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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 28 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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The Ravens have reached the light at the end of the preseason tunnel as they’ll conclude the summer against the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.

From an entertainment standpoint, the preseason finale has rarely been one in which you can cut the electricity with a knife as Joe Flacco has already been confirmed by head coach John Harbaugh to be a spectator on Thursday. The starting quarterback won’t be alone as many starters will not take the field at all at the Edward Jones Dome in a game that means nothing for players who have already sewn up spots on the 53-man roster.

Of course, Harbaugh and the coaching staff will be expecting a strong performance from the players who will see action, many of whom are fighting for no more than a few jobs.

“We’re getting ready to go play St. Louis,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to do our best to go out there and try to win that game within the parameters of what helps our football team going forward into the regular season.”

In all reality, most roster decisions have already been made with the preseason finale not doing much to change the dynamics of the 53-man squad that must be finalized by Saturday at 6 p.m. Players with no realistic shot of making the team are hoping to put forth a good performance that might garner attention from other teams looking to fill out their rosters and practice squads in the coming days.

Potential competitions remain for the third running job, the No. 3 tight end, and the fourth safety job if the Ravens elect to keep each of those positions. And, of course, much attention will be paid to the wide receivers currently on the bubble, but you have to wonder how many conclusions the coaching staff can draw from the wideouts playing with reserve quarterback Caleb Hanie and potentially the newly-signed Dayne Crist.

Harbaugh was asked Tuesday how many times he could recall roster spots being decided by just a play or two made in the preseason finale.

“Probably not often, in all reality,” Harbaugh said. “But I would say in this game, there are a couple of those. There are a couple guys that, perhaps if they really, really play well, they could really play themselves on [to the 53-man roster]. Or, guys could play themselves off. It’s possible.”

The Ravens will be meeting the Rams for the fourth time ever in the preseason as St. Louis enters the game with a 3-0 all-time mark in the exhibition contests. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 3-2 margin and won a 37-7 blowout in St. Louis in the teams’ last meeting in 2011.

Harbaugh is now 15-8 in preseason games with the Ravens holding a 42-28 overall mark in the preseason. Baltimore has won 14 of its last 19 preseason games.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to produce an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released.

Of course, the final preseason game will include many players sitting out due to Harbaugh’s preference with the regular-season opener against the Denver Broncos just a week from Thursday night. This estimated report does not reflect any of the veterans who will watch from the sidelines and is only an indication of the team’s current health.

Inside linebacker Jameel McClain (neck), defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton (wrist) are no longer on the active roster and are no longer included in the injury report.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: WR Deonte Thompson (foot), LB Pernell McPhee (knee), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Arthur Jones (personal health issue), QB Tyrod Taylor (head)
PROBABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. RB Delone Carter

While few fans are enthused to watch the fourth and final preseason game consisting of few starters, the contest will offer the first glance of Carter, who was acquired from Indianapolis in the David Reed trade. At 5-foot-9 and 232 pounds, Carter is a low-to-the-ground power runner with the reputation of being effective at the goal line and in short-yardage situations, two areas in which the Ravens struggled at times last season.

The real question may be how much of an impact Carter can bring to special teams as the potential No. 3 running back with third-year veteran Anthony Allen strong in that regard and Bobby Rainey having intriguing potential as a backup return specialist. Much discussion of last impressions being made in the preseason finale is overblown, but Carter has only had a couple practices to show off his ability, meaning Thursday will be critical for his potential future in Baltimore.

2. WR LaQuan Williams

It’s difficult to predict whether the performance of any of the bubble receivers on Thursday night will carry much stock in final roster decisions if the likes of Hanie and Crist are under center, but Williams hasn’t followed up his strong performance in the preseason opener in the way he would have liked. Always a good special-teams player, Williams has lacked consistency as a wideout this summer and saw rookies Marlon Brown and Aaron Mellette receive opportunities with the first-team offense in recent weeks while he only received a few token reps here and there.

A standout play or two on special teams would likely put an exclamation point on his case for a spot on the 53-man roster for the third straight season, but Williams would like to leave a lasting impression as a wide receiver as well. The coaching staff has always been complimentary of his work ethic, but Williams doesn’t have the impressive height or blazing speed of other receivers with which he’s competing and his value on special teams can only go so far with so much uncertainty at the wide receiver position as a whole.

