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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 27 July 2014 by Luke Jones

With 2014 training camp officially underway and the Ravens attempting to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, there are a number of early (too early?) takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. Steve Smith has looked like an elite player.

It’s fair to express doubts over a 35-year-old wide receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three consecutive years, but Smith has been as good as advertised going back to organized team activities in the spring, catching everything in sight and regularly beating cornerbacks during practices. On Saturday, he made an excellent catch on a deep ball defended by Chykie Brown and later made an impressive adjustment on a pass thrown behind him on a slant pattern. Of course, it’s important not to get carried away with how anyone performs in July, but if Smith can be that reliable target to help move the chains and provide a safety net for quarterback Joe Flacco, the investment in the 14th-year receiver will be well worth it.

2. The No. 3 cornerback for the 2014 Ravens may not yet be on the roster.

The organization spent plenty of time this offseason talking up the potential of Brown and Asa Jackson, but it’s difficult to find anyone on the field in which defensive coordinator Dean Pees would have confidence using in the nickel package along with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown has bit on play-action fakes and has struggled to find the ball when he is in position while Jackson — who is an inside defender in the nickel package — has also been beaten deep on a couple occasions. To make matters worse, Dominique Franks still hasn’t passed his conditioning test after fellow veteran newcomer Aaron Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the same test. The Ravens would prefer to use Webb inside in the nickel, but there have been no signs of anyone currently on the roster being capable of handling duties as the third cornerback.

3. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is moving well and is the biggest key for the offensive line.

The third-year lineman has moved well early in camp and will be the key in determining how effective the interior offensive line can be in 2014 after it was undersized and ineffective last season. It’s still too early to gauge whether his surgically-repaired back will be in issue, but Osemele delivered an impressive block 10 yards downfield that sent safety Darian Stewart to the ground on Saturday afternoon, a telling example of the improved mobility he simply didn’t have early last year. If the Ravens can be strong inside with Osemele and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda flanking new center Jeremy Zuttah, it will alleviate much of the pressure on Rick Wagner or whoever mans the right tackle position.

4. Veteran newcomer Darian Stewart has impressed and is the early favorite to start at free safety.

His unfortunate encounter with Osemele aside, Stewart has displayed good athleticism at the safety position and looks to be the favorite to line up next to Matt Elam in the starting defense. The former St. Louis Rams safety is versatile with the ability to line up closer to the line of scrimmage or to play the more traditional free position, and Pees has said on a number of occasions that he’s looking to mirror his safeties more than just having a traditional strong and free one. Rookie Terrence Brooks will need to make significant strides between now and the start of the season as he appears to be thinking too much when lined up on the field and has worked primarily with the third-string defense to this early point. Secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo is familiar with Stewart going back to their days in St. Louis, so the Ravens hope they’ve found another value signing like they did with Corey Graham a couple years ago.

5. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to move his skill players around in formations.

The Ravens are sure to experience growing pains implementing their new offensive system, but Kubiak has experimented plenty with his skill players to find strengths and weakness as well as potentially exploit vulnerabilities in a defense in a given matchup. His creative use of tight ends is a well-documented characteristic of his West Coast system, but it will be fun to watch how he uses fullback Kyle Juszczyk and big wide receiver Marlon Brown in addition to Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels this season. Ultimately, offensive success in the NFL comes down to winning 1-on-1 matchups no matter how clever your schemes might be, but pre-snap movement has been a regular feature of what we’ve seen so far in Owings Mills.

6. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw looks too heavy for the third straight preseason.

Coach John Harbaugh was more complimentary of Upshaw’s conditioning in the spring, but the third-year linebacker looks bigger at the start of training camp than he did during OTAs, continuing a theme of the 2012 second-round pick not taking the best care of his body. In fairness to Upshaw, he hasn’t noticeably labored during his first few practices, but temperatures have also been favorable thus far. He has been solid in his first couple seasons and has flashed potential to be better than that, but it’s just difficult to project a player to improve when he spends too much time playing catchup with his weight every summer. The early expectation is that Upshaw will once again split time with Elvis Dumervil at the strongside outside linebacker position.

7. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has a rare combination of strength and quickness that’s fun to watch.

More attention has been paid to first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley, but Jernigan is becoming an early favorite of Pees as he’s been very active and has shown plenty of power in the trenches early in camp. Brandon Williams is the favorite to line up as the starting nose tackle, but there’s no reason Jernigan won’t be a regular member in the rotation, and his play could be a deciding factor in how the Ravens handle the final year of Haloti Ngata’s contract after the season. Pees quipped on Saturday that Jernigan doesn’t always follow his assignment, but he’ll make a big play anyway, which is pretty high praise for a rookie defensive lineman just a few days into his first training camp.

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2014

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2014

Posted on 20 January 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens coming off an 8-8 season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, it’s easy to conclude that the organization needs more from everyone with a vested interest in 2014.

