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Live from Owings Mills: Dumervil misses Saturday with groin injury

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Live from Owings Mills: Dumervil misses Saturday with groin injury

Posted on 17 August 2013 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens returned to practice Saturday after Thursday night’s 27-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons in their second preseason game of 2013.

Head Coach John Harbaugh announced Thursday night that LB Elvis Dumervil had suffered a “slight” groin injury in the victory, an injury that kept Dumervil out of Saturday’s practice session. Harbaugh reiterated Saturday that Dumervil’s injury “was not a serious deal” but could not commit to when the three time Pro Bowler would return to practice.

The former Broncos pass rusher had declared “I’m fine” after the game when asked about the injury.

WR Deonte Thompson (foot), TE Ed Dickson (hamstring) and DL Marcus Spears (hamstring) all remained out of practice Saturday. TE Dennis Pitta (hip), LB Jameel McClain (back), OL Ryan Jensen (foot) and DL Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) all remained out and are not expected to return soon.

CB Chris Johnson (undisclosed) returned to practice Saturday after missing Thursday night’s game.

OFFENSE STRUGGLES: The day’s offense/defense 11 on 11 competition ended in a tie 50-50 score, but the offense needed to be picked up by their second team unit.

The first team offense struggled throughout the day, including multiple interceptions thrown by QB Joe Flacco. CB Lardarius Webb got a pick when new TE Dallas Clark cut in and Flacco’s pass went outside near the goal line. This was only Clark’s second practice since joining the team.

LB Josh Bynes and S Michael Huff also collected interceptions of the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

ROOKIE RECEIVERS GET CHANCE: Some younger receivers received snaps with the first team offense Saturday.

Undrafted free agent Marlon Brown received steady snaps with the first team during the day, while fellow rookie Aaron Mellette received some snaps with the first team as well after catching his second touchdown of the preseason Thursday night. Harbaugh was happy with Mellette’s performance, saying after practice “that’s how you make it, that’s how you earn your stripes, you make plays.”

Third year receiver Tandon Doss was active Saturday, making a number of catches in the middle of the field.

CAMP OVER: Saturday’s practiced marked the first after the end of the “Training Camp” portion of the Summer. For the first time since the team reported in July, there were no fans at the Owings Mills facility to watch practice.

The Ravens will practice Sunday afternoon at Stevenson University’s Mustang Stadium, marking the final “open” practice of 2013. Fans were able to enter a lottery for the chance to win tickets to Sunday’s practice. The Ravens will practice in Owings Mills Monday and Tuesday before Thursday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium.

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Concerns rising over Ravens’ lack of options in passing game

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Concerns rising over Ravens’ lack of options in passing game

Posted on 16 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Unless you’re heavily invested in the futures of such Ravens players as Tyrod Taylor, Aaron Mellette, and Asa Jackson, there wasn’t much to like Thursday night despite a 27-23 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Head coach John Harbaugh said it all as the first half ended with the Ravens trailing 20-7 after the offense was held to just 131 total yards, the defense had surrendered 255 yards, and the team had committed five penalties for 42 yards. The effort was sloppy, out of rhythm, and unlike anything the sixth-year coach could remember in his tenure in Baltimore — even if it was only the second preseason game of the summer.

“That first half was about as poorly as we could play,” Harbaugh said at halftime. “I can’t remember us playing worse since we came here.”

Speaking with more perspective after a 21-point fourth quarter that propelled the Ravens to a 2-0 start in the preseason, the coach acknowledged that many of the first-half mistakes were correctable and he was right. As shaky as the defensive effort was, Dean Pees’ unit has several new pieces that need to gel over these next three weeks prior to the regular-season opener. The secondary will be aided by the return of top cornerback Lardarius Webb, and most players on which the Ravens are counting have track records that create a certain comfort level.

The penalties are a concern when you recall the Ravens being plagued by them last year — ranking 31st in the NFL — but they weren’t of the variety causing you to lose too much sleep.

Of course, the area raising the most concern for the second week in a row is the stagnant performance of the offense as the Ravens couldn’t run nor throw the ball with any level of consistency in the first 30 minutes of play. The lone highlight was a 77-yard touchdown strike from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith on a crossing pattern over the middle of the field on the first play of their second offensive series.

Aside from that one play, the Ravens were held to 54 yards on 18 plays and managed just three first downs before halftime. Baltimore carried the ball 10 times for just 13 yards in the first half as the starting offensive line opened few running lanes with Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda not quite ready for game action.

Wide receivers not named Smith were held to one catch for four yards on six targets prior to Mellette’s 40-yard touchdown to open the fourth-quarter scoring.

“We kind of beat ourselves with penalties and certain miscues, and it’s tough to play from behind,” Smith said. “When you’re not playing many plays, it’s tough to recover from that, but we’ll be fine. We know what the mistakes were that we made, and you can’t make penalties, so obviously we need to correct that.”

There are only so many times you can go to the “throw a quick slant to Torrey Smith for a touchdown” trick in the playbook.

The results of Thursday night’s game are truly inconsequential as we’ll all forget the score of the game in just a few weeks, but the current state of the passing offense continues to look like one of panic. Beyond Smith, not a single receiver emerged as Jacoby Jones was held to one reception and newly-signed veteran Brandon Stokley wasn’t targeted after playing only a handful of plays in the slot.

With Ed Dickson still sidelined with a hamstring injury, current starting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was targeted twice in the first half — one negated by a penalty — and failed to record a reception.