3. DE DeAngelo Tyson

It’s remarkable to think how far the defensive line has come since last season when Tyson was seeing critical snaps in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII after Haloti Ngata went down with a knee injury. The 2012 seventh-round pick hasn’t necessarily had a poor summer, but he is clearly seventh in the pecking order of a deep group of options with various skills against the run and pass.

Tyson’s fate will come down to the simple numbers as the coaching staff decides whether players at other positions would be better fits for roster spots than keeping Tyson as a seventh defensive lineman. Statistics usually aren’t a great indication of how well a defensive lineman has fared, but Tyson’s two tackles reflect the quiet preseason we’ve observed from the Georgia product.

4. TE Billy Bajema

Following the Ravens’ decision to terminate the contract of veteran Visanthe Shiancoe last weekend, many assumed this opened the door for rookie Matt Furstenburg to be the No. 3 tight end, but veteran Billy Bajema is a reliable blocking tight end with some ability as a pass catcher when given opportunities. He saw a great deal of action late last season when Ed Dickson was sidelined with a knee injury and held up well as the blocking tight end behind Dennis Pitta.

In most cases, teams will go with the younger, cheaper option when rookies and veterans are evenly matched in a competition for a roster spot, but the Ravens were using Bajema over Furstenburg with the starting offense prior to the free-agent signing of Dallas Clark a couple weeks ago. Bajema is also a positive special-teams contributor, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked when the Ravens make their final decision on a potential third tight end.

5. S Anthony Levine

Fellow safety Omar Brown might be more of a household name after a strong 2012 preseason, but Levine has appeared to receive more opportunities with the starting special-teams units during the preseason, which could be an indication of which way the Ravens are leaning for the fourth safety spot — if they decide to keep one. Levine is bigger than Brown and was signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad last November before eventually going on injured reserve, which paved the way for Brown to be promoted in December.

This might be a rare roster battle that comes down to a matter of who can make a play or two in the preseason finale to sell the coaches on a potential decision. Levine has eight tackles this summer while Brown has five; however, Levine has made one special-teams tackle but appeared to be one of the guilty parties to misplay his lane assignment in the Ted Ginn Jr. 74-yard punt return for a touchdown last week in Baltimore.

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Will the Ravens defense improve in 2013?

Posted on 01 April 2013 by jeffreygilley

Four weeks ago, everyone outside of Baltimore was skeptical of Ozzie Newsome. First, Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers. Shortly after, Paul Kruger signed with the Browns and Dannell Ellerbe left for Miami. Ellerbe was viewed as the top priority for the Ravens but the Dolphins were willing to pay more for his services.

But that was just the beginning. Other key players including Carry Williams Ed Reed also joined other teams. Bernard Pollard is also no longer part of the team. Pollard was released and has since signed with the Tennessee Titans.

All of these players were critical to the Ravens regular and postseason success. Despite that, I believe the defense will be better. But then again, it’s not difficult to improve when the Ravens ranked in the high teens and low 20’s in most defensive categories.

Despite these losses, can the Ravens defense improve in 2013? The short answer is yes. The reason? Versatility.

All of the free agents the Ravens have signed this offseason have the ability to play multiple positions. Chris Canty and Marcus Spears can play almost every position on the defensive line and Michael Huff can play any position in the secondary.

The additions of Canty and Spears give the Ravens a scary rotation along the defensive line. Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones will also be vital parts of that rotation. Even Deangelo Tyson could get playing time.

With Canty, Spears, McPhee, Tyson, and Jones in a rotation at the 3-4 defensive end and defensive tackle spots, Haloti Ngata can play more nose tackle, which is his favorite position.

Add Elvis Dumervil to that equation and I would be shocked if the Ravens don’t come close to leading the NFL in sacks. Dumervil and Suggs will consistently command attention on the outside. In turn, opportunities will open up for Ngata, McPhee, and the rest of the Ravens defensive lineman on the inside.

The only question mark for the Ravens defense to me is the secondary. With Carry Williams departure to Philadelphia and Lardarius Webb’s return from injury, Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham might have to play larger roles this season.

Inside linebacker could be viewed as another area of need but the additions to the defensive line should help the middle of the defense. The Ravens could also look to the draft for a young inside linebacker. Candidates would include Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, or Florida linebacker Jon Bostic in the later rounds.

