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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens listed starting cornerback Lardarius Webb as questionable on their final injury report ahead of Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

The sixth-year defensive back practiced fully all week after missing five weeks of summer practice due to back spasms first sustained on July 25. Webb is expected by most to play against the Bengals’ explosive passing attack, but it remains to be seen how effective or limited he might be after missing all of training camp.

For players such as Webb and veteran tight end Owen Daniels who missed significant practice time last month, this week was an encouraging development as all 53 players participated fully. Running back Bernard Pierce was the only other player listed and is probable after being cleared from the concussion sustained in the third preseason game against Washington.

“This week is valuable for all the players. They all have done a great job,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where you’re at as a player, you need to prepare. And [Webb and Daniels] prepared like everybody else. Everybody is at their own spot in terms of what they need to do to get ready to play.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals ruled out starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot) at the start of the week and listed rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) as questionable for Sunday. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder) were listed as probable.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: CB Lardarius Webb (back)
PROBABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Rex Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DOUBTFUL: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
PROBABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), T Andre Smith (concussion)

 

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

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Ravens out to prove they’re not spinning their wheels in 2014

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Figuring out what to make of the Ravens isn’t easy as they open the 2014 season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon.

Coming off their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have expressed confidence that 2013 was an aberration as significant roster turnover and injuries not only derailed their chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions but led to an 8-8 season that left them sitting at home in January.

The optimists will point to the Ravens playing in a league-high nine games decided by three or fewer points and suggest they easily could have made the playoffs had they done a smidgen better than their 5-4 mark in those contests. But the critics will say that record could have been a game or two worse while reminding that the Ravens allowed 32 more points than they produced a year ago and were outscored by 51 in their final two games in which they had the opportunity to lock up a playoff berth.

After six weeks of summer practice and a 4-0 record in the preseason, it’s easy to say this year will be different until you tee it off for real as the Ravens will against the defending AFC North champions at M&T Bank Stadium. In reality, there is plenty of unknown on each side of the football.

“It’s kind of like the first hit in a game or of training camp when you come back,” Harbaugh said. “There’s anxiety and excitement, but there’s anxiety until you get that first hit, and as soon as you get the first hit, the game is on and you’re playing. It’s a little bit like that with the opener.”

Yes, even with the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd to begin their 19th season in Baltimore, the Ravens face a major challenge in taking on the Bengals, who are viewed by many as the most talented team in the division despite an underwhelming offseason and the departure of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Playing three straight division games to start the year gives the Ravens the opportunity to take early control of the AFC North, but it could also leave them with an immediate uphill climb if they’re slow to answer the regular-season bell.

Needless to say, the objective of the offseason was fixing the league’s 29th-ranked offense that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry and just 20.0 points per game. The hiring of coordinator Gary Kubiak and the acquisitions of five-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, and tight end Owen Daniels don’t exactly make it a bold statement to suggest the offense will be better.

How much improvement we see will begin and end with an offensive line that was an utter disaster a year ago. Injured and undersized on the interior, the Ravens were manhandled at the point of attack and struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco. The revamped group paved the way for a successful running game in limited opportunities in the preseason but still showed too many leaks in pass protection, meaning the jury’s still out on offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s group. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele and left tackle Eugene Monroe are expected to be anchors, but how well Zuttah and second-year right tackle Rick Wagner hold up against talented fronts like Cincinnati’s will be a more telling test.

Smith and Daniels give Flacco more weapons in the passing game, but age is a legitimate variable in determining how much of an impact they’ll make. The 35-year-old Smith quelled some concerns with an outstanding summer, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to bring that same impact over the course of 16 weeks. Meanwhile, Daniels didn’t exactly look like a difference-maker this summer before a hamstring injury sidelined him for two weeks, making you question whether Dennis Pitta will have much help behind him at the tight end position.

Kubiak’s arrival signals a clear return to the Ravens’ long-held commitment to run the football, but his variation of the West Coast offense should empower Flacco to make quicker decisions to neutralize potential issues with pass protection. Even if the offensive line is able to open running lanes for Bernard Pierce and the currently-suspended Ray Rice, the Ravens will ultimately go as far as their franchise quarterback will take them in what’s intended to be a more balanced offense.

“I don’t know how to describe it, but I think the biggest thing for us is to be good at doing the little things,” Flacco said. “The base things in this offense and coming up with little things to throw defenses off here and there. But I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know if versatile is the word, or what not, but I can tell you that I feel very comfortable in it. I think all of our guys feel very comfortable running it.”

