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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 5 loss to Washington

Posted on 11 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 after a 16-10 home defeat to Washington on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There’s no real rivalry with Washington despite how the fans might feel, but it’s quite a coincidence that the Ravens have now fired an offensive coordinator after their last two losses to the Redskins. That sounds like something straight out of a college rivalry, doesn’t it?

2. Much has been made about the lack of rushing attempts, but the Ravens didn’t even have a tailback on the field for 27 offensive snaps. They view fullback Kyle Juszczyk has their best pass blocker, but that makes an offense awfully predictable if he’s never going to carry the ball.

3. Rookie Tavon Young has impressed at the nickel all season, but injuries pressed him into action as an outside cornerback in the base defense. Despite being only 5-foot-9, Young held up well against an above-average passing game and finished with three tackles.

4. Going from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg at offensive coordinator won’t matter if the Ravens can’t get their offensive line healthy and straightened out. According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore surrendered a league-worst 23 quarterback pressures on Sunday. Playing with backups or not, that’s unacceptable against a bad defense.

5. After missing the first four games with a knee injury suffered in the preseason, rookie Kenneth Dixon touched the ball on all four of his offensive snaps in the first quarter and didn’t play after that. One only hopes that was a coaching decision and not another physical setback.

6. Anyone else reminded of Jacoby Jones in 2014 when watching Devin Hester? He’s put the ball on the ground twice in five games and isn’t playing with the confidence of a Hall of Fame returner as he twice made questionable decisions to let punts bounce in the final quarter.

7. Zach Orr missed a tackle on the return touchdown and C.J. Mosley fumbled his interception return through the end zone, but the inside linebacker play has been much better in 2016. Orr forced a fumble and recovered it in the second quarter while Mosley leads the team with three interceptions.

8. There were worse decisions, but the Ravens showing shotgun on fourth-and-2 from the Washington 8 before taking a delay of game to begin the second quarter was puzzling. Why not show a heavy formation and use a hard count to try to draw Washington offside there?

9. Despite being initially praised for addressing so many needs, the 2015 draft class hasn’t been much of a factor. Breshad Perriman has 10 catches, Maxx Williams and Carl Davis are on injured reserve, Za’Darius Smith has offered little as a pass rusher, and Buck Allen is barely seeing the field.

10. It’s a far cry from the 2000 Ravens, but this defense has been underappreciated so far. The offense and special teams have put a ton of pressure on Dean Pees’ group, but the Ravens rank seventh or better in total defense, run defense, pass defense, scoring defense, and third-down defense.

11. Making the defensive success more remarkable is how little the Ravens have gotten from their edge pass rushers. Terrell Suggs has four sacks and still flashes, but the 34-year-old isn’t a consistent force anymore. Meanwhile, Elvis Dumervil and Smith have been virtually invisible so far.

12. I felt all along that the Ravens needed to be 5-2 entering the bye with a second-half schedule including four games with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and trips to Dallas and New England. It can still be done, but it won’t be easy with back-to-back road games at MetLife Stadium.

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Dumervil shooting to play in Jacksonville after return to practice

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is hoping to make his return against Jacksonville on Sunday after practicing two straight days on a limited basis.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection hadn’t practiced since late August when he suffered a setback from offseason surgery. However, the 32-year-old said his foot has responded well to practices this week, making it possible that he will play against the Jaguars.

“I’m shooting to try and go out as soon as I can,” Dumervil said after Thursday’s workout. “I just have to continue to keep building that endurance, building that strength, and get that explosiveness where I feel like I’m me. I’m excited.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees wouldn’t commit to Dumervil’s availability for Week 3, but the Ravens would surely welcome his presence coming off the edge where they have yet to consistently generate pressure in the pocket. He accumulated 32 1/2 sacks over his first three seasons with Baltimore and broke the franchise’s single-season record with 17 in 2014

With fellow veteran Terrell Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in last year’s opener, the pass-rushing duo hasn’t played a full game together since the Ravens’ postseason loss at New England on Jan. 10, 2015.

“It is good when you get one of your best players back on the field,” Suggs said. “We slowly, but surely, are getting our guys back. Whenever he is out there, we are going to rejoice, but until then, we are going to continue to work and get better.”