It was Jones again running a questionable route that contributed in part to a second Flacco interception in as many weeks.

“I threw it into a bee’s nest,” said Flacco about the second-quarter pick. “I thought Jacoby might be able to get around the Sam linebacker, so I kind of threw it off of his shoulder, but Jacoby was just getting behind there, so I threw it into too many people.”

It’s becoming apparent that the Ravens are discovering what the Houston Texans did about Jones’ limitations as a wide receiver. The Pro Bowl return specialist’s ideal role is the one he served last year as a vertical threat on the outside in three-wide sets and as a player you can use for a handful of gadget plays over the course of the year.

But Jones hasn’t been as disappointing as third-year receiver Tandon Doss, who didn’t even draw any playing time with the starting offense on Thursday as Stokley took the reps in the slot. Though not the deciding factor by any stretch, Doss was viewed as a real piece of the puzzle along with tight end Dennis Pitta this offseason to replace veteran Anquan Boldin’s production.

Instead, it’s been a quiet summer for the 2011 fourth-round pick, who has struggled to gain separation in practices and each of the first two preseason contests. Doss suffered a drop on a pass originally ruled to be a fumble in the third quarter before he did manage to make up for it with a 5-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

“That was really, really great to see,” Harbaugh said. “Consistency is important, too. You’ve got to stack good plays. We’ll have to go back and look at that and just see for every guy how that plays out. You really need to watch the tape and kind of see where the situation is to evaluate it fairly.”

Harbaugh’s correct and much of what he saw on both sides of the ball was correctable, but he’ll also find a group of wide receivers and tight ends that struggled to gain separation over the first three quarters of play. And while it’s only a preseason game for the established veterans with track records, these are the precious opportunities to find out as much as you can about the unknown commodities on your roster.

The likes of Doss, David Reed, LaQuan Williams (who followed a strong preseason opener with two drops Thursday night), and the injured Deonte Thompson haven’t looked up to the task for the most part in the two preseason games or practices, leaving the door open for Stokley and newly-signed veteran tight end Dallas Clark to receive extensive opportunities in the all-important third preseason game.

Four weeks into the summer, a long-term and potentially season-ending hip injury to Pitta and a disappointing Doss have left the plan to replace Boldin in shambles as the Ravens are now looking for any help they can get to augment the passing game.

Beyond Smith and Ray Rice out of the backfield, who can you trust as pass catchers?

Flacco has talked a good game all spring and summer about trusting his young receivers, but you wonder how much of that is the sixth-year quarterback trying to be a good teammate at this point as he can’t truly rely on anyone but Smith in the current batch of healthy receivers and tight ends.

At least there’s always Rice and the check-down to count on.

“We really don’t think about it too much besides when we’re questioned about it,” Flacco said about the perceived offensive struggles. “You guys look more at that stuff. We just go out there and play and do it with who we have out there. I think the guys are doing a great job.”

Who we have out there.

Whether he intended to or not, the quarterback said it all with that portion of his response.

And Thursday made you continue to doubt if who the Ravens have out there will be enough this year.

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Old friend Stokley officially rejoins Ravens at stadium practice Sunday

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Old friend Stokley officially rejoins Ravens at stadium practice Sunday

Posted on 11 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — The man who caught the first touchdown in Ravens Super Bowl history officially reunited with the team who drafted him as wide receiver Brandon Stokley was present for Sunday’s practice at M&T Bank Stadium.

The 37-year-old receiver who played in Baltimore from 1999 through 2002 watched practice but didn’t participate as the Ravens held their second public practice of the summer. Earlier in the day, the Ravens officially announced a one-year contract with Stokley and waived wide receiver Marcus Rivers to create room on their 90-man preseason roster.

With the foot injury to wide receiver Deonte Thompson and the questions surrounding the wide receiver position, Stokley’s addition became a no-brainer in the Ravens’ minds.

“It gives us experience,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It gives us a guy who can catch balls in the slot and has done that over a number of years. He’s done a great job of that. It’s an asset for us. More than anything, it’s a need potentially in a certain area, but we still have guys who are in the process of stepping up there.”

Stokley had a solid season with former Indianapolis teammate Peyton Manning in Denver last year, catching 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns.

For the veteran receiver, Sunday felt like a homecoming as Stokley recalled arriving in Baltimore 14 years earlier as a fresh-faced rookie taken in the fourth round of the 1999 draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette. It only took 384 catches, 5,224 yards, and 39 touchdowns for the 15th-year veteran to come full circle.

“This is where I started. A lot of old, good memories,” said Stokley, who believes he can provide the Ravens with a target who can help move the chains and provide another option inside the red zone. “It’s just a great organization, great fans, just all around a great place. I’m just trying to come in here and work hard, do my best, and hopefully help out in any way that I can.”

Of course, Stokley’s first run with the Ravens didn’t include the opportunity to play with a franchise signal-caller like Joe Flacco as Stokley played with the likes of Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Chris Redman, and Elvis Grbac. In four seasons with Baltimore, he caught just 60 passes before joining Indianapolis where he caught 139 passes while playing with Peyton Manning over the next four seasons.

Stokley was quite complimentary of Flacco after being reminded by reporters that he was on the opposing sideline in Denver when the Baltimore quarterback connected with Jacoby Jones on the 70-yard touchdown to force overtime in the divisional-round thriller against the Broncos.

