Tag Archive | "James Hurst"

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Harbaugh says Ravens offensive line in better shape than last offseason

Posted on 27 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens lost two 2017 starters from their offensive line this month, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.

Of course, they’ll welcome back six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda this year as well as third-year lineman Alex Lewis, who started eight games as a rookie and was considered an ascending talent before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August. But Baltimore didn’t pick up its 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard and lost free-agent center Ryan Jensen to Tampa Bay, who made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at the position.

This marks the second straight year the Ravens will need to replace the previous season’s starters at those positions.

“You compare it to last year, I think we are in better shape than we were a year ago at this time really,” Harbaugh said. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago, and it turned out pretty well for us. I thought [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys obviously. Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job, and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league.

“We’ve got some prospects there. I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens have substantial plans for James Hurst, who signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension that included a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. Making 15 of his 16 starts at left guard in place of the injured Lewis last season, Hurst is now expected to move to right tackle.

It’s a position where he’s made only two career starts, but the 6-foot-5, 317-pound lineman practiced there last spring and summer and received sparkling reviews from a notable teammate.

“Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner. He’s going to set the record this year,’” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s performance at right tackle last summer. “That’s how he felt going against him in training camp. I remember him saying that. Then, we had the injury to Alex and we moved him inside. That shows you how versatile he is. That’s how we’ll start off, but it could change.”

The 11th-year head coach also said former practice-squad member Matt Skura — who started 12 games at right guard last year — will receive the first crack at securing the starting center job as many anticipated. Nico Siragusa will also be in the mix if the 2017 fourth-round pick is fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury sustained last summer.

With Hurst moving outside, Lewis is in line to reclaim the left guard spot, but the 2016 fourth-round pick must prove he can stay on the field after missing 22 games in his first two seasons. In assistant head coach Greg Roman’s run schemes, guards are frequently required to pull, making the agile Lewis an ideal fit.

He also remains a consideration at center if Skura is not up to the challenge.

“We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of the thing that Greg and Marty put in last year. We run a lot of different schemes — gap schemes and pull schemes and lead schemes — where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”

Of course, Harbaugh was only speaking about offensive linemen currently on the roster as you’d expect the Ravens to be looking to add competition and depth in the draft since Hurst and Skura lack extensive NFL experience at their projected positions.

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Ravens part ways with right tackle Howard, running back Woodhead

Posted on 13 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The free agency signing period doesn’t officially begin until Wednesday, but the Ravens remained busy Tuesday clearing salary cap space by parting ways with two veterans on the offensive side of the ball.

Baltimore cut starting right tackle Austin Howard and running back Danny Woodhead, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Their departures save roughly $3.8 million in space when including the salaries of the two players replacing them in the “Rule of 51” calculation.

Howard’s future appeared up in the air at best after the Ravens re-signed offensive lineman James Hurst to a four-year, $17.5 million contract on Monday. Signed last August after being cut by Oakland, Howard, 30, appeared in all 16 games and ranked 36th among offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system, but the organization declined to pick up his 2018 option and will save $3 million in cap space by doing so.

It remains unclear who will man the right tackle spot in 2018 with neither Hurst nor Alex Lewis — the logical in-house candidates — having proven themselves as a starting-caliber option there. The Ravens would have another hole at center if free agent Ryan Jensen fetches a lucrative contract on the open market as many are anticipating.

Those aren’t exactly encouraging developments for an offense already in need of more talent at wide receiver and tight end.

The Ravens signed the 33-year-old Woodhead to a three-year, $8.8 million contract at the start of free agency last March, but a serious hamstring injury in the season opener sidelined him for eight games and he finished with just 33 catches for 200 yards. The third-down back has now missed 35 games over the last four seasons, leaving his NFL future at a crossroads.

Howard and Woodhead joined defensive back Lardarius Webb as cap casualties a day after Webb saw his contract officially terminated, seemingly ending his nine-year run in Baltimore.

