Tag Archive | "justin forsett"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 2 win in Cleveland

Posted on 19 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens completing the second-largest comeback in franchise history with a 25-20 victory at Cleveland on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After a quiet performance in the opener, C.J. Mosley came up with the game-saving interception in the closing seconds, but he also added six tackles — two for losses — and a quarterback knockdown. This was the kind of high-impact performance we didn’t see from Mosley last season.

2. You had to feel good for Dennis Pitta having that kind of game in his return to the place where he suffered his second career-threatening hip injury. He took full advantage of the defense respecting the Ravens’ speed and effectively worked underneath against Cleveland.

3. It will be interesting to see how Kenneth Dixon fares when he returns, because the running game hasn’t been getting it done. Averaging 3.0 yards per carry, the Ravens need better blocking from their offensive line, but neither Justin Forsett nor Terrance West looks like a true No. 1 back.

4. His return for a defensive two-point conversion grabbed the attention, but Tavon Young is quietly playing at a high level for a rookie fourth-rounder. Sharing time with Anthony Levine as the slot cornerback, Young made two key open-field tackles on the final defensive series of the game.

5. Never one to shy away from being aggressive, John Harbaugh forgoing a 45-yard field goal try to go for a fourth-and-2 to start the second quarter was a panic move, especially with a running game that’s been abysmal in those spots. Take the points from your high-paid kicker that early.

6. Others have played well, but Timmy Jernigan has been Baltimore’s best defensive player through two games. The 2014 second-round pick leads the team with two sacks, four tackles for a loss, and five quarterback hits and has provided a much-needed interior rush presence.

7. The presence of veterans Steve Smith and Mike Wallace figured to impact the production of Kamar Aiken, but the leading receiver last season has been an afterthought so far with just two receptions on three targets. The Ravens would certainly like to get him more involved.

8. I was impressed with Browns rookie Corey Coleman, who caught two touchdowns and went over 100 receiving yards. With Josh Gordon coming off suspension, Cleveland could have had a fun little passing game if not for the left shoulder injury to Josh McCown that’s believed to be serious.

9. For a team that regularly says it takes pride in being physical, the Ravens sure like to use shotgun formations and run outside in short-yardage situations.

10. It’s no secret that third-down defense was an issue on Sunday, but Dean Pees’ unit deserves credit for settling down midway through the second quarter. After the Browns converted six of their first seven third downs, the Ravens made stops on six of the final eight.

11. Not lost in victory was poor clock management late. First, Forsett ran out of bounds with 3:00 left. The Ravens proceeded to take their final timeout, throw an incompletion, and kick a field goal with 2:53 remaining instead of forcing Cleveland’s final timeout or taking it to the two-minute warning.

12. We always talk about Joe Flacco having an even-keeled personality, but you could tell how fired up he was after the win, complimenting his teammates for being a “bunch of freaking men” in coming back. No matter their deficiencies, the Ravens always have a chance with him at the helm.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Winning on the road isn’t easy in the NFL.

Even in John Harbaugh’s first five seasons that included a Super Bowl title, three AFC championship game appearances, and at least one playoff victory each year, a 21-19 road mark in the regular season was solid but hardly sensational. However, an 8-16 record away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last three seasons is a clear reflection of a team having only made the playoffs once over that stretch.

After their Week 1 victory against Buffalo, the Ravens take their show on the road for the first time in 2016 against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its eighth win in the last nine trips to Cleveland. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with a 25-9 mark and are 12-5 at FirstEnergy Stadium dating back to the year it opened in 1999. The teams split a pair of games in 2015, but the Ravens have won 14 of the 16 games played in the series during the Harbaugh era.

1. The defensive line will pay tribute to the late Clarence Brooks by holding Cleveland to under 3.0 yards per carry. Coming off a 2015 season in which they rushed for an average 4.0 yards per attempt, Cleveland averaged 5.7 yards per rush against Philadelphia, snapping off four runs of 16 yards or more. That said, Brandon Williams and the Ravens front were stout against Buffalo in giving up only 2.7 yards per carry and will surely want to honor the memory of their longtime defensive line coach, who died Saturday. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will find little room throughout the afternoon.

