Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2017 Ravens roster

Posted on 20 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp in the rear-view mirror and training camp several weeks away, the Ravens now turn their sights toward the preseason and eventually paring the 90-man offseason to 53 by the start of the regular season.

Few conclusions should be drawn from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — without live contact — but my still-too-early look at the roster suggests as many as 38 players would be considered locks if the deadline to trim the roster took place now. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the roster lists 24 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some positions lacking enough quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or cornerbacks or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other abilities and overall athleticism in addition to what they bring to their specific position when filling out the bottom of the roster.

Of course, this breakdown can change at any point with owner Steve Bisciotti even expressing his desire earlier this month to add a veteran to an offensive line that lost two starters in the offseason.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. As we move into the preseason, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Dustin Vaughan
Skinny: All eyes will be on Flacco to provide more consistent play being another year removed from his 2015 knee injury. The fact that the Ravens didn’t even give Vaughan a special non-contact quarterback jersey this spring suggests he’s not a real threat to Mallett for the backup job.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon
BUBBLE: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
LONG SHOT: Ricky Ortiz, Taquan Mizzell
Skinny: Taliaferro is an intriguing option at fullback if he stays healthy, but keep an eye on Ortiz if that doesn’t happen. Allen is the most interesting bubble name to watch in this group as he could have a tough time sticking on the roster, especially once Dixon returns from a four-game ban in October.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
LOCK: Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Tim White, Kenny Bell, Tim Patrick, Aaron Bailey, C.J. Board, Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The top four are clearly defined, but there will likely be one or two more spots up for grabs, making it a big summer for the likes of Campanaro and Reynolds. Special teams will be a major factor here, and it’s worth noting that White showed some ability as a returner this spring.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller, Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams
LONG SHOT: Vince Mayle, Ryan Malleck
Skinny: Depending on whom you ask, the lack of a lock here is a reflection of a deep and talented group or of an inventory having too many question marks. Health will be the biggest determining factor, and Williams is a strong candidate to start the summer on the physically unable to perform list.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Nico Siragusa
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, Matt Skura, Stephane Nembot
LONG SHOT: Brandon Kublanow, Jarell Broxton, Jarrod Pughsley, Roubbens Joseph, Maurquice Shakir
Skinny: The addition of a veteran center or right tackle could push any combination of Urschel, Jensen, and Hurst to the bubble line, but those three of easily received the most first-team reps in trying to replace Jeremy Zuttah and Rick Wagner. It’s difficult to trust this group as it’s presently constructed.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Willie Henry
LONG SHOT: Patrick Ricard
Skinny: Davis was lining up as the starting 3-technique defensive tackle to begin OTAs, but a pectoral injury once again leaves you wondering about his ability to stay on the field. Urban is a surprising lock at this stage of the offseason, but he handled virtually all 5-technique reps with the first team.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Albert McClellan
BUBBLE: Patrick Onwuasor, Lamar Louis
LONG SHOT: Boseko Lokombo, Bam Bradley, Donald Payne
Skinny: Onwuasor would be a good bet after shining on special teams as a rookie, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens add a veteran to the mix if Correa struggles in the preseason. There’s a clear opportunity here for the lesser names in this position group to earn a roster spot.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Za’Darius Smith, Brennen Beyer
LONG SHOT: Randy Allen
Skinny: This is a critical summer for Smith after he disappointed in his second season and fell behind Judon in the pecking order, but playing time is up for grabs off the edge, especially with Suggs turning 35 in October. Beyer has worked some as an inside linebacker to improve his roster chances.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady, Brandon Boykin, Sheldon Price
LONG SHOT: Robertson Daniel, Jaylen Hill, Al-Hajj Shabazz
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: Canady could be viewed as a lock based on the way he practiced in the slot in place of the injured Young, but many corners have stood out in the spring before fading and Boykin isn’t far removed from being a solid nickel in the NFL. Despite the improved depth outside, don’t sleep on Price.

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Daniel Henry, Otha Foster
Skinny: The Ravens may have the best safety group in the AFC, which will make it challenging for the sixth-round rookie Clark to make the team. There’s potential to be creative with Weddle, Jefferson, and Webb all on the field at the same time, so it will be interesting watching their usage this summer.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kenny Allen
Skinny: There’s no roster intrigue with this group, but Allen only needs to look at the success of Wil Lutz with New Orleans last year as evidence to soak up as much knowledge and experience as he can from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and the incumbent specialists this summer.