Will there be early-season growing pains with a new system predicated on quicker passes and good timing? Historically, those aren’t the types of routes with which Flacco has been particularly effective as he’s often been criticized for not getting rid of the football quickly enough. The Ravens are confident that Smith can at least provide another third-down option to go along with the dependable Pitta.

Yes, the offense will be improved, but how much better will it be in relation to last year’s incredibly low standard? Will they simply manage to crack the top 20, or will the Ravens find themselves in the top third of the league?

“It’s time to go find out. I wouldn’t say we’ve held anything back,” said Kubiak of his offense’s preparation for the regular season. “They’ve handled things really well, so we continue to progress forward as far as the load in what we give them. Obviously, you’re trying to put them all in position to do what they do best, but we’re starting against a great group — a team that was a Top 5 defensive team last year. We have a big, big challenge this weekend, but that’s part of this league.”

Even if you’re buying what Kubiak and the offense are selling, the bigger concern might exist on the opposite side of the ball even though the Ravens ranked 12th in total defense last season. The overall numbers were respectable, but the pass rush declined in the second half of the season and two significant pieces departed in the offseason with defensive tackle Arthur Jones and No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham finding new homes in free agency.

The front seven hopes the infusion of second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams and 2014 first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley will pay dividends — both were impressive during the preseason — but the other five starting members of that group (Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil) are all 30 or older. That’s not to say those core members of the defense won’t make significant contributions in 2014, but it’s easy to see some correlation with age and the defense’s fourth-quarter struggles and disappointing finish a year ago.

Of particular importance will be the pass-rushing duo of Suggs and Dumervil, who combined for 19 1/2 sacks in 2013 but collected only two in the final seven games. With a secondary that was hampered by injuries during training camp and is just now back on the practice field, the Ravens need to put heat on quarterback Andy Dalton to keep wide receiver A.J. Green and the Bengals’ other pass-catching threats from shaking free in the event of rust or miscommunication on the back end of the defense.

“The sense of urgency, it never changes if you’re a true front seven,” Suggs said. “They’re the defending division champions, and [Dalton] has shown that he can lead his team. If we already didn’t have a sense of urgency, then we’re hustling backwards, we’re not prepared to play. It didn’t heighten just because we had some guys out [during] camp.”

Yes, the Ravens finally appear healthy in the secondary as cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson are now practicing at full strength, but the extended absence of Webb remains a concern as defensive coordinator Dean Pees was unable to determine which nickel alignment would work best for his defense this summer. Webb is better suited to defend the slot in the nickel package, but Jackson is also more of an inside corner and the other outside options — Chykie Brown and the newly-signed Derek Cox — don’t inspire confidence. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, it’s not a comforting feeling to be without a known commodity at the No. 3 cornerback spot.

Though injuries didn’t necessarily plague the safety position, it’s unclear whether the tandem of 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and newcomer Darian Stewart are even as effective as Elam and former strong safety James Ihedigbo were a year ago, let alone whether they’ll be more dynamic. Neither played particularly well in the preseason as the Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage will allow him to utilize the skill set that made him a standout at the University of Florida. It only appears to be a matter of time before third-round pick Terrence Brooks supplants Stewart at free safety, but it’s an awful lot to ask a rookie to handle that position with Baltimore’s sophisticated coverages.

Beyond the healthy tandem of Smith and Webb, the secondary appears vulnerable and could be in serious trouble if the front seven can’t make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.

In sizing up the Ravens entering the 2014 season, it’s fair to wonder whether they will find themselves spinning their wheels with an improved offense but a defense in apparent danger of taking a step or two in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the biggest cause for optimism is the current state of the AFC North with the Bengals not taking the necessary offseason steps to become a true Super Bowl contender, the Steelers appearing to be in a state between good and bad, and the Browns still being, well, the Browns. Barring key injuries, there’s no reason to believe the Ravens won’t be in contention for the division title along with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, but there are too many unknowns to give them a distinct edge beyond the natural optimism existing in most cities around the NFL entering Week 1.

History suggests you don’t count out the Harbaugh-led Ravens, but it will be fascinating to see how the coach and his team respond after their first failure as it relates to making the postseason. For now, the Ravens are saying all the right things about their outlook.

“I like our team a lot. I would go so far to say I love our team,” Harbaugh said. “I love the way they work. I love the way they treat one another. I love the way they bleed with one another. I believe in this football team. There’s no question in my mind that this team is destined for some very special things. But now you have to do it.”

Sunday will be the Ravens’ initial chance to begin proving it to those who aren’t convinced.

