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Ravens’ cornerback situation can’t be overlooked in win over Cowboys

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Ravens’ cornerback situation can’t be overlooked in win over Cowboys

Posted on 16 August 2014 by Luke Jones

A 37-30 win for the Ravens over the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night doesn’t reflect what was the most concerning image from the opening minutes of the second preseason game of the summer.

Already without starter Lardarius Webb and No. 3 corner contender Asa Jackson due to injuries, the Ravens lost their most important piece of the secondary — and likely their entire defense — as Jimmy Smith landed hard on his back defending a sideline pass intended for Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. The good news is that X-rays were negative on his chest and the fourth-year watched the remainder of the game from the sideline despite spitting up blood on the sideline as he was helped off the field.

A bruised chest isn’t necessarily cause for panic — The Sun reported Smith was still coughing up blood following the game — but watching Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks handle the cornerback spots with the starting defense conjured memories of David Pittman and Willie Gaston manning the Baltimore secondary in the disastrous 2007 season. And it was another reminder of just how thin the Ravens’ cornerback depth is considering Brown has been picked on for much of the summer and Franks had been relegated to third-string duties until the last week.

Franks was beaten on a jump ball to Bryant for a 31-yard touchdown — a matchup that was simply unfair — while Brown was later burned by Cowboys wideout Terrance Williams on a deep route that was badly underthrown. To Brown’s credit, he did recover to break up the pass, but the play was more about a poor throw from Cowboys backup Brandon Weeden than an impressive play by the fourth-year cornerback.

It didn’t help that Dean Pees’ defense struggled to stop the run and generated little pressure in the pocket in the first half, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office must address what is obvious with the start of the season only three weeks away. The Ravens need to add an established cornerback to their secondary in order to not be exposed by potent passing games in the throw-happy NFL.

All you need to know about the confidence level in the current batch of cornerbacks is the Ravens’ experimentation with using three safeties in the nickel defense with rookie Terrence Brooks lining up at the slot corner position. Jackson was emerging as a promising option for the No. 3 job, but he remains too much of an unknown and was spotted in a walking boot Saturday after injuring his ankle a week ago. John Harbaugh said it was a “minor” ankle sprain at the time, but the head coach is often ambiguous and vague when discussing injuries, making you wonder when Jackson will even make it back to the practice field.

Even if Smith and Webb are healthy for the start of the season — the latter has been sidelined with a back injury since July 25 — no one on the current roster instills enough confidence in being able to handle the No. 3 cornerback spot. That reality has made the free-agent departure of Corey Graham to Buffalo in the offseason that much more glaring as the Ravens didn’t draft a cornerback or sign a veteran at the position until the middle of June.

The problem will be addressing the problem at this stage as quality cornerbacks aren’t exactly waiting in abundance. A free-agent veteran such as Asante Samuel is always a possibility, but that won’t necessarily solve the problem as the Ravens already signed veterans Aaron Ross — who tore his Achilles tendon at the start of training camp — and Franks at the end of mandatory minicamp and have seen disappointing results. The Ravens’ best bet — or only hope — might be to dangle a future draft pick in hopes of acquiring another team’s second or third cornerback.

The nickel defense has become too much of a staple in today’s NFL to continue to expect an in-house candidate to handle the job. That concern will become a major problem if any of the Ravens’ current injuries linger into the start of the season with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh first up on the schedule.

The clock is ticking and the concern only grew as Smith landed hard on the turf at AT&T Stadium and needed to be helped off the field.

The Ravens need help in the secondary.

But it’s going to be difficult to find it.

 

 

 

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Ravens-Cowboys preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Cowboys preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 15 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will try to build on an encouraging performance in their preseason opener as they travel to Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys in their second preseason game of the summer.

Observers were abuzz over an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown in the starting offense’s only work of the night against San Francisco, but the Ravens have acknowledged throughout the week that they can’t put too much stock into one possession. Even with plenty of strides already taken throughout training camp to grasp new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system, there is plenty of work remaining before the Ravens kick off the regular season against Cincinnati on Sept. 7.

“You have an opportunity to really see progress,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re in a crucible, and every single day, it’s all you do. It’s wall-to-wall football. It’s morning to night. You go to sleep and you wake up, and you’re back at football. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to hide, [and] there’s nowhere to run. It’s all football all the time, so you make progress rapidly, but you have to because you have a long way to go.”

Harbaugh confirmed starters are expected to receive more playing time against the Cowboys than they did against San Francisco, but the first units will receive their most extensive work against Washington in the third preseason game next weekend.

The Ravens are expected to continue giving running back Ray Rice first-team reps along with top backup Bernard Pierce before focusing more on the latter next week with Rice suspended for the first two games of the regular season.

“Normally, in the second preseason game you get a quarter, maybe a little more than a quarter,” Harbaugh said. “Some of that will be individualized for different players; we’ll have some play counts for a few guys, including Joe [Flacco] and some of the defensive players. We’ll see how it goes, but basically, about a quarter is what you’re looking at — maybe more. It could get close to a half; it could even be a half for some of the starters.”

