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Twelve Ravens thoughts following second preseason victory

Posted on 12 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their 10th preseason game in a row in a 33-7 final over the Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Playing well in victory beats the alternative, but the Rams rested all but two projected starters and were playing their first preseason game while Baltimore starters played early and reserves and rookies were competing in their second exhibition contest. The action looked every bit like that.

2. Tim Williams followed Kamalei Correa’s standout performance in the Hall of Fame Game with five tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble to continue his strong summer. While those two see their stock rise, a groin injury isn’t helping Tyus Bowser’s bid for more playing time in 2018.

3. After watching Lamar Jackson run for his life in Canton, giving him a series with the first-team offensive line was a prudent move as he hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard completion and ran for a touchdown in highlight fashion. He looked more comfortable than last week, especially early on.

4. It was still another mixed-bag performance for Jackson, who took a sack on third down to create a longer field goal try that was unsuccessful and made an ill-advised throw from his end zone that should have been intercepted. My biggest concern remains the number of hits he’s willingly taking.

5. It was only nine defensive snaps, but no one expected Jimmy Smith to be playing this early in the preseason, a major credit to his rehab work. He moved well and closed quickly on a slant pass to keep it to a four-yard gain on the Ravens’ first defensive snap.

6. Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young being the second defense’s base cornerbacks and Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett the third unit’s reflect the embarrassment of riches at the cornerback position now. It’s quite a difference from the days of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown battling for the nickel job.

7. John Harbaugh said James Hurst still has the “inside track” in the right tackle competition, but Orlando Brown Jr. is doing everything he can to earn the job. He’s decreased his body fat from 31 percent in January to 19 percent now. The spot should be his sooner than later.

8. Patrick Ricard caught a touchdown from Joe Flacco and even ran a wheel route as a fullback, but he added 10 pounds in the offseason and his play along the defensive line is turning some heads as he finished with four tackles and a quarterback hit on Thursday.

9. I felt good for Breshad Perriman catching three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, but the fact that he didn’t play until the second half was telling. Barring injuries, his status as a former first-round pick might be the only factor keeping him on the bubble at this point.

10. Zach Sieler is one reason why the Ravens face tough roster decisions along the defensive line. The seventh-round rookie from Ferris State registered a sack and a quarterback hit against the Rams and is keeping himself in the roster conversation.

11. Greg Senat received extensive work at left tackle and played about how you’d expect a sixth-round rookie to fare. It would be interesting to see if the Ravens would consider moving Brown to left tackle — his college position — if something happens to Ronnie Stanley. Alex Lewis could also slide outside.

12. Props to Harbaugh for channeling Michael Scott of The Office when he declined to discuss the Ravens once again escaping a preseason game without any notable injuries. “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” Of course, I’m now expecting this reaction when the inevitable first big injury occurs.

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Flacco, Ravens offense offer proper cameo against Rams

Posted on 10 August 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There was no other appropriate outcome for Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ starting offense on Thursday night.

Facing a Los Angeles Rams defense that played only one projected starter — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam — while several Pro Bowl talents sat, the Baltimore starters did exactly what was expected with a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive lasting just under five minutes.

The cameo was short but sweet for Flacco, who was playing in only his second preseason game since 2015.

“You know you’re probably only going to play 20 snaps or so,” said the 11th-year quarterback, who took 12 snaps if you count two plays negated by penalty. “You’ve got to get yourself ready to play an NFL football game, so it’s just these weird situations in the preseason. To go up there and have a drive like we did, it’s obviously the way we wanted it to go.”

The series began with an over-the-middle completion to rookie tight end Hayden Hurst for 12 yards and a first down. The first-round pick continues to impress with his soft hands and ability to make catches in traffic, something the Ravens have lacked over the middle since the days of a healthy Dennis Pitta.

On the first third down, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for a formation shift involving running back Buck Allen, who split out wide before motioning back to the backfield. The movement set up a soft pick from wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s inside route to give Allen just enough space from linebacker Bryce Hager to catch a short swing pass and move the chains.

Facing a second-and-25 a few plays later, Flacco hit John Brown and Crabtree on consecutive throws for a total of 47 yards. Brown took advantage of a matchup against linebacker Ramik Wilson, the result of a trips alignment in which Hurst was split outside the speedy receiver. Crabtree showed chemistry with his new quarterback on the next play by running up the field as Flacco rolled left, leading to a 30-yard completion on a third-and-8 to put the Ravens inside the red zone.

