Tag Archive | "Courtney UpShaw"

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Former Ravens linebacker Upshaw agrees to deal with Atlanta

Posted on 25 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Veteran outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw became the latest Ravens free agent to depart as he agreed to a deal with Atlanta on Friday evening.

The 26-year-old visited with the Falcons on Thursday after previously meeting with the New York Jets and reportedly drawing interest from San Francisco and New England.

Head coach John Harbaugh suggested earlier this week that Upshaw was still on the radar of general manager Ozzie Newsome, but the Ravens never indicated that they were seriously interested in keeping him. Making 51 starts and having never missed a game in his four seasons, the 6-foot-2, 272-pound Upshaw served as a dependable edge-setting linebacker against the run, but he never developed into a serious pass-rushing threat and collected just five career sacks in Baltimore.

“If we can bring back our full team from last year, we would. But we just don’t know,” said Newsome when asked about Upshaw’s future at last month’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. “History will say we’ll get some signed and some will go to other clubs. When that happens, I wish them well.”

The Ravens have made it clear that they want to add an edge rusher or two this offseason, and second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is projected to fill Upshaw’s role on defense.

Depending on the value of the contract, Upshaw’s departure likely puts Baltimore in line to receive a compensatory pick in next year’s draft. The Ravens have signed unrestricted free agents Benjamin Watson and Eric Weddle while losing Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, and Matt Schaub. Wide receiver Chris Givens also signed with Philadelphia, but his one-year, $840,000 is too small to qualify for the formula determining compensatory picks. The signing of veteran wideout Mike Wallace does not count toward the formula since he was cut by Minnesota earlier this month.

Selected with the 35th overall pick of the 2012 draft, Upshaw was the Ravens’ first selection in that draft. With Upshaw and Osemele finding free-agent homes elsewhere this month, no members of the 2012 draft class remain with the organization.

Upshaw was a starter in Super Bowl XLVII and forced a fumble early that ended a scoring threat early in the second quarter. He finishes his Baltimore career with 183 tackles, seven pass breakups, and three forced fumbles.

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Ravens-related thoughts from league meetings

Posted on 24 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Even with an active start to free agency in which they’ve addressed the safety, wide receiver, and tight end positions, the Ravens still have plenty of work to do if they want to bounce back from last year’s 5-11 campaign.

While pass rusher, cornerback, and left tackle have been discussed at great length, an inside linebacker spot is wide open next to C.J. Mosley with the recently-released Daryl Smith signing with Tampa Bay, ending any thought about his potential return. John Harbaugh mentioned the predictable candidates — Zach Orr, Arthur Brown, and Albert McClellan — to replace the veteran Smith, but the head coach discussed another interesting option when speaking to reporters at the league meetings earlier this week.

“We could move a safety down in there,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of teams are doing that now, and one of those guys might move in there. We have the draft still in front of us, so there’s going to be competition. That’s how we like it.”

Harbaugh didn’t mention any names when discussing the possibility of a safety shifting to linebacker, but other safeties such as Mark Barron of Los Angeles and Arizona’s Deone Bucannon have successfully made that transition at the NFL level. Identifying a candidate among Baltimore’s current group of safeties isn’t easy since there isn’t an incumbent weighing more than 205 pounds.

It’s a moot point now with last week’s release stemming from his 10-game suspension to begin the 2016 season, but the 228-pound Will Hill would have been an intriguing candidate for a hybrid role with his pass coverage and tackling ability. The Ravens want to get faster and more athletic at the inside linebacker position, and Hill certainly would have fit that description if not for off-field concerns once again costing him as it did with the New York Giants.

“It was too bad, because we had really made a commitment to Will and to his future and the fact that he would be able to do things in a way that he could be successful,” said Harbaugh of the safety’s release. “He was doing that for quite a while and playing good football for us. It was not a football decision other than the fact that it was just going to cost us too much to wait for him at this point in time with the suspension.”

New touchback rule

The NFL owners voted to move touchbacks from kickoffs up to the 25-yard line in an obvious attempt to address player safety and further limit one of the most exciting — and dangerous — plays in the game.