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) was a full participant in Thursday’s workout, reinforcing his expectation that he would not miss Sunday’s game despite being sidelined on Wednesday.

Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was the only player on the Ravens’ active roster to miss Thursday’s practice because of injury. Suggs and veteran right guard Marshal Yanda received a day off as they did last week.

The Jaguars were missing five starters during Thursday’s workout, which has to be a concern for a team off to an 0-2 start despite plenty of optimism entering 2016.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), CB Davon House (hamstring), TE Ben Koyack (knee), C Brandon Linder (knee), S DE Jared Odrick (triceps)
FULL PARTICIPATION: Johnathan Cyprien (knee/triceps), RB Chris Ivory (general medical issue), OT Jeremy Parnell (groin), WR Allen Robinson (illness)

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Winning on the road isn’t easy in the NFL.

Even in John Harbaugh’s first five seasons that included a Super Bowl title, three AFC championship game appearances, and at least one playoff victory each year, a 21-19 road mark in the regular season was solid but hardly sensational. However, an 8-16 record away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last three seasons is a clear reflection of a team having only made the playoffs once over that stretch.

After their Week 1 victory against Buffalo, the Ravens take their show on the road for the first time in 2016 against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its eighth win in the last nine trips to Cleveland. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with a 25-9 mark and are 12-5 at FirstEnergy Stadium dating back to the year it opened in 1999. The teams split a pair of games in 2015, but the Ravens have won 14 of the 16 games played in the series during the Harbaugh era.

1. The defensive line will pay tribute to the late Clarence Brooks by holding Cleveland to under 3.0 yards per carry. Coming off a 2015 season in which they rushed for an average 4.0 yards per attempt, Cleveland averaged 5.7 yards per rush against Philadelphia, snapping off four runs of 16 yards or more. That said, Brandon Williams and the Ravens front were stout against Buffalo in giving up only 2.7 yards per carry and will surely want to honor the memory of their longtime defensive line coach, who died Saturday. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will find little room throughout the afternoon.

2. An ineffective pass rush will lead to a long touchdown pass to Browns receiver Corey Coleman. The defense will be without Elvis Dumervil and possibly Za’Darius Smith, once again leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees little choice but to blitz to generate pressure. It won’t be easy for a rusty Terrell Suggs going up against nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, either. The Ravens know they must disrupt Josh McCown in the pocket after he threw for over 450 yards in a game against them last year, but he’ll get too much time at some point and the speedy Coleman will shake free for a big score.

3. The Baltimore running game still won’t click fully, but Terrance West will lead in rushing against his old team. West received more carries than veteran starter Justin Forsett in the opener, but the former found little running room, averaging only 2.7 yards per pop. With a one-possession lead in the second half, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will lean on West to wear down an inexperienced Cleveland front. The average still won’t be where the Ravens want it, but West will run for 65 yards to help protect the lead with Forsett chipping in 50 of his own against the Browns.

4. Dennis Pitta will catch his first touchdown in 33 months. The veteran tight end downplayed his return to the place where he sustained his second hip fracture and dislocation two years ago, but there wouldn’t be a more appropriate place for him to make his first touchdown reception since Dec. 8, 2013. After surprisingly playing 82 percent of the offensive snaps against Buffalo while making a key 27-yard reception, Pitta will build on that solid performance with a red-zone score. Concern about his health will remain in observers’ minds, but you have to be happy for the 31-year-old in his comeback.

5. Joe Flacco will play how he usually does against the Browns in a 23-13 victory. In 15 career games against Cleveland, the 31-year-old has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging roughly 215 passing yards per game. Trestman won’t ask Flacco to take many chances in this road game, but the quarterback will be efficient while, most importantly, protecting the football. Some will complain about another grind-it-out performance lacking style points, but the Ravens will happily leave Cleveland holding their first 2-0 start since 2009.

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Dumervil’s absence putting early strain on Ravens pass rush

Posted on 15 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the stories leading into the 2016 season was the Ravens’ need to find young pass rushers to complement two perennial Pro Bowl selections on the wrong side of 30.

