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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster after second preseason game

Posted on 14 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games in the books, it’s time to to examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current assessment suggests as many as 45 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar in talent who’s nearing the end of his rookie contract.

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, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones just making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 14.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Many are clamoring for Griffin to make the roster after his solid preseason thus far, but there are just too many talented players at other positions for the Ravens to keep a third quarterback for the first time since 2009. If you can’t trust Jackson to even be your backup and fill in for a game or two in the event of a Flacco injury, that’s not exactly an encouraging sign for his long-term development. Griffin is doing enough to show he belongs on a roster somewhere after sitting out the 2017 season.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, Gus Edwards
LONG SHOT: Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Ricard wouldn’t be a lock solely as a fullback or as a defensive lineman, but his ability to play both should land him on the roster without question. Dixon hasn’t done anything to quell concerns about his durability as he missed the first two preseason games and running backs coach Thomas Hammock even said he needs to get “his body right” to stay on the field. Edwards has impressed as an undrafted rookie, but I’d still predict only an outside addition would push Dixon off the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: History says a rookie fourth-rounder is a lock for the Baltimore roster, but Scott has done little to distinguish himself even compared to the fifth-round pick Lasley, who at least flashes and has grown as a special-teams player. White’s durability remains a question as he and Grant have more work to do to justify the Ravens keeping one as a return specialist. The eyeball test and lack of a special-teams role tell you Perriman is more of a long shot than a bubble guy, but he’s still a former first-round pick.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx Williams, Darren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: Williams certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick, but he’s the best blocker of the bubble trio, something to remember with the Ravens’ run-blocking schemes that frequently employ two-tight sets. Waller has well-documented upside, but he’s difficult to trust and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the coaching staff hide him in the preseason to try to sneak him onto the practice squad. Mayle is a good special-teams player, but his path to the roster looks pretty steep.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa, Greg Senat, Bradley Bozeman
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: These four bubble players carry intrigue, but none have separated themselves from the rest of the pack to nail down a roster spot. Eluemunor has the experience edge, and Siragusa being a 2017 fourth-round pick makes it more problematic to get him through waivers and to the practice squad despite legitimate concerns about his surgically-repaired knee. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Senat or Bozeman stick on the 53-man roster, but late sixth-round picks are logical practice-squad candidates.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Zach Sieler, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Last year taught us not to doubt Baltimore’s propensity for hoarding defensive linemen, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see one roster spot come down to the versatile veteran Davis or Sieler, who shows impressive strength as a seventh-round pick. Davis looks vulnerable as he’s in the final year of his contract, but he’s a favorite of the coaching staff and has the ability to hold his own at all three base positions on the defensive line, a valuable game-day trait. Kaufusi needs to pick it up to win a spot.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: Cutting McClellan, a longtime special-teams leader and versatile reserve, would be a gut-wrenching decision as he’s loved by teammates and coaches, but he’s 32 and returning from a major knee injury. Releasing him would save $1.25 million in cap space, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg does carry some clout regarding the back end of the roster. A slower-than-expected recovery from a torn ACL has prevented Bradley from joining the competition between Onwuasor and Young.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: Chris Board
Skinny: I see one spot potentially coming down to McClellan or Correa, but the latter has youth on his side, is also capable of playing all four linebacker positions, and performed well on special teams last year. Smith is in the final year of his rookie deal, but his ability to contribute as an inside rusher in sub packages makes him more valuable. Bowser isn’t in danger of being cut, but the 2017 second-round pick hasn’t been able to stay on the field while Williams has elevated his stock this summer.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: It’s tough to recall the last time the Ravens had a cornerback sextet with this much talent as Young and Canady look like starting-caliber players and even the rookie fourth-rounder Averett has progressed this summer. In the past, Jean-Baptiste and Williams very much would have been in the roster conversation, but it’s difficult to see a path to a roster spot for either unless there’s an injury or a trade ahead of them. Hill beginning the season on PUP is a blessing in disguise with the numbers here.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott will need to rein in some of his physicality as secondary play continues to evolve, but the rookie sixth-round pick shows a nose for the ball and has flashed enough to warrant keeping him around for the future. Clark has had a good summer filling in for a banged-up Jefferson and could develop into a future starter. Known primarily for his special-teams play over the years, Levine is a big factor in the dime package, which is expected to be Baltimore’s primary sub package again.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: There’s no roster drama here, but Vedvik’s leg has been so impressive that I’d be surprised if there aren’t at least a couple teams trying to claim him off waivers at the end of the preseason.