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Ravens re-sign offensive lineman Hurst, cut defensive back Webb

Posted on 12 March 2018 by Luke Jones

On the same day NFL teams could begin negotiating with other unrestricted free agents, the Ravens retained one of their own by re-signing offensive lineman James Hurst to a four-year contract.

The deal is worth $17.5 million with $8 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network. Hurst, 26, started 15 games at left guard last season as well as one at left tackle filling in for the injured Ronnie Stanley. The former undrafted free agent from North Carolina has struggled at both offensive tackle spots in the past, but he found a home inside while filling in for injured left guard Alex Lewis, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in training camp.

Many assumed the 6-foot-5, 317-pound Hurst would find a better contract elsewhere this offseason, but the Ravens clearly value his versatility and view him as a starting-caliber player with that type of a financial commitment. What that means for Lewis and the rest of the offensive line remains to be seen as starting center Ryan Jensen will hit the market this week as an unrestricted free agent.

“This is good news for our football team,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “James is a reliable, tough, and versatile player who has played a lot of football for us. He has started at both tackle and guard, and all he has been is productive and someone who has made us better.”

Pro Football Focus graded Hurst 55th among qualified guards last season while Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings listed him 49th among guards. He has never missed a game in his four-year career and has started 32 regular-season games as well as two postseason contests.

Reserve defensive back Lardarius Webb announced his departure via his verified Twitter account Monday as Baltimore has cut the longtime Raven for the second straight year. The 2009 third-round pick eventually re-signed with the Ravens at a cheaper rate last year and would begin the season as the primary nickel corner, but his role diminished as the year progressed and he was replaced by second-year corner Maurice Canady in many sub packages.

Webb was scheduled to make $2.15 million in base salary in 2018, but his release will save the Ravens $1.75 million in cap space. The Nicholls State product appeared in 127 games in his nine-year run with the Ravens, collecting 15 interceptions, 467 tackles, 91 pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles.

Baltimore entered Monday with just $4.878 million in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. Teams must be in compliance with the salary cap by 4 p.m. Wednesday when the free-agent signing period officially begins.

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How did Ravens offensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 05 February 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive linemen ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Inside linebackers

Ronnie Stanley
2017 offensive snap count: 1,010
NFL1000 ranking: 12th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 31st among offensive tackles
Skinny: The 2016 first-round pick may not have taken the leap toward Pro Bowl territory as many had hoped after a strong finish to his rookie campaign, but Stanley still did a good job protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside. It’s fair to want him to reach another level, but nagging injuries have held him back at times.

James Hurst
2017 offensive snap count:
1086
NFL1000 ranking:
49th among guards
PFF ranking:
58th among guards
Skinny:
The former undrafted free agent has been maligned throughout his career, but he showed substantial improvement at left guard after years of struggling at tackle. Set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, Hurst is a useful backup because of his versatility and work ethic.

Ryan Jensen
2017 offensive snap count:
1086
NFL1000 ranking:
8th among centers
PFF ranking:
9th among centers
Skinny:
After years of nondescript work as a backup, Jensen became the anchor of an offensive line that lost both starting guards to season-ending injuries before Week 3. In addition to strong blocking and physicality, the pending free agent offers a much-needed attitude and should be a priority to re-sign.

Matt Skura
2017 offensive snap count:
739
NFL1000 ranking:
75th among guards
PFF ranking:
76th among guards
Skinny:
Despite beginning the regular season on the practice squad, Skura soon emerged as the starting right guard after Marshal Yanda was lost for the season in Week 2. His ability to play all three inside spots makes him a valuable backup, but I’m not yet convinced he can be a starting center as some hope.

Austin Howard
2017 offensive snap count:
1082
NFL1000 ranking:
25th among right tackles
PFF ranking:
37th among offensive tackles
Skinny:
The veteran got a late start in training camp and was far from spectacular, but he provided the Ravens what they probably should have expected. Howard dealt with nagging injuries at various points, but he started all 16 games and remains under contract with a $5 million cap figure for the 2018 season.

