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alexlewis

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Five Ravens players whose stock fell during spring workouts

Posted on 20 June 2019 by Luke Jones

After taking a look at which Ravens players appeared to be on the rise at the conclusion of mandatory minicamp, it’s time to determine which ones didn’t help their cause this spring for various reasons.

You never want to make too much out of spring workouts, whether it’s chastising someone for being a little out of shape or trying to bury a player who was out of sync in one or two of only a handful of workouts open to media. It’s particularly difficult judging offensive and defensive linemen without pads, which leads to even more scrutiny on players at the skill positions.

Acknowledging those limitations, below are five players who didn’t help their stock this spring:

DT Michael Pierce

It’s important to be sensitive to the various circumstances that could lead to an individual’s weight gain and conditioning concerns, but Pierce’s decision to skip the entire voluntary workout program preceded his abrupt dismissal from the practice field on the first day of minicamp, an embarrassing headline for a good player entering a contract year. How Pierce — and those advising him — didn’t make sure a trainer and nutritionist were keeping on top of his livelihood was a major blunder. The talented nose tackle has plenty of time to get in shape and still have a strong season, but if this episode scares away even one team from making a lucrative offer next March, he’ll have likely cost himself some money.

G Alex Lewis

Lewis was never expected to take part in spring practices as he recovers from January shoulder surgery, but head coach John Harbaugh revealing the organization hadn’t seen him until mandatory minicamp week was a red flag. It was the 2016 fourth-round pick’s right to handle his own rehabilitation, of course, but that’s a questionable strategy when you are entering the final year of your rookie contract, have played in just 20 games in three seasons, and will face plenty of competition for the left guard job. Lewis looked like one of the steals of his draft class over the first half of his rookie season, but his inability to stay healthy coupled with his spring absence will leave him with much to prove this summer.

WR Michael Floyd

The former first-round pick owns as many career touchdown receptions (25) as the rest of Baltimore’s wide receivers combined, but he did little to stand out in a pedestrian group that didn’t have 2019 draft picks Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin on the field for much of the spring. Floyd’s statistical decline since being cut by Arizona in 2016 has been dramatic, but the Ravens’ shortage of outside receivers and Boykin’s hamstring injury seemed like an ideal scenario for him to make a strong statement. The 29-year-old wasn’t awful by any means as he made some plays, but there were also too many drops for a veteran battling a number of younger options and recent draft picks for a roster spot.

K Kaare Vedvik

Some of the hype surrounding Vedvik was always overblown — it’s not like an unproven kicker is going to fetch anything but a late Day 3 draft pick anyway — but there was no question the Ravens had designs of trading him before he was assaulted in Baltimore late last summer and spent the entire 2018 campaign on the non-football injury list. Vedvik made a full recovery and still shows off a very strong leg, but he was inaccurate throughout the spring, missing kicks of various distances in various ways. Assistant special teams coach Randy Brown still has plenty of time to straighten out Vedvik enough to have a chance to shine in the preseason, but his spring wasn’t very pretty.

CB/PR Cyrus Jones

The timing of the Gilman product’s undisclosed health issue was unfortunate as he’s part of an incredibly deep group of cornerbacks and only handled punt returns for the Ravens last year, circumstances that make him far from a lock to be on the 53-man roster. Jones provided a spark and some stability after Baltimore cycled through other punt returners in the first half of 2018, but he’ll need a strong and healthy summer to solidify his roster standing. The good news is Harbaugh said he’s expected to be ready for the start of training camp, but he will still need to be cleared to practice. Jones being able to handle both punts and kickoffs would go a long way toward securing himself a roster spot.

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marquisebrown

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Ravens conclude spring workouts with few injury concerns

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The best news for the Ravens at the end of spring workouts was the avoidance of any serious injuries with the start of the 2019 campaign still almost three months away.

Few developments are more deflating than losing a key player or two for the season as Baltimore did two springs ago when cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta suffered serious injuries on back-to-back days.