Returners may now be more discouraged to run kicks out of the end zone, but how might the kicking team alter its strategy with a touchback now giving the opposition the ball at the 25 instead of the 20? Over the last few years, the Ravens have relied on standout kicker Justin Tucker booming the ball into or through the end zone with the opposing offense then starting at its own 20.

“We may kick it off down to the goal line as high as we can and go down there and try to get the return team at the 12-, 15-yard line,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be real hard for us to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to surrender the 25-yard line as a kickoff cover team every time.’ That’s really not in the spirit of competition and what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

It’s important to remember this rule change is only a one-year trial, but many speculate that it will have the opposite effect of what the league wants.

Upshaw still available

While no one expected Courtney Upshaw to fetch a record contract this month, it’s surprising to see him still unsigned more than two weeks after the start of free agency.

Though limited as a pass rusher, the 26-year-old is a solid edge-setting outside linebacker who is a nice fit in a timeshare with a situational rusher. Upshaw met with the New York Jets last week and has reportedly drawn interest from San Francisco and New England, but the underwhelming market for his services illustrates how increasingly important it’s becoming to have multiple players with the ability to get after the quarterback in any situation.

General manager Ozzie Newsome appeared content to allow Upshaw to depart this offseason, but the odds of him returning appear to improve as more time passes and teams continue to spend elsewhere.

“Ozzie’s still monitoring. I haven’t talked to Courtney at all,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not sure where he’s at, but he’s still on the radar.”

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2016 class of free agents

Posted on 03 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Free agency will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday, so it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ nine unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and 13 exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2016 salary cap will increase to a record-high $155.27 million, and the Ravens currently have roughly $8.5 million in cap space before the reported agreement with linebacker Albert McClellan and signing any of their restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players. Needless to say, the organization still has some work to do to clear room over the next several days after the contract extension for franchise quarterback Joe Flacco’s netted only an additional $6 million in cap savings for 2016.

The free-agent signing period officially begins on March 9, but the NFL allows teams to enter into negotiations — without officially signing contracts — with the certified agents of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents at noon on Monday, meaning rumors and speculation will pick up before the start of the signing period.

It’s time to go on the record predicting which Ravens will stay and which ones will leave in the coming weeks. To see how I fared last year, check out my 2015 free-agent forecast HERE.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

LB Chris Carter: LEAVES
Skinny: The former Steeler and Bengal appeared in two games for the Ravens late in 2015, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be any kind of a priority beyond a depth signing later in the offseason.

LS Morgan Cox: STAYS
Skinny: The 2015 Pro Bowl selection remains extremely reliable and should be retained as long as his salary demands are in line with what he’s made in recent seasons.

QB Jimmy Clausen: LEAVES
Skinny: Considering Ryan Mallett’s track record and Flacco’s uncertain status, retaining Clausen sounds like a good idea, but the Notre Dame product will likely seek a better opportunity elsewhere.

WR Chris Givens: LEAVES
Skinny: The former fourth-round pick was acquired in exchange for a 2017 seventh-round choice, but Givens did little (19 catches and one touchdown) with extensive chances (six starts in 12 games).

G/T Kelechi Osemele: LEAVES
Skinny: The Ravens shouldn’t value Osemele for what they hope he can be (a quality left tackle) more than what he is (a Pro Bowl-caliber player at a position where Marshal Yanda was already paid).

TE Allen Reisner: LEAVES
Skinny: The veteran suffered a broken ankle in the preseason and was never going to make the 53-man roster, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him re-signed to the offseason roster if healthy.

QB Matt Schaub: LEAVES
Skinny: The writing was on the wall for the former Houston Texan at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see if another team wants him as a veteran backup.

LB Courtney Upshaw: LEAVES
Skinny: Teams needing to be frugal with cap space just can’t afford to keep edge-setting linebackers with little pass-rushing ability, but Upshaw should land a decent contract elsewhere.

CB Shareece Wright: STAYS
Skinny: The free-agent market can be a volatile place for veteran cornerbacks, but the Ravens need a starter opposite Jimmy Smith and Wright looks like a reasonable stopgap.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer a first-round tender ($3.653 million based on a $155.27 million cap), second-round tender ($2.553 million), or original-round tender ($1.671 million) to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer sheet from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. If the player originally went undrafted, it simply provides the team the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation should the player sign elsewhere.

