Tag Archive | "James Hurst"


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Harbaugh on offensive tackles: “They’ve got to do a better job”

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Of all the Ravens’ problems on the offensive side of the ball leading to Sunday’s season-opening loss in Denver, none were more surprising than the horrendous play of the offensive line.

Not only was the Baltimore offense held to six points — Jimmy Smith’s interception return provided the other seven in the 19-13 loss — and 173 total yards, but quarterback Joe Flacco was harassed throughout the afternoon. The Broncos may have only collected two sacks, but Flacco was pressured on 64.7 percent of his dropbacks, an astonishing rate for an offensive line regarded as one of the best in the NFL entering the season.

On Monday in San Jose, Calif. where the Ravens are preparing for their Week 2 meeting in Oakland, John Harbaugh expressed his disappointment with the play of his offensive line. The Baltimore coach acknowledged the challenge of competing against a superb defense, but he added that they didn’t see any strategic surprises from Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips during Sunday’s game.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was the only member of the offensive line to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, but it was the play of tackles Rick Wagner, James Hurst, and Eugene Monroe that was particularly problematic. The Broncos’ four outside linebackers — DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett, and Shane Ray — combined for 19 total pressures on Flacco. 

“Our tackles, they’ve got to do a better job,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Ravens should have provided extra help in pass protection. “They have to set square, and they have to punch on time. And when they do that, they’ll do well against anybody, and when you don’t do that, you’re not going to do well against anybody. That was really an issue for us in the course of the game.”

Monroe exited the game after the opening series with a concussion and didn’t return, leaving second-year tackle James Hurst to be eaten alive by Ware. Rick Wagner wasn’t any better on the opposite side as he struggled against Miller and didn’t look like the Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle he was last season, a possible indication that he’s still knocking off rust from last December’s Lisfranc injury. The 2013 fifth-round pick was sidelined for spring workouts before he began practicing at the start of training camp in late July.

Of course, the offensive line also failed to establish the running game, gaining just 73 yards on 23 attempts. This allowed the Broncos’ pass rushers to pin their ears back and tee off on Flacco in the pocket.

“We stuck with the run game,” Harbaugh said. “We were patient with it, but we need to get more out of it than 3.2 yards a carry. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the offensive line, it’s the running backs, it’s the scheme, it’s the formations — it’s all of it. We all take responsibility for that.”

Because of an exceptional 2014 season, the Ravens’ offensive line deserves the benefit of the doubt after just one poor performance, but the group needs to play much better moving forward.

Replacing Suggs

Much has already been written about the Ravens’ challenge in replacing injured linebacker Terrell Suggs, and Harbaugh predictably expressed confidence that their internal options would rise to the occasion. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a veteran free agent to help fill the void left behind by the franchise’s all-time sacks leader.

“We still believe we have the pass rushers that can get the job done, but we’re still in the process of evaluating our options, personnel-wise,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a chance we can bring somebody in. We’ll look at all those options over the next couple days.”

Harbaugh said that Elvis Dumervil will assume Suggs’ rush linebacker position on first and second downs with Courtney Upshaw remaining as the strong-side outside linebacker. Rookie Za’Darius Smith and veteran Albert McClellan will also be part of the equation.

Smith returning punts

At age 36 and serving as the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver, Steve Smith didn’t appear to be a likely answer as the primary punt returner, but that’s exactly what he was on Sunday against the Broncos.

Smith returned two punts for 32 yards and could continue to serve in that capacity, according to Harbaugh. Michael Campanaro was listed as the primary punt returner on the Week 1 depth chart, but the second-year wideout missed the last couple weeks of the summer due to injury.

“If ‘Camp’ gets more reps, he can go back there and do it,” Harbaugh said. “We have [Lardarius Webb], who practices all the time. He can go back there and do it. I think we have guys that can do it and be effective. But I kind of like Steve back there. He looks good to me back there.”

Recuperating Raiders

While the Ravens dealt with the loss of Suggs and the concussion to Monroe on Sunday, the Raiders did not escape the injury bug in their season-opening loss to Cincinnati as starting quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) and starting safeties Charles Woodson (shoulder) and Nate Allen (knee) all went down.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam on Carr’s thumb was reportedly encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether he can return for Sunday’s game. A Monday ESPN report said the Raiders fear Allen suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while Woodson would undergo an MRI on his shoulder.