2. An ineffective pass rush will lead to a long touchdown pass to Browns receiver Corey Coleman. The defense will be without Elvis Dumervil and possibly Za’Darius Smith, once again leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees little choice but to blitz to generate pressure. It won’t be easy for a rusty Terrell Suggs going up against nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, either. The Ravens know they must disrupt Josh McCown in the pocket after he threw for over 450 yards in a game against them last year, but he’ll get too much time at some point and the speedy Coleman will shake free for a big score.

3. The Baltimore running game still won’t click fully, but Terrance West will lead in rushing against his old team. West received more carries than veteran starter Justin Forsett in the opener, but the former found little running room, averaging only 2.7 yards per pop. With a one-possession lead in the second half, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will lean on West to wear down an inexperienced Cleveland front. The average still won’t be where the Ravens want it, but West will run for 65 yards to help protect the lead with Forsett chipping in 50 of his own against the Browns.

4. Dennis Pitta will catch his first touchdown in 33 months. The veteran tight end downplayed his return to the place where he sustained his second hip fracture and dislocation two years ago, but there wouldn’t be a more appropriate place for him to make his first touchdown reception since Dec. 8, 2013. After surprisingly playing 82 percent of the offensive snaps against Buffalo while making a key 27-yard reception, Pitta will build on that solid performance with a red-zone score. Concern about his health will remain in observers’ minds, but you have to be happy for the 31-year-old in his comeback.

5. Joe Flacco will play how he usually does against the Browns in a 23-13 victory. In 15 career games against Cleveland, the 31-year-old has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging roughly 215 passing yards per game. Trestman won’t ask Flacco to take many chances in this road game, but the quarterback will be efficient while, most importantly, protecting the football. Some will complain about another grind-it-out performance lacking style points, but the Ravens will happily leave Cleveland holding their first 2-0 start since 2009.

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Will committee approach work for Ravens running backs?

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The dynamics of the running game have certainly changed in the pass-happy NFL in recent years.

Look no further than the Ravens a year ago when they rushed only 383 times, a franchise single-season low and four fewer attempts than Jamal Lewis had by himself in a historic 2003 season. In 2015, only one running back in the NFL — Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson — carried the ball more than 300 times and just 15 backs had as many as 200 carries.

Those realities coupled with the Ravens’ depth at running back have everyone wondering if we’ll see a timeshare approach in 2016. Veteran Justin Forsett is expected to begin the season as the starter, but general manager Ozzie Newsome’s willingness to potentially lose him in the unorthodox roster shuffling this past week reflected confidence in the young trio of Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon, and Buck Allen.

“We are very deep. This is probably the most talented group that we have had since I have been here,” said Forsett, entering his third year with Baltimore. “We push each other, and it is going to take all of us anyway at the end of the day to go out there and perform. I’m confident with all of us.”

But how feasible is the committee approach?

Head coach John Harbaugh used the strategy to perfection in his first season as Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice each had over 100 carries and combined to run for over 2,000 yards, but Rice quickly emerged as a Pro Bowl running back the following season.

We’ve heard more and more about the committee approach in today’s NFL, but a look at the top 10 rushing offenses in the league last year showed little evidence of that strategy being employed as a feature back on each team averaged at least 15 carries per game at any given stretch in the season with only injuries significantly impacting the carry distribution. The only team in the top 10 that appeared to use more of a timeshare was sixth-ranked Kansas City and that was toward the end of the season after the Chiefs had already lost four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles in October.

The Ravens certainly hope to be more productive on the ground than they were a year ago when they finished 26th in rushing offense, but at least one of their backs will need to emerge to be better than a complementary option. If you only have four No. 2 running backs from an ability standpoint, that’s unlikely to get the job done.

According to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, the workload will largely be determined by third-year running backs coach Thomas Hammock.