WR Kamar Aiken: STAYS (second-round tender)
Skinny: Considering how underwhelming the group of free-agent wide receivers is, the Ravens are better off paying a little more to prevent other teams from going after their young possession receiver.

WR Marlon Brown: LEAVES
Skinny: His successful rookie season feels like a long time ago, and a fresh start elsewhere would be the best thing for the disappointing 6-foot-5 receiver at this point in his career.

TE Chase Ford: LEAVES
Skinny: Ford was inactive for one game before a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve, so there’s no reason to think he will be a priority to retain.

S Bryden Trawick: STAYS (cheaper two-year deal)
Skinny: The low tender is too expensive for the reserve safety, but the Ravens value their special-teams players and Trawick can likely be re-signed to an inexpensive contract.

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have two or fewer accrued seasons in the league and own no negotiating rights. In order for the Ravens to retain the rights to these players, they must tender contracts at the league minimum based on their service time in the NFL. Though it’s not a certainty, the Ravens generally tender all exclusive-rights players since their contracts are not guaranteed for the 2016 season.

WR Daniel Brown: STAYS
Skinny: The James Madison product flashes potential with a 6-foot-5 frame, but he’ll need a strong training camp to crack the 53-man roster.

WR Jeremy Butler: STAYS
Skinny: Butler was quite productive in a lost season for the Ravens, catching 31 passes for 363 yards, and is on the radar to make the 2016 roster as a reserve receiver and special-teams player.

WR Kaelin Clay: STAYS
Skinny: His 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in Cleveland was a highlight, and the Utah product is a strong candidate to serve as the Ravens’ return specialist in 2016.

OL Ryan Jensen: STAYS
Skinny: The 2013 sixth-round pick held his own in six starts last season and is projected to compete with John Urschel for the starting left guard job in training camp.

RB Terrence Magee: STAYS
Skinny: Given the names ahead of him on the depth chart and the Ravens’ interest in Trent Richardson, Magee figures to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

WR Chris Matthews: STAYS
Skinny: The Super Bowl XLIX standout caught a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 16 and will be in the mix competing for a roster spot in training camp.

CB Sheldon Price: STAYS
Skinny: Promoted to the 53-man roster in the final week of the season, the 6-foot-2 corner will compete for a reserve role in the secondary this summer.

TE Konrad Reuland: STAYS
Skinny: With Nick Boyle’s 10-game suspension and Crockett Gillmore’s offseason shoulder surgeries, Reuland’s presence on the offseason roster is more important now.

DT Micajah Reynolds: STAYS
Skinny: The Michigan State product spent the entire season on IR and will have a chance to compete for a job on a crowded defensive line in the spring and summer.

CB Jumal Rolle: STAYS
Skinny: Injuries in Week 15 forced Rolle into action and he appeared to hold his own, making him a name to watch during training camp.

OT De’Ondre Wesley: STAYS
Skinny: With the uncertainty at left tackle and right tackle Rick Wagner becoming a free agent after 2016, Wesley developing into a useful player would be very beneficial to the offensive line.

RB Terrance West: STAYS
Skinny: No one doubts the Towson product’s ability, but West will need to continue to prove himself through his commitment to getting better while competing for a roster spot.

DB Jermaine Whitehead: STAYS
Skinny: Signed off San Francisco’s practice squad in late December, the Auburn product is just another name to throw into the secondary mix.

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Yanda named 2015 Ravens MVP by local media

Posted on 30 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rarely is an offensive lineman ever discussed as an NFL team’s most valuable player, but the 2015 season has been anything but typical for the Ravens.

With 20 players currently on injured reserve and suffering their first losing season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have leaned on the offensive leadership of five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who was voted team MVP by local media on Wednesday. In his ninth season, Yanda is the first offensive lineman to receive the annual award introduced in 2003.

“[It’s just] the attitude of offensive linemen, just the daily grind of the guy that doesn’t get the recognition, which that’s fine with me,” Yanda said. “I’ve always been the guy that I’m happy to be out there and playing in the NFL and being able to compete with the best in the world. I’m happy with being out there and to say that I can stand out there with those men.