All but five players on the offseason roster participated in all three days of mandatory minicamp this week, but one of the non-participants was 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown, who has not yet been cleared to practice despite taking a couple reps in a position drill Wednesday that created some out-of-market media buzz. General manager Eric DeCosta said during the NFL draft that the organization “conservatively” projected Brown to be ready to practice by training camp after undergoing surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in January.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the speedy 22-year-old is not yet running at full speed on flat ground despite the agility work he began doing earlier this month, but he remains “hopeful” Brown will be ready to go when players report back to Owings Mills in late July. The Ravens drafted the former Oklahoma star to make an immediate play-making impact in an offense needing more speed.

“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari (back) missed all of this week’s three-day minicamp.

Lewis’ status remains unclear as he recovers from January shoulder surgery and wasn’t in the building for the voluntary offseason training program. It was a questionable decision for someone who has missed 28 games in his first three seasons and is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

The 2016 fourth-round pick has started 18 of his 20 career games and showed much promise in the past, but Harbaugh made it clear the competition for the starting left guard job is wide open this summer.

“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”

Pierce hasn’t been made available to reporters since being pulled off the field by Harbaugh Tuesday because of concerns about his weight and conditioning, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and safety Tony Jefferson were among those offering their support to the fourth-year defensive tackle in the midst of much disappointment this week.

“What I said to him and I said it in front of the whole defense, ‘Life is about choices. Just don’t make that choice make your life,’” Martindale said Wednesday. “He’s a dominant player, and he has a challenge to get from here until training camp to hit a certain stage. That’s [up] to the trainers and Eric and ‘Harbs’ on where they want him to be, and I know he’ll be there. I know he will.”

Safety Earl Thomas wasn’t making many splash plays in his first practices since fracturing his lower left leg for the second time in three years last September, but he showed his new team he’s recovered and ready to resume a brilliant career that’s featured six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship as part of Seattle’s dominant “Legion of Boom” defense. His challenge now is getting used to the complexity of Martindale’s system that puts responsibility on the players to make and communicate pre-snap adjustments.

The 30-year-old said he’s “in the right spot” physically and offered praise to Baltimore’s training staff for helping him get back into football shape.

“I have my days. But, for the most part, like today, you never want to get off the field when you’re feeling good,” said Thomas, who’s missed 19 regular-seasons games over the last three years. “I didn’t want to come out. Usually, I’ll take three reps a period, four reps, but I didn’t want to come out today. I felt really good. I’m just taking it day by day.”

The sight of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda taking part in mandatory minicamp has been a rarity in recent years because of a variety of injuries and offseason surgeries, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection said he never doubted he’d return for 2019 upon finishing last season healthy. Yanda, 34, signed a one-year contract extension through 2020 earlier this offseason, but he isn’t changing his mindset from last year when he acknowledged he was now viewing his career on a season-by-season basis.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling really good about playing this fall, and I don’t look any further down the road,” Yanda said. “I’m worried about playing this fall and playing good football. The best thing is that I didn’t have to recover from an offseason surgery, so I didn’t have to rehab this offseason. I could lift and I could do some shoulder maintenance, but I didn’t have to get any range of motion back.”

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marquisebrown

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Ravens still waiting on first-round pick to make practice debut

Posted on 12 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense was always going to win the battle this spring.

Not only has the Baltimore offense been completely revamped under coordinator Greg Roman, but a run-first system isn’t going to operate with full effect in non-contact practices. As you’d expect, a passing attack with a quarterback entering his first full year as a starter and veteran wide receivers with limited ceilings hasn’t produced many big plays against arguably the best and deepest secondary in the NFL.

But the Ravens — and their fans — must maintain the proper perspective knowing some intriguing upside is on the way in addition to quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rest of the offense simply increasing their comfort level in the new system. General manager Eric DeCosta selected two wide receivers with his first three picks of April’s draft to address the very concern observers have witnessed this spring.

Third-round rookie Miles Boykin missed a large portion of organized team activities with a hamstring injury and is still taking limited reps during this week’s minicamp, but first-round pick Marquise Brown has yet to make his practice debut for the Ravens. The speedy 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver has increased his activity level this week by doing agility work on a side field, catching passes from the Jugs machine, and even taking a couple reps in an individual position drill Wednesday, but the real show won’t begin until the start of training camp in late July. Brown was selected with the 25th overall pick to make an immediate play-making impact, but the Ravens knew they’d have to be patient after the Oklahoma standout underwent Lisfranc surgery on his foot in January.