Early expectations have understandably been tempered for 33-year-old linebacker Terrell Suggs as he returns from last season’s Achilles tendon injury, but Baltimore was never expecting to be without fellow outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who is in line to miss his second straight game on Sunday in Cleveland. The 32-year-old underwent foot surgery in the offseason and hit the practice field on Aug. 22 before suffering a setback only a few days later.

His absence is putting early strain on a pass rush trying to improve from last year when the Ravens accumulated 37 sacks, 12 fewer than their 2014 total. It remains unclear when Dumervil will make his season debut as he continues to strengthen the foot and work out at the team’s training facility.

“I feel like I’m getting close, but I don’t know what close means yet,” Dumervil said Thursday. “We’re working hard, working with the guys here. I’m really getting better, so looking forward to really soon.”

Entering Week 2, the absence of Dumervil has been compounded by the uncertain status of Za’Darius Smith, who has been absent from practices this week with a lingering ankle injury sustained in late August. The second-year linebacker played in Week 1 without making a major impact, registering one tackle in 36 snaps.

Despite a matchup in the opener in which the Ravens did not want to flush mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor from the pocket, defensive coordinator Dean Pees did use the blitz to disrupt at critical points. Baltimore registered two sacks and six quarterback hits while holding the Bills to 160 total yards in the 13-7 win.

“We didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with our game plan,” said Suggs, who will now face nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas in Week 2. “We didn’t want him to change the game with explosive plays, and he still got out a couple times. He got away from us, he broke out of some sacks, and he was still able to make some plays. You had to be disciplined in your rush.”

Taking over for the injured Robert Griffin III, Browns quarterback Josh McCown is the more traditional pocket passer, and the Ravens will not want him to get comfortable in the pocket to repeat anything resembling his recent performances against them.

With Smith in the mix on Sunday, the Ravens were already using rookie fifth-round pick Matt Judon as part of the rotation. Rookie second-rounder Kamalei Correa could now be in line to receive some snaps on defense after seeing special-teams action only against Buffalo.

Pees wasn’t overwhelmed by the performance of the pass rush when he didn’t send extra blitzers, but there isn’t much experience on which to rely beyond Suggs and veteran Albert McClellan, who is much more of a run-stopping linebacker.

“We can do better. We’re OK,” said Pees about the Week 1 pass rush. “We have to get a lot better with just a straight four-man rush. We don’t want to rely every time that we can only get pressure when we [use the] extended pressure package. We just have to keep working on it. I’m happy with where they are — especially the young guys — but we just have to keep building on it and getting better.”

Of course, Suggs returning to his pre-injury form would go a long way in helping the cause, but the Ravens must exercise caution with a player in his 14th season and coming off his second Achilles injury in a four-year period.

Pees will largely lean on the six-time Pro Bowl selection and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year to determine his workload on a week-by-week basis.

“He’s always going to put the team first,” Pees said. “This guy has a Hall of Fame career and could sit there and say, ‘I want it to be about me,’ and he’s not. He and I talked and said, ‘Here’s probably about how many reps we have to get.’ I said, ‘Look, there are going to be certain situations where I have to have you and I can’t have you tired.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ That’s just the ultimate pro right there.”

After spending all of last season leaning heavily on Dumervil, the Ravens can’t wait to have their veteran pass rushers back on the field together for the first time since 2014 when they combined for an imposing 29 sacks.

Pees will try to find a silver lining in giving early opportunities to young pass rushers in hopes of speeding up their development, but the man who piled up 32 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with Baltimore is itching to return.

And the Ravens need him sooner rather than later.

“You definitely want to go out and contribute the best you can,” Dumervil said. “In due time — when the time is right — I’ll be ready. I’m definitely learning more patience. The good thing is it’s coming, so it’s exciting.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 1 win over Buffalo

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the 2016 season with a 13-7 win over Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco easily could have been satisfied with a win in his first game back from knee surgery, but you could tell he wasn’t pleased with the performance and the failure to further exploit “cover 0” looks from Buffalo. I like that kind of attitude in a quarterback.

2. No one envisioned Shareece Wright as the Week 1 defensive MVP after a rough preseason, but he was outstanding against the run with three tackles for a loss and 11 tackles overall. His confidence can be fleeting — as it is for many cornerbacks — but he played with plenty of it.

