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Ranking the Ravens’ defensive needs for 2016

Posted on 22 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens defense needs some work.

Yes, the unit finished eighth in total defense and surrendered the fewest passing yards in the NFL over the second half of the season, but five of the Ravens’ final eight games came against passing attacks ranked 19th or worse and another came against an AJ McCarron-led Cincinnati attack in the season finale.

The improvement was encouraging, but it wasn’t enough to just assume everything is fine, especially after the defense finished with just 14 takeaways, shattering the worst mark in team history. The hiring of former NFL head coach Leslie Frazier to coach the secondary highlights the Ravens’ desire to improve against the pass.

With free agency set to begin in less than two months — March 9 at 4 p.m. — and the draft set for April 28-30, the Ravens are currently evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the second of a three-part series — we’ve already looked at the offense and special teams will follow — I offer my thoughts on the defensive side of the football and rank the positions of greatest need.

1. Cornerback

Some will argue that improving the pass rush is a bigger need than cornerback, but with Shareece Wright scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and Lardarius Webb moving to safety, who will start opposite top cornerback Jimmy Smith?

Even if they’re able to re-sign Wright — who shook off a nightmare debut against San Francisco to play quite well the rest of the way — the Ravens would benefit from having another high-end cornerback. In addition to hoping that Smith is finally over the effects of his 2014 foot surgery, they need another playmaker in the secondary.

That’s the biggest reason why the Ravens have been linked to top cornerback prospects such as Jalen Ramsey from Florida State or Vernon Hargreaves from Florida with the sixth overall pick in this spring’s draft.

Baltimore has some internal options such as Will Davis who carry intrigue, but none have a body of work suggesting you could pencil them into the starting lineup with any great level of confidence.

2. Outside linebacker

Owner Steve Bisciotti spoke at length at the season-ending press conference about how much the Ravens missed Terrell Suggs after he was lost for the year in the 2015 opener, but the six-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker will be 34 in October and coming off his second Achilles injury in four years.

Further complicating matters is the pending free agency of Courtney Upshaw, who lacks pass-rushing skills but is effective setting the edge against the run. The Ravens saw promising development from 2015 fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith late in the year, but they’d love to add another outside linebacker to ease the workload of the 32-year-old Elvis Dumervil, who wore down late in the year as a three-down player.

The defense needs a young outside linebacker who can get after the quarterback, but the top options in the draft beyond Ohio State’s Joey Bosa — Myles Jack of UCLA and Leonard Floyd of Georgia — would likely be considered a reach where the Ravens are picking in the first round.

There’s a lot of uncertainty at this position for 2016 and beyond when your top two options are both well over 30.

3. Safety

Since the departure of Ed Reed, the Ravens have pumped so many resources into improving this position with very underwhelming results.

Though not quite as consistent as you’d probably like, Will Hill has emerged as a solid starter at strong safety, but the free safety position remains a different story. Kendrick Lewis just doesn’t show enough ability to make high-impact plays, and Lardarius Webb’s $9.5 million salary cap figure for 2016 will need to be addressed if he’s even to remain on the team.

Terrence Brooks has flashed his athleticism when given opportunities, but the 2014 third-round pick has battled injuries and has yet to earn the trust of the coaching staff from a mental standpoint.

Unless you draft Ramsey and move him to safety, there doesn’t appear to be a safety in this year’s draft who can bring the type of impact the Ravens are seeking. This could mean another year of hoping an internal option such as Brooks finally emerges as more of a ball-hawking threat.

4. Inside linebacker

Daryl Smith will be 34 and is no guarantee to return, meaning the Ravens should be looking for the inside linebacker of the future next to 2014 Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley.

Former undrafted free agent Zach Orr showed solid coverage skills while replacing Smith in the nickel package late last season, but it remains to be seen whether he can be a viable three-down linebacker. And 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown is more likely to be cut then to suddenly become a starter after three disappointing seasons in Baltimore.

Considering Mosley has struggled in pass coverage, the Ravens would benefit greatly from having another inside linebacker who can stick with running backs or tight ends in routes.