“He gets a little extra meeting time because he doesn’t get to do the stuff on the field that some of the guys get to do,” wide receivers coach David Culley said. “He spends a little bit of extra time going over those kinds of things. For the most part, he gets extra film work in, just watching everything in practice. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to see himself to be able to correct things.”

Taking nothing away from complementary veteran wide receivers such as Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and Chris Moore who will receive their share of opportunities, the Ravens are counting on Brown to be a difference maker, something they’ve rarely had at the wide receiver position over their history. The combination of speed and athleticism with which Brown consistently burned Big 12 defenses is exactly what Jackson needs to help fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback.

The wait is almost over to see Brown in action, but he’ll have plenty of catching up to do after missing valuable spring reps.

“When I think about what I saw when we drafted him from Oklahoma, I get really excited about it,” Culley said. “Hopefully, he can do some of those same things that he did. He was a big-play guy for them, and one of the reasons why we got him where we got him was because of his big-play ability. We’re looking forward to him bringing that to us.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and return specialist Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari did not participate in Wednesday’s minicamp practice. Safety Tony Jefferson increased his activity level in only his second practice since having ankle surgery in January.

Elliott shines again

Second-year safety DeShon Elliott continues to be a surprising standout performer this spring as he snatched another interception during Thursday’s practice, victimizing backup quarterback Robert Griffin III during a 7-on-7 period.

The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas showed physicality in his first training camp before being lost for the season with a broken forearm last August, but his range in pass coverage has turned plenty of heads with a diving interception last week being the highlight play of the spring. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Elliott has the size to be used in different capacities even if he’s stuck behind six-time Pro Bowl selection Earl Thomas and established veteran Tony Jefferson on the depth chart.

“He’s just picked up where he left off right before he got hurt, and it’s just going to be another fun piece,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We play a bunch of different personnel and everything else. I know we have two really good safeties right now, but we’ll find spots for the good football players. Obviously, specials teams play a big part in that.”

Elliott’s development could impact snaps for reserve safeties Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark, who both saw plenty of action in sub packages last season.

Rough day for quarterbacks

Even with some inconsistency and the overall shortage of big plays in the passing game, Jackson had done a commendable job avoiding turnovers this spring with only one interception over the first four practices open to media, but that changed Wednesday.

The 22-year-old quarterback was picked off by reserve defensive back Bennett Jackson in a 7-on-7 period and was later intercepted twice by rookie cornerback Terrell Bonds in the red zone, an area of the field in which the offense has struggled. Griffin also threw two interceptions during the morning practice.

Jackson also threw a touchdown to tight end Mark Andrews as the two continue to build on the encouraging chemistry they showed down the stretch last season.

“I’m not looking to win the practices. I’m looking to get ready for the training camp and get ready for the season,” Roman said. “Every opportunity, whether a good result or a bad result, on a play this time of year is a great thing because it gives us an opportunity to grow from it.”

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pierce

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Pierce begins contract year with Ravens in dubious fashion

Posted on 11 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ two most notable players entering the final year of their rookie contracts had strikingly different starts to mandatory minicamp.

Both outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Michael Pierce chose to skip Baltimore’s voluntary offseason training program this spring, a common practice of notable players in contract years. However, while Judon looked as though he hadn’t missed a beat during Tuesday’s practice, Pierce didn’t even make it out of the opening warmup period.

Noticeably bigger than his listed 340-pound frame from last season, Pierce left the field and didn’t return after a brief conversation with head coach John Harbaugh just minutes into the morning workout.

“He’s not ready to practice, just from a safety standpoint, for his own healthy and safety,” Harbaugh said. “We recognized that, and we pulled him off for that reason.

“He’s not ready for that practice yet. You can probably tell.”

It was an embarrassing development for the former undrafted free agent, who graded as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in 2018 and is seeking a lucrative contract next offseason. Any player has the right not to partake in voluntary workouts, of course, but such a decision comes with the expectation of being ready to practice upon reporting to the team facility for mandatory activities.