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Flacco excited to have Maclin, would also welcome Decker

Posted on 13 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco said two months ago that he didn’t believe the Ravens needed to sign a wide receiver after the early waves of free agency had come and gone without an addition.

The quarterback was understandably expressing confidence in a group of young options that included 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore, but we all knew the truth about what the offense still lacked. A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl wideout Jeremy Maclin on a two-year contract worth a reported $11 million, Flacco acknowledged it being a game-changing addition for the passing game.

The Ravens are confident that the 29-year-old will rebound from an injury-plagued 2016 in which he caught just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games and look more like the versatile target who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015. Doing so would make him the latest veteran receiver to enjoy a renaissance in Baltimore, joining the likes of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, and, most recently, Mike Wallace.

“Anytime you can add a good player, it helps your team,” said Flacco, a southern New Jersey native who first met Maclin when he played in Philadelphia earlier in his career. “I think we have a lot of guys out there competing, and putting him in that room will just up that ante a little bit.”

In fact, if it were up to the 10th-year quarterback, the stakes could still be raised higher. Asked about reports of the Ravens still being interested in former New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, Flacco praised a track record that includes three 1,000-yard seasons, two of them coming while playing with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver.

With the Ravens having lost roughly half of their receiving production from a year ago with wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, tight end Dennis Pitta, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk no longer on the roster, you can hardly blame Flacco for welcoming the possibility of adding another weapon. Of course, what precious salary-cap space that remains for the Ravens might be better spent adding a veteran offensive lineman before the start of the regular season.

Decker’s ability to work in the slot and to make catches on third down to move the chains would give the Ravens something they lost with Pitta’s third catastrophic hip injury and release earlier this month.

“Eric would be a great guy, too, especially [after] losing Dennis Pitta and getting a guy who can go inside, go outside and can run and separate and do a lot of those things,” Flacco said. “I think Marty Mornhinweg was probably with him up in New York when he was there. He’s been a great receiver, and he’s played with some good quarterbacks.”

Of course, Maclin’s addition is expected to alter the projected role for Perriman, who has been working as a starter opposite the speedy veteran Wallace in spring workouts. It will be interesting to see how the talented 23-year-old responds to having more veteran competition atop the depth chart after it looked like he might have a largely uncontested path to a starting role.

Flacco has seen much growth in Perriman from last year when they often weren’t on the same page. If the passing game is to thrive after finishing 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt in 2016, the young receiver needs to make meaningful strides to at least complement Maclin and Wallace.

“You can just see the confidence in his eyes. That’s the first thing,” Flacco said. “Then, when you go out there, it’s kind of back to how I felt probably the first couple of practices his rookie year when he was running by people, and you could tell he had something. He’s back at that level running, and his confidence is at an all-time high.”

With Maclin arriving in Owings Mills Tuesday and expected to be on the field for the second day of mandatory minicamp, the entire Ravens offense should also be feeling more confident with another accomplished receiver now part of the equation.

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Ravens land veteran wide receiver Maclin with two-year deal

Posted on 12 June 2017 by Luke Jones

It took longer than most envisioned at the start of the offseason, but the Ravens have finally landed a coveted veteran wide receiver.

Just a few days after a productive visit in Owings Mills, Jeremy Maclin agreed to a two-year deal and will fly to Baltimore to sign his contract on Tuesday morning, just in time for the start of a three-day mandatory minicamp. Released by Kansas City as a salary-cap casualty on June 2, the 29-year-old also visited Buffalo last week and told the Ravens he wanted more time to make a decision before leaving the team’s training facility without a deal on Friday afternoon.

Maclin was recruited on social media by Ravens safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson with the latter hosting the free agent for an NBA Finals viewing party with several other Ravens players last Thursday.

The 6-foot, 198-pound Maclin is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 in which he set career lows in catches (44), receiving yards (536), and touchdown receptions (two) while battling a groin ailment, but he enjoyed the best two seasons of his career just before that. His career-best 1,318 receiving yards with Philadelphia in 2014 prompted the Chiefs to sign him to a lucrative five-year, $55 million deal, and Maclin responded by collecting a career-high 87 catches with 1,088 receiving yards in 2015.