Saturday will be the first preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Cowboys, but Baltimore owns the 4-0 edge in the regular season and will be making its first visit to AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Ravens are 43-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 16-9 preseason mark in the Harbaugh era.

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 Saturday night’s game against Dallas.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play in the second preseason game as he’s been sidelined with a lower back injury since July 25.

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

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Will Rackley (head), DT Terrence Cody (hip), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles tendon), DE Brent Urban (knee)
DOUBTFUL: CB Asa Jackson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Owen Daniels (unspecified)
PROBABLE: LB Daryl Smith (groin), S Brynden Trawick (back), OL Ryan Jensen (leg)

Five players to watch Saturday night

1. C Jeremy Zuttah

While many pointed to the success of right tackle Rick Wagner in the first preseason game, the new Baltimore center appeared to make calls at the line successfully as the starting offense ran the ball effectively and protected Flacco. Zuttah isn’t dramatically bigger than 2013 starter Gino Gradkowski, but he’s held up well physically as a run blocker and in pass protection. The offensive line will remain under heavy scrutiny through the early portion of the series, but the reviews for Zuttah have been positive and the overall concern at the center position last year at this time appears to be a distant memory.

“The thing about Jeremy, he is a professional in every way,” offensive line coach Juan Castillo said. “He is smart, and he studies the game. For him, too, it’s a different technique, and he’s been working very hard at the fundamentals and trying to do the things the way we do it here in Baltimore.”

2. S Terrence Brooks

It was no secret that Brooks was lagging behind in the competition at free safety due to concerns with him grasping the intricacies of the defense, but injuries to Webb and Jackson at the cornerback position have prompted the Ravens to take a look at the Florida State product in the nickel spot, a position he played with the Seminoles. The shift is more of a reflection on how shallow the cornerback depth is at this point, but Brooks may find the nickel and dime packages as his best chance to see the field for meaningful defensive snaps to start his rookie season.

“Everybody is an option right now. We’re just trying to find guys,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees on the No. 3 cornerback spot. “We’re moving guys around a little bit. We have two more games to experiment with where we want to put guys and see where they fit getting ready for the season. The first two games are [about] playing everybody [to] see what we have, and then after that, we have to start honing in. But we’ll move a bunch of guys around. Terrence is playing well; he’s playing hard. He’s a multi-position guy like all of our guys really are. It’s a possibility.”

3. WR Kamar Aiken

The 2013 practice squad member has turned plenty of heads and certainly took advantage of his opportunity in the preseason opener with four catches for 46 yards on six targets and 29 offensive snaps. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout appears to be competing closely with Deonte Thompson for a potential roster spot, but Aiken has outplayed the incumbent member of the 53-man roster and can further improve his chances by building on what he did against the 49ers. Of course, special-teams contributions will play a major part in determining whether Aiken finds himself on the active roster.

“He is explosive and he’s big,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “I tell you, in all my years in the league, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen as competitive a situation as we have at receiver right now. I would have no chance telling John [Harbaugh] which five or six I would want right now, and that’s a good thing as a coach.”

4. DL DeAngelo Tyson

The 2012 seventh-round pick has been a steady member of the defensive line rotation in his first two seasons, but season-ending injuries to young defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore may force the Ravens to use Tyson more exclusively at the 5-technique spot to spell veteran Chris Canty. The University of Georgia product can play multiple spots on the defensive line, so it will be a blow to their overall versatility in the trenches if Pees must use Tyson outside, but his presence has become much more important with the overall depth taking a hit this summer.

“The next guy will be up, and we’ll find a way to do it,” said Harbaugh about the injuries to Urban and Lewis-Moore. “There are always going to be injuries. You adapt, you adjust and you fill out your positions.”

5. TE Crockett Gillmore

The Ravens insist the veteran tight end Daniels isn’t injured, but it’s clear there are some physical concerns with him missing two straight practices following an off-day and not showing great separation while running routes in practices. These factors could open the door for Gillmore to receive more opportunities with the starting offense against Dallas and beyond. It’s been an inconsistent summer for the Colorado State product as a blocker and as a receiver, but that’s to be expected from a third-round pick who will be counted on to be used to some degree with neither Daniels nor starter Dennis Pitta considered particularly strong blockers.

“Crockett is a good football player,” Pitta said earlier this summer. “He’s a tough kid and he’s big and physical and a great blocker at the point of attack. I think that’s what stood out the most this early on. He’s going to be a valuable asset for this offense moving forward.”


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Ravens continue to rest veteran tight end Daniels

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Ravens continue to rest veteran tight end Daniels

Posted on 14 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens conducted their final full practice ahead of Saturday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys as veteran tight end Owen Daniels continued to be absent from the field.

The former Houston Texan was absent from practice for the second straight day after offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said Daniels was simply receiving a day off on Thursday. Daniels’ two-day absence following the Ravens’ off-day will raise some eyebrows as the 31-year-old has had a quiet training camp thus far.

“We decided to rest his legs a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “He had been going pretty hard, so [we wanted] to [rest him] a little bit. Whether he’ll play in the game, we’ll just decide and see how he feels. But there’s no injury involved there.”

