Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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Ravens get “positive news” on Gillmore, move receiver to tight end

Posted on 10 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day veteran Benjamin Watson was introduced to the local media, the Ravens continued making news at the tight end position.

After signing the 35-year-old to a two-year, $7 million contract on the first day of free agency and surprisingly tendering the relatively-unknown restricted free agent Chase Ford $1.671 million, general manager Ozzie Newsome said the organization received “some positive news” on Crockett Gillmore last week. The third-year tight end needed surgeries for torn labrums in both shoulders this offseason.

Newsome first revealed that Gillmore might not be ready for the start of training camp at last month’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, but he remains confident that the 2014 third-round pick will play this season.

“He’s still has a recovery road that he has to go down in order to get himself ready for the beginning of the year,” said Newsome, who admitted that Gillmore’s health and Nick Boyle’s 10-game suspension turned the tight end position into an unexpected priority that needed to be addressed. “But I feel very good about it, barring any setbacks.”

The Ravens also revealed that they are moving 2015 sixth-round pick Darren Waller from wide receiver to tight end. The Georgia Tech product caught two passes for 18 yards in six games before being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.

The 6-foot-6 target was a solid special-teams player in his first NFL season, but the organization sees his size better utilized at a different position.

“We just feel like a 250-pound wide receiver who can run like he can has a chance to maybe grow into a tight end,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s embraced it, and he’s working on that right now in the offseason. Ben will have a chance to kind of work with him a little bit, too. It’s pretty exciting.”

The Ravens currently have nine tight ends on their 90-man offseason roster: Watson, Gillmore, Boyle, Ford, Waller, Maxx Williams, Konrad Reuland, Harold Spears, and Dennis Pitta. Of course, most expect Baltimore to release Pitta if he doesn’t retire, and a post-June 1 designation would create $5 million in salary cap space for the 2016 season and $4.4 million in dead money on the 2017 cap.

In other news, the organization created an additional $4.5 million in cap space by restructuring cornerback Jimmy Smith’s contract. The Ravens converted $6 million of his original $7 million base salary for 2016 into a bonus, lowering his cap figure from $9.6 million to $5.1 million for the coming season.

According to the NFL Players Association, the Ravens began Thursday with just over $12.5 million in cap space, but that did not reflect all maneuvers from the last couple days, making the actual amount slightly lower than that.

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As free agency opens, new concern becomes apparent for Ravens

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens entered the offseason, one of the few strengths of a 5-11 team appeared to be its depth at tight end.

Even with the serious doubts surrounding Dennis Pitta’s future in Baltimore, the position consisted of 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore and 2015 draft picks Maxx Williams (second round) and Nick Boyle (fifth round). The trio combined to make 83 receptions for 833 yards and five touchdowns, making one assume that tight end was one of the few spots on either side of the ball that general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t need to touch.

Then came last month’s news of Boyle being suspended for the first 10 games of the 2016 season for a second violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The following week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh revealed that Gillmore — who finished the 2015 season on injured reserve with a back injury — needed surgery for torn labrums in each of his shoulders.

Newsome said Gillmore would “hopefully” be ready for the start of training camp in late July, but the executive’s moves at the start of free agency make you wonder if concerns are even greater than he and Harbaugh indicated late last month.

The signing of veteran tight end Benjamin Watson to a two-year, $7 million contract was surprising because of the Ravens’ typical patience at the start of free agency, but it still made sense with Boyle gone until late November and the offense’s heavy reliance on tight ends. Even at age 35, Watson caught a career-high 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns with New Orleans last season and brings strong character and leadership to a position with very young talent.

But Newsome followed that acquisition with the surprising tender of restricted free agent Chase Ford, who didn’t play a snap for the Ravens last year and was sent to IR shortly after being signed in mid-November. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Ford caught a combined 34 passes for Minnesota in 2013 and 2014, but the $1.671 million low tender is steep for a player who didn’t play a snap last year and was on the Vikings practice squad before Baltimore signed him.

