Tag Archive | "jeremy zuttah"

Osemele questionable, M. Brown doubtful to play against Tampa Bay

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Osemele questionable, M. Brown doubtful to play against Tampa Bay

Posted on 10 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are facing the prospects of playing without the entire starting left side of their offensive line against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

It was no surprise that left tackle Eugene Monroe was ruled out while he continues to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery, but left guard Kelechi Osemele was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game after not practicing all week. The third-year lineman hyperextended his knee in last Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis, but he was able to return to action and downplayed the injury after the game.

Given his experience, Osemele would still have a chance of playing against Tampa Bay despite missing three straight days of practice. Gino Gradkowski is listed as Osemele’s backup on the depth chart released by the Ravens’ public relations staff.

“[Osemele] can play on Sunday not having practiced all week,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He has a chance to play on Sunday.”

In addition to Monroe, defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus injury) were declared out for Sunday’s game. Wide receiver Marlon Brown (pelvis) practiced on a limited basis Friday before being designated as doubtful to play.

Safety Matt Elam (shoulder), linebacker Daryl Smith (knee), and center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) were all upgraded to full participation in Friday’s practice and listed as probable to play against the Buccaneers.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay ruled out starting safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) while designating starting wide receivers Vincent Jackson (rib) and Mike Evans (groin) as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DE Chris Canty (wrist), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), T Eugene Monroe (knee)
DOUBTFUL: WR Marlon Brown (pelvis)
QUESTIONABLE: G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
PROBABLE: S Matt Elam (shoulder), LB Daryl Smith (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)

TAMPA BAY
OUT: LB Jonathan Casillas (hamstring), S Dashon Goldson (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: QB Josh McCown (right thumb)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Johnthan Banks (neck), C Evan Dietrich-Smith (illness), DE Larry English (hamstring), WR Mike Evans (groin), WR Vincent Jackson (rib)
PROBABLE: LB Mason Foster (shoulder)

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On a day in which Steve Smith and Joe Flacco understandably owned the spotlight in the Ravens’ dominating 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, John Harbaugh was asked after the game how rookie free agent James Hurst fared in his first start at left tackle.

The head coach’s answer applied as an appropriate assessment of the entire offensive line through the first quarter of the season. After a nightmarish 2013 in which the group stood out on a weekly basis for all the wrong reasons, the Baltimore offensive line hasn’t been a major topic of discussion because of how consistently well it’s played.

Even after losing standout left tackle Eugene Monroe to knee surgery, the Ravens didn’t appear to miss a beat with Hurst, an offensive lineman many didn’t think would make the 53-man roster at this time a month ago.

“I didn’t notice him, so that must be a good thing, right?” Harbaugh said. “I can’t wait to see it on tape, but it seemed like he played well. We ran the ball well. We did a good job across the board, I think, blocking as a group. The unit has played exceptionally well. We have to keep building, but it’s nice to have some depth in there.”

It’s no secret that veteran members of the offensive line took last year’s criticism to heart after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda made it clear during organized team activities last spring that he had no interest in rehashing the struggles of a running game that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry in 2013.

In the eyes of the offensive line, it was a different year with a new system installed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. There was also new personnel, including the arrival of veteran center Jeremy Zuttah and the promotion of second-year lineman Rick Wagner to the starting right tackle spot. Of course, the improved health of left guard Kelechi Osemele and Yanda also figured to pay major dividends after both dealt with ailments last season.

And it’s led to the previously-loud criticism of offensive line coach Juan Castillo becoming all but silent at this point.

“It’s obviously going to be different with a new offense,” said Zuttah, who’s stabilized the middle of the line that struggled with Gino Gradkowski at center a year ago. “Coach Kubiak is one of the better offensive minds in this league. You watch that Houston Texans running game for years, and they were at the top of the league every year. I think guys came in with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude and a willingness to get better.”

The Ravens’ improvement with the zone-blocking system starts inside where Zuttah said he’s flanked by the “best set of guards in the NFL” in Osemele and Yanda. Through the first four weeks of the season, the two have played at a Pro Bowl level, earning the highest cumulative grades of any Baltimore offensive players, according to Pro Football Focus.

Whether opening lanes for the running back trio of Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Bernard Pierce or protecting quarterback Joe Flacco, the offensive line continues to make the 2013 season a distant memory as the Ravens are off to a 3-1 start.

Since Flacco was sacked three times in the season-opening loss to Cincinnati, the offensive line hasn’t allowed one in three straight contests. It’s the first time the Ravens have done that since the 2006 season in which they finished 13-3.

“Those guys have been holding up big time when we do the play-action, when teams come after us, and when we’re dealing with really good defensive lines,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good guys up front, and they’re communicating very well, and they’re being really physical. We’re allowing them to play very physical and get really confident, so it’s been a good run.”

