Tag Archive | "Dennis Pitta"

Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

Posted on 25 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After much anticipation for the 2014 debut of Lardarius Webb last Sunday, the Ravens only needed to see Andrew Hawkins easily shake free from the veteran cornerback to realize the time wasn’t yet right.

The shifty receiver completely turned around Webb on a simple out route that went for 24 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter to put Cleveland in Baltimore territory, and it all but ended Webb’s day as he played only four defensive snaps in the eventual 23-21 win for the Ravens. Three weeks of full participation in practice hadn’t compensated for Webb missing nearly all of training camp after being sidelined with back spasms on July 25. Since returning to practice at the end of August, Webb has needed to knock off rust and improve his flexibility in bending for the critically-important backpedal that all cornerbacks need.

“We found out really quick,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Webb’s performance in Cleveland. “And I had a great talk with him on Monday, and he understands. When I saw it [coaching] in the press box, I said, ‘He’s not there yet.’ And game speed is faster than practice speed. There’s no way to simulate it. But he has to keep practicing, and he has to feel very confident that he can do it. That’s half the battle playing the back end; you better feel confident that you can do it.”

The secondary has struggled without a healthy and effective Webb as the Ravens’ pass defense is ranked 24th in the NFL and is allowing 262.3 passing yards per game. The combination of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown hasn’t inspired confidence when either has played opposite Jimmy Smith in the base defense, and the Ravens haven’t received good play at safety where Matt Elam and Darian Stewart have struggled.

Webb hasn’t been listed on the injury report this week as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s meeting against the Carolina Panthers, which suggests he could see an expanded role from what we saw in Cleveland. The 6-foot-2 Smith is likely to match up with 6-foot-5 rookie Kelvin Benjamin — who leads the Panthers with 19 catches for 253 yards — but the rest of the Panthers’ group of wide receivers doesn’t inspire fear beyond tight end Greg Olsen, who has caught 16 passes for 224 yards through three games.

Pees has tinkered with various alignments in the back end of the defense including the use of Elam as a slot corner, which reflects how little depth the Ravens have had at the cornerback position. A healthy Webb, who is at his best playing inside in the nickel package, would give Pees some flexibility to show different looks since Jackson is also capable of playing the nickel position. However, the Ravens need to finally see a version of Webb ready to play 60 to 70 snaps per game at a high level before making any decisions about the makeup of the secondary.

“We would be fortunate if we had both those guys, because each one of them could play [inside],” Pees said. “The other guy would go outside. We have to make that determination once he’s back.”

Even with Webb’s absence taken into account, Pees isn’t pleased with how his pass defense has performed, even acknowledging Thursday that he needs to do a better job of mixing coverages and pressures as the Ravens have relied heavily on a mostly-ineffective four-man rush and soft zone coverage through the first three weeks of the season.

Elam and others pointed to miscommunication being a problem after Sunday’s game as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for nearly 300 yards last Sunday, but Pees bristled at the suggestion, perhaps implying that he wants to see defensive backs take more accountability for mishaps. The signature play of the secondary’s problems came in the fourth quarter when Elam was beaten by Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 70-yard reception that included the second-year safety looking back at Jackson instead of touching the wideout down before he got up from the ground to gain extra yardage.

“‘Miscommunication’ would not be one of the words I would have used,” said Pees in evaluating the pass defense. “I would have said very poor technique in the back end. There are a couple of them [where] there wasn’t any communication [needed]. Just line up and play and play your position. We were beat on a three-deep coverage that I don’t know what communication is there other than, ‘Get your [butt] deep.’”

Three-headed monster

The Ravens have a three-headed monster shaping up at the running back position that they haven’t enjoyed since 2008 when Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice combined to rush for 2,027 yards in John Harbaugh’s first year as head coach.

Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro have all made major contributions to the league’s eighth-ranked rushing attack in the wake of Rice’s release, so it isn’t easy predicting who will receive the biggest workload moving forward. Pierce practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Ravens continue to monitor his improvement from a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for last Sunday’s game.

Taliaferro’s 91-yard game in Cleveland has led many to conclude he should be the starter moving forward, but the Ravens have maintained all along that they’ll go with the hot hand in the backfield. And they figure to have another good opportunity Sunday with the Carolina defense allowing 145.3 yards per game on the ground.

