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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Running backs

Posted on 22 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore running backs:

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS 
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
BUBBLE: Fitz Toussaint
LONG SHOT: Kiero Small, Terrence Magee

Synopsis: It’s still strange to think how much this unit has changed from only a couple years ago when Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce appeared on track to being one of the best running back duos in the NFL, but the Ravens should feel very good about the current group. We saw last year that Justin Forsett was a perfect fit for their zone-blocking schemes and you won’t find a better mentor for the other young backs on the roster than the 29-year-old. It will be interesting to see what impact new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has on the running backs after Matt Forte caught 176 passes out of the backfield over the last two years in Chicago. With the entire offensive line returning, there’s little reason to think this group can’t succeed in 2015 with Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen competing behind Forsett for carries.

One to watch: The Ravens selecting Allen in the fourth round should grab the attention of Taliaferro, who had a solid rookie season cut short by a foot injury. Reporting to spring workouts looking leaner and faster, Taliaferro figures to have the early advantage for the No. 2 job after rushing for 292 yards and four touchdowns on 68 carries as a rookie. The Coastal Carolina product still must prove he can thrive in a one-cut, zone-blocking system, but his ability in short-yardage situations figures to only improve with experience under his belt.

One on notice: Kyle Juszczyk will need to prove he fits in Trestman’s offense, which didn’t feature much use for a fullback in Chicago. The Harvard product caught 19 passes out of the backfield in his second season, but fumbles did not land him in the good graces of the coaching staff. It also doesn’t help Juszczyk that the Ravens have so many young tight ends, which will likely limit his opportunities as a receiver. Kiero Small wouldn’t figure to provide much of a threat to Juszczyk, but this year will probably go a long way in determining whether the 2013 fourth-round pick is a long-term fit in Baltimore.

Sleeper: Fitz Toussaint wouldn’t figure to have a great chance to make the roster strictly as a running back, but the Ravens’ gaping hole in the return game could improve his chances. The Michigan product worked as a kick returner in the spring and should be in the mix during training camp and the preseason. The Ravens thought enough of Toussaint to not only promote him from the practice squad last year, but he even began receiving some carries, which illustrated how much they liked him as well as the immense disappointment that Pierce was in his final season with Baltimore.

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perriman

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Ravens position battles to watch this summer

Posted on 24 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens possess one of the deepest rosters in the NFL entering the 2015 season, but a number of key position battles will headline the summer as they seek their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

After losing the likes of Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Pernell McPhee, general manager Ozzie Newsome has done a remarkable job reloading, but several questions must be answered before the season begins in Denver on Sept. 13.

Below is an early look at each competition with the first full-squad workout of the summer set for July 30:

Starting wide receiver
The candidates: Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown
Why to be optimistic: The 26th overall pick in the draft, Perriman was projected to go in the middle of the first round by some and is a faster and bigger version of Torrey Smith on paper while Aiken and Brown are still developing and contributed a season ago.
Why to be concerned: Beyond the 13,000-plus receiving yards from 15-year veteran Steve Smith, the Ravens’ other returning wide receivers made a combined 55 catches last year, making you pray that Perriman is ready to contribute immediately.
The favorite: Aiken is the leader in the clubhouse following minicamp and has developed an impressive rapport with Joe Flacco, but Perriman’s skills are too enticing to pass on him as the favorite to start.

Starting tight end
The candidates: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
Why to be optimistic: Even if we assume Pitta will not be cleared to play in 2015, the Ravens invested a 2014 third-round pick in Gillmore and a second-round pick in Williams this spring for a reason.
Why to be concerned: Gillmore caught just 10 passes as a rookie while Williams did not stand out during spring practices and is still trying to adjust to Marc Trestman’s offensive system.
The favorite: After showing improvement late in his rookie year, Gillmore was a surprise of the spring with a better physique and improved ability to make catches in traffic while Williams was very quiet.

Starting defensive end
The candidates: Chris Canty, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban
Why to be optimistic: Canty and Guy were effective holding down the 5-technique position a year ago despite Urban’s knee injury that derailed his anticipated role in the rotation as a rookie.
Why to be concerned: Canty is entering his 11th year and the Ravens deemed him expendable before bringing him back at a cheaper rate while Urban has been unable to shake injuries going back to his collegiate days.
The favorite: Urban was very active during spring practices and could push the veteran starter, but it’s too tough to pick against Canty, who has started 119 games in his NFL career.

Starting safeties
The candidates: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
Why to be optimistic: Hill proved capable in handling a starting job in the second half of 2014 while Lewis was signed for his ability to play deep center, something the Ravens lacked in coverage a year ago.
Why to be concerned: Elam was a clear disappointment in his first two seasons while Brooks is still recovering from a torn ACL, creating legitimate depth concerns going into training camp.
The favorites: The Ravens gave Elam some reps with the starting defense this spring, but it would take substantial improvement for the 2013 first-round pick to overtake Hill or Lewis for starting spots.