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Ngata, J. Smith sit as Ravens cruise to convincing win over Oakland

Posted on 11 November 2012 by Luke Jones

Even though there was no need to look for a silver lining in the 55-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens were afforded the opportunity to rest injured defensive starters Haloti Ngata and Jimmy Smith a week ahead of their showdown with Pittsburgh next Sunday.

Both players were listed as active but did not play as they sat with nagging injuries. However, the circumstances for each player were different as the Ravens made a concerted effort to sit the Pro Bowl defensive tackle but had to make an adjustment on the fly as Smith’s sore groin would not loosen up during pre-game warmups.

“We decided to dress Haloti,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We are trying to get Haloti healthy. He didn’t practice this week much, but we felt like it would be smart to dress him because he is a difference-maker for us. We started the game out, and we were hoping that we wouldn’t have to play him, and it turned out that we didn’t have to.”

Ngata had seen limited action from his normal workload in each of the Ravens’ last two games and admitted earlier in the week that lingering knee and shoulder injuries are limiting his effectiveness. The seventh-year defensive tackle missed practices on Wednesday and Thursday before participating on a very limited basis during Friday’s workout.

The Ravens can only hope the extra week of rest makes a difference as they’ll need Ngata against a physical Pittsburgh offensive line next week. Following their trip to Pittsburgh, the Ravens then travel to San Diego before welcoming the Steelers to Baltimore on Dec. 2.

Rookie DeAngelo Tyson started at defensive tackle in Ngata’s place, knocking down two passes and registering a quarterback hit in the 35-point victory.

“It really helps to get him some rest,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “We all know that he’s a force in this league, and he’ll be back at 100 percent. Our young guys stepping it up without Haloti is pretty impressive.”

There is growing concern over Smith’s groin injury, an ailment he’s dealt with for several weeks. The second-year cornerback attempted to ride the stationary bike to get loose and attempted to warm up again at halftime but was unable to go.

With temperatures in the low 60s, the weather was perfect for a mid-November game, making Smith’s inability to get warm something to monitor this week.

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at that Monday and just see where he’s at,” Harbaugh said. “This is the first time it has gotten to the point where he just couldn’t get loose enough to play.”

Regular nickel back Corey Graham started in Smith’s cornerback spot while young special-teams standout Chykie Brown entered the game to play cornerback in the nickel package as Graham slid to his normal inside spot.

The Ravens also made an in-game change along the offensive line as Jah Reid replaced veteran Bobbie Williams at left guard on the third series of the game and played the rest of the way. The 36-year-old Williams confirmed after the game he was healthy enough to continue playing, but the lineman has been dealing with an ankle injury sustained in last week’s win at Cleveland.

Baltimore viewed it as an opportunity to rest Williams as well as evaluate Reid, who temporarily replaced an injured Marshal Yanda for a handful of plays last week and has also served as an extra blocking tight end.

“Jah Reid has really been coming on and practicing well,” Harbaugh said. “What Jah needs is playing time. He needs experience, he needs snaps on the field, so it was our plan to start him out there in the third series no matter what and then play him as much as we could.”

Safety Ed Reed suffered a minor stinger in his right shoulder late in the second quarter when he missed the tackle on Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 55-yard touchdown catch, but the veteran returned to action in the second half.

Linebacker Courtney Upshaw also tweaked his shoulder but was not concerned about the injury after the game.

The Ravens officially reported no new injuries following the win.

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Our Ravens/Browns “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Browns “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 04 November 2012 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. DeAngelo Tyson

4. Cary Williams

3. Sam Koch

2. Anquan Boldin

1. Ray Rice (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…)

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Trying to fix Ravens defense starts up front

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Trying to fix Ravens defense starts up front

Posted on 24 October 2012 by Luke Jones

The problems exist all over the field for a Ravens defense stewing during its bye week.

Ranked 26th in total yards allowed and tied for 17th in points surrendered, the Ravens no longer face questions of whether they can regain their long-enjoyed status as one of the elite defenses in the NFL. Truthfully, just improving enough to be a middle-of-the-pack unit would be a welcome change after allowing more than 180 rushing yards in each of the last three games and surrendering 43 points in Sunday’s loss to the Texans, the most allowed by the Ravens since 2007.