“I think our guys expect to be moved around,” Trestman said. “Thomas has a great feel for that, and he really handles that with John and my approval, so to speak. He did a great job with that last year, and I expect that [this year]. He has a good feel for when these guys need to come out, when they need a break, and if there is a play that they need to be in on. And if he feels like [a certain back] can get it done, he will get them in there.”

There’s a delicate balance between wanting to give opportunities to multiple back and making sure the most productive ones have the chance to get into the flow of the game. It’s a challenge that the Ravens could have throughout the season, especially after the talented rookie Dixon returns from a knee injury in a few weeks.

Coaches have downplayed that peril while acknowledging that the proof will be in the results, but at least one member of the Baltimore backfield provided an honest assessment about the difficulty of playing in a committee.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, it’s tough getting in a rhythm as a running back,” said West, who carried the ball over 400 times in his final collegiate season at Towson in 2013. “A running back’s got to have a good feeling and feel the game out. Right now, I’m just taking advantage of opportunity. When my number’s called, I’m going to make the best of that one play or the three plays I have — however many plays I have.”

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Ravens were prepared to lose Forsett in unorthodox roster shuffling

Posted on 06 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh didn’t try to spin the narrative when asked about the unusual weekend that played out with running back Justin Forsett, who was cut and re-signed two days later.

Harbaugh said it was “self-explanatory” that the organization wanted to temporarily open roster spots for safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Carl Davis before placing them on injured reserve and keeping them eligible to potentially return later in the season. But the move did not come without a real danger of losing Forsett if another team had been willing to make a superior offer to the $3 million salary he will still make with Baltimore in 2016.

“We understood that. You have to take risks,” Harbaugh said. “No guts, no glory. You can’t achieve anything unless you are willing to take some risks, but certainly you take calculated, smart risks. That is what we did there.”

According to NFL Network, the Ravens reinstated the exact terms of his previous deal that runs through next year, but the 30-year-old can now earn an additional $100,000 if he eclipses his 2015 rushing total (641 yards) this season.

All along, there was a trust between the two sides that facilitated such an unorthodox move that grabbed the attention of the football world. Harbaugh expressed his admiration for Forsett, who has been a valuable asset both on and off the field in the post-Ray Rice era.

“I thought Justin handled it exceptionally well,” Harbaugh said. “It was a team move on his part, and it didn’t hurt him in any way, financially or otherwise. We knew what the plan was all along. I thought it was well-executed. Hopefully, it helps us in the end. It is a small thing, but it is not a small thing to those two guys that have a chance to come back on the roster.”

Hester ready for Week 1

It remains to be seen how much four-time Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester has left after undergoing toe surgery in January, but the 33-year-old declared himself fully healthy on Tuesday.

Despite only hitting the practice field for the first time with the Ravens on Tuesday, Hester is expected to be the return man against Buffalo to open the season. How much he’ll be involved in the offense — if at all — remains to be seen.

“He seems like he is actually in very good shape,” Harbaugh said. “He looks like he is ready to play. I’m not worried about him being able to handle the job at all. We are excited about him, and we are anticipating him being out there handling kicks and punts for us — at least — on Sunday.”

Powers still in plans

Veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers has been absent since suffering an injury in the second preseason game on Aug. 20, but he remains in the Ravens’ plans despite outside speculation about his future.

“We respect his ability and what he brings to the table for us,” Harbaugh said. “As soon as he’s healthy, which is probably day-to-day right now with an ankle sprain, we’ll see where he goes from there. I’m excited to get him out there, too.”

Should Powers not be able to play against the Bills, rookie Tavon Young or fourth-year cornerback Will Davis could be asked to defend the slot in the nickel package.

Tough conversation

The decision to cut wide receiver Jeremy Butler was one of the more unpopular moves of the weekend after he led the team in receptions during the preseason.

Harbaugh said that Butler “deserved” to make the 53-man roster, but there was a big need to address that made the young wideout the odd man out in the end.