“It’s neat to be recognized, but it’s one of those things where I’ve always been happy and relished the opportunity to play in the NFL.”

Signed to a four-year extension through 2019 earlier this season and named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl last week, Yanda has been graded by Pro Football Focus as the top guard in the NFL and has been viewed by many as the best at his position for a few years now. He is just one of six players in the 20-year history of the Ravens to be named to five Pro Bowls as members of the organization.

Durability has been considered one of Yanda’s biggest strengths as he’s missed only two games since missing much of the 2008 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The 2007 third-round pick out of Iowa has also played right tackle on more than one occasion in his career including last year’s postseason.

“I feel like football is a sport where it’s not if you get hurt, but when,” Yanda said. “You’re going to get hurt no matter what in this business. It’s part of having to play through injuries, because your team needs you and because they need production out of you. You owe it to the guy next to you. I owe it to Joe [Flacco] to be out there and do my job to keep him clean.”

The local media also voted cornerback Jimmy Smith as the winner of the Good Guy Award, an honor bestowed upon a Ravens player who has been particularly helpful in granting interviews and being accessible to reporters.

Below are past winners with the MVP listed first and the Good Guy Award winner second:

2003: Jamal Lewis, Gary Baxter
2004: Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver
2005: Adalius Thomas, Jamal Lewis
2006: Steve McNair, Bart Scott
2007: Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason
2008: Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs
2009: Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson
2010: Haloti Ngata, Chris Carr
2011: Ray Rice, Bernard Pollard
2012: Ray Rice, Arthur Jones
2013: Justin Tucker, Joe Flacco
2014: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith

Flacco remains on track for training camp

Head coach John Harbaugh reiterated Wednesday that he expects Flacco to be ready for training camp as he continues to rehab his surgically-repaired left knee.

A CBS Sports report recently said that Flacco is already riding a stationary bike, and the 30-year-old has been seen walking around the Ravens’ training facility with minimal use of crutches after undergoing surgery earlier this month. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP had never missed a game in his NFL career prior to tearing his ACL in a win over St. Louis on Nov. 22.

“I guess you never say never, but everything I’ve been told is he’s going to be ready for training camp — 100 percent ready to go,” Harbaugh said. “The key with all these injuries is that they get the most out of every day, but there’s never a setback. If you don’t have a setback, then it should be fine.”

More than steak

After having a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown wiped away due to Courtney Upshaw’s offside penalty, Smith quipped after Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh that he expected a steak dinner to make up for it.

Now, the fifth-year cornerback expects more from his teammate.

“After I re-watched the play, I think I needed more,” said Smith as he smiled. “That type of play is the play that every corner always dreams of. That’s the first time that’s ever happened for me. Even in practice, that’s never happened. I don’t know what I want. Maybe some new rims for my car — I don’t know.”

Wednesday’s injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), FB Kyle Juszczyk (illness), LB Albert McClellan (ankle)

CINCINNATI
OUT: QB Andy Dalton (right thumb)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Ryan Hewitt (knee/illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), S George Iloka (groin), WR Marvin Jones (hamstring), QB AJ McCarron (left wrist)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Tyler Eifert (concussion)

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Mallett shows why Ravens were so eager to play him

Posted on 28 December 2015 by Luke Jones

It was a baptism by fire starting their fourth quarterback in six weeks against their biggest rival on Sunday, but the Ravens clearly wanted to see what Ryan Mallett could do.

Less than two weeks after being signed, the talented but troubled quarterback responded with the biggest game of his NFL career and made his mark in Ravens lore by completing a season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers and putting their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

“I know what it’s about now. I like it,” said Mallett after the 20-17 upset victory. “What Steve Smith said, ‘big-boy football,’ right?”

There is no quarterback controversy in Baltimore for 2016, but Mallett showed exactly why the Ravens envision him being their backup to a healthy Joe Flacco. Possessing a strong arm and a 6-foot-6 frame, the 27-year-old is similar to Flacco physically, which is what you’re typically looking for in a backup quarterback.

It was apparent from the beginning of Sunday’s game that Mallett is more talented than Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, but the 2011 third-round pick also played smart football and didn’t look like someone with less than two weeks working in offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s system.