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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

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Ravens continuing to look healthy for Sunday’s opener against Bengals

Posted on 03 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens look to be in good shape from a health standpoint as they continued preparations for Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

All 53 players on the active roster were present and working during the portion of practice open to media on Tuesday. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest), and Asa Jackson (ankle), tight end Owen Daniels (hamstring), running back Bernard Pierce (head), safety Matt Elam (leg), and offensive lineman Jah Reid (head) all took part in practice and appear on track to play against the Bengals.

Of those players with recent injury concerns, only Webb and Pierce were even listed on Wednesday’s injury report, but both were designated as having full participation.

“It’s good to have guys out there practicing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The more guys you have practicing, the better practice you have. The numbers always help a lot.”

Smith, Jackson, and Webb appeared to be moving well during individual drills as there will be extra focus paid to Webb after he missed the entire summer while dealing with a back injury. The sixth-year defensive back also underwent sports hernia surgery in the offseason, so it remains to be seen how so much missed time since last season will impact his play in the secondary.

The Bengals ranked eighth in the NFL in passing offense a year ago, but quarterback Andy Dalton will be without No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones, who is recovering from a broken foot sustained on Aug. 9. Jones was officially ruled out Wednesday along with running back Rex Burkhead.

A day after initially filling their practice squad, the Ravens made a change to their developmental group by signing former Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jamell Fleming and cutting cornerback Deji Olatoye. Fleming was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, but Arizona cut him after only one season.

He saw action in eight games with Jacksonville last season but was cut by the Jaguars last weekend. In his rookie season, he appeared in 15 games and made three starts, registering 23 tackles and one pass breakup.

Rookie safety Terrence Brooks is now wearing No. 31, which was his jersey number at Florida State and was worn by safety Oman Brown in the preseason.

Here is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Max Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion), G/C Mike Pollak (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), OT Andre Smith (concussion)

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Breaking down the Ravens’ 53-man roster following final cuts

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Breaking down the Ravens’ 53-man roster following final cuts

Posted on 30 August 2014 by Luke Jones

Saturday’s deadline arrived with the Ravens constructing their first official 53-man roster of the 2014 season in hopes of rebounding from the first non-playoff campaign of the John Harbaugh era a year ago.

Of course, the roster will remain fluid in the coming days as general manager Ozzie Newsome scans the open market for potential additions to enhance the talent already assembled. Baltimore will also construct a 10-player practice squad over the next few days with a number of players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Here’s a look at the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening with some early impressions:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
Analysis: The Ravens appear primed to go with only two quarterbacks for the fifth consecutive season after waiving rookie Keith Wenning on Saturday. The story will remain the same as it has for years in hoping the durable Joe Flacco continues his impressive streak of never missing a game as he enters his seventh season. Baltimore might be able to steal a win or two with Taylor at the helm in the event of a short-term injury to Flacco, but all hopes disappear if the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player goes down for any significant period of time.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4) — Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk
SUSPENDED: Ray Rice (can return in Week 3)
Skinny: The return of Pierce to the practice field on Saturday brought relief, but the third-year back will need to hold up over the first two weeks of the season before Rice is eligible to return. Taliaferro is a fair bet to see an increased role in short-yardage situations as the season progresses while Forsett’s job will be in jeopardy by Week 3. Juszczyk led the team in receptions during the preseason and could be a surprise contributor as a receiver out of the backfield. It will be very interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak distributes carries throughout the season with Rice and Pierce both coming off poor seasons.

WIDE RECEIVERS (7) — Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson, Kamar Aiken
Analysis: The Ravens found room to keep the trio of Campanaro, Thompson, and Aiken, but seven receivers feels a bit excessive in a passing offense that regularly uses two tight ends and the fullback out of the backfield, making it possible this positional group is altered before the start of the season. The Smiths need to come up big if this offense is to make major improvement from last year’s abysmal ranking of 29th in the NFL. Brown didn’t have a great summer and won’t be counted on as much as he was last season, but his 6-foot-5 frame remains extremely appealing inside the red zone.

