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Ravens need youth movement for 2016 and beyond

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Your outlook on the Ravens this season likely depends on how you viewed a forgettable 2015 in which they finished 5-11.

If you point to more than 20 players suffering season-ending injuries — the most in the John Harbaugh era — and nine losses decided by one possession, a dramatic turnaround feels inevitable with any reasonable shift in luck.

Or, you remember the myriad of reasons that contributed to a 1-6 start long before the losses of Steve Smith, Joe Flacco, and Justin Forsett transformed a lost season into one more conveniently excused by injuries. From that perspective, those failures were less about bad fortune and more the culmination of a series of missteps over the previous few years.

No matter where your assessment of last season lies, the 2016 Ravens are relying on a slew of older players at key positions, which is a slippery slope. According to Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com, Baltimore had the sixth-oldest 53-man roster in the NFL on final cut-down day. That was before general manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed the 30-year-old Justin Forsett and added 33-year-old return specialist Devin Hester at the beginning of the week.

Fifteen players on the active roster are 30 or older. Of their 12 former Pro Bowl selections, only two — linebacker C.J. Mosley and kicker Justin Tucker — are currently in their 20s.

Their projected starting outside linebackers, wide receivers, safeties, and running back are all 30 or older. Experience is certainly valuable, but those are positions where you don’t want to be sparring too frequently with Father Time.

The Ravens have obvious exceptions to the rule — a few of them will eventually be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame — but this is largely a young man’s game.

And that brings us to the biggest key for the Ravens in 2016 and certainly beyond.

The youth movement needs to start now.

Seeing the likes of Smith and Terrell Suggs return from injuries to lead the Ravens back into postseason contention would be fun, but it would be in vain if several younger players don’t take significant steps forward. At 31, Flacco should have several more productive seasons ahead of him at quarterback, but this is an otherwise aging core of difference-makers, which was true even before pass rusher Elvis Dumervil suffered a setback from offseason foot surgery that will keep him sidelined for the start of the season.

It’s time for the next wave of great Ravens to emerge. In fact, it’s overdue, which is a significant reason why 2015 was such a disappointment.

Excluding players yet to take an NFL snap like rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who are the under-30 talents on this roster that other teams truly covet?

Brandon Williams might be the best run-stopping nose tackle in the league and Tucker is arguably the NFL’s top kicker, but who else?

Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith? Maybe in 2014, but not based on the way they performed a year ago.

Others have potential, but the Ravens thought the same about failed draft picks such as Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, and Terrence Brooks not long ago. The proof will be in the results on the field.

Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, or Kamalei Correa needs to become as a significant pass-rushing threat to complement Suggs and Dumervil. The defense will be even more dangerous if more than one can do it.

As their earliest first-round pick in 16 years, Stanley must make fans forget every left tackle the Ravens have had since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.

Perriman needs to stay healthy and show why he was the first receiver the organization drafted in the first round in a decade.

Jimmy Smith and Mosley have to look more like the players they were in 2014.

If others step up along the way, the Ravens will really be in business — not just for this season but for the future.

If young players fail to develop, they will once again be depending too heavily on aging talent trying to stay healthy enough to play at a high level for another year.

Baltimore can bounce back with the combination of veterans returning and young play-makers emerging.

But it’s difficult to imagine it happening to any meaningful degree without the latter.

The Ravens need their youth to take the baton and step to the forefront.

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Dumervil officially declared out, Pitta questionable for Sunday

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The effects of the new injury report rules for 2016 were evident on the final update released by the Ravens ahead of Sunday’s season opener against Buffalo.

As expected, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, cornerback Jerraud Powers, and running back Kenneth Dixon were declared out for Week 1, but tight end Dennis Pitta, guard John Urschel, tight end Maxx Williams, and cornerback Shareece Wright were all listed as questionable despite participating fully in practices all week. The NFL has eliminated the “probable” designation, which used to mean a player had a 75 percent or better chance of playing.

Teams will now use the “questionable” label — previously used for “50-50” situations — for any player who is uncertain to play in the game and “doubtful” for anyone considered unlikely to participate.

“Usually, you figure out who’s going to play and who’s not going to play pretty much,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If you don’t know, you’ll see when they give you the report an hour-and-a-half before game time, you see who is actually going to play. I think it’s much ado about not much.”

Dumervil had already ruled himself out of the opener on Wednesday, but the Pro Bowl edge rusher’s absence opens the door for younger options such as Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon to see more pass-rushing opportunities. Albert McClellan will start at the strong-side outside linebacker spot in the base defense while Terrell Suggs will make his long-awaited return to the rush linebacker spot.

