Tag Archive | "John Urschel"

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Offensive position battles aplenty for Ravens at start of OTAs

Posted on 24 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are holding their first organized team activities this week and with them come plenty of questions as on-field preparations begin for the 2016 season.

Few conclusions can be drawn from the voluntary workouts that will be conducted without a number of veterans, but the practices will provide an early look at some players returning from injuries as well as rookies competing with established NFL talent for the first time. Thursday’s workout will be open to media to conclude the first week.

Coming off their worst season in nearly a decade, the Ravens have plenty of jobs up for grabs on both sides of the ball.

Here is a look at the top offensive competitions:

1. Left tackle

The candidates: Eugene Monroe, Ronnie Stanley

The reality: With Monroe continuing his crusade for medical marijuana in Las Vegas this week, the rookie first-round pick Stanley should receive extensive opportunities at left tackle. If he proves to be more than ready to handle the job, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh can feel better about the possibility of letting the oft-injured Monroe go and saving $6.5 million in salary.

2. Left guard

The candidates: Ronnie Stanley, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, Vlad Ducasse Alex Lewis

The reality: This spot is directly tied to left tackle as Stanley would appear to be the slam-dunk choice to start should the Ravens keep Monroe for 2016. If Stanley plays tackle, the other four will compete for Kelechi Osemele’s old spot with Ducasse holding the experience edge with 22 career NFL starts, but both Urschel and Jensen have fared well at guard when given the chance to play there in the past.

3. Running back

The candidates: Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Trent Richardson

The reality: The veteran Forsett is the early favorite to start, but the size of this list reflects how wide open this competition could be. There is plenty of depth, but the question will be whether there is enough high-impact talent to make the running game thrive and not just a collection of No. 2 and No. 3 backs. At the very least, Allen and Dixon give Joe Flacco two attractive options as receivers out of the backfield.

4. Tight end

The candidates: Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta

The reality: All eyes will be on Pitta — with fingers crossed — as he is serious about returning to action, but it’s impossible to know what kind of player he can be after two serious hip injuries. Is the veteran newcomer Watson the favorite to start after a career year in New Orleans or will Gillmore build on his encouraging 2015? The 2015 second-rounder Williams could also be ready to take a big step forward.

5. Wide receiver

The candidates: Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman

The reality: We don’t figure to get a look at Smith until training camp, but Perriman will be intriguing to watch after missing his rookie season with a knee injury. Perriman and Wallace are better speed complements to Smith’s skill set, but it would be unwise to overlook Aiken after his 2015 campaign. The next tier of receivers that includes rookies Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Chris Matthews, and Daniel Brown will be competing for the last couple roster spots.

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Ranking the Ravens’ offensive needs for 2016

Posted on 21 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Trying to assess the 2015 Ravens offense isn’t easy.

Even if you weren’t always pleased with his play-calling and the lack of commitment to the running game, new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was without his franchise quarterback, two of his top three wide receivers, his starting running back, his starting center, his starting left tackle, and his starting tight end for large chunks of the season. In some ways, you have to be impressed that the Ravens finished 14th in total offense, but finishing 25th in points per game (20.5) reflects how much they lacked playmakers.

How can you fairly judge Trestman’s work with a starting offense in the second half of the season that resembled one you’d see in the fourth preseason game?

The good news is that the Ravens will begin consecutive seasons with the same offensive coordinator for the first time since Cam Cameron’s five-year run that concluded in 2012. That continuity will be critical with Joe Flacco spending the offseason rehabbing from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.

With free agency set to begin in less than two months — March 9 at 4 p.m. — and the draft set for April 28-30, the Ravens are currently evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the first of a three-part series — with defense and special teams to follow — I offer my thoughts on the offensive side of the football and rank the positions of greatest need.

1. Left tackle

Considering Eugene Monroe is under contract for three more years, some could still argue that receiver is a bigger need, but surely no position on either side of the ball is more complicated right now for the Ravens.