A first-round pick of the Eagles in 2009, Maclin has recorded at least 60 catches and 800 receiving yards in five of his seven active NFL seasons. He missed the entire 2013 campaign with a torn ACL suffered early in training camp.

Players no longer on the roster accounted for 53 percent of the Ravens’ receptions and 49.7 percent of their receiving yards a year ago as the offense struggled to produce consistently. This reality made it clear that general manager Ozzie Newsome needed to do more than simply hope that 2015 first-round wide receiver Breshad Perriman and a deep inventory of tight ends would emerge to replace the likes of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Kamar Aiken. Baltimore did not select a wide receiver in the draft for the first time since 2009, creating even more angst within the fan base.

Pitta’s unfortunate hip re-injury and subsequent release earlier this month made it even more critical for the Ravens to add an experienced threat for quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens’ projected top receiving trio of Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Perriman should provide more than enough speed with Maclin also offering the route-running ability and toughness to play in the slot and work the intermediate portion of the field. Baltimore has also shown interest in soon-to-be-released New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker — an ESPN report said his addition was still a possibility despite Maclin’s signing — but it would be difficult to fit both veterans under an already-tight salary cap.

Maclin has registered 474 receptions, 6,395 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns in his NFL career.

The next question will be whether Newsome adds a veteran offensive lineman after starting right tackle Rick Wagner departed via free agency and starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded this offseason. The Ravens have rotated the trio of Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Matt Skura at the starting center spot while fourth-year veteran James Hurst has worked as the first-team right tackle during spring workouts.

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With Pitta chapter closed, Ravens must find out about tight end inventory

Posted on 09 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have prepared for this reality for a few years now.

Long before Dennis Pitta surprised us all by returning to the football field to lead all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions in 2016, general manager Ozzie Newsome had taken significant steps to replace him. And with the veteran sadly suffering a third dislocation of his right hip in a four-year period last week — prompting his release on Wednesday — the time is now for the Ravens to find out about their extensive inventory of tight ends.

To call it depth would be presumptuous since all five carry enough baggage to make it difficult to handicap a favorite for the top of the depth chart going into the start of training camp next month.

Benjamin Watson has caught four times as many passes in his career as Baltimore’s four other tight ends combined, but the 36-year-old is coming off a torn Achilles tendon and won’t be fully cleared to return to action until later this summer. His leadership and experience will be valued in meeting rooms and on the practice field in training camp, but whether he has anything left in the tank is a critical question for a veteran player scheduled to make a $3 million base salary for 2017.

Crockett Gillmore has been the most productive of the young tight ends on the roster, but the 2014 third-round pick has missed 13 of the Ravens’ last 20 games since emerging as the starter in 2015 with 33 receptions for 412 yards and four touchdowns over 10 contests. His rare combination of blocking ability and productive hands is enticing, but Gillmore must prove he can stay on the field. Even during Thursday’s voluntary workout in Owings Mills, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound specimen left the field with what appeared to be some type of injury.

The Ravens envisioned Maxx Williams having the most upside of any of their current tight ends when they traded up in the second round of the 2015 draft to take him, but the Minnesota product did not register a catch in four games last season before undergoing a mysterious knee surgery that no other NFL player has had, according to head coach John Harbaugh. A rookie campaign of 32 receptions and a touchdown in 14 games was respectable given the typical learning curve for tight ends entering the league, but how could anyone possibly know what to expect from the 23-year-old Williams before he returns to the practice field later this summer?

Nick Boyle might be the safest bet to secure no worse than a complementary role with his blocking skills and underrated hands, but the 2015 fifth-round selection from Delaware has twice been suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and is a strike away from a two-year ban. Despite a steady 24 receptions for 197 yards over his 17 career games as a backup, Boyle’s past doesn’t exactly breed trust to include him in any long-term plans.

And that brings us to Darren Waller, a 2015 sixth-round pick who was converted from wide receiver to tight end last year and easily has the most athleticism and speed in the group. After serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy to begin 2016, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Waller caught 10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He flashed potential from time to time, but that’s not enough production over 12 games for him to shed the “experiment” label at his new position.

The emergence of at least one or two of the aforementioned names is even more critical this season with the Ravens still lacking a trustworthy short-to-intermediate receiver for quarterback Joe Flacco in the passing game. Baltimore offenses have historically been at their best with a go-to tight end such as Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap, or Pitta there to move the chains on third down and to shine in the red zone.