Despite missing more than a month of training camp with a broken finger, Pitta is set to make his return to live-game action for the first time in two years. The 31-year-old is attempting to come back from two catastrophic injuries to his right hip.

“He’s put in a lot of work. It’s been a long road for him,” Harbaugh said. “It will be great to see him come out of that tunnel with the smoke going. I’m sure it will be a big moment for him, too, and I’m looking forward to seeing him play. I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Buffalo officially ruled out two backup players: safety Colt Anderson and cornerback Kevon Seymour. Rookie third-string quarterback Cardale Jones was listed as questionable with a shoulder issue.

The Bills learned Friday that right tackle Seantrel Henderson dropped his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Henderson’s agent has said his client was using marijuana to relieve the effects of Crohn’s disease.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Brad Allen.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-80s and only a 10 percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

OUT: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Jerraud Powers (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Dennis Pitta (finger), G/C John Urschel (shoulder), TE Maxx Williams (knee), CB Shareece Wright (foot)

OUT: S Colt Anderson (foot), CB Kevon Seymour (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Ryan Groy (ribs), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder), RB Jonathan Williams (ribs)

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Ravens defense prepared to play without Dumervil, Powers

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

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

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

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Dumervil says he won’t be able to play in Ravens opener

Posted on 07 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After suffering a setback in his recent return from offseason foot surgery, Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil said Wednesday that he won’t be able to play in the season opener against Buffalo.

The 32-year-old was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 22 and had practiced on a limited basis only a handful of days before being sidelined again, which had led to doubt about his Week 1 status. Dumervil described the setback as “minor” on Wednesday, but the five-time Pro Bowl selection declined to say when he’ll be ready to play.

“I won’t be able to go this week,” Dumervil said. “We’re just working at it in the training room, just getting ready. It’s a little disappointing, but sometimes you’ve just got to wait your turn and when the opportunity presents itself, take full advantage.”

Dumervil’s absence puts more pressure on returning veteran Terrell Suggs while thrusting young outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon into more significant pass-rushing snaps. Veteran Albert McClellan is expected to serve as the strong-side outside linebacker in the base defense, which will allow Dumervil to return in the situational role he filled during his first two years with the Ravens.

Smith returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the final two preseason games with an ankle injury and deemed himself ready to play against the Bills on Sunday.

“No problem. A small ankle injury,” Smith said. “They kept me in the training room and got me better with that, so I’m happy to be back.”

Cornerback Jerraud Powers (ankle) and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) were the only other players on the 53-man roster who were not present for Wednesday’s practice open to reporters. On Tuesday, Harbaugh labeled Powers “day-to-day” with an ankle injury that’s sidelined him since Aug. 20 while Dixon is expected to miss at least the first couple of weeks of the season with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Cornerback Shareece Wright was present and working after missing a few days of practice with what was listed as a knee injury.

As is often the case at the end of the preseason, a few Ravens players have changed their jersey numbers as veteran receiver Mike Wallace has switched from No. 12 to No. 17, taking the number previously worn by Jeremy Butler. Cornerback Tavon Young is now wearing No. 36 while fellow rookie defensive back Maurice Canady will now don No. 33 in Wednesday’s workout. Powers will now wear No. 31, which was previously owned by safety Terrence Brooks.

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

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

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

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Several notable players back at practice as Ravens prepare for final cuts

Posted on 03 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens counting down the final hours before trimming their roster to the league-mandated 53-man limit, they welcomed back several notable players to the practice field on Saturday morning.

Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams, nose tackle Brandon Williams, guard John Urschel, and safety Kendrick Lewis were all present and working after lengthy absences due to various injuries. Pitta hadn’t practiced since breaking a finger in a scuffle with rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa on Aug. 1.

“He looked fine today,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Certainly, he has to get his timing back and work the rust off, if you want to use that term, and get going. He’s back today, and he’ll be back all next week, and I expect him to be ready to go.”

Meanwhile, Brandon Williams had been sidelined since getting banged up in the second preseason game on Aug. 20. Urschel, Lewis, and Maxx Williams had been missing since suffering injuries in the Aug. 11 preseason opener.

The Ravens were again without outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot surgery), who also missed Tuesday’s practice and did not appear in the preseason. That looks to at least be a mild concern with the season opener only a week away and Dumervil not having logged much practice time this summer.