“He’s unbelievable,” Stokley said. “You saw what he did last year in the playoffs. That run that they went on was awesome. It takes a special quarterback to do that.”

Thompson out, Pierce possible for Atlanta game Thursday night

Harbaugh confirmed that Thompson’s left foot sprain wasn’t something that will keep him sidelined for an extended period of time but ruled out the second-year receiver for Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Thompson injured the foot making a 5-yard catch in the second quarter of the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and didn’t return. He was seen wearing a walking boot following the game and hasn’t practiced since. It appears, however, he will be ready to play in the all-important third preseason game in less than two weeks.

“Deonte sprained his foot. It’s not serious,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to hold him out of this game and re-evaluate him on Friday [to] see where he’s at. I would expect him back for the Carolina game.”

The Baltimore coach also confirmed reports that the injury to running back Bernard Pierce’s knee wasn’t serious, labeling the injury as a bruise. The second-year back tweaked his knee on a 20-yard touchdown early in the second quarter of Thursday’ game and didn’t return.

Despite not practicing over the last two days, Pierce still has a chance to play against the Falcons, according to Harbaugh.

Dickson on mend, no timetable for return

Sunday marked a week since Ed Dickson suffered a slightly-torn hamstring tear and while he’s not ready to announce a date for his return, the fourth-year tight end continues to make progress in rehabbing the injury.

“Every little thing I can do, I’m taking it day by day,” Dickson said. “This type of injury with a muscle, you’ve got to take it day by day. I’m doing all the little things, staying conditioned, and trying to catch as many balls as I can.”

Dickson has taken some consolation in knowing he can take his time recovering fully after the recent veteran additions of Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark, but the 2010 third-round pick said it’s been frustrating being sidelined after the season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta on July 27.

Asked whether he was confident that he’d be ready to go for the start of the regular season as Harbaugh has previously said, Dickson wouldn’t speak in specific terms, only expressing concern that he doesn’t want the injury to linger into the regular season.

“I can’t make any predictions,” said Dickson about his availability for the season opener on Sept. 5, “but I’m working hard to do that. I’m trying my hardest to get back out there. It kills me. I’m hard on myself.”

Absences growing at practice

The Ravens were without 13 players for Sunday’s stadium practice as linebacker Courtney Upshaw was a new absence to add to the list.

Joining him as non-participants were wide receivers Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown, Pierce (knee), tight ends Dickson (hamstring) and Pitta (hip), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ryan Jensen (foot), cornerback Chris Johnson (undisclosed), linebackers Bryan Hall (hamstring) and Jameel McClain (neck), and defensive linemen Marcus Spears (undisclosed) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee).

Johnson had practiced on Saturday before once again being sidelined for Sunday’s workout.

Odds & ends

Kicker Justin Tucker continued his outstanding training camp as he connected on field goals from 20, 39, 48, 35, 52, and 58 yards. He then proceeded to miss attempts from 64 and 67 yards even though each kick had more than enough distance. The NFL record for the longest field goal is 63 yards. … A day after being chastised for lackadaisical play by Harbaugh, rookie wide receiver Aaron Mellette turned in his strongest practice of the summer, making consecutive difficult catches on a slant pattern and sideline route during 7-on-7 drills and topping those receptions with an outstanding leaping catch over the middle for a long gain while working with the second-team offense a few minutes later. … With Thompson sidelined, the Ravens primarily used Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Tandon Doss in their three-wide sets, but David Reed also received some reps with the first-team offense. Harbaugh said after Sunday’s practice that they’re going to take a closer look at Doss in the slot after using him in the slot and on the outside in the first couple weeks of practice. … As he did in his first tour of duty with the Ravens, Stokley will wear No. 80 and plans to practice on Monday. … The Ravens announced approximately 25,000 fans were in attendance for Sunday’s open and free practice at M&T Bank Stadium.

 

 

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Thompson, Pierce suffer injuries in preseason opener

Posted on 09 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

In what was otherwise a satisfying 44-16 victory in the preseason opener, the Ravens suffered two injuries of note against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.

The most concerning at this point appears to happen to wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who injured his left ankle making a 5-yard reception in the second quarter. The second-year wideout was in visible pain as he limped to the sidelined and was tended to by members of the training staff. Reports from Tampa indicated he was seen in a walking boot following the game.

The second notable injury was to Bernard Pierce as the backup running back scored a 20-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Pierce took a helmet shot to the hip as he was crossing the goal line and landed awkwardly, appearing to tweak his knee. He was limping noticeably until he jogged to the sideline.

“We look pretty good right now,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who didn’t name any specific injuries. “We’ll have some things we’ll have to see about [Friday] – X-rays, MRIs, things like that. So we’ll have to see.”

Players are off on Friday before they return to the practice field in Owings Mills on Saturday afternoon.

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Ravens-Buccaneers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Buccaneers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 07 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

After undergoing more change than any Super Bowl champion in recent memory, the Ravens will offer a glimpse of their revamped roster in their preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday.

The contest will offer little more than a cameo appearance for players expected to make the biggest impact in the 2013 season but will also provide welcome change for a group of players tired of working against one another after two weeks of practices in Owings Mills. Sunday’s practice at the Naval Academy in Annapolis provided a much-needed change of scenery, but a trip to Tampa will bring live-game action to a team with high expectations but also a number of veteran newcomers and rookies expected to contribute immediately.