As unfortunate as the latest news was about Pitta, the Ravens believe they are prepared for it with a process that began more than two years ago. Pitta’s unexpected return in 2016 offered a one-year safety net with the rest of the group dealing with injuries or suspensions, but his release earlier this week signals the official end of an era.

Now the Ravens will learn whether some of that inventory turns into real depth for a roster with playoff aspirations but with significant questions on the offensive side of the ball.

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Notes and observations from Ravens’ second week of OTAs

Posted on 02 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Ravens cornerback Tavon Young’s torn ACL Thursday was the latest reminder that the only substantial news to come from spring workouts is typically negative in nature.

Sure, many have gushed about how third-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman has looked this spring, but the significance of Young’s injury outweighs anything else happening on the field as players practice in helmets, jerseys, and shorts. Injuries can occur whether a player is participating in voluntary organized team activities or working out on his own, but you hate seeing an important member of the defense lost for the season several weeks before training camp even begins.

The silver lining is that this unfortunate development comes more than three months before the start of the regular season, giving the Ravens ample time to evaluate and figure out what they want to do at the nickel spot. Veteran Brandon Carr and first-round pick Marlon Humphrey are outside corners and wouldn’t appear to be suited to play inside, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Chris Hewitt have time to experiment with different alignments and evaluate young options like Maurice Canady, who had three interceptions in Thursday’s practice and showed some swagger playing with the first-team nickel defense after Young was helped off the field.

At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, Canady doesn’t look the part of a traditional slot corner, but his size would be useful inside if he can show the necessary footwork and quickness to stick with shiftier receivers. Of course, reserve safety and onetime cornerback Lardarius Webb may also fit into the nickel picture, but you’d like to be able to use him in deep center field if the Ravens have visions of being creative with new safety Tony Jefferson and using the dime package more often.

** Young wasn’t the only Ravens player to go down with an injury recently as wide receiver Michael Campanaro and defensive tackle Carl Davis were missing from Thursday’s practice.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, Campanaro will be out for “a little while” with a sprained toe. Harbaugh said that it wasn’t serious, but toe ailments are tricky for any player, let alone a slot receiver who relies on his sudden change of direction. It’s unfortunately the latest ailment for a talented player who has never been able to stay on the field for an extended period of time.

Davis, who lined up as the 3-technique defensive tackle with the starting defense last week, is dealing with a strained pectoral muscle, but Harbaugh said he will return to practice soon. In his absence, Michael Pierce was lining up at the nose with Brandon Williams moving to the 3-technique spot.

Cornerback Sheldon Price was helped inside after bumping his head during practice and was being evaluated for a concussion.

Others not participating in Thursday’s OTA included Webb, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Carlos Davis (lower leg), linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley (offseason shoulder surgery), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (offseason shoulder surgery) and Jarell Broxton, and tight ends Benjamin Watson (Achilles tendon), Max Williams (knee), and Darren Waller. Continuing to be held out of voluntary workouts, Suggs was once again in the building and has been a consistent presence in Owings Mills this spring.

** The starting offensive line displayed a new wrinkle as John Urschel worked at center and Ryan Jensen played right guard after their positions were flipped last week.

“Both of those guys are taking reps at center,” said Harbaugh, who noted that 2016 practice-squad member Matt Skura is also in the mix. “They are both going to have to play center and guard. Most of those guys inside do play all three positions. Marshal plays center. I do not know if you knew that, but he is kind of an emergency center.”

** It’s interesting to note that quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t been wearing his left knee brace in the two OTA workouts open to media after saying earlier this spring that he would continue wearing one. It may just be because these are non-contact workouts — though it’s not uncommon for an overzealous young lineman to forget that from time to time — but Flacco wore the brace for every practice that wasn’t a walk-through last season.

Thursday wasn’t the best day for the veteran signal-caller as he threw multiple interceptions. One did come on a pass bouncing off the hands of second-year wideout Chris Moore.

** Veteran running back Danny Woodhead had a good day as a receiver out of the backfield, making an impressive one-handed catch and showing good agility. The early reviews have been positive for a 32-year-old coming off a major knee injury, but durability will be a question as he’s played in just 21 games over the last three seasons.

** Lorenzo Taliaferro appears to be working exclusively as a fullback, which should help his cause to make the 53-man roster with so many tailbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. He and undrafted rookie fullback Ricky Ortiz worked off to the side from the running backs in individual drills Thursday.