Taliaferro on Twitter

It’s no secret that injured running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) is moving closer to a return after he practiced on a limited basis late last week, but the 2014 fourth-round pick shared that sentiment on his official Twitter account following Sunday’s game. That didn’t sit well with Harbaugh when he was asked about it on Monday afternoon.

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“I’m going to have to talk to him about that,” Harbaugh said. “Taliaferro, [Timmy] Jernigan — way too much chatter out there on social media. Maybe, Kevin [Byrne], make a note of that.”

The aforementioned tweet was deleted on Monday evening.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 27 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 Wednesday and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on July 30, 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 offensive line:

LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Robert Myers, James Hurst, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Marcel Jones, Nick Easton, Leon Brown, Kaleb Johnson, Darryl Baldwin, Blaine Clausell, De’Ondre Wesley

Synopsis: It was only a year ago that concerns were abundant about an offensive line that battled injuries and played poorly during the 2013 season, but much has changed since then. Regarded by most as the best position group on the roster, the offensive line returns returns its top seven players as the Ravens plan to maintain the same zone schemes with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman that they used so effectively last year under Gary Kubiak. The strength of this group begins with its guards as Marshal Yanda is the best in the NFL and Kelechi Osemele is rapidly rising to a Pro Bowl level. The question for this group early in training camp will be health as center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Rick Wagner both missed spring workouts and will be brought along slowly to begin the preseason.

One to watch: Wagner was arguably the Ravens’ biggest question mark entering last season before the 2013 fifth-round pick put together an above-average season at right tackle, solidifying a scrutinized offensive line that ultimately excelled in the running game. All signs point to Wagner being ready to go in plenty of time for the start of the season, but offensive line coach Juan Castillo will carefully watch his footwork coming back from last December’s season-ending Lisfranc injury. Assuming he’s healthy, Wagner and Yanda could form the best right side of an offensive line in the entire NFL this season. 

One on notice: Signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract last year, Eugene Monroe appeared to be Baltimore’s left tackle for the long haul, but a knee injury cost him five games and his play suffered when he was on the field in 2014. To be clear, there is no left tackle controversy as James Hurst isn’t ready to seriously challenge Monroe, but the Ravens need to see better from the veteran to justify an $8.7 million cap figure next year. If the former Jacksonville Jaguar doesn’t bounce back from a rough 2014 campaign, the Ravens could be back in a position where they’re looking for a left tackle sooner rather than later.

Sleeper: There doesn’t figure to be much room for a sleeper to make his mark this summer with Hurst, John Urschel, and fifth-round rookie Robert Myers projected to lock up roster spots as reserves, but Kaleb Johnson of Rutgers was a priority rookie free agent and has the foot quickness that Castillo desires with his blocking schemes. Projected to play guard at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Johnson will be someone to keep an eye on as the Ravens know they are unlikely to be able to re-sign both Yanda and Osemele and are looking for developmental depth at the guard position.

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No questions at left tackle for Ravens heading into offseason

Posted on 14 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made it clear Tuesday there is no controversy at left tackle going into the offseason.

A few eyebrows raised when starting left tackle Eugene Monroe was deemed active for Saturday’s game in New England before rookie free agent James Hurst remained the starter against the Patriots, but Harbaugh said the decision was based solely on Monroe’s health. After injuring his ankle in the fourth quarter of the Week 16 loss in Houston, Monroe did not play in the regular-season finale or the Pittsburgh game and was limited to just five special-teams snaps against New England.

Monroe was a limited participant in practices last week leading into the trip to Foxborough.

“Eugene wasn’t 100 percent, but we felt like he was enough to be a good backup for us,” Harbaugh said. “If we lost one of the tackles, we’d probably rather be able to put Eugene in there at less than 100 percent than have to shuffle the offensive line around again. And credit to him for getting himself back into that kind of a position. But as far as playing the left tackle spot the whole game, where [Monroe] was at, James was the better option.”

If Monroe had remained inactive against the Patriots and the Ravens would have lost either Hurst or Marshal Yanda, who was already filling in for the injured Rick Wagner at right tackle, they would have been forced to move left guard Kelechi Osemele out to tackle and insert Ryan Jensen into the game. Instead, the Ravens deemed a banged-up Monroe as a better option to activate than Jensen, who was only promoted to the 53-man roster at the end of the regular season.