“I still go out there just as I did since I got here,” Taliaferro said. “Just make sure I do my job and compete. Even though it’s during the season and not so much of camp now, we’re still competing not just for each other’s job, but to make each other better.”

A rush-by-committee approach is nothing new for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who guided a number of rushing attacks years ago in Denver where unknown names such as Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary would suddenly emerge as 1,000-yard backs.

Pierce and Taliaferro bring more power and physicality in their rushing style while Forsett is more of a change of pace on third down, but Kubiak also pointed out other differences such as ability to pass protect and the special-teams contributions made by Forsett and Taliaferro that factor into the overall distribution of playing time.

“Lorenzo and Justin are three-down players that play in pass-protection situations, nickel situations, and those types of things,” Kubiak said. “That’s where Bernard needs to keep coming as a player, in my opinion, but he’s working at it and doing that.”

Of course, the biggest reason for the dramatic improvement of the Ravens’ running game has been the offensive line where running lanes have been created consistently unlike last season when the running game averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.

And their strong performance makes the debate over who will carry the ball less significant.

“I think we’re really confident in our running game, and I definitely think that starts with our offensive line,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They have done a great job in this system, and they really lead the way. And I think you can see that [because] we had three different backs all have big days.”

Replacing Pitta

The offseason arrivals of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels have eased the season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta a bit, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains within the Baltimore offense.

Of course, the Ravens are more equipped to handle Pitta’s hip injury than they were a year ago, but they will still depend on Daniels and rookie Crockett Gillmore to pick up the slack for one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets. Phillip Supernaw was promoted from the practice squad to take Pitta’s place on the 53-man roster, but it remains to be seen what kind of role he can carve out for himself beyond special teams.

“It does make you stop in some of your preparation,” Kubiak said. “‘What happens in the game if this guy goes down? Now what do I go to? What personnel [groups] do I want to be in?’ Those are some things that you have to look at a little bit differently when you have these types of things happen.”

Juszczyk is another option who could see some more opportunities as the fullback has the ability to line up at tight end. He caught three passes for 54 yards and his first touchdown against the Browns last Sunday.

His emergence in the short passing game would be a welcome addition with Pitta no longer an option.

“I don’t think my role will change too much,” Juszczyk said. “I think I’ll be doing a lot of the same stuff I’ve been doing, but maybe more of it.”

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Ravens promote tight end Supernaw to 53-man roster

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Ravens promote tight end Supernaw to 53-man roster

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens promoted tight end Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad to the 53-man roster after placing Dennis Pitta on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday.

Supernaw was signed by the Ravens in the spring after spending two years in Houston under Gary Kubiak. The 24-year-old was primarily a member of the Texans’ practice squad, but he did appear in one game last season. Supernaw was cut from the roster at the end of the preaseason before being signed to the practices squad.

With Pitta out for the season after dislocating his right hip for the second time in 14 months on Sunday, veteran Owen Daniels and rookie Crockett Gillmore move up the depth chart with Supernaw becoming the No. 3 tight end. The Ouachita Baptist product’s familiarity with Kubiak’s system made him preferable over a number of tight ends the Ravens reportedly tried out on Tuesday.

To fill Supernaw’s spot on the practice squad, the Ravens signed tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi. Undrafted out of Georgia State in 2013, Ogbuehi has spent time with Washington, Miami, and Cleveland and was most recently on the Browns’ practice squad earlier this month.

The Ravens also re-signed wide receiver Deonte Thompson and waived running back Fitz Toussaint earlier on Tuesday.

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

Posted on 22 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ worst fear became reality Monday as tight end Dennis Pitta underwent surgery on his dislocated right hip and will miss the remainder of the season.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news a day after Pitta injured his hip for the second time in 14 months, leaving many to ponder his future after he was injured while trying to turn up field while catching a simple short pass in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 23-21 win over the Browns. Pitta remained hospitalized in a Cleveland hospital overnight before undergoing the surgical procedure Monday afternoon.

“We do not have the results of the surgery, specifically, yet,” Harbaugh said. “We do know that he’s going to be done for the season.”

Pitta’s absence now leaves the Ravens to rely more heavily on veteran Owen Daniels, rookie Crockett Gillmore, and second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who has the versatility to line up at the tight end position and caught three passes for 54 yards on Sunday. Harbaugh acknowledged that the organization will be looking to add another tight end, but it remains unclear whether the Ravens will promote Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad.