I’m not completely convinced that Monroe is a goner since Kelechi Osemele will be an unrestricted free agent and the former’s release would leave $6.6 million in dead money on a salary cap that is already way too tight. Monroe’s performance over the last two years certainly doesn’t reflect the five-year, $37.5 million contract he was awarded, but his play has mostly still been solid when he has been on the field.

Can you count on Monroe to stay healthy after starting just 16 games over the last two years? Is the organization simply finished with him after he reportedly refused a simple restructure of his contract last offseason?

Osemele figures to be in high demand as either a guard or a left tackle, making it difficult to predict whether the Ravens can be a serious contender to sign him. Their best strategy might be to keep Monroe until the 2016 draft when they could potentially come away with a top left tackle such as Laremy Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick and then part ways with the veteran. If it’s not a first-round talent, perhaps the Ravens draft a tackle in the second or third round and ride the roller coaster with Monroe for one more season.

2. Wide receiver

It’s a broken record at this position, but it was reassuring for Ravens fans to hear general manager Ozzie Newsome say at the season-ending press conference that he needs to add at least one more receiver.

There’s no reason to think Baltimore wouldn’t keep restricted free agent Kamar Aiken, but he is the group’s only fully-known commodity at the moment. No one doubts Steve Smith’s determination to return from an Achilles injury at age 37, but you can’t just bank on him being his old self, either. And even if the Ravens are confident that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman will be 100 percent for the offseason conditioning program, he has yet to complete as much as a full-contact practice in the NFL.

The Ravens averaged a league-worst 10.4 yards per catch in 2015, reflecting their inability to stretch the field with any success. Perriman can still be viewed as the primary option to provide that skill next season, but Newsome can’t be without a backup plan this time around.

Whether it’s a free agent or a pick in the first three or four rounds of this spring’s draft, the Ravens need another speed receiver with upside to add to the passing game for 2016.

3. Reserve offensive tackle

This is a need that will be based on what the Ravens ultimately do at left tackle, but they probably shouldn’t count on James Hurst as the primary backup tackle, especially if Monroe is retained.

The former undrafted free agent from North Carolina is a hard worker and a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo, but he graded 78th out of 81 qualified offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus and was simply overwhelmed for large stretches of playing time. He was also the one who fell into Flacco’s left knee to cause the season-ending injury against St. Louis on Nov. 22.

Starting right tackle Rick Wagner will also be an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season, so the Ravens need to be prepared to address that position a year from now.

Undrafted free agent De’Ondre Wesley finished the season on the 53-man roster, but it’s unclear whether he would be ready to step into a primary backup tackle role next year.

4. Reserve interior lineman

John Urschel is projected to take Osemele’s place as the starting left guard in 2016, but the Ravens would probably like to add another interior lineman to the roster mix if they can.

Reserve guard Ryan Jensen played well when Osemele moved to left tackle, but the organization lost rookies Kaleb Johnson and Robert Myers to other teams late in the season. Adding another interior lineman in the late rounds of the draft to develop for the future would make sense.

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Ravens thoughts on winning vs. draft pick, 2016 opponents, more

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens took great satisfaction in sweeping the Pittsburgh Steelers and putting their playoff hopes in serious danger, but the 20-17 win didn’t do any favors to Baltimore’s 2016 draft positioning.

Entering Week 16 holding the third overall pick in the first round of next year’s draft, the Ravens dropped all the way to eighth after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in franchise history. And it only added more fuel to the ongoing debate over whether it’s better for the Ravens to win now or to lose with an eye toward April.

To be clear once again, this isn’t a question of whether the Ravens themselves should be trying to win. The sheer number of injuries they’ve suffered has already cut John Harbaugh’s team off at the knees in the second half of the season, but many players and coaches are still fighting for their jobs and their efforts were rewarded on Sunday by completing the third season sweep of Pittsburgh in team history.

This also isn’t about the pointless debate of what it means to be a “true” fan, a concept that sounds elitist and is impossible to define. It’s perfectly acceptable to root for the instant gratification that the Ravens experienced against the Steelers on Sunday or to be thinking about the future of your favorite team and wanting a larger talent pool from which general manager Ozzie Newsome can choose in every round of this spring’s draft.