Baltimore looked like it would have to settle for a field goal until a third-down illegal contact penalty extended the drive. That was all Flacco would need as he finished it off with a play-action pass to fullback-defensive tackle Patrick Ricard in the flat for a 6-yard touchdown.

Frequently knocked for his mobility that’s suffered in recent years because of an ACL tear in 2015 and last summer’s back injury, Flacco moved effectively to extend plays and even managed to slide without breaking his knee brace on a scramble early in the drive. As has been the case all spring and summer, his passes were on point as he finished 5 of 7 for 71 yards and could have had another completion to Crabtree on a sideline throw that wasn’t corralled in traffic.

What more could you want in a limited sample?

“You get a sense of, ‘Hey, maybe we’re going to be good on offense,’” said head coach John Harbaugh, who called it a night for Flacco, Crabtree, Brown, and slot receiver Willie Snead after that touchdown. “But you want to see it in a game. And we’ll want to see it in another game. Then, we’ll want to see it in a regular-season game. We’re all going to feel that way about our offense and our defense.

“But to take this step at this time was really gratifying.”

Once again, it was a single preseason drive against another team’s backups. For some context, the Ravens offense struggled against the Rams’ first-team defense in Monday’s joint practice before bouncing back to move the ball more consistently the following day.

But taking care of business on that opening drive sure beat the alternative of a three-and-out, a turnover, or the listlessness too often on display in recent years.

The Ravens offense has practiced well, competing at a higher level against the talented Baltimore defense than it has in recent years. That hardly guarantees success when the season kicks off for real next month, but building mojo is important for a unit that couldn’t get out of its own way for much of last season, a big reason why the Ravens were again on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Thursday was a positive step for a quarterback and an offense with much to prove in 2018.

“Once the regular season starts, this isn’t going to mean anything,” Flacco said. “But what it does for our confidence as a group, our confidence as a team, that will carry us pretty far into the season. Hopefully, we can keep this going. I think we’ve got the guys to do it.”

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Hall of Fame Game behind them, the Ravens have turned their attention to what is normally the first preseason contest of the summer.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed he will treat Thursday’s contest with the Los Angeles Rams like the typical preseason opener with veterans starters unlikely to play more than a couple series after most sat out entirely against Chicago last week. Of course, this game brings extra interest after the teams practiced together twice in Owings Mills this week, a move that provided the Ravens a useful litmus test.

“That’s a good team. Obviously, they have a very good defense, and I think they have a very good offense,” said Harbaugh about the defending NFC West champions. “It’s excellent to practice against a team like this. That’s why we were excited when Sean [McVay] said they wanted to come in and practice. It was very positive for us.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to play in just his second preseason game since 2015, creating more intrigue as he comes off one of the most difficult seasons of his career.

Drawing strong conclusions from preseason performance is unwise, but Flacco would like to continue building chemistry with three veteran newcomers at the wide receiver position as well as two rookie tight ends. The Ravens have emphasized the need to start fast in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and would like to build some good mojo on the offensive side of the ball before the season opener on Sept. 9.

“You want to go out there, and you want to play well,” said Flacco, who missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury. “It’s obviously not at the point where it really, really counts, but I think it does a lot for the confidence of the team and the confidence of an offense to go out there and perform well.”

Thursday marks the fifth time the Ravens and the Rams will meet in the preseason with then-St. Louis winning the four previous meetings. However, Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

The Ravens own a 29-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won nine exhibition contests in a row.

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 one would look like if it 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 include any veteran starters who could held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: S Tony Jefferson, G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: WR Tim White, OL Randin Crecelius, OL Maurquice Shakir
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), TE Mark Andrews (hamstring), OT Greg Senat, RB Kenneth Dixon, LB Tyus Bowser, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson

Five players to watch Thursday night

DE Brent Urban

The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Urban played nine uneventful snaps against the Bears last week, a positive step in his return from last season’s Lisfranc foot injury. The Baltimore defense would love to see him become an impact interior rusher in sub packages, but Urban needs to prove he’s healthy and will stay that way. A heavier workload and a couple disruptive plays would be positive developments on Thursday.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.