** Perriman offered Humphrey a reminder of the speed he’ll see at the next level, beating the rookie cornerback inside on a slant for a short completion and blowing past the rest of the defense for a long touchdown.

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Revamped Ravens defense better live up to expectations

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stayed true to their board, but that doesn’t change reality after going defense with their first four picks of the 2017 draft.

This is an unbalanced roster with the heaviest lifting of the offseason now in the books. Yes, general manager Ozzie Newsome reminded us again Saturday that the Ravens aren’t done building this year’s team, but there are only so many viable free agents still out there to move the meter in any meaningful way. Right now, Baltimore has a below-average offense that’s going to be difficult to improve dramatically without some substantial improvement from players already on the roster.

The Ravens may still add Nick Mangold or bring back Anquan Boldin, but there’s a reason why they’re still out there. They’re not “Plan A” guys anymore.

Of the seven Ravens players selected in the first three rounds over the last two drafts, just one — left tackle Ronnie Stanley — was an offensive player. It’s difficult to improve on that side of the ball if you’re not spending free-agent dollars or investing early draft picks, which will make life more difficult for quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as they will likely lean on unproven talent at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

Asked about the state of his offense after the first wave of free agency last month that included lucrative contracts for nose tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson and another deal for cornerback Brandon Carr, Newsome fairly pointed to the draft as the way to build the rest of the roster. But the Ravens came away with fourth-round guard prospect Nico Siragusa and fifth-round developmental right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor as their only picks for that side of the ball.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Ravens should have reached to draft offensive players purely out of need as they did appear to get good value with their picks, but the 2017 draft being so rich in defensive talent was a reason why the offense should have been a bigger focus in free agency. The outcome is an offense that’s lost a starting wide receiver, a starting right tackle, a starting center, and a Pro Bowl fullback and has netted only 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead and two Day 3 offensive linemen.

Which side of the ball had its coordinator fired again last year?

Like it or not, the Ravens prioritized building a great defense above anything else this offseason. The unit collapsed down the stretch in 2016, but the primary cause of that was the absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith as John Harbaugh’s team went 2-5 in games in which he missed meaningful time.

When Smith was on the field, the Ravens had a strong defense despite an underwhelming pass rush. And even with the resources used in both free agency and the draft to revamp the secondary and the pass rush, Smith’s availability remains arguably the biggest key for defensive success.

On paper, the Ravens defense does look better than the 2016 edition, but it will need to be great — possibly even special — to justify the use of so many resources and to make up for an offense with a ton of question marks. Taking that kind of a leap is no sure thing, especially in the modern NFL that is geared toward offense.

Will some combination of the pass-rushing group of Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams be ready to step up with Terrell Suggs set to turn 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster? Is first-round rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey going to be ready to play at a high level if Smith goes down again for some period of time? Can Kamalei Correa hold down the inside linebacker spot vacated by the retired Zach Orr? Will defensive coordinator Dean Pees use so many new pieces effectively and maximize their versatility?

The excitement for the defense is understandable with so much youth and potential at every level, but remember there isn’t a 25-year-old Ray Lewis leading this group before waxing nostalgic about replicating the 2000 Ravens. Even if we’re looking for a more contemporary comparison — it’s a different game than it was nearly two decades ago — the 2015 Denver Broncos had a generational talent in Von Miller and two 1,000-yard receivers on the other side of the ball.

A winning blueprint leaning so heavily on defense is very difficult to execute.

But it’s where the Ravens find themselves after free agency and the draft.

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Back to the future – recap of Baltimore Ravens 2017 NFL Draft

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Dennis Koulatsos

After the Baltimore Ravens selected Chuck Clark with their last selection in the 6th round of the 2017 NFL draft, the vision that the front office and scouting staff had for the 2017 season began to come into focus.  Clark – a defensive back from Virginia Tech – was one of 5 picks for the defense versus 2 for the offense.  In fact Joe Flacco, Marty Mornhinweg and company had to wait until day 3 of the draft before hearing an offensive player’s name called.