Ultimately, fans want to see their team win every Sunday and also win championships, right?

Harbaugh as well as some media and fans have spoken about the value of finishing the season on a high note, but that’s difficult to quantify when you’re considering the patchwork roster currently playing and how many of those players will either be gone or will have diminished roles next season. Winning these final two games would provide a short-term emotional boost, but that doesn’t equate to success in 2016 without some marked upgrades to the roster.

What isn’t as difficult to quantify, however, is how many draft prospects will be unavailable to the Ravens over the course of a seven-round draft should they finish 6-10 as opposed to 5-11 or 4-12. And that’s where the win over Pittsburgh followed by a potential upset at Cincinnati would leave fans with a hollow feeling in the offseason.

Even with potential wins over the Steelers and the Bengals to wrap the season, Baltimore will still be sitting at home watching the playoffs like the rest of us next week.

Good players can be found in every round of the draft if your talent evaluation is sound and you have some luck along the way. You can whiff picking at any spot in the draft, but you are improving the chances of landing better players the earlier you select.

It’s true that a better draft pick won’t guarantee that the Ravens land a future Pro Bowl player, but you won’t convince me that winning games when you’re playing out the string is all that valuable to the future, either. This is the equivalent of September baseball for a losing club, something Orioles manager Buck Showalter always warns can fool you when evaluating players.

The reality lies somewhere in between. It’s perfectly acceptable to be happy with a win over the Steelers, but you can also choose not to be distraught if the Ravens lose to the Bengals to wrap up the season. And I won’t accuse you of not being a “true” fan no matter what.

Brown done?

It was two years ago Tuesday when wide receiver Marlon Brown caught his seventh touchdown of his rookie season in a season-ending loss at Cincinnati.

Despite the Ravens missing the playoffs at 8-8 a year after winning the Super Bowl, the rookie free agent out of Georgia was one of the bright spots of 2013 and caught 49 passes for 524 yards. Since then, however, Brown has made just 38 receptions for 367 yards and no touchdowns in 24 games.

“Marlon is one of my favorite guys, and he works really hard at it, has a great attitude and, to my eyes, is very talented,” Harbaugh said. “But it just hasn’t worked in the last two years like we all expected after his rookie year, especially how Marlon expected to continue to improve. It’s going to be a really important offseason for him, and it’s going to be a critical season for him when he comes back.”

Brown’s back injury that cost him the final six games of 2015 doesn’t mask the disappointing of his last two seasons. And with the 6-foot-5 wideout scheduled to become a restricted free agent this winter, you wonder if he’s played his final game with the Ravens.

It’s remarkable to think that Brown was catching touchdowns for the Ravens two years ago while Kamar Aiken was on the practice squad and to see how different their careers have gone since then.

2016 opponents

Having clinched third place in the AFC North on Sunday, the Ravens officially learned their full slate of opponents for the 2016 season. The schedule itself is typically released in late April.

Below is a look at those opponents:

HOME: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, Oakland
AWAY: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New England, New York Jets, Dallas, New York Giants, Jacksonville

It’s too soon to know what the Ravens or any of these opponents will look like from a talent standpoint  — only five of their 13 opponents in 2016 enter Week 17 with a winning record — but the travel schedule will lighten considerably with just one game (Dallas) played outside the Eastern time zone. After the Ravens played four games out west in the first seven weeks of the 2015 season, that should be a pleasant change as they try to bounce back from the first losing season of the Harbaugh era.

Good shape at guard

It remains to be seen what the Ravens will do at left tackle moving forward, but the last couple weeks make you think that the interior offensive line will be in good shape without Kelechi Osemele.

The organization has long been confident in John Urschel’s ability to play guard, but 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen has improved substantially over the last couple weeks and earned high marks for his blocking against Pittsburgh on Sunday. With starting center Jeremy Zuttah under contract for next season, the Ravens could elect to have Urschel and Jensen compete for the starting left guard spot in training camp.

Even if Osemele is re-signed, he won’t be playing left guard, but the Ravens should feel confident about their options to replace him.