The rookie was the bright spot on a forgettable night in Canton for other young offensive linemen as he played 60 snaps. With Marshal Yanda back at practice this week, the expectation was that Brown would compete with James Hurst for a starting spot, but the Ravens kept Brown at right tackle when Yanda took limited reps on Tuesday. Another strong performance might make him the favorite over Hurst.

CB Tavon Young

The talented slot corner played 15 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, but he should see more playing time this week against the Rams’ talented trio of Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods. Perhaps the biggest sign of the Ravens’ confidence in Young coming back from last year’s ACL injury was the decision to move Maurice Canady, last year’s primary nickel, to a reserve outside cornerback spot.

WR/RS Janarion Grant

Tim White was considered the favorite to win the return specialist job — if the Ravens keep someone solely to do that job — but he’s been sidelined since the first preseason game, opening the door for Grant. The Rutgers product flashes ability and made a spectacular cut on a punt return against the Rams on Tuesday, but he also drew a taunting penalty — and the ire of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

OLB Tim Williams

On the heels of recording six pressures and a quarterback hit against the Bears, Williams was praised this week by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who stated his belief that the 2017 third-round pick will become a “premier” pass rusher in the NFL. Of course, Williams carrying over last week’s performance against better competition would go a long way in growing his confidence.

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Ravens-Bears preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 01 August 2018 by Luke Jones

At a time when most teams are still settling into the training camp routine, the Ravens will kick off the NFL preseason schedule while celebrating the most iconic player in franchise history.

Baltimore will face the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night, the opening of induction weekend as Ray Lewis officially joins football immortality. This marks the first time the Ravens will be playing in the Canton, Ohio exhibition in their 23-year history.

“We’re excited. A really good couple weeks of practice, but it’s time to go play a game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s what you work for, a chance to play the game. It’s going to be a great opportunity for a lot of our players.”

It remains to be seen how many notable veteran players will take part as Harbaugh made it clear months ago that the likes of Joe Flacco, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs would not play in the extra preseason contest preceding the typical four-week schedule. In recent years, participating teams have typically held out most starters and some key backups in the Hall of Fame Game with young players on the 90-man preseason roster receiving most of the playing time.

The message is clear for young players competing for a starting role or simply trying to be noticed in their quest to earn a spot on the 53-man roster or 10-man practice squad.

“Keep it simple, pay attention to what’s important, and that’s going to be knowing your assignment and playing hard,” Harbaugh said. “If you’re on defense, run to the football. If you’re on offense, make the catch, finish the play. Keep it simple, play football, and let the chips fly.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Chicago will meet in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other meeting in 1998. However, the Bears won a 27-24 overtime contest at M&T Bank Stadium last October and lead the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

Baltimore has a 28-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and has won eight straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Thursday night’s game.

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 include the extensive list of veteran players and starters expected to 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: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps), TE Mark Andrews, OL Greg Senat
DOUBTFUL: RB Kenneth Dixon
QUESTIONABLE: LB Tyus Bowser, S Tony Jefferson, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson, TE Hayden Hurst, G Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), CB Maurice Canady (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Lamar Jackson

Who else would top the list? It remains to be seen whether Jackson or Robert Griffin III will get the start, but all eyes will be watching how effectively the first-round rookie commands the huddle and offense in general. Quarterbacks coach James Urban wants Jackson to simply “compete and complete” on Thursday, taking what throws the defense gives him and using his athletic ability if receivers are covered. Predictably, Jackson has been inconsistent this summer, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a highlight play or two, especially against reserves with little shot of making the Bears’ 53-man roster. Jackson’s presence alone makes this arguably the most anticipated preseason in team history.

LB Kamalei Correa

Many thought a move back to outside linebacker might finally allow Correa to reach his full potential as a former second-round pick, but he’s had a quiet start to summer and is on the roster bubble. His best path to a roster spot continues to depend on special-teams play and serving in a versatile reserve role like Albert McClellan, but that’s not what Ozzie Newsome envisioned when drafting Correa in 2016.

WR Jordan Lasley

Lasley has been as advertised coming out of UCLA, flashing big-play ability and showing inconsistent hands. He’s an emotional player, which can serve as a strength or a detriment depending on the situation. Fortunately, the Ravens don’t need Lasley to step into an impact role immediately, but seeing him connect with Jackson a few times Thursday night will have fans daydreaming about the future.