That physicality has paid major dividends in the running game as Forsett and Taliaferro combined to run for 127 yards on 30 carries against the Carolina defense. Averaging 4.5 yards per carry through their first four games, the Ravens have followed through on the promise to return to their roots as a physical, run-first team.

That success has led to a more-efficient Flacco, who is currently on pace to throw a career-high 28 touchdowns and is completing 63.4 percent of his pass attempts. The arrival of the veteran Smith and the revamped running game have allowed Flacco to play more like the signal-caller we saw in the 2012 postseason and less like the man who had to try to do it all by himself last year.

He can thank his offensive line for not only keeping him clean but opening running lanes for whichever running back is carrying the ball. The cohesiveness has impressed the 28-year-old Forsett, who had plenty of experience running in zone-blocking systems in Seattle as well as in his one season with Kubiak in Houston.

Behind a revamped line, the Ravens have rushed for at least 125 yards in three straight games, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since the first three weeks of the 2009 season. Through four games, they’ve also collected six runs of 20 or more yards, one more than they had all last season.

“The offensive line has been gelling really fast,” Forsett said. “I’ve been in this scheme for a while now and to be doing this well this early, it’s a good sign.”

As encouraging as the start to the season has been, the Ravens will now enter a daunting stretch of four road games over the next five weeks. They’ll need that strong offensive line play we’ve seen at M&T Bank Stadium to continue against the likes of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh in the coming weeks.

Even with the early-season success, members of the offensive line haven’t expressed any sense of satisfaction or an air of “I told you so” after hearing last year’s criticism and the doubts leading into this season.

Averaging 25.75 points per game, the Ravens still offer the impression that they can get even better upfront.

“We did pretty good today, but there were some yards we left out there,” Zuttah said. “I think we’re going to go back in there and be tough on ourselves in the film and see what we can do to get all the yards that we think we missed.”

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

Posted on 16 September 2014 by Luke Jones

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

STOCK RISING

Justin Forsett
Skinny: Even though Bernard Pierce received most of the workload against Pittsburgh, you still get the sense that Forsett is more comfortable running in a zone-blocking system and the veteran is superior to Pierce in pass protection. His size and age make you think he’ll continue to be the complementary back in the Baltimore running game, but Forsett has already provided a nice return on a one-year contract that garnered little attention in the offseason.

Kelechi Osemele
Skinny: Any lingering concerns about the left guard’s ability to return from last season’s back surgery have been quelled after Osemele turned in an All-Pro performance against Cincinnati in Week 1. A key to offensive improvement in 2014 was better play from the interior line and Osemele, Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, and center Jeremy Zuttah have received the highest grades of anyone on the offense, according to Pro Football Focus.

Brandon Williams
Skinny: Though limited to only nine defensive snaps against Pittsburgh because the Ravens used their nickel package for most of the game, Williams has done exactly what the Ravens have asked of him by disrupting run plays with a good push at the line of scrimmage. The second-year nose tackle has even put a little heat on the quarterback in the rare opportunities he’s had to play in passing situations. 

Jeremy Zuttah
Skinny: His pass blocking hasn’t stood out, but Zuttah’s ability to get a strong push off the line of scrimmage has been evident on inside run plays through the first two weeks of the season. Sunday will mark his first road game with the Ravens, which will be a test in terms of making the proper protection calls with crowd noise being a factor, but it’s difficult not to be pleased with the sizable upgrade Zuttah has provided over last year’s starter Gino Gradkowski. 

STOCK FALLING

Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson
Skinny: These two are grouped together, because it’s apparent there will still be significant concern at the No. 3 cornerback position when Lardarius Webb does return. Brown is still too vulnerable in coverage on the outside while Jackson has missed several tackles from the nickel spot, factors that prompted the Ravens to use safety Matt Elam at the nickel position against Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen whether Jackson will be cleared to return Sunday from last week’s concussion.

Kyle Juszczyk
Skinny: The second-year fullback looked like he would carve out a nice role in the passing game based on his preseason play, but Juszczyk has been limited to just 43 snaps in two games and has been targeted only once as a receiver out of the backfield. Even more concerning has been his vulnerability as a lead blocker as he hasn’t been able to generate much of a push to create space for Pierce or Forsett to maneuver behind him. 

Daryl Smith
Skinny: His first season in Baltimore was a pleasant surprise, but the 32-year-old veteran’s struggles against the run late last season have carried over in the first two games of 2014 as he has struggled to shed blocks to make tackles closer to the line of scrimmage. Smith’s biggest strength is in pass coverage, but you do wonder if the Ravens’ inside linebackers will wear down against the run as the year goes on with the light C.J. Mosley playing next to the veteran in the starting defense. 

Marlon Brown
Skinny: One of the few bright spots in a horrendous offense last year, the second-year receiver has all but disappeared in Gary Kubiak’s system after seeing just three offensive snaps against the Steelers a week after being targeted only once. Drop-off was to be expected with Steve Smith, Owen Daniels, and a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta now in the mix, but the 6-foot-4 receiver struggled to grasp the offense over the summer and hasn’t even been a factor in the red zone through the first two games.