However, with a limited amount of cap space and only so many holes that can be filled through the draft and free agency, the Ravens will lean heavily on a handful of young players already on the roster to emerge and make a difference with another year of experience under their belts.

Here’s a look at five young players the Ravens will need more from in order to bounce back from an underwhelming 2013 campaign:

1. LB Courtney Upshaw

Veteran outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil received the most attention for their second-half slides, but Upshaw did little to establish himself as a force within the Baltimore defense in his second NFL season. The 2012 second-round pick once again battled weight and conditioning issues in the spring and summer before serving as the strong-side outside linebacker in the base defense while Dumervil took his place in passing situations. Upshaw played fewer defensive snaps — down to 650 from 762 a year earlier — with Dumervil’s arrival in 2013, but his tackle total declined from 60 as a rookie to just 30 and he continued to offer little as a pass rusher or in coverage. With Suggs’ future with the organization up in the air and Dumervil recently turning 30, the Ravens need younger players such as Upshaw and 2013 fourth-round pick John Simon to become real factors if the defense is to continue to build on the progress it made this past season.

2. RB Bernard Pierce

If someone had told you before the 2013 campaign that Ray Rice would only rush for 660 yards in a career-worst season, you would have assumed Pierce had taken his job to become the Ravens’ feature back. Instead, the second-year back was even worse in averaging 2.9 yards per carry and gaining just 436 yards for the season. In fairness, both backs dealt with nagging injuries and had an undersized and overmatched offensive line trying to block for them, but it was clear that neither Rice nor Pierce was especially effective in identifying running lanes before they quickly closed shut. Rice will receive more heat going into next season as he enters the third year of his five-year deal signed two summers ago, but Pierce’s underwhelming sophomore campaign has led many to believe the Ravens should be looking for another running back in the middle-to-late rounds of the 2014 draft. Pierce played in all 16 games in his second year, but his durability is still a question mark in terms of handling a bigger workload.

3. DT Brandon Williams

Despite missing the first three games of his rookie season while nursing a toe injury, the 2013 third-round pick appeared to be emerging as a reliable member of the defensive line rotation before winding up inactive in six of the final eight games. Coach John Harbaugh explained that Williams needed some “maturing” and was beaten out by the versatile DeAngelo Tyson for playing time, but it was still disappointing to see the Missouri Southern State product disappear completely in the second half of the season. With Arthur Jones and Terrence Cody good bets to depart via free agency, the Ravens will need Williams to live up to the high expectations they had when he impressed scouts so much at last year’s Senior Bowl. Whether it’s to play Jones’ 3-technique defensive tackle spot or to shift to nose tackle and allow veteran Haloti Ngata more flexibility to move around, the 335-pound Williams is expected to become a consistent contributor along the defensive line in his second season.

4. LB Arthur Brown

The Kansas State product immediately drew comparisons to future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis because he was undersized and very athletic, but Brown only saw 211 defensive snaps in his rookie season, with most of those coming in the nickel package. Listed at 235 pounds but playing lighter than that after being selected in the second round of the draft, Brown showed flashes in pass coverage and as a blitzer, but he must get bigger and stronger to become the three-down linebacker the Ravens envision. With Daryl Smith an unrestricted free agent and Jameel McClain a potential salary cap casualty, Brown is expected to win the Ravens’ weakside inside linebacker job. With so many other positions of need to address and only so many resources, the Ravens need Brown to put in the necessary work in the weight room and to master the defensive playbook to take care of one of the two inside linebacker positions.

5. OL Rick Wagner

It will be interesting to see how the offseason plays out in terms of where Wagner might fit along the offensive line. In a perfect world, the Ravens would probably prefer keeping the 2013 fifth-round pick in a role similar to the one he held last year as an extra tackle-eligible blocker and key reserve, but the sheer number of holes currently on the offensive line might force him into starting duty. As of now, only Marshal Yanda playing right guard appears to be a sure thing with Kelechi Osemele expected to play either left guard or right tackle. The Ravens want to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe and add more size to their interior offensive line, but Wagner might be needed to play either left guard or right tackle if they expend resources at center and left tackle. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo worked extensively with Wagner as a rookie, and his 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame and Wisconsin pedigree suggest he has some nice upside, making this offseason an intriguing one in terms of his development.

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Ravens’ depth, versatility paying off at outside linebacker

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Ravens’ depth, versatility paying off at outside linebacker

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Though the Ravens’ 1-1 start has been anything but seamless, the hype surrounding the pass-rushing combination of Terrell Suggs and free-agent acquisition Elvis Dumervil has been justified for the Baltimore defense.

Entering the 2013 season with eight Pro Bowl selections and 148 quarterback sacks between them, Suggs and Dumervil have collected a combined four sacks and 10 quarterback hits in their first two weeks together. Considering the money and resources invested by general manager Ozzie Newsome at the outside linebacker position, you expect that kind of production, but another reason to feel optimistic about Suggs, who will turn 31 next month, and the 29-year-old Dumervil being productive over the entire 16-game regular season is the depth and versatility behind them in the Baltimore defense.