“It’s all in the doctors’ hands and Elvis’ hands,” Harbaugh said. “He came off the [physically unable to perform list], and he worked a couple of days. I really don’t have an answer for that. It just depends how it progresses and how it feels. When he’s cleared to practice fully, he will be out there.

“I support him practicing fully; it won’t be until he is ready.”

Other players missing from Saturday morning’s session included wide receivers Chris Matthews and Michael Campanaro, offensive linemen Ryan Jensen and De’Ondre Wesley, cornerbacks Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, and Carrington Byndom, linebackers Victor Ochi and Za’Darius Smith (ankle), defensive tackle Carl Davis (ankle), safety Matt Elam (knee), and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee).

After The Sun reported that defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore had been waived, the 2013 sixth-round pick was not on the practice field, but the Ravens hadn’t announced an official move. Offensive lineman Blaine Clausell was present and working despite his agent, Brett Tessler, announcing that he’d been waived by the organization.

The absences of “bubble players” such as Campanaro, Matthews, and Ochi were notable ahead of Saturday’s 4 p.m. roster deadline, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean they’ve been cut, either.

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Ravens-Lions preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 26 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Our longest look at Ravens starters in the preseason will be our only look at some in Saturday’s game against Detroit on Saturday night.

The much-awaited return of starting quarterback Joe Flacco will be the dominating story in the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, but head coach John Harbaugh would like to see a good showing from his starting units that likely will still be without the likes of Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Elvis Dumervil. For a team that did more minor tweaking than overhauling after a 5-11 season, many questions remains.

“Either we’re going to be good or we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “It’s what we do, not what we say. We can talk about it all we want. I have reasons for optimism, and I have reasons for pessimism. It’s just going to matter how well we coach, how well we play.

“You have to do your part. Your part is to get better. Your part is not to stay the same. If you stay the same, you’re getting worse. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. You never stay the same. Your goal has to be to come out here and get better, and it’s hard to do.”

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half before giving way to younger players and fringe veterans fighting for roster spots. It will be a good opportunity for Flacco to get his first live-game reps with veteran newcomers Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace, who have played very little in the preseason and have yet to register as much as a catch between them.

The Ravens will see a number of old friends across the field on Saturday night. Not only will five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata be making his return to M&T Bank Stadium, but fellow Super Bowl XLVII champions Anquan Boldin and Josh Bynes and former assistant coaches Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin will be on the opposing side.

Flacco was asked whether he’d ask the 345-pound Ngata before the game to take care of him should the two meet in the pocket during Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think so,” said the 31-year-old quarterback as he laughed. “It will be interesting to see him. I’m used to seeing him over there [on defense during practices], but it will be interesting seeing him in some other colors for sure.”

Saturday marks the fourth time that these teams have met in the preseason with the Ravens holding a 2-1 edge to go with their 3-1 advantage in all-time regular-season meetings. Baltimore has built a 22-12 record in preseason games during the Harbaugh era.

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 ahead of Saturday night’s game against Detroit.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), S Matt Elam (knee), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (ankle), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed), G John Urschel (contusion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), DT Brandon Williams (undisclosed), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Maurice Canady (hamstring), TE Darren Waller (jaw), CB Jerraud Powers (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Saturday night

LB Matt Judon

With other edge defenders expected to be sidelined against the Lions, the rookie fifth-round pick has a great opportunity to etch out a role as a rotational pass rusher if he can build on what he’s done in the first two preseason games against tougher competition on Saturday. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have spoken highly of Judon’s combination of size and quickness, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against first-team blockers. The Ravens need someone to emerge as an impact pass rusher behind Suggs and Dumervil, and Judon has propelled himself into that conversation.

RB Buck Allen

The second-year back had a 19-yard touchdown reception in the preseason opener, but he’s carried the ball 10 times for only 20 yards and has no other receiving yards beyond that score. Allen has clear ability as a receiver out of the backfield, but you’d like to see him show more as a runner between the tackles after he averaged an unspectacular 3.8 yards per carry as a rookie. With Terrance West showing improvement as a rusher and rookie Kenneth Dixon looking like a potential change-of-pace back, the 2015 fourth-round pick is still waiting to make a statement of his own this summer.

CB Will Davis

While Shareece Wright and Jerraud Powers have struggled in the preseason, Davis is trending upward as he has looked healthier and quicker since struggling early in camp. The Ravens knew he had the ability to play on the outside, but he held up surprisingly well playing some slot cornerback against Indianapolis, which is something worth monitoring moving forward. The organization obviously thought enough of Davis to send a seventh-round pick to Miami last year, so it will be interesting to see if the 2013 third-round pick will climb the depth chart as he moves further away from knee surgery.

