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linebackers

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Linebackers

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore linebackers:

LINEBACKERS 
LOCK: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr, Steven Means, Brennen Beyer, Zach Thompson
LONG SHOT: Andrew Bose

Synopsis: The Ravens’ top four of Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, C.J. Mosley, and Daryl Smith are as good as any linebacker quartet you’ll find around the league, but depth is certainly a question mark for this unit as free-agent-to-be Courtney Upshaw is the only other linebacker on the roster who played more than 42 defensive snaps last season. This may not be a major factor for 2015, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has to be thinking about the need to get younger at the position with Suggs, Dumervil, and Smith all on the wrong side of 30. The good news is that it appears the Ravens found the anchor of their defense for years to come with Mosley becoming the first player in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. If the 2014 first-round pick can improve in pass coverage, he could quickly solidify his standing as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL.

One to watch: Saddled with the burden of needing to replace situational pass rusher Pernell McPhee this offseason, the Ravens selected Za’Darius Smith from Kentucky in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Besides wearing No. 90 and sporting dreadlocks, Smith plays with a similar style and reminded the organization of McPhee during the pre-draft evaluation process. Considering Upshaw has never shown consistent ability to get after the quarterback, it will be of the utmost importance for Smith to be able to step in for Suggs and Dumervil and to apply some pressure in the pocket on a part-time basis.

One on notice: There’s no way to sugarcoat how disappointing Arthur Brown has been after he didn’t take a defensive snap last season, meaning this summer could be make-or-break time for the 2013 second-round pick. Brown was active for just four games in his second season, meaning Baltimore didn’t even see enough value in him as a special-teams player. No one would suggest at this point that he needs to overtake Mosley or Daryl Smith for a starting job, but Brown must show a better understanding of the defense and improved ability on special teams or it might be time to cut bait.

Sleeper: Zach Orr was one of the surprises to make the 53-man roster out of training camp last year, but it will be interesting to see if the former undrafted free agent becomes a bigger factor as a defensive player in his second season. With Brown disappointing and special-teams standout Albert McClellan scheduled to carry a $1.2 million cap figure, Orr has a golden opportunity to step forward as the primary backup at the inside linebacker position and to further solidify his standing on the roster. With Mosley sidelined in the spring due to wrist surgery, Orr received quite a few of the defensive reps before Brown.

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Dec 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) celebrates after kicking a field goal during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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Five questions pondering Tucker, Upshaw, Ravens defensive line

Posted on 17 July 2015 by Luke Jones

On Fridays, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or are the parameters now in place to work out a Justin Tucker contract extension? New England signed three-time Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski to a four-year, $17.2 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus this week, which should provide the framework for general manager Ozzie Newsome to extend Tucker for the long haul. Tucker is six years younger, so he will likely command more money — and perhaps an extra year or two on a deal — the longer the Ravens wait. A deal in the neighborhood of five years and $21 million total with a $7 million signing bonus would seem fair for both sides to continue their relationship.

2. Is it just me or does the hype surrounding Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo make you feel very lucky not to be a Bills fan? Taking nothing away from the former Ravens quarterback who was an acceptable backup and confidant for Joe Flacco, but it’s absurd to continue to see headlines about Taylor possibly becoming the Bills starting quarterback and simply shows how desperate teams without a franchise quarterback can be. With EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel as his only competition, Taylor is deserving of a chance to compete, but nothing about his play in the preseason or in very limited regular-season opportunities over the last four years suggested he has the ability to be a No. 1 quarterback.

3. Is it just me or will it be interesting to see how Courtney Upshaw performs in the final year of his rookie contract? Despite his weight being a sore subject in past summers, the 2012 second-round pick has been a mostly solid but unspectacular contributor for Baltimore in his first three seasons. Upshaw has profiled as a poor man’s Jarret Johnson, setting the edge and playing the run well, but I’m curious to see what kind of market there might be for the Alabama product. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are both on the wrong side of 30, but the free-agent loss of Pernell McPhee doesn’t leave the Ravens with any veteran depth behind them other than Upshaw. That said, the Ravens shouldn’t overpay to keep an outside linebacker who offers such little ability to rush the quarterback.