While the organization’s primary focus remains on what Pierce will contribute this season and there’s plenty of time for the 26-year-old to get himself in shape before the start of training camp in late July, the unintended message he delivered Tuesday was one of caution to the Ravens or any other team potentially interested in signing him to a long-term deal.

“It’s a problem, absolutely,” Harbaugh said. “We want guys practicing. We want them ready to practice, physically able to practice. That’s very important.”

Meanwhile, Judon worked at his usual strong-side outside linebacker position and moved well playing the run, rushing the passer, and occasionally dropping back into pass coverage. He’s the only returning outside linebacker to have played extensive snaps in last year’s defense after the free-agent departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.

Judon, 26, is seeking his third consecutive season with seven or more sacks, which would put him in position for a major contract.

“He looked like he was in shape,” Harbaugh said. “He played fast and worked hard, knew what he was doing. He looked good.”

Left guard surprise

The competition at left guard is expected to be one of the more intriguing position battles this summer, but few would have predicted third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor earning the first opportunity.

With Alex Lewis still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and James Hurst working with the second-string offensive line, Eluemunor practiced as the first-team left guard Tuesday and manned the spot during voluntary organized team activities. The 2017 fifth-round pick made two starts at right guard and appeared in eight games as a rookie, but he was waived last September and spent a month on the practice squad before making his way back to the active roster. The 24-year-old appeared in nine games and made one start in place of an injured Ronnie Stanley at left tackle last season.

“I think each year, each practice, he’s had some good growth,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. “He played as a rookie. That’s tough. We put him in a very difficult situation, but he responded well. Last year, he played again at tackle. He can play left tackle. This guy is athletic. He’s another big guy that can move and that’s very athletic.

“I just saw continued growth, and I said, ‘Give him a chance.’ So, I put him back in at [left] guard, and he’s doing a real nice job there. We’ll see how it all pans out.”

In addition to Eluemunor, Lewis, and Hurst, second-year interior lineman Bradley Bozeman and fourth-round rookie Ben Powers are also expected to be in the mix at left guard, which is exactly the way D’Alessandris prefers it. Lewis began last season as the starter before neck and shoulder injuries limited him to 10 games, opening the door for Hurst, Bozeman, and former Raven Hroniss Grasu to start games at left guard.

With Lewis entering the final year of his rookie deal and having played in just 20 games in his first three seasons because of injuries, left guard appears to be wide open.

“I think that’s how football should be. I think give everyone the chance,” D’Alessandris said. “Between now and our opener, we don’t know what’s going to happen per player. Let’s let each day take its course, and let’s see how each player plays. Usually, the cream surfaces to the top at the very end.”

Attendance

In addition to Pierce and Lewis, three others were not participating in Tuesday’s workout. That included first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones, and rookie guard Patrick Mekari.

Harbaugh confirmed Jones is dealing with a non-football health issue, even going as far as revealing the former Gilman star had “an episode” a few months ago. The Ravens have not disclosed the condition, and neither Jones nor head athletic trainer Ron Medlin have been made available to reporters.

“He’s not cleared to practice at this time because of that,” Harbaugh said. “We do expect him back for training camp as far as I’ve been told, but I think there are tests and things like that that he has to pass.”

For the second straight week, Brown was working off to the side as he moves closer to his expected return for the start of training camp.

Safety Tony Jefferson participated for roughly 75 minutes Tuesday in what was his first practice since his January ankle surgery.

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yanda

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Looking at Ravens’ non-participants at voluntary OTAs

Posted on 10 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will conduct their three-day mandatory minicamp this week, meaning we’ll witness the 2019 on-field debut of a handful of players who’ve yet to take part in workouts in Owings Mills this spring.

Organized team activities are voluntary, of course, but the seven players who didn’t participate in any of the three sessions open to media had different reasons, ranging from injuries and simple veteran preference to contract status.

Below is a look at each of the seven players who didn’t participate in any of the three OTA days open to reporters on May 23, May 30, and June 6:

S Tony Jefferson

A regular observer on the sideline during voluntary workouts, Jefferson was held out following ankle surgery in January, but there’s no concern regarding his status for training camp and he could even see some practice time this week. The 27-year-old is being counted on to help pick up the leadership slack after the offseason departures of defensive veterans Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley, so his presence at the training facility while working his way back to full strength hasn’t gone unnoticed.