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Future now all that matters for 2015 Ravens

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are facing the Cleveland Browns in arguably the most irrelevant nationally-televised game in franchise history.

Perhaps ESPN Monday Night Football broadcaster Mike Tirico said it best last week when he asked analyst Jon Gruden if he loved football and followed that by saying, “We’ll test you and see how much all of you love it out there.”

Not only are these AFC North foes playing out the string with their playoff hopes having already been dashed weeks ago, but the Ravens will be competing in their first-ever contest without any of Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, or Joe Flacco, who are arguably the five most significant players in their 20 years in Baltimore.

But ask head coach John Harbaugh if he cares about the outside perception of his injury-depleted team and of Monday night’s game between two of the worst teams in the AFC.

“We want to go win a football game. It’s a fight out there,” Harbaugh said on Saturday. “We’re not sitting there saying, ‘Oh, I wonder what everybody thinks about me.’ I’m not worried about [that]. We’re not in seventh grade here. ‘I wonder what they think of me. What are they texting about us? What does Snapchat say?’

“We don’t care what they think. We’re going to go out there and be our best, do our best and try to accomplish everything we can accomplish.”

It’s the right attitude for the Ravens to have as there’s no such thing as tanking the remainder of the season with a slew of players — and, frankly, several coaches — fighting for jobs in 2016 and beyond. But when your current starting offense — aside from four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda — more closely resembles one for a fourth preseason game, there’s no hiding from the truth.

Wins and losses do not matter as it relates to the context of the 2015 season. The end result only affects where the Ravens might pick in next April’s draft as the organization is in desperate need of impact talent. In that way, they’re better off losing as many of their final six games as possible.

And if we’re being honest, the Ravens aren’t equipped to win with what remains of the original 2015 roster — no matter how hard they try. The loss of Flacco was the final straw in that regard.

That’s why it’s important for the organization to get an extended look at younger players the rest of the way. The list is headlined by rookie running back Buck Allen, who will be making his first NFL start after veteran Justin Forsett suffered a season-ending arm injury last week.

“We’re excited to put the ball in Buck’s hands and see what he can do and give our other guys an opportunity to play, and that’s the nature of our league,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “The next guy has to be ready to help us. It can happen during the course of the game — which it did — and it happens week to week. That’s an expectation that we have that they’ll play well for us.”

Regardless of how many games they win or lose the rest of the way, the Ravens would love to see Allen look the part of a starting running back for the future after selecting him in the fourth round this past spring. Learning more about other little-used players such as safety Terrence Brooks, defensive end Brent Urban, and the forgotten 2013 second-round linebacker Arthur Brown could go a long way in trying to revamp the roster in the offseason in hopes of once again being a playoff contender next season.

Harbaugh won’t say it publicly, but identifying pieces for the future and making decisions about dead weight on the roster must be the top priority. Other than determining whether he can play at a level warranting a return to back up Flacco next season, it’s just not compelling to see how Matt Schaub — or any number of other known commodities — will fare against the Browns in front of a national audience.

It’s an unfamiliar place in which the Ravens find themselves, but all eyes need to be on the future for the final six games of a nightmare season. They’ll show up and play to the best of their ability, but these Ravens are firmly in evaluation mode.

Any other thinking would be shortsighted.

“Everything you do you have to be thinking about the short term and the long term, so we try to do both,” Harbaugh said earlier this week. “Definitely from a coaching perspective, your focus is most certainly on the short term — and your players and your coaches — and getting ready for the next game. But there is an awareness of the long term, for sure.”

The long term is the only intrigue remaining in a lost season that — unfortunately — will be on display for the football world to see on Monday night.

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Nothing is a given for the disappointing Ravens.

The fact that all nine of their games have been decided by one possession leads you to believe that the 2-7 Ravens are likely to win at least a couple more games in 2015, but last Sunday’s home loss to Jacksonville further changed their perception after the bye week. Baltimore may be able to compete — even win — any of its seven remaining game, but none can be pointed to as a predicted win with any level of confidence, either.