TIGHT ENDS (3) — Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, Owen Daniels
Analysis: This group looked more promising before training camp began, but Daniels has looked more like this year’s version of Dallas Clark than the difference-making tight end he was for years in Houston. Pitta is 100 percent, however, and should be in for a big year after a full offseason to regain his strength and explosiveness. The Ravens will trust Gillmore to handle blocking duties once reserved for former Raven Ed Dickson, but the third-round rookie was uneven during practices and preseason games. Pitta alone makes this an above-average group, but the Ravens need contributions from Daniels and Gillmore to make Kubiak’s offense function at a high level.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9) — Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, Gino Gradkowski, John Urschel, Jah Reid, James Hurst
Analysis: Even if you’re buying into the idea that Zuttah and Wagner will hold up adequately as starting members of the offensive line, the depth behind the starters remains suspect, especially at the interior positions. Significant offensive improvement begins and ends with this unit as offensive line coach Juan Castillo is counting on healthy versions of Osemele and Yanda as well as Monroe to do the heavy lifting. This group had its moments in the preseason, but the offensive line deserves scrutiny until it proves it can do the job on a weekly basis with three AFC North opponents waiting right off the bat. Hurst appeared very green early in the summer but improved as the weeks progressed, and the Ravens like his upside.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5) — Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Brandon Williams, DeAngelo Tyson, Timmy Jernigan
INJURED: Terrence Cody (placed on the reserve physically unable to perform list and can’t return until Week 7)
Analysis: The season-ending injuries to Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brent Urban transformed the defensive line from a deep group to one with questions as the Ravens are only carrying five defensive linemen for the time being. Williams had a very strong preseason and could be a game-changer against the run, but Ngata and Canty will need to hold off Father Time for another season if the Ravens want to consistently control the line of scrimmage, something they struggled to do at times a year ago. This unit could stand to benefit from a veteran addition if Newsome finds someone that strikes his fancy.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6) — Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Josh Bynes, Zachary Orr
Analysis: The depth at this position is exceptional with the 2013 second-round pick Brown and former starter Bynes serving as primary backups. The Ravens could try to deal from this position of strength to address other areas such as cornerback, but reserves such as McClellan and Bynes are also core special-teams players. If the first-round pick Mosley can be a game-changing linebacker next to Daryl Smith, the Ravens will have a pair of starting inside backers as good as nearly any in the league. Orr was a surprise to make the 53-man roster, but he appears vulnerable to be cut if other positional groups are addressed in the next couple days.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee
Analysis: Even if 2013 fourth-round pick John Simon was an obvious disappointment, his dismissal on Saturday speaks to how talented and deep this group is. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees needs Suggs and Dumervil to look like the disruptive pass-rushers they were in the first half of 2013 to help cover up a vulnerable secondary. Upshaw is solid against the run while McPhee will probably serve as more of a defensive lineman in the Ravens’ sub packages, but both are quality role players within the defense.

CORNERBACKS (4) — Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson
Analysis: Seeing Webb, Smith, and Jackson back on the practice field Saturday was encouraging, but that doesn’t mean the top three cornerbacks will be 100 percent for the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7. Jackson earned praise during training camp, but he’s also never played a defensive snap entering his third year in the NFL, and the maligned Brown struggled for much of the summer. In the pass-happy modern era of the NFL, you need three or four quality corners and only Webb and Smith are proven commodities at this point. It’s easier said than done, but Newsome really needs to add an established cornerback to the mix to prevent too many restless nights for Harbaugh and Pees.

SAFETIES (6) — Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks, Jeromy Miles, Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick
SUSPENDED: Will Hill (can return in Week 7)
Analysis: Most attention has fallen on the cornerback position, but this position doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, either. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage will bring out his physicality, but he made few plays in training camp or during preseason games. Stewart is the starting free safety for now, but it only appears to be a matter of time before the third-round rookie Brooks gets his chance after he made major strides over the final couple weeks of the summer. Keeping the trio of Miles, Levine, and Trawick appears to be a bit much, but Levine’s ability to play cornerback makes him stand out a bit more than the others. Newsome stated an offseason goal of finding a game-changing safety, but there weren’t any signs of that being a reality this summer.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Analsysis: Tucker might be the best kicker in the NFL while Koch appeared to have a strong enough summer to quell concerns about an underwhelming 2013 campaign and a high salary cap figure. The long snapper Cox quietly does his job as well as anyone every year.

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Ravens waive five players ahead of Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline

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Ravens waive five players ahead of Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline

Posted on 29 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens began the process of trimming their roster from 75 to the regular-season total of 53 by initially waiving five players on Friday afternoon.

Defensive tackles Levi Brown and Derrick Hopkins, linebacker D.J. Roberts, tight end Nathan Overbay, and center Reggie Stephens were the first players to be let go following Thursday’s preseason finale in New Orleans. None were considered serious possibilities to make the regular-season roster although Hopkins and Brown were part of a position group that’s been ravaged by injuries after defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore were lost for the season during training camp.

These moves mean the Ravens will need to make 17 more transactions to get down to the league-mandated 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday. Baltimore will place running back Ray Rice and safety Will Hill on the reserve-suspended list with neither counting against the roster limit. Rice is suspended for the first two games of the regular season while Hill is banned for the first six contests.