To be clear, the right-of-first-refusal tender isn’t guaranteed, but that amount currently counts toward the salary cap and it’s no secret that the Ravens don’t have an abundance of room to maneuver. Perhaps the organization thinks Ford is a diamond in the rough, but it’s more likely a reflection of the uneasiness about Gillmore’s status for the start of the season.

The Ravens are already facing the brutal reality of Pitta retiring or releasing him with either outcome leaving a total of $6.6 million in dead cap space that will likely be split over the next two seasons with a post-June 1 designation. But Boyle’s foolishness and Gillmore’s health concerns transformed one of the roster’s deepest positions into a concern on which Newsome felt compelled to act.

These may have been the right moves under the current circumstances, but a $32 million contract to Pitta and three draft picks had already been devoted to the position over the last two years before Watson and Ford were added to the picture over the last couple days, exhausting more resources at tight end.

And that’s a disappointing development when the Ravens have an assortment of needs on both sides of the ball and only so much cap space and so many draft picks to go around.

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Great news on saving lives and “An Evening of Heroes: Champions and Survivors” is set for May 19th

Posted on 04 March 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Great news on saving lives and “An Evening of Heroes: Champions and Survivors” is set for May 19th

I got an email on Thursday afternoon from our friends and partners at There Goes My Hero with an update on our work from last year’s 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit Tour and our other Baltimore area swabbing events. I’d like to share it with you:

 

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It’s very gratifying to see the fruits of our labor and the real, life-saving “scoreboard” that’s starting to mount with There Goes My Hero in just the first full year of our efforts to pay forward the incredible generosity of my wife’s 22-year old donor from Germany. We’re still a few months away from being able to meet the man who has saved Jenn’s life twice since June 2014, but we’re already generating the warmth and pride that comes with doing our part to help others in the future.

Last year, we honored Chuck Pagano, Dick Cass and Brenda Frese for their stories and the bravery of their families through the journey of saving lives on the Thursday before the Preakness. When the event was over, my friends and family and sponsors all asked if we were planning on making it an annual event. I always dream big but – honestly, how do you top that head table of heroes?

Pagano survived leukemia and has now coached my wife through two battles with the same disease.

Cass saved a college friend’s life with a kidney a decade ago.

And many are familiar with Frese’s son, Tyler, who battled leukemia for much of his childhood and is now a healthy, happy little boy running around chasing the Lady Terps on another March journey.

But I have since learned that inspiration is all around us. We just need to look for it!

When Jenn survived her first cancer battle, Ravens Director of Player Engagement Harry Swayne grabbed me in the hallway in Owings Mills. “Did you know James Trapp had the same battle as your wife,” he told me. Sure, enough, the Ravens special teams captain in Super Bowl XXXV was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and had his life saved by a bone marrow transplant from his sister, who was a perfect match.

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Trapp is now the Assistant Director of Player Engagement for the Buffalo Bills and his head coach that day in Tampa is my WNST business partner Brian Billick, who bought part of our company to benefit the Living Classrooms Foundation. I knew we had the foundation of something special if I engaged some of his teammates from that 2001 Super Bowl win.

Back in August, I saw John Harbaugh and Billick together on the field in Owings Mills as the old championship coach was addressing the newer championship coach’s team and I saw them embrace. I’m pretty sure the two have never been publicly seen in the same place at the same time. And they certainly have never been engaged in that kind of setting and forum to compare and contrast their mutually loved Baltimore championships.

Three weeks later, Jenn and I saw this on HBO’s Real Sports:

I reached to Ma’ake in January, once my wife was getting better after spending most of three months in Johns Hopkins fighting leukemia again, and he and his brother are excited to be joining us on May 19th the Baltimore Harbor Hotel to raise awareness for There Goes My Hero.

By the way, Ma’ake said that Dick Cass was one of the first people to call him to give him some comfort that he’d be OK after the procdure to save Chris’ life.

Then, there was the call to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, whom I’ve strangely befriended along life’s twisted highway. I wrote about it when I did a mini-series on our 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit Tour last summer. You can read my whole “back story” with Tomlin here.

Tomlin text me back immediately: “I’m two feet in…”

He then mentioned something about needing security. LOL!