3. Much was made about 10 different Ravens players making catches, but you wonder if offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s attempt to get so many players involved led to the clunky showing in the second half. Thirteen points were enough on Sunday, but this offense remains a work in progress.

4. It wasn’t surprising since he essentially took Carl Davis’ roster spot, but Michael Pierce being on the field with Brandon Williams gave the Ravens plenty of beef inside against a Buffalo running game that tried to avoid running between the tackles. That should really help in short-yardage situations.

5. After starting all last season, Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gillmore saw a total of three targets on Sunday. You can debate whether that’s a good thing or not, but it does illustrate how much deeper this group of pass catchers is.

6. The time is now for Timmy Jernigan to elevate his game as a third-year player. He collected a sack and had a tackle for a loss as a disruptive force up front. Improved discipline and health are the only factors holding him back from being an above-average starter.

7. The entire offensive line was less than stellar, but the struggles of Jeremy Zuttah stood out as a cadence issue led to a lost fumble on a snap and he whiffed blocking Jerry Hughes on a sack that ended another drive in the first half.

8. He’s received much criticism, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees put together an excellent game plan that left Tyrod Taylor confused and guessing as to who was rushing and who was dropping into coverage. The challenge will now be effectively disguising fronts and coverages every week.

9. You had to feel great for Steve Smith being back on the field after a horrible Achilles injury, but I’m sure he’d like to have more than 19 receiving yards on nine targets. It will be interesting to see how his role evolves with improved overall talent at receiver.

10. The whiff on a potential sack leading to Buffalo’s longest offensive play was ugly, but Albert McClellan played well against the run in Courtney Upshaw’s old spot. His tackle of Reggie Bush for a loss derailed Buffalo’s opening drive of the second half that ended with a missed field goal.

11. Mike Wallace offered the line of the day on his 66-yard touchdown catch when he said, “If you have a safety on me, he’s dead every time.” You have to love that kind of speed — and swagger — that was sorely lacking in this passing game a year ago.

12. It’s difficult to evaluate the pass rush as the Ravens wanted to keep Taylor in the pocket, but edge rushers didn’t generate consistent disruption against backup offensive tackles. Getting Elvis Dumervil back will certainly help, but Terrell Suggs will hopefully show more as he knocks off rust.

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Ravens simply play faster than Buffalo in grind-it-out win

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Maybe the Ravens just have Rex Ryan’s number.

The 13-7 home win over Buffalo wasn’t a performance that will propel them up the NFL power rankings in the eyes of observers, but it was the kind of game the Ravens found ways to lose time and time again a year ago. That alone was promising enough to begin the 2016 season.

A 1-0 start shouldn’t be taken for granted as Baltimore won its first season opener since 2012. Even if it came against Ryan, who is now 0-4 against the team with which he spent a decade as a defensive assistant.

“Our guys will go to work and will continue to get better,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But the point of emphasis is [that] they did what they had to do today to get the job done and make the plays that needed to be made in this game. I’m proud of them for that.”

The encouraging takeaway from Sunday’s win was the speed the Ravens displayed on defense and on the two biggest offensive plays of the game that led to 10 first-half points. More often than not, they simply looked faster than the Bills in the season opener.

The defensive personnel isn’t dramatically different from last year — Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil didn’t even play on Sunday — but Baltimore played with more confidence and urgency to post the kind of numbers we hadn’t seen since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were leading the way. Buffalo’s 160 total yards were the fewest allowed by the Ravens since giving up 150 to Ryan’s New York Jets on Oct. 2, 2011.

The defense started and finished sensationally, giving up a total of 12 yards in the first and fourth quarters combined. Buffalo’s top-ranked rushing offense from a year ago averaged just 2.7 yards per carry while Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for only 111 yards on 22 pass attempts.

The Ravens consistently flew to the ball to register eight tackles for a loss with cornerback Shareece Wright leading the way with three of them and 11 total tackles. New starters such as safety Eric Weddle and inside linebacker Zach Orr have improved the speed of the defense, but multiple players also complimented defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ play-calling on Sunday.