With younger players such as Courtney Upshaw and Pernell McPhee spelling the veterans in certain situations, it decreases their total number of opportunities to rack up sacks and pressures but provides an ability to maximize their production when they are on the field. Both Suggs and Dumervil have welcomed younger players receiving opportunities defensively.

“That’s a good thing. You want guys getting after it,” Suggs said following Sunday’s win. “Everybody’s fighting for it.”

With Cleveland expected to establish the running game as opposed to Denver’s wide-open passing attack from Week 1, it was no surprise to see Upshaw start the game at the strong-side linebacker position with Dumervil on the sideline. Ideally, Dumervil is better suited for Suggs’ rush linebacker position than the Sam linebacker spot responsible for setting the edge and focusing more on stopping the run.

Upshaw played 42 of the Ravens’ 63 defensive snaps against the Browns while Dumervil was on the field for 39 plays. This didn’t prevent Dumervil from being a major thorn in the side of Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden as he collected a sack, three quarterback hits, and two hurries in 28 pass-rush situations, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Upshaw was a major part of a run defense that limited the Browns to just 3.3 yards per carry and 65 yards on the ground.

“Upshaw is a hell of a player, and he’s only [in] year two, so the sky is the limit for him,” Dumervil said prior to the start of the season. “I think the staff does a great job of putting guys where it’s suited best for them, and as a player, you have to be respectful towards what is trying to be accomplished.”

Dumervil wasn’t the only standout linebacker to receive some rest over the course of the game as Suggs took 49 defensive snaps and third-year pass-rush specialist Pernell McPhee participated in 20, often spelling Suggs at his rush linebacker spot. McPhee was converted to outside linebacker in the offseason and while he lacks the skill set of Suggs against the run and in pass coverage, the position change allowed him to shed some weight to take some pressure off his problematic knees and to help keep the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year fresh over the course of games when possible.

Of course, there will be occasions against tougher competition in which the Ravens will lean more heavily on Suggs and Dumervil, but the ability for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to lighten the workload of his veteran outside linebackers will keep them more productive down the stretch when the Ravens will need them at their best.

Dead end with tight ends

The tight end position has been a hot topic for discussion ever since starter Dennis Pitta went down with a serious hip injury in the first week of training camp, and there are no indications that the problem is being fixed until his potential return late this season.

The Ravens showed their level of concern by working out free-agent tight ends Jake Ballard and Matt Mulligan after the season opener, but it’s difficult to expect any addition off the street to make a significant impact. Ed Dickson has struggled mightily to catch the football while 34-year-old Dallas Clark has looked slow running routes and dropped a sure touchdown right before halftime in the Week 1 loss at Denver.

“Those guys need to be a big part of what we are doing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They are fully capable of making catches. Ed should be a big-play guy up the seam, over routes, and all those kinds of things. We need to get Ed going.”

On paper and in practices, Dickson looks like the prototypical tight end with size, good speed, and strong blocking ability, but trying to cure the mental issue of having a case of the drops isn’t easy. After Dickson dropped a Joe Flacco pass that would have been a nice gain over the middle of the field on the first play of the game on Sunday, the quarterback didn’t target him again.

It spoke volumes for both Dickson and Clark that No. 3 tight end Billy Bajema — known mostly for his blocking — turned in the best performance of the day by making an 18-yard reception. Whether we see more of him, versatile fullback Kyle Juszczyk, or the eventual promotion of Matt Furstenburg from the practice squad, the Ravens need to see improvement from the tight end spot considering the similar questions facing the wide receiver position.

In two games this season, Ravens tight ends have combined for 10 catches and 126 yards. In comparison, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham had eight catches for 156 yards and a touchdown in the first half of the Saints’ win against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

That type of production from their tight ends in two games just simply isn’t enough in the modern NFL.

Running game concerns

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Browns

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Browns

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Torrey Smith 23 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 6 (3rd quarter)

4. Marlon Brown 10 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 7 (3rd quarter)

3. Brandon Stokley 11 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 8 (3rd quarter)

2. Marlon Brown 5 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

1. Brandon Weeden deep pass intended for Chris Ogbonnaya incomplete (3rd quarter)

(Ryan’s Plays on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Falcons preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Falcons preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 14 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Looking to build on an uneven performance from their starting units in the preseason opener, the Ravens return to M&T Bank Stadium for their first live-game action at home since last season in hosting the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

Though starters won’t see their most extensive action until next week against Carolina, the first-team units will likely play deep into the second quarter before giving way to backups.

“It will be somewhere in that neighborhood,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Usually the second preseason game is a half, but again, like we say every time we play a preseason game, it will depend on different guys. Different guys will be on different plans, so it’s hard to say exactly.”