4. Is it just me or are you not buying Reggie Wayne as a good fit for the Ravens? The former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver says he wants to play one more year and has talked with several teams, but I don’t see this as a time when Baltimore needs a veteran receiver with his skill set as some have suggested. At this point in his brilliant career, Wayne profiles similarly to Steve Smith and is coming off a 2014 season in which he caught only 64 passes for 779 yards. If the Ravens are to add a veteran receiver to the picture, they’d be better off adding more speed to the outside in case Breshad Perriman is slow to develop. Wayne isn’t the player to do that.

5. Is it just me or could we see a couple talented defensive linemen left on the outside looking in at the end of the preseason? The Ravens will continue to hear questions about replacing five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but there’s no shortage of talent on the defensive line, which could make for some interesting decisions when they trim the roster to 53. It wouldn’t stun me to see a healthy Brent Urban push Chris Canty to the bubble or to see rookie Carl Davis push a veteran backup such as DeAngelo Tyson off the roster at the end of August. With 10 defensive linemen sporting at least a decent chance to make the roster, Baltimore will likely need to part ways with at least a couple quality players from this group.

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Snap Counts

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Baltimore Ravens – Snap Counts vs Steelers

Posted on 08 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Here is a break down of the snap count of every offensive and defensive player, in the Ravens’ win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Offense:

57 – LT James Hurst – he played the whole game, and struggled mightily vs James Harrison

57 – LG Kelechi Osemele – had some problems in pass protection, but was an absolute mauler in the run game

57 – C Jeremy Zuttah – got pushed back in to Joe Flacco time and time again. He has to do better against the Patriots

57 – RG John Urshel – graded out well overall. Had a better night pass blocking than run blocking

57 – RT Marshal Yanda – best offensive lineman in the league. Pass blocked well and was a road grader in the run game

57 – QB Joe Flacco – threw 2 TDs, managed the offense well, and didn’t turn the ball over. “January Joe.”

54 – TE Owen Daniels – struggled with pass blocking, but was a factor in the passing game; caught 4 for 70 yards

50 – RB Justin Forsett – didn’t have a great running night running the ball, lost a fumble, but capably blocked blitzing LBs from the A gaps

40 – WR Torrey Smith – caught an 11 yard TD pass from Flacco; missed a certain TD when he didn’t drag his foot in the end zone

39 – TE Crockett Gillmore – caught a 21 yard TD from Flacco; blocked whistle to whistle

35 – WR Steve Smith – made a couple of tough catches in traffic; caught 5 for 101 yards

25 – WR Kamar Aiken – caught just 1 pass for 4 yards

20 – FB Kyle Juszczyk – caught 2 for 16 yards

13 – WR Marlon Brown – caught 1 for 9 yards

5 – WR Jacoby Jones – caught 1 for 9 yards

4 – RB Bernard Pierce – just 1 rushing attempt but it was good for a 5 yard TD

Defense:

76 – ILB Daryl Smith – save for the TD pass given up to Antonio Brown, he was stout vs the pass as well as the run

75 – CB Lardarius Webb – he was targeted a lot by Roethlisberger, and had an ok game overall

74 – ILB CJ Mosley – was solid vs the run but struggled in pass coverage

72 – FS Will Hill – was solid vs the run and even better vs the pass; defended well all night long

66 – CB  Rashaan Melvin – did a really good job in pass coverage, came up in run support

56 – OLB Terrell Suggs – stopped the run, pressured the QB, didn’t get a sack, but got a sick interception

52 – DT Haloti Ngata – looked fresh all game long, collapsed the pocket and applied pressure up the middle, got one sack

49 – SS – Darian Stewart – played one of his best games all season; got the game ending pick