Return specialist
The candidates: Michael Campanaro, DeAndre Carter, Asa Jackson, Fitz Toussaint, Lardarius Webb, Steve Smith
Why to be optimistic: Campanaro and Jackson have shown flashes in the return game in very limited opportunities while Webb and Smith bring experience to the equation.
Why to be concerned: It’s difficult to buy either Webb or Smith as a serious candidate to handle the job because of their importance, leaving the real competition to players lacking experience or facing questions about their durability.
The favorite: There isn’t one as this competition lacks candidates to really feel good about at this point, making you wonder if the man to handle the job is even on the current roster.

Backup running back
The candidates: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
Why to be optimistic: The Ravens feel very good about Justin Forsett in a starting role for a second straight year and have invested fourth-round picks in running backs in each of the last two drafts.
Why to be concerned: Taliaferro and Allen have a combined 68 carries in the NFL and are the primary backups behind a 29-year-old back who has one year of experience as a full-time back since college.
The favorite: Last month, Allen would have been my choice because of the versatility he showed in college, but a slimmed-down Taliaferro moved well this spring and has an experience edge for now.

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jacoby

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Ravens open to numerous possibilities in return game

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Of the various position battles expected to take place this summer, the uneasiest ones for the Ravens come at the punt and kick returner spots.

With the Ravens jettisoning 2012 Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones earlier in the offseason, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg is casting a wide net in trying to find his replacement. If voluntary organized team activities are any indication, numerous veterans and rookies alike will be in the competition mix.

“I think we’ll limit it to keeping the offensive linemen out of there,” said Rosburg as he laughed on Monday afternoon. “We’re not going to let any of those guys go out there, but we are going to have a long line when it comes to that time.”

Younger players such as cornerback Asa Jackson, wide receivers Michael Campanaro and DeAndre Carter, and running back Fitz Toussaint figure to receive plenty of opportunities this summer, but Rosburg has also given veteran wideout Steve Smith some reps this spring and will do the same with veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb during training camp. Smith and Webb have shown plenty of ability in the return game throughout their careers, but the Ravens would obviously prefer not to use key veteran starters to return kicks on any kind of a regular basis.

In a perfect world, the Ravens would find someone to return both punts and kickoffs, but versatility will be critical as they’re not looking for a player to solely be a return man. That’s the biggest reason why the organization cut Jones, whose role as a wide receiver all but disappeared as he struggled with drops in his final season in Baltimore.

“You’d like to see a return specialist do both, and also contribute on offense or defense,” Rosburg said. “My personal philosophy is I don’t want just a return specialist. That’s not enough value to the roster. It doesn’t help the team enough.”

While training camp practices provide opportunities for evaluation, limits on contact during special-teams drills make it difficult for Rosburg to truly determine what he has. It’s easy to know what veterans such as Webb or Smith have to offer, but determining whether a rookie free agent like Carter can handle the job is best assessed during preseason games.

Securing the ball and turning upfield is simple enough on a Wednesday afternoon at the team’s Owings Mills training complex in early August, but doing it consistently when it matters is a different story.

“I like to see guys in games,” Rosburg said. “Practice is practice. It’s really valuable [and] it is important. You see what skills guys have, you watch them play, and you get a feel for them. Having said that, there’s nothing like game reps. Handling a crowd [and] handling a game situation is really important. We’ll make the decision based on who is best in preseason.”

Predicting which candidate that might be at this point is anyone’s guess.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 28 December 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will play their final game of the season at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

They’ll hope the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns won’t be their last time playing football until next season.

Needing a win as well as a San Diego loss to Kansas City to make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, the 2014 Ravens are facing the prospects of becoming the first team in franchise history with double-digit wins to miss the postseason. Of course, they have no one to blame but themselves after a disappointing last-second home loss to the Chargers in Week 13 and after last week’s humbling 25-13 defeat to Houston that ripped away control of their path to the playoffs.

While the Ravens have no control over what happens between the Chargers and Chiefs, they will be facing a Cleveland Browns team that’s lost four straight and will be starting rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, who was just promoted from the practice squad. On top of the inexperience under center, the Browns suspended enigmatic wide receiver Josh Gordon for Sunday’s game due to a team violation, further hurting their chances of pulling off an upset.

Baltimore will be without starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who is inactive while continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered in Week 16. The Ravens are also without right tackle Rick Wagner (foot) after he was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week, meaning they will start rookie free agent James Hurst at left tackle and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda at right tackle. Rookie fifth-rounder John Urschel will play Yanda’s regular position.