Mallett turned in the first turnover-free performance by a Ravens quarterback since Nov. 1, a stretch that included Flacco’s final two starts of 2015.

“To operate the way he did, change plays at the line the way he did, I think it says a lot about him, but it says a lot about our coaches as well,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Just a great effort. This kid was in there 24-7. This kid was in the staff meetings at night.”

Mallett has made an excellent first impression with his new team, but he must continue to show that the concerns about his maturity and commitment that led to his demise in Houston are behind him for good. Showing ability and fire that inspired his teammates on Sunday, Mallett should benefit from working with the even-keeled Flacco in the coming months.

With quality quarterback play at a premium around the NFL, you can’t ask for much more than Mallett offered on Sunday as he threw for a career-high 274 yards, completed 68.3 percent of his passes, and threw a touchdown pass on his opening drive. A quality backup effectively runs your offense and gives you a solid chance to win some games with your regular supporting cast when the starter is out for a short period of time.

Mallett more than looked that part on Sunday.

“I want to thank the Ravens organization for bringing me in and giving me a shot and giving me a workout and coach Harbaugh,” Mallett said. “Just being here, I don’t even know what to say right now. It’s an emotional time, but it’s fun.”

Allen bounces back

After being benched for losing a fumble for the second straight game last week, rookie running back Buck Allen bounced back with one of his best performances of the year as he collected 114 yards from scrimmage and the first rushing touchdown of his NFL career against Pittsburgh.

His six carries for 26 yards over the final 6:24 of the fourth quarter don’t jump out on the stat sheet, but that sequence proved the Ravens hadn’t lost confidence in Allen from a ball security standpoint while only holding a three-point lead. The fourth-round rookie didn’t disappoint as he protected the ball against a Steelers front that was desperate for a turnover.

“Last week hurt to go out there and fumble and change the momentum of the game,” Allen said. “That’s all on me — nobody’s fault but mine and I took full responsibility. I knew coming into this game that I couldn’t make that mistake. The coaching staff believed in me and kept feeding me the ball. I just want to thank them for doing that.”

Upshaw redemption

Courtney Upshaw’s offside penalty that wiped away Jimmy Smith’s 101-yard interception return for a touchdown felt like it would be the turning point and the latest misfortune in a lost season.

But the outside linebacker responded emphatically on the following drive by sacking Ben Roethlisberger to set up a second-and-long situation and then hit the Steelers quarterback again on the fourth-down incompletion that ended Pittsburgh’s last real drive. Upshaw said he still owed Smith after the game, but his pressure prevented Roethlisberger from orchestrating his late-game magic.

“That’s just how you do it. I was on the bench, and I was like ‘I’ve got to make up for that,'” Upshaw said. ” I had the opportunity to go in and apply some kind of pressure. I ended up getting a sack — me and [Elvis Dumervil] — and then on that last one, get a hit on Ben. At the end of the day, we come out here and we try to fight for the win together.”

Mallett to… Matthews?

It wasn’t as synonymous with Ravens football as Flacco to Steve Smith, but Mallett’s run in Baltimore officially began with a pretty touchdown pass to… Chris Matthews?

The little-used receiver who earned fame for a 100-yard performance with Seattle in last year’s Super Bowl caught the first regular-season touchdown pass of his NFL career to put the Ravens on the board in the first quarter. Matthews was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Dec. 12 and had just two receptions for 27 yards in his first two games with Baltimore.

“We were just looking for a certain defense,” Matthews said. “They came out in that two-shell and we wanted to exploit it. I was the single man down the middle and I’m 6-foot-5, so you can’t really miss that. Ryan threw an amazing ball and I went up there and caught it.”

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

Posted on 03 November 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upshaw, Z. Smith not filling sacks void

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. Smith still “dominating” despite inconsistency

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

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

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

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

Rosburg not impressed with Tucker’s dance moves

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

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

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Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Jason Babin (58) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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Harbaugh on Babin: “We like the way he plays”

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Wednesday 5:30 p.m.)

Aiming to fill the void left behind by injured six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens agreed to a one-year deal with veteran pass rusher Jason Babin on Tuesday.