“The staff simplified the defense a little bit more, so we were able to go out there and have checks and play fast,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who held top Buffalo receiver Sammy Watkins to just four catches for 43 yards. “I think that was evident today. Coach switched it up a lot today and he likes to play certain things sometimes, [but] I think he did a really good job of switching up the defense. It kept them on their heels and not knowing what we were going to do.”

The Ravens offense couldn’t beat its chest like the defense after a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, but a pair of plays in the first half proved to be the difference in a low-scoring defensive struggle.

Speed was once again the difference.

Quarterback Joe Flacco’s sensational 35-yard completion to Breshad Perriman not only welcomed the 2015 first-round pick to the NFL, but it was the biggest chunk of yardage leading to a 50-yard field goal late in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead. It was the only pass that Perriman caught on Sunday, but he showed off his speed and size with the leaping sideline grab.

The home run came in the second quarter when veteran newcomer Mike Wallace reminded Ravens fans of the receiver who once tormented them as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matched up against backup safety Duke Williams, Wallace caught a 66-yard touchdown on a post route after Flacco changed out of a third-and-1 play at the line of scrimmage.

“It was extremely big, just because I probably haven’t had a 50-yard-plus touchdown in three years,” said Wallace, whose longest reception with Minnesota last season was just 34 yards. “It felt good just to get back to that, just to let them know that we’re not dead. A lot of people wrote me off. They think I don’t have it, but I’ve got something for them.”

Those two plays aside, the offense struggled for large stretches of Sunday’s game, which wasn’t shocking after the extended absences of several skill players from the practice field this summer. It was ugly for most of the second half as the Ravens managed just 83 total yards over the final 30 minutes, but the offense did just enough and was able to run out the final 4:29 of the game with an eight-play drive.

The pass protection was subpar, the running game inconsistent, and the passing attack out of sync after a good first half, but that element of speed once again brought optimism that wasn’t there a year ago when the Ravens lacked the necessary weapons to stretch the field.

The offense remains a work in progress, but Wallace and Perriman alone provide much room for growth against vulnerable pass defenses.

“I’d like to find a couple more ways to get them involved even a little bit more,” Flacco said. “They didn’t have a ton of catches, but it was a good start. You can see what Mike can do there. They played ‘cover zero’ a handful of times and they really probably got the best of us. We didn’t really do too much damage to it except for that one play.

“That’s what happens when you have guys who can run like that.”

Sunday’s win wasn’t pretty, but improved speed on both sides of the ball is a step in the right direction from last year.

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Ravens defense prepared to play without Dumervil, Powers

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Aiming to win their season-opening game for the first time since 2012, the Ravens are preparing to be without two members of their nickel defense against the Buffalo Bills.

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil has already ruled himself out for Week 1 while slot cornerback Jerraud Powers is also not expected to play on Sunday. Those developments could leave the Baltimore defense vulnerable, especially at the pass rush after Dumervil contributed 32 1/2 sacks in his last three seasons with the Ravens.

His absence opens the door for young outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa, and Matt Judon to receive more snaps opposite veteran Terrell Suggs in passing situations. Judon, a fifth-round rookie from Grand Valley State, was particularly impressive in the preseason, leading the team with three sacks and 17 tackles.

“I feel good about it,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about the young trio. “Would we like to have Elvis? Sure, because Elvis is a special guy, but we also have some other special guys out there, and I think it’s an opportunity for these young guys to step up, get the adrenaline flowing in the first game of their career, and get after it. They’ve shown some things in preseason that I think we’ll have the ability to do that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to show that on Sunday.”

Powers wasn’t a lock to serve as the nickel back before injuring his ankle in the second preseason game against Indianapolis, but the Ravens are looking at the combination of Anthony Levine, Will Davis, and rookie Tavon Young to fill the slot corner role. Baltimore also used the dime package quite a bit in training camp, a new wrinkle to watch for early in the regular season.

With Buffalo ranking first in the NFL in rushing offense last season, the Ravens may not deviate too much from their base defense in Week 1, but there was a point of emphasis this summer for the unit to vary its looks and personnel in pass coverage.

“We have some guys that I think are very capable of doing that,” Pees said. “Whether we play one guy at one time or whether we substitute and play different guys at different times, we might have different packages. You never know.”

In addition to Dumervil and Powers, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon was again absent from Thursday’s practice with every other member of the 53-man roster participating fully.

