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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 27 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on Wednesday and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on July 30, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore offensive line:

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens in prime position to pull off trade with 10 draft picks

Posted on 24 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens receiving three compensatory picks in this year’s draft, the discussion inevitably turns to the list of players they’ve selected with those picks awarded by the NFL.

From Rick Wagner and Pernell McPhee in recent years to the likes of Edwin Mulitalo, Sam Koch, and Le’Ron McClain in the past, there’s no disputing that the Ravens have benefited from a league-high 44 compensatory picks in their 20-year history. But with 10 selections at his disposal for the draft set to begin on April 30, general manager Ozzie Newsome may have something else up his sleeve rather than simply selecting 10 young football players.

With obvious needs at wide receiver, tight end, and cornerback, Baltimore should follow its recent trend of dealing a draft pick or two for an established veteran contributor. The likelihood of being able to address all of their needs with young talent ready to contribute immediately isn’t great, but the Ravens now have plenty of collateral to work out a trade while remaining very active in the draft.

Last year, the Ravens dealt their 2015 fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for starting center Jeremy Zuttah. Two years ago, they acquired starting left tackle Eugene Monroe from Jacksonville in exchange for 2014 fourth-round and fifth-round choices.

It isn’t a coincidence that the Ravens made those deals before ultimately landing compensatory selections in the same round of each of the surrendered picks. You cannot trade compensatory choices, but they allow you to continue to add young talent while enjoying the flexibility to trade regular selections to add veteran help or to move up the draft board when necessary.

And with a long list of departing free agents this offseason, the Ravens are once again looking like a good bet to receive three or four compensatory picks next year, further facilitating the potential for a trade.

No one would doubt Newsome’s ability to come away with a productive haul if he keeps his allotment of draft picks, but the Ravens would be wise to pull the trigger on a trade for the right veteran addition with so many clear needs that have yet to be addressed this offseason.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 07 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The final push for a playoff spot begins now as the Ravens face the Miami Dolphins in an AFC matchup with major ramifications in a crowded wild-card picture that features six teams with 7-5 records.

The latest distraction in a difficult 2014 season came earlier this week in the form of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended for the remainder of the regular season after testing positive for Adderall. The Ravens are expected to use rookie defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan in Ngata’s place, but veterans such as Terrence Cody — who is active for the first time this season — and Lawrence Guy could find themselves in the mix at the 3-technique tackle spot.

As expected, running back Justin Forsett (knee) is active and will start against Miami despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week. The plan all along was for the Ravens to rest Forsett, wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee), and center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) this week before they returned to practice on Friday, and all three are active for Sunday’s game.

However, reports from Miami indicated Smith was limping noticeably during pre-game warmups, making one wonder how much of a factor he’ll be against the Dolphins on Sunday. The fourth-year wideout was listed as a full participant in Friday’s practice after sitting out the previous two days.

Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore (back) and rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) were both deactivated for Sunday’s game after being designated as questionable to play against the Dolphins. Gillmore’s back injury only appeared to get worse as the week went on, prompting the Ravens to promote tight end Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad. Campanaro was a full participant in practices this week, but the Ravens are being extra cautious with the 5-foot-9 receiver who hasn’t played since Oct. 26.

After being activated from injured reserve-designated to return on Saturday, cornerback Asa Jackson will see his first live-game action since suffering a serious turf toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 5. The third-year defensive back is expected to see significant time in trying to provide a boost to the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense.

Second-year linebacker Arthur Brown is active for just the third time this season while rookie safety Terrence Brooks is inactive for the third time in 2014.

Miami will be without starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle), who is inactive after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report of the week.

Tight end Charles Clay is active despite being limited with a hamstring injury this week and missing the Dolphins’ last two games.

The Ravens and Dolphins will be meeting for the 10th time in the regular season with Miami holding a 5-4 advantage but Baltimore owning a 2-0 postseason edge. In the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 4-0 against the Dolphins including a postseason victory in Miami in 2008 and a 26-23 win at Sun Life Stadium last season.

Sunday’s forecast in Miami calls for sunny skies with temperatures reaching 80 degrees and winds up to nine miles per hour, per Weather.com.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be John Parry.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Miami dons its white tops with white pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Michael Campanaro
S Terrence Brooks
CB Rashaan Melvin
C Gino Gradkowski
OL Jah Reid
TE Crockett Gillmore
DE DeAngelo Tyson

MIAMI
CB Jamar Taylor
CB Cortland Finnegan
RB LaMichael James
LB Jonathan Freeny
LB Chris McCain
OT Nate Garner
G Billy Turner

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Forsett questionable, Torrey Smith probable for Sunday’s game in Miami

Posted on 05 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens received encouraging news for the last practice of the week with the returns of wide receiver Torrey Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and center Jeremy Zuttah as they made final preparations for Sunday’s game in Miami.