The team officially announced the deal on Wednesday afternoon while sending Suggs to season-ending injured reserve. The 35-year-old outside linebacker was on the practice field in San Jose on Wednesday as the Ravens continued preparations for their Week 2 game in Oakland.

Babin spent 2014 and this year’s preseason with the New York Jets before being released earlier this month. The 6-foot-3, 267-pound edge rusher accumulated just two sacks in 16 games (two starts) last season, but he received the third-highest overall grade from Pro Football Focus among Jets defensive players, receiving positive marks against the run and as a pass rusher.

“He’ll provide us another player at that position who’s a very good player,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We like the way he plays, like his style, like his mentality — tough, smart, hard-playing guy. I think he said it best — his résumé is the tape. He was playing for the Jets in the preseason, and we watched that very carefully, and he looked like he’d fit us well.”

The 2004 first-round pick has accumulated 64 1/2 sacks in his career while also spending time with Houston, Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. Named to Pro Bowls in 2010 and 2011, Babin collected 12 1/2 sacks with the Titans in 2010 to earn his first invitation to Hawaii before signing with the Eagles and racking up a career-high 18 sacks the following season.

Of course, the Ravens aren’t expecting Babin to fully replace Suggs as Elvis Dumervil is slated to assume the rush linebacker spot while Courtney Upshaw will remain at the strong-side backer position. However, Baltimore wanted to add a veteran to the rotational mix with rookie fourth-rounder Za’Darius Smith, who was inactive for the season opener.

The Ravens would likely be happy if Babin could give them 25 to 30 snaps per game as a situational pass rusher to help ease the burden on their incumbent linebackers. He averaged roughly 30 snaps per game with the Jets a year ago, but that included four starts in which he played more extensively.

“You’re not going to change everything you do, obviously,” said Harbaugh when asked about making adjustments to the defense without Suggs. “You try to get a player that fits what you do, and to me, that’s the smartest way to do it. It makes for the least amount of changes, and Jason fits us really well.”

The Ravens worked out Babin as well as 34-year-old outside linebacker Shaun Phillips on Tuesday in San Jose, Calif., where they are preparing for Sunday’s Week 2 matchup with the Oakland Raiders. Unlike other veteran pass rushers such as Phillips and Dwight Freeney, Babin being with another team during the preseason likely brought more confidence that he was in good football shape.

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Harbaugh on offensive tackles: “They’ve got to do a better job”

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Of all the Ravens’ problems on the offensive side of the ball leading to Sunday’s season-opening loss in Denver, none were more surprising than the horrendous play of the offensive line.

Not only was the Baltimore offense held to six points — Jimmy Smith’s interception return provided the other seven in the 19-13 loss — and 173 total yards, but quarterback Joe Flacco was harassed throughout the afternoon. The Broncos may have only collected two sacks, but Flacco was pressured on 64.7 percent of his dropbacks, an astonishing rate for an offensive line regarded as one of the best in the NFL entering the season.

On Monday in San Jose, Calif. where the Ravens are preparing for their Week 2 meeting in Oakland, John Harbaugh expressed his disappointment with the play of his offensive line. The Baltimore coach acknowledged the challenge of competing against a superb defense, but he added that they didn’t see any strategic surprises from Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips during Sunday’s game.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was the only member of the offensive line to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, but it was the play of tackles Rick Wagner, James Hurst, and Eugene Monroe that was particularly problematic. The Broncos’ four outside linebackers — DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett, and Shane Ray — combined for 19 total pressures on Flacco. 

“Our tackles, they’ve got to do a better job,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Ravens should have provided extra help in pass protection. “They have to set square, and they have to punch on time. And when they do that, they’ll do well against anybody, and when you don’t do that, you’re not going to do well against anybody. That was really an issue for us in the course of the game.”

Monroe exited the game after the opening series with a concussion and didn’t return, leaving second-year tackle James Hurst to be eaten alive by Ware. Rick Wagner wasn’t any better on the opposite side as he struggled against Miller and didn’t look like the Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle he was last season, a possible indication that he’s still knocking off rust from last December’s Lisfranc injury. The 2013 fifth-round pick was sidelined for spring workouts before he began practicing at the start of training camp in late July.