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody can be placed on the reserve physically unable to perform list — and not count against the 53-man limit — after missing the entire summer rehabbing from offseason hip surgery. However, head coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal earlier in the week when asked about that possibility, meaning Cody could be ready to return sooner than the six-week minimum required to be on the list or he could just be waived and potentially awarded an injury settlement.

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Predicting the Ravens’ 53-man roster at the end of preseason

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Predicting the Ravens’ 53-man roster at the end of preseason

Posted on 29 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The preseason is finally over as the Ravens now turn their sights toward the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7.

But first, head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome must trim their roster from 75 players to 53 by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Though many often label this the “final” roster after nearly six weeks of summer football, it’s merely the first 53-man roster with the Ravens looking to make adjustments and upgrades wherever and whenever possible.

Depth concerns are apparent in the secondary and along the defensive line, which have prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to look for outside help — he signed veteran cornerback Derek Cox earlier this week — to enhance the roster between now and the start of the season. Meanwhile, the Ravens appear to have good depth at linebacker and wide receiver that could leave one or two incumbents on the outside looking in by Saturday afternoon.

Though Newsome, Harbaugh, and the remainder of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the number of players at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of wide receivers or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. The Ravens will always look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their specific positional group.

NFL teams must get down to the regular-season number of 53 by Saturday, but they will also be able to formulate 10-man practice squads — an increase from the previous number of eight — once players around the league clear waivers.

Take a look at last week’s roster projection to see whose stock is up and who might have landed on the wrong side of the bubble after the 22-13 win over New Orleans in which most starters didn’t play.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players projected to be retained at that given position. Players listed as injured or suspended will not count against the 53-man roster limit when final cuts are made.

QUARTERBACKS (2)
IN: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
OUT: Keith Wenning
Skinny: Wenning played more than expected in thinking the Ravens wouldn’t want to put too much tape out there for other teams to see, but it’s still a good bet the sixth-round pick passes through waivers and lands on the practice squad. Baltimore hasn’t carried three quarterbacks on the roster since 2009, and that’s expected to continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk
OUT: Fitz Toussaint
SUSPENDED: Ray Rice (will be suspended for the first two games of the regular season)
Skinny: Toussaint was the surprise of the night in New Orleans in rushing for 103 yards on 17 carries, but don’t read too much into the final preseason game when nearly all roster decisions have already been made. However, his performance improves his chances of being invited to join the practice squad or to be picked up elsewhere.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson
OUT: Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Butler
Skinny: Being a draft pick and having the potential to develop as a slot receiver, Campanaro is a notch above Thompson and Aiken, who are essentially a coin flip for one spot. Thompson gets the nod because of his lightning speed and improved performance as the summer progressed, but Aiken also grabbed four catches for 57 yards in the preseason finale. It’s very close.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, Owen Daniels
OUT: Nathan Overbay, Phillip Supernaw
Skinny: Concerns remain over how much Daniels has left in the tank after a disappointing summer, but the Ravens are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and plenty of rest as we saw over the last couple weeks. It was encouraging seeing Daniels back on the practice field this week, but the rookie Gillmore might need to be a bigger factor than most anticipated.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, Gino Gradkowski, John Urschel, Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley
OUT: James Hurst, Ryan Jensen, Reggie Stephens, Parker Graham
Skinny: If Reid’s concussion symptoms linger longer than Harbaugh indicated earlier in the week, Hurst could temporarily find himself on the 53-man roster as the third tackle. Otherwise, it appears Shipley and Urschel get the nod as backup interior linemen over Jensen, who had a disappointing summer and could be a practice squad candidate.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Ravens-Saints preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

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Ravens-Saints preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

Posted on 27 August 2014 by Luke Jones

While many have turned their attention toward the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7, the Ravens complete their preseason schedule by taking on the New Orleans Saints in their first visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since Super Bowl XLVII Thursday night.

Of course, the stakes pale in comparison to the last time the Ravens traveled to Louisiana, but the livelihood of a select group of players still vying for roster spots is on the line as key position battles remain at wide receiver and potentially on the offensive and defensive lines. After trimming their roster to 75 players earlier this week, the Ravens must produce their first 53-man roster by 4 p.m. Saturday while also scanning the open market to see what players might shake free from other teams.

Thursday represents the final time some players will ever play football while others will find themselves seeking opportunities with 31 other NFL teams by the weekend. In all reality, most decisions will have been made prior to Thursday’s game with only a couple spots potentially up for grabs when the Ravens take the field against the Saints.