G Vlad Ducasse

The seventh-year veteran isn’t a lock to make the team, but the other options in the competition at left guard lack experience while he’s started 22 games over his career. His performance against the Colts wasn’t quite as stellar as it was against Carolina, but Ducasse figures to improve his chances with a strong showing against the Lions while third-year guard John Urschel is expected to be sidelined again. The Ravens don’t have great depth at tackle, but Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis have the ability to play outside, meaning a guard like Ducasse could receive the nod over a reserve tackle like De’Ondre Wesley.

CB Tavon Young

A hamstring injury sustained in the preseason opener slowed a fast start to his first training camp, but Young figures to have a chance to show what he can do at the nickel spot while veterans such as Powers and Kyle Arrington are likely to be sidelined against the Lions. Despite only being 5-foot-9, Young has shown a nose for the football and impressive confidence for a rookie cornerback. At the very least, the Ravens are looking for him to be a major contributor on kickoff and punt coverage units and potentially as a kick returner, which remains an unsettled position on this current roster.

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Za’Darius Smith, Steve Smith not expected to play for Ravens on Saturday

Posted on 25 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Quarterback Joe Flacco will make his much-anticipated return to the field against Detroit on Saturday, but the Ravens are expecting to be without several key figures for the “dress rehearsal” before the start of the 2016 season.

Veterans recently returning from injury such as wide receiver Steve Smith and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were never considered sure bets to play against Detroit, but second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was absent from Thursday’s walk-through with a sprained ankle.

“Za’Darius has a little ankle issue that he had yesterday in practice,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s not a major thing. I doubt he’ll play. There’s no sense putting him out there with a sprained ankle.”

Harbaugh said Suggs was “fine” despite not being present for Thursday’s light practice, but his absence leads one to believe his status could be in doubt for the third preseason game. The 33-year-old rush linebacker returned to the practice field on Aug. 15 after an 11-month absence due to a torn left Achilles tendon and expressed interest last week in getting some live-game reps in the preseason.

Dumervil and Steve Smith were both present for Thursday’s walk-through, but they only returned to the practice field in the last few days.

“He’s not playing in this game, at least that I know of,” said Harbaugh about the 37-year-old Smith, who tore his right Achilles tendon less than 10 months ago. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll decide [he wants to play] tomorrow.”

The potential absences of Za’Darius Smith, Suggs, and Dumervil would open the door for rookie edge defender Matt Judon to receive action against Detroit’s first-team offense. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees said this week that they’d like to evaluate the fifth-round pick against tougher competition after he collected two sacks and nine tackles over the first two preseason games against second- and third-team offenses.

Harbaugh wouldn’t officially rule out second-year receiver Breshad Perriman from Saturday’s game, but he’s all but guaranteed to sit out against Detroit after only returning to practice on Tuesday.

“We’ll see. It’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll let me know. We’ll meet on that this afternoon — docs and trainers — and see where he’s at with that. He hasn’t gone full speed in practice, as you know, but today’s not a full-speed practice for anybody, so we’ll just have to see.”

Others unlikely to play on Saturday after extended absences from practice include nose tackle Brandon Williams (undisclosed), guard John Urschel (contusion), tight ends Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed), cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Jerraud Powers (undisclosed), and safety Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed).

Players definitely out for Saturday’s game include running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), safety Matt Elam (knee), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle). Taliaferro remains on the physically unable to perform list while Elam and Kaufusi are candidates to be placed on injured reserve at the end of the summer.

Tight end Darren Waller (jaw) and cornerback Maurice Canady (hamstring) both returned to the field to participate in Thursday’s walk-through after exiting the second preseason game early with injuries.

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Perriman, Dumervil come off Ravens’ PUP list

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil returned to the practice field on Monday morning, head coach John Harbaugh announced a teammate would be joining him in coming off the physically unable to perform list.

Sidelined since suffering a partially-torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during organized team activities in June, wide receiver Breshad Perriman was set to take part in the afternoon walk-through. Harbaugh says he’s excited to see Perriman practice, but he acknowledged that the 2015 first-round pick would be brought back to practices slowly as he works his way into football shape.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Central Florida product missed his entire rookie season with a partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee sustained on the first day of training camp.

“I’m sure we’ll all be holding our breath a little bit. It’s just natural,” Harbaugh said. “But he’s in great spirits — I can tell you that. He’s worked extremely hard. I think he’s really grown through all of this, and he’s learned how to really work at the rehab. You know he’s been forced to do that, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he looks when he comes back.”