Forsett (knee) was listed as questionable on the final injury report while Smith (knee) and Zuttah (ankle) were designated as probable to play on Sunday. All three were present and working during the portion of practice open to media after missing workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. Smith and Zuttah practiced fully while Forsett was a limited participant.

Despite his designation, Forsett is expected to play as the Ravens face a critical game against the Dolphins in the landscape of the AFC wild-card race.

“Just resting up,” said Forsett about missing Wednesday’s practice. “Regular soreness, especially coming into December. Just trying to take care of the body and take care of the little nicks and knacks I’ve gotten over the course of the year.”

Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore was listed as questionable to play against the Dolphins after missing his second straight practice on Friday. The Ravens promoted tight end Phillip Supernaw to the 53-man roster on Friday, a good indication that Gillmore’s status is in jeopardy for Sunday. Supernaw takes the place of the suspended Haloti Ngata on the active roster.

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (thigh) and linebacker Albert McClellan (thigh) were also designated as questionable to play after Campanaro practiced fully all week and McClellan was limited. Campanaro hasn’t played in a game since injuring his hamstring against Cincinnati on Oct. 26.

Wide receiver Marlon Brown (concussion) has been cleared and is probable to play Sunday after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday.

Cornerback Tramain Jacobs was ruled out with a thigh injury after failing to practice on Friday.

Wide receiver Steve Smith, tight end Owen Daniels, linebacker Daryl Smith, and defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson all returned to practice after being absent Thursday for non-injury reasons. Smith and Daniels received the day off while Tyson faced jury duty. Veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs did not practice Friday with what was listed as a non-injury reason.

All four were listed as probable.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins listed starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle) as doubtful for Sunday’s game and tight end Charles Clay (hamstring) as questionable. Five other starters were designated as questionable.

John Parry will be the referee for Sunday’s game in Miami.

The forecast for kickoff calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s with winds up to eight miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Below is the final injury report for the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Tramain Jacobs (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), RB Justin Forsett (knee), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), LB Albert McClellan (thigh)
PROBABLE: WR Marlon Brown (concussion), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), LB C.J. Mosley (wrist), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Torrey Smith (knee), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), DT DeAngelo Tyson (non-injury), LB Courtney Upshaw (hand), C Jeremey Zuttah (ankle)

MIAMI
OUT: LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)
DOUBTFUL: G Nate Garner (illness), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), LB Chris McCain (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Charles Clay (hamstring)
PROBABLE: WR Brian Hartline (knee), T Ja’Wuan James (neck), LB Jelani Jenkins (shoulder), C Samson Satele (ribs), WR Mike Wallace (chest), S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring)

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Torrey Smith remains sidelined for Thursday’s practice

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Hitting the practice field for the first time since the news of the Haloti Ngata suspension, the Ravens were again without starting wide receiver Torrey Smith on Thursday.

The fourth-year wideout continues to nurse a sore right knee that isn’t expected to keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins. However, it remains unclear how close to 100 percent he will be as the Ravens desperately need a win over Miami to stay in good position in a crowded AFC wild-card race.

“The only way I’m not going to play is if I need crutches,” Smith said. “I’m good to go. We’ll see what happens, but hopefully everything works out.”

Wide receiver Marlon Brown (concussion) returned to the practice field while running back Justin Forsett (knee) made a brief appearance during the media viewing portion before returning to the indoor facility adjacent to the practice fields. Forsett downplayed the extent of his injury on Wednesday, describing it as general soreness, but he was once again listed as a non-participant on the official injury report.

Players missing from practice also included tight ends Owen Daniels and Crockett Gillmore (back), center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle), linebacker Daryl Smith, and defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson. Daniels and Smith received a veteran day off on Thursday while Tyson was summoned for jury duty.

Gillmore was a limited participant during Wednesday’s practice.

Cornerback Asa Jackson (turf toe) continues to practice and eyes a return from the injured reserve-designated to return list this Sunday. The Ravens currently have 52 players on their active roster with Ngata being moved to the reserve-suspended list, so they could elect to use his roster spot to activate Jackson.