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So, on Thursday, May 19th we’ll all gather – fierce foes on the football field and the stands but united for an evening of civility to discuss the journey and paths of these six men: coaches, heroes and survivors. Obviously, the Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore rivalry will set a backdrop. But remember: there’s a story of a Raven saving a Steeler on stage with us, a brother giving a kidney to save a brother’s life. And a sister who saved a brother. And the audience will be peppered with people like my wife, who’ve had their lives saved by complete strangers.

That’s what this is all about!

I hope you join us and bring along some friends for “An Evening of Heroes: Survivors and Champions.

We hope to make this an annual event to benefit There Goes My Hero every third Thursday of May.

Tickets are on sale now. We have discounted single tickets through THIS MONDAY ONLY!!! Regular price will be $150 each but it’s just $125 for the early birds who want to commit to joining us.

If you are a business owner, I’m sweetening the pot with a free month of gold-level advertising on WNST.net & AM 1570 for all local shops who buy tables.

And if you have any questions or need me: nasty@wnst.net always finds me via email. Save the date and help us save more lives via our friends at There Goes My Hero.

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Seven Ravens takeaways from NFL scouting combine

Posted on 28 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As the 2016 NFL scouting combine winds down in Indianapolis, we came away with plenty of headlines related to the Ravens as the countdown to the start of free agency and the new league year continues.

Below are seven takeaways from the week:

1. The Joe Flacco contract talks between the Ravens and agent Joe Linta have appeared to be more harmonious than expected. Given the acrimonious negotiations from three years ago, you had to wonder how willing Linta and Flacco would be to cooperate since they once again have all the leverage like they did in 2013 and didn’t have to touch the original six-year, $120.6 million deal. But more signs were pointing to an agreement eventually being reached as the weekend concluded in Indianapolis, which reflects the comments Flacco made earlier this winter in which he acknowledged wanting to win and his $28.55 million salary-cap figure making that difficult. Nothing is official, but the Ravens appear closer to gaining much-needed space to maneuver with free agency rapidly approaching.

2. On the other hand, Justin Tucker receiving the franchise tag early meant a deal wasn’t close. Tucker’s agent, Robert Roche, announcing on Friday that the kicker had been tagged wasn’t surprising after general manager Ozzie Newsome indicated on Wednesday that the Ravens would use it if a long-term agreement wasn’t reached. The organization hasn’t announced the move — probably because it doesn’t want the $4.572 million franchise amount to kick in against the cap any earlier than Tuesday’s deadline — but the early nature of the decision reflects how far apart the sides remained. The Ravens have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal with Tucker before he must play out 2016 for the tag amount, but it would be in Newsome’s best interest to strike a deal sooner rather than later to clear cap room.

3. Baltimore sounds perfectly convinced that Lardarius Webb will be the answer at safety this season. Despite the 30-year-old having a $9.5 million cap figure for the 2016 season, the Ravens were once again adamant that they view Webb as a starting safety. Asked whether he was comfortable with Webb having a cap number that would put him among the most expensive safeties in the league, Newsome went as far as to say it’s a “very good number” when you consider what this offseason’s top safeties are expected to fetch on the open market. Still, it’s a risky assumption to think Webb will play at a level deserving of that kind of price tag. What the Ravens’ stance might mean for the roster standing of other safeties such as Kendrick Lewis, Will Hill, and Matt Elam will be interesting to watch.

4. Concerns remain about wide receiver Breshad Perriman. It’s been seven months since the 2015 first-round pick partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, but Newsome indicated he has yet to be fully cleared, which is an all-too-familiar update. The general manager noted Perriman’s smile and good spirits around the team’s Owings Mills training facility in recent weeks, but Newsome only saying he anticipates “at some point this spring that he’ll be out there ready to play” leaves plenty of room for doubt. The Ravens should be looking for another speed receiver to add to the mix, but the passing game needs Perriman on the practice field as much as possible since we’re talking about a player who isn’t yet a proven commodity at the NFL level.