The disappointing news for Pitta comes so soon after a rigorous four-month rehab last year that allowed him to return for the final four games of the regular season after initially injuring his hip on July 27, 2013. Some medical experts have offered opinions that Pitta’s career could be over after suffering a second traumatic injury to the same hip.

For now, the Ravens will await the initial results and hope there wasn’t significant damage to the hip area beyond the dislocation and a likely fracture. The first injury did not damage any ligaments or cartilage, which helped facilitate a quicker return, but medical experts will surely look at the structure of his hip with even more scrutiny this time.

“I don’t know the ramifications of that long term,” Harbaugh said. “The specialists will probably give us some information on that, so I really don’t know. I’m going to be really hopeful for Dennis’ return, and I’m sure we’ll learn about that in the coming weeks.”

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Old and new give Ravens exactly what they need in Cleveland

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Old and new give Ravens exactly what they need in Cleveland

Posted on 21 September 2014 by Luke Jones

There was plenty to be concerned about throughout the Ravens’ narrow 23-21 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

The disheartening hip injury to tight end Dennis Pitta, the immense struggles of the pass defense, and the early inconsistency of wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are points of concern as the Ravens turn their attention toward next Sunday’s meeting with the Carolina Panthers. But the continued dependability of veteran Steve Smith and the emergence of two young offensive players — rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro and second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk — helped Baltimore improve to 2-1 in their stretch of three consecutive AFC North games to begin the 2014 season.

Despite turning 35 and coming off two straight seasons in which his yards per catch average declined from the previous year with the Carolina Panthers, the veteran Smith has been better than advertised in his first three games with the Ravens as he caught five passes for 101 yards on Sunday. No play was bigger than his 32-yard catch on a slant-and-go route to beat Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden on the final drive of the game to set the Ravens up on the 13-yard line, leading to Justin Tucker’s game-winning 32-yard field goal moments later.

It was just the latest example of the 14-year wideout laughing in the face of Father Time and the critics who doubted how much of an impact he would bring to the Ravens’ passing game. While Joe Flacco threw a deep ball that clanked off the hands of Jones to start the fourth quarter and connected on just two of eight targets to Torrey Smith throughout the day, the quarterback looked in no other direction but Steve Smith’s on the final drive of the game when the Ravens were staring at a 1-2 start with under two minutes to go.

And with Pitta possibly done for the season after suffering a second dislocation to his right hip in the last 14 months, Flacco will need the veteran Smith to continue being a dependable target on third down and in crunch time. Through his first three games, Steve Smith has caught 18 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown and has collected at least 71 receiving yards in each contest, a benchmark he didn’t reach once in his final season with Carolina.

Of course, Steve Smith wasn’t alone in the offensive heroics Sunday as Juszczyck and Taliaferro emerged as key contributors with the former entering the day having never caught a pass in the NFL and the fourth-round rookie tailback never registering a carry. Both made their names known against the Browns on Sunday.

Juszczyk caught a 9-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter and finished with three receptions for 54 yards. His presence as a receiver in the flat will be even more critical now to complement tight end Owen Daniels with Pitta’s status in doubt.

Receiving his first opportunity to carry the ball with Bernard Pierce out with a thigh injury, Taliaferro took full advantage of a shaky Cleveland run defense to pick up 91 yards on 18 carries, showing impressive speed and physicality that reminded many Ravens fans of Jamal Lewis on Sunday. Of course, plenty of credit needs to go to the offensive line as veteran Justin Forsett also averaged 5.7 yards per carry, but you do wonder if Taliaferro has already begun wrestling away the starting job from Pierce, who missed his first NFL game in three seasons Sunday but has dealt with nagging injuries throughout his career.

The rookie was decisive and aggressive when carrying the ball in contrast to what we’ve seen from Pierce, who has often looked unsure of himself running in a zone-blocking system the last two seasons.

Sunday’s win was far from perfect as the Ravens face plenty of questions both on and off the field, but a 2-1 start is nothing to be unhappy about as the offense is receiving contributions from younger players as well as the big-play ability of Steve Smith.

The disappointing loss of Pitta won’t be easy to overcome, but the Ravens offense continued to move in the right direction on Sunday thanks to the old — just don’t tell that to Steve Smith — and new.