Frustrated fans are calling for wholesale changes, seeking new signings, trades, or even a new defensive coordinator. The Ravens aren’t pulling the plug on Dean Pees, who has had to adapt to significant personnel losses in his first year in the position, and the likelihood of bringing in any new players to make a significant impact is remote at this point in the season.

To improve upon a defense on pace to be one of the worst seen in Baltimore since the franchise’s inception in 1996, Ravens coaches and players alike will need to look from within for the answers.

“Personnel-wise, there’s not a whole lot you can do, really,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I like our players. Our players are most definitely good enough to get the job done, and we’ll just continue to improve there. Does that mean young guys? We’re going to keep developing the young guys, and as those guys emerge, sure, they are going to get an opportunity.”

The blame for the struggles belongs to everyone invested, but the root of the Ravens’ biggest problems — the poor run defense and inability to sustain a consistent pass rush — starts up front where the Baltimore defense has been thoroughly controlled at the line of scrimmage. And that’s where Harbaugh’s suggestion of relying on young players grows more unsettling.

Aside from All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who is now struggling with nagging knee and shoulder injuries, the Ravens haven’t seen any of their other defensive linemen emerge to fill the void left behind by veterans who’ve departed in recent years. Terrence Cody, Pernell McPhee, and Arthur Jones have made little impact after being entrusted to assume bigger roles this season. Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw weren’t able to consistently get after the quarterback in the absence of five-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Terrell Suggs. And a returning Ma’ake Kemoeatu has faded after a strong preseason to supplant Cody as the starting nose tackle.

Those shortcomings have led to the Baltimore defensive line being dominated at the line of scrimmage, failing to maintain gap control and allowing offensive linemen to get to the second level to block linebackers. The front four hasn’t made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks, who have then been able to pick on struggling cornerbacks.

The linebackers and secondary haven’t played well either, but their best chance for improvement starts with the defensive line, whose play impacts every level of the defense.

“[It's] a work in progress. We’re not where we’ve been in the past, obviously,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve been a dominant run front. We’ve been able to play the run with seven in the box and pretty much dominate the run. We’re not there right now. So, that’s what we’ve got to work towards.”

Figuring out how to fix it is the biggest problem as Pees has already employed a rotation of defensive linemen, with none making a consistent impact other than a healthy Ngata.

Cody has regressed so significantly since a strong start last season that he’d taken only roughly 30 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season prior to Sunday when Kemoeatu was inactive due to a knee injury. The 2010 second-round pick has made only 12 tackles after collecting 34 in 2011 and doesn’t command the double teams you’d like to see to free up inside linebackers to make plays. Neither he nor Kemoeatu have handled the nose tackle position with any level of consistent effectiveness.

The combination of McPhee and Jones hasn’t made anyone forget about veteran defensive end Cory Redding, who left in free agency in the offseason. Emerging as the steal of the 2011 draft for the Ravens with six sacks during his rookie season, McPhee added weight to become a three-down defensive end and has dealt with the effects of arthroscopic knee surgery in the spring. Lacking the explosiveness he displayed as a rookie, he has only 16 tackles and 1/2 sack and saw his playing time drastically reduced on Sunday, taking part in only 20 percent of the defensive snaps after playing in roughly 70 percent of the defensive plays through the first six weeks of the season.

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

Posted on 30 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Trying to conjure up excitement for the preseason finale is an effort in vain, but don’t tell Ravens coach John Harbaugh that the game holds no importance.

While most starters aren’t expected to play against the St. Louis Rams Thursday night, the Ravens will provide a final opportunity to rookies and fringe veterans to stake their claim for a spot on the 53-man roster. For these players, this game will be as important as any they’ve ever played.

“We’re going to try to get as many reps as we can for the guys that we’re trying to determine their future,” Harbaugh said. “These guys work too hard out here to not give them every opportunity out there in a game situation to prove what they can do.”

Thursday marks the third preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Rams, with St. Louis holding a 2-0 edge. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series with a 3-2 advantage after winning 37-7 at the Edward Jones Dome last Sept. 25.

As is the case with every preseason game, the final score will be irrelevant, but Harbaugh and his coaching staff hope to take away enough information to make any final decisions that linger regarding who they’ll select to join the 2012 Ravens.

Those not making the cut will hope to land on the practice squad or with any of the other 31 NFL teams after Friday’s 9 p.m. deadline. For many, the vision of playing in the NFL will come to an end in less than 48 hours.

