Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

brooks

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ravens place Brooks, Pitta on physically unable to perform list

Posted on 24 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With rookies and injured veterans having already reported to Owings Mills for training camp, the Ravens officially placed tight end Dennis Pitta and safety Terrence Brooks on the active physically unable to perform list on Friday.

Pitta’s status came as no surprise as he continues to try to work his way back to full strength from the second serious right hip injury of his career. Meanwhile, Brooks has made substantial progress since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in mid-December.

The 2014 third-round pick was a limited participant during spring organized team activities, but he increased his activity level as the weeks progressed, creating optimism about his chances of contributing at some point during the 2015 season.

“Terrence Brooks is doing really well,” head coach John Harbaugh said in late May. “No predictions right now, but he looks good. He has worked hard. [Head trainer] Mark Smith does a great job in our training room, and those guys who’ve been there the whole time, they’ve benefited from that.”

Players on the active PUP list still count against the 90-man offseason roster limit and are eligible to return to practice at any point during the summer. However, a player who returns to practice would not be eligible for the reserve PUP list that’s set at the start of the regular season and does not count against the 53-man roster limit.

A player placed on reserve PUP is not eligible to return until after the first six weeks of the season.

The Ravens also placed rookie wide receiver Cam Worthy on the active PUP list earlier in the week.

Quarterbacks will report for training camp on Sunday with the rest of the team reporting on Wednesday. The Ravens will conduct their first full-squad practice on Thursday.

Comments (0)

steve

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2015 Ravens training camp preview: Wide receivers

Posted on 24 July 2015 by Luke Jones

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

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

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

Below is a look at the Baltimore wide receivers:

WIDE RECEIVERS
LOCK: Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken
BUBBLE: Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, DeAndre Carter
LONG SHOT: Aldrick Robinson, Daniel Brown, Cam Worthy

Synopsis: The Ravens feature one of the best receivers of the last 20 years in Steve Smith and a deep group of young wideouts with question marks. Even at age 36, Smith figures to still be a productive contributor in the passing game, but Baltimore hopes 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is ready to immediately fill the void left behind by Torrey Smith, who had his flaws but was the much-needed vertical threat to utilize Joe Flacco’s talents. Beyond Steve Smith (1,065 yards and six touchdowns in 2014), the Ravens don’t have another receiver on the current roster who caught more than 24 passes last year. Kamar Aiken figures to push Perriman the most for a starting job and is the favorite to be no worse than the No. 3 receiver, but there are other young receivers who carry intrigue despite the uncertainty.

One to watch: Perriman is bigger and has more speed than Torrey Smith, but the Central Florida product will need to prove he can catch the football consistently and run the rest of the route tree beyond going vertical. Some made too much of Perriman’s drops during spring practices without mentioning that he was receiving extensive reps working with the first-, second-, and third-string offenses, meaning he was bound to drop a few more with a greater number of opportunities than others on the roster. Many observers would agree that Perriman is clearly ahead of where Torrey Smith was at this point as a rookie, which bodes well for his ability to contribute immediately.

One on notice: It wasn’t that Marlon Brown had a poor spring under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, but he made few plays when the ball was thrown his way. Sixteen of Brown’s 24 receptions went for first downs in 2014 as he became a solid third-down target, but the 6-foot-5 receiver doesn’t run good routes and rarely plays as big as his frame. It will be interesting to see if Trestman — a fan of tall wideouts in Chicago — finds a way to unleash Brown in the end zone in a way Gary Kubiak never could. Brown’s roster spot is likely safe, but he needs to have a good summer to be relevant in the offense and to stave off younger options such as Jeremy Butler and Darren Waller from pushing him to the bubble.

Sleeper: He may not be a complete unknown after receiving some hype during the spring, but rookie free agent DeAndre Carter should have a nice opportunity to impress the coaching staff if he can prove himself worthy as an option in the return game, an area that remains a huge question mark for Baltimore. Steve Smith probably didn’t do Carter any favors by comparing him to a young Randall Cobb, but the 5-foot-8 Sacramento State product was extremely successful at the FCS level, catching 163 passes for 2,255 yards and 31 touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Hornets. Carter’s best chance to make the roster is as a return specialist, but the college pedigree makes him a dark horse to monitor.