 

 

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Pitta carted off field with dislocated right hip in Cleveland

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Pitta carted off field with dislocated right hip in Cleveland

Posted on 21 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Less than 14 months after enduring a devastating injury to his right hip, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a dislocation to the same hip in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

After catching a short pass from quarterback Joe Flacco late in the second quarter and attempting to turn upfield, Pitta twisted awkwardly and went down without being hit. Medical personnel immediately called for a cart to take Pitta off the field as teammates and coaches looked on with grave concern.

“I don’t know how serious that is,” head coach John Harbaugh said immediately after the Ravens’ 23-21 victory. “I haven’t heard. He told me on the field that it wasn’t as bad as before. I don’t know what that means.

“Just going to be praying and hoping for the best there. We’ll get more information, but that’s just so, so disappointing.”

Pitta was taken to a local hospital for further examination. The fifth-year tight end is feared to be lost for the season, but further testing will determine if he suffered a fracture in addition to the dislocation.

The injury occurred to the same hip Pitta dislocated and fractured on July 27, 2013. The 2010 fourth-round pick was able to return for the final four games of last season, but this latest injury is extremely concerning coming so soon after the first hip injury.

Pitta has caught 16 passes for 125 yards this season. Confident that Pitta had recovered fully from his first hip injury, the Ravens signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed this offseason.

“It’s not easy,” said quarterback Joe Flacco about the starting tight end’s injury. “Dennis is a good friend, he’s a good teammate, and he’s a hell of a player. It’s tough to see that happen.”

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

All eyes will be on Baltimore as the Ravens welcome the hated Pittsburgh Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.

However, few outside Baltimore and Pittsburgh are thinking about the game itself as the Ravens continue to deal with the fallout stemming from the release of the second Ray Rice video and the subsequent decision to terminate the running back’s contract Monday afternoon. This meeting is normally regarded as one of the best rivalries in the NFL, but you’d have to think long and hard to find another example of a Ravens-Steelers game with so little buzz surrounding the actual play on the field.

But that doesn’t make it any less important for the Ravens as they try to avoid what would be a very disheartening 0-2 start in the AFC North. According to NFL Network research, no team in NFL history has ever made the postseason after dropping two straight divisional home games to begin a season, making Thursday’s game as close to a “must-win” affair as you can have in Week 2.

Head coach John Harbaugh has earned a reputation for rallying his teams to play at their best when dealing with adversity, but the Ravens have never dealt with a situation quite like this, making you wonder how mentally and emotionally fresh they’ll be on what was already a short week.

Thursday marks the 37th time these AFC North rivals have met in the regular season with Pittsburgh holding a 20-16 advantage. The Ravens are 9-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore and have won two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to even their record at 1-1 and bounce back from their disappointing season-opening loss to Cincinnati …

1. Running back Bernard Pierce will lead the Ravens in carries and pick up 70 yards with a touchdown. It was easy for Harbaugh to send a message to Pierce after his fumble late in the second quarter last week when he was still working under the assumption that Rice would be returning for Week 3, but the Ravens now need Pierce to be a large part of what they do with their running game all season. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will get their opportunities — the former was very good in pass protection last week in addition to running for 70 yards — as Harbaugh says he will go with the hot hand moving forward, but Pierce still gives the Ravens the best chance to have a successful running game in the short-term future and is a good fit on paper for Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone stretch scheme.

2. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will take turns exploiting the tackles on the Pittsburgh line to record a combined three sacks. Suggs may have provided more of an impact than the completely-invisible Dumervil did against the Bengals, but neither were able to disrupt the timing of Andy Dalton, something that can’t be repeated against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As always, the pass rush needs to be careful not to simply chase Roethlisberger from the pocket where he’s at his best improvising down the field, but more help needs to be provided to a secondary that should have cornerback Lardarius Webb available. Steelers tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are weak links on the offensive line, giving Suggs and Dumervil no excuse not to feast on Thursday night.

3. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will pick up where Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard left off, registering 120 total yards and a touchdown while giving the Ravens problems as a receiver out of the backfield. Though much bigger than the shifty Bernard, Bell caught 45 passes for 399 yards out of the backfield in 13 games as a rookie and added six receptions for 88 yards against the Browns in Week 1. The Ravens struggled against screens and underneath throws while protecting against the deep ball last week, so Pittsburgh will test them again with those types of plays until Baltimore shows it can stop them. And with Pittsburgh being another team that likes using the no-huddle offense, you do wonder if a bigger back like Bell will start to wear down an old front seven as the game progresses.