Meanwhile, the Bills were hit hard by the injury bug this summer, but there are no ailments of significant consequence on their current 53-man roster.

The Ravens jersey number swapping continued in full force on Thursday, particularly in the secondary with four players changing digits. Starting cornerback Shareece Wright is now wearing No. 24, Will Davis has switched to No. 31, rookie Maurice Canady has taken No. 39, and Powers will don No. 26.

Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett has also changed from No. 7 to No. 15, the number he wore at previous NFL stops and at the University of Arkansas.

Though they’re all currently on injured reserve, safety Matt Elam now has No. 33, cornerback Kyle Arrington was assigned No. 35, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is now listed as No. 12.

At the very least, the equipment staff is staying busy just days before the season opener.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Jerraud Powers (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Dennis Pitta (finger), G John Urschel (shoulder), TE Maxx Williams (knee), CB Shareece Wright (foot)

FULL PARTICIPATION: S Colt Anderson (foot), CB Kevon Seymour (hamstring), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Jonathan Williams (ribs)

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For Ravens left tackle Stanley, not being noticed is good thing

Posted on 24 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Most teams would have trepidation starting a rookie at left tackle to block for a franchise quarterback coming back from a major knee injury.

But that fear doesn’t seem to resonate with the Ravens as Ronnie Stanley continues to go about his business in his first summer protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside. In fact, the 2016 first-round pick is hardly being discussed when coaches are grading the tape from daily practices.

The Ravens hope that continues with Flacco making his preseason debut against Detroit on Saturday night, his first start since tearing two ligaments in his left knee on Nov. 22, 2015. The organization wouldn’t have made Stanley their earliest draft pick in 16 years — or released veteran Eugene Monroe this summer — if they didn’t think he was up to the challenge.

“He has just really quietly gone about his business each and every day at practice,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who quipped that the only help he’s given Stanley was to suggest buying bonds. “He is very focused. There is not a lot of stuff going on outside of him just trying to do his job, and it is a really good sign. He has a good, quiet demeanor. He is working extremely hard.”

Questions remain as to who will ultimately replace free-agent departure Kelechi Osemele at left guard — with veteran John Urschel and rookie Alex Lewis being the top candidates — but Stanley has silenced any lingering questions about his readiness with a strong preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman has graded as the best rookie tackle in the NFL and has yet to allow a pressure in the preseason.

Trestman gives much credit to offensive line coach Juan Castillo for getting Stanley to this point, but the Ravens made it clear early on that they felt the polished young tackle was a perfect fit for their outside zone scheme after he played in a pro-style offense at Notre Dame.

“There is nothing that tells you he can’t do this, and the game is not going to be too big for him and the spot is not going to be too big for him,” Trestman said. “That is an important spot, obviously. That is what we are seeing each and every day. We have to assess it and grade it each day and each game. We think he is going to grow into being an outstanding football player.”

Tougher test for Judon

Much of Saturday’s focus will be on veteran players seeing their most extensive action of the preseason, but the coaching staff wants to take a closer look at rookie outside linebacker Matt Judon.

Leading the Ravens in tackles (nine) and sacks (two) in the preseason, Judon has mostly faced second- and third-team offensive players, but head coach John Harbaugh said after Saturday’s win in Indianapolis that they want to put him against some starting-caliber competition. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Judon plays with a style that reminds at least one member of the coaching staff a little bit of Terrell Suggs.

“He’s got pretty good burst coming off the edge for being big and physical,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who also praised Judon’s mental preparation. “I think he’s going to grow into a big guy, kind of like ‘Sizz’ is. I wouldn’t compare him to [Suggs] in any way, shape, or form right now, but I think he’s that style of guy.”

Roster preview on Saturday

With final roster cuts less than two weeks away, the third preseason game often provides good insight into which fringe players are on the right side of the bubble.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg mixes and matches quite a bit on coverage and return units to evaluate young players in the first two preseason games, but we’ll see the real groups — or close to them — in the first half on Saturday. Bubble players appearing on those units figure to have a better chance than those who are absent early on.