“This is their dream,” Harbaugh said. “There are a lot of guys that have an opportunity right now that are on the bubble to make this team. So, we’ve got decisions to make here and for other teams to take a look at. So, they’ve earned that, they deserve that, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Five bubble players to watch

1. CB Chykie Brown

Assumed to be the odd man out in a deep group of cornerbacks entering training camp, the second-year defensive back has shown improvement in coverage as well as special-teams ability as a gunner and on kick coverage to improve his standing for a roster spot. Brown has three tackles — and another on special teams — and a pass breakup in three preseason games.

Danny Gorrer and rookie Asa Jackson hold the advantage in the pecking order, but the Ravens like the potential of the 2011 fifth-round pick and would be hesitant to let him go because of his contributions on special teams. While keeping seven cornerbacks would appear to be excessive for most teams, the thin depth at safety will likely lead to veteran Corey Graham working more at free safety, thus improving Brown’s chances for a roster spot.

2. LB Sergio Kindle

After Kindle’s strong start in training camp, many began daydreaming that the 2010 second-round pick would finally begin realizing his potential after a fractured skull derailed his rookie season and left him virtually deaf in one ear. However, the big linebacker hasn’t shown much since then and suffered a shoulder stinger that kept him sidelined for the Ravens’ third preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Kindle still doesn’t show great awareness and struggles to shed blocks when he’s stymied on his initial rush at the line of scrimmage, but coaches have complimented his work ethic and maintain that he’s come a long way. The lack of depth at outside linebacker will likely lead to the Texas product finding his way onto the 53-man roster, but Kindle will need to improve as a special teams player and show more at linebacker to remain in Baltimore long-term. A strong performance against the Rams would definitely allow Kindle to sleep better before final cuts are made Friday.

3. OT Ramon Harewood

After landing on injured reserve in each of his first two years with the Ravens, Harewood has remained relatively healthy this summer and has shown improvement after struggles during organized team activities and the early portion of camp. A 2010 sixth-round pick from tiny Morehouse College, the Barbados native is still relatively new to the game of football, but his 6-foot-6, 334-pound frame and athleticism were attractive features the Ravens waited patiently to develop.

Harewood still doesn’t play with as much strength as his size suggests he should, but the uncertainty with reserve tackle Jah Reid’s injured calf may lead the Ravens to keep him on the roster for now. Rookie Kelechi Osemele has worked more extensively at left guard while competing with veteran Bobbie Williams in recent weeks, so the coaching staff may elect to take a ninth offensive lineman, which would open the door for Harewood.

4. DE DeAngelo Tyson

The seventh-round pick of April’s draft got off to a slow start this summer, but Tyson has shown glimpses of impressive athleticism and has collected four tackles and a sack this preseason. Coaches have noted his improvement, and the Georgia product has ideal size (6-foot-2 and 310 pounds) for the defensive end spot in a 3-4 alignment.

Tyson’s chances for a roster spot improved when veteran Ryan McBean suffered a season-ending ankle injury, but he would likely be the seventh defensive lineman the Ravens would keep if he lands on the favorable side of the bubble. A strong performance in St. Louis would narrow the gap with 2011 practice squad member Bryan Hall, who has shown the ability to pressure the quarterback from the interior. The organization never likes giving up on its draft picks this soon, but waiving a seventh-rounder would be far from uncommon.

5. S Omar Brown

Nothing about Brown’s measurables are impressive, but the rookie free agent from Marshall has shown an uncanny nose for the football in recovering three fumbles and grabbing an interception in the first three preseason games. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Brown doesn’t have great size as a safety and lacks speed — running the 40-yard dash in only 4.7 seconds — but secondary coach Teryl Austin and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have complimented his instincts in the defensive backfield.

The season-ending injury to Emanuel Cook and concussion concerns with veteran Sean Considine have left the Ravens vulnerable at the safety position with only the raw fourth-round selection Christian Thompson behind starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. This has allowed Brown to earn more consideration for a roster spot when he was likely regarded as little more than a long shot a couple weeks ago. However, the veteran cornerback Graham’s ability to slide over to safety makes it more difficult for Brown, meaning the practice squad might be a realistic destination for him. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens pursue another veteran option if Considine’s recovery from a concussion drags out much longer.

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