Needless to say, it was a disappointing year for Monroe after he signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract last offseason. He missed four games after undergoing knee surgery in late September and never appeared healthy enough to play at the level he did last season when he was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The ankle injury against the Texans all but ended his season, opening the door for Hurst to become the first player in NFL history to start a playoff game at left tackle as an undrafted rookie.

Counting the postseason, the Ravens went 5-2 in games Hurst started at left tackle, leaving some to wonder if the rookie’s performance was good enough to supplant Monroe as the starter. When carefully watching Hurst’s play, it would be more accurate to describe Baltimore as surviving with him at left tackle.

Harbaugh made it clear how he views the depth chart heading into next season.

“Eugene is our starter going forward,” Harbaugh said. “We’re happy to have that be the case.”

Of all offensive tackles who participated in at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in the regular season, Hurst finished 79th out of 84 and had minus-16.9 pass blocking and minus-9.0 run blocking grades, according to Pro Football Focus’s cumulative assessments. Monroe ranked 63rd out of 84, but his minus-1.0 pass blocking grade and minus-10.7 run blocking grade reflects how much he struggled moving laterally in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system while not having quite as many issues as a pass blocker. That could certainly be explained by the knee issues he experienced early in the year and then coming back from surgery in the middle of the season.

Monroe will be on notice to bounce back dramatically — especially carrying a $7.7 million cap figure in 2015 — but he also has a track record suggesting he’ll be better with an offseason to once again get healthy.

Even if his performance wasn’t strong enough to seriously make Monroe look over his shoulder, Hurst did establish himself as a solid backup for an offensive line that took major strides in 2014.

“Those experiences I’m going to carry with me and use them to my advantage just to make myself a better football player,” said Hurst of the seven starts he made in his first NFL season. “It’s a huge offseason after your rookie year. You know really what you need to work on to be a better pro.”

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 02 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Here we go again.

Regarded by many as the best rivalry in the NFL, the Ravens and Steelers meet for the third time this season and the fourth time ever in the postseason at Heinz Field on Saturday night. Baltimore and Pittsburgh split a pair of 20-point finals during the regular season with each team winning on its home field.

The weather figures to be a significant storyline as the forecast continues to call for a 90 to 100 percent chance of rain with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds that could reach 20 miles per hour.

Both teams will be dealing with significant injuries as the Steelers will be without Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell while the Ravens are missing left tackle Eugene Monroe for the second straight game, meaning rookie free agent James Hurst will start in his place. Pittsburgh will rely on rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer as well as newly-signed veteran Ben Tate to pick up the slack in Bell’s absence.

In more positive news, the Ravens will welcome back five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from suspension, which will more than offset the loss of rookie Timmy Jernigan (foot) in Week 17.

Of course, both team will lean heavily on Super Bowl winning quarterbacks to lead the way as Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger both know what it takes to make a meaningful run in January. Roethlisberger owns a 10-4 postseason record while Flacco owns a 9-4 mark in the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the fourth time in postseason history with Pittsburgh holding a 3-0 mark with all previous playoff games being played at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh also leads the all-time regular-season series 21-17, but 13 of the 16 games — including the postseason — played between the Ravens and Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to beat Pittsburgh for the first time ever in the postseason …

1. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will each collect a sack, but a sloppy field will neutralize some of their ability to wreak havoc. Bell’s absence will put plenty of attention on the Pittsburgh passing game, which will have the Ravens’ rush licking its chops over the possibility of being able to tee off on Roethlisberger. However, the Steelers offensive line is much better than it’s been in several years and the wet surface at Heinz Field will slow the rush for both teams. Suggs and Dumervil often try to jump snap counts to utilize their speed off the edge, but hard counts and a chewed-up field will make things easier for tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert.

2. With the Ravens focused on slowing Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown, rookie Martavis Bryant will beat Rashaan Melvin for a long touchdown. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows Brown is the Steelers’ most dangerous weapon, which will make it even more important to focus on him in coverage with Bell unavailable. The Ravens will shade safety help to where Brown lines up as much as possible, but that could leave Melvin matched up against the 6-foot-4 Bryant. Melvin has played well since being thrown into the mix last month, but this will be his first NFL game against an elite quarterback and he’ll bite on a double move by Bryant for a score.