G Marshal Yanda

Entering his 13th year after some speculation about his football future this offseason, Yanda skipping voluntary workouts to prepare on his own is hardly a new development as the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has earned that right more than any other player on the current roster. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in years, the 34-year-old Yanda knows how to get himself ready for the regular season and the Ravens will naturally be careful with his workload in the summer.

OLB Matthew Judon

Baltimore’s only established outside linebacker remaining from last season and entering the final year of his contract, Judon skipping voluntary OTAs wasn’t surprising as countless players across the NFL make similar business decisions. The Ravens would like to reach a long-term extension with the 2016 fifth-round pick who’s appeared in all 32 games and collected 15 sacks over the last two seasons, but the always-increasing price of edge rushers will make it challenging to keep Judon from hitting the market.

DT Michael Pierce

Pierce is in the same position as Judon as he enters the final season of his rookie deal and has received praise from publications such as Pro Football Focus despite playing 400 or more snaps only once in his first three years. Pierce should have opportunities to grow his free-agent value if he can step up as a pass rusher this coming year, but how the defensive tackle situation shakes out next offseason will be interesting as Brandon Williams will be entering the fourth year of his $52.5 million contract.

WR Marquise Brown

The Ravens said all along the 2019 first-round pick wasn’t expected to be on the practice field until training camp after undergoing Lisfranc surgery, but he was working off to the side during last week’s open OTA and has been in the building. Still, at least some uneasiness about the 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver’s foot will linger until we see him showing that tremendous speed against the Baltimore secondary. The 22-year-old will need as many reps as he can get with Lamar Jackson this summer.

CB/PR Cyrus Jones

The former Gilman star’s status remains fuzzy as he’s reportedly been dealing with an unspecified illness this spring, but the Ravens’ remarkable depth at the cornerback position makes it important for Jones to get back on the practice field to reaffirm his defensive value in addition to what he brings as a return specialist. The 25-year-old would strengthen his grip on a roster spot by emerging as the primary kick returner in addition to handling punts.

G Alex Lewis

The 2016 fourth-round pick looked like a draft steal early in his rookie season, but multiple injuries have limited Lewis to just 20 games in his first three years and he’s currently recovering from shoulder surgery. A healthy Lewis is perfectly capable of winning the left guard competition, but the 27-year-old is entering the last year of his rookie deal while the likes of James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, and rookie fourth-round selection Ben Powers remain under contract beyond 2019, which works against Lewis.

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thomas

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New Ravens safety Thomas “in the right spots” at this week’s OTAs

Posted on 30 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens safety Earl Thomas returned to an NFL practice field this week for the first time since a fractured lower left leg abruptly ended his nine-year run with Seattle last September.

The six-time Pro Bowl selection has taken part in this week’s voluntary organized team activities and has already made a strong impression with head coach John Harbaugh. Thomas, 30, will not only patrol center field for what could be the NFL’s best and deepest secondary, but his leadership will be needed to help fill the void of departed defensive veterans Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley.

The former Seahawk showed aggressiveness during his full-team reps, nearly colliding with slot receiver Willie Snead on one play in a non-contact session. Thomas is practicing with a compression sleeve on his left leg, which had a rod placed in it last October after his tibia was fractured for the second time in three seasons. That injury didn’t stop the Ravens from signing Thomas to a four-year, $55 million contract in March.

“He’s had a great week. He’s looked really good,” Harbaugh said. “Great anticipation, and then great ability to cover ground. He shows up in the right spots on a regular basis, so to me, that’s what great safeties do, and he’s doing a great job.”

Thomas wasn’t the only veteran present for Thursday’s voluntary workout after not taking part in last week’s practice open to reporters as cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Williams were also participating. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle), cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Cyrus Jones (illness), outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Gerald Willis, and inside linebackers Alvin Jones and Otaro Alaka were not taking part.

Rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) remain sidelined for health-related reasons while guard Marshal Yanda, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, and running back Kenneth Dixon were other offensive players absent from the practice field Thursday.