The second preseason game is often the best opportunity for younger players to make their biggest impression with the coaching staff since starters often play into the third quarter in the third preseason game. As a result, many rookies and backups won’t receive as many live-game reps again until the fourth preseason game after most 53-man roster decisions have already been made internally.

With veteran additions being made at wide receiver and tight end over the last week, fringe players at those positions find themselves in a precarious position trying to stand out despite the reality of there now being one or two fewer roster spots available to win.

“If you play well enough, you’re going to make it,” Harbaugh said. “And if you play well enough and you don’t make it here, you’ll make it somewhere else. It’s really more of a competition against yourself and how well you can play and how good you can get and then see what happens. That other stuff is pretty much out of their control, and I think they understand that.”

The Ravens and Falcons will meet in the preseason for the 10th time as Baltimore holds a 6-3 record. The two teams are tied 2-2 in the all-time regular-season series as Atlanta won the most recent meeting in 2010.

After last week’s 44-16 win over the Buccaneers, the Ravens are now 41-27 all-time in the preseason and 14-7 in the Harbaugh era. Baltimore has now won 13 of its last 17 preseason games and has produced seven wins in the last eight preseason contests played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play as he continues to increase his level of activity in 11-on-11 sessions during practices. Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda just returned to the practice field on Monday on a limited basis but could take part in the third preseason game of the summer.

Newly-signed tight end Dallas Clark is not expected to play against the Falcons while veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley could see some very limited action as each player tries to learn offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s system. Both are good bets to receive extensive action in next week’s nationally-televised game against the Panthers.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring), WR Deonte Thompson (foot), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), LB Jameel McClain (neck), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: DT Marcus Spears (hamstring), CB Lardarius Webb (knee), CB Chris Johnson (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Ramon Harewood (knee), LB Bryan Hall (hamstring), WR Marlon Brown (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: WR David Reed (groin), S James Ihedigbo (neck), CB Chykie Brown (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. WR Tandon Doss

With Stokley still in the process of picking up the offensive system, Doss must show the coaching staff that he can be a viable option working out of the slot after a disappointing performance in the preseason opener. It’s largely been a quiet summer for the third-year receiver who has a reputation for good hands and running crisp routes in practice.

Next week, you would expect the Ravens to take long looks at both Stokley and Clark working the middle of the field in the passing game, meaning Doss has a critical opportunity against the Falcons to show he can be more than just an afterthought offensively. It’s time for Doss to show why the Ravens thought highly enough of him to draft him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

2. DT Terrence Cody

The fourth-year defensive lineman has been maligned for much of his run in Baltimore, but Cody has received positive reviews from the coaching staff this summer as he’s finally healthy after offseason hip and elbow surgeries. His roster standing appears to be safer now than it was at the start of camp, but he’s fighting for playing time in what’s shaping up to be a crowded defensive line rotation.

Cody may never live up to his original second-round billing, but the Ravens need a strong option to back up Haloti Ngata at nose tackle, which will allow defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be more creative in moving the Pro Bowl defensive tackle around when warranted. There’s no reason why Cody can’t feast against the Falcons’ second-team offense and further impress the coaching staff as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

3. LB Courtney Upshaw

Many have been surprised to see Upshaw work so extensively with the starting defense — and ahead of pass-rush standout Elvis Dumervil — but all you have to do is focus on his ability against the run to see why the Ravens are high on him. He has shed the excess weight he was carrying in the spring and looks to be carving out his spot as the starting strongside outside linebacker who will play against offensively-balanced teams in early-down situations.

Upshaw’s ability against the run allows Pees to be more judicious in how he uses both Dumervil and starting rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, which will hopefully keep both veterans fresher over the course of games and the entire season. He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, but Upshaw will factor heavily in what the Ravens expect to be a stout run defense.

4. LB Arthur Brown

Brown’s athleticism and ability in pass coverage have been impressive, but he just doesn’t look the part of a three-down linebacker right now with his 235-pound frame, which is probably a generous listing. That said, Brown will serve an important role as a nickel linebacker spelling Josh Bynes in passing situations.

The second-round pick may not become a full-time starter until he can benefit from a full offseason to put on 10 pounds of muscle, but the Ravens struggled to cover tight ends over the short-to-intermediate middle portion of the field over the last few years and Brown can be a major boost in that department. Brown has a bright future, but he has a lot of work to do in order to close the gap between him and Bynes for the starting weakside inside linebacker spot next to veteran Daryl Smith.

5. TE Matt Furstenburg

Furstenburg is just one of several young players who are feeling the effects of the recent veteran signings as he now trails Ed Dickson, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Clark and is battling veteran Billy Bajema for the fourth spot on the depth chart. The Maryland product’s most realistic destination is the practice squad at this rate, but he will have an opportunity to distinguish himself Thursday like Doss and the other young wide receivers fighting for playing time and roster spots.