Whether it’s for 2016 or beyond, general manager Ozzie Newsome would probably be wise to be on the lookout for an inside backer with upside in the middle rounds of the draft.

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Ravens-related thoughts from divisional round

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens fans undoubtedly took satisfaction from watching Pittsburgh lose to Denver in the divisional round on Sunday, but you couldn’t help but be in awe of the Steelers’ speed at the wide receiver position.

Playing without arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger still threw for over 300 yards against the Broncos’ top-ranked pass defense thanks to a 154-yard receiving day from Martavis Bryant as well as contributions from the speedy trio of Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Markus Wheaton. Having caught just one pass in the regular season, the rookie Coates caught two passes for 61 yards to show off the speed that Pittsburgh barely even used in 2015 after taking him in the third round out of Auburn.

That collection of speed nearly overcame a depleted running game that was without DeAngelo Williams as Bryant’s 40-yard run in the first quarter helped set up the Steelers’ lone touchdown of the game. Of course, speed isn’t everything — just ask Pittsburgh’s colossal 2014 third-round bust Dri Archer — but you could easily understand why Joe Flacco cited the AFC North rival’s offense when asked at the end of the season whether he believes the Ravens need to add more speed to the passing game.

“You see what speed does. It does a lot for football teams,” Flacco said. “You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference. It helps.”

If the Ravens want to close the gap with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North, they must find more speed at the receiver position in addition to hoping that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is fully recovered from the partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cost him his entire rookie season. Watching the Steelers on Sunday was just a reminder that Baltimore was playing a different game in 2015 with receivers incapable of consistently gaining separation or running away from anyone.

The combination of Kamar Aiken and a returning Steve Smith — Jeremy Butler also showed some promise late in the season — should leave the Ravens in good shape in terms of possession receivers, but general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find another high-end speed guy to go with the unproven Perriman, whether that player comes via free agency or the draft.

When asked at the season-ending press conference, Newsome made it very clear that he would like to add another receiver or two this offseason. Fans will just hope one will make a substantial impact unlike the late-round picks over the last several drafts who’ve been nothing more than roster filler.

The Ravens have an abundance of No. 5 and No. 6 options, but they need to aim higher when looking for a wide receiver this offseason.

Up-and-down Sunday for ex-Ravens

While former Ravens such as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, Dwan Edwards, Darian Stewart, and Owen Daniels helped their respective teams move closer to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, ex-Raven Fitz Toussaint wore the goat horns for the Steelers.

The running back’s fumble with 10 minutes to play not only ended a potential scoring drive, but it was the catalyst for Denver’s only touchdown drive of the game in a 23-16 final. Even as Ravens fans took delight in watching Pittsburgh lose, you couldn’t help but feel for the 2014 rookie free agent from Michigan who was very emotional after the game.

Toussaint has received more postseason carries (31) than regular-season rushing attempts (24) in his first two NFL seasons and had 118 total yards in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati, but Sunday is a day he’ll surely want to forget despite scoring his first NFL touchdown in the first quarter.

Coverage linebackers

It’s almost unfair to compare most linebackers to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina, but the Ravens need to find a way to improve their pass coverage with that positional group.

Still one of the better coverage linebackers in the league when the Ravens signed him three years ago, Daryl Smith clearly floundered in that department to the point that second-year linebacker Zach Orr was replacing him in the nickel package late in the season. More concerning, however, were the continued struggles of C.J. Mosley in pass coverage in his second season.

After Mosley became the first rookie to make the Pro Bowl in franchise history, many concluded he would be the next great Ravens defensive player, but 2015 didn’t go as smoothly for him. To his credit, the Alabama product overcame a slow start to play better as the season progressed, but he must improve in pass coverage if he’s to take his game from good to great.

Nod to Manning

This item isn’t related to the Ravens, but I find myself becoming an unabashed supporter for Peyton Manning at this late stage of his career.

You don’t have to be an NFL scout to recognize he’s a shell of his former self physically, but he also wasn’t responsible for a number of dropped passes from Broncos receivers that would have made for a very respectable day against Pittsburgh if some had been secured.

