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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-7 win over Miami

Posted on 18 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-0 in the preseason with a 31-7 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The offensive line was again a mess as third-stringer Jarrod Pughsley starting at right guard was surprising to even beat reporters. Evaluating this group without Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley on the field is very difficult, but there were too many penalties and not enough room in the running game.

2. You have to like the defensive depth as the starters were again impressive and the reserves held the Dolphins to just 17 yards in the second half. I also like seeing how frequently the Ravens are using Anthony Levine in the dime package. He’s a good fit for that role.

3. Ryan Mallett was better than last week, but he threw two interceptions and still isn’t pushing the ball downfield, a problem that Joe Flacco had in this offense last season. His third-down conversions to Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace were good throws, but there still wasn’t much to like here.

4. Both interceptions came on passes intended for rookie Quincy Adeboyejo, who didn’t present himself well on either. The first came on a deep route he ran poorly and the second was on a pass thrown behind him that was catchable. Quarterback and receiver have to take some blame on both.

5. Jaylen Hill finished with a team-leading three tackles and two pass breakups. At this point, the rookie free agent from Jacksonville State might have to play himself off the roster not to make the team. He looks like he belongs despite being undersized.

6. Say what you want about the absence of Flacco and the current state of the offensive line, but fumbles by Wallace and Terrance West in the first eight minutes of the game had to drive John Harbaugh crazy. This offense isn’t good enough to overcome potential turnovers and penalties.

7. It’s been a quiet camp for Maxx Williams, but his third-down reception to move the chains late in the first half and his 40-yard catch and run in the third quarter were eyebrow-raising plays. The 2015 second-round pick showed toughness and some explosiveness that hadn’t been seen this summer.

8. Donald Payne had one of the more impressive sequences of the night as the rookie linebacker forced a fumble on a kickoff midway through the second quarter and sprinted down the field to flatten the returner on the next one. That will grab the attention of Harbaugh and Jerry Rosburg.

9. The Ravens have been using Patrick Ricard as a fullback in practices for the last week or so, but that might say more about the current fullbacks on the roster. Regardless, it’s fun to see a 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive lineman playing that spot.

10. Josh Woodrum has played very well against second- and third-team defenders and is putting himself in the conversation for a spot on the practice squad, but he’s not going to be the one to supplant Mallett if the organization decides to upgrade the backup spot.

11. Justin Tucker picking up a fumble and trying to run reminded me of the scene in “Major League” when Willie Mays Hayes makes a basket catch to end an inning and manager Lou Brown welcomes him back to the dugout saying, “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever [expletive] do it again.”

12. We’re spoiled here in Baltimore and it was only a preseason game, but that showing from Miami was one of the worst special-teams performances I’ve seen in a long time.

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-3 win over Washington

Posted on 11 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their preseason opener in a 23-3 final over Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I made my feelings clear about the Ravens defense at the conclusion of draft weekend, and the group didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Playing fast and physical, Baltimore held the Redskins to a measly 47 yards and four first downs in the first half. You could see the potential.

2. Brent Urban was the best player on the field, bringing inside pressure and consistently penetrating the backfield against the run. He finished with two forced fumbles, a sack, and four tackles to lead a revamped defense. Not bad for his debut as the starting 5-technique defensive end.

3. With eight key players sitting out, I’m not sure what anyone could have reasonably expected from the Ravens offense. The running game wasn’t overly productive at 3.6 yards per carry in the first half, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stuck with it and the group played turnover-free football.

4. Those absences aside, Ryan Mallett did nothing to silence his detractors by averaging an ugly 3.2 yards per pass attempt. John Harbaugh said Mallett played “winning football” after the game, which was reminiscent of Brian Billick’s descriptions of Kyle Boller after the many defense-led wins of yesteryear.

5. The start of the game certainly felt familiar with the defense forcing a three-and-out, the offense going three-and-out, and Sam Koch placing a punt inside the 5-yard line.

6. After a miss from 43 yards that was negated by a penalty, Justin Tucker later restored order to the universe with a 59-yard field goal to end the first half. Yes, he’s missed a few more in camp than I recall in previous summers, but I’ll guess he’ll be OK.