Based on Joe Flacco’s performance last year, his penchant for the untimely turnover, coupled with the defense’s inability to hold a 4th quarter lead in 4 November and December games, led to the defensive windfall. It looks to me that they will try to do all they can to “Dilferize” the offense, limiting turnovers, and relying on the defense and special teams to win games.  They will put a premium on field position, and they will scrap the zone blocking scheme for one that is of the  power blocking hat on hat variety.

Justin Tucker will take over the role that Matt Stover had in 2000.  The 4 defensive players (the Ravens took 5 but I do not expect Chuck Clark to make the team) will have to have an immediate impact, as will newly signed free agents Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr.  Of course this defense will not be anywhere near as good as the historically good 2000 version was, but it should be dramatically better than last year’s which couldn’t hold a lead.

Georgia’s Tuys Bowser (2nd round pick) and Alabama’s Tim Williams (3rd round pick) will both get opportunities to rush QBs from the edge, while Michigan’s Chris Wormley will see playing time at defensive tackle as a 5-technique end (lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle).  First round pick Marlon Humphrey will see get some valuable time early in the season, in case Jimmy Smith’s legs do not hold up as has been the case the past two years.

The Ravens also selected guard Nico Siragusa (absolutely no relation to Tony – although how great is it going to be to yell “Goooooooose” at M&T Bank once again:) a huge guard out of San Diego State in the 3rd round, and fellow guard Jermaine Eluemunor out of Texas A&M.  Eluemunor was told he was going to compete for the right tackle position, presumably against holdovers De’Ondre Wesley, Stephane Nembot and James Hurst.

Siragusa in particular is very intriguing.  He is a mauling guard who excels at pulling and blowing up defenders are the line of scrimmage as well as turning up field.  The fingerprints of new run coordinator Greg Roman are already evident. This team will employ a similar power running scheme that the 49ers used effectively back in 2012, when they played the Ravens in the Super Bowl.  It is a scheme that allows offensive linemen to pin their ears back and fire off of the ball.

The key is going to be who’s going to start on the offensive line and how quickly it comes together. Perhaps the Ravens will sign former Jet Nick Mangold to anchor that line from the center position, or maybe former Duke center Matt Skura – with one year in an NFL weight room – has progressed enough to man the position.

The Ravens have enough running backs to get the job done. Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, Buck Allen, Ken Dixon and Stephen Houston are all solid between the tackles, and Danny Woodhead offers the team a great change of pace back as well as a third down threat. This scheme also requires a fullback that’s very much an anvil, and currently they don’t have one on the roster.  Moving TE Nick Boyle (6’4, 265 pounds) may be an option, but look for the Ravens to be very active in the undrafted free agent market for a couple of stout blocking fullbacks.

In the NFL if you run the ball effectively, if you don’t turn it over, and if you have a great defense and special teams you will win a lot more than you lose. It is a formula that worked in 2000 and it looks like the Ravens brass are hedging their bets that it will also work in 2017.

I was also thinking about titling this blog “Saving Joe Flacco from himself.”  That’s what the Cowboys did with Tony Romo a few years ago.  They put a huge offensive line around him, and then they had DeMarco Murray run in excess of 400 times behind it.  The end result was a 12-4 record, and after three successive 8-8 seasons they finally made the playoffs.

Joe Flacco does not need to put the ball up 40-50 times a game.  That’s a formula for disaster.  The Ravens need to run the ball effectively.  This way the safeties come up in the box, the cornerbacks come closer to the line of scrimmage, and then Flacco can do some serious damage.  Plus he’s always been a “chunk” quarterback.  He has a big arm and he is not wired for a West Coast offense.  He excels when the Ravens are running the ball effectively (as they did in 2102 with Ray Rice), where he can plant his feet and let if fly downfield.

The last thing is that the Ravens final roster is nowhere near complete.  There will be the June 1 cuts, and there will be several veteran players available that can help the team. No need to panic at this time that there are no clear starters at inside linebacker next to CJ Mosley, or at right tackle and center.  The Ravens will address all of those needs well before the pre-season commences.

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Flacco unfazed by lack of offseason additions to Ravens offense so far

Posted on 19 April 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s no secret that the Ravens have invested heavily in revamping their defense this offseason while an offense that was below average in 2016 has been forced to wait.

With 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead being the only free-agent addition and right tackle Rick Wagner, wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and center Jeremy Zuttah no longer on the roster, you could understand if Joe Flacco felt anxious, especially when a theme from the Ravens brass’ season-ending press conference was a desire to see better play from the veteran quarterback. But Flacco expressed little concern when asked about the holes that remain on his side of the ball with the NFL draft only a week away.