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Bowser, M. Williams return to practice amid competition at their positions

Posted on 13 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have benefited from superb health so far in the preseason and welcomed back two of their few recent absentees to the practice field on Monday.

Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and tight end Maxx Williams both missed last week’s preseason win against the Los Angeles Rams, but they participated in Monday’s workout on a limited basis. While Williams missed less than a week of action after an apparent ankle injury in one of the joint practices with the Rams, Bowser has missed much of training camp with a groin injury originally sustained on July 27. He returned to practice for a few days after missing the preseason opener on Aug. 2, but he was soon forced to the sideline again.

“It just doesn’t feel like he’s at 100 percent right now,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Sunday. “But he needs to get back out there. The competition is starting to heat up.”

The 2017 second-round pick is hardly in danger of not making the 53-man roster, but his quest to earn more playing time behind starters Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon has been hindered by his absence as well as the strong preseason play of Kamalei Correa and Tim Williams. Bowser played more defensive snaps than both Correa and Williams in 2017 and was having a strong start to camp before the injury, but Correa’s move to outside linebacker has only increased the competition for rotation reps among the young outside linebackers.

Williams, a 2017 third-round pick from Alabama, was arguably the best defensive player on the field for the Ravens against the Rams, finishing with a sack, a forced fumble, and five tackles. The situational rusher has made substantial improvement from last season when he was largely a non-factor and active for just eight games.

“It’s a mental toll just as much as it is a physical toll when they’re rookies,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “Some can push through it and some can’t. I think he has seen what it takes to be a Raven now, Tim has. We’re really excited for him because, as you saw, he can rush off the edge now.”

Unlike Bowser, Maxx Williams is not a lock to make the roster as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Injuries have prevented the 2015 second-round pick from living up to once-lofty expectations, but the Minnesota product carved out a role as a blocker frequently lining up as a fullback last season.

Already unofficially fourth in the pecking order behind 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst, blocking tight end Nick Boyle, and rookie third-rounder Mark Andrews, Maxx Williams was already competing with special-teams standout Vince Mayle for a possible fourth tight end spot before the return of Darren Waller from suspension last week. Waller faces quite a climb to secure a spot on the 53-man roster — he does have practice-squad eligibility — but his athleticism is undeniable and he provides more upside and team control.

Head coach John Harbaugh made it clear Waller has a long way to go to earn back the organization’s trust after being suspended for the entire 2017 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The 2015 sixth-round pick has been open in the past about using marijuana and confirmed that was the reason for his four-game suspension in his second season.

“Where’s he been? You have to be here,” Harbaugh said after Waller’s first practice on Saturday. “You don’t just come waltzing in and all of the sudden, you’re the starting tight end. You have to prove it. You have to do some things for us. You have to make plays. I love him, but like I told him, I’m going to be the hardest guy on him of anybody. I’m going to be on him every single day because he has a lot to prove.”

One of the more intriguing position battles of the summer continues to be at the weak-side inside linebacker spot next to starter C.J. Mosley. Incumbent Patrick Onwuasor entered the preseason as the favorite to start, but rookie fourth-round pick Kenny Young has closed the gap and has recently begun receiving some first-team snaps. Onwuasor did the same thing to Correa last summer and unseated him as the starter early in the 2017 season.

Young made one of the highlight plays of Monday’s practice, intercepting a short Joe Flacco pass intended for slot receiver Willie Snead.

“I still think it’s an even competition,” Martindale said. “Right now, I don’t like to say I don’t care, but it doesn’t bother me who starts between the two of them and [we might] rotate them back and forth. You’re going to have a really good linebacker in that situation, and somebody will eventually take that job over. You’ll see it. I just don’t know who to bet on yet.”