“It’s hard every year. It seems like we get to this point every year and we feel this way about our team,” said head coach John Harbaugh of the final roster decisions. “It just seems like it’s a challenge every year. That’s a good problem to have. Getting to the season, I hope it’s proven true. I hope we don’t think we have good depth and all of the sudden we get into the season [and] find out we don’t. That’s the nature of what we do.”

Thursday’s game won’t offer much from an entertainment standpoint as Harbaugh confirmed earlier this week that most starters will not play against the Saints, a team the Ravens will face in the regular season on Nov. 24. With the number of injuries currently plaguing the secondary alone, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome will likely use the preseason finale as an evaluation tool of their secondary depth — the Ravens signed veteran cornerback Derek Cox on Wednesday — more than anything else.

Even without his starters playing in the final game of the summer, Harbaugh says expectations remain high for backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the rest of the Baltimore reserves who will either be filling out the 53-man roster or looking for work by Saturday.

“I want to win the game. We don’t go down there to not win the game,” Harbaugh said. “We are going to do everything we can to win the game. If we walk off the field without the win, I’m not going to be happy about it. I want to walk over and shake the other coach’s hand as the winner — not the loser.”

Thursday will be the second preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Saints, but Baltimore owns the 4-1 edge in the regular season and a 1-0 advantage in the preseason. The Ravens are 45-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 18-9 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 Thursday night’s game in New Orleans.

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, does not take into account the many veterans — injured or not — who will be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), CB Asa Jackson (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (chest), DT Terrence Cody (hip)
DOUBTFUL: OL Jah Reid (head)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Owen Daniels (legs), S Matt Elam (leg), RB Bernard Pierce (head)
PROBABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (head)

Five bubble players to watch Thursday night

1. QB Keith Wenning

This one will be fairly clear-cut as you’d expect the Ravens to limit Wenning’s playing time if they desire to pass him through waivers and place him on the practice squad. If Wenning receives extensive playing time, it could be a sign that they’re prepared to keep him on the 53-man roster as the third quarterback behind Joe Flacco and Taylor. The Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on the active roster since 2009, so the consensus expectation is they’ll run the risk of losing their 2014 sixth-round pick and use that roster spot for another position of need while hoping Wenning makes it to the practice squad.

2. WR Deonte Thompson

The speedy third-year wideout has been one of the stars of the summer with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Dallas and a 21-yard touchdown reception against Washington, but Thompson has also failed to take advantage of past opportunities in Baltimore. Even in Saturday’s game in which he caught the touchdown from Taylor, Thompson played only nine offensive snaps compared to 19 taken by Kamar Aiken and 13 by seventh-round rookie Michael Campanaro. The wild card that could keep Thompson on the roster is his blinding speed, which is a nice asset to back up Jacoby Jones in the return game.

3. LB John Simon

I’d still expect the 2013 fourth-round pick to make the roster, but the Ohio State product hasn’t stood out this preseason with only three total tackles. Considering there are four outside linebackers — Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, and Pernell McPhee — ahead of him on the depth chart, Simon’s only chance to see the field will be as a special-teams player in his second season. Given the current vulnerabilities at cornerback and on the defensive and offensive lines, Simon could be a surprise cut as nothing about his play on the field during practices or limited game opportunities suggests he’s really deserving of being a lock.

4. OT James Hurst

Despite receiving more attention that the typical rookie free agent after a broken leg factored into him going undrafted out of North Carolina, Hurst has struggled this summer and probably wouldn’t be receiving much consideration for a roster spot if not for the recent concussion suffered by fourth-year tackle Jah Reid. If Reid’s symptoms linger longer than expected, Hurst might find himself on the active roster when final cuts are made, but it’s doubtful that the Ravens would feel comfortable if needing to use him on game day. The likely scenario for Hurst would be the practice squad where he can continue to develop.

5. OL Ryan Jensen

The Ravens thought enough of the 2013 sixth-round pick as a rookie — and their struggling offensive line probably played a part as well — that they carried him on the 53-man roster despite a broken foot that sidelined him for an extensive part of the regular season. A year later, Jensen is firmly behind veteran A.Q. Shipley and fifth-round rookie John Urschel in the pecking order at guard as he saw only eight offensive snaps against Washington. Because he’s a recent draft pick, Jensen would figure to have a good chance to be signed to the practice squad, but his performance and playing time suggest his roster spot is in major jeopardy.


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Harbaugh sees no “desperation” for Ravens to make trade

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Harbaugh sees no “desperation” for Ravens to make trade

Posted on 26 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Eighty percent of the Ravens’ projected nickel secondary remains sidelined less than two weeks away from the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but you won’t observe any sense of panic from John Harbaugh.

Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson as well as strong safety Matt Elam are currently out with various ailments, but the head coach remains optimistic that all will be ready when Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and a talented Bengals offense comes to Baltimore on Sept. 7. Harbaugh said Tuesday he expects Webb — who’s been sidelined with back spasms since July 25 — and Smith to be practicing by early next week while Jackson was running and working on lateral movement during Tuesday’s practice. Elam is expected to be practicing again by the end of the week after suffering a minor leg injury in Saturday’s preseason game against Washington.

Even if those expectations become reality for the Baltimore defense, serious questions remain at the No. 3 corner spot that’s essentially become a starting role in today’s pass-happy NFL. Jackson has never played a defensive snap entering his third season while fourth-year corner Chykie Brown saw only 39 defensive snaps during the 2013 regular season.

Needless to say, general manager Ozzie Newsome has been scanning the market to potentially add veteran cornerback help following the free-agent departure of Corey Graham in the offseason. The Ravens signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dominique Franks in mid-June, but his play this summer has been inconsistent after he was largely relegated to special-teams duties last season.

The poor health and lack of experience behind Webb and Smith have prompted many pundits and fans alike to clamor for an impact move as soon as possible.

“Maybe there will be a guy that will fall and somebody is going to have a real need for something that we have to offer,” Harbaugh said. “I know Ozzie and Eric [DeCosta] and Vince Newsome and George [Kokinis] and those guys are all talking with everybody around the league in terms of what’s out there. Not that we feel we have any desperation things that we have to get, but from the standpoint that [if] there’s something that we can get better, we want to do that.”

Trades at the end of the summer have been sparse in the Harbaugh era as the only impact swap came at the end of the 2010 preseason when the Ravens traded a fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for cornerback Josh Wilson. Needing another defensive back after starter Domonique Foxworth suffered a season-ending knee injury at the start of training camp, Baltimore benefited greatly from that acquisition as Wilson — now with the Falcons — started nine games and intercepted three passes to help the Ravens to a 12-4 record and a third straight trip to the playoffs.

Might the Ravens draw from a position of strength such as linebacker or wide receiver and possibly couple that with a draft pick to nab an established cornerback?

Harbaugh isn’t betting on it.

“We look at that every year, the opportunities to make trades and things like that,” Harbaugh said. “And every year, I’m usually disappointed that we don’t get anybody, because people don’t want to trade good players. It’s not as predominant as you would like to think it is going to be.”

Options are slim on the current market with veterans such as Asante Samuel, Chris Houston, and Dunta Robinson carrying age- or injury-related baggage that hasn’t been attractive to teams this summer. If the Ravens were interested in any of those veteran options, they likely would have pulled the trigger by now to give them sufficient time to learn Dean Pees’ defensive system.

Over the years, Newsome has been known to find a gem or two who was let go by another team at the end of the preseason such as offensive tackle Willie Anderson in 2008 or safety James Ihedigbo in 2012, but cornerback talent is at an ever-increasing premium with rules consistently trending toward offense. The odds simply aren’t great to be able to complete a reasonable trade that will help, but that’s fine with the seventh-year head coach as the Ravens prepare to play their final preseason contest in New Orleans on Thursday night.

“I like our team right now the way it stands,” Harbaugh said. “If we can get better, great. You get your hopes up, [then] they’re probably going to be dashed. But you can never count Ozzie out. He’s pretty special.”

NOTES: Harbaugh said he has decided whether suspended running back Ray Rice will play in the preseason finale, but he chose not to disclose his answer to the media. It would be surprising to see the three-time Pro Bowl selection playing behind a second-string offensive line that’s been suspect this summer. … Sixth-round quarterback Keith Wenning’s future remains in limbo as the Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster since 2009, but Harbaugh downplayed the difficulty of the decision. “You just decide who your best 53 players are. If the third quarterback is in the top 53, he’s on the team. If he’s not, he’s not. It’s simple.” … Quarterbacks are wearing new practice jerseys (modeled by backup Tyrod Taylor below) that are black with purple numbers, replacing the red models worn since Harbaugh arrived in 2008. The change was likely inspired by the practice jersey worn by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — a black top with red numbering — when his team practiced with the Ravens in Owings Mills earlier this month.

 

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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

Posted on 25 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After trimming their roster to 75 players earlier Monday, the Ravens returned to the practice field with veteran tight end Owen Daniels back in action for the first time in two weeks.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, the 31-year-old had been dealing with leg fatigue and swelling despite no specific injury. The former Houston Texan caught one pass for six yards against San Francisco in the preseason opener but hadn’t practiced since Aug. 11.