Slot receiver Willie Snead was practicing with a red non-contact vest over his practice jersey, a precautionary measure stemming from finger surgery earlier this offseason. His activity level was ramped up Thursday after he participated in only the first half of last week’s workout open to reporters. Harbaugh quipped that the red jersey was the compromise from needing to lock Snead in the locker room to keep him off the field for what are still only voluntary sessions.

The youthfulness of the wide receiver group — and the offense as a whole — has made Snead’s presence on the field more important, according to the 26-year-old who’s only in his fifth season himself.

“I feel like my role on this team has grown a little bit more — not as a No. 1 receiver, but as a leader on the team,” said Snead, who also lost 10 pounds this offseason to try to improve his speed. “I definitely just wanted to be here with the guys and grow with the guys and learn the offense as they learned it. Just still be around the guys, bring that energy, bring that life, and just continue to get better.”

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ota

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Ravens defense begins OTAs sporting different look

Posted on 23 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ first open organized team activity didn’t offer a great look at a defense that’s undergone substantial change this offseason.

As if the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban weren’t enough, six other notable defensive players weren’t participating in Thursday’s voluntary workout, leaving only a few established veterans, role players, and unproven young talents on the practice field. The list of absentees was headlined by six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, the blockbuster free-agent acquisition handpicked to help fill voids in leadership and play-making ability. Other defensive players not taking part were cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Tony Jefferson, who is still working his way back to full strength from offseason ankle surgery and was a sideline observer.

Though led by one of the NFL’s best and deepest secondaries, the Ravens defense faces major questions at the inside and outside linebacker positions ahead of the 2019 season

“There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces and I see a lot of new opportunities,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my [2017] draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves and to become those household names.”

As expected, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were lining up as the starting inside linebackers after sharing time at the weak-side inside backer spot next to Mosley last year, but trying to project the starting outside linebacker opposite Judon is anyone’s guess after Suggs manned the spot for the last 15 years. The Ravens hope some combination of third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will emerge, but the low-risk signings of Pernell McPhee, 30, and Shane Ray, 26 last week delivered the message that young players won’t be handed snaps without first earning them.

McPhee, who played for the Ravens from 2011-14, and Ray combined for only one sack with their former teams last season, but they rank first and third, respectively, among current Baltimore players in career sacks, illustrating the lack of established edge rushers on the roster.

“That certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come. You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come and not everybody does a good job of that. They did a good job of that. They were out there today. You saw them competing, so they looked good.”

Absences on the offensive side of the ball were more related to health as rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) only observed and guard Alex Lewis continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Right guard Marshal Yanda was not present, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has skipped voluntary OTAs in the past.

The most interesting absence Thursday was running back Kenneth Dixon, who likely stands fourth in his position’s hierarchy behind free-agent addition and two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram, 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill. Despite averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry upon returning from a knee injury late last season, Dixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a variable that often leaves a player’s job security vulnerable when competing at a deep position. His history of injuries and drug-related suspensions also works against him.

“He was here the last few days,” Harbaugh said. “Where was he today? I don’t know. They don’t have to tell us. There’s no rule.”

Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive tackle Gerald Willis were also absent, but Willis did sustain an apparent leg injury during rookie camp earlier this month.

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jackson

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens’ 90-man roster following rookie camp