“It’s the NFL. We have a lot of good guys around here that we are focused on getting better and going out and winning football games with,” Flacco said. “I never really expect too much to happen in the offseason, and whatever does happen, happens. I have been around long enough to know that guys change teams and you get new guys and that can happen all the way up to the time the season starts. You never know.”

Flacco expressing confidence in the players currently on the roster is hardly surprising — it’s the appropriate public stance to take — but two openings on the offensive line and the lack of an intermediate receiver don’t exactly inspire confidence for a team trying to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

So, if the 32-year-old signal-caller isn’t concerned, has he at least approached general manager Ozzie Newsome with suggestions regarding a particular free agent or a positional need?

“If they ask my opinion, then I will give it to them,” said Flacco, who acknowledged hope that the Ravens would bring back former teammate Torrey Smith before he signed with Philadelphia last month. “But I don’t necessarily go up there and push one way or another. Obviously, there are certain things that I can feel strongly about.”

Asked about the possibility of the Ravens bringing back veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Flacco chose his words carefully while acknowledging that he had a great on-field relationship with the 36-year-old and that he could still help any team.

Reiterating his confidence in his current teammates, Flacco even went as far as saying he doesn’t think that the Ravens need another wide receiver.

“I think we have a lot of young, talented guys that are ready to make a name for themselves and are going to work really hard this offseason to get that done,” Flacco said. “Whenever you have guys that are working really hard and you have that camaraderie out here and everyone is looking to get better, you are just developing relationships. I think that is all going to help when we get to the field.”

It would be tough to fathom the Ravens not adding another wideout between now and the start of the season, but the organization is clearly counting on 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore to take steps forward this season. Veteran receiver Mike Wallace went out of his way to express his belief that Moore will surprise observers this season despite catching only seven passes as a rookie.

As for the draft, Flacco hasn’t watched any tape of the top prospects, but he did receive some unique perspective on Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis, who was a teammate of Flacco’s brother Tom. Considered one of the top three receiver prospects in the draft along with Clemson’s Mike Williams and Washington’s John Ross, Davis visited with the Ravens earlier this week and would bring the intermediate skill set that they currently lack at the position.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior and finished his collegiate career with over 5,000 receiving yards and 52 touchdown receptions.

“My brother said, ‘Listen, this is all I know, but he was at another level,’” Flacco said. “He was a really good player. He thought he had really good hands. He thought he was really strong; he could run really well. That is all he knows, but he could definitely tell the difference between him and the guys he was seeing week to week.”

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Ravens open 2017 voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 18 April 2017 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Ravens players officially began preparations for the 2017 season on Tuesday, reporting to Owings Mills for the start of the voluntary offseason workout program.

Of course, most players have been working out on their own for weeks, but this is the first time in which team activities were allowed to be conducted at the practice facility. The first phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and involves strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. The coaching staff is not allowed to lead players in on-field workouts during this opening part of the offseason program.

This part of the offseason program is officially voluntary, but most players — especially younger ones — are expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Wednesday with quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith, safety Eric Weddle, and wide receiver Mike Wallace scheduled to talk, but photos and video released by the team on Tuesday showed a great number of players in attendance for the first day. That list included Flacco, Smith, Weddle, Wallace, Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Danny Woodhead, C.J. Mosley, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tavon Young, Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Breshad Perriman, Alex Lewis, Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst, Albert McClellan, Kamalei Correa, Anthony Levine, Brent Urban, Sam Koch, Michael Campanaro, Crockett Gillmore, Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, and Ryan Jensen.

The second phase of the program lasts three weeks and consists of on-field workouts that may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice. However, no live contact is permitted, and the offense and defense may not work against each other.

The final phase of the program permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are voluntary. No live contact is allowed, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills. Teams may also hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

The Ravens will also hold a rookie minicamp beginning May 5, the weekend after the 2017 NFL draft.

Below is the Ravens’ 2017 offseason training program schedule:

First Day: April 18
OTA offseason workouts: May 23-25, May 30-June 1, June 5-6, June 8-9
Mandatory minicamp: June 13-15

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Ravens offense waits as defense receives substantial facelift

Posted on 23 March 2017 by Luke Jones

During Brandon Carr’s press conference this week, Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees was recalling how he’d sent a text message to John Harbaugh after the latest defensive signing was made when the head coach interjected.