47 – OLB Elvis Dumervil – applied great pressure from the edge consistently; ended up with 2 sacks

46 – OLB Pernell McPhee – had an outstanding game overall; was a force vs the run, and hit the QB a few times

39 – OLB Courtney Upshaw – did a great job setting the edge as usual; defended the pass well

31 – NT Brandon Williams – no one is going to move him backwards; applied consistent pressure through the A gaps; 1 sack

31 – DE Chris Canty – stopped the run and pressured the QB on numerous occassions

31 – CB Anthony Levine – the converted safety struggled in pass coverage; it was clear Roethlisberger was looking for him

29 – FS Jeromy Miles – solid game overall, but had a couple of lapses in pass coverage

29 – CB Matt Elam – yes, the SS played corner most of the night, and played the position well overall; was strong in pass coverage

13 – DE DeAngelo Tyson – was brought in on obvious passing downs; did not have a good night, did not apply pressure

11 – DE Lawrence Guy – did a solid job defending the run in his limited action on the field

6 – CB Antone Cason – came is when Melvin was shaken up; let up a catch during Melvin’s short absence

2 – ILB Albert McClellan – was only in for two plays; obviously not enough field time to analyze performance

1- SS Brynden Trawick – same as McClellan

Special Team notes – Justin Tucker was lights out as usual. The 52 yarder was particularly special, as you don’t see too many successful field goals at Heinz Field over 50 yards. Sam Koch had a good night – save for the blocked punt which was due to blocking assignment breakdowns. He was also directionally kicking it away from Antonio Brown, and that factored in as well. Jacoby Jones did not have a good night. He lost his footing and slipped during his first kick off return, and seemed tentative after that. Michael Campanaro had a couple of fair catches on punt returns. Hope his hamstring has healed to the point where he could be a factor vs the Patriots

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Monroe, Jernigan, two other Ravens missing from Tuesday’s practice

Posted on 30 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata returned to the practice field, the Ravens were missing four others as they prepared for Saturday’s playoff game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Working inside their field house for a late Tuesday afternoon practice, the Ravens were without starting left tackle Eugene Monroe (ankle), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (foot), and linebackers Arthur Brown (hamstring) and Daryl Smith during the portion of practice open to reporters. It remained unclear whether Smith was receiving a day off or dealing with an ailment as the first injury report of the week won’t be released until Wednesday.

Head coach John Harbaugh left the door open for both Monroe and Jernigan to play against the Steelers, but their status will remain unclear throughout the week. Brown is considered a prime candidate to be placed on injured reserve to make room for the returning Ngata on the 53-man roster.

Defensive end Chris Canty (ankle/thigh) returned to practice after missing the regular-season finale against Cleveland. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (back/thigh) was also present and working despite missing three practices last week and being listed as questionable to play against the Browns before ultimately playing.

Of course, Pittsburgh is dealing with a significant injury of its own as Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell is recovering from a hyperextended knee suffered in the regular-season finale. There is plenty of doubt surrounding his availability for Saturday, which seemed to be confirmed by the Steelers signing veteran running back Ben Tate on Tuesday.

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Secondary remains fluid as Ravens turn attention toward Cleveland

Posted on 15 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to work to begin preparations for a Week 3 showdown with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens weren’t offering clues about the projected state of their secondary.

With starting cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) still waiting to make his 2014 debut and reserve Asa Jackson sustaining a concussion against Pittsburgh last Thursday, the third level of the defense remains fluid as the Ravens look to improve to 2-1 in their three AFC North contests to begin the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t shed any light on the status of Jackson or Webb when he met with reporters on Monday afternoon.

“I’m just not going to get into injuries,” Harbaugh said, “because there is just no strategic advantage for us in doing it and putting that information out there. … I’m really optimistic about all our guys — I will say that, with [Jackson] included — but I’ve been optimistic in the past and guys haven’t played. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Webb has practiced fully over the last two weeks, but the sixth-year defensive back missed all of training camp and the preseason after suffering back spasms on July 25, the second day of full-team workouts. The Ravens and Webb are reportedly targeting this Sunday’s game for him to make his return, but doubts will remain until he’s suited up to play on Sunday.