The outcome of the preseason opener won’t determine answers for any of a number of questions facing the Ravens on both sides of the football, but the game will sharpen the focus of preparation for both coaches and players after facing competition in another uniform.

“They really are tired of seeing each other,” said coach John Harbaugh about the monotony of the first couple weeks of camp. “You can’t tackle to the ground, and you have to take care of one another. The game is a little bit different. The game is the game, and we’ll learn a lot. We’ll have a chance to move forward from there because there will be some things we’re expecting to see that we’ll see. But there will be other things that we’ll be surprised about – good and bad – and we’ll have to build off those things.”

Thursday will mark the first preseason meeting between Baltimore and Tampa Bay, but the teams have split the regular-season series, 2-2. Their last meeting came at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010 when the Ravens won 17-10 en route to a 12-4 season that resulted in the third straight trip to the playoffs for a Harbaugh-coached team. The Ravens haven’t played a game at Raymond James Stadium since the 2006 season opener and, of course, won the first of their two Super Bowl titles in Tampa on Jan. 28, 2001.

The Ravens are 40-27 all-time in the preseason and 13-7 in the Harbaugh era. Baltimore has also won 12 of its last 16 preseason games and is 19-14 in preseason road games.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release 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.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play as he continues to be held out of most 11-on-11 sessions during practices while working his way back to 100 percent following last October’s ACL injury.

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

OUT: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), LB Jameel McClain (neck), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: WR David Reed (groin), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Ramon Harewood (knee), S Omar Brown (undisclosed), CB Chris Johnson (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: RB Ray Rice (ankle), S James Ihedigbo (neck), DT Terrence Cody (hip/elbow)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. WR Deonte Thompson

I’ve been as skeptical as anyone about the offseason praise bestowed on the second-year Florida product, but Thompson has looked increasingly comfortable working in the Ravens’ starting offense over the last week, whether it’s lining up in the slot or on the outside while Tandon Doss works inside in certain three-wide sets. Quarterback Joe Flacco complimented Thompson’s ability to work inside while also possessing unique speed for the slot position.

It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell uses Thompson in the slot as he provides a speed element that neither Anquan Boldin nor Dennis Pitta possessed, but the biggest questions will be whether the former rookie free agent can catch the football consistently — the knock on him during his collegiate career — and whether he’s strong enough to create separation against press coverage. However, Thompson has performed well enough in the spring and summer to warrant extended looks in the preseason.

2. DE Chris Canty

The signings of pash-rush specialist Elvis Dumervil and free safety Michael Huff garnered more attention in the offseason, but Canty will provide the Ravens with a prototypical 5-technique defensive end (lining up over the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle), an asset they sorely lacked last season following the free-agent departure of Cory Redding. Arthur Jones was better suited to play inside and Pernell McPhee battled injuries throughout the year, forcing a banged-up Haloti Ngata to move away from his ideal spot and play outside more often. As a result, the defensive line suffered mightily against the run and getting after the quarterback.

Canty’s unique combination of size, power, and arm length — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 317 pounds — is exactly what you’re looking for to hold up against offensive tackles at the point of attack in the running game as well as to get after the quarterback a bit and put hands up to disrupt passing lanes. If Canty can remain healthy, his dirty work upfront won’t always show up in the box score but will be as valuable as Dumervil’s ability to bring down the quarterback and Huff’s work in the secondary.

3. LB Josh Bynes

Veteran Daryl Smith appears to be the overwhelming favorite to man the Mike inside linebacker position, but Bynes is battling Albert McClellan and second-round rookie Arthur Brown for the Will spot with most attention being paid to the Kansas State product for obvious reasons. However, Bynes has taken a large majority of the reps with the starting defense while Brown has primarily worked in sub packages and with the second-team unit.

Bynes missed nearly all of last year’s training camp with a back injury but eventually worked his way back to become a valuable special-teams contributor and filled in admirably after a number of injuries at the inside linebacker position late in the season. He has been complimented by coaches for having a good mind for the game and is strong against the run, making him the early favorite to start over the undersized and inexperienced Brown, who will likely replacing Bynes in passing situations to utilize his pass-coverage ability.

4. C A.Q. Shipley

Shipley’s 6-foot-1, 308-pound frame doesn’t impress you, but his work at the center position has earned him plenty of reps with the starting offense in a close battle with 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski. I’ve maintained all spring and summer that Gradkowski was the favorite, but it appears that Shipley has closed the gap over the first couple weeks of training camp.

The Penn State product graded out well in his first real opportunity to play in the NFL last year with Indianapolis, but neither Shipley nor Gradkowski has great size, making you wonder if either will hold up physically against bigger opposing defensive tackles during the regular season. This might be the closest position battle of any for the Ravens this summer.

5. WR Marlon Brown

If you’re looking for this year’s rookie free agent to come out of nowhere in the way that past individuals such as Thompson or LaQuan Williams or Dannell Ellerbe did, Brown is an intriguing candidate because of his 6-foot-4 frame. His final season at the University of Georgia was cut short due to a torn ACL, which limited his ability to work out for teams during the draft process and contributed to him going undrafted.

Brown doesn’t possess overwhelming speed, but he’s shown a consistent ability to catch the football in practices unlike 2012 sixth-round pick and fellow big target Tommy Streeter, who is clearly behind Brown and seventh-round rookie Aaron Mellette on the depth chart. If Brown can shine while working with Tyrod Taylor and the second-team offense over the first couple preseason games, he could find himself at least in the conversation for a roster spot, especially with the Ravens desperately looking for red-zone targets in the passing game following the season-ending injury to Pitta.