LB Kenny Young

Defensive coordinator Don Martindale went out of his way to mention the 2018 fourth-round pick being in the thick of the competition with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor for the weak-side inside linebacker spot, a surprising development based on practice reps to that point. Since then, Young has seen some snaps with the starting defense, but making an impact in pass coverage would certainly help his cause.

RB Mark Thompson

With third-year running back Kenneth Dixon sidelined with what’s believed to be a hamstring issue, the Ravens will be taking an even closer look at their trio of undrafted rookie running backs: Thompson, Gus Edwards, and De’Lance Turner. Thompson’s 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame immediately stands out, but the Florida product has shown some ability as a receiver out of the backfield to go with his physicality.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first week of training camp

Posted on 26 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the first full week of training camp in the books and the Hall of Fame Game right around the corner, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Brown had a fine spring and flashed from time to time, but Thursday was the first time he consistently wowed observers with several big plays shown below. The talent he showed in a 1,000-yard season in Arizona three years ago is still there if he can just stay healthy.

2. Marlon Humphrey was victimized by Brown on a few occasions and didn’t have a good practice, but it’s evident he’s in line to start over Brandon Carr based with the way first-team reps have been distributed so far in camp. The 22-year-old is too talented to keep off the field.

3. Joe Flacco has carried a strong spring into the summer, showing improved footwork and more accuracy than he has in a long time. I have covered every training camp since 2009 and don’t recall the strong-armed quarterback ever showing so much touch on deep throws in particular.

4. The Ravens aren’t broadcasting how they’ve tweaked their defensive system, but the best way to describe it is how customized it is at every level. Rather than bunching certain fronts, blitzes, and coverages together in a standardized way, every option at every level could be in play. Sounds less predicable.

5. The Tim White hype borders on being out of control based on such a small sample size, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver and return man shows good hands and is very smooth in his movements. I’m looking forward to watching him play in the preseason.

6. No Raven has transformed his body more than Willie Henry, who is listed 17 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. He’s added muscle and should provide more of a pass-rush threat for the base front, allowing Brandon Williams to play more at nose tackle in the process.

7. Orlando Brown Jr. is still developing and needs to improve his technique, but he’s handled the conditioning aspect of camp well for someone who faced questions about his weight in high school and college. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him raise his performance in a live-game setting.

8. Martindale mentioned Kenny Young as being in competition with Patrick Onwuasor for the starting weak-side inside linebacker job, which was surprising since he was responding to a question that made no mention of the rookie. Young hasn’t necessarily stood out, but this competition is one to watch.

9. The health of the rookie tight ends has been an early topic of discussion, but Hayden Hurst shows soft hands and an ability to make plays over the middle when he’s on the field. So many missed practices aren’t helping Mark Andrews’ chances for early playing time.

10. I’m rooting for Nico Siragusa to make a full recovery from the serious knee injury he sustained last summer, but it’s apparent he’s still knocking off rust and isn’t moving around particularly well. He’s taking a few more reps lately, but I’m interested to see how the team handles him.

11. Kenneth Dixon drew praise from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg during a kickoff drill Thursday before walking gingerly to the locker room with a member of the training staff a few minutes later. It had been the most explosive he’d looked over the first week of camp.

12. With Ray Lewis officially being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week, Ed Reed deserving to follow next year, and Terrell Suggs still in the process of putting an exclamation point on his strong case, Ravens fans might as well become quite familiar with Canton, Ohio.

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Ravens tight end Hurst practices, Harbaugh clarifies “callused up” remarks

Posted on 24 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after Ravens head coach John Harbaugh lamented rookies not being as “callused up” as they used to be, tight end pick Hayden Hurst was back on the practice field.

The 2018 first-round pick participated in Tuesday’s workout on a limited basis after he hadn’t practiced since last Thursday because of a “soft-tissue” injury. Hurst made an impressive contested catch against cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and powered past safety DeShon Elliott for a sizable gain during an 11-on-11 period of practice before leaving the field with a member of the training staff with roughly 30 minutes remaining in practice. Harbaugh said that was part of the plan for Hurst’s return.