5. The tight end position suddenly doesn’t look so deep anymore. Even with Dennis Pitta likely to be cut if he doesn’t retire, the Ravens appeared to be in great shape at the position. But with the suspended Nick Boyle’s “double down on dumb” — in John Harbaugh’s words — and Crockett Gillmore undergoing surgery on each shoulder that could sideline him into training camp, the Ravens may need to add another tight end to the mix after all. There is plenty of talent at this position, but Gillmore’s health concerns and Boyle’s ban for the first 10 games of the regular season will leave Maxx Williams as Baltimore’s only sure option during spring workouts. The team could re-sign a fringe guy like Konrad Reuland, but drafting a tight end in the later rounds now appears more likely than it did a few weeks ago.

6. Depth at running back won’t be a problem. The group could grow if 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson is added to the mix, but Harbaugh reiterated on Thursday that Justin Forsett “certainly fits the bill” of a starter and is “absolutely” expected to be part of the team in 2016. Of course, you never know for sure with the Ravens’ cap situation, but that should answer questions about his roster standing as he carries a $3.7 million cap figure for the coming season. The Baltimore coach didn’t go as far as anointing Forsett his starter for 2016, but you just didn’t see quite enough from Buck Allen as a rookie to assume he’s ready to become a No. 1 back. It will be fun watching a group that already includes Forsett, Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West compete for playing time this summer.

7. It’s all about the defense in this draft. The Ravens have needs on both sides of the ball after a 5-11 season, but the combine reiterated just how deep this draft is with defensive talent compared to the other side of the ball. Many mock drafts continue to link Baltimore to Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley — especially if Kelechi Osemele isn’t re-signed — but there are so many directions Newsome can go in finding a high-impact defensive player. Whether staying put at No. 6 or moving up or down in the first round, there are intriguing pass rushers (Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, and Shaq Lawson), talented cornerbacks (Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, and Mackensie Alexander), and even a dynamic linebacker (Myles Jack) who could be sitting there for a defense in need of a game-changing talent.

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Ravens working on adding former draft bust to roster

Posted on 25 February 2016 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — As the Ravens evaluate the incoming rookies at the scouting combine in Indianapolis this week, they are looking into adding one of the biggest busts in recent NFL draft history.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Thursday that the organization has had discussions with running back Trent Richardson and could add the third overall pick of the 2012 draft to the 90-man roster. The 25-year-old has not played in the NFL since being cut by the Oakland Raiders at the end of the 2015 preseason, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has shown an affinity for fellow Alabama products over the years.

Is Richardson next?

“We’re talking to him right now. He seems like a good guy,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve talked to him on the phone a few times. Ozzie’s got all the ties at Alabama, so we’ll see where it goes. It’s in the works. It’s possible.”

Even with a relatively successful 950-yard season as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns, Richardson has struggled mightily in the NFL, averaging 3.3 yards per carry over 46 career games. His issues with weight while playing for both Cleveland and Indianapolis were no secret as coaches also questioned his overall commitment and maturity.

This rapid fall from grace in the NFL came after Richardson rushed for more than 3,000 yards over a terrific collegiate career with the Crimson Tide.

With Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Terrance West, and Lorenzo Taliaferro already on the roster, Richardson would be facing an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster and get his NFL career back on track with the Ravens. However, Baltimore would presumably be risking little more than a spot on the 90-man offseason roster and an invitation for spring and summer workouts while giving a once-promising player a chance to redeem himself.

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Ravens have made “really aggressive” offer to Osemele

Posted on 25 February 2016 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — While general manager Ozzie Newsome has downplayed the need to restructure Joe Flacco’s contract to clear precious salary cap space for the start of free agency, the Ravens are pushing to keep free-agent offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens have offered to make the fifth-year lineman their second-highest paid offensive player behind their franchise quarterback. Head coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t delve into the specifics of the offer, but he made it clear what the Ravens are trying to do with Osemele, who started the final four games of the 2015 season at left tackle.

“I’m sure he’s shopping the deal. I can tell you — Ozzie said it already — it’s a really aggressive deal,” Harbaugh said. “I think it shows a lot of respect to K.O. It shows him that we really want him here, and I hope he takes it.”