Jermaine Eluemunor
2017 offensive snap count:
198
NFL1000 ranking:
73rd among guards
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
John Harbaugh made it clear that Eleumunor was a developmental prospect, but injuries forced him into action at various points. The London native brings intriguing upside for someone who hasn’t been playing football for long and is someone to watch over the spring and summer.

Marshal Yanda
2017 offensive snap count:
102
NFL1000 ranking:
n/a
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
There’s no understating how much Baltimore missed the six-time Pro Bowl guard as his dominant play and leadership have been mainstays. Yanda will be 34 and carries a $10.125 million cap figure in 2018, an uneasy combination for any player — even an elite one — coming off a major injury.

Luke Bowanko
2017 offensive snap count:
90
NFL1000 ranking:
n/a
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
The veteran appeared in all 16 games and made one start, but he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to be a priority to re-sign.

Andrew Donnal
2017 offensive snap count:
21
NFL1000 ranking:
n/a
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
The former Los Angeles Ram played sparingly upon being claimed off waivers in mid-November, but he’s under contract and could serve as a cheap replacement for Hurst as a reserve offensive tackle with some NFL experience.

2018 positional outlook

With all indications pointing to Yanda and 2016 starting left guard Alex Lewis being on schedule with their respective rehabs, the only major concern on paper is at center with Jensen likely to receive plenty of interest if he hits the open market. The Ravens have limited cap space and other major needs on the offensive side of the ball, but the center position has frequently been an Achilles heel since the retirement of Matt Birk after the 2012 season. A strong anchor at the position is critical in Greg Roman’s blocking schemes that include plenty of pulling guards, and merely turning the job over to Skura or 2017 fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa is very risky with neither having played an NFL snap at center. I’d be more inclined to go younger and cheaper at right tackle by releasing Howard to create more cap resources to re-sign Jensen, who finally blossomed into an above-average center in his first full year as a starter.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2018 class of free agents

Posted on 03 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Free agency won’t begin until March 14, but the Ravens face arguably the most pivotal offseason in team history after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and seeing fan support dwindle in 2017.

As has become Baltimore’s annual story, salary cap space will be a problem as the Ravens currently hold an estimated 2018 Rule of 51 commitment of just under $170 million, according to Spotrac.com. The 2018 salary cap won’t be set until March, but it is projected to rise from $167 million in 2017 to somewhere between $174 million and $178 million. Since the aforementioned commitment doesn’t include any of their pending free agents, the Ravens will clearly have difficult decisions to make with some cap analysts already painting a very gloomy picture about their lack of cap space and their limited flexibility.

This comes with the reality that the Ravens have substantial work to do to their roster — especially on the offensive side of the ball — if they want to escape the land of mediocrity in which they’ve resided since Super Bowl XLVII.

Of course, the Ravens can create cap space by renegotiating, extending, or terminating veteran contracts and will surely do some combination of that. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, cornerback Brandon Carr, running back Danny Woodhead, right tackle Austin Howard, defensive back Lardarius Webb, and linebacker Albert McClellan stand out as veteran candidates who could become cap casualties this winter.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following 12 unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 14 at 4 p.m.

CB Brandon Boykin: Once considered one of the better slot corners in the league, Boykin was placed on injured reserve in early September and is not expected to return.

OL Luke Bowanko: The veteran saw action in all 16 games and made one start, but the returns of guards Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, and Nico Siragusa from injuries make him expendable.

WR Michael Campanaro: The River Hill product played in a career-high 13 games and did nice work as a punt returner, making him a candidate to be re-signed at a cheap price.

TE Crockett Gillmore: The 6-foot-6, 266-pound Gillmore showed intriguing potential in 2015, but he’s missed 29 of Baltimore’s last 36 games due to injury, making his return highly questionable.