The 11th-year coach reiterated his commentary on the easier nature of college football practices in recent years was not intended to be a criticism of Hurst or fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews, who remains sidelined and was dealing with a hamstring injury toward the end of spring workouts.

“Young people are amazing. This generation is going to change the world,” Harbaugh said. “It really is. They’re smart. They want to work, they want to be pushed, they want to do the right thing. That’s been my experience, and I would say to our generation — to my point — [that] we don’t need to be babying them. They’re tough, they want to be great, and let’s not be afraid to push them and bring the best out in them and have high expectations.”

Cornerback Maurice Canady (knee) also returned to practice after receiving Monday off, but the Ravens held out No. 1 corner Jimmy Smith for a second straight day, a deliberate attempt to give him extended rest with all players also having off on Wednesday. Smith has returned from last December’s torn Achilles tendon much sooner than anyone anticipated, so there’s no need to push him too hard so early in the summer.

Rookie offensive lineman Greg Senat and cornerback Bennett Jackson are still sidelined with undisclosed injuries. Guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (knee) remain on the active physically unable to perform list.

With quarterback Joe Flacco and starting wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown among a group of veterans excused from practice early, rookie Lamar Jackson took extensive snaps with the remaining members of the first-team offense. It was an inconsistent day for the first-round quarterback, who was picked off by cornerback Marlon Humphrey on the first play of full-team drills and nearly threw another interception on an underthrown pass to wide-open tight end Vince Mayle a few plays later. However, Jackson rebounded to throw a deep completion to speedy wide receiver Tim White and showed plenty of zip on a deep-slant connection to rookie wideout Jaleel Scott.

Jackson struggled with his accuracy during a practice period in which quarterbacks threw to receivers inside the red zone without any defense, misfiring on a number of throws to the end zone.

“There’s a lot going on. We put in a bunch of new plays today, and Joe wasn’t here, so Lamar had the group along with the other two guys (Robert Griffin III and Josh Woodrum),” Harbaugh said. “But that’s all new to him. As much as anything, he’s trying to make sure he gets the play called right in the huddle with the new stuff, and the fact that he’s not really been a play-caller [until this year]. That hasn’t been the offense he’s been in, so he’s doing a good job with that.

“He did make some overthrows, but he also made some really good throws, too. And he made a couple scramble runs that were eye-opening. With a young player, I don’t think you expect perfection, but he looks pretty good out there to me.”

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With Ravens rookie tight ends sidelined, Harbaugh takes dig at college practice

Posted on 23 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A simple question about the absence of Ravens rookie tight end Hayden Hurst from recent practices prompted a spirited commentary from John Harbaugh on Monday.

The 11th-year head coach spoke about the scaled-back nature of collegiate practices in recent years and how they might negatively impact players’ transition to the NFL. Hurst hasn’t practiced since Thursday while dealing with a “soft-tissue” injury while fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews has battled a hamstring issue since the end of spring and missed his second practice of training camp on Monday.

“Guys coming out of college aren’t as callused up as they used to be,” Harbaugh said. “We used to practice twice a day in full pads [in college]. … It’s not even close to the same thing. There’s a certain type of ‘in shape,’ certain type of football fitness, certain type of callousness — muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments that kind of toughen up. They callus up a little bit, and you can practice all day and run all day.

“Our guys coming in right now, most of them don’t have that. So, [they] practice for half a practice, and all of a sudden things start tweaking on them.”

Harbaugh cited veteran tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams taking extra reps in the rookies’ absence and not missing a beat since they’re “callused up” and “know how to practice” at this level. The head coach went out of his way to make sure his comments weren’t viewed as a direct shot at Hurst or Andrews, but it was an interesting rant less than a full week into summer workouts.

The Ravens are expecting big things from Hurst in particular this season as the first-round pick has received extensive reps with the starting offense for much of the spring and summer. Boyle and Maxx Williams combined for just 43 catches for 289 yards and one touchdown last year, leaving a clear need for Hurst — and perhaps Andrews — to contribute immediately.

“It’s a big effect. You have to be out here practicing,” said Harbaugh of Hurst. “You can’t be in the training room and expect to be your best. It’s not his fault; it’s nobody’s fault. He’s in there doing everything he can to get back, but it’s part of the deal.”