“We needed a returner,” Harbaugh said. “When you looked at who would have to go and stay and to make sure we had enough players at different positions, he was a guy that there wasn’t a chair left for him at the end. That was probably the most — one of the most — two or three [difficult conversations].”

Tampa Bay signed Butler to its practice squad on Sunday after he declined an invitation to be on Baltimore’s for a second straight year.

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

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Ravens’ roster maneuvering reflects new injured reserve rule

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Luke Jones

If you’re still trying to understand exactly what Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was doing with his 53-man roster this weekend, look no further than a tweaked rule for the 2016 season.

Since 2012, the NFL has permitted teams to choose one player on injured reserve to return later in the season, but teams were previously required to designate that player at the time they were placed on IR. Starting this year, teams no longer have to decide in advance which player they want to pull back from IR, leading to some different strategy such as what the Ravens exhibited over the weekend.

“It gives you some options that you didn’t have before,” said head coach John Harbaugh on Saturday before the roster manipulation began. “You’d like to be able to have more guys available for that, obviously from just a coaching football standpoint. The fact that you can leave it open toward the end of the year to see who gets hurt in the future after the 53-man cut and also who progresses with their injury the best and what your needs are [gives you more roster options].”

The rule still requires the designation to return to be used on a player who was placed on IR after the initial 53-man roster was finalized, explaining why safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Carl Davis made the original roster before being sent to IR on Monday. Instead of potentially subjecting other players to waivers, the Ravens chose to cut veteran running back Justin Forsett on Saturday and waited to sign return specialist Devin Hester, leaving their roster spots open for Elam and Davis to temporarily occupy.

Forsett officially re-signed with the team on Monday afternoon.

Under the old rules, the Ravens may have simply passed on giving either Elam or Davis the designation since neither was projected to be a starting player, but they now have both in play as options to return later in the season. Should Baltimore suffer a serious injury or two at the safety position, Elam suddenly becomes a more attractive option as he continues to work his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery. In a similar light, a deep group of defensive linemen would look more vulnerable with a few injuries over the first several weeks of the season, making Davis a more appealing choice after he’s fully recovered from the ankle injury sustained in the preseason finale.

In order to keep Elam and Davis in play to return in past seasons, the Ravens would have needed to carry both on the 53-man roster or designate one for a return and carry the other on the active roster, leaving less roster flexibility in the process. It’s quite possible that both will remain on IR all year if the Ravens sustain a long-term injury to a more significant player in the coming weeks and would then prefer to use the return designation for that individual.

The rule still does not allow a player to return to the active roster until he’s been on IR for at least eight weeks, but that individual may return to practice after six weeks.

You can certainly question whether the modest reward was worth potentially alienating — or even losing — a former Pro Bowl player in Forsett, but the Ravens felt it was worth the risk to give themselves the optimal roster in the present with a couple more options for later in the season.

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Ravens re-sign Forsett to complete strange 48-hour saga

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The plot thickens indeed.

Speculation began immediately after the Ravens released running back Justin Forsett on Saturday that the veteran would still return. However, the organization did not wait until after Week 1 when the salaries of newly-signed vested veteran players are no longer guaranteed for the entire season.

The Ravens re-signed the 2014 Pro Bowl running back on Monday afternoon, roughly 48 hours after his contract was terminated. Players were off on Sunday and Monday, which means Forsett will not have missed any team activities by the time the team reconvenes for practice on Tuesday.

It’s become obvious that Forsett’s release was just a strange way for general manager Ozzie Newsome to manipulate his initial 53-man roster. Baltimore also announced Monday that safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Carl Davis were going to injured reserve, creating roster spots for the returning Forsett and newly-signed return specialist Devin Hester.

In order for any players on IR to be eligible for the designation to return later in the season, a team is required to keep them on the initial 53-man roster through final cuts, explaining why Elam and Davis were on the original roster. Players already placed on IR such as rookie defensive end Bronson Kaufusi are not eligible for the designation to return later in the season.