 

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Ravens-Cowboys preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Cowboys preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 15 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will try to build on an encouraging performance in their preseason opener as they travel to Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys in their second preseason game of the summer.

Observers were abuzz over an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown in the starting offense’s only work of the night against San Francisco, but the Ravens have acknowledged throughout the week that they can’t put too much stock into one possession. Even with plenty of strides already taken throughout training camp to grasp new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system, there is plenty of work remaining before the Ravens kick off the regular season against Cincinnati on Sept. 7.

“You have an opportunity to really see progress,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re in a crucible, and every single day, it’s all you do. It’s wall-to-wall football. It’s morning to night. You go to sleep and you wake up, and you’re back at football. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to hide, [and] there’s nowhere to run. It’s all football all the time, so you make progress rapidly, but you have to because you have a long way to go.”

Harbaugh confirmed starters are expected to receive more playing time against the Cowboys than they did against San Francisco, but the first units will receive their most extensive work against Washington in the third preseason game next weekend.

The Ravens are expected to continue giving running back Ray Rice first-team reps along with top backup Bernard Pierce before focusing more on the latter next week with Rice suspended for the first two games of the regular season.

“Normally, in the second preseason game you get a quarter, maybe a little more than a quarter,” Harbaugh said. “Some of that will be individualized for different players; we’ll have some play counts for a few guys, including Joe [Flacco] and some of the defensive players. We’ll see how it goes, but basically, about a quarter is what you’re looking at — maybe more. It could get close to a half; it could even be a half for some of the starters.”

Saturday will be the first preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Cowboys, but Baltimore owns the 4-0 edge in the regular season and will be making its first visit to AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Ravens are 43-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 16-9 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 Saturday night’s game against Dallas.

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, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play in the second preseason game as he’s been sidelined with a lower back injury since July 25.

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

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Will Rackley (head), DT Terrence Cody (hip), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles tendon), DE Brent Urban (knee)
DOUBTFUL: CB Asa Jackson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Owen Daniels (unspecified)
PROBABLE: LB Daryl Smith (groin), S Brynden Trawick (back), OL Ryan Jensen (leg)

Five players to watch Saturday night

1. C Jeremy Zuttah

While many pointed to the success of right tackle Rick Wagner in the first preseason game, the new Baltimore center appeared to make calls at the line successfully as the starting offense ran the ball effectively and protected Flacco. Zuttah isn’t dramatically bigger than 2013 starter Gino Gradkowski, but he’s held up well physically as a run blocker and in pass protection. The offensive line will remain under heavy scrutiny through the early portion of the series, but the reviews for Zuttah have been positive and the overall concern at the center position last year at this time appears to be a distant memory.

“The thing about Jeremy, he is a professional in every way,” offensive line coach Juan Castillo said. “He is smart, and he studies the game. For him, too, it’s a different technique, and he’s been working very hard at the fundamentals and trying to do the things the way we do it here in Baltimore.”

2. S Terrence Brooks

It was no secret that Brooks was lagging behind in the competition at free safety due to concerns with him grasping the intricacies of the defense, but injuries to Webb and Jackson at the cornerback position have prompted the Ravens to take a look at the Florida State product in the nickel spot, a position he played with the Seminoles. The shift is more of a reflection on how shallow the cornerback depth is at this point, but Brooks may find the nickel and dime packages as his best chance to see the field for meaningful defensive snaps to start his rookie season.

“Everybody is an option right now. We’re just trying to find guys,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees on the No. 3 cornerback spot. “We’re moving guys around a little bit. We have two more games to experiment with where we want to put guys and see where they fit getting ready for the season. The first two games are [about] playing everybody [to] see what we have, and then after that, we have to start honing in. But we’ll move a bunch of guys around. Terrence is playing well; he’s playing hard. He’s a multi-position guy like all of our guys really are. It’s a possibility.”

3. WR Kamar Aiken

The 2013 practice squad member has turned plenty of heads and certainly took advantage of his opportunity in the preseason opener with four catches for 46 yards on six targets and 29 offensive snaps. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout appears to be competing closely with Deonte Thompson for a potential roster spot, but Aiken has outplayed the incumbent member of the 53-man roster and can further improve his chances by building on what he did against the 49ers. Of course, special-teams contributions will play a major part in determining whether Aiken finds himself on the active roster.

“He is explosive and he’s big,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “I tell you, in all my years in the league, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen as competitive a situation as we have at receiver right now. I would have no chance telling John [Harbaugh] which five or six I would want right now, and that’s a good thing as a coach.”