That principle certainly applies against a St. Louis team that sports the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense but also the sixth-ranked defense int he league. However, the Rams will be missing Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn, which will hurt one of the best pass rushes in the league.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and St. Louis meet for the sixth time in their regular-season history and for the first time at M&T Bank Stadium since 2007. Baltimore holds a 3-2 advantage in the all-time series as the Rams are seeking their first road win in three tries against the Ravens.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win just its second home game this season …

1. Lardarius Webb will see more snaps as a safety and secure another interception. The veteran cornerback saw a handful of opportunities at the new position against Jacksonville, and head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees like his range and ball skills in that spot. It would be even more interesting to see the Ravens work Terrence Brooks into the mix and use him and Webb interchangeably between safety and the nickel spot in passing situations. The new look will result in Webb picking off a pass for the second straight week against the worst passing game in the league.

2. Todd Gurley will remind us why he’s the next big thing at the running back position. With Case Keenum taking over for the benched Nick Foles at quarterback and winds that could approach 20 miles per hour on Sunday, the Rams figure to ride their rookie running back, who is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He’ll approach his career high of 30 carries and eclipse the century mark with a touchdown on the ground against a good Baltimore run defense that has given up just 3.8 yards per attempt. Gurley once lived in Baltimore and rooted for the Ravens, so it will be a nice homecoming.

3. John Urschel will hold up respectably in his first NFL start at center. With left guard Kelechi Osemele likely departing via free agency this offseason, Urschel figures to step into a permanent starting role next season, but he’ll be filling in for the injured Jeremy Zuttah for the rest of 2015. It won’t be an easy task blocking 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald, but Urschel proved his worth as a blocker filling in late last season. He won’t shut Donald down completely, but there won’t be much drop-off from Zuttah and he’ll quell concerns about his shaky shotgun snaps from Week 8.

4. Keenum will make some plays as a passer while still looking like a backup. Yes, the 27-year-old quarterback played against the Ravens last year in an embarrassing defeat at Houston, but Keenum only completed 47.6 percent of his passes in that game. With Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin as pass-catching weapons, Keenum will be able to make some throws, but this is a very poor passing game that hasn’t been able to sustain drives all season. Rams offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti will rely on the running game, but Keenum will commit two turnovers to go along with his 160 passing yards.

5. The Ravens defense will be the difference in a 17-16 win for Baltimore. The long touchdown to Malcom Floyd in Week 8 and a heartbreaking ending last week have masked the fact that Pees’ unit has played better in recent weeks, and that improvement will continue against a bad offense now turning to its backup quarterback. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense won’t be able to consistently march up and down the field against a talented Rams front seven, but they’ll do enough to narrowly pull out a victory in what looks like another coin-flip game between two disappointing teams.

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Dumervil, Osmele, Boyle absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 18 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Making preparations for Sunday’s meeting with the St. Louis Rams, the Ravens were without a starter on each side of the ball during Wednesday’s practice.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and left guard Kelechi Osemele were both absent from the workout with respective knee ailments. Neither player appeared to be limited in the Week 10 loss to Jacksonville as Dumervil played 58 of 74 defensive snaps while Osemele did not miss a single offensive snap.

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s practice, Dumervil downplayed the significance of his absence.

Rookie tight end Nick Boyle’s absence from Wednesday’s practice appeared more serious as he was wearing a walking boot on his left foot in the locker room. The Ravens signed tight end Chase Ford to the 53-man roster on Tuesday, perhaps an indication that Boyle is in danger of missing some action.

As expected, John Urschel worked as the starting center during the portion of practice open to media after veteran Jeremy Zuttah was placed on injured reserve earlier in the day. The second-year lineman expressed confidence in his shotgun snaps after he had difficulty when filling in for Zuttah against San Diego in Week 8.

Urschel says he’s received pointers from long snapper Morgan Cox in addition to spending extra time working with offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

“It’s something I work on every day, shotgun snapping,” Urschel said. “I work to get better at it. I am improving. We’ve changed my mechanics some. I’ve gotten some help from Morgan; he’s been helping me with that. That is what he does, so he’s a good person to talk to.”