On the positive side, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive end Brent Urban, and inside linebacker Kenny Young returned to the practice field after missing Sunday’s session.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and Maurice Canady (knee) were given the day off, according to Harbaugh. Offensive lineman Greg Senat and cornerback Bennett Jackson remained sidelined along with the four players on the active physically unable to perform list: guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

The Ravens appeared to dodge a bullet when left guard Alex Lewis had his left ankle rolled into by another player late in Monday’s practice. He appeared to be in pain and was helped to the sideline, but the 2016 fourth-round pick returned to action and completed practice without incident.

Crabtree shines in red zone

Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s ability to make plays in the red zone was a major draw for the Ravens signing him after he caught a combined 25 touchdowns in his three seasons with Oakland.

That skill was on display Monday during a 7-on-7 red-zone drill as the 30-year-old made a great adjustment on a back-shoulder throw from quarterback Joe Flacco that was off the mark. They simply didn’t have a pass-catching target last year to turn that kind of an errant throw into a touchdown catch.

“It looks like it’s a bad pass, but for Crabtree, that’s a good pass to him,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said last week. “Joe can throw the ball, I feel like, a little more accurately with a guy like [him].”

Threat to Tucker?

Rookie Kaare Vedvik certainly isn’t pushing for two-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker’s job, but that hasn’t stopped the Marshall product from impressing as he booted a 67-yard field goal on Monday

“He had a little wind at his back,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “But he just kicks them straight. He’s a very talented guy. I’m expecting he either beats Tucker out or someone trades us a draft pick for him. What do you think? Which one do you think it could be?”

A strong summer could put Vedvik on the radar in the same way Wil Lutz did two years ago when he was signed by New Orleans after kicking for Baltimore in the 2016 preseason.

Odds & ends

It remains unclear whether the Ravens will reschedule Saturday’s free and open practice at M&T Bank Stadium that was canceled due to heavy rain. “I know they’re looking hard to find a day,” Harbaugh said. “As far as players and coaches, we’re great. We like being over there. Hey, send us down. We’ll go do it. It’s just right now, I don’t know if we can find a day or not. If we can, we’ll load the buses up and head down.” … Terrell Suggs said Friday was the first time he’d ever been caught stealing Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart on the way out to the practice field, a regular prank pulled by the 16th-year outside linebacker. Upon realizing the owner was sitting nearby as he drove his way onto the practice field, Suggs made a quick U-turn and gave Bisciotti a ride. “I turned just like a kid with hands stuck in the cookie jar.” … Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi has received some reps at the rush outside linebacker position early in camp. The 2016 third-round pick from Brigham Young has played little in his first two NFL seasons and is on the roster bubble this summer.

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Amid many doubts, Flacco trying to win the only way he can

Posted on 22 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In many ways, Joe Flacco can’t win at this point.

The writing appears to be on the wall with the Ravens drafting a quarterback in the first round, even if former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson needs some seasoning. Despite the proclamations of Flacco still being the franchise guy, an organization wanting to win now isn’t using two second-round picks to trade up to the 32nd overall selection simply for a better backup or someone seen as a project.

Even Flacco’s biggest supporters must acknowledge the need for him to show meaningful improvement after a third consecutive lackluster season in which Baltimore once again missed the playoffs and he finished dead last among qualified passers in yards per attempt. Some fans and critics are already clamoring for Jackson and will even louder at the first hint of trouble for the 11th-year quarterback and a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season.

On the flip side, a Flacco renaissance will be chalked up by many solely to Jackson’s arrival motivating the former Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. And even if Flacco does play better, he might still receive the Alex Smith treatment next offseason as Kansas City traded its Pro Bowl quarterback in March to clear the way for 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.

Is the rookie’s presence the reason why some see more of a bounce in Flacco’s step this offseason?

“I don’t know. Does it matter what I say?” said Flacco as he smiled. “I think you guys will probably link it to Lamar anyway.”

It’s human nature in any line of work to feel more urgency when your employer hires a threat to your job, but perhaps he’s pleased with the organization making more than its typical halfhearted effort — at times, less than that — to improve the offensive side of the ball. Much is made about Flacco’s expensive price tag while the front office has frequently received a pass for investing resource after resource after resource into a defense that’s still come up too small in defining moments of the last five years.