Daniels hasn’t shown great explosiveness when running routes against man coverage this summer after being limited to five games due to a broken leg in his final season with Houston. With starting tight end Dennis Pitta back to full strength after last season’s hip injury, the Ravens don’t need Daniels to handle a full workload, but Kubiak is known for using multiple tight ends in his West Coast offense.

The Ravens continue to be shorthanded in the secondary as cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) failed to practice on Thursday with neither expected to play in the second preseason game of the summer. Offensive lineman Will Rackley (concussion) and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (active physically unable to perform list – hip) also continue to be sidelined.

Harbaugh expects starters to see more playing time in the second preseason game than they did against San Francisco last Thursday.

“Normally, in the second preseason game you get a quarter, maybe a little more than a quarter,” Harbaugh said. “Some of that will be individualized for different players; we’ll have some play counts for a few guys, including Joe [Flacco] and some of the defensive players. We’ll see how it goes, but basically, about a quarter is what you’re looking at — maybe more. It could get close to a half; it could even be a half for some of the starters.”

Thursday’s practice was a lighter workout with players working in helmets, shells, and shorts. The Ravens will conduct a closed walk-through on Friday before departing for Texas in anticipation of their first ever preseason meeting against the Cowboys.

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Pitta slowed by ankle sprain as Ravens, 49ers practice for final time

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Pitta slowed by ankle sprain as Ravens, 49ers practice for final time

Posted on 11 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens concluded their final day of practice with the San Francisco 49ers while tight end Dennis Pitta continued to be limited with a minor injury.

The starting tight end missed Sunday’s workout with what was originally described as a “tweak” by head coach John Harbaugh before suiting up for Monday morning’s practice. Pitta did not do much of anything during the 2 1/2 hour practice and appeared to be limping as he watched from the sideline.

“Dennis has an ankle sprain,” Harbaugh said. “He went for about 30 minutes [of individual work] and then we put him down.”

The Ravens sustained a number of injuries over the weekend with the most severe being the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Cornerback Asa Jackson (ankle), safety Brynden Trawick (back), and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen were also absent on Monday after getting hurt during the first two practices against the 49ers.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back), guard Will Rackley (concussion), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (physically unable to perform list – hip surgery) were also missing from Monday’s practice. Speaking with reporters after signing autographs for fans in attendance, Webb expressed optimism that he’ll be back soon, but the veteran defensive back wouldn’t specify a timetable for when he’ll practice for the first time or whether he’ll play in the preseason since being sidelined with back spasms on July 25.

“I would love to play some preseason, but I’ve been through some injuries,” said Webb, who has suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees in his NFL career. “I’ve been in the same position many times. I hate to say many times. We’ll see.”

With Webb and Jackson out with injuries, the Ravens used third-round rookie safety Terrence Brooks at the nickel position with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown lined up on the outside during 7-on-7 work and full-team drills against the 49ers. Brooks played cornerback as well as safety during his collegiate career at Florida State, but it’s a clear reflection of how thin the Ravens’ depth is in the secondary.

The Ravens and 49ers practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday after two days wearing full pads. Baltimore players will have the day off on Tuesday before returning to the Owings Mills facility to continue preparations ahead of Saturday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

After much speculation and discussion over whether players from opposing teams would engage in any fighting during the three-day period, the Ravens and 49ers made it through their time together without a single skirmish of significance.

Orioles pitcher Bud Norris attended Monday’s practice in Owings Mills as the California native is a 49ers fan. The right-hander was scheduled to start against the New York Yankees on Monday night.

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Ravens welcome Boldin, 49ers to practice fields in Owings Mills

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Ravens welcome Boldin, 49ers to practice fields in Owings Mills

Posted on 09 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Taking part in joint practices for the first time in the 19-year history of the franchise, the Ravens welcomed the San Francisco 49ers to their training facility Saturday for the first of three practices following their 23-3 win in the preseason opener.

Both head coaches preached the need to take care of the other team in terms of practicing smart and not wanting to cause injuries while putting in the necessary work. The Ravens escaped the preseason opener in great shape from a health standpoint as cornerback Lardarius Webb (back), guard Will Rackley (back), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (active physically unable to perform list – hip) were the only players not taking part in Saturday’s practice, meaning no players missed practice time due to injuries sustained in Thursday’s game.

Safety Brynden Trawick left the field while appearing to be favoring his back and didn’t return before the conclusion of practice. Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen also appeared to be banged up at one point but remained on the field.

“It definitely makes things a little different,” said quarterback Joe Flacco prior to the first joint practice. “I’m sure when we first go out there, we’ll be feeling each other out a little bit and seeing what kind of tempo there is and all that.”

The 49ers offense appeared to get the best of the Baltimore defense in 11-on-11 team work with former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin making several catches in a red-zone period and fellow wideout Stevie Johnson making an acrobatic sideline grab with Jimmy Smith in tight coverage. Veteran receiver Kassim Osgood also lost safety Matt Elam and cornerback Chykie Brown in coverage for a long completion.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs appeared to struggle to create pressure off the edge while matched up against Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley.