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Training camp observations from Owings Mills

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Training camp observations from Owings Mills

Posted on 01 August 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

There were no changes to the attendance report for Thursday’s practice from a day earlier, but the workout provided plenty of intrigue in terms of competition as the Ravens inch closer to next Thursday’s preseason opener at Tampa Bay.

The Baltimore public relations staff also released the first depth chart of the year, which shouldn’t be analyzed as anything but an estimate of what we’ve seen at training camp. However, it does support some of the following observations a week into full-squad workouts in Owings Mills:

1. The use of a point-based system to track practices has increased the intensity level between the offensive and defensive units and, more specifically, quarterback Joe Flacco and linebacker Terrell Suggs.

As we’ve seen with the explosion of statistically-based analysis in baseball over the last 30 years, NFL front offices and coaches are looking for more and more data to quantify what talent evaluators are seeing on the field over time. As a result, football video operations coordinator Drew Wilkins and defensive quality control coach Matt Weiss devised a point system to not only track the performance of players and units over time but also create more competition for players with a scoreboard tracking practices in Owings Mills.

The details of the system were too complicated for coach John Harbaugh to spell out Wednesday, but it seems more than coincidental to hear more chirping and gamesmanship than ever between the offense and defense — most of it being good-natured ribbing. Flacco and Suggs have been the ringleaders for their sides as the quarterback has become increasingly vocal over the last couple years and the 30-year-old linebacker is no longer in the shadow of Ray Lewis or Ed Reed as a spokesman for the defense.

During 11-on-11 drills on Thursday, the defense began chanting, “We fight!” after a reserve unit made a stop against the second-team offense. Not to stand by quietly, Flacco shouted across the field, “What are you, a little league softball team with that cheer?”

Suggs and Flacco continued jawing at each other with the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year bragging about having more “swag” before the Super Bowl XLVII MVP fired back that he made more money than his defensive contemporary.

If there were any lingering doubts, it’s quite clear who the vocal leaders are in the post-Ray Lewis era.

2. Questions remain over who will be the starting 11 for a revamped Ravens defense, but coordinator Dean Pees is thrilled with the potential versatility at his disposal.

It’s difficult to get a great read on how the Ravens will ultimately line up in their base defense, but Pees will likely view as many as 16 or 17 players as “starters” in his unit. It’s quite a change from last season when injuries all over the defense and deficiencies upfront forced Pees to simplify his play calling.

The addition of Chris Canty as a 5-technique defensive end — a position the Ravens failed to fill last season after the free-agent departure of Cory Redding — has allowed Pees to shift Haloti Ngata to the nose tackle position where he can use his strength and speed to either overpower or blow past centers and guards. The depth chart currently lists Ngata as the starting nose tackle and Canty and Arthur Jones as the starting defensive ends, but the Ravens will also have the likes of Marcus Spears, Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody, and rookie Brandon Williams to mix and match along the line.

Regardless of whether he’s able to beat out rookie Matt Elam for the starting strong safety spot, James Ihedigbo will be another versatile piece as a dime back who can also play inside the box as an extra linebacker in certain packages.

Perhaps the most intriguing spot to watch will be the outside linebacker position where nearly everyone assumed Suggs and free-agent acquisition Elvis Dumervil would be the starters. The Ravens have listed Courtney Upshaw and Dumervil as co-starters at the strongside linebacker spot, but Upshaw has received extensive time at the starting “Sam” position in practices with Dumervil being used more in sub-packages and as the backup to Suggs at the rush linebacker spot in some 11-on-11 sessions.

Of course, these are very early observations, but Upshaw is superb at setting the edge and has a clear size advantage over Dumervil that might be more advantageous in early-down situations where running players are more likely. Make no mistake, the Ravens are very happy with Dumervil and he’s looked like a monster getting after the quarterback in practices, but he may be used more as a situational player like Paul Kruger than as an every-down linebacker like Suggs on the other side.

3. Tight end Ed Dickson has impressed in the absence of the injured Dennis Pitta, but the collective group of young wide receivers beyond Torrey Smith has been nondescript thus far.

Many forget that Dickson posted a 54-catch, five-touchdown season in 2011 before Pitta emerged later that season and the former was phased into a supporting role. In a contract year and knowing that Pitta is gone for the season, Dickson has certainly looked like a man trying to make a statement in the early days of practice, catching the football consistently and even working a little more in the slot in the way Pitta would.

Meanwhile, the wide receiver position looks as cloudy as it did before camp as no one beyond Smith looks the part of a deserving starter at this very early stage. Jacoby Jones has filled a role similar to what we saw last year as an outside receiver in three-wide sets, making you wonder if the Ravens are inclined to keep him in that limited capacity offensively to preserve him for his return duties. Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson have received more opportunities than other young wideouts with the starting unit as each has worked primarily out of the slot but also on the outside in some two-wide sets.

In evaluating Doss, Thompson, LaQuan Williams, David Reed, Aaron Mellette, and Tommy Streeter, there has been some good, some bad, and plenty of “meh.”

Perhaps the best way to illustrate my point was the discussion I overheard Thursday between two local media members about which receivers had impressed them the most to this point. One reporter praised two young receivers before the second reporter disagreed and pointed out a series of negative plays from each. The second reporter then offered his thoughts on a couple other receivers that were predictably disputed by the other reporter.