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 2:30 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for nearly four more months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a much better idea of what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to work with for the 2019 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any given player. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities later this month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player now as much will change before the Ravens even get to training camp in July. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens always look for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Jalan McClendon
Skinny: How the coaching staff uses McSorley and how he develops will determine whether Baltimore carries three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for a second straight year and only the second time in the last decade. Comparisons to New Orleans’ Taysom Hill — who is much bigger — will continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala, Tyler Ervin
Skinny: Suggesting someone who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year could be on the bubble speaks to the great backfield depth. Dixon could also be a trade chip entering the final year of his contract, but a history of injuries and suspensions could prompt a tough decision. Don’t sleep on Turner either.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley
LONG SHOT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: With Baltimore expected to again use multiple tight ends and run the ball so frequently, the brass won’t feel compelled to keep more than four or five receivers unless others prove deserving of a spot. This is a critical preseason for Scott and Lasley, who played zero snaps as rookies last year.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may prefer having another blocking tight end in the mix to replace Maxx Williams, but it’s premature to handicap the chances of these candidates. Keizer spent much of last year with the organization, giving him a slight experience edge over the two rookies.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Bozeman’s ability to play center makes him a safe bet while Hurst’s $4.75 million cap number and injury-riddled 2018 leave his status in at least some question until he proves his back problems are behind him. Time could be running out for Lewis, who just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: Kalil Morris
Skinny: This is a tough group to handicap after the duo of Williams and Pierce, but Henry is the best interior rusher on the roster despite missing most of 2018. Sieler is a good bet to make it as a 5-technique end, but the talented Willis could be the wild card after surprisingly going undrafted.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Alvin Jones, Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Board leading the team in special-teams tackles as a rookie leaves him safe at this point. The competition for a potential roster spot behind him is wide open, however, with Thomas, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, headlining a group lacking experience. They’re listed as bubble players by default.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Matt Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Contributions on special teams and the shortage of strong-side or “Sam” backers give Bowser a clear edge over Williams, who appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was a healthy scratch by season’s end. There should be opportunities for the long shots to try to put themselves on the radar.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper group of corners in the NFL, leaving the Ravens with a good problem trying to decide which ones to keep. Jones returning kickoffs in addition to punts would cement his spot — he only did the latter last year — while the oft-injured Canady is in the final year of his rookie deal.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott is the one to watch in this group as he showed promise before breaking his forearm in the preseason last year and could potentially push Clark for some playing time in sub packages. Levine’s positional versatility remains an invaluable part of Wink Martindale’s defense.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: The Ravens will hope Vedvik kicks the football like he did last summer to improve his trade value at the end of the preseason. Beyond that, there’s little to see here.

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How did Ravens cornerbacks stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 15 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens cornerbacks ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs

Brandon Carr
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 876
PFF ranking: 35th among cornerbacks
Skinny: The 32-year-old played and started in every game for the 11th straight year and was one of the most reliable performers on a top-ranked defense, finishing with 45 tackles and two interceptions. He also filled in effectively in the slot, making him more valuable at a $7 million salary cap figure for 2019.

Marlon Humphrey
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 718
PFF ranking: 11th among cornerbacks
Skinny: Humphrey emerged as one of Baltimore’s best players in his second season and appears on the cusp of becoming a Pro Bowl cornerback. Per PFF, his 52.5-percent catch rate allowed was the seventh best in the league while his 22.5-percent forced incompletion rate ranked third best.

Jimmy Smith
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 611
PFF ranking: 81st among cornerbacks
Skinny: Returning from a torn Achilles tendon and a four-game suspension to begin 2018, Smith struggled for much of the season before playing better down the stretch. A $15.85 million cap figure and $9.5 million salary for 2019 make it very possible the veteran has played his final game for Baltimore.

Tavon Young
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 602
PFF ranking: 75th among cornerbacks
Skinny: A sports hernia hindered him late in the year, but the slot corner played better than his PFF grade indicates, especially after missing the 2017 season with a knee injury. Young is entering the final year of his rookie contract and plays bigger and tougher than his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame suggests.

Anthony Averett
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 71
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fourth-round rookie from Alabama missed five games with a hamstring injury, but he showed promise when he filled in for an injured Humphrey against Kansas City in Week 14. Optimism about his talent and development could make it easier to move on from Smith this offseason.

Maurice Canady
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 10
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After emerging as a solid slot cornerback in the second half of 2017, Canady sustained a hamstring injury in the season opener and missed nine games. He returned in late November to contribute on special teams, but injuries have prevented him from consistently staying on the field.

Cyrus Jones
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 5
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former Gilman standout is unlikely to fit into Baltimore’s defensive plans, but he offered a major lift as a punt returner, averaging 14.4 yards per attempt and returning one for a touchdown in Week 12. The ball security that doomed him in New England wasn’t a big issue this season.

2019 positional outlook

After enduring depth problems at cornerback for a few years, the Ravens have done a commendable job assembling a strong collection over the last couple offseasons, leaving them in solid position moving forward. Deciding what to do with Smith and his untenable cap number is the first item of business, but the veteran corner still has strong support within the organization, leaving open the possibility of working out a pay cut with incentives or even a modest short-term extension to lower his 2019 cap number. Some have speculated about Carr’s future in the same light, but his 2018 performance, superior durability, and cheaper cap number make him the better investment for the upcoming season. The Ravens have taken a cornerback with no lower than a fourth-round pick in four consecutive drafts, a streak I expect to continue if Smith is indeed released or traded in the coming weeks.