Meanwhile, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith continued his impressive summer with a number of challenging catches against the 49ers secondary, including an over-the-shoulder grab on a deep ball down the seam.

Head coach John Harbaugh said the teams intend to practice in full pads all three days, but they will not conduct live drills in which they tackle to the ground.

“We want to take care of the Ravens,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We want to be safe out here, and we need them to do the same for us. That’s the kind of environment where iron sharpens iron. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for good practice work. These aren’t games out here.”

Harbaugh brothers call out media

The Ravens and 49ers made it out of Saturday’s workout without any fights of note as outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and 49ers fullback Will Tukuafu appeared to get heated at one point before order was quickly restored.

Each Harbaugh brother preached to their respective teams about the importance of remaining focused during practices and the consequences of getting into scuffles with the opposition. However, both spoke about the media’s tendency to focus on fights and skirmishes in practices instead of the football side of things.

“What’s interesting to me — and what’s a real indictment on you as the media — is the fact that Jimmy Smith was asked about it, and he said when he sees these things on TV, all he ever sees is fights,” John Harbaugh said. “What does that tell you? How about a little self-check?

“We’re probably going to have 99 percent all great, positive things, but if there is a little shoving match out here, I’m quite sure that that’s what will be on these cameras, and it’ll be countrywide, and that’ll be everybody’s take on how it went, right? Because that’s how it is all the time. We’re going to look for the positive; you all can look for the negative — as usual.”

Flacco sees preseason opener as “good foundation”

After an opportunity to view the film from the strong opening drive on Thursday in which the starting offense traveled 80 yards on 10 plays to score a touchdown, Flacco echoed how encouraged he was to see the offensive line perform at a high level.

The challenge now will be continuing to progress as the first unit receives more extensive snaps in the second and third preseason games. Flacco completed four of five passes for 52 yards before most of the starting offense was pulled after running back Bernard Pierce plunged into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown.

“We ran the ball really well and protected really well,” Flacco said. “There is a lot to build on. I think we built a good foundation there. I think each week from here on out, we have to keep showing that improvement and building off what we did.”

Boldin not dwelling on past

Making his return to the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills, Boldin seemed at peace with his former team’s decision to trade him to San Francisco last offseason and spent the early portion of practice greeting old teammates and staff members.

John Harbaugh quipped that he still blames general manager Ozzie Newsome for dealing Boldin away for a sixth-round pick before acknowledging it was a difficult business decision stemming from a tight salary cap. The 33-year-old receiver enjoyed the opportunity to visit his old neighborhood on Friday and has been appreciative for continued support from Ravens fans following the trade.

“I got a chance to see a lot of people I haven’t seen since the trade,” Boldin said. “It’s always good to see those people. I built a lot of relationships in my three years here.”

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Ravens-49ers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-49ers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 06 August 2014 by Luke Jones

A brotherly reunion and Super Bowl XLVII rematch adds a little more spice to the preseason opener as the Ravens welcome the San Francisco 49ers to Baltimore on Thursday night.

As is always the case with the first preseason game, the contest will offer little more than a cameo appearance for veteran starters expected to make the biggest impact this season, but it does provide welcome change for a group of players tired of working against one another after two weeks of practices in Owings Mills. While most veteran starters figure to see little more than a series or two, younger starters figure to see more extensive action in the first half if history holds to form.

“We’re kind of on a standard plan right now, as far as that [goes],” coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t know exactly the number of plays yet, but it won’t be anything we haven’t done in the past.”

Of course, the first preseason game won’t be the standard road trip for the 49ers as they’ll then join the Ravens at their training facility in Owings Mills for three days of practices, providing extra competition as well as opportunities to evaluate just how much improvement has been made to a team that failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007. Much will hinge on the offense under new coordinator Gary Kubiak, who is bringing his version of the West Coast attack to reinvigorate a group that finished 29th in the NFL last year.

Entering his seventh season at the helm of the Ravens offense, Joe Flacco has been all business this summer as Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison have focused on the veteran quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly while improving his footwork. Flacco isn’t the only one who will be under the microscope with the new offensive attack, but even he acknowledges the preseason opener carrying more significance than in past years because of the dramatic changes made this offseason.

Of course, the outcome of the opener won’t provide any definitive answers for questions facing the Ravens on both sides of the football, but the game will sharpen points of emphasis for both coaches and players after facing another team.

“Anytime you’re running a new offense and you think you’re doing it pretty well, it’s always nice to get out there and have a real test,” Flacco said. “Have people hitting you and flying around and going full speed under the lights. It’s probably a little more important.”

Thursday will mark the first ever preseason meeting between the Ravens and the 49ers, but Baltimore owns the 3-1 edge in the regular season and a 1-0 advantage in the postseason after their 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Ravens are 42-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 15-9 preseason mark in the Harbaugh era.

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.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play in either of the first two preseason games as he’s been sidelined with a lower back injury since July 25.