The Rams were without starting right tackle Rob Havenstein (calf) and starting defensive end Robert Quinn (hip) during Wednesday’s practice.

Below is the first full injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (foot), LB Elvis Dumervil (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)

ST. LOUIS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Rob Havenstein (calf), DE Robert Quinn (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Tim Barnes (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Chris Long (knee)

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Twenty Ravens players missing from Friday’s practice

Posted on 07 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were missing 20 players from their 90-man preseason roster as they practiced in shells and shorts on Friday afternoon.

A handful of veterans appeared to be awarded the day off as head coach John Harbaugh periodically does, but several notable players continue to nurse injuries.

Wide receivers Breshad Perriman (knee) and Marlon Brown (back) remain sidelined as the Ravens offense has worked without two of its top four wideouts for most of training camp. The first-round pick Perriman has missed seven straight practices after injuring his knee in the final 20 minutes of the first full-squad practice of the summer while Brown has now sat out five of the last six workouts.

Tight end Maxx Williams was also absent on Friday after being poked in the eye and leaving Thursday’s workout early.

Baltimore continues to deal with injury problems at the guard position with starter Kelechi Osemele (foot) and backups John Urschel (head) and Robert Myers (head) all out. Urschel and Myers both left Thursday’s practice with concussions, according to Harbaugh.

On the defensive side of the ball, defensive linemen DeAngelo Tyson and Brent Urban were new absences due to unspecified reasons. Cornerbacks Tray Walker and Chris Greenwood remain out with hamstring strains.

Outside linebacker Zach Thompson (undisclosed) was also missing again.

The list of veterans believed to be receiving a day off on Friday included wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Justin Forsett, cornerback Lardarius Webb, linebackers Daryl Smith and Terrell Suggs, and defensive end Chris Canty.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) remain on the active physically unable to perform list.

Already out for the season with a biceps tear, safety Matt Elam rounded out the collection of 20 players not participating in Friday’s workout.

 

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 27 July 2015 by Luke Jones

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

As veterans report to Owings Mills on Wednesday and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on July 30, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

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

Below is a look at the Baltimore offensive line:

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN 
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Robert Myers, James Hurst, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Marcel Jones, Nick Easton, Leon Brown, Kaleb Johnson, Darryl Baldwin, Blaine Clausell, De’Ondre Wesley

Synopsis: It was only a year ago that concerns were abundant about an offensive line that battled injuries and played poorly during the 2013 season, but much has changed since then. Regarded by most as the best position group on the roster, the offensive line returns returns its top seven players as the Ravens plan to maintain the same zone schemes with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman that they used so effectively last year under Gary Kubiak. The strength of this group begins with its guards as Marshal Yanda is the best in the NFL and Kelechi Osemele is rapidly rising to a Pro Bowl level. The question for this group early in training camp will be health as center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Rick Wagner both missed spring workouts and will be brought along slowly to begin the preseason.

One to watch: Wagner was arguably the Ravens’ biggest question mark entering last season before the 2013 fifth-round pick put together an above-average season at right tackle, solidifying a scrutinized offensive line that ultimately excelled in the running game. All signs point to Wagner being ready to go in plenty of time for the start of the season, but offensive line coach Juan Castillo will carefully watch his footwork coming back from last December’s season-ending Lisfranc injury. Assuming he’s healthy, Wagner and Yanda could form the best right side of an offensive line in the entire NFL this season. 

One on notice: Signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract last year, Eugene Monroe appeared to be Baltimore’s left tackle for the long haul, but a knee injury cost him five games and his play suffered when he was on the field in 2014. To be clear, there is no left tackle controversy as James Hurst isn’t ready to seriously challenge Monroe, but the Ravens need to see better from the veteran to justify an $8.7 million cap figure next year. If the former Jacksonville Jaguar doesn’t bounce back from a rough 2014 campaign, the Ravens could be back in a position where they’re looking for a left tackle sooner rather than later.