3. Justin Forsett will be the only running back from either team to find modest success on Saturday night with 70 yards and a touchdown. Considering few have run with any success against the Ravens this season, the Steelers won’t be able to do much without Bell, who will also be missed as a receiver and in pass protection. However, Baltimore has struggled to run consistently in recent weeks and will face the league’s sixth-ranked run defense. The Ravens will run wide and use counters to get the Steelers’ front seven moving laterally — something they also want to do with play-action plays to neutralize the pass rush — and Forsett will do enough to keep the Pittsburgh defense on its toes with the rain falling.

4. Both Flacco and Roethlisberger will throw more than 35 times despite a forecast conducive to running the ball. In the old days of this rivalry, Saturday’s forecast would have meant both sides grinding it out with the rushing attack, but the run defenses are too stout and the secondaries too vulnerable for the game not to be put in the hands of these franchise quarterbacks. The Ravens will mix in more runs than the Steelers, but Roethlisberger has better weapons to throw to in the passing game. As Harbaugh pointed out earlier in the week, both Flacco and Roethlisberger are used to playing in poor weather and the rain won’t prevent them from making some plays through the air.

5. The weather will contribute to another low-scoring tight one, but the Steelers will find a way to prevail in a 20-17 final. The loss of Bell is a major blow to Pittsburgh and could be enough to tip the scale in Baltimore’s favor, but the Ravens haven’t risen to the occasion against good teams, sporting only one win all season against a team that finished with a winning record. Many are pointing to 2012 as enough reason for the Ravens to be able to make a run, but even in the midst of losing four of their last five to close that regular season, there was the Week 16 demolition of the New York Giants that flashed what the offense would be able to do in the postseason. Despite a strong fourth quarter to beat Cleveland in Week 17, the Ravens have failed to inspire on offense for almost a month now, making it too difficult to believe the unit suddenly clicks in January with a banged-up offensive line. And after an admirable run against pedestrian passing games in December, a patchwork secondary isn’t going to hold up as well against the NFL’s second-ranked passing attack. Harbaugh’s group will give a one-dimensional Pittsburgh offense everything it can handle, but Roethlisberger has played the best football of his career this season and will do just enough at home to get by the Ravens yet again in the postseason.

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Ravens lose both offensive tackles to injury in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As if the embarrassment of their worst offensive performance of the year wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost both starting offensive tackles to injury in the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Right tackle Rick Wagner was carted to the locker room with a foot injury sustained in the third quarter and didn’t return. The state of the offensive line turned even worse in the fourth quarter when veteran left tackle Eugene Monroe left the game and didn’t return.

It remained unclear what the extent of each player’s injury was immediately following the game, but reports from Houston indicated Wagner was wearing a protective boot on his foot and using crutches while Monroe was also wearing a protective boot on his foot.

“There’s nothing I want to share right now,” said head coach John Harbaugh about their status after the game. “We’ll just see how those guys come out of it and see where we’re at.”

Their departures caused plenty of shuffling on the starting line as the Ravens finished the game with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle and Pro Bowl right guard moving out to right tackle, a position he hadn’t played since the 2010 season. Rookie John Urschel then entered the game to occupy Yanda’s normal position.

Hurst was previously filling in for Wagner at the right tackle spot before Monroe got hurt.

The Ravens were held to just 64 yards through the first three quarters of action and rushed for just 33 yards on 16 carries against the Houston defense.

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Facing an opponent that’s moving in the wrong direction for the second straight week, the Ravens should feel good about their return home to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Baltimore has a chance to improve to 5-2 with critical road games looming against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the next two weeks while the Falcons have dropped three straight and could find themselves out of the NFC South race if they don’t turn around a 2-4 start quickly. Atlanta is 0-3 on the road and has lost those games by an average margin of 12.3 points with a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense sits in the top 10 in most categories and the Baltimore defense has allowed only 16.2 points per game, good for third in the league through the first six weeks of the 2014 season. The Ravens secondary will also have the services of free safety Will Hill after he was activated on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how the former New York Giant is worked into the defense in his first action of 2014.

Sunday marks the fifth time these teams have met in their regular-season history with the Ravens and Falcons each owning two wins. Atlanta won the last game between these teams in a 26-21 thriller at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 11, 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin the season 5-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. Both Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan throw for over 300 yards in a battle of 2008 first-round draft picks. The Falcons have allowed 24 or more points in five of their six games this season and are allowing 277.7 passing yards per game and will now face Flacco, who is coming off a career-high five touchdown passes in last week’s win at Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s passing game hasn’t had problems this season in ranking third in the NFL. The debate between Flacco and Ryan — the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2008 draft — has become a tired one as the former enjoys a clear edge in postseason success while the latter puts up better fantasy numbers, but both should have strong afternoons against less-than-stellar secondaries.