“What you will see is the player rotation will be different,” Rosburg said. “We will have guys like Albert McClellan, [who] hasn’t played a rep on special teams so far, and he is one of our best players. He is one of the best in the league. Zach Orr has not played a rep on special teams this preseason. Kyle Juszczyk [hasn’t played a special-teams rep. I could go on and on. The first two preseason games, we are trying to develop players. The third preseason game starts out more like a real game.”

Injury report

Twelve players remained absent from Wednesday’s practice, a group including nose tackle Brandon Williams, left guard John Urschel (contusion), tight ends Dennis Pitta (broken finger), Maxx Williams, and Darren Waller, safeties Kendrick Lewis and Matt Elam (knee), cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion), Jerraud Powers, and Maurice Canady (hamstring), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle).

Brandon Williams hasn’t practiced since playing in Saturday’s preseason game, but head coach John Harbaugh downplayed his unspecified ailment on Tuesday.

“He has a nick or a bruise,” Harbaugh said. “All of the guys that were out today — with the exception of Matt Elam — have non-season-threatening-type issues they’re dealing with. Brandon has one of those, so he’s out because he couldn’t practice.”

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Suggs is back, but what does he have left for the Ravens?

Posted on 15 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs’ comeback from a torn Achilles tendon is much different this time around.

Unlike four years ago when he made a Herculean return in less than six months to help the Ravens win the AFC North and Super Bowl XLVII, the severe injury to his left heel suffered 11 months ago allowed no chance for a return in 2015. The 33-year-old took his time to rehab, disappearing from the public eye aside from a surprise sideline appearance to watch the Ravens beat Pittsburgh last December and the news of a traffic-related arrest in early March.

Having spoken to the media just once since tearing his left Achilles tendon in the 2015 opener, Suggs took the practice field Monday with little ceremony or warning beyond head coach John Harbaugh acknowledging last week that he had been holding the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker back from returning. He didn’t speak to reporters after the workout, instead issuing a statement through the team declaring that “Darth Sizzle” was back.

Appearing to be in good shape and moving well, Suggs participated sparingly in Monday’s practice and was quieter than usual on the sideline as veteran defensive end Lawrence Guy jokingly introduced himself to the “new” player at one point. Suggs did loosen up as the session went on, shimmying to the music blaring through the on-field speakers and later telling defensive teammates that backup quarterback Ryan Mallett was about to throw them an interception.

Taunting a quarterback in the middle of practice? Suggs was officially back.

What his return truly means for the Ravens’ chances in 2016, however, remains to be seen. We just don’t know what kind of player he will be as he enters his 14th season in Baltimore and comes back from his second Achilles injury — this one to the opposite leg — in a four-year period. Even when he returned from the first injury at age 30, Suggs wasn’t really himself again until the following year as he collected only two sacks in eight regular-season games in 2012.

At the conclusion of a nightmare 2015 season in which Suggs was one of 20 players to finish the year on injured reserve, the Ravens’ brass made it clear how much the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year was missed. Already entering the season trying to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee, the Ravens were forced to use both Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw in every-down capacities after they had essentially platooned in previous years. Za’Darius Smith was also forced to step into a bigger-than-expected role as a fourth-round rookie.

Baltimore finished tied for 17th in the NFL with 37 sacks after collecting 49 the year before. Without Suggs’ exceptional ability against the run, the defense allowed 4.0 yards per carry for just the second time in franchise history.

“Once we lost [Suggs], it was different in the second half of the season than it was the first half,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We really totally adapted the scheme the second half of the season because we knew we didn’t have him anymore. Meanwhile, we had already committed to the first half and we tried to adapt, but it wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be.

“Having him in there for a full season would be a great thing.”

Besides Suggs’ obvious football talents, the Ravens missed his energy and leadership as the face of the defense in the post-Ray Lewis era. The talent level and coaching primarily came under fire in a 5-11 season, but the unit sorely lacked the swagger that’s been part of its DNA for the better part of two decades in Baltimore.

The arrival of veteran newcomer Eric Weddle this offseason has brought needed leadership in the secondary, but the Ravens still hadn’t been nearly as boisterous during summer practices without Suggs.

“It is different, especially without ‘Sizz’ keeping everybody with a smile on their face with his sayings and his character coming through,” sixth-year linebacker Albert McClellan said over the weekend. “It is a little different. We haven’t found anybody to act like that.”

