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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

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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

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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

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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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Ravens add undrafted free agents, invite others to rookie minicamp

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Ravens add undrafted free agents, invite others to rookie minicamp

Posted on 12 May 2014 by WNST Staff

The Ravens completed their 2014 draft on Saturday, and moved to the next stage of the rookie talent management process Saturday night into Sunday, as the team signed and invited several NFL rookies to their Owings Mills facility to participate in their rookie minicamp.

Below is a list of players signed to rookie free agent deals, reported by the Baltimore Sun.

James Hurst, OT-UNC

Hurst, a 6’5, 295 OT, was coming off a broken leg suffered in the Belk Bowl at the end of December, was projected to be a top-to-mid-round pick before the injury. Missed both the Senior Bowl and the Combine due to the rehab from his injury.

Sammy Seamster, CB-Middle Tennessee St

Seamster had several visits in the NFL draft process, and the former track star runs a 4.44 40-yard dash.

Xavius Boyd, LB-Western Kentucky

The Ravens have had some success finding players from Western Kentucky-most notably RB Bobby Rainey-in the rookie free agent process. They hope that lighting strikes twice with Xavius Boyd, the reigning Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year who had over 100 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2013.

A.J. Pataiali’i, DT-Utah State

Standing at 6’3, 307, this nose guard out of the Mountain West could continue to be another lineman the Ravens try and develop and stash on the practice squad.

Terrance Bullitt, LB-Texas Tech

 

Jace Davis, WR-Northern Colorado

Finished with 673 yards and five touchdowns for the Bears in his senior year.

Richie Leone, P-Houston

A Ray Guy Award semifinalist who excels at getting punts inside the 20-yard line. Averaged 43.1 yards a punt.

Parker Graham, OT-Oklahoma State

Played both left tackle and right guard for the Cowboys this season. Named both AP and Coaches Big-12. Stands at 6’7 315.

Brett Van Sloten, OT-Iowa

A right tackle for the Hawkeyes that only allowed 15 QB sacks in 2013.

Derrick Hopkins, DT-Virginia Tech

6’0, 311-lb defensive lineman played considerable action over his four years in Blacksburg (started 40 games). Finished 2013 with 54 tackles and five sacks.

Jake Sinkovec, Boston College H-Back

A solid blocker, played eight games at fullback for Boston College in 2013.

Jamie Meder, DT-Ashland (Ohio)

Played well enough for the NFLPA game to get a look…

Jeremy Butler, WR-Tennessee-Martin

Zach Orr, LB-North Texas

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