Unlike past seasons, teams do not have to designate the one player to return from IR ahead of time and can instead weigh their options as the season progresses and other significant injuries potentially occur.

Head coach John Harbaugh is scheduled to meet with the media on Tuesday afternoon, so it will be interesting to hear how he and the organization try to spin this odd roster manipulation. It’s fair to wonder why the Ravens would ask Forsett to do this and why the 2014 Pro Bowl running back would agree unless he’s receiving something in return such as a bonus.

Less significant veterans on the 53-man roster such as linebacker Chris Carter just as easily could have been cut with a similar unspoken agreement to re-sign a few days later and also would not have been required to pass through waivers. Of course, trust can be a significant obstacle with something as delicate as this, and the organization and Forsett have clearly been on good terms, which made Saturday’s news so surprising in the first place.

Of course, Forsett couldn’t resist announcing his return in dramatic fashion using Twitter.

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Plenty of questions stemming from Ravens cutting Forsett

Posted on 04 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With several hours to process the surprise of the Ravens cutting running back Justin Forsett, below are a plethora of questions related to the decision:

1. The possibility of this outcome crossed my mind at a few points during Forsett’s underwhelming summer, but did the Ravens really cut their starting running back who made the Pro Bowl two years ago?

2. Will Baltimore bring him back after Week 1 when vested veteran salaries are no longer guaranteed for the whole season?

3. Would Forsett even want to return under such an arrangement?

4. After holding him out of two preseason games entirely and giving him a total of seven carries this summer, did the Ravens give the 30-year-old a fair chance to keep his job?

5. Given Forsett’s past success in Gary Kubiak’s offensive system, will the Denver Broncos come calling for his services?

6. With just two healthy tailbacks entering the season opener next Sunday, do the Ravens have enough depth at the position?

7. Terrance West shed weight and clearly impressed this summer, but can the Ravens really trust him as their starter with a history that resulted in two bad teams dumping him over the last calendar year?

8. Has Buck Allen shown enough to be a reliable No. 2 running back after his own unimpressive preseason that prompted many to question his job security?

9. Are the Ravens too confident that exciting rookie Kenneth Dixon will come back from a torn MCL in his left knee to pick up where he left off this summer?

10. Why didn’t general manager Ozzie Newsome or head coach John Harbaugh issue statements recognizing Forsett’s important contributions on and off the field in the same way they have for virtually any notable veteran to be released over the years?

11. Am I the only one who thought it was strange that Ravens players weren’t tweeting farewells or their support to Forsett, who has been a popular teammate over the last two years?

12. Was there any cryptic meaning in the tweet Forsett posted shortly after the news broke on Saturday afternoon?

13. Given the veteran’s reputation for having good field vision, are the Ravens really that comfortable with a revamped offensive line and a running game that averaged 3.6 yards per carry this preseason?

14. The Ravens are saving $3 million by cutting Forsett, but will the salary cap space be worth it?

15. Are the young backs ready to pick up the slack in pass protection, an area where Forsett excelled?

16. Will fullback Kyle Juszczyk have a more meaningful role in the offense this year?

17. How much will the backfield miss Forsett’s leadership on the field and in the classroom?

18. Will a trio of tailbacks totaling only 152 more career rushing yards than Forsett had in his 2014 Pro Bowl season alone make Ravens fans forget all about the veteran?

19. Did the Ravens get too wrapped up in summer performance from younger players that can frequently turn out to be a mirage?

20. Will this long-winded list of questions look silly in the next couple days, weeks, or months, or did the Ravens just make a big mistake?

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Breaking down the 2016 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 03 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Former Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett was easily the biggest surprise among several notable cuts on Saturday as the Ravens constructed their initial 53-man roster for the start of the 2016 season.

More changes are inevitable in the coming days as Baltimore has no clear-cut return specialist with third-year receiver Michael Campanaro being placed on injured reserve and rookie Keenan Reynolds being waived on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether general manager Ozzie Newsome will sign four-time Pro Bowl returner Devin Hester, who worked out and took a physical on Saturday morning.