4. DL DeAngelo Tyson

The 2012 seventh-round pick has been a steady member of the defensive line rotation in his first two seasons, but season-ending injuries to young defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore may force the Ravens to use Tyson more exclusively at the 5-technique spot to spell veteran Chris Canty. The University of Georgia product can play multiple spots on the defensive line, so it will be a blow to their overall versatility in the trenches if Pees must use Tyson outside, but his presence has become much more important with the overall depth taking a hit this summer.

“The next guy will be up, and we’ll find a way to do it,” said Harbaugh about the injuries to Urban and Lewis-Moore. “There are always going to be injuries. You adapt, you adjust and you fill out your positions.”

5. TE Crockett Gillmore

The Ravens insist the veteran tight end Daniels isn’t injured, but it’s clear there are some physical concerns with him missing two straight practices following an off-day and not showing great separation while running routes in practices. These factors could open the door for Gillmore to receive more opportunities with the starting offense against Dallas and beyond. It’s been an inconsistent summer for the Colorado State product as a blocker and as a receiver, but that’s to be expected from a third-round pick who will be counted on to be used to some degree with neither Daniels nor starter Dennis Pitta considered particularly strong blockers.

“Crockett is a good football player,” Pitta said earlier this summer. “He’s a tough kid and he’s big and physical and a great blocker at the point of attack. I think that’s what stood out the most this early on. He’s going to be a valuable asset for this offense moving forward.”


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Live from Owings Mills: Ravens concerned about injury to DL Urban

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Live from Owings Mills: Ravens concerned about injury to DL Urban

Posted on 30 July 2014 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens returned to practice Wednesday after their first off day of Training Camp for 2014.

The session was short for two rookie defensive linemen, both of whom were injured on the same play. DL Brent Urban had to be carted off the field after suffering an injury to his right knee. Urban was pancaked on the play by OL Jah Reid and appeared to suffer the injury during the course of the block. Away from that block, DL Tim Jernigan was also hurt-he limped off the field appearing to have injured his back.

Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the injury to Jernigan, saying he “looks fine” after practice. The news did not appear to be as good for the team’s fifth round pick out of Virginia, as Harbaugh said the team was “a little more concerned about” the knee injury.

“We’re going to have to see, he’s going to get a MRI tonight” Harbaugh added. “We’ll just hope and pray for the best on that one.”

Center Jeremy Zuttah was also banged up during the course of practice but did not have to leave the session and Harbaugh also declared his injury as “fine”.

DL Chris Canty returned to the practice field Wednesday after missing Monday night’s public practice at M&T Bank Stadium for family reasons. OL Parker Graham also returned to the practice field after missing the last few sessions with a groin injury.

Two new Ravens were not on the practice field Wednesday. LB Albert McClellan did not participate in the session, he had battled a lower body issue during Monday night’s practice that had forced him to limp off the field at one point. LB Daryl Smith also did not participate in practice for unknown reasons. With Smith out, Josh Bynes took a number of the first team reps next to first round pick C.J. Mosley.

Three other players remained away from the practice field Wednesday. OL Will Rackley (head) remained out, as did CB Lardarius Webb (back/neck). The Baltimore Sun reported Tuesday Webb had “no structural damage” and was instead dealing with a muscular issue.

With Webb out, CB Chykie Brown appeared to get the majority of first team reps-CB Asa Jackson had seemed to receive more of the first team reps in the previous two practices.

DL Terrence Cody (hip) also did not participate, remaining on the Active Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 21 July 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh enters new territory this summer in trying to guide the Ravens to a bounce-back season after missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure a year ago.

The seventh-year head coach is coming off his most difficult offseason in not only revamping his offensive coaching staff but dealing with the arrests of five different players, painting the organization in a more negative and embarrassing light than it’s faced in quite some time. Of course, the Ravens are hopeful they’ve made the necessary changes to rebound from an 8-8 season and return to the postseason playing in what appears to be a wide-open AFC North.

As rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans coming off injuries officially take the practice field in Owings Mills on Tuesday, here are five questions — of many others, quite frankly — to ponder:

1. Will different automatically translate to better for the Ravens offense? If so, how much better?

The easy answer is the 29th-ranked offense in 2013 couldn’t be much worse, so it’s no profound statement to say the unit will be improved under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will bring a stronger emphasis on running the football. The real question is how much better the Ravens will be after averaging a league-worst and franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Kubiak has an excellent reputation dating back to his days with Mike Shanahan in Denver, but quarterback Joe Flacco’s adjustment to a West Coast offense centered around timing, excellent footwork, and shorter throws — not regarded as his biggest strengths — will be interesting to watch after he showed encouraging improvements as spring workouts progressed. Of course, the Ravens hope the free-agent signings of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in addition to a fully-recovered Dennis Pitta will provide the quarterback with consistent weapons he sorely lacked beyond wideout Torrey Smith last season.