Flacco’s hefty contract may justify more free-agent dollars going toward the defense in recent years, but using all but four of 17 total picks in the first three rounds of the 2013-17 drafts on defense was asking a quarterback to do more with less than anyone in the NFL. Exactly one of those four offensive picks (left tackle Ronnie Stanley) has made a lasting impact while the other three are either gone (tight end Crockett Gillmore) or likely soon on their way out the door (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams).

So little cheap labor with upside in addition to few impact free agents on his side of the ball for years, but it’s still all about his contract in the minds of many.

That the free-agent additions of wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead — three players all coming off down seasons — and the early-round selections of tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are viewed as a Herculean effort speaks to the lukewarm commitment to building a good offense since Super Bowl XLVII. These offseason additions still don’t make Baltimore anywhere close to a top 10 offense on paper, but they at least bring a more diverse skill set to the passing game to give Flacco a better chance to succeed in this make-or-break year.

“I know we brought in a lot of pieces, a lot of draft picks to help him do that,” said Snead, who has shown early chemistry with Flacco and caught a combined 141 passes in his first two seasons with New Orleans. “I think that’s all he needed — weapons. I think it’s all on him now to be able to make those plays, which I know he can.”

Perhaps even more important than the possibility of improved weapons is the veteran quarterback’s health. Flacco is another year removed from his 2015 knee injury and appears to be over the back injury that cost him all of last summer and hindered him well into the 2017 regular season.

Asked this past week to reflect on how challenging it was to step right into Week 1 last year after missing all of training camp and the preseason, Flacco still wasn’t interested in making excuses for his poor numbers. After registering just eight touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, a 72.7 passer rating, and just 5.3 yards per attempt over the first nine games of 2017, the Delaware product posted 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, an 89.1 passer rating, and 6.2 yards per attempt the rest of the way.

But it wasn’t enough to get the Ravens back to the postseason for the first time since 2014 or to prevent general manager Ozzie Newsome from drafting his likely successor.

“Hey, I wish we went out there last year and made the playoffs and won more games and wouldn’t have to deal with it,” Flacco said. “I wouldn’t have to deal with answering stuff, questions like that about making excuses and not getting that part of camp. That’s all in hindsight and it’s not the most ideal situation, but we should have made it work.”

The most observable difference with Flacco this spring and summer has been his mobility as his movement within the pocket has been more fluid and he’s looked faster on those rare occasions when he takes off running. That’s a reflection of better health and the arrival of new quarterbacks coach James Urban, who has emphasized improving his footwork that has slacked in recent seasons. No one ever accused Flacco of being a mobile quarterback, but better movement will be key with the Ravens trying to incorporate more run-pass options this season, another harbinger of Jackson.

With Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda not practicing on Sunday, Flacco effectively stepped up in the pocket and moved his feet in response to constant pressure from the defensive front, even taking off once or twice to gain positive yardage.

“Many of those subtle movements are important, and once again he looks really healthy,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who estimated that a quarterback must deviate from his designed drop roughly half the time. “If you remember now, it’s been a couple years since he’s been healthy. He was really a fine, fine athlete [before the injuries], and he is a fine, fine athlete, especially for his size.”

Doubts surrounding his future will remain as Flacco is set to carry a $26.5 million cap figure with an $18.5 million base salary in 2019. Short of him being selected to his first Pro Bowl or making a deep playoff run, the Ravens may choose to move on from their longtime quarterback next offseason, especially if the gifted Jackson looks like the real deal in his development.

But Flacco has every intention of silencing such talk and at least delaying what many see as the inevitable in the only way he can — on the field.

“I think we’re going to win,” said Flacco, exuding the same confidence he had six years ago when he bet on himself as a pending free agent and led the Ravens to a championship. “And we’re not going to hear about it.”

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Ravens light along offensive line in first padded practice of summer

Posted on 22 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Conducting their first padded practice of the summer, the Ravens were without their two best offensive linemen on Sunday.

As six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda continues working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery on the physically unable to perform list, third-year left tackle Ronnie Stanley was also absent from Sunday’s workout, leaving an undermanned offensive line to struggle against Baltimore’s defensive front for much of the day. It’s unclear why Stanley was not practicing as 2017 fifth-round pick and reserve guard Jermaine Eluemunor moved outside to fill in at left tackle.