A factor that many will overlook in the tight end battle is blocking and neither Shiancoe nor Clark are particularly strong in that department. Of course, much will depend on the status of Dickson’s injured hamstring in a couple weeks, but there could be a potential spot available to Bajema or Furstenburg if their blocking ability proves to be a necessary asset.

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Yanda takes part in practice for first time this summer

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Yanda takes part in practice for first time this summer

Posted on 12 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With plenty of uncertainty surrounding their starting offense, the Ravens received good news Monday with the return of Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda to the practice field.

The 28-year-old took part in the workout in a limited capacity, doing individual work and taking some reps with the starting offense in the non-contact practice.

“It was great to see him back out there in a limited amount in terms of what he was able to do,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “It’s always great to have him out there. He’s a great leader. Obviously, he’s been in meetings and things of that nature, but he brings a lot of experience and certainly a lot of toughness to our guys upfront.”

Sidelined for the entire spring after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Yanda was taking part in practice for the first time this summer. The seventh-year lineman had made good progress in his rehab and had been taking part in morning walk-throughs for quite some time, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

Yanda hadn’t been in pads since Super Bowl XLVII in February as he underwent a procedure to repair a torn rotator cuff, forcing him to miss organized team activities and mandatory minicamp in the spring. However, the Ravens never expressed concern that the 2007 third-round pick wouldn’t be ready for the start of the regular season despite acknowledging that he’d miss a substantial portion of training camp before returning.

“I don’t want to put an exact date on it, but it will be in training camp pretty good,” Harbaugh said about the standout guard on July 31. “We aren’t in a rush with him. [He is] very much on schedule. He’s doing certain things. He does things in the morning. He goes through the morning workout. He goes through some individual stuff, so he’s practicing. He’s just not going through the contact stuff, but he’s doing very, very well.”

Yanda was working with the first-team offensive line in a lighter practice that featured helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday afternoon, but it would appear he won’t make his live-game debut until at least the third preseason game next week against the Carolina Panthers.

Newly-signed veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley was also taking part in his first practice after officially signing a one-year deal with Baltimore on Sunday. However, veteran tight end Dallas Clark was not on the field for the early portion of practice as he was undergoing a physical and finalizing his deal with the Ravens.

Second-year running back Bernard Pierce (knee) also returned to practice after missing the last two workouts since the preseason opener when he injured his knee in the second quarter. Harbaugh said Sunday that Pierce has a chance to play in Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Linebacker Bryan Hall (hamstring) also returned to the practice field after being sidelined since the preseason opener.

A number of players were still missing from the practice field on Monday including linebacker Courtney Upshaw, cornerbacks Chykie Brown (undisclosed) and Chris Johnson (undisclosed), defensive tackle Marcus Spears (undisclosed), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed), offensive linemen Ramon Harewood (knee) and Ryan Jensen (foot), and tight ends Ed Dickson (hamstring) and Dennis Pitta (hip).

Linebacker Jameel McClain (neck) remains on the active physically unable to perform list and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) is still on the non-football injury list.

Caldwell excited to have Stokley, Clark in fold

Jim Caldwell had his first opportunity to comment on the veteran additions of Stokley and Clark, who worked with the Baltimore offensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

Stokley played with the Colts from 2003 through 2006 when Caldwell was the quarterbacks coach while Clark spent the first nine years of his career in Indianapolis, which included Caldwell’s three-year tenure as head coach. Despite being at the tail end of their respective careers, both players are expected to provide the Ravens with middle-of-the-field options they’re looking for with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta no longer in the picture.

“You can see that they’ve been productive,” Caldwell said. “Obviously, their roles have changed over the years — maybe haven’t played quite as much in certain situations. We have a good blend of personnel groupings that we use and we certainly would be able to get them in the mix and give them an opportunity to show what they can do.”

Clark’s best season came in 2009 — Caldwell’s first season as the Indianapolis head man — when he caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn his first and only trip to the Pro Bowl.

Caldwell had stayed in contact in recent days with his former tight end through text messaging but hadn’t spoken to Clark over the last couple days as an agreement was reached.

“John [Harbaugh] and Ozzie [Newsome] take a look at all the possibilities and make determinations as such,” said Caldwell, who downplayed the impact of his relationships with Clark and Stokley in the Ravens’ decision to sign each player. “Every once in a while they’ll ask for what [my] opinion is on certain situations, but it does not carry the predominance of the weight. They look at it all, see if it’s a good fit for us, and make the decision from there.”

Upshaw excused from practice

Upshaw’s absence from the practice Sunday M&T Bank Stadium remained a mystery until his social media activity early on Monday.

The second-year linebacker wrote on his official Twitter account about a new addition to his family and defensive coordinator Dean Pees confirmed after Monday’s practice that the second-year linebacker was excused from the team for the birth of his son.