Despite missing practices all week, linebacker Terrell Suggs (back/thigh) is active and will start against Cleveland. However, veteran defensive end Chris Canty (ankle/thigh) will not play against the Browns after missing practice all week. Canty went through a pre-game workout two hours before kickoff and appeared to be favoring the ankle injury that’s limited him for a couple weeks.

Lawrence Guy and DeAngelo Tyson will likely see time in place of Canty at the 5-technique defensive end spot.

The Ravens will depend on Gino Gradkowski and Ryan Jensen as their only reserve offensive linemen in the regular-season finale. Gradkowski is active for the first time since Week 7 while Jensen is active for his first NFL game after spending the first 15 weeks of the regular season on the practice squad. Jensen was a 2013 sixth-round pick and was inactive for all 16 games of his rookie season.

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is active for the first time since injuring his hamstring on Oct. 26. The seventh-round selection has been a healthy scratch for a few weeks

Second-year linebacker Arthur Brown is active for just the fourth time all season.

The Ravens are meeting the Browns for the 32nd time in the regular season with Baltimore owning a 23-8 edge. Cleveland is just 3-12 playing at M&T Bank Stadium and hasn’t won in Baltimore since 2007. Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 12 of the last 13 games against the Browns.

Sunday’s referee will be Gene Steratore.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for temperatures reaching the mid-50s with calm winds and a 25 percent chance of rain late in the second half.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Cleveland is donning white jerseys with white pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OT Eugene Monroe
DE Chris Canty
S Brynden Trawick
CB Chris Greenwood
DE Steven Means
DT Terrence Cody
TE Phillip Supernaw

CLEVELAND
QB Brian Hoyer
CB Justin Gilbert
LS Charley Hughlett
C Ryan Seymour
DL Ahtyba Rubin
OL Andrew McDonald
WR Phil Bates

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Ravens promote running back Toussaint, move offensive lineman Reid to IR

Posted on 13 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens promoted rookie running back Fitz Toussaint from the practice squad to the active roster ahead of Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With fourth-round running back Lorenzo Taliaferro listed as questionable and unlikely to play after being sidelined with a foot injury suffered in last week’s win in Miami, Toussaint gives Baltimore a third healthy running back behind starter Justin Forsett and backup Bernard Pierce. To make room on the 53-man roster, offensive lineman Jah Reid (hand) was placed on injured reserve.

Toussaint, a rookie free agent from the University of Michigan, gained 123 rushing yards on 21 carries in the preseason and has spent most of the season on the practice squad. He was on the active roster in Weeks 1 and 3 but has yet to appear in a regular-season game.

Reid being moved to IR likely brings his disappointing career in Baltimore to end after he never lived up to expectations as a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. The Central Florida product appeared in just four games this season.

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Ravens re-sign wide receiver Thompson, waive running back Toussaint

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The 53-man roster carousel continued Tuesday as the Ravens re-signed wide receiver Deonte Thompson and waived rookie running back Fitz Toussaint.

Baltimore decided to cut Thompson the day before the Week 3 win at Cleveland to promote Toussaint to the active roster with starting running back Bernard Pierce out due to a thigh injury. Toussaint was on the field for one special-teams play, and it appears that Tuesday’s move is an encouraging indication of Pierce’s availability to play against the Carolina Panthers in Week 4.

Thompson was inactive in each of the Ravens’ first two games, but he is a backup return specialist to Jacoby Jones, who is struggling as a receiver so far this season.

It appears likely that the Ravens will re-sign Toussaint to the practice squad should he clear waivers.

The Ravens also announced they’ve re-signed rookie defensive tackle A.J. Pataiali’i to their practice squad.

Though not confirmed by the team as of early Tuesday afternoon, inside linebacker Josh Bynes has been signed off the practice squad by the Detroit Lions, who are looking for depth following the season-ending knee injury suffered by Stephen Tulloch on Sunday. Bynes is now reunited with Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who both served as assistants in Baltimore prior to this offseason.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 21 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will attempt to go 2-1 in finishing their AFC North run to begin the season against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, but they’ll have to do it without a key cog in their offense.

Running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) was ruled inactive and will miss the first game of his NFL career. The third-year back was added to the injury report as a limited participant on Thursday before participating fully and being listed as questionable on Friday.

The Ravens promoted rookie running back Fitz Toussaint from the practice squad and cut wide receiver Deonte Thompson on Saturday, a clear indication that Pierce’s status was in doubt. Veteran Justin Forsett is expected to start in Pierce’s place, and he will be spelled by two rookies — fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro and the undrafted free agent Toussaint — who have yet to record a carry in the NFL.

The good news is that cornerback Lardarius Webb will make his long-awaited 2014 season debut after missing the entire preseason and the first two regular-season games while recovering from a back injury suffered on July 25. The sixth-year defensive back practiced fully over the last three weeks, but the Ravens wanted to be careful that his back did not flare up again.