 

Comments (0)

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 11.29.26 AM

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2015 Ravens training camp preview: Running backs

Posted on 22 July 2015 by Luke Jones

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

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

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

Below is a look at the Baltimore running backs:

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS 
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
BUBBLE: Fitz Toussaint
LONG SHOT: Kiero Small, Terrence Magee

Synopsis: It’s still strange to think how much this unit has changed from only a couple years ago when Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce appeared on track to being one of the best running back duos in the NFL, but the Ravens should feel very good about the current group. We saw last year that Justin Forsett was a perfect fit for their zone-blocking schemes and you won’t find a better mentor for the other young backs on the roster than the 29-year-old. It will be interesting to see what impact new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has on the running backs after Matt Forte caught 176 passes out of the backfield over the last two years in Chicago. With the entire offensive line returning, there’s little reason to think this group can’t succeed in 2015 with Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen competing behind Forsett for carries.

One to watch: The Ravens selecting Allen in the fourth round should grab the attention of Taliaferro, who had a solid rookie season cut short by a foot injury. Reporting to spring workouts looking leaner and faster, Taliaferro figures to have the early advantage for the No. 2 job after rushing for 292 yards and four touchdowns on 68 carries as a rookie. The Coastal Carolina product still must prove he can thrive in a one-cut, zone-blocking system, but his ability in short-yardage situations figures to only improve with experience under his belt.

One on notice: Kyle Juszczyk will need to prove he fits in Trestman’s offense, which didn’t feature much use for a fullback in Chicago. The Harvard product caught 19 passes out of the backfield in his second season, but fumbles did not land him in the good graces of the coaching staff. It also doesn’t help Juszczyk that the Ravens have so many young tight ends, which will likely limit his opportunities as a receiver. Kiero Small wouldn’t figure to provide much of a threat to Juszczyk, but this year will probably go a long way in determining whether the 2013 fourth-round pick is a long-term fit in Baltimore.

Sleeper: Fitz Toussaint wouldn’t figure to have a great chance to make the roster strictly as a running back, but the Ravens’ gaping hole in the return game could improve his chances. The Michigan product worked as a kick returner in the spring and should be in the mix during training camp and the preseason. The Ravens thought enough of Toussaint to not only promote him from the practice squad last year, but he even began receiving some carries, which illustrated how much they liked him as well as the immense disappointment that Pierce was in his final season with Baltimore.

Comments (0)

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tags: , , , ,

Pitta’s status comes as no surprise entering training camp

Posted on 21 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Anyone surprised by the news of Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta’s status for the start of training camp shouldn’t be.

Even before The Sun reported the 30-year-old is expected to be placed on the physically unable to perform list, all signs had pointed to that reality throughout the offseason and spring.

The Ravens made no secret in preparing for life without Pitta by adding two tight ends — second-rounder Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle in the fifth round — in this year’s draft after they had selected Crockett Gillmore in the third round last year. And though Pitta had done some individual work — catching passes and running routes — during voluntary organized team activities in the spring, his full clearance never appeared imminent.

Pitta will initially be placed on the active PUP list during training camp — which allows a player to return to practice at any point — before he could then be moved to the reserve PUP list for the start of the regular season. Reserve PUP allows a player not to count against the 53-man roster limit, but that player is ineligible to return until after the first six weeks of the regular season.

Whether even that will happen remains to be seen after Pitta suffered two serious right hip injuries in a 14-month period, the second coming in Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2014. The innocent nature in which Pitta re-injured the hip — catching a short Joe Flacco pass and trying to turn upfield without being touched — immediately cast doubt over whether the 2010 fourth-round pick would ever play again.

