected to start. Urschel has now been a full participant in practices for three straight weeks, but he was inactive for Baltimore’s first two games.

Center Jeremy Zuttah was not listed on the final game status injury report of the week, but he was absent from Friday’s walk-through for a non-injury reason. This typically indicates a player is either receiving a day off to rest or to deal with a personal matter, but Harbaugh did not give an explanation for Zuttah’s absence.

“That’d be a good question for Jeremy, but there’s no injury there,” Harbaugh said. “Jeremy’s fine.”

Zuttah was not available for comment during Friday’s open locker room period for reporters. The 30-year-old has struggled over the first two games of the season, leading some outsiders to speculate whether the Ravens should turn to another option such as Urschel or Ryan Jensen.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars will be without their starting left tackle as Kelvin Beachum was ruled out for Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion in Week 2. Former first-round pick Luke Joeckel is listed as his primary backup.

Jacksonville listed five other starters as questionable with two of them — cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and defensive end Jared Odrick (triceps) — not practicing all week.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with temperatures reaching the high 80s, winds up to 10 miles per hours, and a 60 percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens announced Friday that they will wear “CB” decals on their helmets for the remainder of the 2016 season in memory of longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, who died of esophageal cancer last Saturday.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
OUT: OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), TE Ben Koyack (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), S Tashaun Gipson (hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (general medical), C Brandon Linder (knee), DE Jared Odrick (triceps)

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With heavy hearts, Ravens need to keep it simple in Cleveland

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The tenor of Sunday’s game in Cleveland has understandably changed for the Ravens with the passing of longtime defensive assistant Clarence Brooks after his yearlong battle with  cancer.

As beloved as the 65-year-old was by the entire organization, it’s fair to wonder how head coach John Harbaugh’s team will respond playing a game a little over 24 hours following his death. The predictable cry will be to rally behind his memory, but these are human beings with feelings that stretch far beyond the football field. Not acknowledging that reality would be to trivialize Brooks’ life.

Still, the Ravens understand they have business to handle in their second game of the young season. The approach doesn’t change despite it being an emotional weekend.

Keep it simple against the Browns.

With an active roster currently including 17 rookies — nearly one of every three players — Cleveland is the consensus worst team in the NFL, especially on the heels of a blowout loss to rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and Philadelphia last week. But let’s not ignore the fact that the Ravens are coming off a 5-11 season themselves and haven’t had a winning road record in a season since 2010.

As a reminder to any fans and media predicting a laugher, some of Harbaugh’s best teams haven’t exactly blown out Cleveland on the road.

Think what you want about the lowly Browns, but this is their home opener and a statue of the legendary Jim Brown is being unveiled before the game as part of an alumni weekend for former players. You’ll find little optimism along the Cuyahoga River for 2016, but Cleveland has to be viewing a home contest against the Ravens as one of the few games on the schedule that could be winnable.

It’s the first home game for new Browns head coach Hue Jackson, a one-time Baltimore assistant who is very familiar with the AFC North after serving as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator the last two years. The Ravens need to be prepared for anything on Sunday and should certainly remember that Browns quarterback Josh McCown lit them up like a pinball machine in Baltimore last season.

“We are expecting Hue to throw the kitchen sink at us,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs of Jackson’s offensive innovation. “We are preparing for everything. They have a receiver over there who was once a quarterback, so we are expecting everything. Some Wildcat, Polecat offense — we are expecting everything. Don’t be surprised if they come out there with that ‘Little Giants’ formation [or] the Flying V.

“They have something up their sleeve for us. We just have to be able to prepare for it and react for it.”

Gadgetry still shouldn’t matter because the Ravens have the better and more experienced roster.

Protect the football, don’t commit foolish penalties, and take advantage of mistakes that an inexperienced team is bound to make on both sides of the ball over the course of 60 minutes.

On offense, be aggressive, but don’t try to be too cute to build an early lead before controlling the tempo with a ground game that needs to improve from Week 1. Defensively, the pass rush will be a concern without Elvis Dumervil, but the secondary cannot allow speedy receivers Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor to shake loose for big plays.

The plan doesn’t sound all that complicated, because it’s not against a team short on talent and building for the future.

“You have to pay attention,” wide receiver Steve Smith said. “You can’t go in there and say, ‘Well, with their record [last year] and their circumstances, this is going to be an easy day.’ You can’t go in there and think that or presume that because you will embarrass yourself if you do that.”

The last three games between these AFC North teams in Cleveland have each been decided by a single possession. Performances at FirstEnergy Stadium over the years have rarely been pretty, but the Ravens just need to come away with a win.