OL James Hurst: The once-maligned reserve offensive tackle found a niche as a serviceable starting left guard in 2017, but the aforementioned returning depth inside probably makes him expendable.

C Ryan Jensen: His emergence as a formidable starting center was a godsend with two backups handling the guard spots all year, but did the rest of the NFL also take notice in the process?

LB Steven Johnson: The veteran journeyman did a solid job on special teams in 10 games, but his spot and opportunity will likely go to a younger and cheaper player in 2018.

QB Ryan Mallett: With Joe Flacco turning 33 later this month and battling inconsistency and some health concerns in recent years, the Ravens should be looking to draft a backup with more upside.

DE Brent Urban: The 6-foot-7 specimen looked poised for a strong year during the preseason, but he’s missed 39 games in four seasons, making him a poor candidate in which to invest any real money.

WR Mike Wallace: Market demand will be a major factor here, but the Ravens will be looking at needing to add two to three impactful receivers if Wallace exits and the disappointing Maclin is cut.

TE Benjamin Watson: The 37-year-old was a good story coming back from last year’s torn Achilles tendon to lead the team in catches, but the Ravens really need more of a play-maker at this position. 

RB Terrance West: The Baltimore native and Towson product turned his career around with the Ravens, but he will likely be seeking a better opportunity elsewhere in 2018.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS – none in 2018

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These seven players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo: The rookie turned some heads early in training camp and received a Week 17 promotion from the practice squad, but he’ll need to earn his way onto the 2018 roster.

RB Alex Collins: Given the present challenges with the cap, Collins falling into the Ravens’ laps was a major development of the season as he’ll be the clear favorite to be the 2018 starter at a cheap cost.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste: Promoted to the active roster after Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon in early December, Jean-Baptiste will be in the mix next summer to try to make the roster.

TE Vince Mayle: Though not a factor as an offensive player, Mayle was a consistent special-teams contributor and has a chance to reprise that role next season.

LB Patrick Onwuasor: With the disappointing development of Kamalei Correa, Onwuasor started 12 games at the weak-side inside spot, but the Ravens could use some more competition here.

OL Maurquice Shakir: Promoted from the practice squad at the end of October, Shakir was inactive for eight games and will have the chance to compete for a job next summer.

G Matt Skura: The former undrafted free agent and practice-squad member did a respectable job filling in for the injured Yanda and could be in the mix at center if Jensen departs via free agency.

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Ravens-Packers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 18 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Sunday presents an important opportunity for the Ravens as they make their first trip to Lambeau Field since 2009.

Many have labeled it a “must-win” game for a 4-5 team coming off its bye, but a simple look at the underwhelming AFC wild-card picture makes that notion hold less weight from a mathematical standpoint. Of course, the Ravens could certainly use a road win from a psychological standpoint as they try to get on a roll to both secure their first trip to the playoffs since 2014 and show they have the potential to morph into some semblance of a threat in January.

Baltimore couldn’t ask for a much better situation on the side of the Green Bay Packers, who continue to be without six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers and are now missing their top two running backs due to injuries. Versatile safety Morgan Burnett will also miss Sunday’s game for the Packers defense.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to get back to the .500 mark by securing their first ever win in Green Bay. The Packers have a 4-1 advantage in the all-time regular-season series and have won all three meetings in their home stadium.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Danny Woodhead will lead the Ravens in catches while Jeremy Maclin will be tops in receiving yards. The return of the diminutive Woodhead is a major headline, but part of me wonders if his presence could be somewhat counterproductive for a passing game needing to push it down the field more consistently. Meanwhile, Maclin is coming off his best game of the year and will have a favorable matchup against slot corner Damarious Randall. These two veterans will be key as a Ravens offense without Ronnie Stanley faces a defense ranking ninth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed.