“He’s going to have to be cleared by the doctors, and No. 2, he’s going to have to decide he wants to play,” head coach John Harbaugh said during last month’s mandatory minicamp. “Obviously, there will be some risk involved. The first thing hasn’t happened yet. He hasn’t been cleared by the doctors. He has been going through — as you saw before — the individual part of [voluntary] practice.

“In minicamp, unless you’re cleared, you can’t come out to practice. I don’t know if that’s a rule or a policy, but that’s the way it goes. Until he gets cleared by the doctors, he won’t be able to practice, and we’ll just have to see where that goes from here.”

Because Pitta’s $4 million base salary is guaranteed for the 2015 season, the Ravens lose nothing by allowing him to continue strengthening the hip in hopes of an eventual return. Confident after Pitta returned late in the 2013 season from the first injury and receiving assurances from doctors that he was at no greater risk to hurt the hip again, general manager Ozzie Newsome signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed last year.

His $5 million base salary for 2016 is not guaranteed, meaning the Ravens could cut him after this season and would only have to deal with the dead money from the remaining prorated portion of his $11 signing bonus on the salary cap. This would leave $6.6 million in dead money on next year’s cap if he were to be released next offseason.

With Pitta’s future remaining cloudy, Gillmore and Williams are expected to compete for the starting tight end job this summer.

In his five-year career, Pitta has caught 138 passes for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Comments (1)

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.36.36 PM

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2015 Ravens training camp preview: Quarterbacks

Posted on 20 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to begin the 20th training camp in franchise history in less than two weeks, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

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

Below is a look at the Baltimore quarterbacks:

QUARTERBACKS
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Bryn Renner, Jerry Lovelocke

Synopsis: The Ravens once again reap the benefits of having a franchise quarterback as Joe Flacco enters his eighth season. The signing of Schaub gives the Ravens their first established veteran behind Flacco since Marc Bulger was the backup during the 2010 season. Baltimore hasn’t carried three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster since the 2009 season, a trend that figures to continue this year with neither Renner nor Lovelocke being standout talents. His regular-season numbers never wow you, but Flacco fits into the exclusive group of quarterbacks capable of winning a championship that so many teams are lacking every year.

One to watch: Flacco is playing under his fourth offensive coordinator in four years and is essentially in a contract year with the sides needing to renegotiate his contract after the 2015 season. It will be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman impacts the veteran signal-caller, but there’s no reason to think Flacco won’t continue to get the job done at just 30 years of age.

One on notice: The 34-year-old Schaub’s lone season in Oakland only fueled concerns about his future after a disappointing end to his long run in Houston 2013. Truthfully, he did not impress during spring practices, consistently lacking arm strength and accuracy with his throws. His contract is guaranteed for 2015, but he’ll need a better summer to instill confidence that the Ravens won’t be in major trouble if Flacco even goes down for a relatively short period of time.

Sleeper: Lovelocke, an Edmondson graduate, is 6-foot-4 and has good arm strength and mobility, which could make him a candidate for the practice squad if he can develop his raw skills over the summer. Either way, it’s fun to root for a local kid after he had a good career at Prairie View A&M.

 

Comments (9)

Nov 10, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam (26) in action against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Tags: , , , ,

Sizing up the post-minicamp 2015 Ravens roster

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp behind them and training camp just over a month away, the Ravens turn their attention toward the preseason and eventually trimming the current 90-man roster down to 53 by the start of the regular season.

Little can be taken away from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — conducted without live contact — but my early look at the roster suggests as many as 40 players would be considered locks if the deadline to trim the roster took place in late June. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the roster lists 28 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some positions lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office pay attention to the number of players at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of receivers or cornerbacks or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. The Ravens are looking for reserves who can excel on special teams in addition to their designated position, so they 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 could change at any point and certainly by the first day of training camp if any individuals report to Owings Mills in poor physical condition or have not done the necessary mental preparation for the summer.