2. Justin Forsett goes over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second straight week. You keep waiting for some semblance of a market correction for the 29-year-old running back, but he keeps shredding opposing run defenses to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry. Flacco will have a strong day to give the Ravens a lead in the second half, which will open the door for Forsett and his fellow backfield mates to gain big yardage. With James Hurst and John Urschel expected to be blocking the blindside again, Forsett will continue to receive extensive reps due to his pass-blocking ability and that will lead to him receiving more carries than Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

3. Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi will be a rare standout in an otherwise listless pass rush. A second straight week of starting two rookies on the left side of the offensive line will make Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak nervous, but the Falcons haven’t been able to put any consistent heat on quarterbacks this season. The one player who’s offered something as a rusher has been Massaquoi, who leads Atlanta with two sacks and has graded out as one of the better outside pass rushers in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He’ll beat Hurst to pick up a sack at some point, but the Ravens should have few problems keeping Flacco upright as long as they shade help to the left side and he’s quick in getting rid of the ball.

4. With Jimmy Smith locked on Julio Jones, Atlanta wideout Roddy White will catch a touchdown and pick up 85 receiving yards. There’s no reason to think Smith won’t shadow Jones, who already has 44 catches and 620 receiving yards (third in the NFL) through six games. However, White is still a receiver to be careful with and it’s difficult to feel too confident in the rest of the Baltimore secondary as the Ravens rank 27th in pass defense. The addition of Hill gives the Ravens an intriguing option to work in at safety, but as long as Matt Elam continues to handle nickel duties, they’re vulnerable to giving up yards. White will be a thorn in the Ravens’ side while Smith holds Jones to a modest level of production for his high standards.

5. On a day when both offenses have success, the Ravens will make a few more defensive stops en route to a 34-20 win to improve to 5-2. Baltimore needs to be aware of the explosiveness of the Atlanta offense, but the Falcons are way too soft on defense to seriously threaten the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. In the only opportunity to play at home this month, the Ravens will take care of business and put themselves in great position as they face the Bengals and the Steelers in consecutive road games. Unlike last season, the Ravens are giving themselves some margin for error in terms of the playoff race and a relatively comfortable win over Atlanta will be the latest statement for the case that they’ll be playing in January.

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 6

Posted on 07 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …


C.J. Mosley
Skinny: The rookie inside linebacker was the best player on the field for the Ravens in Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis as he finished with 14 tackles, a quarterback hit, a pass breakup, and an interception. Baltimore has used plenty of high draft picks on defensive players in recent years with mixed results, so it’s encouraging to see Mosley emerging as a game-changer on that side of the ball with so many aging players around him. Veteran Daryl Smith’s strong play last year was a pleasant surprise the year after Ray Lewis’ retirement, but Mosley has been the better player of the two in 2014.

Marshal Yanda
Skinny: Coming back from offseason shoulder surgery a year ago, the Pro Bowl right guard wasn’t his usual self in 2013, but Yanda has again been one of the best players in the NFL at his position so far in 2014. According to Pro Football Focus, the eighth-year guard is the Ravens’ highest-graded offensive player this season and the running game has been particularly potent with him and second-year tackle Rick Wagner opening running lanes on the right side. The offensive line struggled against Indianapolis, but Yanda had another strong day despite the loss.

Pernell McPhee
Skinny: The Ravens have had difficulty sustaining a pass rush, but the reserve specialist has arguably been their best weapon in that department, whether lining up at end or sliding inside in passing situations. McPhee may have only picked up his first sack of the season against the Colts, but the 2011 fifth-round pick leads the Ravens in Pro Football Focus’ quarterback hurries category despite playing less than Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens try to limit McPhee’s snaps to keep him healthy after dealing with nagging knee issues in past years, but he’s been one of their best defensive players this season.


James Hurst
Skinny: The undrafted rookie free agent was a pleasant surprise in his first career start against the Carolina Panthers, but his second game as the starting left tackle was disastrous as Indianapolis beat him repeatedly in the process of harassing quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens didn’t provide Hurst with enough help on the left side, so they’ll need to adjust as they play another road game against Tampa Bay in Week 6. Veteran Eugene Monroe was noncommittal last week when asked when he anticipated returning, so the Ravens can only hope that Hurst bounces back to play like he did against Carolina.