We all break down in various ways as we get older — the man underwent multiple neck surgeries in 2011 and still threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and won the MVP two years later at age 37 — but instead of laughing over Manning’s decline, I appreciate seeing one of the greatest players in NFL history trying to use his incomparable football intellect and years of experience to overcome a once-powerful arm that won’t cooperate anymore. After years at the top of the mountain, Manning has strangely become the underdog trying to hold on at the end of his career.

Even if you’re not rooting for him, that fight still deserves respect.

Manning and the Broncos look like the least likely of the four remaining teams to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara next month, but I’ll be happy for him if he’s somehow still standing in the end — even if everyone will obnoxiously remind you over and over that it was more about Denver’s stout defense than him.

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Pondering the Ravens’ potential 2016 salary cap cuts

Posted on 12 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are facing their most critical offseason of the John Harbaugh era, but revamping a 5-11 team won’t be easy with a salary cap lacking flexibility.

Having entered the offseason with an estimated 2016 commitment of just under $146 million to 47 players, general manager Ozzie Newsome can only hope that the salary cap will rise to the highest reported estimate of $153.4 million, an increase of $10 million from this past season. However, that would still leave little room to sign some of their own free agents, let alone try to make other additions.

The direction of the offseason hinges on Baltimore’s ability to adjust quarterback Joe Flacco’s $28.55 million salary cap figure for the 2016 season, but additional cap-related moves will likely still need to be made. The Ravens may not have an extensive list of high-priority free agents, but standing pat after missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons won’t sit well with the fan base — or owner Steve Bisciotti.

And after last week’s revelation that Harbaugh doesn’t plan to make any changes to his coaching staff, the Ravens are signaling that the roster was the bigger problem in 2015.

In evaluating cap space and potential cuts, it’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player is offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $450,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.55 million savings on the salary cap.

Below is a list of veteran candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses):

CB Kyle Arrington ($1.433 million)
Skinnny: Signed last spring to serve as Baltimore’s No. 3 corner, Arrington struggled and saw his playing time dwindle dramatically until the late-season move of Lardarius Webb to safety. With younger options such as Will Davis and Tray Walker already on the roster and the Ravens mentioning cornerback as a need to address this offseason, Arrington’s roster spot would appear to be in serious jeopardy.

DE Chris Canty ($2.15 million)
Skinny: The 33-year-old is still a useful player when healthy, but injuries and the presence of Lawrence Guy and Brent Urban for the 5-technique spot make it likely that the Ravens will elect to cut Canty this winter. The organization decided to bring the veteran back after terminating his contract a year ago, but you wonder if either side would have interest in doing that again.

S Matt Elam ($1.328 million)
Skinny: The Ravens would still like to salvage some production out of the worst defensive first-round pick in franchise history, but Elam is making enough money now to wonder if it’s worth it. With Will Hill manning the strong safety spot, where does the University of Florida product even fit? Elam would be an expensive backup and special-teams player at a crowded position.

RB Justin Forsett ($2.3 million)
Skinny: The Ravens have three young running backs behind him on the depth chart, but Lorenzo Taliaferro hasn’t been able to stay healthy, Buck Allen had ball-security issues late in the season, and Terrance West wore out his welcome with two other NFL teams in less than two years. Forsett may not be a home-run hitter, but his $3.7 million cap figure is reasonable and Allen didn’t quite show enough for the Ravens to sign off on him being ready to be a No. 1 running back just yet.

S Kendrick Lewis ($933,333)
Skinny: Though Lewis didn’t bring the impact to the free safety position that the Ravens hoped when they signed him last offseason, his release wouldn’t bring much in the way of cap savings. That being said, if the Ravens truly intend to make Webb their starting free safety, cutting Lewis might be a football move more than one related to the salary cap.

OT Eugene Monroe ($2.1 million)
Skinny: This could be the most complicated decision of the offseason as Monroe has started only 16 games since signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract two years ago. Cutting Monroe leaves $6.6 million in dead money on the 2016 cap, and re-signing Kelechi Osemele won’t be an easy task. If Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss or Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley falls into their laps in the first round, the Ravens could wave goodbye to Monroe. Otherwise, they may look to draft a tackle in the second or third round and hold their breath that Monroe bounces back in 2016.