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 during the different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Bryn Renner, Jerry Lovelocke
Skinny: Schaub did not impress in spring workouts open to media, but the Ravens invested $2 million in guaranteed money in the veteran quarterback to back up Flacco following the free-agent departure of Tyrod Taylor. Renner and Lovelocke will compete for a potential spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
BUBBLE: Fitz Toussaint
LONG SHOT: Kiero Small, Terrence Magee
Skinny: There doesn’t appear to be much drama in the backfield, but the competition between Taliaferro and Allen for carries behind Forsett will be interesting to watch. Toussaint will give himself a better chance to make the roster if he can offer something as a kickoff returner.

WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
LOCK: Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken
BUBBLE: Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, DeAndre Carter
LONG SHOT: Aldrick Robinson, Daniel Brown, Cam Worthy
Skinny: There are many questions beyond the reliable 36-year-old Smith, but there is intrigue and upside with this group of young wide receivers. You’re always waiting for Brown to take his game to the next level while the oft-injured Campanaro struggles to stay on the field, making it difficult to deem either a lock at this point. Butler was very impressive during spring workouts and Carter offers ability as a returner, making them two names to watch closely this summer.

TIGHT ENDS (6)
LOCK: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Allen Reisner, Konrad Reuland
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Dennis Pitta
Skinny: The Ravens invested a second-round pick in Williams, but Gillmore was the one who stood out during spring practices as the two will battle for the starting job this summer. I’d never want to count out Pitta, but if doctors wouldn’t clear him to participate in a non-contact minicamp, what are the odds that he’ll be allowed to take part in training camp this summer?

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (17)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Robert Myers, James Hurst, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Marcel Jones, Nick Easton, Leon Brown, Kaleb Johnson, Darryl Baldwin, Blaine Clausell, De’Ondre Wesley
Skinny: Myers and Hurst are in great shape from a roster standpoint, but you never know with offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who loves working with unheralded linemen and has found some diamonds in the rough in his coaching career. Re-signed to a one-year deal, Reid is a former third-round pick who never lived up to expectations and looks more like camp depth than a great candidate to make the roster at this point, but the health of Wagner’s foot could alter that thinking if the starting right tackle isn’t ready to practice by late July or early August.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, Carl Davis, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Lawrence Guy, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Christo Bilukidi, Casey Walker
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The narrative centers around replacing five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, but the Ravens have a nice collection of talent in this group, which will likely lead to them being forced to part ways with one or two NFL-caliber defensive linemen. Baltimore is curious to see how hard Urban can push the veteran Canty at the 5-technique defensive end spot. This is probably a make-or-break summer for Lewis-Moore, who has not played a snap in his first two seasons due to injuries.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
LOCK: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr
LONG SHOT: Andrew Bose
Skinny: While it’s certainly possible that all three inside linebackers on the bubble make the 53-man roster, you wonder how much patience the Ravens will have with Brown, who couldn’t even make it on the field as a special-teams player in his second season. McClellan has been one of their best special-teams players over the last few seasons, but Orr is younger and cheaper and took extensive reps with the second-team defense this spring.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
BUBBLE: Steven Means, Brennen Beyer, Zach Thompson
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The Ravens need to look at this position with an eye toward the future as Upshaw becomes a free agent after the season and Suggs didn’t exactly make it sound like he’s definitely committed to continue playing beyond 2015, making it even more critical that the fourth-round rookie Smith develops sooner rather than later. The organization has talked up Means this offseason, but time will tell whether he’s the next great find or another Adrian Hamilton or Michael McAdoo.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Kyle Arrington, Tray Walker
BUBBLE: Asa Jackson, Rashaan Melvin, Tramain Jacobs, Cassius Vaughn
LONG SHOT: Chris Greenwood, Quinton Pointer
Skinny: Smith and Webb remaining healthy are the biggest keys to this group’s improvement, but Arrington appears to be a good fit playing inside in the nickel package and takes some pressure off the development of the fourth-round rookie Walker. Newsome appears to have some second- and third-tier depth, but the Ravens pray they won’t have to tap into it like they did last season.