My way-too-early observation of the entire group? The absence of Anquan Boldin sticks out like a sore thumb.

4. In position battles at center, inside linebacker, and strong safety, the coaching staff is giving veterans the early benefit of the doubt.

I still believe Gino Gradkowki has the inside track for the starting center spot, but former Indianapolis Colt A.Q. Shipley has received a large number of reps with the starting offensive line, which could just be a show of respect for his extra experience or a reflection of him pushing the second-year Gradkowski more than anticipated. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell praised both on Thursday and also talked about how important communication would be as the center is responsible for making the blocking calls at line of scrimmage.

Neither Gradkowski nor Shipley are very big, which does make you question if either will hold up as well physically as the retired Matt Birk, who was noticeably bigger at the center spot. As you’d expect, the preseason will loom large in determining who’s snapping the ball to Flacco in Denver on Sept. 5.

At inside linebacker, it’s apparent that Daryl Smith is a heavy favorite to be the starting “Mike” — responsible for making the defensive calls — if Jameel McClain isn’t available at the start of the year. The 31-year-old has been praised for both his leadership and play since arriving on the scene in early June.

Who lines up next to him will be more interesting as the Ravens are clearly making rookie Arthur Brown pay his dues, instead giving most of the first-team reps to Josh Bynes and even Albert McClellan on occasion. Brown may not begin the season as a starter, but at the very least, he’s a good bet to be involved as a nickel linebacker in passing downs to utilize his ability in pass coverage.

Ihedigbo is listed as the current starting strong safety on the depth chart as Elam has worked with the second unit, which is probably the best example of the Ravens deferring to veterans early in camp. It’s difficult to imagine Elam not being the starter Week 1, but Pees loves Ihedigbo’s versatility and both will likely be used creatively in various defensive packages.

Elam has made some good plays in coverage, but his 5-foot-10 frame has been an issue matching up against bigger tight ends on occasion.

 

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Without Pitta and Boldin, Flacco must take the next step as a franchise quarterback

Posted on 29 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

Like many Ravens fans, my heart sank when I heard about the injury to Dennis Pitta. Now, Flacco is without two targets that produced 7 of his eleven postseason touchdowns.

Pitta is a huge loss for the Ravens. Made worse by the lackluster supporting class which remains. We all know about Torrey Smith who has excelled as a deep threat in his short career. Smith also displayed signs of developing as an all-around receiver in 2012.

Behind Smith, there are major question marks. If the season started tomorrow (that would be awesome), Jacoby Jones would likely line up across from Torrey Smith. That could be an issue from several standpoints.

For several seasons in Houston, Jones was expected to be the second receiver across from Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers over the last ten years. Jones consistently struggled to make the type of impact the Texans desperately needed to take attention away from Andre Johnson and therefore, take the offense to another level. If Jones struggled to make an impact with a Hall of Fame receiver, how much of an impact can he make with Torrey Smith?

Jones’s impact on special teams will also come into question if he starts at receiver. Remember when the Bears tried to turn Devin Hester into a receiver? Hester has struggled as a return man ever since. Jones’s ability to return kicks and punts for touchdowns can change the momentum of a game in an instant. If Jones is counted on to make an impact at receiver, Jones might not be able to change games as a return man.

However, Jones can make an impact on the offense if the Ravens use him as a third option where he isn’t counted to make a large contribution to the offense.

Now, back to the topic at hand. What must Joe Flacco do to make the next step as a franchise quarterback? Make something out of nothing.

Name as many receivers Tom Brady has worked with as you can. It’s difficult, isn’t it? Outside of Randy Moss, Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and Wes Welker, the names are difficult to remember. For years, Brady has made household names out of receivers no one has heard of.

Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and even Phillip Rivers have done the same exact thing.

In 2013, Flacco will have to do this as well. Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, LaQuan Williams, David Reed, and Aaron Mellette are all competing for the second receiver position.

Tandon Doss was hand picked by Flacco in the 2011 draft. Doss’s size, speed, and hands perfectly compliment Torrey Smith. But, Doss has yet to translate those skills to the field. Coaches have raved about Doss’s hands but he dropped every ball thrown his way in the playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Other young receivers have showcased their ability in training camp. Second year receivers Deonte Thompson and Tommy Streeter have been praised for their physical attributes. But those tangibles will only take them so far.

Flacco has the ability to make everyone around him better. The offense Jim Caldwell implemented last season is up-tempo and aggressive. Those attributes perfectly fit Joe Flacco’s mentality and rocket arm.

Yesterday, veteran tight end Visanthe Siancoe was added to the Ravens roster. Shiancoe is athletic enough to create mismatches and he catches almost everything. While Shiancoe is a nice addition, he won’t be expected to make a huge impact. But Shiancoe’s role might increase should the Ravens younger receivers struggle early in the season.

The Ravens aren’t doomed for the 2013 season. The running game is still elite and the defense will greatly improve. Flacco is perfectly positioned to take the reigns as the Ravens leader and make everyone better. After all, the Ravens are paying him like a quarterback who can do just that.

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Baltimore Ravens 2013 Season Preview Part Three: Predicting the Biggest Positional Battles

Posted on 06 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

It’s no secret the Ravens are a different team. Starters that must be replaced include Carry Williams, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Vonta Leach, and Anquan Boldin. Paul Kruger is also gone but he was more of a role player that rotated starts with rookie Courtney UpShaw.

The following are my projections for the most heated roster battles.