The extended absence for Daniels had led some to wonder about his future and desire to continue playing after he was limited to five games because of a broken leg last season. However, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had been adamant several times that he was not injured, and Daniels had been seen around the building regularly.

“I don’t anticipate [his health] affecting his status,” Harbaugh said. “I just go by what [the medical staff] tells me. There’s no tear; there’s no pull. There is swelling in the legs. That’s probably the result of stress. Obviously, he’s not right, or we would’ve played him. But we also felt like he has had so many reps in this offense — just take a week or a week and a half and just let him getting fully recovered and let him get fully rested.

“We’ll bring him back now today, tomorrow, a little bit on Wednesday, and then I really do anticipate him practicing fully on Friday. We’ll just have to see, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t practice on Friday fully.”

Despite the good news about their No. 2 tight end, the Ravens had three new absences on Monday as running back Bernard Pierce, safety Matt Elam, and wide receiver Kamar Aiken were not present during the portion of practice open to media. Pierce left Saturday’s game with a concussion, but the third-year back posted on his official Twitter account that he was “fine” on Sunday afternoon.

Harbaugh confirmed Elam has “a little leg issue” but expected him back on the practice field by Friday, but the head coach said he wasn’t sure why Aiken wasn’t practicing.

Others missing from Monday’s practice included cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle), offensive lineman Jah Reid (head), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip). It remains unclear if Cody will begin the season on the reserve physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from offseason surgery.

“We have a couple options on that. He’s progressing well,” Harbaugh said. “He’s done a really good job. Whether he’s ready to play yet or not, we’ll have to decide and determine. But I don’t want to say at this time what we plan on doing, and we really don’t know yet.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (chest) was not suited up to practice on Monday afternoon, but he was running and catching passes on the field, encouraging signs that he’s moving closer to a return. The fourth-year defensive back suffered bruising and bleeding from the lungs after falling on his back early in the second preseason game against Dallas on Aug. 16, but Harbaugh said last week that Smith probably could have played against Washington had it been a regular-season game.

Players were practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday.

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Poly grad Williams, Omar Brown among Ravens’ cuts to get to 75

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Poly grad Williams, Omar Brown among Ravens’ cuts to get to 75

Posted on 25 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens completed the process of trimming their preseason roster to 75 a day prior to Tuesday’s deadline by cutting a number of players headlined by wide receiver LaQuan Williams and safety Omar Brown on Monday.

Linebackers Austin Spitler and Nick DiMarco, offensive tackle David Mims, cornerbacks Deji Olatoye and Marrio Norman, running back Cierre Wood, wide receiver Mike Willie, and punter Richie Leone were also released.

Baltimore waived offensive lineman Brett Van Sloten (knee) and fullback Shaun Chapas, who were both dealing with injuries.

To complete their transformation from 90 to 75 players on the current roster, the Ravens placed defensive linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles tendon) and Brent Urban (knee) as well as offensive lineman Will Rackley (head) on season-ending injured reserve. Lewis-Moore and Urban had already undergone season-ending surgeries while Rackley continues to recover from a concussion sustained at the start of training camp.

“There is a feeling when you have fewer guys,” said head coach John Harbaugh about trimming his roster for the first time this summer. “It starts in the meeting. We came in the meeting, I walked in and I waited a little bit, and my first thought was, ‘Everybody is not here. Do we have everybody?’ We did have everybody, but we didn’t.

A Poly grad and University of Maryland product, Williams was re-signed by the Ravens in the offseason after being cut last year but was unable to distinguish himself in a deep group of wide receivers. A feel-good story as an undrafted free agent who made the Ravens’ 53-man roster in 2011, Williams hadn’t recorded a reception in three preseason games and failed to make his mark on special teams as he had in previous seasons.

Brown had spent the last two seasons bouncing back and forth between Baltimore’s practice squad and active roster, but his future appeared clear when he didn’t take any defensive snaps and was only on the field for two special-teams plays in Saturday’s 23-17 win over Washington.

“Omar and LaQuan are just two guys who have been here for a long time,” Harbaugh said. “[They] have been Ravens for a number of years and have contributed so much to us. That’s the toughest thing. They’re going to go play for other teams — I don’t doubt that at all. But those guys have contributed so much, and we’re so appreciative of what they’ve done.

“All of those guys will get opportunities elsewhere or back here again in the future. That was a tough day. Some tears, some hugs, and you come back out and you go back to work.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must trim the roster to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday.

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