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
BUBBLE: Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick, Nick Perry
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The Ravens have put Elam on notice, but there’s not enough talent in this group to seriously think the 2013 first-round pick is in jeopardy of not making the team at this point. Levine’s ability to play cornerback and safety makes him a good bet to make the roster while Perry is a former Alabama product and one of the Ravens’ more highly-touted rookie free agent signings. It will be interesting to watch Brooks this summer as his progress coming back from a torn ACL suffered in December was one of the biggest surprises of the spring.

SPECIALISTS (5)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Justin Manton, Patrick Scales
Skinny: If Cox’s surgically-repaired knee were in question, Scales could make a push to replace him, but the veteran long snapper looked fine during spring workouts and remains as reliable as they come in the NFL.

Comments (1)

machado

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Five questions pondering Machado, Steve Smith, Harbaugh, Showalter

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or is Manny Machado rapidly closing the gap with Adam Jones for the title of best Oriole? Because he’s been around since 2012, we often forget that the third baseman only turns 23 next month, making his start to the 2015 season that much more encouraging. Machado has already matched his career high with 14 home runs and is just five walks shy of his personal best set in 2013, a major reason why he’s performed well in the leadoff spot as the Orioles have few options at the top of the order. Two years ago, Machado’s 51 doubles led the league as he made his first All-Star team and many projected some of those two-baggers to eventually turn into homers, something now coming to fruition. His early-season defensive struggles have vanished and the 2010 first-round pick entered Friday leading the club with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage. Take nothing away from Jones as he’s in the midst of another fine season and remains the heart and soul of the Orioles, you wonder how long he’ll be able to hold off Machado’s youthful talent to remain the best player on the team.

2. Is it just me or has Steve Smith been better than advertised as he approaches his second season with the Ravens? The 36-year-old will finish his NFL career with numbers that will garner Hall of Fame discussion, but I can’t help but be impressed with his commitment to the organization after spending his first 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Still making his home in Charlotte, Smith could have understandably skipped voluntary organized team activities and simply showed up for this week’s mandatory minicamp, but he was present in Owings Mills throughout the last month to work with first-round rookie Breshad Perriman and a number of other talented but inexperienced wide receivers. The five-time Pro Bowl selection not only practiced, but he continued to look like the best player on the field, which is one heck of an example for his younger teammates to emulate. Even if Smith is unable to match his numbers from a year ago when he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, the Ravens still got an absolute steal when they signed Smith to a three-year, $10.5 million contract last year.

3. Is it just me or are the Ravens and Orioles both reaping the benefits of continuity with their head men? It’s difficult to believe that John Harbaugh will only be one year shy of Brian Billick’s run with the Ravens after the 2015 season, but it speaks to the stability the franchise has had on the sideline for nearly two decades. As if this weren’t enough, I was shocked to learn that Buck Showalter became the fifth-longest tenured manager in the majors after San Diego fired Bud Black earlier this week. When you consider the Orioles had eight different managers in a 16-year period before Showalter was hired in 2010, it’s strange to think of them as one of the more stable organizations in baseball when it comes to their man in the dugout. Only six current NFL head coaches have been in their positions longer than Harbaugh, an impressive feat when you recall how little fanfare the hiring of the longtime Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator received in 2008. Baltimore is very lucky to have these two leading its professional sports teams on the field.

4. Is it just me or does ex-Raven Michael Oher sound ridiculous blaming “The Blind Side” for an underwhelming NFL career? I can understand Oher’s desire to not be defined by a motion picture, but to suggest that he’s been evaluated unfairly because of the movie borders on the absurd. Despite what some fans try to say, Oher was far from a “bust” as a first-round pick — such a label speaks to how spoiled this fan base has been with Ozzie Newsome’s draft success — and probably didn’t benefit from being shifted so frequently between left and right tackle early in his career, but two teams in two years — Baltimore and Tennessee — deemed Oher not to be worth keeping around. His propensity for penalties alone make him a liability unless his blocking grades are through the charts, which hasn’t been the case for most of his career. Oher’s story is a wonderful example of courage and overcoming adversity as he’s etched out a solid career in the NFL. He never became a dominating left tackle, but it has nothing to do with the movie and how people perceive his play as a result.