Steve Smith was the standout acquisition of the offseason and has been praised for the leadership and swagger he’s already brought to the offense, but he has plenty to prove as a 35-year-old receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three straight years. Daniels figures to be a clear upgrade as the No. 2 tight end behind Pitta, but he played in only five games last season and must prove he can still gain separation entering his ninth NFL season.

The ultimate factor in determining how high the offense can climb will be the improvement of the offensive line with new center Jeremy Zuttah and the return of left guard Kelechi Osemele from season-ending back surgery. Zuttah will be an improvement over Gino Gradkowski with his physical style of play and will be a leader by example in the trenches, but you wonder if there will be some growing pains in making line calls with the veteran having spent more time at guard during his career. Osemele was impressive during spring workouts, but the Ravens need to see his surgically-repaired back hold up during the daily rigors of camp and the third-year lineman had to alter his workout practices as a result of the procedure.

And, of course, the Ravens still aren’t sure who will line up at right tackle, with Rick Wagner the favorite entering camp.

The offense will look quite different, but will there be enough improvement for the Ravens to climb back among the AFC’s elite?

2. How does maligned offensive line coach Juan Castillo fit with the Kubiak system?

After all the hand-wringing over Castillo and calls for him to be dismissed after the offensive line’s woeful 2013 campaign, the hiring of Kubiak all but eliminated that chatter. However, his seat will heat up again very quickly if his unit doesn’t produce immediately in 2014.

Players have dismissed any notion of growing pains last season, but it was clear the coexistence of Castillo and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller wasn’t a good fit. The bigger question this year will be how effectively Castillo implements Kubiak’s brand of stretch outside zone blocking that has produced a plethora of 1,000-yard running backs over the years.

Castillo demands a lot from his his unit before, during, and after practices, which made him a favorite in Philadelphia for so many years, but Harbaugh will have a difficult time sticking with his longtime colleague if the offensive line gets off to another slow start in 2014.

3. How many younger players are ready to make the jump to become standouts?

It’s no secret that the Ravens have undergone quite a transformation since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but a major key in rebounding from last year’s 8-8 finish will be the emergence of younger impact players, something there wasn’t enough of in 2013.

Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith took sizable leaps last season, but others such as Osemele, safety Matt Elam, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, running back Bernard Pierce, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams must become more dynamic players if the Ravens are going to bounce back in a significant way.

Entering 2014, how many great players — not good or solid ones — do the Ravens currently have? Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata might still be considered great around the league but are on the wrong side of 30 and not as dominant as they were a few years ago.

Yes, the Ravens will lean on the likes of veterans Steve Smith, Daniels, and Zuttah to upgrade their respective positions, but substantial improvement in 2014 will only come if the draft classes of 2012 and 2013 are ready to make a larger impact than they did a year ago. And if the likes of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan can bring immediate impact as rookies, Baltimore will be that much more dangerous.

Simply put, the core of this roster needs younger and more dynamic talent to emerge.

4. What can we expect out of Ray Rice?

Even putting aside the ongoing saga of when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will finally make a ruling on a suspension for the embattled running back, it’s difficult to project what kind of player Rice will be entering his seventh season and coming off the worst year of his career.

The 27-year-old was noticeably leaner and faster during spring practices, but it’s difficult to measure elusiveness — or any ability to break tackles — when players aren’t participating in full-contact drills. Much like we ponder about the entire offense, it’s not difficult to envision Rice being better at a lighter weight and with a better offensive line in front of him, but it’s fair to ask if his days as a game-changing back are over.

It will also be fascinating to see if Kubiak views Rice as an every-down back or is more eager to continue to hand opportunities to the likes of Pierce, veteran newcomer Justin Forsett, or rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro even after the sixth-year back returns from his anticipated suspension. Rice split time with Forsett working with the starters this spring — Pierce was still limited returning from offseason shoulder surgery — but it’s difficult to gauge how much of that was Forsett’s experience in Kubiak’s system as well as the Ravens preparing for the suspension.

5. Is the commitment to winning strong enough top to bottom on the roster?

You never like to make generalizations about what’s currently a 90-man roster when referencing five specific players being arrested during the offseason, but it’s fair to question the overall commitment when your players make up more than 25 percent of the NFL’s total number of reported arrests since last season.

Most already expected Harbaugh to have a tougher training camp following the first non-playoff season of his tenure in Baltimore, but the poor off-field behavior lends even more credence to the head coach working his players harder than in past summers.

Make no mistake, there are countless individuals on the roster who are fully dedicated to winning, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the Ravens will be under the microscope in not only how they conduct themselves off the field but how they perform on it this season. The poor choices of several individuals unfortunately drew that scrutiny for the entire roster as critics question the organization’s leadership and overall character.

“We have good, really good guys,” Harbaugh said on the final day of mandatory minicamp last month. “Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, the less inclined you are to do anything to jeopardize that.”