Of course, incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe remains under contract as he would enter the third season of a five-year, $37.5 million contract signed two offseasons ago. However, Monroe has started only 16 games over the last two seasons, and Newsome provided a lukewarm endorsement for him when speaking to reporters at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday.

Monroe is scheduled to carry an $8.7 million cap figure for 2016, but cutting him without a post-June 1 designation would save only $2.1 million in space and leave $6.6 million in dead money. The Ravens would save $4.3 million in space on the 2016 cap with a post-June 1 designation, but that room would not be available until long after most free-agent activity would be concluded.

Harbaugh left open the possibility of Osemele returning to left guard, but the Ravens wouldn’t be entertaining the possibility of paying big money to the 2012 second-round pick to return to his old position after they already invested more money in an extension for five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda last fall.

“I think we’ll figure it out, but I like him at left tackle,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we talked about from the day he got drafted here that he could play left tackle. We still have Eugene, who’s still in our program. We’ll put the best five guys out there and build the best offensive line we can, no matter who’s here or who’s not here.

“As a coach, I really want K.O. here and I hope he feels the same way.”

Should the Ravens re-sign Osemele, that would presumably squash the possibility of Newsome taking a left tackle such as Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss or Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley in this April’s draft.

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Ravens tight end Boyle busted again for PED violation

Posted on 19 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Less than three months after being suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, Ravens tight end Nick Boyle is in trouble again.

The 2015 fifth-round pick has been banned without pay for the first 10 games of the 2016 regular season for a second offense of the policy. Boyle will remain eligible to participate in the offseason program as well as preseason practices and games this summer.

His first suspension ended an otherwise-successful rookie season in which the University of Delaware product had caught 18 passes for 153 yards in 11 games as Baltimore’s blocking tight end. Boyle apologized to fans via his Twitter account after the first suspension.

“I am truly sorry for the disappointment I have caused by a poor choice I made,” Boyle wrote. “I am ready to move forward and I appreciate all the support.”

Head coach John Harbaugh did not specify in December what led to Boyle’s suspension — he said that it wasn’t anything serious like steroids — and it remains unclear whether Boyle was suspended for the same substance this time around. What is clear is that a third offense of the performance-enhancing substances policy would result in Boyle being suspended for at least two seasons, which would be subject to appeal.

Some were already calling for Boyle to be cut on Friday afternoon, but the organization has a recent history of sticking with players in violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. In 2013, ex-Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson was suspended eight games for his second violation of the same policy and remained with the organization through this past season.

“I don’t think he realized that it was something he shouldn’t be doing,” said Harbaugh about Boyle on Dec. 7. “Or, if he did, he just didn’t think it through. I talked to him and he was just telling me how stupid it was and I agreed — it was pretty dumb. Hopefully, he’ll grow and learn from that.”

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2016

Posted on 11 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are coming off their worst season of the John Harbaugh era, and most offseason discussion has centered around the draft and how active general manager Ozzie Newsome can be in free agency.

There’s no disputing the need for more high-impact talent, but improvement from within will go a long way in determining how quickly the Ravens can return to contention after a 5-11 campaign. With limited salary cap space and only so many holes that can be filled through the draft, Baltimore needs young players already on the roster to make a difference this coming fall with some experience and another offseason under their belts.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in order to bounce back from their disappointing 2015 campaign:

1. WR Breshad Perriman

Who else could it be in the top spot? The Ravens put all their eggs in one basket trying to replace Torrey Smith with their 2015 first-round pick before he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first full day of training camp and left the offense without any speed. General manager Ozzie Newsome said he had a smile on his face watching the 6-foot-2 Perriman practice before the injury, and the Baltimore offense will desperately need his speed for a passing attack that struggled to push the ball down the field in 2015. The Ravens will wisely look for additional help at the position this offseason, but Perriman will be the biggest key in making the passing game more explosive and less reliant on a 37-year-old Steve Smith and emerging possession receiver Kamar Aiken.