Terrell Suggs
Skinny: The veteran linebacker hasn’t played as poorly as some have suggested while focusing on the fact that he only has 1/2 sack so far this year, but it’s apparent the nagging groin injury he’s been dealing with is taking its toll as he was a non-factor against Indianapolis. Suggs is eighth on the team in tackles and has looked more like the player he was in the second half of 2013 than the linebacker who collected nine sacks in the first eight games of last season. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is still solid against the run, but you have to wonder if his days as a consistent high-impact player are coming to an end.

Torrey Smith
Skinny: Dropping the fourth-down pass from Flacco on the Ravens’ final offensive play of the game Sunday was just the latest example of concern as Smith has just 11 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown through five games. Gary Kubiak’s West Coast offense depends on short-to-intermediate routes that Smith often struggles in running, leaving the fourth-year wideout uncomfortable and on a different page than Flacco for much of the season. Smith has been able to draw a number of pass interference penalties on deep balls, but you wonder how much his struggles are wearing on him in a contract year.

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to hit the quarter pole of the season on a winning note when they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.

Most focus has understandably centered around wide receiver Steve Smith playing against his former team this week, but the Ravens will be playing their first game since losing tight end Dennis Pitta for the season and left tackle Eugene Monroe for at least the next few weeks. And they face an imposing stretch of four of their next five games on the road following Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium, making this a game the Ravens would desperately like to win.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are trying to recover from an embarrassing home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night while overcoming a number of injuries in their offensive backfield. Expected to have one of the more potent rushing attacks in the NFL this season, the Panthers currently rank 29th in run offense with just 72.3 rushing yards per contest.

Sunday marks the fifth meeting between these teams as Carolina holds a 3-1 edge. However, the Ravens won the only game against the Panthers of the John Harbaugh era, a 37-13 final in Charlotte in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first ever home game against the Panthers …

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown pass and be flagged for a 15-yard penalty against his old team. The 35-year-old has tried to downplay the significance of playing the Panthers after spending the first 13 years of his career in Charlotte, but there’s no escaping the prediction of “blood and guts” he made shortly after signing a three-year contract with the Ravens in March. To say Smith will be fired up is an understatement considering how fiery he is on game days anyway, but he’ll bring a little extra passion that will draw a 15-yard penalty for either unnecessary roughness or taunting at some point. He’ll make up for it, however, with a touchdown catch to beat Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason.

2. James Hurst will struggle as a run blocker, but his pass blocking, with help from tight end Crockett Gillmore and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, will keep Joe Flacco clean. If you’re looking for the silver lining with the left tackle situation, Monroe wasn’t playing well before undergoing knee surgery this week, meaning there may not be much of a drop-off with the undrafted rookie. The overall impression of his play in the preseason was that Hurst was a capable pass blocker with good technique, but his blocking ability in the running game left much to be desired. Baltimore will use help on his side to help contain the pass rush from the likes of Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton and keep Flacco safe. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will also call more running plays inside and to the right to stay away from Hurst’s struggles whenever possible.

3. With Jimmy Smith locked on rookie Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown from Cam Newton against the Baltimore secondary. The 6-foot-5 Benjamin will pose a problem for any Ravens cornerback other than Smith, so defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have his top defensive back mirror him as much as possible. Veteran Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report, so he’s expected to have a bigger workload than the four defensive snaps he took in Cleveland, but it’s still difficult projecting what to expect from him in terms of performance. Carolina’s weapons in the passing game aren’t imposing beyond Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, but the savvy Cotchery is familiar with the Ravens defense from his days with Pittsburgh and will shake free against zone coverage for a red-zone touchdown.

4. Bernard Pierce will start in the backfield, but rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will lead the Ravens in rushing for the second straight week. A national audience watched the Steelers gash the Panthers defense for 264 rushing yards in a 37-19 final in Charlotte last Sunday night, which continued the early-season trend of Carolina struggling to stop the run. Kubiak will look to run early and often to control the tempo of the game and will defer to the returning Pierce at the start of this one. However, the jury is still out whether the 2012 third-round pick is a great fit in the Ravens’ zone-blocking scheme as he’s often looked indecisive in hitting running lanes. The Ravens will lean heavily on Taliaferro in the second half to wear down the Panthers’ front and the rookie will make another emphatic statement that the starting job belongs to him.