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

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Will Rackley (head), DT Terrence Cody (hip), DE Brent Urban (knee)
DOUBTFUL: LB Daryl Smith (groin)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Campanaro (ribs), CB Marrio Norman (unspecified)
PROBABLE: DT Timmy Jernigan (back), CB Jimmy Smith (back)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. RB Ray Rice

With so much attention justifiably paid to his off-field transgressions, you almost forget the 27-year-old back is coming off the worst season of his career in which he averaged a meager 3.1 yards per carry. Rice was heavy, slow, and banged up during the 2013 season and must play well to not only hold off backup Bernard Pierce but give the Ravens confidence that they can move forward with the three-time Pro Bowl selection beyond the 2014 season. Rice will want to use the first couple preseason games to make a favorable impression on Kubiak with his two-game suspension looming at the start of the season.

“Ray has looked really good,” Harbaugh said. “Comparisons to years in the past, we’ll find all that out during the season. But he’s in tremendous shape. I’m seeing him make good lateral cuts. He has really good burst, acceleration is there, [and] vision is there. He’s been very patient with the zone runs, which is something that I believe to be an improvement over the past — even two years ago.”

2. FS Darian Stewart

Signed to a one-year, $1.3 million contract in the offseason, the former St. Louis Ram has yet to be seriously challenged at the free safety position with third-round pick Terrence Brooks struggling to grasp the playbook in his first season. Stewart isn’t spectacular, but he’s been complimented by Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees for knowing his assignments and being in the right place, traits that shouldn’t be taken for granted considering the Baltimore defense gave up too many big plays a year ago. Stewart isn’t a long-term answer or dynamic player, but the Ravens hope he can be a value signing comparable to when they signed Corey Graham a couple years ago.

“I see a grown, mature, confident guy that I think fits really well in our room,” said secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was Stewart’s head coach for two years in St. Louis. “He’s kind of slipped in there. I’ve noticed he’s taken a backseat, which you have to do when you change teams a little bit, and that was early on. Now, I see his personality coming out. I think that will happen more and more. I think he’s going to be a great leader for us. I really do.”

3. RT Rick Wagner

Perhaps the storyline received too much attention during spring workouts, but there’s been less buzz about the right tackle position than you’d expect with second-year lineman Rick Wagner continuing to be the favorite to start over fourth-year disappointment Jah Reid. The Ravens have been higher on Wagner than most of the outside world all along, but the Wisconsin product will need to prove capable against preseason opponents to put concerns to rest. Wagner doesn’t need to be a Pro Bowl tackle, but he needs to hold his own as the Ravens are too challenged offensively to be forced to constantly provide help in protection on the right side of the line.

“He is doing a lot better,” said linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who often matches up against Wagner during practice. “You’ve got to stay consistent with [offensive line coach] Juan Castillo’s scheme — his protection, his switching it up. But for the most part, he’s just doing a really good job.”

4. DT Brandon Williams

The 2013 third-round pick appeared to be emerging as a contributor in the defensive line rotation last year before wearing down and being inactive over five of the last six games, but the Ravens have shown plenty of confidence in Williams so far this summer by sliding Haloti Ngata back to the 3-technique defensive tackle position and lining up the Missouri Southern State product at the nose. His strength and athleticism have been mentioned frequently, but Williams will need to show those traits translate in taking on interior blockers and making plays in stopping the run. If Williams is not up to the challenge, the Ravens could elect to shift Ngata back to the nose and take longer looks at second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson.

“Now, his strength is a lot more functional because he understands the technical part of the game a lot better,” defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. “He understands how we play a lot better and how we want things done. He understands that, and he was able to take his natural strength and work it into what we want. So far, everything is on the upswing.”

5. CB Tramain Jacobs

Most eyes will inevitably fall on Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson as the Ravens try to figure out who will be lining up at the No. 3 cornerback spot in the regular-season opener, but Jacobs is on a short list of rookie free agents to watch this summer. Playing at Texas A&M, the 5-foot-11, 182-pound cornerback saw plenty of tough competition in college practices matching up against wideout Mike Evans with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel throwing the football. Jacobs has shown good athleticism and a nose for the football to put him in the conversation for a spot on the 53-man roster. With so much concern over the lack of depth at the cornerback position, Jacobs will have opportunities to turn heads if his play carries over to preseason games.

“Everybody’s getting a good look. It’s a stiff competition right now,” said starter Jimmy Smith, who mentioned Jacobs as someone in contention for the No. 3 cornerback job. “Obviously, we don’t want Webb hurt, but that gives opportunity for [others]. It’s a stiff battle at the third cornerback position right now.”

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Webb injury makes cornerback no secondary concern for Ravens

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Webb injury makes cornerback no secondary concern for Ravens

Posted on 02 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens entered training camp with cornerback depth high on the list of concerns following the free-agent departure of Corey Graham and the lack of a significant offseason addition through free agency or the draft.

The anxiety has only grown with a lingering back injury for starter Lardarius Webb that is likely to keep him sidelined for most of the preseason, according to head coach John Harbaugh. Webb “probably” won’t play in the first two preseason games and could even miss the all-important third game of the summer despite tests revealing no structural damage to the sixth-year defensive back.