We still wonder how good Baltimore can really be in 2016, but much optimism goes out the window if you lay an egg and lose to a team that some have even discussed possibly going 0-16. If you can’t win this road game, which ones are you feeling good about the rest of the way?

On Sunday, the Ravens’ biggest opponent is themselves. They don’t need to play their best football to win, but they must be good enough.

And especially with heavy hearts on top of the normal challenges of playing on the road, the Ravens need to keep it simple and smart.

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Ravens hire former NFL head coach Frazier, shake up defensive staff

Posted on 15 January 2016 by Luke Jones

A week after saying he would be keeping his coaching staff intact despite a 5-11 season, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made changes to his defensive group headlined by the hiring of former NFL head coach Leslie Frazier.

A source confirmed Friday night that the former head man of the Minnesota Vikings will coach the Baltimore secondary. The 56-year-old Frazier had served as the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the last two seasons and coached with Harbaugh for four years on Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia from 1999-2002.

The Ravens finished 10th in the NFL in pass defense this past season, but the secondary struggled mightily in the first half of the season as defensive backs were frequently out of position and played with poor technique. This will mark the fourth different secondary coach for the Ravens in four years.

Frazier also served as a defensive coach in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Minnesota. Following the dismissal of Vikings head coach Brad Childress late in the 2010 season, Frazier was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach and was hired permanently, serving as the head coach from 2011-2013. He guided Minnesota to the playoffs in 2012, which marked the single-biggest turnaround in franchise history.

The Cleveland Browns had reportedly been interested in Frazier as their defensive coordinator before he agreed to join the Ravens.

Defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt will now assist Frazier in the secondary while cornerbacks coach Matt Weiss will now assist Don Martindale with coaching the linebackers. Linebackers coach Ted Monachino departed last week to become the new defensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

With longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks continuing to fight esophageal cancer and expected to undergo surgery this offseason, the Ravens will ease his workload as he will become a senior defensive assistant and former Tampa Bay defensive line coach Joe Cullen will join Baltimore under Brooks’ previous title.

Previously an assistant for Cleveland (2013), Jacksonville (2010-2012), and Detroit (2006-2008), Cullen had spent the last two seasons with the Buccaneers and was believed to be a candidate to become their defensive coordinator before new head coach Dirk Koetter hired Mike Smith on Friday.

While most position coaches work in relative anonymity, Cullen became infamous in 2006 for a pair of alcohol-related incidents, which included an arrest for driving under the influence and another for driving naked through a Wendy’s drive-through. He was fined $20,000 and suspended for one game by the NFL for detrimental conduct in addition to being sentenced by a judge to probation, community service, and required attendance at Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.

Cullen has apparently stayed out of trouble since then and has even used his own experiences to try to help troubled players.

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Ravens defensive line coach Brooks battling esophageal cancer

Posted on 07 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the midst of one of the most frustrating seasons in franchise history, the Ravens revealed Monday that their longest-tenured assistant coach has been battling something far more serious than anything transpiring on the football field.

Longtime defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, 65, has been receiving treatment three times per week for esophageal cancer, a diagnosis he received earlier this season. Because of those weekly radiation and chemotherapy sessions, Brooks did not accompany the team for either of its Monday night games this season.

He will undergo surgery to remove a tumor from his esophagus in January or February.

“It just puts it in perspective once again — the things that are important,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I say all the time, ‘Football is a metaphor for life.’ The challenges that you face are similar to what people face in life, but there are people out there facing things that are just adversity, challenging, demanding, difficult things that they’re facing [that] this brings close to our home through Clarence.

“Maybe a season like this gives you a chance to think about some things as a coach or as players, things that are going to stick with you for the rest of your life.”

In his 11th season with the Ravens, Brooks was hired by then-coach Brian Billick in 2005 and is widely respected as one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL. He has tutored a number of talented defensive linemen including five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Arthur Jones, Brandon Williams, and Timmy Jernigan.

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Faltering against 49ers offense no option for Ravens

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Luke Jones

NEW ORLEANS — After toppling two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks on their way to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, the Ravens defense now faces a different challenge entirely.

As unconventional as an offense comes in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers reinvented themselves in the second half of the season, utilizing the pistol read-option attack behind second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A once-conservative offense that relied heavily on the shoulders of running back Frank Gore has now become a dynamic one, scoring a combined 73 points in playoff wins over Green Bay and Atlanta to give the 49ers their first Super Bowl berth in 18 years.

Whether the pistol formation is the latest flavor of the month or not is irrelevant as it pertains to Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, but coach John Harbaugh sees lasting appeal in the possibilities the formation provides. The Ravens certainly aren’t treating it like a gimmick after falling to a similar attack that was run by the Washington Redskins in Week 14.