2. Packers edge rushers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews will combine for two sacks and a forced fumble. The offensive line has been a house of cards that’s held up OK when the starting five are healthy, but it’s frequently fallen apart when less than 100 percent. That will hold true again with Stanley likely to miss Sunday’s game with a concussion. This group can’t afford to be without its best player, and James Hurst being Stanley’s likely replacement means a backup left tackle and backup left guard will be protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside. That’s a frightening proposition, especially on the road.

3. Tony Jefferson will grab his first interception as a Raven. Several defensive players were very complimentary of Packers backup Brett Hundley, but no one is buying the notion of him being the second coming of Rodgers. The third-year quarterback has shown some modest improvement, but he figures to continue relying on short passes, which should give Jefferson opportunities when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. The Ravens defense leads the NFL in interceptions and will grab one for the fourth consecutive game to assist an offense struggling to move the football.

4. Randall Cobb will have 75 total yards and a touchdown to lead the Green Bay offense. It’s been a quiet year for the slot receiver, but the absences of running backs Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery will force Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to get creative with Cobb, who can line up virtually anywhere in a formation. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ravens defense accounts for him as Maurice Canady took away most of Lardarius Webb’s snaps at the nickel against Tennessee. With Baltimore’s outside corners being so strong this year, Cobb will be featured in the middle of the field.

5. The offense will once again hold the Ravens back in a 16-13 loss to the Packers. Green Bay has cracked the 20-point mark just once since Rodgers broke his collarbone in mid-October, and the Baltimore defense will do plenty to make life difficult for an inexperienced quarterback. However, the loss of Stanley is a major blow for an offense that hasn’t been productive enough even with the 2016 first-round pick in the lineup. Don’t believe the sentiment that the Ravens are “finished” if they drop to 4-6 since four of their last six games come at home against less-than-imposing teams, but a loss will surely reinforce major doubts about this team’s ability to stack wins and gain momentum for the stretch run.

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 04 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will tell you every game is important.

That’s just reality when you’re 4-4 and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season. Sunday’s trip to Tennessee might be the most pivotal game remaining on the schedule for an inconsistent team trying to gain traction in the quest for its first playoff berth since 2014. If you concede that Baltimore’s chances of catching first-place Pittsburgh appear bleak, the result against the Titans becomes even more critical in sizing up the AFC wild-card picture.

A win puts Baltimore a game above .500 entering the bye week with a reasonable schedule down the stretch with several opponents having messy quarterback situations. A loss would force the Ravens to win five of their final seven contests just to get to 9-7 and — even worse — would give both Tennessee and Jacksonville head-to-head tiebreaker advantages in the playoff pecking order.

“When it comes down to the ‘who’s in, who’s out’ [talk], it’s going to come down to these teams,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “We need this win. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that this year. We have some losses, obviously, but those losses are against teams that’s maybe not going to affect us going to the playoffs besides Jacksonville. We just need to continue to win, and we’ll get where we need to go.”

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 19th time in the all-time regular-season series that’s tied 9-9, but the Ravens are 2-1 in postseason encounters. The Titans own a 5-4 record in home games against Baltimore dating back to 1996.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Tight ends and edge defenders will be the deciding factors in this game. This is a rather bland proclamation, but Tennessee’s best pass-catcher is tight end Delanie Walker, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury. Six of the nine touchdown passes allowed by the Ravens defense this season have been to tight ends. Meanwhile, Nick Boyle is also questionable after missing the entire week of practice with a toe injury. His blocking has been a critical part of Baltimore’s seventh-ranked running game. Both rushing attacks depend on popping outside runs for chunk yardage, and the Ravens have been inconsistent setting the edge and have occasionally lost containment against mobile quarterbacks.

2. The Ravens will be held under 100 rushing yards for just the third time this season. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed Boyle a game-time decision Friday, but it’s tough envisioning him playing without any practice, putting much pressure on the remaining group of tight ends as run blockers. Tennessee ranks fifth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, so the surprising Alex Collins could have his hands full should Boyle not be on the field. The matchup between guards James Hurst and Matt Skura and Titans defensive linemen Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones will be crucial with the latter two having the advantage on paper.