“He has some things going on in there that aren’t long-term things,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to get into it and give you the exact diagnosis of it. It’s probably as much me as anything. This early part of camp –- I just don’t want to put him through this on his back. He’s had sports hernia surgery [earlier in the offseason], also. There’s still some scar tissue in there. I just would rather keep him out of this first part of training camp, and we’ll just see how it feels more toward the end of camp.”

As anyone could tell you, back injuries are tricky, and there’s no guarantee that Webb will be in the clear even when he returns to action. The Ravens are taking the prudent approach considering the regular-season opener against Cincinnati is still more than a month away, but that will only quell concerns so much in a day and age when the NFL is all about defending the passing game.

Entering the summer, the competition was already wide open for the No. 3 cornerback spot with young defensive backs Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson expected to be pushed by veterans Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks, who were both signed following June’s mandatory minicamp. Instead, Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the conditioning test at the start of camp and Franks took several days to pass the test to even get on the field. The former Atlanta Falcons cornerback has done very little to distinguish himself while working with the second- and third-string defenses in practice.

Rookie free agents Tramain Jacobs, Deji Olatoye, and Sammy Seamster have all flashed ability and are intriguing candidates to potentially make the 53-man roster, but none can reasonably be counted on to handle a significant defensive role in Week 1.

The only certainty right now is 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith handling one of the starting spots.

“Somebody has to rise to the top,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “The cream has to come to the top and somebody has to take the job, and I don’t know right now who that is. I feel pretty good about Jimmy Smith on the one side, and then there’s a lot of competition over on the other side. Right now, I couldn’t tell you who that is. Those guys just have to keep competing.”

Through the early stages of camp, Jackson has played better than Brown, but neither has shown enough consistency to feel comfortable about penciling one into the nickel defense. When it comes to experience, Brown has the edge as he’s filled in as an outside corner in the nickel due to injuries while Jackson has yet to play a defensive snap as he enters his third season.

Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo prefer to slide Webb inside in the nickel package where his ability to play the run and blitz can be better utilized, and Brown is better suited to play outside, but the 2011 fifth-round pick consistently struggles to find the football in coverage. Meanwhile, Jackson is more of an inside corner with a height listed at 5-foot-10.

“That’s something that I went into this latest break trying to really work on and really working on my technique on the outside,” Jackson told AM 1570 WNST.net last week. “Being a smaller guy, it gets a little hairy out there sometimes, but I’ve put in a lot of good work this offseason. I’m excited to keep trying to improve and play on the outside.”

The Ravens have experimented with a variety of different looks including moving strong safety Matt Elam to the nickel spot, but it’s fair to wonder whether the defense’s No. 3 cornerback isn’t currently on the roster. General manager Ozzie Newsome has found contributors who have become available at the end of the preseason in the past, but there’s no guarantee a quality cornerback will shake free with the pass-happy nature of the league and the premium placed on coverage.

Newsome spoke highly of Brown and Jackson throughout the offseason, but the inability to add an impact cornerback this offseason is even more concerning with the absence of Webb.

“We may do some things that I may not normally do in a game just to put those guys out there and see what they can do,” Pees said. “This is the time to experiment and see if they can do it — not when the season starts.”

Of course, the Ravens are expressing confidence that Webb will be ready to go by the end of the summer, but they’ll need to find a comfort level with their No. 3 cornerback before they can even begin thinking about how to align the defense should Webb’s absence linger into the regular season.

It’s not a comfortable place to be with a group of unproven and unheralded cornerbacks competing for what has essentially become a starting position in the NFL. And that discomfort becomes a nightmare if the Ravens aren’t being completely transparent about Webb’s injured back.

For now, Harbaugh and his coaching staff can only hope one of the young cornerbacks answers the bell while Newsome keeps his eyes peeled for what might become available through trade or free agency.

“There is a lot of competition out here for that third spot,” Jackson said. “I think we’re all kind of raising each other’s level of play. Hopefully, we can keep doing that and then once the games get here, it’ll sort out how it will.”

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Ravens CB Chykie Brown tossed from practice as Harbaugh preaches discipline

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Ravens CB Chykie Brown tossed from practice as Harbaugh preaches discipline

Posted on 02 August 2014 by Ryan Chell

Despite a great practice on Saturday on the field for the Baltimore Ravens, head coach John Harbaugh was not well pleased with how his team was handling their success, and ultimately it became a teaching moment for one of the Ravens young players.

During team drills, quarterback Joe Flacco completed a short drag route on the left side of the field. The pass was complete, but short of the first down.

But minutes later, as the defense was celebrating the short stop-Harbaugh signaled first down and had the chain gang move down the field, shocking Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and several other Ravens defenders who were lined up on the sideline.

Harbaugh told his defense that they lingered on the field too long , and that several of the guys-including linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale came off the sideline onto the practice field.

“We talked about that in the meeting!” Harbaugh exclaimed.

It was made abundantly clear Saturday that with camp that Harbaugh is trying to get his team disciplined coming off the practice fields at Owings Mills and ready for 60 minutes of football at M&T Bank Stadium and on the road.