With Perriman not having practiced to this point, many had begun speculating that he would begin the regular season on the reserve PUP list, which would have sidelined him for at least the first six games. However, Monday’s activation makes it clear that the Ravens are confident that he is healthy enough to return to live-game action sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Dumervil was taking part in his first practice since undergoing offseason foot surgery. Entering his 11th NFL season and fourth with the Ravens, the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker made it clear his primary concern is being ready for Buffalo on Sept. 11.

It remains to be seen whether he or Perriman will play in the preseason.

“That’s a day-by-day situation. We’ll see how that works out,” Dumervil said. “The goal is for the opener for sure. If I can try to get a preseason [game] in, that would be awesome. If not, then I’m looking forward to the opener.”

Also returning to the practice field on Monday was wide receiver Chris Matthews, who had missed two weeks with a soft-tissue injury.

Other absences included tight ends Dennis Pitta (finger) and Maxx Williams, guard John Urschel (contusion), defensive backs Kyle Arrington (head) and Kendrick Lewis. New players missing from practice after Saturday’s preseason win were safety Matt Elam (knee), cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Maurice Canady (hamstring), and nose tackle Brandon Williams.

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

Posted on 15 August 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clock ticking on injured Ravens players to see preseason action

Posted on 14 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 season opener against Buffalo is still four weeks away, but the Ravens practicing without a whopping 23 players raised a few eyebrows on Saturday morning.

Of course, the Ravens were less than two days removed from their first preseason game and most of their current injuries aren’t major concerns, but we’re entering the point in the summer when you wonder if a handful of players in the midst of long-term absences will be back in time to appear in the preseason. This is especially true for the five players still on the active physically unable to perform list: wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro.

The clock is ticking.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Suggs was the closest of the players on the PUP list to return to action, but you’d think he would need to begin practicing at some point this week to start getting into football shape if the goal is for the 33-year-old to get some reps in the “dress rehearsal” third preseason game. Saturday marked 11 months since Suggs tore his left Achilles tendon in the 2015 opener in Denver.

Still working his way back to full strength from his own Achilles injury, the 37-year-old Smith appears unlikely to play in the preseason and has expressed little concern about doing so. After undergoing an offseason foot surgery, Dumervil’s status for the preseason also remains unknown despite the Ravens not expressing any worry about his availability for the start of the regular season.

Perriman is the most interesting case after he suffered a partially-torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in June. Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews determined at the time that he would not need season-ending ACL reconstruction surgery, but the 2015 first-round pick has practiced so little over the last calendar year and wasn’t able to work with Joe Flacco this spring as the starting quarterback was still rehabbing his surgically-repaired left knee.

Considering he is essentially a rookie without even as much as a complete full-squad practice under his belt in the NFL, the Ravens would like to see Perriman get his feet wet in the preseason in a perfect world — one that assumes his knee is healthy. And if he’s to get some game time with Flacco this summer, the third preseason game would have to be the target with starters likely to sit out the summer finale.

It will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle Taliaferro with four other running backs clearly ahead of him on the depth chart. It might make sense to take advantage of his status by having the 2014 fourth-round pick begin the regular season on the reserve PUP list, which means he would not take a spot on the 53-man roster. Under that scenario, Taliaferro wouldn’t be eligible to be activated until Week 7, but perhaps there would be more clarity at the running back position in terms of both established roles and health at that point.

As for players not on the PUP list who are dealing with injuries, wide receiver Chris Moore (foot) hasn’t practiced since late July and is missing valuable practice time after turning some heads over the first couple days of training camp.

Arguably the most disappointing injury to come out of Thursday’s game was to cornerback Tavon Young, who hurt his left hamstring in the fourth quarter. Harbaugh did not offer a timetable for his return, but the rookie has had a strong summer and was pushing veterans Jerraud Powers and Kyle Arrington, who both struggled at the nickel spot against Carolina. Arrington missed practice on Saturday after being evaluated for a concussion in the second half of the preseason opener.

Other players absent on Saturday included wide receivers Chris Matthews and Michael Campanaro, safeties Kendrick Lewis and Anthony Levine, cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Maurice Canady, linebacker Chris Carter, guard John Urschel, tight ends Crockett Gillmore, Daniel Brown, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta, and defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Carl Davis, and Bronson Kaufusi.

Wide receiver and return specialist Kaelin Clay left Saturday’s practice with a foot issue, according to Harbaugh.

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