5. Is it just me or would it make too much sense for the MLB All-Star Game to adopt the Pro Bowl’s system for voting? The mere notion that MLB says it’s canceled 60 million online votes casts even more doubt on the All-Star voting that currently features eight Kansas City Royals in the American League lineup. It makes you long for the days of paper ballots distributed at ballparks and how we’d punch out the little paper holes with a car key or a pencil, doesn’t it? Of course, this isn’t the first time voting changes have been suggested as you don’t have to go back too far to see AL starting lineups littered with Yankees and Red Sox players. While I’d never trade the quality of play in the All-Star Game for what is passed off as football in the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s voting system in which fans, coaches, and players split the vote makes too much sense for baseball not to adopt something similar next year. Especially if you’re going to have home-field advantage in the World Series determined by the outcome, we need to make sure the voting is as legitimate as possible and protected from overzealous fans.

Comments (0)

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 6.28.09 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Plenty of intrigue surrounding Ravens wide receivers

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can easily be fooled by what you observe during spring football practice, but the Ravens’ young group of wide receivers displayed much to like over the last month.

It would be unwise to guarantee that the Ravens won’t experience any growing pains at the position following the free-agent departure of Torrey Smith, but there are many reasons to be intrigued with the upside of the group. More than a few showed their talents before the Ravens wrapped up their mandatory minicamp on Thursday, now turning their attention toward the start of training camp in less than six weeks.

“They come in all different sizes, certainly, and we have them here,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman of the young receivers. “But at the end of the day, it’s the guys that are really specialists that know how to get off the line and get open, and particularly when it’s bump-and-run, because that’s when it’s usually crunch time.”

Of course, introducing the threat of contact will be the real test as countless receivers over the years have shown ability while knowing they aren’t about to be leveled by a hard-hitting defensive back or linebacker over the middle. This time of the year always favors the offense with defensive players lagging behind until the pads serve as the equalizer beginning in late July.

Perhaps the most comforting aspect about the group that allows so much optimism is the man who spent the entire spring mentoring them while continuing to look like the best player on the field in the process.

While other notable veterans skipped voluntary organized team activities and didn’t arrive in Owings Mills until this week’s mandatory minicamp, the 36-year-old Steve Smith spent the last month working with the likes of rookies Breshad Perriman and Darren Waller as well as helping young receivers such as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown. It’s easy to like your potential at a position when a seasoned commodity with five Pro Bowl selections and 13,000 receiving yards remains at the head of the class.

“He put in the time physically and he put in the time mentally to really grasp the changes that we were making and further enhance how he understood this offense,” wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said. “And, when he pulls a young guy aside, they’re going to listen. And when they see his work ethic, they better listen. His experience and his leadership has been invaluable not only for the receivers but for our entire team.”

While Smith continues to lead the way at the position, there were three young receivers who stood out this spring in particular.

Selected with the 26th overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft, Perriman has been as advertised with his combination of size and speed, and he appears to be ahead of where Torrey Smith was at this point in his rookie season. The Ravens made no secret about their desire to work him hard this spring as the Central Florida product consistently took reps with the first, second, and third-team offenses during practices, often battling fatigue to make sensational catches.

He wasn’t perfect as he suffered some drops from time to time — it hasn’t been a chronic issue — but the 6-foot-2 rookie feels good about his place in Trestman’s offense and adjusted well to the speed of the game when the full squad reported for practices this past week.

“I just like how they have the ability to move all the receivers around,” Perriman said. “For me, I’m decent at going deep, but at the same time, they have the ability to move me around and put all the receivers in different positions. Everyone can be a slot receiver and run different routes. That’s what I like about it.”

Perriman has drawn the outside attention as the team’s first-round draft pick, but Aiken may have impressed the most this spring with his consistency and strong rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco. After rising from anonymity to make last year’s roster, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Aiken caught 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season while adding another touchdown reception in the playoffs.