The Ravens will play the San Francisco 49ers at home this Thursday in their first preseason game, with a rematch of Super Bowl 47 and the “Harbaugh Bowl” between brothers John and Jim Harbaugh.

The next play, Ravens CB Chykie Brown nearly came down with an interception off Joe Flacco, and with the ball lying on the turf, Brown kicked the ball several yards down the field in frustration.

Harbaugh was none too pleased with Brown’s actions and made it known to the fourth-year CB, as he kicked Brown off the practice field.

Brown ran off the field to Harbaugh saying, “Are we going to be a disciplined team or a bullsh*t one?”

Harbaugh said they had a meeting Friday night about possible infractions the referees were going to be more serious about enforcing, and the Ravens coach said he needed to set an example of Brown.

“I took an opportunity to make a point,” he said. “It was a little exuberance, but those things it’s practicing. As a head coach when you have an opportunity to make a point that they’ll remember in a situation like that, that’s why practice is important.”

Brown returned ten minutes later, and clearly had a chip on his shoulder to get back in his coach’s good graces. Maybe too much-as he and wide receiver Steve Smith, who got a day off on Friday, exchanged punches during one of the drills.

Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and Kapron Lewis-Moore also got into it during practice.

Overall though, Harbaugh said Brown had a very impressive practice Saturday-along with the total defense.

“That’s what I love about him…he responded with a great practice…that’s a sign that he’s going to be alright.”

10 Baltimore Ravens missed practice Saturday, including the usual likes of CB Lardarius Webb (back), LB Daryl Smith (groin), DT Terrence Cody (hip), G Will Rackley (concussion), DT Timmy Jernigan (back), and DE Brent Urban, who tore his ACL Thursday and is going to miss the season.

Harbaugh said that Webb likely will not play in the first two preseason games nursing that back injury. His absence at this point is mostly precautionary, and that he likely would only play in the third preseason game.

“He’s got some things going on that aren’t long term…it’s probably just as much me as anything. I don’t want to put him through a lot this early in camp.”

Harbaugh said that Timmy Jernigan, who left Thursday with a back injury, could be back on the practice field soon. His back injury is all muscle, and Harbaugh didn’t want him practicing with discomfort.

“He assures me he’ll play Thursday night.”

OT Eugene Monroe, CB Jimmy Smith, and WR Steve Smith all returned to practice after a day off Friday.  OG Kelechi Osemele, OG Marshal Yanda, TE Owen Daniels, and DE/OLB Pernell McPhee were given Saturday off.

With the two guards out, second-year man Ryan Jensen lined up at LG while AQ Shipley took Yanda’s place in the starting five. Ricky Wagner returned to RT as a starter after Jah Reid got some reps at the position this week.

WR/KR Michael Campanaro left practice early with a trainer with what the Baltimore Sun reported as a rib injury.

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Glenn’s Drew’s Morning Dish: I hope Ravens do better with this chance

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Glenn’s Drew’s Morning Dish: I hope Ravens do better with this chance

Posted on 31 July 2014 by Glenn Clark

Drew’s Morning Dish is brought to you by Koons Baltimore Ford. Glenn’s Drew’s Morning Dish is brought to you by Koons Baltimore Ford and if not I’m just going to keep saying it is because it makes me feel a greater sense of self-worth.

The Baltimore Ravens will have another opportunity Thursday to do things the right way. While undoubtedly there will be some in attendance for or viewing RB Ray Rice’s press conference who will come to crucify no matter what is said. Those people have always existed (in at least part for good reason) and Rice and the Ravens have simply managed to swing more people into that group with their failures.

They don’t need to keep going out of their way to direct folks down that path.

Ray Rice is slated to meet with the media following Thursday morning’s 8:30am practice. A cynic would note the team altered the schedule by hours-perhaps in hopes that fewer national media types would be able to attend the media gathering. Head coach John Harbaugh is scheduled to also be available for a second consecutive day as well. Harbaugh is not often made available to the media on back to back days, but perhaps this changed because of the amount of national media expected for the event.

I have been told that reporters will NOT get a “only questions about football for Ray” type of warning. All questions will be on the table. That does not necessarily mean that Rice will ANSWER every question. In fact, I’d venture a guess that he’ll defer to his legal team a time or two during the course of the presser.

I hope that during the course of the entire event Rice will pursue any sort of “redemption” angle but will instead remain humble and contrite. I also hope that John Harbaugh will do the one thing he and the rest of the organization still haven’t done in the nearly six months since the since the original incident took place…I hope he’ll use the words “domestic violence” and choose to condemn the act.

Harbaugh came as close to that as we had ever seen Wednesday when chatting with reporters about Rice’s upcoming press conference.

I love the way he’s handled it. I hate what happened. What happened was wrong – flat out. The thing I appreciate about it is how Ray has handled it afterwards by acknowledging that it was wrong, and he will do everything he can do to make it right. That’s what you ask for when someone does the wrong thing. I’m proud of him from that standpoint. For anybody out there that’s going to misconstrue that and just write, ‘John Harbaugh is proud of Ray,’ then shame on you. I’m proud of him for the way he’s handled it. I’m disappointed in what happened, but you go forward. You go forward.