TE Dennis Pitta ($600,000)
Skinny: The veteran tight end said at the end of the season that nothing has changed in terms of his hopes to play again, but things have changed for the Ravens as his 2016 base salary ($5 million) is not guaranteed like it was this past year. There’s always a chance that Pitta agrees to an incentive-laden deal with no guaranteed money to continue with a potential comeback, but he is more likely to be released or to retire. The question will be whether the Ravens want $6.6 million in dead money to be absorbed in 2016 or to give him a post-June 1 designation to push $4.4 million of that to 2017. Either way, Pitta’s exit isn’t going to be of great assistance when it comes to making moves this offseason.

LB Daryl Smith ($2.625 million)
Skinny: The veteran has done a fine job stepping into the position once held by Ray Lewis, but he wore down as 2015 progressed and was being replaced by Zach Orr in nickel situations late in the season. There isn’t an obvious every-down replacement waiting in the wings, but Smith will be 34 and carries a $4.375 million cap figure for 2016. In a perfect world, 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown already would have stepped into the spot next to C.J. Mosley, but we know how that story has played out.

CB Lardarius Webb ($3.5 million)
Skinny: Newsome spoke with conviction at the season-ending press conference about the Ravens moving Webb to free safety, but his $9.5 million cap figure for 2016 would make him one of the most expensive safeties in the league despite his inexperience there. Webb accepted a pay cut a year ago and will likely need to take another one unless the Ravens are that blindly confident in him being a Pro Bowl-caliber safety. The fact that Webb already proclaimed himself to be a safety moving forward probably won’t help his cause in negotiating with the Ravens or on the open market if he’s let go.

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Rookie tight end Boyle only real injury concern for Ravens

Posted on 19 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rookie tight end Nick Boyle was the only player missing from Thursday’s practice due to health reasons as the Ravens moved closer to their Week 11 meeting with St. Louis.

The fifth-round pick continues to wear a walking boot on his left foot after missing his second straight practice. Baltimore signed tight end Chase Ford off the Minnesota practice squad earlier this week, which would appear to indicate that Boyle is in danger of missing his first game of the season.

Baltimore welcomed left guard Kelechi Osemele and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil back to practice after both sat out with knee ailments on Wednesday. Osemele and Dumervil were both listed as full participants, leaving little doubt about their availability for Sunday’s game.

Linebacker Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty both received veteran days off as they regularly do on Thursdays.

For St. Louis, two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn was again listed as a non-participant with a hip issue while starting right tackle Rob Havenstein continues to deal with a calf injury. The Rams did not practice on Thursday, meaning their injury report was only an estimation if they had.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (foot), DE Chris Canty (non-injury), LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)

ST. LOUIS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Rob Havenstein (calf), DE Robert Quinn (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: C Tim Barnes (concussion), DE Chris Long (knee)

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Gillmore out, S. Smith doubtful for Cleveland game

Posted on 09 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite head coach John Harbaugh saying last weekend that Steve Smith wouldn’t play in Sunday’s AFC North battle with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens receiver hasn’t been officially ruled out.

Smith was designated as doubtful on the final injury report of the week, meaning he officially has no better than a 25 percent chance to be active. The 36-year-old isn’t expected to play after injuring his back in Pittsburgh, but the Ravens remain hopeful that he could return for next week’s game in San Francisco.

“Very optimistic,” Harbaugh said. “He’s working hard. He’s in there with the different equipment working really hard to get himself ready and making, I would say, good progress.”

The Ravens coach said early in the week that tight end Crockett Gillmore had “a chance” to play against Cleveland after missing the Week 4 contest, but he was officially ruled out along with defensive end Chris Canty (calf) and wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) after the trio missed all practices this week. Rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle will once again fill in for Gillmore.

Canty hasn’t practiced since injuring his calf in Oakland in Week 2. Lawrence Guy is once again expected to fill in for him at the 5-technique defensive end spot.

Linebackers Albert McClellan (abdomen) and Daryl Smith (non-injury) were listed as probable after returning to practice on Friday. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro is also probable after missing Wednesday’s workout with a lingering foot issue.