Suggs received a veteran day off on Monday while linebacker Alvin Jones and defensive back Bennett Jackson were absent with undisclosed injuries. Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps) remain on the physically unable to perform list.

Young wasn’t the only defensive player to shine Monday as cornerback Brandon Carr and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard returned interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays during an 11-on-11 period. Carr picked off a Robert Griffin III pass intended for tight end Nick Keizer while Ricard grabbed a Josh Woodrum pass that was batted up in the air by defensive end Brent Urban.

Flacco shook off the Young interception by throwing a 50-plus-yard completion to Chris Moore. The ball traveled more than 60 yards in the air as Flacco heaved it from one side of the field to the other, an impressive toss even for a quarterback known for having no shortage of arm strength.

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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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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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Yanda returns to Ravens practice for first time since last September

Posted on 06 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — For the first time in nearly 11 months, longtime right guard Marshal Yanda was suited up and practicing for the Ravens as they hosted the Los Angeles Rams Monday for the first of two joint practices.

After missing nearly all of the 2017 campaign with a broken ankle sustained in Week 2 and undergoing shoulder surgery early in the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl lineman returned to the field on a limited basis, taking part in some light individual work for the first 35 minutes of practice. Yanda, 33, left practice as the Ravens moved into full-team periods and later returned to the sideline wearing workout clothes to watch the rest of the workout.

It’s part of the plan to make sure Yanda is eased back into action and ready to go for next month’s season opener.

“I think Marshal makes a big difference in our offensive line,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “What’s the exponential number, what percentage better? A lot. Seeing him out there today doing individual [drills] was good for my blood pressure. I’m happy to see it, and I just want to keep seeing him get better.”

Veteran James Hurst continued to take the reps as the starting right guard, but it remains to be seen what Yanda’s return might mean for him and the rest of the offensive line. The Ravens had planned for Hurst to compete with rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. for the starting right tackle spot, but the latter has taken virtually all reps at that position this summer and held up well in last Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game. If the Ravens are confident in Brown’s ability to start, Hurst could move to left guard — the position he played all last season — with Alex Lewis shifting to center. Matt Skura has served as the primary center so far this summer, but Lewis has also received snaps there.

Safety Tony Jefferson remains sidelined with what Harbaugh described Sunday as a “pull” of some kind. He has missed five of the last six practices and was among a large group of veteran players not to play against Chicago in the preseason opener.

Wide receivers Tim White and Jaelon Acklin and offensive linemen Randin Crecelius and Maurquice Shakir were again absent on Monday. After Yanda’s activation, three players remain on the physically unable to perform list: linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps).

As for any potential fireworks between wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Rams cornerback Aqib Talib, the old AFC West foes were on their best behavior going up against each other several times in practice. Their interactions were uneventful as Talib registered a breakup on a comeback route the only time Crabtree was targeted. And, no, it did not appear that Talib targeted Crabtree’s gold chain at any point.

“It always gets brought up,” said quarterback Joe Flacco when asked in general about players needing to maintain their tempers practicing with another team. “Having said that, you never know what’s going to happen once you get out there. It’s always tough to tell. I think the guys did a good job feeling each other out in the first few periods and really just doing a good job from there.”

The Ravens offense struggled to consistently move the ball early against a talented Rams defense that is without All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is holding out for a new contract. Baltimore didn’t make many costly mistakes through the air, but Joe Flacco and the other quarterbacks mostly settled for underneath throws because of heavy pressure in the pocket. Flacco eventually completed a 25-yard strike to speedy receiver John Brown and even took off for a 20-yard run at another point later in the practice.

Rookie running back Gus Edwards fumbled twice during 11-on-11 team work while second-year guard Jermaine Eluemunor was flagged for two false starts, which earned him runs to the opposite end zone and back.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was a visitor at Monday’s practice.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Hall of Fame Game victory

Posted on 03 August 2018 by Luke Jones

CANTON, Ohio — With the Ravens kicking off the 2018 preseason with a 17-16 win over the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Kamalei Correa was a star at both outside and inside linebacker and collected three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, two pass breakups, and six tackles. He needs to build on that after a quiet start to the summer, but seeing that performance from the former second-round pick was encouraging.