“I got a text from Marty [Mornhinweg], too, by the way,” said Harbaugh about his offensive coordinator. “He thought it was a good signing, too — just for the record. We’ve got some work to do over there, too.”

That’s an understatement as general manager Ozzie Newsome has spent lucrative dollars and most of his salary-cap space to revamp a defense that still finished in the top 10 of most significant statistical categories last season despite its well-documented problems down the stretch. Meanwhile, an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in virtually everything in 2016 has last four starters and has added only 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead, who is an intriguing talent but coming off a major knee injury.

Some have attempted to skew the 2016 narrative by pointing to a 27-point scoring output and the late defensive collapse in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day as justification for focusing on the defense this offseason, but that anecdotal evidence clouds the truth. The offense played at a high level only a few times all year while the defense — flawed as it was when cornerback Jimmy Smith wasn’t on the field — was the bigger reason why the Ravens were still in contention in Week 16. That’s not to say that improvements weren’t warranted on the defensive side — which still could use another edge rusher — but the offense was summarily broken all year and has only gotten worse since the season finale in Cincinnati. You can certainly be excited about the re-signing of nose tackle Brandon Williams and the additions of safety Tony Jefferson and Carr, but it’s fair to ask if some of those resources might have been better served addressing the offense.

To be clear, we know the start of the season is more than five months away, and Newsome and the Ravens are aware that they still have much work to do on that side of the ball. But with the first and second waves of free agency now in the books, Baltimore has fewer remaining channels — with the draft being the biggest one — to not only replace departed starters but find ways to markedly improve the offense. Of course, the margin for error is smaller without a dynamic offensive playmaker on which to lean.

Harbaugh sent a loud signal that the Ravens want to get back to running the ball at a high level by hiring senior offensive assistant and ground-game guru Greg Roman, but they need the horses in the trenches to do it. Otherwise, the offense will inevitably revert to Joe Flacco throwing more than 40 times per game, and we’ve seen how that’s worked out since Super Bowl XLVII.

The biggest objective must be to address the offensive line after the departure of right tackle Rick Wagner and the trade of center Jeremy Zuttah to San Francisco. Whether you believe Detroit overpaid for Wagner or not, replacing an above-average right tackle without meaningful drop-off will be very difficult unless new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has a trick up his sleeve.

Moving on from the underwhelming Zuttah wasn’t shocking, but they have to replace him with someone better or at least as good. There’s been little chatter about former New York Jet Nick Mangold to this point, and even if the Ravens eye a draft prospect such as Ethan Pocic from LSU, there are no guarantees of landing him in the second or third round. The Ravens could consider an internal candidate, but neither John Urschel nor Ryan Jensen inspire much confidence after their respective 2016 campaigns.

Finding a fullback to replace 2016 Pro Bowl selection Kyle Juszczyk shouldn’t be too difficult, but — like with Wagner — it may not be easy to do it without some drop-off.

Then, there’s wide receiver, that position we’ve discussed this time of year on an annual basis.

Baltimore lost its top two possessions receivers in Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken and elected not to sign any free-agent wideouts from a top tier that included Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor. Perhaps the next Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, or Smith will be acquired in the coming weeks, but one can only look to 2013 and 2015 as recent examples of the Ravens being underprepared at that position and it hurting them substantially. Even looking past the organization’s poor track record with drafting receivers, relying heavily on a rookie wideout is a risky proposition for any team.

You might be willing to give the Ravens the benefit of the doubt along the offensive line — after all, Wagner was mostly an unknown three years ago — but skepticism at wide receiver is justified, whether it’s March or September.

It’s been interesting to see how the offseason has played out to this point, starting with Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg as his offensive coordinator despite showing little improvement taking over for the fired Marc Trestman. The team’s brass spoke at length at the season-ending press conference about needing to do whatever it takes to help Flacco play better in 2017, but a below-average offense from a year ago is currently standing at a net loss, putting heavy pressure on the front office and scouting department to nail next month’s draft and to find an under-the-radar free agent or two while also hoping that internal options take significant steps forward.

Otherwise, the Ravens will be needing a 2000-like performance from its revamped defense to have a real shot at getting back to the playoffs in 2017.

Yes, there’s plenty of time left, but many boxes remain unchecked.

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