Upshaw has worked as the starting strongside outside linebacker with veteran Elvis Dumervil serving as more of a pass-rush specialist to this point in the summer, which would also free him up to occasionally spell Terrell Suggs at the rush linebacker position as well.

“They’ll all play. They all have a role on this team,” Pees said. “It’s a game-to-game thing, and a lot depend one the packages we have in and what we’re doing for that particular game. They’re all good players and they’re ll going to play.”

Upshaw made two tackles against the Buccaneers in the preseason opener.

Practice highlights

Stokley worked with both the first and second offenses and ran a crisp sideline route to beat cornerback Corey Graham for a touchdown from quarterback Joe Flacco early in the practice session. However, the quarterback and receiver weren’t on the same page a few plays later as Stokley appeared to run the wrong route and the pass sailed into the arms of cornerback Lardarius Webb. Needless to say, Stokley was doing plenty of learning on the fly as he tried to get up to speed in Caldwell’s offensive system. … Webb still isn’t a full participant in team drills, but the fifth-year cornerback continues to increase his level of activity in team drills and recorded two interceptions on Monday. Pees was noncommittal about Webb’s potential participation in the preseason, deferring to Harbaugh and the training staff in describing where the cornerback is physically at this stage. … Wide receiver Torrey Smith made a nifty touchdown catch over cornerback Asa Jackson on a fade route during an 11-on-11 red-zone drill on Monday. … The practice marked the first time all summer that the projected starting offensive line was able to work together as left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Gino Gradkowski, Yanda, and right tackle Michael Oher worked a limited number of plays together in team drills.

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Overweight Upshaw admits needing to get in better shape

Posted on 03 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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Appearing noticeably heavier while participating in the Ravens’ first two weeks of organized team activities, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw acknowledged Sunday he needs to shed pounds in time for his sophomore season in the NFL.

The 35th overall pick of the 2012 draft told reporters at a charity event in Aberdeen, Md. that he currently weights 285 pounds, a significant increase from the 272 pounds at which he played during his rookie season. The Alabama product cited the need to handle “personal issues” as a reason why he’s gained weight.

Upshaw raised eyebrows in his rookie season when he was heavier than the Ravens preferred during OTAs and training camp before finally getting into better shape by the early portion of the regular season. A shoulder injury also slowed the linebacker during training camp before he eventually earned a significant role in the Baltimore defense.

Expected to back up projected starting outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, Upshaw recorded 60 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble while making nine starts in his first pro season. With the 30-year-old Suggs and the 29-year-old Dumervil both advancing in age, the Ravens likely envision Upshaw as a key piece to replace Dumervil in obvious running situations at strongside linebacker. This would then allow the former Denver Bronco — who will be playing out of position at the “Sam” linebacker spot — to either gain a breather or spell Suggs at rush linebacker.

Though he’s entitled to some benefit of the doubt regarding the personal issues that have supposedly impacted his ability to work out and eat right, Upshaw showing up in poor shape for a second straight year doesn’t speak well for his standing with head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Some have speculated that the Ravens could use Upshaw some at inside linebacker, but that possibility would appear unlikely if he’s showing even less quickness and agility.

Playing in 42 of the Ravens’ 62 defensive snaps in Super Bowl XLVII, Upshaw collected five tackles and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Arthur Jones to help the franchise win its second Super Bowl title.

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Ten non-Flacco thoughts on Ravens’ offseason

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Ten non-Flacco thoughts on Ravens’ offseason

Posted on 19 February 2013 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens about to enter the most critical contract negotiations in franchise history later this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, it’s difficult not to be inundated with the Joe Flacco discussions as general manager Ozzie Newsome tries to lock up his franchise quarterback for the long haul.

Frankly, the talk has been overwhelming and I’m as guilty as anyone in fueling the Flacco fire — HERE, HERE, and even HERE — and what impact it will have on the rest of the offseason and even the future of the franchise.

With that in mind, I offer 10 offseason thoughts not related to “you know who” as we wait to see how negotiations play out:

1. The Ravens could be faced with the choice of overpaying Bryant McKinnie or enduring another season of Michael Oher at left tackle.
Both sides will explore other options, but it’s difficult to find a left tackle — who’s ready to play immediately, anyway — with no cap room and no draft choice higher than 32nd overall. McKinnie may also find a lukewarm market with his off-field baggage and questions over why the Ravens sat him for the entire regular season. If the Ravens deem McKinnie too expensive or too risky to sign, would they roll the dice in going with Oher at left tackle for another season and hoping they can find their left tackle of 2014 in the draft? It’s a dangerous proposition and the Ravens simply don’t have the resources to expect to find anyone better than McKinnie in free agency.