3. Marcus Mariota will throw for a touchdown and run for another. The Titans’ bye week came at the perfect time for their quarterback, who had been hampered with a hamstring injury and is no longer listed on the injury report. He is much more dangerous as a passer when he moves from the pocket and can improvise with an ordinary group of receivers. Baltimore’s pass defense has been its biggest strength, but Terrell Suggs and the young pass rushers must be disciplined trying to get by Titans offensive tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin to prevent Mariota from hurting them with his legs.

4. Joe Flacco will find Wallace for a long touchdown pass. The Ravens quarterback has been at his best this year when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has designed pass plays to get him on the move instead of remaining static in the pocket, so that needs to continue if the league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack is ever going to grow. The Titans are vulnerable in the secondary and rank 19th in the NFL against the pass, so the Ravens need to use the run game and play fakes to get the defense out of two-high safety looks. If they do that, Wallace will be able to slip past rookie cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.

5. Baltimore will come up short in a 20-16 loss to the Titans. This is the kind of game a playoff hopeful reflects upon at the end of the season as a deciding factor in whether a team is playing in January or watching the playoffs on the couch. The Ravens have proven to be capable of playing at a high level with four wins decided by 13 or more points, but those performances have been soiled by some real clunkers in defeat. I’d normally like the Ravens’ chances more with extra rest against a decent — but hardly special — opponent, but Tennessee coming off its bye week wipes away that potential advantage. A key takeaway or a big special-teams play could certainly swing the outcome, but the healthier Titans playing at home will get the job done as the Ravens go into the bye with much work to do.

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How Zuttah fits in return to Ravens offensive line remains unclear

Posted on 19 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Veteran center Jeremy Zuttah is back with the Ravens, but determining how he’ll fit into a revamped offensive line isn’t easy.

After starting all 16 games and being invited to play in the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, the 31-year-old was traded to San Francisco in March as the Ravens wanted to get bigger and stronger at the position. But after season-ending injuries to Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa and the surprising retirement of John Urschel, the Ravens found themselves extremely thin on the interior line, prompting general manager Ozzie Newsome to re-sign his former starting center a week after he was cut by the 49ers.

No assurances have been made that Zuttah will automatically move back into the starting job he held over the last three seasons.

“The role for right now is to come out, work hard and earn playing time,” Zuttah said after his first practice back with Baltimore. “They said to go out there, compete, and we’ll see where we’re at. That’s honestly where we are.”

Head coach John Harbaugh isn’t tipping his hand, either, but he did say Zuttah would work primarily at center and probably wouldn’t be viewed as an option to start at guard beyond an “emergency” scenario. Fourth-year lineman James Hurst was listed on the latest depth chart as the first-team left guard after the news broke about Lewis undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, but he’s played left tackle in recent days with starter Ronnie Stanley sidelined with an undisclosed ailment.

With Hurst also serving as the primary backup at both tackle spots, some have speculated that the Ravens could shift Jensen to left guard to help stabilize that position and to allow Hurst to focus on left and right tackle responsibilities in practice. Former practice-squad member Matt Skura started at left guard in Thursday’s preseason win over Miami.

The third preseason game against Buffalo next Saturday will offer more clarity, but Harbaugh was content to declare a center competition between Zuttah and Jensen for now.

“They are both in play. We will do whatever is best for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “The best players play, and the best players are the guys who play the best. That is how we do it — always have, always will. We will see how it plays out. I love competition, and I’m sure that all of those guys in there want to start.

“They have to earn it, so that is what they will try to do.”

Listed to be 19 pounds heavier than Zuttah, Jensen better fits the profile of what the Ravens wanted at the position with senior offensive assistant Greg Roman implementing a more downhill and physical brand of run-blocking schemes. Zuttah was originally acquired by the Ravens in 2014 when former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was bringing his stretch-zone blocking scheme to Baltimore.

There’s also something to be said about Jensen’s durability and performance at center this summer, which has been steady despite a carousel of players at every other position on the line.