After going with the trio of Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, and Jackson in the nickel package in the season opener, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used a different alignment against the Steelers with strong safety Matt Elam defending the slot and reserve Jeromy Miles playing safety in the nickel alignment. Smith and Jackson started the game at the outside corner spots — with Brown on the sideline — before a concussion ended Jackson’s night in the first half and forced Brown into duty.

With Brown shaky in outside coverage throughout the summer and Jackson missing a couple tackles from the nickel spot against the Bengals, the Ravens went with the versatile Elam to provide more support from the nickel against the run. Harbaugh complimented Elam’s ability to pick up the intricacies of playing the position to provide more flexibility for the Baltimore defense.

“We’re blessed with safety depth, so it’s not a bad thing to get those guys on the field,” Harbaugh said. “But a guy like Matt being in there playing [the nickel] gives you a nice little run-nickel package, because he’ll fly around and hit you and tackle you. He’ll be the first to tell you he tackled better in the second half than he did the first half. It builds our defensive package in good ways, because now you have a guy in there playing that can really defend the run, too.”

Against Pittsburgh, Elam played all 59 defensive snaps — most of them from the nickel position — while Miles participated in 48, a major change for a fifth-year safety primarily known for his special-teams ability.

West playing hometown team

Former Towson standout and Northwestern High product Terrance West’s NFL career is off to a strong start with the Browns, which has drawn plenty of attention from Ravens fans who clamored for the organization to draft him back in May.

West became the first rookie running back to collect at least 90 yards from scrimmage in his team’s first two games since Chris Johnson and Matt Forte — two Pro Bowl running backs — did it in 2008. In the wake of the Ray Rice release, it would be understandable for the Ravens to lament the inability to come away with the local product after he was selected with the 94th overall pick by Cleveland. Baltimore selected safety Terrence Brooks with the 79th overall pick and tight end Crockett Gillmore at 99th after West had just come off the board.

“Terrance is a guy that we really liked, as you know,” Harbaugh said. “We had designs on him in the draft, certainly, and Cleveland jumped up there and got him, and he has not disappointed. He has played really downhill, [and is a] hard runner, make-you-miss type of back [who] understands the scheme they’re running really well.”

West is receiving a heavier workload than anticipated with Browns veteran Ben Tate currently sidelined with a knee injury.

Hill reinstated before Week 7?

Despite reports suggesting suspended safety Will Hill could have his ban reduced under the terms of the NFL’s new drug policy, Harbaugh offered no indication whether that would happen when posed the question.

Hill is in the midst of a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. After receiving limited reps in the summer due to his situation, he could be an intriguing option at the safety position whenever he is reinstated.

“I have no sense of [a possible reduction] at all,” Harbaugh said. “No one has spoken to me about that, and I don’t know a thing about that right now. I’m interested in it though.”

Odds & ends

Harbaugh defended linebacker Courtney Upshaw’s technique on the penalized hit against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the opening drive of Thursday’s game, insisting he did exactly what he’s been coached and to play it differently would have put him at risk for injury. “We’re never going to put our player in position to coach him to drop his head. Football has always been about seeing what you hit — heads-up football keeping your eyes up.” … Asked about the chances of seeing Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel on the field, Harbaugh said the Ravens will be prepared for the first-round pick while also going out of his way to praise starter Brian Hoyer. “He’s the best quarterback they’ve had in a number of years. He’s playing great. Then, they have Johnny Manziel as part of their arsenal. So, it’s something to contend with for sure.” … The Ravens signed rookie free agent cornerback Lou Young to their practice squad Monday to fill the spot vacated by cornerback Jamell Fleming, who was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs to their 53-man roster last week.

 

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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

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

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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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

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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

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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