2. LB Za’Darius Smith

The 2015 fourth-round pick’s 3 1/2 sacks over the final three games of 2015 are something to build on from what was mostly a quiet rookie season. In fairness, the Ravens expected a smaller role for the 275-pound linebacker, but the season-ending Achilles injury to Terrell Suggs in the opener made Smith the primary backup to Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw. Denver showed again in Super Bowl 50 how important it is to have disruptive pass rushers, but how much longer can the Ravens expect Suggs and Dumervil to perform at a high level? Even if Newsome is lucky enough to come away with an impact edge rusher like Joey Bosa or Noah Spence in this spring’s draft, Smith needs to take a big step forward if the Ravens want to boost a pass rush that was too inconsistent in 2015.

3. DT Carl Davis

Many have discussed the second-half improvement of the pass defense, but the Ravens gave up more than 100 yards rushing in each of their final five games after surrendering that amount just twice in their first 11 contests. Brandon Williams played at a Pro Bowl-level and Timmy Jernigan improved after a slow start, but the Ravens needed more contributions from Davis after he began the season looking like one of the steals of the draft. The Iowa product played well early and started three games, but he appeared to wear down and was a non-factor in the second half of the season, seeing just 17 defensive snaps over the final six games. Baltimore doesn’t need Davis to be Haloti Ngata, but his emergence as a run-stopping force next to Williams would allow the Ravens to keep Jernigan fresh for pass-rushing situations.

4. S Terrence Brooks

It’s never good for a player to show up on a list like this two years in a row, but the 2014 third-round pick is just one of many safeties the Ravens have added over the last few years to try to bring stability to the spot once occupied by future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Brooks made an impressive recovery from the serious knee surgery suffered in the final month of his rookie year, but he saw just 67 defensive snaps in 2015. Kendrick Lewis remains under contract and Lardarius Webb is an option if the Ravens adjust his $9.5 million cap figure for 2016, but Brooks has the athleticism to be more of a playmaker at the position than anyone else on the current roster. Unfortunately, coaches haven’t trusted him from a mental standpoint, so it appears this could be the make-or-break year for the Florida State product.

5. RB Buck Allen

Allen’s inclusion is more about circumstance than his rookie season in which he accumulated 867 total yards of offense, most coming after the season-ending injury to veteran Justin Forsett in Week 11. The Ravens have plenty of depth at running back, but Forsett will be 31, Lorenzo Taliaferro hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season, and local product Terrance West has been with three teams in two years. Allen caught an impressive 45 passes, but his 3.8 yards per carry average leaves you wondering whether he can be a feature back in the NFL. The Ravens need more of a home-run hitter in the backfield, and the 2015 fourth-rounder figures to have the best chance to be that guy. Ray Rice averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie before making the Pro Bowl a year later. Can Allen make a jump anywhere close to that?

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Denver’s path reminds Ravens of NFL’s slim margin for error

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As Denver prepared for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, it was difficult not to think back to the Ravens’ season-opening 19-13 loss to the Broncos last September and remember the high expectations entering 2015.

An interception returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was the difference as the Ravens owned the lead late in the third quarter before a Joe Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith was returned 51 yards in the other direction. Perhaps the season plays out differently if John Harbaugh’s team holds on to steal a difficult road win to kick off 2015 on a high note.

Some have pointed to that narrow Week 1 defeat as reason why Baltimore isn’t far from again being a contender despite its worst season since 2007. And, yes, there was some symmetry in the Super Bowl champions having 12 of their 16 regular-season games decided by a single possession while the Ravens saw 14 of their 16 contests decided by eight or fewer points this season.

But that’s life in the NFL as only six teams — Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the plus side and San Francisco and Cleveland on the negative side — owned a scoring margin of more than eight points points per game in either direction in 2015. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and are close.

Excruciatingly close.

And that margin of victory — or defeat — is typically decided by the game-changing players on either side of the ball. For all the discussion about Peyton Manning’s decline, the Broncos still have a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball, ranging from outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Talib to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Those are the types of players that separate the winning teams from the losing ones in an otherwise fairly even talent pool from team to team. Denver’s plus-59 point differential during the regular season ranked just sixth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL, but Gary Kubiak’s team figured out ways to win close games while the Ravens consistently fell short in crunch time in 2015.