“You can run your whole offense on it. You aren’t limited to an option type attack out of it,” Harbaugh said. “Not just the entire run game but the entire pass game as well. The backs get position to protect. You can run all your drop back stuff, you can run power run game inside and outside, and you can run read option, triple option. So it’s just a very versatile-type offense and it forces you to defend a lot of different elements of the offensive attack.”

The Ravens struggled against the Redskins’ version of the pistol formation, which featured Robert Griffin III, a shiftier runner than the bigger Kaepernick who relies more on his impressive straight-line speed. In the 31-28 overtime loss on Dec. 9, the Ravens allowed 179 rushing yards on 35 carries but were playing without linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Dannell Ellerbe.

San Francisco’s preference for getting Kaepernick to the edge will provide a challenge to Lewis, who struggles when trying to play outside the tackles, but the 37-year-old’s cerebral presence should offer a boost in trying to accomplish what opposing defenses have failed to do against Kaepernick since he took over for former Alex Smith in the middle of the season.

“A lot of people who played against them just never communicated at all,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I believe that’s one of the advantages of what we have as a defense. We do a job of communicating real very well, whether you have the dive, whether you have the quarterback. It’s really hard to play that type of package as individuals. You have to play it as a group. The only way to slow it down is to play it as a group. Make sure before the ball is snapped, everybody is on the same page.”

A major key echoed by numerous defensive players has been patience in believing in individual assignments and carrying out jobs within the defense. Against Washington, the Ravens used unblocked defenders largely to attack the backfield, but staying under control and reacting to Kaepernick by forcing him to either hand off to the back or to keep the ball himself inside will be the wisest choice.

It’s a fine balance between being too aggressive and getting caught on your heels against a physical offensive line and talented running backs Gore and LaMichael James. The blocking angles and hand-offs from the pistol formation simply provide looks defenders aren’t familiar in dealing with on a weekly basis. Of course, an extra week of preparation will be beneficial to a Baltimore defense that was on the field extensively in its three playoff wins prior to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“You can’t force it. You’ve got to be patient,” linebacker Albert McClellan said. “You can’t be too patient though, so you have to kind of be on the edge. You’ve just got to have good eyes. Do your job — don’t try to do somebody else’s job. Once you miss your assignment, that’s when the triple-option and the pistol pretty much take advantage of you. You do your job and everybody’s assigned a man, things will work out.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will rely on rush linebacker Terrell Suggs and the combination of Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger, and Albert McClellan at the strongside linebacker position to maintain the edges, coaxing Kaepernick to settle for inside hand-offs to Gore and preventing the mobile quarterback from getting free into open space to utilize his great speed. The 49ers prefer to run behind left tackle Joe Staley when they aren’t rushing up the middle, which will put pressure on Suggs to make plays against the run like he did in the Denver game when he finished with 10 solo tackles.

Forcing Kaepernick to settle for the inside hand-off will put plenty of responsibility on the Baltimore defensive line, a unit that struggled much of the season due to injuries but has played well in the postseason. The Ravens contained a strong Denver running game and put pressure on Peyton Manning in the divisional round and hounded Tom Brady in the second half of the AFC Championship.

The combination of Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody at the nose tackle position will have a major chore in controlling the line of scrimmage and allowing Lewis and Ellerbe to clean up against Gore’s inside runs.

“Assignment football. Being where you are supposed to be without failure,” defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. “Right gap, right responsibility on the run, right foot on the blocking schemes, disciplined pass-rushing lanes. Assignment football, being where you’re supposed to be and doing your job. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Even if the Ravens play their assignments to perfection, Kaepernick’s big-play ability may not be completely avoidable as he has proven to be a prolific passer, utilizing tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree with great effectiveness. Still, the second-year signal-caller’s legs are the biggest concern after the Ravens were able to handle two top — but also one-dimensional — passers in their last two wins.

“You get through it and everybody knows what to do, and then all of a sudden, the guy pulls the ball and is gone,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “You can’t really replicate that in practice as much as you would like to. That’s always a concern.”

As confident as the Baltimore defense is, the unit is preparing for an unfamiliar look. The similarities are there with Washington’s offensive attack, but the 49ers have a dangerous set of receivers in the passing game and a quarterback reaching an unparalleled level of success with only a half-season of starts under his belt.

The San Francisco offense may not strike fear into opponents’ hearts in the same way the Patriots and Broncos did this season, but the sight of Kaepernick escaping to the outside, looking to run or throw is a scary proposition standing in the way of the Ravens’ second Super Bowl title.

“If he runs, you’ve got to hit him,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “He’s basically a running back who can throw the ball very well. He’s showing people that he’s capable of playing in this league. He’s able to win.”

 

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