Of course, the offensive line also failed to establish the running game, gaining just 73 yards on 23 attempts. This allowed the Broncos’ pass rushers to pin their ears back and tee off on Flacco in the pocket.

“We stuck with the run game,” Harbaugh said. “We were patient with it, but we need to get more out of it than 3.2 yards a carry. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the offensive line, it’s the running backs, it’s the scheme, it’s the formations — it’s all of it. We all take responsibility for that.”

Because of an exceptional 2014 season, the Ravens’ offensive line deserves the benefit of the doubt after just one poor performance, but the group needs to play much better moving forward.

Replacing Suggs

Much has already been written about the Ravens’ challenge in replacing injured linebacker Terrell Suggs, and Harbaugh predictably expressed confidence that their internal options would rise to the occasion. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a veteran free agent to help fill the void left behind by the franchise’s all-time sacks leader.

“We still believe we have the pass rushers that can get the job done, but we’re still in the process of evaluating our options, personnel-wise,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a chance we can bring somebody in. We’ll look at all those options over the next couple days.”

Harbaugh said that Elvis Dumervil will assume Suggs’ rush linebacker position on first and second downs with Courtney Upshaw remaining as the strong-side outside linebacker. Rookie Za’Darius Smith and veteran Albert McClellan will also be part of the equation.

Smith returning punts

At age 36 and serving as the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver, Steve Smith didn’t appear to be a likely answer as the primary punt returner, but that’s exactly what he was on Sunday against the Broncos.

Smith returned two punts for 32 yards and could continue to serve in that capacity, according to Harbaugh. Michael Campanaro was listed as the primary punt returner on the Week 1 depth chart, but the second-year wideout missed the last couple weeks of the summer due to injury.

“If ‘Camp’ gets more reps, he can go back there and do it,” Harbaugh said. “We have [Lardarius Webb], who practices all the time. He can go back there and do it. I think we have guys that can do it and be effective. But I kind of like Steve back there. He looks good to me back there.”

Recuperating Raiders

While the Ravens dealt with the loss of Suggs and the concussion to Monroe on Sunday, the Raiders did not escape the injury bug in their season-opening loss to Cincinnati as starting quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) and starting safeties Charles Woodson (shoulder) and Nate Allen (knee) all went down.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam on Carr’s thumb was reportedly encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether he can return for Sunday’s game. A Monday ESPN report said the Raiders fear Allen suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while Woodson would undergo an MRI on his shoulder.

Taliaferro on Twitter

It’s no secret that injured running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) is moving closer to a return after he practiced on a limited basis late last week, but the 2014 fourth-round pick shared that sentiment on his official Twitter account following Sunday’s game. That didn’t sit well with Harbaugh when he was asked about it on Monday afternoon.

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“I’m going to have to talk to him about that,” Harbaugh said. “Taliaferro, [Timmy] Jernigan — way too much chatter out there on social media. Maybe, Kevin [Byrne], make a note of that.”

The aforementioned tweet was deleted on Monday evening.

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Replacing Suggs no easy task for Ravens defense

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Seeing the reaction of his Ravens teammates upon learning the news of Terrell Suggs’ season-ending Achilles injury on Sunday reiterated that you can’t fully quantify the veteran linebacker’s worth.

A leader on the field and in the locker room, Suggs is the last remaining member of the old guard of Baltimore defense that included Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata and brings more than a decade of experience and knowledge to meeting rooms. Known for his humor and ability to keep a locker room loose, the 32-year-old is also the undisputed leader of a unit that’s continued playing at a high level despite undergoing seismic changes since Super Bowl XLVII.

Those intangibles aside, how do the Ravens go about replacing the six-time Pro Bowl selection and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year?

It won’t be easy.

To be fair, we’re talking about a player who will turn 33 next month and is fighting a battle against Father Time that nobody wins in the end. This may have been a season in which Suggs rapidly declined, but he played like a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2014 and the Ravens were still counting on big production from him this season.

Further complicating the challenge is the Ravens already needing to replace the production of situational pass rusher Pernell McPhee, who signed a long-term contract with the Chicago Bears in the offseason.