Sleeper: There doesn’t figure to be much room for a sleeper to make his mark this summer with Hurst, John Urschel, and fifth-round rookie Robert Myers projected to lock up roster spots as reserves, but Kaleb Johnson of Rutgers was a priority rookie free agent and has the foot quickness that Castillo desires with his blocking schemes. Projected to play guard at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Johnson will be someone to keep an eye on as the Ravens know they are unlikely to be able to re-sign both Yanda and Osemele and are looking for developmental depth at the guard position.

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Ravens right tackle Wagner lands on injured reserve

Posted on 23 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will try to advance to the playoffs Sunday without starting right tackle Rick Wagner, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.

The second-year lineman suffered a Lisfranc sprain in the third quarter of the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans this past week. He was carted to the locker room where he was ruled out for the remainder of the game and later seen using crutches and a walking boot.

Wagner becomes the 18th Ravens player to be placed on season-ending IR during the 2014 season, one shy of the 19 that landed on IR in John Harbaugh’s first season as head coach in 2008. The 2013 fifth-round pick thrived in his first year as a starter, allowing only two sacks and grading out as the second-best right tackle in the league behind New England’s Sebastian Vollmer, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Rick [had] a heck of a year,” said Harbaugh, who named Wagner the starting right tackle late . “He proved himself [and] proved the naysayers wrong. He did a great job.”

The Ravens could also be without starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who is dealing with an injured foot suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss. He was seen in a walking boot after the game and was not present during Tuesday’s practice.

Should Monroe be unable to play against Cleveland, the Ravens would likely move Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle. Rookie John Urschel would then play right guard in Yanda’s place.

Even if Monroe does play, the Ravens could still elect to use Yanda at right tackle with Urschel at guard with that potentially being a better overall alignment than Hurst — who is better suited for the left side — playing Wagner’s position.

In fact, when Monroe exited Sunday’s loss in Houston, the Ravens initially planned to play Urschel at right tackle before Yanda spoke up to declare he was sliding over. Yanda is no stranger to the right tackle position as he played there frequently earlier in his career and started during the 2010 season.

“I haven’t played there [regularly] in a long time, but we’ll see what happens come Sunday,” Yanda said. “We don’t know who is healthy yet, and obviously John [Harbaugh] does the injury report. But I’ve played there before, and I’m ready to go wherever I need to play. It’s part of the deal where you have to be ready to roll.”

In addition to Monroe, defensive end Chris Canty (ankle) and linebacker Terrell Suggs were not present during Tuesday’s practice. The Ravens will not release their first injury report of the week until Wednesday as they moved up their first day of on-field work to allow players to be off for Christmas on Thursday.

To fill Wagner’s spot on the 53-man roster, Baltimore promoted defensive end Steven Means from the practice squad. He played the role of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt for the scout team during practices last week.

The Ravens also waived defensive end Zach Thompson from the practice squad and signed reserve offensive linemen Nate Menkin and J.J. Unga. The latter spent a good portion of the 2013 season on the Ravens’ practice squad.

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Ravens lose both offensive tackles to injury in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As if the embarrassment of their worst offensive performance of the year wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost both starting offensive tackles to injury in the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Right tackle Rick Wagner was carted to the locker room with a foot injury sustained in the third quarter and didn’t return. The state of the offensive line turned even worse in the fourth quarter when veteran left tackle Eugene Monroe left the game and didn’t return.

It remained unclear what the extent of each player’s injury was immediately following the game, but reports from Houston indicated Wagner was wearing a protective boot on his foot and using crutches while Monroe was also wearing a protective boot on his foot.

“There’s nothing I want to share right now,” said head coach John Harbaugh about their status after the game. “We’ll just see how those guys come out of it and see where we’re at.”

Their departures caused plenty of shuffling on the starting line as the Ravens finished the game with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle and Pro Bowl right guard moving out to right tackle, a position he hadn’t played since the 2010 season. Rookie John Urschel then entered the game to occupy Yanda’s normal position.

Hurst was previously filling in for Wagner at the right tackle spot before Monroe got hurt.

The Ravens were held to just 64 yards through the first three quarters of action and rushed for just 33 yards on 16 carries against the Houston defense.

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