For years, Baltimore had a number of dynamic players, but most have either departed or have aged too much since Super Bowl XLVII three years ago. The well-documented list of injuries in 2015 merely amplified what was already a flawed roster.

Great players were on display for Denver in Santa Clara on Sunday night.

It will be up to general manager Ozzie Newsome this offseason to find at least a couple game-changers to close that narrow but all-important gap between winning and losing teams.

Otherwise, the Ravens will probably find themselves watching playoff games from their couches again next January.

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NFL reports more concussions in 2015, which may not be bad thing

Posted on 29 January 2016 by Luke Jones

With head injuries continuing to be such a serious topic of discussion, the NFL revealing on Friday that reported concussions rose to the highest level of the last four seasons doesn’t sound like good news.

After the league previously praised the way many players had adapted their style of play as the reason for a decrease in concussions in each of the previous two seasons, we’re now left wondering why there was a 54-percent increase in reported concussions from 2014 (123) to 2015 (190) in regular-season practices and games. The number of concussions in preseason practices and games went largely unchanged (83 in 2014 to 81 this past year).

Perhaps something did change that resulted in decreased safety in 2015 or maybe all involved parties — medical staff, officials, coaches, teammates, and even the concussed players themselves — are becoming more effective and responsible in recognizing and reporting concussion-related symptoms.

In other words, do these numbers represent an increase in actual concussions or is the league merely identifying more of them than it did in the past? According to NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy Jeff Miller, the number of players screened for possible concussions doubled from last year.

Ultimately, do we want concussion numbers that make us feel better or do we want to move closer to the truth and improving player safety?

Considering how skeptical most have been about the NFL’s handling of concussions over the years — and rightfully so — a higher number of reported concussions could reasonably lead us to believe that initiatives such as an independent trainer being stationed in the press box to watch for injuries and the 2015 introduction of the medical timeout rule are working — if even to remind everyone that this is a serious issue that can no longer be overlooked in the heat of competition.

Even if we haven’t solved the concussion problem, awareness has never been higher.

Errors are still being made as we saw with the concussion suffered by St. Louis quarterback Case Keenum in Baltimore in late November, but Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger self-reported symptoms in a game a week later, an act that likely would have been viewed as out of the question even a few years ago. You can only hope that more players take his lead as an example of not trying to play through a possible concussion.

The Ravens came under some scrutiny for the way they handled a situation in Miami on Dec. 6 when quarterback Matt Schaub slammed his head on the ground and immediately clutched his helmet with his hands, a sign of a potential head injury. The veteran wasn’t formally checked until a timeout was called a play later, but he remained in the game after passing concussion testing and the league cleared the organization of any wrongdoing the next day.

“I think whatever they do for safety — whatever they feel they need to do — is great,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the day after the Dolphins game. “To me, you have one here that worked. We have experts who went out there and went through the process, and they’re very diligent and very conscious of concussions right now. That’s something that everybody is thinking about.

“I know mistakes have been made — I understand that — but I think you trust professionals to do their job and respect the fact that they know what they’re doing.”

It’s clear that the perception of head injuries in the NFL has changed dramatically as we no longer glorify “kill” shots that used to be featured on weekly highlight shows. Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s penalized hit on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the final moments of a tight playoff game earlier this month wouldn’t have drawn near the same outrage six or seven years ago.

To be clear, concussions will never be eliminated entirely unless we entirely eliminate football — as well as a number of other contact sports — but we can all invest in making the game as safe as possible at every level, which includes teaching proper tackling technique and recognizing and treating concussions effectively. Ultimately, players should know the risks now more than ever — even if we still have a long way to go in continuing to research concussions and the human brain — but we’re seeing longer recovery times than in the past, which is a positive with the NFL’s more-extensive concussion protocol.

This must also come with an understanding that recovering from a concussion has nothing to do with someone’s toughness or manhood, an antiquated notion that needs to be removed from the football culture entirely.

All of us — media and fans included — need to be smarter than that in 2016.

Concussions are an unfortunate part of the game that will not go away altogether, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to avoid and minimize their impact.

Unfortunately, it’s just difficult to know what to make of the numbers released by the NFL on Friday.

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