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for AFC wild-card game

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens last hosted a playoff game six years ago.

Ray Lewis is in the Hall of Fame, Ed Reed will join him in a few weeks, and Joe Flacco has quite possibly already played his final snap as a Raven. Baltimore had made the playoffs just once since that last home playoff win over Indianapolis, but the start of the Lamar Jackson era seven weeks ago has created an energy not seen in these parts in quite some time. Winners of six of their last seven to clinch the AFC North title, the Ravens hope that vibe carries them to victory in Sunday’s wild-card game.

Standing in their way is the Los Angeles Chargers, who finished tied for the third-best record in football and had the misfortune of being in the same division as No. 1 seed Kansas City. Despite traveling to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. game, Anthony Lynn’s team is 8-0 in contests played outside Los Angeles this season, which included wins in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet in the postseason for the first time ever. Of course, the Ravens toppled the Chargers 22-10 in their Week 16 meeting to improve to 7-5 in the all-time regular-season series. Baltimore owns a 3-1 record against them at M&T Bank Stadium, but the teams split the last two games there in 2014 and 2015 with the outcomes decided by a combined four points.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. The Chargers will speed up the pace and spread out the Baltimore defense for an early touchdown. The Ravens controlled the tempo throughout the Week 16 meeting, harassing Philip Rivers with blitzes that the Chargers rarely had answers for. This time, I expect Los Angeles to use some no-huddle and empty formations to try to slow the pass rush and keep the Ravens off-balance early on. It’s worth noting Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen is healthier this time around and will find space for an early touchdown reception after being held to a quiet five catches for 58 yards in the first meeting.

2. Gus Edwards will rush for a career-high 120 yards and a score. The Chargers use the dime package more than anyone in the NFL, which helped them hold Jackson to just 39 rushing yards in Week 16. However, a lighter front leaves Los Angeles more susceptible to the dive plays so frequently run by Edwards. To their credit, the Chargers slowed down the 238-pound rookie in the second half, but he still managed 92 yards on 14 carries two weeks ago. Making matters worse, Los Angeles nose tackle Brandon Mebane isn’t expected to play, making the front seven even more vulnerable against power runs.

3. Jackson will run for more yards than Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon. We’ve spent ample time talking about the Ravens’ running game, but has anyone noticed what their rush defense has done since the bye week? Opponents are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and only two players have managed as much as 60 rushing yards against them over the last seven contests. Gordon is a dynamic player capable of leaving a huge mark in his first NFL playoff game, but he’s more likely to do that as a receiver out of the backfield. I also expect Jackson to find more daylight as the game progresses with the Chargers tweaking their front to account for the inside power runs.

4. A long Cyrus Jones punt return will set up a Ravens touchdown. The running game and a dominant defense have received most of the credit for the post-bye turnaround, but the special teams rose from a pedestrian 13th in special teams DVOA at the bye to sixth by season’s end. Football Outsiders rated Baltimore’s punt return unit second in the league while the Chargers’ punt unit was rated next to last. That disparity didn’t show up to any dramatic degree in Week 16, but Jones has offered a boost in the field-position game since becoming the punt returner and will break a long one on Sunday.

5. Another strong defensive effort will send Baltimore to the divisional round with a 20-17 win. The Chargers were my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but the first meeting showed this isn’t a great matchup for them. I expect their offense to put up a better fight than it did a couple weeks ago, but Rivers isn’t mobile enough to give the blitz-heavy Ravens the same degree of trouble as Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield did. Credit Los Angeles for doing a better job against the Baltimore running game than any other team over the last two months, but absences at the wrong spots on its dime defense will lead to the Ravens staying more consistent on the ground in the second half. It will be another close game because that’s just a product of the style these current Ravens play, but another complementary effort will be enough to defeat the Chargers for the second time in three weeks. John Harbaugh will improve to 6-0 in wild-card playoff games.

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