4. The Ravens will use more up-tempo offense and quarterback Joe Flacco will go to tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels early in this one. Just as the Steelers undoubtedly saw how the Ravens defense struggled to defend screens and other underneath throws, Kubiak had to take notice of the Browns’ success using the no-huddle attack against Pittsburgh in the second half and should use that to his advantage in hopes of getting Flacco going early. You’d never know it from the final numbers when he targeted Pitta and Daniels a combined 20 times, but Flacco threw to the tight-end duo only once before the final drive of the first half. Ravens wide receivers cannot have a case of the drops like they did last week, but look for Flacco to throw more short stuff to Pitta, Daniels, and Kyle Juszczyk to get into an earlier rhythm before taking some longer shots down the field.

5. It will be close with Pittsburgh as it always is, but the home-field edge gives the Ravens just enough to pull out a 24-21 win that they really need. Only four of the 14 Ravens-Steelers games in the Harbaugh era have been decided by more than three points and the last five meetings have all been determined by three or fewer. The Ravens have dealt with plenty of distractions away from the field this week, but they know they cannot afford to fall to 0-2 with both games against AFC North foes. The best teams are able to rise to the occasion and come together under trying circumstances like these while lesser teams fold and begin looking for excuses. You get the sense that Thursday night will tell us a lot about who the Ravens are as a football team in 2014 — good or bad.

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Live From Owings Mills: CB Jackson remains out of practice Wednesday

Posted on 13 August 2014 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens returned to the practice fields at their 1 Winning Drive facility Wednesday, the penultimate open session of their 2014 Training Camp.

Two injured Ravens returned to the practice field following Tuesday’s day off. OL Ryan Jensen (leg) and S Brynden Trawick (back) were both back on the practice field-both had been out since Saturday. Additionally, TE Dennis Pitta (ankle) was on the practice field again after missing Sunday’s session and being limited in Monday’s activities.

CB Asa Jackson missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday dealing with an ankle injury, continuing to deplete a unit that is already missing Lardarius Webb (back). Webb is not expected to return until at least the end of the preseason. OL Will Rackley was not participating in Wednesday’s practice-he continues to work his way back from a concussion suffered at the start of Training Camp. DL Terrence Cody remains on the active Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.

TE Owen Daniels was not present for the session Wednesday either, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak confirmed after the session there was no injury issue-the veteran had just received a day off.

Defensive Linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) and Brent Urban (knee) remain on the roster but are both expected to miss the entire 2014 season.

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Pitta slowed by ankle sprain as Ravens, 49ers practice for final time

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Pitta slowed by ankle sprain as Ravens, 49ers practice for final time

Posted on 11 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens concluded their final day of practice with the San Francisco 49ers while tight end Dennis Pitta continued to be limited with a minor injury.

The starting tight end missed Sunday’s workout with what was originally described as a “tweak” by head coach John Harbaugh before suiting up for Monday morning’s practice. Pitta did not do much of anything during the 2 1/2 hour practice and appeared to be limping as he watched from the sideline.

“Dennis has an ankle sprain,” Harbaugh said. “He went for about 30 minutes [of individual work] and then we put him down.”

The Ravens sustained a number of injuries over the weekend with the most severe being the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Cornerback Asa Jackson (ankle), safety Brynden Trawick (back), and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen were also absent on Monday after getting hurt during the first two practices against the 49ers.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back), guard Will Rackley (concussion), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (physically unable to perform list – hip surgery) were also missing from Monday’s practice. Speaking with reporters after signing autographs for fans in attendance, Webb expressed optimism that he’ll be back soon, but the veteran defensive back wouldn’t specify a timetable for when he’ll practice for the first time or whether he’ll play in the preseason since being sidelined with back spasms on July 25.

“I would love to play some preseason, but I’ve been through some injuries,” said Webb, who has suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees in his NFL career. “I’ve been in the same position many times. I hate to say many times. We’ll see.”

With Webb and Jackson out with injuries, the Ravens used third-round rookie safety Terrence Brooks at the nickel position with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown lined up on the outside during 7-on-7 work and full-team drills against the 49ers. Brooks played cornerback as well as safety during his collegiate career at Florida State, but it’s a clear reflection of how thin the Ravens’ depth is in the secondary.

The Ravens and 49ers practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday after two days wearing full pads. Baltimore players will have the day off on Tuesday before returning to the Owings Mills facility to continue preparations ahead of Saturday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

After much speculation and discussion over whether players from opposing teams would engage in any fighting during the three-day period, the Ravens and 49ers made it through their time together without a single skirmish of significance.