Meanwhile, Cleveland will be without starting free safety Tashaun Gipson, who missed his third straight practice with an ankle injury and was officially ruled out on Friday. Gipson was wearing a walking boot at the Browns’ practice facility this week.

Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden is questionable for Sunday’s game as he continues to deal with a broken finger.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Jeff Triplette.

Sunday’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the high 60s and light winds, according to Weather.com.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DE Chris Canty (calf), TE Crockett Gillmore (calf), WR Breshad Perriman (knee)
DOUBTFUL: WR Steve Smith (back)
PROBABLE: LB Albert McClellan (abdomen), OT Eugene Monroe (concussion), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), G Marshal Yanda (ankle)

CLEVELAND
OUT: DB Tashaun Gipson (ankle), LB Craig Robertson (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: RB Shaun Draughn (back)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Desmond Bryant (shoulder), LB Karlos Dansby (ankle), CB Joe Haden (ribs/finger), WR Brian Hartline (ribs/thigh), LB Scott Solomon (ankle), RB Robert Turbin (ankle)
PROBABLE: DB Johnson Bademosi (elbow), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), OT Mitchell Schwartz (thumb), S Donte Whitner (illness), DB K’Waun Williams (concussion)

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Gillmore, S. Smith remain sidelined from Thursday’s practice

Posted on 08 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While the wide receiver position remains in flux due to injuries, the Ravens are once again facing the possibility of being without their starting tight end against Cleveland on Sunday.

Crockett Gillmore missed practice again on Thursday as he continues to recover from a calf injury suffered in the Week 3 loss to Cincinnati. Rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle would fill bigger roles in the offense for a second straight week if Gillmore is unable to play.

Williams and Boyle combined to make five catches for 29 yards in the 23-20 overtime win at Pittsburgh.

Wide receivers Steve Smith (back) and Breshad Perriman (knee), defensive end Chris Canty (calf), and linebackers Albert McClellan (abdomen) and Daryl Smith were also absent from Thursday’s practice. McClellan was a new addition to the injury report while Daryl Smith received a veteran day off as he often does during Thursday practices.

After being listed as a limited participant with an ankle issue on Wednesday, Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was a full participant, removing any concern regarding his status against the Browns. Left tackle Eugene Monroe remains on track to receive his first game action on Sunday since suffering a concussion on the first series of the season opener on Sept. 13.

Backup running back Lorenzo Taliaferro returned to practice on a limited basis after resting a lingering foot issue.

Meanwhile, the Browns were without starting free safety Tashaun Gipson (ankle) for a second straight day and starting wide receiver Brian Hartline was a new addition to the injury report after sitting out Thursday’s workout with rib and thigh injuries.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATION: DE Chris Canty (calf), TE Crockett Gillmore (calf), LB Albert McClellan (abdomen), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Steve Smith (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Eugene Monroe (concussion), G Marshal Yanda (ankle)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATION: RB Shaun Draughn (back), S Tashaun Gipson (ankle), WR Brian Hartline (ribs/thigh), LB Craig Robertson (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Desmond Bryant (shoulder), LB Karlos Dansby (ankle), CB Joe Haden (ribs/finger), LB Scott Solomon (ankle), RB Robert Turbin (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DB Johnson Bademosi (elbow), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), T Mitchell Schwartz (thumb), DE Randy Starks (non-injury), OT Joe Thomas (non-injury), S Donte Whitner (illness), CB K’Waun Williams (concussion)

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Perriman not expected to play in season opener

Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh spelled it out as clearly as he could without ruling rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman out for Sunday’s season opener in Denver.

The 2015 first-round pick is not expected to play against the Broncos as he once again missed practice on Tuesday and hasn’t participated in a team workout since injuring his knee on July 30. After he said over the weekend that Perriman “has a chance” to play in Week 1, Harbaugh elected to clarify the sentiment when asked for injury updates as the Ravens returned to the practice field after a two-day respite.