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RickyWagner

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Ravens T Wagner on right tackle nod: “I definitely have to earn it”

Posted on 30 May 2014 by Ryan Chell

After an 8-8 season in which the Baltimore Ravens fell short of defending their Super Bowl title, many of John Harbaugh’s players are coming into this week’s OTAs with a huge chip on their shoulders in an attempt to get back to the playoffs.

However, that attitude is nothing new for Ravens 2nd-year offensive tackle Rick Wagner, who is getting a crack at the team’s starting right tackle spot going into OTAs-the position vacated by former first-round pick Michael Oher, who left via free agency to sign a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Other candidates for the job include 2013 LG Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen, as well as undrafted rookie James Hurst.

Wagner, the team’s 5th round pick (168th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin, has had an uphill battle since he was drafted by the Ravens last April.  Despite a high grade, he fell farther than his initial draft projection despite playing four years at Wisconsin-including 39 starts and Outland Trophy consideration.

The off-season was a disappointing one not only for Wagner in terms of becoming a starting NFL tackle, but also seeing his team fail to play deep into January for the first time in the John Harbaugh era.

“It’s not a good taste to have in our mouths right now,” Wagner told Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” Thursday. “You can tell with the vets that they’re not used to that. “They’ve been making the playoffs for years here so we wanna get back and ultimately-that’s our number one priority.”

But behind the team goals, Wagner does find himself with a unique opportunity being tapped as the early candidate to start at right tackle for the Ravens going into training camp and ultimately in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals on September 7th-a situation he fought his entire rookie year to try and achieve.

“I’m really excited, ” Wagner told Clark after practice. “Last year, I practiced like I was going start Week 1 because you never know what will happen with injuries, but [this year], I’m just trying to get the playbook down first, which I’m already feeling confident with in these first couple OTAs.”

That determination fueled Wagner going into his rookie year, and he earned playing time out of it-playing 13 games for the Ravens in 2013 and starting two as John Harbaugh’s “swing tackle” in Jumbo, short-yardage, and goal line situations. 

Wagner said playing his rookie year really gave him an edge in his short NFL career getting acclimated to the changing pace of the professional game.

“It’s such a change from college,” Wagner said. “The speed is so much more amped up, and that’s the real difference. That really helped me out last year, and I’m ready to go.”

Wagner said it definitely put things on perspective when it came to his own work ethic.

“Every player in the NFL is the best player you’ve faced in college.  It’s just a whole new intensity you have to get used to.”

But even with that experience under his belt, Wagner still understands that he’s going to have to compete for the right tackle job and that he won’t have it handed to him.

“I definitely have to earn it,” Wagner said.  ”There’s nothing set until Week 1. I’m just gonna keep working and hope I earn that title.”

What’s he is getting used to in OTAs is lining up next to some new faces, including 3x All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda and getting line calls from a new center in former Buccaneeer Jeremy Zuttah.

Wagner said he owes so much to the two of them.

“It’s incredible to have him right next to me,” Wagner said of Yanda. “He helps me out every day and makes it so much easier when you have a vet like him next to you.”

And in regards to Zuttah, despite the center being in a Ravens uniform for two months, Wagner felt like with Zuttah’s knowledge and expertise, it feels like he’s been in the meeting rooms and on the field for years.

“We’re real comfortable already…it seems like he’s been here awhile,” Wagner said.  ”He’s a real athletic guy and he’s fit right in since the first day.”

Now it’s all about the whole group grasping this new scheme being implemented by incoming offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak. Despite the perceived complexity of a zone offense, Wagner though says it all comes down to execution despite the different terminology.

“Football is football,” Wagner said. “There isn’t really anything else we can do.”

What they do want to do is get back to establishing the running game to help out their quarterback in Joe Flacco.

“It’s a big emphasis. I’m really happy with the play-action stuff we have going this year-a lot different than last year.”

And while it’s been all business so far in camp, Wagner did say that he’s shared a few laughs so far seeing Flacco on some of Kubiak’s bootleg plays.

“He’s  a real athletic guy, and it’s good to see him getting out of the pocket and getting some runs going.”

WNST thanks Ricky Wagner for joining “The Reality Check!” Check out the entire conversation in the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault at WNST.net! 

 

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B&B Big Story Banter: Baltimore Trades

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B&B Big Story Banter: Baltimore Trades

Posted on 28 March 2014 by Brett Dickinson

By: Brett Dickinson and Barry Kamen

BK: The Baltimore Ravens continued their strong off season by acquiring C Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 5th round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Zuttah, a 6-year veteran out of Rutgers, is an ideal player to become the starting center in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. With Zuttah as the new starter, the Ravens interior line has become crowded, with incumbent C Gino Gradkowski, backup G/C A.Q. Shipley, and last year’s 6th round pick Ryan Jensen. Brett, what are your thoughts on the Ravens trading for Zuttah, and how does this low-risk move influence the O-line picture?  