As expected, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is inactive as he continues to recover from a knee injury. He was listed as doubtful on the final injury report of the week. This means the Ravens could lean on recently-claimed defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi to play some reps in the rotation as he is active for Sunday’s game.

Rookie third-round safety Terrence Brooks is inactive for the first time this year and 2013 second-round linebacker Arthur Brown is a healthy scratch for the third straight week, developments that aren’t exactly ringing endorsements for the last two draft classes.

Meanwhile, the Browns will have the services of tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), who are both active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Cleveland’s starting running back Ben Tate (knee) is out once again, paving the way for Towson product Terrance West to make another start.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while the Browns don white jerseys and white pants at home.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Cleveland calls for temperatures right around 70 degrees with winds up to 18 miles per hour and partly cloudy skies.

The Ravens are 22-8 in the all-time series against the Browns, which includes a 10-5 mark in Cleveland. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 11-1 against the Browns but lost the most recent meeting between these teams at FirstEnergy Stadium last November.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
RB Bernard Pierce
WR Michael Campanaro
OT Jah Reid
G John Urschel
DT Timmy Jernigan
LB Arthur Brown
S Terrence Brooks

CLEVELAND
WR LaRon Byrd
CB Pierre Desir
NT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
LB Eric Martin
DB Robert Nelson
TE Gerell Robinson
RB Ben Tate

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Ravens promote running back Toussaint, cut wide receiver Thompson

Posted on 20 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens made a roster move less than 24 hours before their Sunday meeting with the Cleveland Browns by cutting wide receiver Deonte Thompson and promoting running back Fitz Toussaint from the practice squad.

The move likely stems from starting running back Bernard Pierce being listed as questionable with a thigh injury on the final injury report of the week. Pierce was added to the injury report Thursday after practicing on a limited basis, but the third-year back was a full participant on Friday, an encouraging sign for his status.

Should Pierce be limited or unable to play against Cleveland, the Ravens would be looking at veteran Justin Forsett, 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, and the rookie free agent Toussaint as their backfield options. Forsett has led the Ravens in rushing through the first two weeks of the season, gaining 126 yards on 19 carries for a 6.6 yards per attempt average.

Thompson made the 53-man roster as the Ravens kept seven wide receivers to start the season, but he was inactive in each of the first two games after scoring three touchdowns in the preseason. Toussaint turned heads with a strong performance in the preseason finale last month and gained 123 yards on 21 carries over the summer.

Toussaint was elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster the day before the season opener against Cincinnati but was inactive for the game. He was then cut a day later as the Ravens claimed defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi off waivers from the Bengals.

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Ravens claim defensive tackle Christo Bulukidi off waivers

Posted on 08 September 2014 by Luke Jones

On the same day the Ravens terminated the contract of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, they continued to adjust their roster by claiming defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi off waivers and cutting rookie running back Fitz Toussaint on Monday.

Bilukidi was waived by the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday and will add depth to the defensive line as the Ravens were carrying only five players in that positional group. A sixth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2012, the Georgia State product has appeared in 20 career games split between Oakland and Cincinnati and has collected 13 tackles and one sack.

Toussaint was promoted from the practice squad after the Ravens cut veteran cornerback Derek Cox on Saturday, but the rookie free agent was inactive for Sunday’s season-opening loss against the Bengals. Baltimore will likely hope that Toussaint clears waivers, so he can be re-signed to the practice squad.

The Ravens currently have three tailbacks on their 53-man roster with Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett, and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro.

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Ravens cut cornerback Cox, promote rookie running back Toussaint to active roster

Posted on 06 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens weren’t finished tinkering with their 53-man roster the day before their 2014 season opener in releasing veteran cornerback Derek Cox and promoting undrafted rookie running back Fitz Toussaint on Saturday afternoon.

Cox was re-signed earlier this week after initially being cut last weekend when the Ravens trimmed their roster to the league-mandated 53 players. The move can certainly be viewed as a sign that the Ravens are confident in the health of cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson, who all participated fully in practices this week. However, an NFL Network report Saturday afternoon seemed to contradict that notion as Aditi Kinkhabwala reported Webb was unlikely to play barring a surprise.

The transaction means the Ravens will not have to guarantee Cox’s contract should they decide to re-sign him after Week 1. The sixth-year defensive back’s departure leaves Baltimore with only four true cornerbacks on the 53-man roster entering the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but safety Anthony Levine also saw time at the cornerback spot during the summer.

Toussaint was signed to the practice squad after being waived last weekend and provides extra depth at running back while starter Ray Rice serves his two-game suspension to begin the 2014 season. Though he didn’t stand out early in training camp, Toussaint turned in a 103-yard rushing performance in the preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints to solidify his standing as a practice-squad candidate.

 

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