“Even when he has had [physical issues], he has fought through them and gone out and practiced,” Harbaugh said. “He has played well in the games. He played better in this [past] game than the first game. I thought he played well in this game. He’s a motivated guy. We will see what happens.”

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Ravens-Dolphins preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 16 August 2017 by Luke Jones

At a time when many teams are in fine-tuning mode, the Ravens offense remains in flux entering the second preseason game against Miami on Thursday night.

As if the extended absence of quarterback Joe Flacco weren’t concerning enough, injuries have ravaged an offensive line that entered training camp already facing significant questions. Three interior linemen — Alex Lewis, John Urschel, and rookie Nico Siragusa — have been lost for the season since the start of training camp, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley is currently sidelined with an undisclosed ailment.

The injuries have forced Baltimore to shuffle the group on nearly a daily basis, making it difficult to assess a running game that has been revamped by senior offensive assistant Greg Roman or the pass protection that will need to be even better for a quarterback who will be returning from a back injury.

“We are just going to have to build everything around it, but you do benefit from the fact that guys are working different positions,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “There is an unintended benefit. That would be something you are trying to get guys to do. We have been forced to get guys to [work at other positions] probably more than we would like. We will make it work, and in the end, it will be for good.”

Against the Dolphins, the offense will hope to approach the high level of success enjoyed by the Ravens defense in the preseason opener. The revamped unit held Washington to 47 total yards and no points in the first half of the 23-3 victory last week. Harbaugh confirmed that 2017 first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey will make his preseason debut against the Dolphins, adding even more intrigue to the defense.

Though the Ravens offense realistically needs to be graded on a curve with backup Ryan Mallett under center and the offensive line less than 100 percent, Harbaugh made it clear that he wants to see improvement from the 3.3 yards per play gained against the Redskins in the first half.

“It is an opportunity for young guys to go in there and play well,” Harbaugh said. “We want to be as precise as we can be with our passing game, and we want our backs to run hard.”

Thursday marks the first ever meeting between these AFC teams in the preseason, but the all-time regular-season series is tied at 6-6. Baltimore won in 38-6 blowout fashion over Miami last December and has prevailed in five of the last six clashes in the regular season. They will meet again in a Thursday night game at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 26.

The Ravens own a 25-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.

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’s game.

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

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

OUT: QB Joe Flacco (back), WR Breshad Perriman (hamstring), WR Kenny Bell (hamstring), CB Maurice Canady (knee), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), OL Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Tavon Young (knee), OL Alex Lewis (shoulder), WR Tim White (thumb)
DOUBTFUL: OT Ronnie Stanley (undisclosed), OT Stephane Nembot (undisclosed), LB Lamar Louis (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: OT Austin Howard (shoulder), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Brandon Boykin (undisclosed), CB Sheldon Price (shoulder), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

OL James Hurst

After entering camp as the starting right tackle and moving to left guard in place of Lewis, Hurst is expected to start at left tackle with Stanley sidelined. Despite his immense struggles there in the past, he needs to show improvement protecting the blind side since Lewis was also the backup left tackle. The Ravens love Hurst’s work ethic and believe he’s improved, so the Miami front will be an important test.

LB Kamalei Correa

Lost in the terrific defensive performance last week was the quiet play of Correa, who struggled to get off blocks and made one tackle in 17 defensive snaps. He looks the part in practice, but that needs to translate to games to ease concerns about the 2016 second-round pick replacing Zach Orr. The Ravens are poised to play more dime this year, which should help spare Correa from being exposed in coverage.

TE Maxx Williams

It’s been a quiet camp for the 2015 second-round pick, who is coming off a knee cartilage surgery that’s clouded expectations. Williams has worked hard to push his way through practices on a daily basis, but he hasn’t moved well and has struggled to make plays. You want to give him more time and the benefit of the doubt coming back from such a procedure, but his 21 plays last week weren’t encouraging.