The Ravens will certainly scan the open market for potential additions to enhance the roster that’s already been assembled. Beginning Sunday, they will also put together a 10-man practice squad with a number of Baltimore players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Below is a look at the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening with some early impressions:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: With Flacco practicing fully all summer, the Ravens will go with only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for the seventh consecutive year. Journeyman Josh Johnson provided more competition for the backup job than anyone expected, but the distribution of playing time in the preseason never indicated that Mallett was in real danger of losing the No. 2 job.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4) — Terrance West, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Kyle Juszczyk
Analysis: Whether the Ravens ultimately bring back Forsett or not, his release signals a changing of the guard as West is now in line to receive the bulk of the work to begin the season after a very strong summer. For now, the Ravens have only two healthy tailbacks as Dixon will need at least couple more weeks to recover from a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5) — Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
Analysis: After so much discussion this summer about carrying six or seven receivers, the Ravens kept only five as preseason standout Jeremy Butler did not make the team and Campanaro and Chris Matthews were both placed on IR. On paper, this is one of the most talented receiver groups in franchise history, but health concerns with Smith and Perriman are legitimate until proven otherwise.

TIGHT ENDS (3) — Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams
Analysis: The season-ending injury suffered by veteran Benjamin Watson took some of the shine off this once-deep group, but Pitta and Williams did return to the practice field on Saturday. Suspended tight ends Darren Waller (four games) and Nick Boyle (10 games) are options later in the season, but it is unsettling that all three tight ends on the roster have had their share of injuries in recent years.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, John Urschel, James Hurst, Ryan Jensen
Analysis: The biggest surprise in this group was the decision to retain Hurst after he struggled mightily in place of the injured Eugene Monroe last year and was driven back into the left knee of Flacco to cause the season-ending injury. The left guard spot remains under the microscope as Lewis and Urschel are the top candidates to start there following the offseason departure of Kelechi Osemele.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7) — Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Brent Urban, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce
Analysis: An undrafted rookie from Samford, Pierce earned a spot on the team with a strong training camp and a terrific preseason that culminated with a sack-strip and fumble recovery for a touchdown in New Orleans on Thursday night. Even after the season-ending injury to rookie third-rounder Bronson Kaufusi, the talent in this young group runs deep.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (6) — Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Albert McClellan, Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, Chris Carter
Analysis: The Ravens are counting heavily on Suggs and Dumervil to fight off Father Time, but the impressive preseason from Judon leads you to believe that he could be a real factor in the pass-rushing rotation as a rookie. Despite the overall depth, this group has some health concerns at the moment with Dumervil not 100 percent after offseason foot surgery and Smith out with an ankle injury.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3) — C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Kamalei Correa
Analysis: As many predicted, the Ravens finally parted ways with failed 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown, who saw a total of just 10 defensive snaps after his rookie season. The small number of players at this position is deceiving as both McClellan and Carter have experience at inside linebacker and defensive back Anthony Levine practiced extensively as a hybrid linebacker this summer.

CORNERBACKS (7) — Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young, Will Davis, Maurice Canady, Sheldon Price
Analysis: The Ravens hope to have strength in numbers at this position, but Wright and Powers both struggled in the preseason and could be pushed by younger options as the season progresses. Price is the biggest surprise to make it among the youngsters, but the 6-foot-2 UCLA product practiced well in the spring and summer and has appealing size as an outside option.

SAFETIES (5) — Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis, Anthony Levine, Matt Elam
Analysis: Terrence Brooks didn’t have a stellar summer, but the 2014 third-round pick’s departure was surprising from a depth standpoint. With his return from knee surgery not believed to be close, Elam could still be placed on injured reserve with the thought of potentially designating him to return later in the season, but he needed to be on the initial 53-man roster to be eligible for that possibility.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Analysis: This will mark five straight years in which these three have been together, a rare example of long-term stability in the NFL. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg may rest easy with this trio, but the Ravens enter a season without a true return specialist for a second straight year, an obvious concern that’s prompted them to work out the 33-year-old Hester.