Receiver:

Torrey Smith is the only receiver guaranteed a starting spot. Jacoby Jones is a veteran but struggled in Houston when given a larger workload. Therefore, Jones will be competing with Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams. So far, Thompson has made the most of offseason workouts. According to reports, he displays great hands and improved route running ability to go along with his blazing speed.

When the Ravens face the Broncos on Sept. 5, Jacoby Jones will start across from Torrey Smith. He is experienced and made plays when given the opportunity last season. The third receiver will be Danton Doss with Deonte Thompson winning the fourth receiver spot on the depth chart. Doss’s skill set translates well to the slot receiver position. His hands, physicality, and ability to get upfield after the catch will make him a nice weapon for Flacco.

Cornerback:

I am a huge Jimmy Smith fan. Smith has too much potential to be the Ravens nickel corner. If he can put everything together, he will be starting opposite Lardarius Webb. Corey Graham would then be the team’s nickel corner. Successfully defending two passes to Michael Crabtree towards the end of the Super Bowl will be positive plays for Smith to build upon.

Chykie Brown could be a sleeper to receive playing time this season. He showed promise last season and played frequently towards the end of the season.

Inside linebacker:

John Harbaugh and the Ravens have a lot of options at inside linebacker. Jameel McClain will likely start. Therefore, the competition really comes down to Arthur Brown and Darryl Smith. Brown was a second round selection in the 2013 draft and is projected to be a defensive rookie of the year candidate. But Smith brings experience and proven ability at inside linebacker. In the beginning of the season, I think Smith will start on running downs and Brown will play on passing downs. Brown has excellent coverage ability and when paired with McClain, they could make up a great duo in pass coverage.

Bryan Hall could also receive playing time pending the training camp competition. Hall played along the defensive line last season but is making the switch to inside linebacker. Hall could play in certain blitz packages but for the most part, will be a special teams player.

Nose tackle

After a solid 2011 season, many thought Mount Cody would break out in 2012. But Cody struggled. He was consistently pushed around and made little impact against teams with great running games. Ozzie Newsome has made an effort to improve the middle of the defense through the draft and free agency. Brandon Williams was drafted in the third round and Marcus Spears and Chris Canty were signed in free agency. Spears and Canty won’t play nose tackle but they will improve the middle of the defense.

I think Brandon Williams will win the starting job. Cody had hip surgery which could explain his poor play in 2012. If Cody can get healthy and play like he did in 2011, the Ravens will have a great rotation at nose tackle.

Center

Replacing Matt Birk will be difficult. Birk was a great leader and will be replaced by either Gino Gradkowski or AQ Shipley. Gradkowski was drafted out of Delaware in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Gradkowski was projected to be the starter once Birk retired but Shipley played very well for the Colts last season. He played so well that he earned a plus 6.9 rating from Pro Football Focus.

Gradkowski is the early favorite but Shipley is a solid veteran that could start should Gradkowski struggle.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Celebration over, preparation in full force this week

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Your Monday Reality Check: Celebration over, preparation in full force this week

Posted on 10 June 2013 by Glenn Clark

As Nestor Aparicio, Luke Jones and I were sitting at the Baltimore Ravens’ facility in Owings Mills Friday night, we were discussing the finality of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII season/celebration. Luke pointed out the team would still have the ability to hang a Super Bowl championship banner at M&T Bank Stadium before their home opener Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, but that’s about all that’s left for this team.

With the White House visited and the rings handed out, the Baltimore Ravens are now-in the words of now NFL agent Jay-Z-”on to the next one.” It was nice to have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed around Charm City for a week. It was nice to reflect once more on this particular era of Ravens football.

But as of today, that’s over.

As of today, the relationship between Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens is once again severed. He won’t be back in the building again until his career comes to a close. As of today, Ed Reed is nothing more than a player the Ravens will have to go up against when they play the Houston Texans…if he’s healthy enough to play.

It has been remarkably fun to celebrate a Super Bowl title for Baltimore Ravens players (and coaches and staffers who also received rings Friday night) and fans alike. It’s been a wild four months of player movement, late-night talk shows, Dancing With The Stars, accolades and high-fives.

It’s all in the past now.

The Ravens open their only mandatory mini-camp of the offseason tomorrow in Owings Mills. While a number of players have taken part in voluntary OTA’s and strength programs, this will be the first gathering of what will make up the overwhelming majority of the 2013 version of this team. There will still be a few lingering injuries that will prevent players from taking part in practice, but it will most certainly be the closest thing we’ll see to the first look at the Ravens in the post Lewis/Reed era before Training Camp.

While you’re scrambling to make sure you have your copy of “Purple Reign 2″ before Father’s Day (and that isn’t a bit-you REALLY need to make sure this is the gift you’re giving), the Purple Birds will spend their week taking the best look they can at the team that will take the field this year to try to protect their Lombardi Trophy.

For the World Champs, there are a number of questions as always. None will be fully addressed in minicamp; because no NFL issue has EVER really been fully addressed during the course of a minicamp. But many will be viewed closely with the understanding that this is the best opportunity to set the tone for how the team handles both Camp and preseason games.

The Ravens will have to plan a depth chart before Training Camp gets underway. While all players will get reps, determining who gets which reps with which unit and how many are necessary is something that will happen between now and the start of Camp. At no position is that determination more difficult than wide receiver.