2. Hayden Hurst looked the part of a first-round pick with the ability to contribute as a rookie as he caught three passes, one for a touchdown in the third quarter. He had recently had some struggles in training camp, but the South Carolina product moved very well over the middle.

3. The Ravens defense coming away with an interception on the opening drive seemed fitting after leading the NFL in takeaways a year ago. I continue to like what I see from Chuck Clark as part of a deep and versatile secondary.

4. Lamar Jackson’s play reflected what we’ve seen throughout the spring and summer as he has a long way to go to be an NFL starting quarterback, but that’s fine. My biggest concern was seeing him take so many hits in the open field rather than running out of bounds or sliding.

5. The idea of waiting to play Jackson until the second half to alleviate some of the pressure had merit, but the offensive line surrendering five sacks even before intermission had to have John Harbaugh reconsidering that plan. The rookie quarterback didn’t exactly have much time in the pocket.

6. Thursday didn’t reflect well on the offensive line depth, but Orlando Brown Jr. was a bright spot as he allowed just one pressure on 48 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Even if James Hurst begins the season as the right tackle, the extensive reps for Brown are valuable.

7. It took under five minutes of play before the new helmet rule came into effect as Patrick Onwuasor was penalized and we saw a few more flags. Ravens players were recently advised by league officials to tackle as though they’re not wearing helmets. Yes, it’s likely to be a mess.

8. Breshad Perriman needs a big summer to make the team, so a Robert Griffin III slant pass going right through his hands for an interception was as bad a preseason start as he could have. The 2015 first-round pick not taking a single special-team rep wasn’t a great sign either.

9. Tim Williams didn’t fill up the stat sheet like Correa did, but PFF credited the 2017 third-round pick with six hurries to go along with a quarterback hit in 41 pass-rushing opportunities. He needs to show more of that against better competition as the preseason progresses.

10. With the top three running backs sitting, rookie Gus Edwards started and finished with 58 yards on 11 touches while displaying decent field vision. Fellow rookie Mark Thompson didn’t help his cause with a fumble. Kenneth Dixon’s inability to stay healthy could create the opportunity for a roster spot here.

11. Media predictably weren’t pleased to see Jackson’s debut delayed until the third quarter, but NBC had to be thrilled for the extra hook to keep the viewing audience engaged. The play in the second half was pretty ugly all the way around.

12. The best news from Thursday’s win was the Ravens escaping Canton without any notable injuries, according to Harbaugh. Cross your fingers and toes while knocking on wood, but the football gods have been kind to Baltimore in the health department so far.

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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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As Ravens wait on Yanda, offensive line continues experimenting

Posted on 29 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have used both Matt Skura and Alex Lewis as the starting center in the early days of training camp as they must fill the void of accomplished 2017 starter Ryan Jensen.

Asked how that battle is playing out in this early stage of summer, head coach John Harbaugh offered an interesting description of what’s currently happening with his offensive line.

“I’m not so sure I’d call it a competition right now,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just trying to find the best combination. Probably, that’s a better way of saying it. Matt is playing very well. Alex is playing very well. How do the pieces fit together? I think they’re both doing a good job.”

For what it’s worth, Skura has received more reps as the first-team center and is considered the early favorite to replace Jensen, but the Ravens won’t have their best look at the 2018 offensive line until longtime right guard Marshal Yanda returns to practice later in the summer. Having lost Jensen as well as moving on from starting right tackle Austin Howard in the offseason, Baltimore needs Yanda, the six-time Pro Bowl selection recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, healthy and poised to resume his dominant level of play if the offense is to make meaningful improvement in 2018.

The Ravens know Yanda will play right guard and 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley will once again man the left tackle position, but how the rest of the starting line will look in September remains to be seen. In the meantime, Lewis is receiving his first extended looks at center, a position he’s labeled as the “quarterback of the offensive line” for the responsibility of identifying the “Mike” linebacker and making protection calls.

“There’s that one word called ‘opportunity’ for many of them,” second-year offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said, “where you check and see if they can play that position, how they can handle that. Then, if you see they start handling it pretty good, you start giving them a little bit more reps. Some of them may not, and you maybe say, ‘OK let’s hold off and we’ll keep you at one position.'”