7. Second-round pick Tyus Bowser had an strong debut with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and solid all-around work at outside linebacker, but fellow rookie Tim Williams struggled to set the edge and remains a work in progress as anything more than a situational pass rusher for now.

8. Rookie free agent Jaylen Hill showed why coaches have been impressed with him in practices as he defended the deep ball effectively and picked off Colt McCoy late in the first half. His night would have been even better had he not whiffed on a corner blitz.

9. Tim White made a superb adjustment on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum late in the third quarter and looked capable as the return specialist in the first half. The rookie free agent’s speed has stood out since organized team activities in the spring.

10. Keenan Reynolds returning a punt 46 yards was the feel-good moment of the night as Harbaugh’s smile on the sideline epitomized how much everyone is rooting for the former Navy star. He still has a long way to go to crack the 53-man roster, but he’s improved from last year.

11. The best news of the night was the Ravens seemingly escaping the game without any major injuries. In contrast, Washington lost linebacker Trent Murphy and safety Su’a Cravens to knee injuries. Coaches hold their breath every second of the preseason.

12. First-round pick Marlon Humphrey went through a rigorous pre-game workout and appears poised to return to practice after a week-long absence. However, Breshad Perriman was nothing more than an observer and doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a hamstring injury.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on first week of training camp

Posted on 01 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down their opening week of training camp, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Injuries have been a story for years, but the current run since June 1 is staggering. The Ravens revamped their training program over the last two offseasons in response to having a combined 39 players on injured reserve in 2014 and 2015. They’re not turning a blind eye to this.

2. The offense has definitely fared poorly with Joe Flacco sidelined, but let’s not shortchange the defense through all the criticism for Ryan Mallett and company. The collective quarterback play has often looked inept, but this Baltimore defense has much potential. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

3. Crockett Gillmore had lofty expectations in the final year of his rookie contract, making his latest injury a disappointment for a player who showed much promise in 2015. Assuming he doesn’t make a miraculous return this season, he will have missed 31 games over the last three campaigns.

4. The award for biggest change in body type goes to Matt Judon, who looks 20 pounds lighter than he did as a rookie. Aiming to be the strong-side outside linebacker, Judon dropped weight over the summer to be better in coverage. He’s looked the part in the first few practices.

5. Don’t sleep on Matt Skura, who is a reserve center and has filled in for Marshal Yanda during full-team drills. After spending last season on the practice squad, the Duke product has a big opportunity with John Urschel retired and Nico Siragusa now out for the year.

6. I’ve counted as many as 10 different players taking reps as a punt or kick returner so far. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Tim White is a name to watch, but this appears to be a wide-open competition, which is nothing new since Jacoby Jones’ release a couple years ago.

7. The injury was lost in the wash, but the indefinite loss of Maurice Canady is a tough blow after slot cornerback Tavon Young went down for the season in the spring. Lardarius Webb has been working in the slot with veteran newcomer Brandon Boykin off to a slow start.

8. The first-round selection of Marlon Humphrey didn’t receive much enthusiasm in April, but the 21-year-old has shown impressive composure and has made plays early in his first training camp. The presence of Brandon Carr eases the immediate need, but the Alabama product has impressed.

9. Maxx Williams deserves ample time to get his football legs back under him, but he hasn’t moved particularly well so far in his return from a secretive knee surgery that had never been performed on an NFL player. The Ravens could really use contributions from their 2015 second-round pick.

10. Young pass rushers take time to develop, but Tim Williams has stood out in individual drills. His quickness is evident as he blew past a rookie offensive tackle who hadn’t even gotten out of his stance Tuesday, and he’s even gotten the best of Ronnie Stanley from time to time.

11. Rookie free agents to watch in the preseason include defensive end Patrick Ricard and cornerback Jaylen Hill as well as White. It wouldn’t shock me to see Ricard become the next undrafted defensive lineman to stick, but we still have a long way to go.

12. How rough has the first week of training camp been? Justin Tucker even missed consecutive field goal tries from 49 yards on Tuesday, something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him do in practice. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that he’ll be OK, however.

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