2. Regardless of how the tackle position shakes out, I’d like to see Kelechi Osemele remain at left guard next season. Lost in the shuffle of the offensive line shakeup to start the postseason was the stellar play of Osemele, who was seeing his first extensive time at left guard since the preseason. The Iowa State product played solidly at the right tackle position, but he showed the potential of being a Pro Bowl player on the interior line in four playoff games. At 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds, Osemele clearly has the size to hold up at right tackle, but he could be good enough to make everyone forget about Ben Grubbs at the left guard position. The combination of him and Marshal Yanda could be the best guard duo in the league sooner rather than later, so the Ravens would love to keep Osemele inside in a perfect world.

3. Nothing should be guaranteed to Jimmy Smith next season despite a strong rebound in the postseason.
It looked like a lost season for the 2011 first-round pick after ineffective play and sports hernia surgery dropped him to fourth on the depth chart late in the year, but Smith rebounded to play well in the postseason, including making critical plays on third and fourth down of the Ravens’ goal-line stand in the Super Bowl. His 6-foot-2 frame is the logical replacement for the likely-to-depart Cary Williams, but Smith will need to work his way up the depth chart by first beating out Chykie Brown for the No. 3 corner spot and then Corey Graham for a starting job. His postseason play proves the discussion about Smith being a bust was premature, but the time is now for Smith to prove the Ravens were wise to use a first-round pick on him.

4. This will be a big offseason for Terrence Cody, who is looking more like the second failed second-round pick of the 2010 draft. Outside linebacker Sergio Kindle has already parted ways with the Ravens and Cody might follow him sooner rather than later as the nose tackle enters the final year of his rookie contract. Newsome made it clear at the season-review press conference that the Ravens need to improve at defensive tackle and Cody struggled to get on the field as he competed with veteran Ma’ake Kemoeatu this season. Despite being listed at 341 pounds, Cody was often manhandled and made little impact in taking on blockers to allow linebackers to make plays against the run. The defensive lineman made only two tackles in the postseason and could find himself on the roster bubble should he go through the motions during training camp.

5. With all the discussion over the salary cap purge following the 2001 season, has everyone forgotten how quickly the Ravens returned to prominence after gutting their roster? I understand the line of thinking of both Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti in saying they don’t want to mortgage the future solely to make an ill-advised effort to get back to the Super Bowl next season, but it’s not as though the Ravens fell off a cliff following their last purge. They went 7-9 as the youngest team in the NFL in 2002 and improved to 10-6 and captured their first AFC North title in 2003. It certainly helped that the Ravens had young versions of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as well as offensive pillars in Jonathan Ogden and Jamal Lewis, but that group also had Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright playing quarterback. What’s the moral of the story? Organizations that draft well and stay true to their process for making personnel decisions won’t stay down for long in the NFL.

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/49ers

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/49ers

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Jacoby Jones 108 yard kickoff return TD (3rd quarter)

4. Jacoby Jones 56 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 10 (2nd quarter)

3. Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Randy Moss on two point conversion attempt incomplete (4th quarter)

2. Joe Flacco 15 yard pass to Anquan Boldin on 3rd and inches (4th quarter)

1. Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree on 4th and goal incomplete (4th quarter)

(Ryan’s Plays on Page 2…)

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Upshaw hoping to win Super Bowl at same location he won BCS title

Posted on 29 January 2013 by WNST Staff

LINEBACKER COURTNEY UPSHAW

 

(on Harbaugh’s coaching style) “You have that extra leadership. Our team is full of leadership and as a young guy, you have to buy into that leadership and listen to the older guys.”

 

(on defending the 49ers’ unique offensive sets) “We just have to go out and have the coaches put us in the right position to make plays and to try to stop that offense. They’re a good offense so it’s not going to be easy. We watch the tape, so we see what they’re doing and what teams have success doing but those guys have had success so you’ve just got to go execute the game plan.

 

(on winning a National Championship at this exact spot last year) “It was great. I’m in the Super Bowl now so I have to put that feeling behind me and try to win this Super Bowl come Sunday.

 

(on the feeling of winning a National Championship with a dominant Alabama team) “That defense was dominant. The way we came out and played that game and the atmosphere here too. Winning the MVP was great.”

 

(on seeing some of his Alabama teammates go before him on day 1 of the NFL Draft) “I was disappointed. Honestly, I’m not going to lie to you, I was disappointed. I went back to the hotel, and a couple people with me and my agent prayed a lot about it. I was hoping Baltimore would take me the next day and that’s what happened. I’m here now, so I can’t look back on what didn’t happen in the first round of the draft.

 

(on the road to the Super Bowl with Ray as their leader) “Being along with Ray and Ed, you grow up wanting to be those guys playing backyard football. I say that all the time, but just the leadership here, to go from Alabama to the leadership here, there is not too much difference. Me being a young guy, I just bought into it and we are here in the Super Bowl now.

 

(on the similarities between the Alabama and Baltimore defenses) “Like you said, there are not too many differences with this team and with Coach Saban back in the day. They’re kind of similar. This is a hard, tough and physical defense with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed back there. You’ve got guys like Dannell Ellerbe who I look up to for his play on the field and for the kind of guy he is off the field.