A byproduct of Yanda’s absence has been the shift of versatile veteran James Hurst to right guard, which has allowed 2018 third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. to take extensive snaps as the starting right tackle. Brown and Hurst are competing for the right tackle job with the rookie expected to eventually be the long-term starter.

Flexible pieces such as Lewis and Hurst are valuable commodities on game days when teams usually have only seven active offensive linemen available.

“It helps tremendously,” Harbaugh said. “You have Alex, who could probably play either guard, learning how to play center, and [he] played tackle in college. He has played tackle for us here already. James Hurst is another one that has amazing versatility. We’re teaching Nico Siragusa how to play center as well, and [Maurquice Shakir] is in there practicing at center.

“This early part of training camp is going to be a big part of that. Probably, [when] we get to the Rams and then to the Colts [preseason games], for sure, we’ll start honing in on what we’re going to do.”

Breeland rationale

Harbaugh didn’t have much to say Friday when asked about reports of free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland visiting the Ravens.

“I have no idea. Not really thinking about it right now,” Harbaugh said. “I like our guys, and we’re coaching our guys.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome always says you can never have too many corners, but the Ravens seemingly have their best depth at the position in years and wouldn’t appear to be the best spot for a fifth-year player with 57 career starts already under his belt to re-establish his market value for next offseason. Breeland had agreed to join Carolina on a three-year, $24 million deal in March before his physical revealed an infection from a cut on his foot, voiding the deal.

The former Washington cornerback ranked 21st among outside cornerbacks in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings last season while current Ravens cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Brandon Carr ranked second, 17th, and 22nd, respectively. Short of something unforeseen like a pending suspension that hasn’t been reported or a preseason decision to move on from Carr and his $7 million cap number for 2018, adding Breeland to an already-crowded group doesn’t seem to make much sense with other positions of greater need currently on the roster.

Injury report

The Ravens gave a number of players the day off on Saturday, a list that included linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and safety Anthony Levine.

Running back Kenneth Dixon, linebacker Tyus Bowser, tight end Mark Andrews, offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius, and cornerback Bennett Jackson remained sidelined with unspecified injuries. Four players remain on the active physically unable to perform list: Yanda (shoulder/ankle), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

Baltimore returns to the practice field Monday morning.

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Jimmy Smith pushing through latest reset in Ravens career

Posted on 25 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The rise and reset summarizes the career of Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith.

One of the most talented players in franchise history, Smith has repeatedly ascended to the cusp of greatness, only to be denied by injury over and over. Often those setbacks have come at critical junctures of seasons for Baltimore, who has qualified for the playoffs just once since Smith defended the last two pass attempts of the final goal-line stand in Super Bowl XLVII. He hasn’t appeared in even a late-season do-or-die scenario since 2013 because of injuries.

Drafted in 2011 to be the next Chris McAlister, Smith missed a combined nine games in his first two seasons and didn’t become a full-time starter until 2013, allowing him to shed the premature label of being a first-round bust. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound defensive back appeared on his way to his first Pro Bowl in 2014 before a Lisfranc injury to his left foot ended his season and hindered him for much of the following campaign. The climb to the top tier of cornerbacks began again in 2016 before a high ankle sprain in Week 14 cost him the remainder of the season.

Then came last year’s torn Achilles tendon in Week 13 after he’d overcome pain in the heel throughout the season to again look like one of the top corners in the league.

Another reset.

“It sucks. I’m not going to act like it doesn’t,” said Smith, who turns 30 this week and returned to practice less than seven months after the injury and subsequent surgery. “It seems like I’m constantly trying to fight just to get back to even instead of training and excelling [and getting] better and progressing even more. It’s always getting back even, getting back to just being healthy. It’s really just keeping a strong mental [attitude]. Coming in, I obviously read things about me; I can hear it and feel it.

“Obviously, I want to be on the field. It hurts.”