“He’s got the skill certainly and the ability and the skill set to play tackle,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. “He’s certainly a big, thick man, so that’s unusual because he has the feet to play tackle. I think he will be a very good guard as well. We’re trying to utilize him at different positions.”

Tight end Hayden Hurst (soft-tissue injury), defensive end Brent Urban (foot), linebacker Kenny Young (undisclosed), cornerback Bennett Jackson (undisclosed), and offensive lineman Greg Senat (undisclosed) were also absent from Sunday’s workout. Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg) remain with Yanda on the active PUP list.

Head coach John Harbaugh continued to slow-play the participation level of a number of key veterans, but starting quarterback Joe Flacco took part in his first full practice of camp and took extensive reps during 11-on-11 periods of practice. Flacco had been excused from the field early with other veterans on Thursday and Friday, leaving rookie Lamar Jackson and veteran newcomer Robert Griffin III to take more reps with the first-team offensive line over the first two days of workouts.

“It looks like he’s moving and grooving better than he has in several years,” said Mornhinweg about Flacco, “and I suppose that’s because he’s healthy. He looks pretty good that way.”

The veteran trio of Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead were once again held out of full-team periods of practice, leaving Chris Moore and Tim White to stand out among a younger group of wide receivers. Moore made a couple of leaping catches, including one he corralled with one hand and ultimately secured while going to the ground.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on opening of training camp

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first full-squad workout on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much has been made about the risks of a longer training camp, but John Harbaugh believes it provides the opportunity to extend the normal three-day acclimation period to try to curtail early-camp injuries. We’ll see how it works out, but easing key veterans into action certainly makes sense.

2. With Joe Flacco conducting off-site passing sessions with his receivers last week, when do the playoff tickets go on sale? In seriousness, there’s no downside to doing it and the optics are favorable, but I’ve always filed this over-discussed topic more into the eyewash department than anything moving the meter.

3. You could have made good money if you’d wagered last December that Jimmy Smith would be taking part in 11-on-11 drills on the first day of training camp. The oft-injured cornerback turns 30 next week and enters a critical season as he carries a $16.175 million cap figure in 2019.

4. Harbaugh wouldn’t confirm ESPN’s report that the organization will pay Breshad Perriman his $649,485 roster bonus, but the 2015 first-round pick practiced Thursday and drew groans from fans when he dropped a routine pass during an individual drill. As I wrote recently, the Ravens hate giving up on early picks.

5. Inside linebacker depth behind C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor is a concern with Albert McClellan coming off an ACL injury and Bam Bradley’s return from his own ACL tear not imminent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore explore a veteran addition, especially if Kenny Young is slow to develop.

6. It appears Matt Skura will get the first chance to nail down the starting center job. His 12 starts at right guard last year provided valuable experience, but he must prove he can be physical enough and won’t lose ground as a pass blocker up the middle.

7. Tony Jefferson labeled last year a learning experience and believes new defensive coordinator Don Martindale will effectively use his strength of playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Dean Pees didn’t always use Jefferson correctly, but the high-priced safety still needs to show much more this year.

8. Maxx Williams made a nice sideline catch off a Jefferson tip during an 11-on-11 session on Thursday. With rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the picture and Nick Boyle a better blocker, the 2015 second-round pick needs a strong and healthy summer to maintain his roster spot.

9. One of Thursday’s highlight defensive plays was Chuck Clark intercepting a Lamar Jackson pass that either went off Hurst’s hands or was tipped by Tavon Young in tight coverage. Clark could push Anthony Levine for dime snaps, especially with the latter missing much of the offseason with a foot injury.

10. Alex Collins being a veteran excused from practice early a year after he was cut by Seattle was surprising, but it speaks to the need to keep the undersized back fresh. After playing at 200 pounds last year, he’s carrying five extra pounds to see how his body responds.

11. The other quarterbacks in camp receive all the attention, but Josh Woodrum threw a beautiful deep touchdown to DeVier Posey in an 11-on-11 drill. I’ll set the over-under on my remaining mentions of Woodrum this summer at 3.5.

12. Speaking of quarterbacks, seeing Flacco, Jackson, and even Robert Griffin III throw the football reminds me how painful it was to watch Ryan Mallett with Flacco sidelined all last summer. It’s no wonder the passing game was an utter disaster over the first half of the 2017 season.

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