It would be premature — and unfair — to label Aiken a poor man’s Anquan Boldin, but perhaps he could be the poor man’s poor man’s version of the former Baltimore receiver, showing good strength and an ability to make catches in traffic. He is the current leader in the clubhouse to start opposite Smith — the Ravens almost always defer to their veterans over rookies to begin preseason competitions — but Aiken figures to be a meaningful part of the passing game, regardless of where he lands on the depth chart by the time September rolls around.

Aiken said this spring that he has never lacked confidence, but last year’s success has made him comfortable in preparing to just be himself instead of trying to do too much to make the roster as he was forced to do earlier in his career. Whether beginning the year as a starter or succumbing to Perriman, Aiken is confident he’s a good fit in a critical portion of the field.

“I like going across the middle, so I’ve never feared a route going across the middle,” Aiken said. “I feel like that’s where you make your money at. But [the coaches] do a lot of good things as far as mix and matching, just putting us in different areas [where we are] able to run different routes.”

While Perriman and Aiken have already become household names for Ravens fans, the biggest wild card could end up being Jeremy Butler, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve after turning a few heads during last summer’s training camp. It wasn’t a coincidence that Baltimore took advantage of Butler’s late-summer shoulder injury to stash him on IR, which essentially gave the Tennessee-Martin product a “redshirt” season to learn and improve.

At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Butler earned plenty of praise for his consistent hands over the last month. And while there have been many young players over the years to have good springs before disappearing in training camp and the preseason, it’s worth paying attention to Butler this summer after quiet acclaim from coaches last year and the compliments offered by Smith and Flacco this week.

If anything, Butler figures to offer some strong competition for Aiken in the slot as he occasionally received some first-team reps over these last few weeks.

“He might have had 1,500 yards in a three-day minicamp. He was incredible,” Flacco said. “He caught the ball extremely well. [He has] little things here and there to work on, but the biggest thing is catching the ball, and I think these guys are doing a really good job of that.”

With the ageless veteran Smith leading the way, the Ravens hope they’ll face some difficult decisions as far as how many receivers they will be able to keep. Perriman is an obvious lock and Aiken is an excellent bet, but how the depth chart plays out after that is anyone’s guess.

You’re always waiting for the 6-foot-5 Brown to take the next step after an impressive 2013 rookie season, but he didn’t do much to stand out this spring — good or bad — and you’d like to see him better utilize his massive frame, especially inside the red zone.

Campanaro has flashed potential as a return man and at receiver, but his latest quadriceps injury creates more doubt about his ability to stay on the field.

A sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, the 6-foot-6 Waller has shown promise, but will he develop quickly enough to justify a roster spot as a rookie?

Can rookie free agent DeAndre Carter stand out as a receiver to augment his chances for winning a roster spot and serving as a return specialist?

Of course, not all of these names will pan out, but it’s tough not to like the Ravens’ chances to break camp with a group of young receivers having room to grow, especially with a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career throwing to them. Smith is looking forward to having a front-row seat for the battles this summer as he prepares for his 15th NFL season.

“It’s very competitive,” Smith said. “I’m actually going to sit back and watch it and just root for those guys and see them make plays.”

Comments (0)

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 29: Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during a pre-season game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on August 29, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Rams beat the Ravens 24-21.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens to remain out west for both sets of back-to-back road games

Posted on 18 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Faced with two sets of back-to-back games out west during the 2015 regular season, the Ravens have decided to cut down on substantial travel time by remaining out west for both trips.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed his team will travel to the Bay Area following the season opener against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 13 and will remain there for the week before a Sept. 20 meeting against Oakland Raiders. The Ravens will then repeat that practice after their Oct. 18 game at San Francisco by traveling to Phoenix for the week leading up to their Monday night contest against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 26.

“We spent a little bit of time with some of the science on it,” Harbaugh said. “But really, what it came down to was a gut decision and talking to the players.”