Head coach John Harbaugh has been one of Smith’s biggest supporters, proclaiming he would “make history as a cornerback” when he was only entering his second full season as a starter four years ago. The injuries have not only stunted Smith’s greatness and denied a potential place as one of the team’s all-time greats, but they’ve frequently come at inopportune times for a defense that’s been unable to shed a “good, but not great” label since future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed walked away.

Might the Ravens have held off Tom Brady and New England in the 2014 divisional round instead of squandering two 14-point leads if Smith had been on the field? Does Ben Roethlisberger so easily march Pittsburgh down the field in the 2016 Christmas heartbreaker if Smith was playing right corner instead of Shareece Wright? What about last season when the defense blew late leads against the Steelers and Cincinnati in the final four weeks, once again leaving the Ravens on the outside looking in?

These are the questions you ask when falling excruciatingly short of the postseason in back-to-back years and one of your best players isn’t on the field for the critical moments.

“You kind of hurt for him because he’s played himself into that position year after year, and the injuries have taken their toll,” Harbaugh said. “And then he kills himself to get back. Hopefully, this will be the year where he can stay injury-free the whole time. He’s worked really hard, and he’s really talented and really is conscientious. I’m in his corner. I want to see him do well.”

Last season felt different for Smith, whose toughness had occasionally been questioned in the past by his harshest critics and frustrated fans. His name first appeared on the official injury report in Week 5, but he persevered through heel soreness, regularly missing practice time during the week before showing up to play the best football of his career on Sundays. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks posted a measly 49.2 passer rating when targeting him in 2017 as he matched his career high with three interceptions, recorded nine pass breakups, and scored two defensive touchdowns.

But his left Achilles tendon finally gave out against Detroit on Dec. 3. Baltimore entered that week ranked second in the NFL in pass defense before finishing the season an underwhelming 10th. That type of overall decline has been all too common following a Smith injury, a reason why he was hellbent on staying on the field.

“I did [platelet-rich plasma] shots, I did Prednisone, I did everything I could possibly do, and resting it,” Smith said. “As soon as I would break or run, it would come back immediately. There was nothing really I could do besides trying to rest it, and you can’t really rest during an NFL season. I just played until it went out.”

Adding insult to injury was Smith receiving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Many figure Smith had to be taking something to aid in his efforts to stay on the field, but he attributed the failed test to an unapproved pre-workout supplement earlier this week.

“It’s a mistake that’s easily avoidable,” Smith said. “I wasn’t conscious of it, and I didn’t know, obviously. I would never take a steroid or some PED. I don’t need that type of stuff to play football.”

Smith is back in a familiar position, needing to prove himself all over again while also fighting the stigma of a PED suspension. Coaches and teammates have praised his work ethic throughout the offseason and have been amazed by his quick return to the practice field.

He says the torn Achilles hasn’t been nearly as challenging as his 2014 Lisfranc injury, an ailment that still gives him occasional problems. Few would have predicted Smith already practicing in late July as teammate Eric Weddle quipped that his healing ability rivaled that of Wolverine last month.

“I’m feeling fine, normal,” Smith said. “Just getting back into playing football and the cuts and stuff that you can’t really [simulate off] the field. You can’t really duplicate some of the stuff that you would do in practice. Those kinds of little nuances I have to work on, but other than that I feel totally fine.”

Smith enters a pivotal season as he enters the penultimate year of his current contract and carries a $15.35 million figure on the 2018 salary cap, the second highest on the roster. A scheduled $9.5 million base salary and $15.85 million cap figure next season could prove too risky if Smith fails to return to form or is again stricken by injury in 2018.

The Ravens quietly began preparing for that possibility last year by using their first-round pick on Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who looked the part of a future No. 1 corner as a rookie and has similar attributes. Their cornerback depth is as strong as it’s been in years with reliable veteran Brandon Carr still on the roster as well as young options such as Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett, and Jaylen Hill.

Even if Baltimore is better equipped to endure his absence than in previous years, Smith has every intention of regaining his pre-injury form and resuming his ascent to a potential Pro Bowl.

“I think I can get there as soon as possible,” Smith said. “I don’t really feel any setback or anything that’s holding me back from doing that.”

You only hope the latest career setback was the final one.

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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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