 

(on what he has learned specifically from Ray Lewis) “To be a pro about any and everything. When going into the weight room to get extra reps, studying film and just knowing what you have to do and knowing what’s coming on the field.”

 

(on his journey from a difficult childhood to football’s national stage) “I’m always humble, number one. What I say about the Super Bowl is that I have to win it first. Those championships, I won those, but now I’m in the Super Bowl. I’m on a whole different level and I have to execute on the opportunity to win my first Super Bowl. I dreamed it and never thought I would be here. I didn’t even think I was going to go to college to play football and luckily I had people back home that put my name out there and sent my high school film to colleges. I never thought I’d be here to be honest with you.”

 

(on his friendly trash talk with former Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes) “Man, Auburn, Georgia, we talk about all that. You have a lot of Alabama haters around here man. It’s all fun and games. Alabama is on top. They’re tired of seeing Alabama win championships. For me to come here with two, I’ve got the upper hand.”

 

(on his time in New Orleans so far) “The week has been good. We got in yesterday after a good send off. It was great to see all those fans who came out to send us off.”

 

 

-More-

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Super Bowl XLVII – Tuesday, January 29, 2013

 

 

QUOTES FROM BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA DAY

 

MORE LINEBACKER COURTNEY UPSHAW

 

(on having the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl) “I always tell everybody I have to go win it first. That’s what is most important to me now is to win this Super Bowl. I won those championships back at Alabama but now it’s time to move forward.”

 

(on the differences between getting to the BCS Championship and getting to the Super Bowl) “It’s another championship, but this is the biggest stage. As a kid, we grew up dreaming and hoping that we’d be in the Super Bowl. Not too many people in this league get the chance to get to that first Super Bowl. So for me to be a rookie, it’s just unbelievable. I have to execute on that opportunity.”

 

(on the idea of rookie nerves and his feelings as the Super Bowl inches closer) “Going into any game, a regular or preseason game, I’m always nervous before that first snap. Honestly, you just have to go out and do what we do. I’ve been playing football since a little kid, so it’s not the time to get nervous. That’s how you lose games.”

 

(on his approach to preparing himself both physically and mentally for a game) “When I get in that locker room, just minutes before we kick it off, the nerves build up because you are so anxious to get it started. Once I get that first hit in on the kickoff team, then I’m ready and the game has started so it’s time for me to do what I do.”

 

(on the lifestyle differences between Alabama and Baltimore) “It’s the snow. I had only seen snow twice before in my life in Alabama. It’s been great. I live in a nice little community where the neighbors are real good people. The people have been so good to me.”

 

(on media expectations and predictions and how they affect a team’s play) “You can’t really listen to that stuff. You just have to go out there and play your game. For the fans, a lot of people are going to predict and pick the 49ers. If we go out and play our game so you never know what’s going to happen. Honestly, this year throughout the season I learned not to watch TV that much because of the simple fact that they are always rooting against us. We just have to prove everyone wrong once more. It’s definitely motivation. We know what kind of team we have and we know we can be dominant. It’s all about just doing it out on the field.”

 

(on the transition from college football to the professional level) “Early on, I had some issues with my weight and the conditioning. Nick Saban and that coaching staff down there at Alabama does a great job trying to prepare us for this.”

 

(on the experience of playing in the Superdome) “I’m familiar with it. This is my third time playing in here for a football game on this field. I don’t want to say it’s my home field since I’ve only been here 3 times. It was great to win a championship here last year with Alabama. But now it’s time for me try to execute on my opportunity at the Super Bowl.”

 

(on his relationship with Baltimore’s head coach John Harbaugh) “It’s been great playing for coach. I told him after we got that win against the Patriots that I was glad that they brought me in to Baltimore. I’m trying to beat his brother. It’s a team game. We all want to win just for coach, to say he beat his brother, but also to get Ray Lewis a ring and get Baltimore another trophy. “

 

(on the differences in coaching styles between Nick Saban and John Harbaugh) “They will get on you. I say that first hand. At Alabama, I had my share of run-ins with coach, especially as a freshman. In my rookie year, coach Harbaugh has got on me a few times. I’m just trying to do things the right way and be a pro about a lot of things.”

-More-

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Super Bowl XLVII – Tuesday, January 29, 2013

 

 

QUOTES FROM BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA DAY

 

MORE LINEBACKER COURTNEY UPSHAW

 

 

(on what he looks forward to most about being New Orleans besides playing in the Super Bowl) “Well, this is my third time here. I’ve done it all. I had the food and enjoyed Bourbon Street after the win last year.

 

 

(on being a part of a team with Ray Lewis as its leader) “In this game of football, you have to execute on your opportunities. You dream about being a part of team like this, ever since playing in the backyard with the Ray Lewis jersey on. It’s a great feeling.

 

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