5. The injuries to Pitta and Monroe are concerning, but the Ravens will still have enough to handle Carolina in a 26-17 final. The Panthers are still trying to find their bearings on the offensive side of the ball with Newton still not 100 percent and the backfield in disarray with the long-term injury to fullback Mike Tolbert and the uncertain status of Jonathan Stewart. On top of that, the Carolina defense hasn’t been the imposing unit it was last year without defensive end Greg Hardy in the picture. The Ravens will use an effective running game and an improved defensive effort to win in relatively comfortable fashion to begin the season 3-1 before starting what looks to be the most difficult stretch of their regular-season schedule with only one home game over the next five weeks of action.

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Ravens left tackle Monroe sidelined after undergoing minor knee surgery

Posted on 24 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just a few days after losing starting tight end Dennis Pitta for the rest of the season, the Ravens learned they would be without their left tackle for a few weeks after Eugene Monroe underwent minor knee surgery on Wednesday.

Head coach John Harbaugh made the announcement following practice as rookie free agent James Hurst is expected to start in Monroe’s place against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It remains unclear how long Monroe will be sidelined after his knee limited him in practice last week and during the Week 3 win over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, but Harbaugh said it will be “some number of weeks.”

“To not have him is going to be different, but it’s honestly something that I try not to pay too much attention to,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I think Hurst is going to come in to fill in and do a great job. And that’s all I can really do is go back there and have confidence that we’re going to do everything in our power to play well, and he’s going to play well. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

It had become clear that Monroe’s knee was impacting his play as he graded out poorly against the Browns. According to Pro Football Focus, Monroe received the lowest grade among the Ravens’ five starting linemen through the first three weeks of the 2014 season.

Undrafted from the University of North Carolina, Hurst saw his draft stock plummet after he suffered a broken fibula in the Tar Heels’ bowl game in late December. Prior to the leg injury, many draft pundits envisioned him as an early- to mid-round pick who had an impressive performance against eventual No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney in North Carolina’s 2013 season opener against South Carolina.

Hurst said Monroe informed him of the news on Wednesday morning and that the veteran offered to do anything he can to help him prepare in the coming weeks. Though acknowledging butterflies about making his first career NFL start, Hurst pointed to the veteran experience on the offensive line as well as position coach Juan Castillo to help him out.

“I think if you’re not nervous, you don’t realize what’s happening,” Hurst said. “It’s a big situation. I’m excited about it. There are going to be nerves. Everybody has nerves. It’s just a matter of going out there and knowing that you prepared and you’ve done everything you can for that opportunity.”

Hurst would become become the first rookie to start at left tackle for the Ravens since Michael Oher in 2009.

Asked where Monroe’s injury left the Ravens at the left tackle position, Harbaugh hesitated in answering before acknowledging Hurst as the listed backup for the spot. Instead of moving left guard Kelechi Osemele outside or flipping right tackle Rick Wagner to the opposite side, the Ravens appear content in maintaining continuity with the rest of the line and will likely offer as much help as they can to Hurst’s side.

“Next man up like it always does,” said Harbaugh about what the injury meant for the offensive line. “That’s the depth chart. It’s pretty straightforward. I mean, it’s obvious.”

Monroe signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract to remain in Baltimore this offseason after he was traded by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Ravens for a fourth- and a fifth-round selection last October.

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Ravens-Saints preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

Posted on 27 August 2014 by Luke Jones

While many have turned their attention toward the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7, the Ravens complete their preseason schedule by taking on the New Orleans Saints in their first visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since Super Bowl XLVII Thursday night.

Of course, the stakes pale in comparison to the last time the Ravens traveled to Louisiana, but the livelihood of a select group of players still vying for roster spots is on the line as key position battles remain at wide receiver and potentially on the offensive and defensive lines. After trimming their roster to 75 players earlier this week, the Ravens must produce their first 53-man roster by 4 p.m. Saturday while also scanning the open market to see what players might shake free from other teams.

Thursday represents the final time some players will ever play football while others will find themselves seeking opportunities with 31 other NFL teams by the weekend. In all reality, most decisions will have been made prior to Thursday’s game with only a couple spots potentially up for grabs when the Ravens take the field against the Saints.