The Ravens know what they have at the top of the depth chart at wide receiver. Torrey Smith (or “Samson” as LB Terrell Suggs joked Friday night) is expected to lead the group and appears to be on the verge of breakout stardom. His exceptional speed was combined with better route running and improved catching consistency last season, leaving many to believe he could become a 1,000 yard type of receiver in his third year out of Maryland.

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Flacco unwavering despite changes all around him

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Flacco unwavering despite changes all around him

Posted on 22 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco has the Super Bowl ring — or at least he officially will in a couple weeks.

The Ravens quarterback has the lucrative $120.6 million contract and the long-term security it provides.

And he has a heightened level of respect, even if some of his biggest critics now want to see him replicate some semblance of his record-setting playoff run in the regular season.

But an offseason full of changes brings more questions for the franchise quarterback. The retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed have left a gigantic leadership void that many expect the 28-year-old to fill as he enters his sixth season. The exits of center Matt Birk and wide receiver Anquan Boldin suddenly makes Flacco one of the elder statesmen on the offensive side of the football.

Ask anyone in the Baltimore locker room whether Flacco is treating this offseason or his style of leadership any differently and you’ll receive a similar response. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP was already the kind of leader teammates respect, even if it lacks Lewis’ camera-friendly fire or Reed’s outspoken nature.

“Joe has done a great job throughout his career in his own way,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Nothing is going to change Joe. Joe is going to be who he is. I don’t think a change in the roster is going to change Joe [and] who he is. A change in the contract isn’t going to change Joe. Joe is Joe, and that’s what you love about him.”

Flacco is also experiencing his first full offseason with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. While many have wondered what the former Indianapolis head coach can do with the offensive system with ample time to plan after being thrown to the fire last December, Flacco downplayed any notion that the Ravens will look dramatically different on offense in 2013.

Of course, the start of the regular season is still more than three months away, so much could happen, both from schematics and personnel standpoints. The Ravens will hope the dramatic breakthroughs made in December that carried over into their postseason run to a Super Bowl title were only scratching the surface in terms of production under Caldwell.

“We may have changed a couple things here and there, but for the most part, it’s the same,” Flacco said. “He’ll probably add some of his concepts in just because he’s the guy that is driving things for the most part now. So, we’ll have new wrinkles in there, but for the most part, it’s pretty similar.”

Perhaps the biggest change we’ll see between now and the start of the season is at the wide receiver position as the Ravens continue to adjust to life without Boldin as their most reliable receiver. To this point, general manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t added a veteran receiver with a track record to supplement the outside threats that Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones provide.

Instead of looking at a scrap heap of free-agent receivers headlined by the productive but baggage-heavy Brandon Lloyd, the Ravens appear content with evaluating a cast of young receivers that includes Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, and David Reed. All three saw time working with Smith and the starting offense during Wednesday’s practice as Jones was absent on the heels of his third-place finish in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Asked if outsiders have made too much of the Ravens’ need to add an established wideout to the mix, Flacco sees potential in the homegrown players who have received few opportunities to this point in their respective careers. The three young receivers who’ve been sharing time with the first unit this week have combined for 17 receptions and just 35 targets.

With tight end Dennis Pitta expected to work more from the slot, the Ravens don’t need any of the young options to match Boldin’s impressive production, but they do need at least one to become a viable target. And much of that development will fall on a veteran quarterback entering the prime years of his career. For years, it was veteran pass catchers such as Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, and Boldin nurturing Flacco’s development, but the Ravens believe Flacco can now do the same for younger receivers.

“I like the idea of having guys that we’ve had, we’ve drafted here, or we’ve picked up here and grooming them and getting those guys to become great wide receivers,” Flacco said. “They definitely have the talent to do it; I think we just need to get them some [game-time] reps and their confidence can take off.

“One of the biggest things about Anquan is that he knew he was the man. So, when he went out there, he didn’t care what happened. He was the man. You don’t realize how much that helps out your play and your team’s play. And when these young guys can get to the point where they’re out there and their attitude is that, they have all the ability in the world, and I feel very confident with those guys.”

None of the Ravens’ many youthful options are a sure thing. Doss has drawn the strongest comparisons to Boldin because of his crisp routes and strong hands shown in practices, but those skills haven’t transferred to game action in limited opportunities and he’s struggled to stay healthy. Thompson shows breakaway speed, but the biggest knock on him at the University of Florida was his inconsistent hands. Reed faces questions about both his durability and his hands.

Perhaps a receiver from a second tier of players that includes LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, and Aaron Mellette will turn heads over the next few weeks and push their way into the conversation.

And there remains a very real possibility that the Ravens make that veteran addition through a trade or by simply waiting until cuts are made over the course of the preseason.

None of these uncertainties seem to faze Flacco, who views change as part of life in the NFL. He simply takes the lessons learned from the veterans before him and passes them along to newcomers. The Ravens hope the confidence Flacco holds in his own ability will hopefully rub off on an unproven group of players in which he sees much promise.

His style hasn’t changed, but his success speaks for itself in terms of how he’s viewed as a leader in the locker room and on the field. It’s a major reason why the Ravens aren’t nearly as concerned about the veteran leadership lost this offseason as everyone else seems to be.

“We’ve always had a locker room where everybody kind of shares roles,” Flacco said. “You have so many guys that are very responsible and know how to go to work, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to continuously have success even though our team has changed a lot. It’s because all of those guys that have been there before us really show us how to do it and then everybody just kind of takes that lead.

“And I think that’s where we are. I think that’s where I am.”

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