Before the 2015 schedule was released in late April, Harbaugh and the Ravens had lobbied the NFL to play the road games against the Raiders and the 49ers in consecutive weeks in hopes of staying in the Bay Area to eliminate a cross-country flight. That request wasn’t granted, but it appeared the NFL may have done the Ravens a favor by bunching their other long-distance road games together.

Quarterback Joe Flacco was pleased that players were asked for their opinions on the matter and feels the strategy will give the Ravens a better chance during a difficult stretch of five out of seven games on the road to begin the 2015 season.

“I feel good about it. Us, as players, we’re part of that communication,” Flacco said. “John asked us and looked for input, and I’m one of the guys that was directly involved in making that decision. I’m happy about it. I think it’s going to be a good thing for us.”

Asked how the lengthy road trips might impact his wife, Dana, and three young sons, Flacco acknowledged she might not love the decision as much as him.

“I’m thinking that’s going to be a week off from being ‘Dad,'” said Flacco as he laughed. “She probably is going to be in for it a little bit. That’s just part of being an NFL quarterback’s wife. That’s why you’ve got to get a strong one.”

Comments (0)

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 8.31.29 PM

Tags: , , , , ,

Webb aiming to put difficult 2014 campaign behind him

Posted on 18 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb knows this is a critical season for his NFL future.

Though he restructured the remaining three years of his current contract to provide the organization extra cap space earlier this offseason, the 29-year-old knows he probably won’t survive a repeat of last year when he missed training camp and three of the first four games of the regular season due to a lower back injury. When he did play, Webb appeared slow and struggled in pass coverage for much of the season as the Ravens were dealt a plethora of injuries at cornerback and finished 23rd in the league in pass defense.

Reporting for this week’s mandatory minicamp, Webb appears slimmer and had a strong practice on Wednesday, breaking up several passes and playing tight coverage in 11-on-11 drills. Entering his seventh season in Baltimore, the 2009 third-round pick isn’t taking his newfound health for granted.

“It feels good just to be able to run around and [not] have any pain,” Webb said. “But right now, we’re just working on the secondary [and] just putting the work in to get us back to where we’re supposed to be.”

The healthy returns of Webb and fellow starting cornerback Jimmy Smith are the biggest reasons why the Ravens expect to be much better in the secondary than they were a year ago. General manager Ozzie Newsome added further depth at the position by taking Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker in the fourth round of this year’s draft and signing veteran slot cornerback Kyle Arrington last month.

Though Webb’s absence from voluntary organized team activities was surprising considering he was coming off a difficult year and could be a cap casualty next offseason, the veteran defensive back said he was focused on individual training to strengthen and balance his core during that time. Should he not bounce back from last year’s struggles, the Ravens could save $3.5 million in cap space by cutting him next winter before he’s scheduled to carry a $9.5 million cap figure in 2016.

The early reviews for Webb this week have been mostly positive as he bounced back from a shaky opening day against veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to break up several passes on Wednesday, including an end-zone throw intended for Marlon Brown and an outside route to rookie tight Maxx Williams.

“He came out and he looks like he’s in shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “His feet look really good. He’s moving his feet, he’s changing direction. Better today than yesterday, which is to be expected. He hasn’t been in the OTAs, so the football movement stuff is going to be new for him. He looks good, so it’s a plus.”

Webb and the secondary are trying to put the memories of last season behind them as they aim for health and better production in 2015 to help the Ravens advance deeper into the playoffs. After watching the Ravens offense twice jump out to 14-point leads and score 31 points against New England in a four-point loss in the divisional round, it’s clear that Webb wants the pass defense to be able to provide better support to the other side of the ball in 2015.

After the Ravens collected only 11 interceptions a year ago, Webb and Smith being able to play full seasons would go a long way in trying to create more game-changing plays this coming season.

“Let’s get the ball. Let’s get the ball back to Joe Flacco and let him do his thing,” Webb said. “You know Joe’s got all the pieces around him. Joe is an awesome quarterback, so if we can just give him extra possessions, it’s going to be a big year.”

Comments (0)