“You can’t really tell out here in practice until the bullets start flying if he’s back to where he was,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “But he seems to be moving well and doing fine. I think he’ll really help us back there, at least basically in the slot.”

There were no changes to Miami’s injury report from the previous day except for the addition of linebacker Chris McCain (ankle) as a limited participant.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), RB Justin Forsett (knee), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Torrey Smith (knee), DT DeAngelo Tyson (non-injury), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Tramain Jacobs (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (thigh), LB Courtney Upshaw (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (concussion), WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (wrist)

MIAMI
OUT: LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Nate Garner (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Charles Clay (hamstring), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), WR Brian Hartline (knee), LB Chris McCain (ankle), C Samson Satele (ribs), WR Mike Wallace (chest)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Daryn Colledge (back), T Ja’Wuan James (neck), LB Jelani Jenkins (shoulder)

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Forsett, Torrey Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing for this Sunday’s critical meeting with the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens were without three offensive starters for practice on Wednesday afternoon.

Wide receivers Torrey Smith (knee) and Marlon Brown (concussion), running back Justin Forsett (knee), and center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) were absent from the portion of the workout open to reporters. Smith and Brown left the San Diego game with injuries and didn’t return, but head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the significance of Smith appearing to injure his right knee in the fourth quarter of the 34-33 loss to the Chargers.

Brown’s absence was not unexpected as he continues to go through the NFL’s concussion protocol. He left Sunday’s game early in the second quarter after hitting his head hard on the M&T Bank Stadium turf.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged both receivers were making progress on Wednesday without going into detail.

Forsett downplayed his absence from practice as little more than a day to rest and to stay fresh for the final month of the season. He has carried 179 times for 1,009 rushing yards this season, both career highs.

“Just resting up [and] regular soreness, especially coming into December,” Forsett said. “Just trying to take care of the body and take care of the little nicks and knacks I’ve gotten over the course of the year.”

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) was a full participant in practice after working on a very limited basis last week. He hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 26 while his recovery from a hamstring injury has been slow.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins officially ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) for Sunday’s game while tight end Charles Clay (hamstring), cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle), and wide receivers Brian Hartline (knee) and Mike Wallace (chest) were all limited participants on Wednesday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Marlon Brown (concussion), RB Justin Forsett (knee), WR Torrey Smith (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (back), CB Tramain Jacobs (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (thigh), LB Courtney Upshaw (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), LB C.J. Mosley (wrist)

MIAMI
OUT: LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Nate Garner (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Charles Clay (hamstring), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), WR Brian Hartline (knee), C Samson Satele (ribs), WR Mike Wallace (chest)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Daryn Colledge (back), T Ja’Wuan James (neck), LB Jelani Jenkins (shoulder)

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Zuttah, Yanda sitting out Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after the Ravens made changes in their secondary, it was the offensive line missing two key pieces as center Jeremy Zuttah and right guard Marshal Yanda were missing from Wednesday’s practice as preparations continued for a Week 10 game against the Tennessee Titans.

Yanda has been dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of one practice last week, but the Pro Bowl guard played all 71 offensive snaps in the 43-23 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday.

Despite playing well in his first season in Baltimore, Zuttah turned in his worst performance of the year against Pittsburgh as he struggled at the point of attack and was pushed into the backfield on a number of occasions. It remains unclear how early in the game Zuttah sustained the ankle injury that might have impacted his performance.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) were also absent during the portion of practice open to media. The fourth-year defensive back is expected to miss his second straight game after injuring his left foot in the Week 8 loss to Cincinnati.

Newly-acquired cornerback Danny Gorrer was present and wearing No. 37 as his second run with the Ravens has begun. The 28-year-old was working on his hands and catching passes from secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo during the portion of practice open to media.

While the Ray Rice appeal hearing was getting underway in New York on Wednesday, general manager Ozzie Newsome was watching practice in Owings Mills. Newsome and team president Dick Cass are both expected to testify during the two-day hearing as Rice seeks reinstatement from the indefinite suspension the NFL handed him on Sept. 8.

Meanwhile, the Titans provided a fairly clean injury report with wide receiver Nate Washington (shoulder) being listed as a limited participant and tight end Taylor Thompson (knee) already being ruled out for Sunday’s game.

Below is the full injury report for Wednesday:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (foot), G Marshal Yanda (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle)

TENNESSEE
OUT: TE Taylor Thompson (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Nate Washington (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Coty Sensabaugh (knee)

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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

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

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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