He came awfully close. “I hate what happened”, “what happened was wrong” and “I’m disappointed in what happened” are all close.

Of course…the “what happened” is domestic violence-but the Ravens have chosen not to say anything about that. The Ravens have chosen not to address that despite the fact that according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, 50 people in Maryland lost their lives due to domestic violence from July 2012 to June 2013.

They lost their lives to domestic violence. The same act that happened between Ray Rice and his now wife in Atlantic City. The same topic the Ravens have chosen to avoid at every turn in 2014.

It’s time for John Harbaugh-the “football CEO” of the Baltimore Ravens to be the one to use a platform (and there most certainly will be one Thursday) to step up and address “domestic violence”. Not “what happened”, not “the incident”, not anything like that. It’s time to step up and address “domestic violence”.

It’s time to say “we don’t condone or accept domestic violence and as a leader in this community we want to do everything we can to help those in this community (which lost 50 members in the span of 12 months to this action) who are dealing with this awful issue.”

This might be the last chance to have this type of platform as with Rice having the case adjudicated in New Jersey and the NFL has filed their ruling. The issue will not “go away” for Rice, but this might be the last time it receives significant national attention.

I REALLY hope that when I come in Friday morning to fill in one last time on “The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction”, I’m not shaking my head as violently as I was following the LAST time Ray Rice spoke to the media.

This organization has made me quite proud to be a fan a number of times over the years. It would be awfully nice to feel that again Thursday instead of the same frustration I’ve been feeling for roughly half a year.

-G

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Concern growing over Ravens cornerback Webb’s lingering back injury

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Concern growing over Ravens cornerback Webb’s lingering back injury

Posted on 29 July 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — What initially appeared to be a minor back issue continues to linger for cornerback Lardarius Webb, who missed his third straight practice Monday as the Ravens shifted training camp to M&T Bank Stadium for a public workout.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the back spasms he deemed as “nothing serious” on Friday have caused concern as the sixth-year cornerback remained sidelined, leaving third-year defensive back Asa Jackson to take the reps opposite Jimmy Smith in the starting defense. Webb left the field midway through the second full-squad workout of training camp and hasn’t practiced since.

“We’re going to see about Lardarius,” Harbaugh said. “He has some back things that we’re looking at right now, and backs are a little weird. At first it was no big deal. It’s lingering a little bit, so we’ll find out what’s going on with him.”

Fellow cornerback Chykie Brown returned to practice after missing Sunday’s workout due to a tweaked hamstring. He worked with the second-team base defense and played outside in the first-string nickel package with Jackson sliding inside when the Ravens used three cornerbacks.

Defensive end Chris Canty missed his second straight practice on Monday and was excused to deal with a family matter, according to Harbaugh. With Canty absent, second-year defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore filled in at the 5-technique spot with the starting unit.

Other players remaining absent from practice included offensive linemen Will Rackley (concussion-related symptoms) and Parker Graham (groin) and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip), who remains on the active physically unable to perform list as he recovers from offseason surgery.

Lewis pays surprise visit

With a statue of Ray Lewis expected to be unveiled before the start of the regular season, the future Hall of Fame linebacker paid a surprise visit to the public training camp practice, easily drawing the loudest ovation on Monday night.

Lewis’ statue will stand next to the one of Johnny Unitas that was completed outside M&T Bank Stadium in 2002. Fans have customarily rubbed the high-top shoe of the Unitas statue for good luck on game days, but it remains to be seen if a new tradition will emerge when the second statue makes its debut next to the image of the Baltimore Colts legend and Hall of Fame quarterback.

“Most of the time, I’m never lost for words, but that’s a very humbling thing,” said Lewis, who implied his statue will be an image of his famed pre-game dance routine. “”For me to share that [honor with the late Unitas], that’s awesome.”

Rice greeted warmly by Ravens fans

As has been the case for with the select few selected for the opportunity to attend training camp practices in Owings Mills, fans greeted running back Ray Rice warmly whenever he was shown on the video board at the stadium.

Upon receiving his first loud ovation of the evening, Rice tapped his chest to acknowledge an announced crowd of 28,323.

The three-day window for Rice to appeal the two-game suspension handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell passed on Monday with the 27-year-old electing not to try to have the discipline reduced.

Monday highlights

Wide receiver Torrey Smith made the play of the night with a leaping, one-handed catch inside the red zone with Jackson trying to stick with him in coverage.

Matt Elam turned in the most bizarre play of the evening when he picked off a Joe Flacco pass before nearly being run down by the golf cart of owner Steve Bisciotti, who claimed the second-year safety had seen him all the way and nearly tipped the vehicle over.

Defensive end Pernell McPhee was the defensive standout of the evening, collecting two quarterback sacks and making another tackle for a loss during team drills.

First-round inside linebacker C.J. Mosley got his first taste of M&T Bank Stadium and responded by knocking away a Flacco pass in the end zone during 11-on-11 red-zone work. Mosley lined up next to veteran Daryl Smith in the starting defense.

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