CB Jaylen Hill

Long-term injuries to Tavon Young and Maurice Canady have opened the door for Hill, who has looked the part as a nickel corner with a good chance to make the roster as a rookie free agent. He’s shown good ball skills and reminds you a bit of Young as a 5-foot-10, 178-pound corner who plays bigger than his slight stature. Lardarius Webb appears likely to play the nickel spot, but Hill is definitely in the mix.

FB Ricky Ortiz

The reviews for Lorenzo Taliaferro at fullback have been underwhelming while Ortiz quietly received more than twice as many offensive snaps in the opener. The Ravens may not have a desperate need for a traditional fullback with the way Roman often motions a tight end into that position, but the Oregon State product will try to prove himself before outside options are potentially considered.

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Ravens offense in holding pattern ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 14 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The start of the 2017 season is less than four weeks away, but a Ravens offense entering training camp with a slew of questions has only added to that list and remains in a holding pattern.

Quarterback Joe Flacco still hasn’t practiced since reporting to Owings Mills with a back issue three weeks ago. The organization has already said the 10th-year veteran won’t play in any preseason contests, meaning he will go into the Sept. 10 opener at Cincinnati with no live-game action under his belt.

It’s hardly ideal after Flacco ranked 27th in the NFL in yards per attempt last year and saw roughly half of the team’s receiving production depart in the offseason. He’s also logged just two offseason practices with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who signed with Baltimore during its mandatory minicamp in June.

“There is no substitute for experience, especially in this situation,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, acknowledging the challenge of having Flacco miss so much valuable preseason time. “It looks like we are going to have just enough time there to get him ready as long as he keeps progressing. By all accounts, he is progressing pretty well.”

Flacco isn’t the only concern, however, as an offensive line that already saw two starters depart in the offseason has been further ravaged since late July. Starting left guard Alex Lewis and 2017 fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa suffered season-ending injuries after potential starting center John Urschel surprisingly retired at the start of camp, depleting the interior line depth. General manager Ozzie Newsome did sign right tackle Austin Howard earlier this month, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley is now dealing with an undisclosed injury that’s jeopardized his status for Thursday’s preseason game in Miami.

The Ravens have brought Howard and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda along slowly after both underwent offseason shoulder surgery, but the clock is ticking to build cohesion on the offensive line. For now, it appears that James Hurst — who began the summer as the starting right tackle — will receive the first opportunity to replace Lewis and play next to new starting center Ryan Jensen.

Senior offensive assistant Greg Roman was hired in the offseason to revamp an ineffective running game, but the projected starting line has changed more than once since the start of camp and just hasn’t had sufficient time to gel. In the aftermath of Flacco’s extended absence, the Ravens will need the group to be even more effective.

“If you look around football, the line plays together,” said Mornhinweg about the need to build continuity. “Five or six guys play together pretty much throughout the year, and that way you can stay pretty consistent that way. Yes, it is important.”

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since Aug. 1, marking the third straight year in which the 2015 first-round pick has missed most of training camp. An offense lacking playmakers sure could use Perriman’s upside as the Ravens try to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

The questions remain with few answers apparent as the season is under a month away.

NOTES: The Ravens signed veteran quarterback Thad Lewis and waived quarterback Dustin Vaughan on Monday. Lewis brings more experience to the position after starting six games over his NFL career. … Maclin, safety Eric Weddle, and rookie outside linebacker Tyus Bowser returned to practice after each missed at least a portion of Sunday’s practice. … Wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (knee) and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (undisclosed) were absent from Monday’s workout after being banged up a day earlier. … Cornerbacks Brandon Boykin (undisclosed) and Maurice Canady (knee), wide receiver Kenny Bell (hamstring), offensive tackle Stephane Nembot (undisclosed), and linebacker Lamar Louis (undisclosed) remained sidelined. … Former Ravens defensive tackle and Super Bowl XXXV champion Tony Siragusa visited practice.

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