BD: I absolutely bow in the greatness that is Ozzie Newsome, when it comes to pulling off deals like this.  The Ravens were able to get a player, just entering his prime, at a position of desperate need for only a 5th round pick. He has starting experience at four of five positions on the line, which only adds to his value for a team that arguably had the worst protection in football last year.

Most importantly, this move changes the focus of the Ravens draft board.  It is well known the team strictly adheres to the “best player available” mantra when it comes to the draft. With the addition of Zuttah, it is one less hole Ozzie would have to reach for in the middle rounds of the draft.  Many experts were wondering when (not if) they would take a future starting center, even predicting a high round pick for a position that notoriously can be filled later in the draft. With the depth of having Gradkowski, Shipley and Jensen on the interior, they may not be even inclined to take a center in the draft at all. There is also the outside chance one of those earns a starting spot at left guard, pushing Kelechi Osemele to right tackle. Essentially, retooling the entire picture in front of Joe Flacco.

Now the Ravens are not the only team in Baltimore making moves this week.  The Orioles made a late Spring Training trade, sending IF Alex Gonzalez to the Detroit Tigers for super utility man (and Maryland native), Steve Lombardozzi.  What do you think of the move, trading for the former Washington National, and what type of role do you see for him?

Steve LombardozziAs a Hammond graduate who had the privilege of watching Lombardozzi play both basketball and baseball at Atholton, I am very happy to see a fellow Howard County kid back in the area after a couple of seasons with the Nationals and the briefest of stints with Detroit. Lombardozzi’s versatility is what makes him valuable to this Orioles team. As a switch-hitter with the ability to play 4 positions, Lombardozzi should see plenty of at-bats early in the season with Manny Machado on the disabled list. I would not be surprised to see “Lombo” in the starting lineup on Opening Day, where the Orioles will face LHP Jon Lester. While the attendance and fanfare will be heightened on Monday, Buck Showalter has historically played the matchups; the bottom half of the Orioles lineup could feature Lombardozzi playing third, with Jonathan Schoop playing second in a right-handed dominant lineup.

My biggest question with the acquisition of Lombardozzi is how the Orioles will find at-bats for all of their infielders. When the news broke that Machado was going to start the season on the DL, it opened the door for the Orioles to reward Schoop with the starting job at second base, while moving Ryan Flaherty to third. Lombardozzi was a quality bench player for the Nationals, and admirably filled in for Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa up the middle, and also saw time in left field. Flaherty’s versatility is very similar to Lombardozzi’s, and even Schoop can play second, shortstop, and third. The balancing act will be left to Showalter, and the first priority should be to continue the development with Schoop at the major league level. I am all in favor of Schoop as the starting second baseman, with Lombardozzi coming off of the bench as a pinch hitter and as a fill-in starter against left-handed pitching.

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Harbaugh addresses slew of topics at NFL owners meetings

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Harbaugh addresses slew of topics at NFL owners meetings

Posted on 25 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Speaking to reporters gathered in Orlando for this week’s NFL owners meetings, Ravens coach John Harbaugh touched on an array of topics ranging Tuesday morning, from the status of running back Ray Rice to the backup quarterback position.

A day after owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear that Rice would remain with the organization despite his legal trouble, Harbaugh reiterated his support for the troubled 27-year-old while acknowledging the obvious embarrassment felt over the Ravens’ three arrests this offseason that have prompted many to question team leadership. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson and offensive lineman Jah Reid were also arrested in a three-week period that started with Rice’s domestic violence incident in Atlantic City last month.

Harbaugh confirmed what many assumed in stating that newly-acquired veteran Jeremy Zuttah projects to be the Ravens’ starting center in 2014, replacing incumbent and 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski.

“We traded for Jeremy for him to be the starting center. That’s the plan,” Harbaugh told reporters in Orlando. “[I] had a conversation with Gino yesterday. It was good communication and he’s in a good place. Gino’s a solid young guy. Jeremy is a more experienced center/guard in this league. The thing I liked on tape – we studied him pretty hard – he’s a big, rangy guy. He’s got length, he’s got size in there, he’s got experience and he’s also got, we think, a knack for the scheme we’re going to run offensively. He’s a good fit for us.”

The coach added that the organization would prefer to keep Kelechi Osemele at left guard and views second-year lineman Rick Wagner as the current starting right tackle among players under contract. Of course, the Ravens are expected to continue the search for more help in free agency and the draft, so the offensive line remains fluid beyond the four known starters: left tackle Eugene Monroe, right guard Marshal Yanda, Zuttah, and Osemele.

After recent reports that the Ravens were interested in quarterback Brandon Weeden before he signed in Dallas, Harbaugh confirmed that the organization is exploring the possibility of adding another quarterback. Current backup Tyrod Taylor has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but the head coach confirmed that the Ravens haven’t been overwhelmed with how the 2011 sixth-round pick has played in limited opportunities. Baltimore has carried only two quarterbacks on its 53-man roster in each of the last four seasons.