The Ravens know what Suggs brings in terms of intangibles and experience, but what kind of production will they get from him in 2016?

Expecting him to be the player that he was in 2014 isn’t a given as Father Time eventually catches up to everyone — even those not coming off serious injuries. Young options such as Smith and 2016 draft picks Kamalei Correa and Matt Judon have flashed promise, but expecting any passing-of-the-torch scenario would be premature at best.

Is Suggs capable of playing just under 80 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps at a high level like he did in his last full season? Or, will he be better suited for a situational role as this late stage of his career?

“I think it’s going to depend on the team and what kind of scheme they run, whether it’s a running team, passing team, or if they’re a wide-open team,” Pees said. “The good thing is I think we have some guys that can play and can spell guys. I don’t know if anyone would have to play a 70- or 80-play game. I’m hoping we don’t have to play 80-play games on defense. Time will tell.”

Based on their deficiencies from last year and where younger options are in their development, the Ravens need the “old” Suggs — not an old one — to surface if they’re to be a serious contender in the AFC in 2016.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Carolina

Posted on 12 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the preseason with a 22-19 win over Carolina, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Terrance West and Buck Allen combined for three touchdowns, but I was most impressed with the quickness of Kenneth Dixon, who ran for a game-high 44 yards on nine carries. He has the potential to be a home-run hitter as a change-of-pace back, which is something the Ravens need.

2. With Jerraud Powers and Kyle Arrington both struggling, I’d like to see Tavon Young and Terrence Brooks get more opportunities at the nickel. Young played sparingly, but he has shown good ball skills in practices. Brooks’ size is an intriguing option there, especially since Baltimore’s starting safeties are undersized.

3. First-round rookie Ronnie Stanley performed well in his first start, and Harbaugh made a point to praise the young left tackle’s strong desire to play despite suffering a recent injury. I wonder if that was a coincidence after ex-Raven Eugene Monroe started just 17 games over the last two years.

4. The Kaelin Clay muffed punt and John Harbaugh’s post-game comments lead you to believe the 2016 punt returner may not be on the current roster. The Ravens were right to cut Jacoby Jones two offseasons ago, but they’ve surely had their problems replacing him.

5. After a fast start to camp, Kamalei Correa had a relatively quiet night, failing to record a statistic in 21 defensive snaps. He appeared to play exclusively as an edge defender, making you wonder if Zach Orr has a bigger lead in the inside linebacker competition than we thought.

6. Entering his sixth year, linebacker Chris Carter was facing second- and third-team offensive linemen, but he showed impressive quickness off the edge and also made plays at inside linebacker. Versatility and his special-teams ability will help in his bid to win a job.

7. Speaking of edge defenders, Victor Ochi has flashed potential on more than one occasion during camp, but the rookie free agent only saw the field for seven snaps. That makes you wonder if the Ravens are trying to hide him in an effort to sneak him onto the practice squad.

8. Starting in place of Marshal Yanda, Vlad Ducasse may have been the Ravens’ most impressive offensive lineman, making terrific blocks on Dixon’s 19-yard run and Allen’s 19-yard touchdown catch. He’s not a sure bet to make the roster, but he has made 22 starts in six NFL seasons.

9. The Ravens only suited up five receivers, making it concerning that Keenan Reynolds wasn’t targeted once despite playing 29 offensive snaps. Everyone is rooting for the former Navy standout, but he remains a work in progress with a long way to go as both a punt returner and receiver.

10. Built similarly to Brandon Williams, rookie nose tackle Michael Pierce showed impressive push inside to collect three tackles and split a sack with Carter. Making the 53-man roster might appear to be a tall order, but the Samford product has definitely turned some heads.

11. After calling plays from the upstairs booth the last few seasons, defensive coordinator Dean Pees was on the sideline during Thursday’s game. It will be interesting to hear his rationale for the change and whether it will carry over to the regular season.

12. The fans’ reaction to Michael Phelps winning his 22nd Olympic gold medal on Thursday night was hardly surprising, but the enthusiasm shown by players watching the replay of the race on the video board was a memorable moment late in a pedestrian preseason game.

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