“It’s hard every year. It seems like we get to this point every year and we feel this way about our team,” said head coach John Harbaugh of the final roster decisions. “It just seems like it’s a challenge every year. That’s a good problem to have. Getting to the season, I hope it’s proven true. I hope we don’t think we have good depth and all of the sudden we get into the season [and] find out we don’t. That’s the nature of what we do.”

Thursday’s game won’t offer much from an entertainment standpoint as Harbaugh confirmed earlier this week that most starters will not play against the Saints, a team the Ravens will face in the regular season on Nov. 24. With the number of injuries currently plaguing the secondary alone, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome will likely use the preseason finale as an evaluation tool of their secondary depth — the Ravens signed veteran cornerback Derek Cox on Wednesday — more than anything else.

Even without his starters playing in the final game of the summer, Harbaugh says expectations remain high for backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the rest of the Baltimore reserves who will either be filling out the 53-man roster or looking for work by Saturday.

“I want to win the game. We don’t go down there to not win the game,” Harbaugh said. “We are going to do everything we can to win the game. If we walk off the field without the win, I’m not going to be happy about it. I want to walk over and shake the other coach’s hand as the winner — not the loser.”

Thursday will be the second preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Saints, but Baltimore owns the 4-1 edge in the regular season and a 1-0 advantage in the preseason. The Ravens are 45-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 18-9 preseason mark in 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 Thursday night’s game in New Orleans.

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, does not take into account the many veterans — injured or not — who will 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: CB Lardarius Webb (back), CB Asa Jackson (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (chest), DT Terrence Cody (hip)
DOUBTFUL: OL Jah Reid (head)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Owen Daniels (legs), S Matt Elam (leg), RB Bernard Pierce (head)
PROBABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (head)

Five bubble players to watch Thursday night

1. QB Keith Wenning

This one will be fairly clear-cut as you’d expect the Ravens to limit Wenning’s playing time if they desire to pass him through waivers and place him on the practice squad. If Wenning receives extensive playing time, it could be a sign that they’re prepared to keep him on the 53-man roster as the third quarterback behind Joe Flacco and Taylor. The Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on the active roster since 2009, so the consensus expectation is they’ll run the risk of losing their 2014 sixth-round pick and use that roster spot for another position of need while hoping Wenning makes it to the practice squad.

2. WR Deonte Thompson

The speedy third-year wideout has been one of the stars of the summer with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Dallas and a 21-yard touchdown reception against Washington, but Thompson has also failed to take advantage of past opportunities in Baltimore. Even in Saturday’s game in which he caught the touchdown from Taylor, Thompson played only nine offensive snaps compared to 19 taken by Kamar Aiken and 13 by seventh-round rookie Michael Campanaro. The wild card that could keep Thompson on the roster is his blinding speed, which is a nice asset to back up Jacoby Jones in the return game.

3. LB John Simon

I’d still expect the 2013 fourth-round pick to make the roster, but the Ohio State product hasn’t stood out this preseason with only three total tackles. Considering there are four outside linebackers — Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, and Pernell McPhee — ahead of him on the depth chart, Simon’s only chance to see the field will be as a special-teams player in his second season. Given the current vulnerabilities at cornerback and on the defensive and offensive lines, Simon could be a surprise cut as nothing about his play on the field during practices or limited game opportunities suggests he’s really deserving of being a lock.

4. OT James Hurst

Despite receiving more attention that the typical rookie free agent after a broken leg factored into him going undrafted out of North Carolina, Hurst has struggled this summer and probably wouldn’t be receiving much consideration for a roster spot if not for the recent concussion suffered by fourth-year tackle Jah Reid. If Reid’s symptoms linger longer than expected, Hurst might find himself on the active roster when final cuts are made, but it’s doubtful that the Ravens would feel comfortable if needing to use him on game day. The likely scenario for Hurst would be the practice squad where he can continue to develop.

5. OL Ryan Jensen

The Ravens thought enough of the 2013 sixth-round pick as a rookie — and their struggling offensive line probably played a part as well — that they carried him on the 53-man roster despite a broken foot that sidelined him for an extensive part of the regular season. A year later, Jensen is firmly behind veteran A.Q. Shipley and fifth-round rookie John Urschel in the pecking order at guard as he saw only eight offensive snaps against Washington. Because he’s a recent draft pick, Jensen would figure to have a good chance to be signed to the practice squad, but his performance and playing time suggest his roster spot is in major jeopardy.

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