“We’ve been very happy with Tyrod, and we feel like he has a great future,” Harbaugh said, “but we have been a little disappointed how he’s played in games certainly. We feel like he’s a lot better than he’s showed. I know he feels that way too. We feel like Tyrod’s best football is by far definitely in front of him, but he’s only got one year left with us, so we need to add a quarterback into the mix, whether it be offseason or in the draft.”

The tight end position remains a point of discussion as Harbaugh confirmed interest in re-signing Ed Dickson while acknowledging interest in former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels, who obviously has strong ties with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and new tight ends coach Brian Pariani. Dennis Pitta and University of Maryland product Matt Furstenburg are the only tight ends currently under contract.

Reporters asked Harbaugh about the status of retired linebacker Rolando McClain, whose rights are still owned by the Ravens. The coach didn’t completely rule out a return for the 24-year-old but added that he hasn’t spoken to McClain and remains skeptical unless he receives proof that the former Oakland Raider is working hard and is serious about returning to football.

“Who [is he] as a person right now? Has he grown up?” Harbaugh said of McClain. “He had a lot of growing up to do obviously. And how hard he’s working, how hard he’s working at Alabama right now. If he’s working his rear end off, then I’m kind of excited about him. If he’s not, then I’ve got no interest in him being on our team.”

Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens will pick up the contract option for 2011 first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith as this is the first year we’ve seen this part of the rookie system come into play after the collective bargaining agreement that went into effect in 2011 standardized four-year contracts for all drafted players. The system does present teams a fifth-year option to use for first-round picks entering the final year of their rookie deals. The Ravens hope to sign both Smith and wide receiver Torrey Smith — also entering the final year of his rookie deal — to long-term extensions to keep them in Baltimore.

Baltimore is still looking to draft a safety despite last week’s signing of Darian Stewart, and Harbaugh offered praise for Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is projected to be a first-round pick and regarded as the top safety in the draft. General manager Ozzie Newsome said at the start of the offseason that the Ravens would be looking to add a more athletic safety with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam expected to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

“Safeties are interchangeable these days,” Harbaugh said. “There are certain traits you look for. I’m looking at the safeties now in the draft. You want tacklers and you want guys with range and you wants guys with ball skills.”

The Ravens would also like to add depth on the defensive line following the free-agent departure of Arthur Jones, but 2013 third-round pick Brandon Williams is the current favorite to take Jones’ starting spot.

According to the coach, Kubiak recently put the finishing touches on the Ravens’ new offensive playbook before it was then distributed to players. Harbaugh was also told that quarterback Joe Flacco has plans to get together with his wide receivers for informal throwing sessions before the start of the offseason training program next month.

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Ravens acquire Tampa Bay center Zuttah for 2015 draft pick

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Ravens acquire Tampa Bay center Zuttah for 2015 draft pick

Posted on 23 March 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have addressed another need by upgrading the center position through a trade for Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Jeremy Zuttah.

The deal was announced Sunday as Baltimore will send their 2015 fifth-round draft pick to complete the deal, pending a physical.

“We said at the beginning of the offseason that we would be adding quality players to our line and Jeremy fits that description,” Newsome said in a team statement. “We are getting a player who has started at both center and guard, and played well at each position. We’re excited to have him as a Raven and believe he can play a significant role for us.”

Zuttah has played both center and guard in his six-year career but is expected to become the Ravens’ new starting center after 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski struggled in his first year as the replacement to the retired Matt Birk. The Buccaneers had been rumored to be shopping Zuttah as they rework their offensive line under new head coach Lovie Smith and signed free-agent center Evan Dietrich-Smith earlier this month.

He has started 30 games at center, 41 at left guard, and five at right guard but made 15 of his 16 starts at center last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Zuttah was the league’s 22nd-ranked center while Gradkowski was rated 35th in 2013. The Ravens are expected to award the 6-foot-4, 308-pound Zuttah with a long-term deal after he was originally signed through the 2015 season in Tampa Bay and was set to carry a $4.5 million cap number — all in base salary — in 2014.

The 27-year-old was a third-round selection out of Rutgers in the 2008 draft and has started 76 of 90 games in his NFL career. He was a college teammate of Ravens running back Ray Rice.

With the acquisition of Zuttah, the Ravens now have four of their five projected offensive line spots set for 2014 with only left guard or right tackle remaining as a question mark. Third-year lineman Kelechi Osemele is expected to man one of those spots as he returns from season-ending back surgery.

The Ravens have now used three draft picks in trying to find the heir apparent to Birk as they also dealt a seventh-round pick to Indianapolis for A.Q. Shipley in addition to spending a 2012 selection on Gradkowski and trading a 2015 pick for Zuttah. Baltimore also used a 2013 sixth-round pick on Colorado State-Pueblo product Ryan Jensen, who is regarded as an intriguing interior-line project to monitor in the preseason after he was injured for a large portion of his rookie year.

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