Orioles pitcher Bud Norris attended Monday’s practice in Owings Mills as the California native is a 49ers fan. The right-hander was scheduled to start against the New York Yankees on Monday night.

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 27 July 2014 by Luke Jones

With 2014 training camp officially underway and the Ravens attempting to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, there are a number of early (too early?) takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. Steve Smith has looked like an elite player.

It’s fair to express doubts over a 35-year-old wide receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three consecutive years, but Smith has been as good as advertised going back to organized team activities in the spring, catching everything in sight and regularly beating cornerbacks during practices. On Saturday, he made an excellent catch on a deep ball defended by Chykie Brown and later made an impressive adjustment on a pass thrown behind him on a slant pattern. Of course, it’s important not to get carried away with how anyone performs in July, but if Smith can be that reliable target to help move the chains and provide a safety net for quarterback Joe Flacco, the investment in the 14th-year receiver will be well worth it.

2. The No. 3 cornerback for the 2014 Ravens may not yet be on the roster.

The organization spent plenty of time this offseason talking up the potential of Brown and Asa Jackson, but it’s difficult to find anyone on the field in which defensive coordinator Dean Pees would have confidence using in the nickel package along with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown has bit on play-action fakes and has struggled to find the ball when he is in position while Jackson — who is an inside defender in the nickel package — has also been beaten deep on a couple occasions. To make matters worse, Dominique Franks still hasn’t passed his conditioning test after fellow veteran newcomer Aaron Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the same test. The Ravens would prefer to use Webb inside in the nickel, but there have been no signs of anyone currently on the roster being capable of handling duties as the third cornerback.

3. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is moving well and is the biggest key for the offensive line.

The third-year lineman has moved well early in camp and will be the key in determining how effective the interior offensive line can be in 2014 after it was undersized and ineffective last season. It’s still too early to gauge whether his surgically-repaired back will be in issue, but Osemele delivered an impressive block 10 yards downfield that sent safety Darian Stewart to the ground on Saturday afternoon, a telling example of the improved mobility he simply didn’t have early last year. If the Ravens can be strong inside with Osemele and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda flanking new center Jeremy Zuttah, it will alleviate much of the pressure on Rick Wagner or whoever mans the right tackle position.

4. Veteran newcomer Darian Stewart has impressed and is the early favorite to start at free safety.

His unfortunate encounter with Osemele aside, Stewart has displayed good athleticism at the safety position and looks to be the favorite to line up next to Matt Elam in the starting defense. The former St. Louis Rams safety is versatile with the ability to line up closer to the line of scrimmage or to play the more traditional free position, and Pees has said on a number of occasions that he’s looking to mirror his safeties more than just having a traditional strong and free one. Rookie Terrence Brooks will need to make significant strides between now and the start of the season as he appears to be thinking too much when lined up on the field and has worked primarily with the third-string defense to this early point. Secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo is familiar with Stewart going back to their days in St. Louis, so the Ravens hope they’ve found another value signing like they did with Corey Graham a couple years ago.

5. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to move his skill players around in formations.

The Ravens are sure to experience growing pains implementing their new offensive system, but Kubiak has experimented plenty with his skill players to find strengths and weakness as well as potentially exploit vulnerabilities in a defense in a given matchup. His creative use of tight ends is a well-documented characteristic of his West Coast system, but it will be fun to watch how he uses fullback Kyle Juszczyk and big wide receiver Marlon Brown in addition to Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels this season. Ultimately, offensive success in the NFL comes down to winning 1-on-1 matchups no matter how clever your schemes might be, but pre-snap movement has been a regular feature of what we’ve seen so far in Owings Mills.

6. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw looks too heavy for the third straight preseason.

Coach John Harbaugh was more complimentary of Upshaw’s conditioning in the spring, but the third-year linebacker looks bigger at the start of training camp than he did during OTAs, continuing a theme of the 2012 second-round pick not taking the best care of his body. In fairness to Upshaw, he hasn’t noticeably labored during his first few practices, but temperatures have also been favorable thus far. He has been solid in his first couple seasons and has flashed potential to be better than that, but it’s just difficult to project a player to improve when he spends too much time playing catchup with his weight every summer. The early expectation is that Upshaw will once again split time with Elvis Dumervil at the strongside outside linebacker position.

7. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has a rare combination of strength and quickness that’s fun to watch.

More attention has been paid to first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley, but Jernigan is becoming an early favorite of Pees as he’s been very active and has shown plenty of power in the trenches early in camp. Brandon Williams is the favorite to line up as the starting nose tackle, but there’s no reason Jernigan won’t be a regular member in the rotation, and his play could be a deciding factor in how the Ravens handle the final year of Haloti Ngata’s contract after the season. Pees quipped on Saturday that Jernigan doesn’t always follow his assignment, but he’ll make a big play anyway, which is pretty high praise for a rookie defensive lineman just a few days into his first training camp.

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Harbaugh says Rice, fiancée to attend couples seminar

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Harbaugh says Rice, fiancée to attend couples seminar

Posted on 05 March 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While they await a court date regarding an alleged domestic altercation that occurred in Atlantic City last month, Ravens running back Ray Rice and his fiancée plan to attend a couples seminar to work out their issues.

Rice and Janay Palmer were arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence following the incident at an Atlantic City casino. A court summons said they struck each other with their hands and that Rice rendered his fiancée unconscious.

The Ravens continue to gather information about the altercation and general manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged at last month’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that the portion of the surveillance video released by TMZ didn’t look good, but the general manager said that he feels positive about Rice’s side of the story.

“I’ve talked to Ray a lot, and [I have] really nothing to add other than what’s been said already,” coach John Harbaugh said at a Wednesday press conference to announce tight end Dennis Pitta’s new five-year, $32 million contract. “The facts will determine the consequences, and we’ll see where it goes. I haven’t seen anything different, just like you haven’t seen anything different.

“Ray has told me his side of it, and everything that we’ve seen so far is very consistent with what he’s said. There’s nothing he’s said that hasn’t turned out to be the case. I know Ray is going to spend a week at a seminar-type of thing as a couples-type deal. He’s doing everything he can to do what he needs to do and make things right.”

The original court date was canceled last month and has yet to be rescheduled after Atlantic City police turned the case over to the prosecutor’s office for further review in determining whether additional or different charges needed to be filed.

Flacco, receivers plan to get to work

With Pitta now locked up for the next five years as a critical contributor in the passing game, the 28-year-old now plans to get together with quarterback Joe Flacco and the other wide receivers under contract to begin working prior to the start of the offseason program and organized team activities.

Pitta said he likes what he’s seen of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system and wants to put in extra time working with Flacco and his other teammates in trying to jump-start a passing game that ranked 18th in the NFL last season.

“We’ve talked about it, and it’s nothing set in stone right now,” Pitta said. “I know that’s something Joe wants to get done. He wants to be able to meet with us and kind of get on the same page and go over some of the new things that we’re going to be doing. I’m sure we’ll get that ironed out in the next few weeks.”

NFL teams with returning head coaches may begin their offseason programs on April 21.

Pitta supports Jimmy Graham’s franchise tag grievance

After much discussion of possibly receiving the franchise tag before agreeing to a long-term deal last week, Pitta empathized with New Orleans’s Jimmy Graham, who is filing a grievance with the league over being designated  at the tight end position as the Saints’ franchise player.

Graham took a majority of his snaps lined up out wide and in the slot last season and contends that he should be viewed as a wide receiver, which would mean receiving a tender of $12.132 million instead of the $7.053 million specified for the tight end position. Pitta could have made a similar argument after lining up in the slot on 79.7 percent of his snaps last season.

“I think he’s been a top producer in this league, certainly on his team, [and] led his team in catches, yards, touchdowns,” Pitta said. “Why all of a sudden, because he’s labeled as a tight end, does that devalue his stock? I think it’s something that he should challenge because it’s not right that he can catch more touchdowns and more yards than maybe someone who is classified as a wide receiver, yet because he has that tight end label, now all of a sudden his value is cut in half.”

Not following in Flacco’s footsteps

After being asked whether he’d celebrate his new contract in a similar manner to how Flacco commemorated his record-setting $120.6 million deal last offseason, Pitta made it clear that his best friend on the team will still be taking care of the bill when they meet for dinner.

“I probably won’t go to McDonald’s after this,” said Pitta, laughing as he recalled Flacco’s highly-publicized first meal after officially signing a nine-figure contract. “No, I didn’t get Joe Flacco money, so he will still be paying for dinners.”

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