In addition to combining for 19 1/2 sacks a year ago, Suggs and McPhee registered a total of 32 quarterback hits and 77 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. They combined to play 1,415 defensive snaps and rushed the passer on 886 of those.

Who will step up or step in?

Naturally, it won’t be a one-for-one approach as McPhee often lined up as an interior rusher in passing situations, a role in which you were already going to see more of defensive linemen such as Timmy Jernigan and Carl Davis this season. Elvis Dumervil (628 defensive snaps in 2014) and Courtney Upshaw (542 snaps) will see expanded roles, but there’s a hidden cost to those two playing more. You don’t want the 31-year-old Dumervil to wear down and become less effective as a pass rusher while Upshaw has rarely shown the ability to disrupt the pocket when given opportunities in the past.

One of the secrets of the Ravens’ ferocious pass rush a year ago was defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ ability to divide the workload among Suggs, Dumervil, Upshaw, and McPhee at the two outside linebacker positions. It kept the veterans fresh and shielded the younger linebackers’ limitations over the course of a full season.

Now, the Ravens will have no choice but to lean more on Dumervil and Upshaw while turning to rookie fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith, who was likened to McPhee when he was drafted out of the University of Kentucky. Maybe he’ll be ready to contribute immediately, but the Ravens deactivating him for the season opener doesn’t suggest he’s on the verge of making a major impact in his first season.

Who else is out there beyond simply shifting reserve Albert McClellan to outside linebacker or promoting rookie free agent Brennen Beyer from the practice squad?

General manager Ozzie Newsome could kick the tires on a veteran such as Dwight Freeney or Shaun Phillips to serve in a situational capacity — the Ravens currently have less than $4 million in salary cap space — but no available options will come close to replacing Suggs, who PFF graded as Baltimore’s second-best defender against the run a year ago. Many fixate on sack totals to assess an outside linebacker’s worth, but Suggs is a three-down player who played nearly 250 more snaps than any other Baltimore outside backer a year ago and has been exceptional playing the run in addition to wreaking havoc on the quarterback over the years.

His injury doesn’t spell doom for the 2015 season as the Ravens have continued winning despite injuries to star players in the past, but there’s no clear answer to replacing his strong play or leadership.

At least not one you feel good about.

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Suggs suffers season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1 loss

Posted on 13 September 2015 by Luke Jones

As if an ugly offensive performance in a season-opening defeat to Denver wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs for the rest of the season due to an Achilles injury.

The 32-year-old tore his left Achilles tendon while pursuing quarterback Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 19-13 loss to the Broncos. Suggs hobbled to the sideline before eventually being carted to the locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news in his post-game press conference.

“You try to define why things happen,” Harbaugh said. “Here’s a tough break for a guy who’s done nothing but work above and beyond [and] at least as hard as he’s worked his whole career. I’d say more. He’s prepared himself and [has been] the kind of leader that you just admire so much. This guy has been such a leader for us.”

The 13th-year linebacker suffered an Achilles tear in his right heel in the spring of 2012 before returning in mid-October that year to help the Ravens eventually win Super Bowl XLVII.

Suggs is the franchise’s all-time sacks leader and was named the NFL’s AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. The 2003 first-round pick ranks fifth among active players with 106 1/2 career sacks and is the longest-tenured Raven on the current roster.

The injury further depletes an outside linebacker group that was already trying to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee. Fourth-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw and rookie fourth-rounder Za’Darius Smith will now be expected to fill bigger roles in helping 2014 Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil put heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Smith was a healthy inactive for Sunday’s game in Denver, which doesn’t inspire great confidence that he’s ready to make a significant impact at this early stage of his first season.

With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed now retired and Haloti Ngata in Detroit, Suggs was the undisputed leader of the Baltimore defense, making his loss even more difficult to swallow for a team with high expectations in 2015. Now, the Ravens will depend on younger players to pick up the slack for one of the best players in franchise history.

“These are the things in life that happen,” Harbaugh said. “Adversity’s all about how you respond to it. It’s about how you react to it. It’s how you come back and play the next game and how our young guys step up and how our older guys wrap their wings around those younger guys and they play the way they need to play.”

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