“I saw the reports [that] ‘he has a chance’ and was like, ‘Yeah, he’s got a chance,'” Harbaugh said. “I think I was pretty clear it’s probably not a real big chance because he hasn’t practiced. I don’t have a time frame from the doctors. I don’t think it’s tremendously far down the road or we would have done something else with him as far as his status. When he comes back to practice, that will probably be a pretty good indicator that he’s going to be in the lineup pretty soon.”

With Perriman having missed nearly six weeks of action already, it remains to be seen how much practice time he would need to not only reestablish himself in the Baltimore offense but to also get into football shape.

Starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) was not present during the first few minutes of practice open to media as his status remains in question for the opener. Other players missing from Tuesday’s practice included cornerback Rashaan Melvin, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee), and linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith. It was unclear whether the latter three were receiving a veteran day off or were late arrivals to the field.

Rookie tight end Maxx Williams was not wearing the red non-contact jersey he’s donned during practices over the last two weeks, a good sign for his availability against the Broncos. He did not play in the final two preseason games due to an upper body injury.

Asked about the uncertainty with the return game, Harbaugh acknowledged that he has an idea about who will handle kickoffs and punts, but he unsurprisingly would not reveal those plans to the media. For what it’s worth, second-year receiver Michael Campanaro was listed on the Week 1 depth chart as the only punt and kickoff returner, but cornerback Lardarius Webb and wide receiver Steve Smith both have experience as returners earlier in their careers.

“We have options. Certainly, all options are on the table and we’ll see going forward,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we’re in a position to make any announcements exactly yet. Like I said, we have more than one guy capable of going back there and doing it, and some of them might be situational as well. We’ll have a plan come Sunday.”

Veteran defensive end Lawrence Guy is now wearing No. 93, the jersey number previously worn by DeAngelo Tyson before he was waived on Saturday.

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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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Frigid temperatures await Ravens in New England

Posted on 08 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens completed their final full practice of the week Thursday with unusual conditions ahead of Saturday’s playoff game in New England.

Offsetting their inability to practice outside due to Tuesday’s snowfall on top of already-frozen fields, head coach John Harbaugh opened the doors of their Owings Mills field house to create colder temperatures for Thursday’s workout on the indoor turf field. It’ll be the Ravens’ closest simulation this week to Saturday’s forecast in Foxborough, Mass. predicting a high of 20 degrees and winds up to 20 miles per hour for the 4:35 p.m. kickoff.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has had his team practice outdoors all week, but the Ravens are no strangers to frigid temperatures in January. Practicing outside at least a day or two would have been preferable, but Harbaugh wasn’t dwelling on any potential drawbacks as the Ravens try to become the NFL’s all-time leader in road playoff wins Saturday.

“It’ll be good. The situation is what it is,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not worth even contemplating. We don’t really have a turf field out here.”

Baltimore’s last trip to New England two years ago may have been 20 degrees warmer than Saturday’s prediction, but the Ravens experienced a game-time temperature of 13 degrees — with a wind chill of minus-1 — in Denver two years ago. Of course, the Ravens prevailed 38-35 in that double-overtime thriller against the Broncos in which quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns.

But with only 17 players who were active that day remaining on the current 53-man roster — cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Anthony Levine were both on injured reserve at the end of that season — it’s fair to wonder how much the frigid temperatures might affect the Ravens as they try to advance to their fourth AFC Championship game under Harbaugh.

“It’s going to be cold,” veteran linebacker Daryl Smith said. “You just have to focus on playing ball no matter the elements — if it’s rain, snow, whatever it is. We have a job to do, and that should be our only focus.”

As you’d expected, a number of players insisted they won’t wear sleeves as they desire the proper mindset to play in their coldest game of the 2014 season. Tight end Owen Daniels downplayed how much of an advantage Patriots players gained by working outside this week, wondering if they bundled up more for practices than they will for the game.

A former member of the Houston Texans, the 32-year-old played at New England in the playoffs two years ago, but the temperature was in the low 50s.

“It has to be really, really cold — negative temperatures — for it to get to players,” said tight end Owen Daniels, who studied meteorology at the University of Wisconsin. “The ball will be a little bit harder, a little more slick, so there are little issues you have to adjust to each week depending on the weather of the game.”

 

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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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