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Ravens-Colts preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 19 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are moving closer to looking like a complete team.

Saturday’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts probably won’t reflect that, but both Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith returned to the practice field this week and are on track to be ready for the season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 11.

After resting a number of healthy veterans against Carolina, head coach John Harbaugh isn’t sharing his plans for playing time on Saturday night. In the past, Harbaugh had played most of his starters into the second quarter of the second preseason game, but the Ravens are merely following a league-wide trend of trying to keep veteran players out of harm’s way as much as possible while maximizing the opportunity to evaluate unknown commodities.

“You want to see the young guys play in game situations when the tackling is live,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged the artificial surface at Lucas Oil Stadium being one of many factors to consider in determining which veterans will play. “There’s not quite as much practice as there was before — certainly not even close to as much as it was way before. We practice really well, and we see a lot from our guys in practice. The game is a confirmation. Or, sometimes, guys that don’t practice as well play well in games. Sometimes guys practice great and don’t show up in games. That’s something you really need to know.”

Joe Flacco continues to practice every day while only experiencing mild soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee, but Harbaugh may rest his franchise quarterback for a second straight game and wait until next week’s “dress rehearsal” for his first preseason action. Such a timetable would be concerning if not for the fact that Flacco has yet to miss a single rep during training camp.

The 31-year-old hasn’t been in a live pocket since last November, but he sees no need to play extensively in the preseason ahead of his ninth NFL season.

“I’m not worried about it; I’ve played plenty of games,” Flacco said. “I think the biggest reason to get back out there is to get back in live action and see what it feels like again. But it doesn’t really take too long to do that, so whatever we do is going to be for a reason. Whatever happens, happens, and I’m going to be comfortable either way.”

Thursday marks the first time these AFC teams have met in the preseason, but Indianapolis holds an 8-3 edge in regular-season matchups and a 2-1 lead in the postseason. Baltimore has compiled a 21-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.

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 Indianapolis.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players — like Flacco — who could 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: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G John Urschel (contusion), WR Chris Moore (foot), CB Tavon Young (hamstring), TE Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), WR Michael Campanaro (unspecified strains), CB Maurice Canady (undisclosed), TE Daniel Brown (undisclosed), CB Sheldon Price (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: QB Joe Flacco (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Justin Forsett

The performance of Terrance West, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon this summer certainly should have the attention of Forsett, who didn’t play in the preseason opener. I’m not buying any sentiment that the 30-year-old is in danger of being pushed off the roster, but he’ll certainly want to present himself well in what game action he sees between now and the start of the season. He’s still the best pass-blocking tailback on the roster and breaks more tackles than you’d expect with a 5-foot-8, 195-pound frame. The young backs might be closing the gap, but Forsett’s experience is still invaluable to the backfield.

CB Jimmy Smith

It was clear that the No. 1 cornerback wasn’t 100 percent last year coming off foot surgery, but the Ravens need much more from the man in which they invested a huge contract. Smith got off to a quiet start in camp after having the surgical screws removed from his right foot this spring, but he’s looked much better in recent practices. If the Baltimore defense is to return to a high level, the 28-year-old needs to be a Pro Bowl-caliber kind of cornerback as he looked to be before suffering the Lisfranc injury. Seeing him stack some quality live-game reps would be encouraging going into the regular season.

OT Ronnie Stanley

The rookie left tackle played 22 snaps and graded out well against Carolina despite having suffered a minor injury less than a week earlier. The Ravens just want to see him continue that in more extensive action against the Indianapolis front. The best compliment you can pay an offensive lineman is that you don’t notice him that much, a description that fits the first-round pick in his first training camp. The Ravens were impressed with his pedigree coming out of Notre Dame, and he’s done everything so far to make you think he can handle a very demanding position in his first NFL season.

LB Albert McClellan

Not many would have predicted McClellan to be atop the depth chart at the strong-side outside linebacker position, but the Ravens need a replacement for Courtney Upshaw and McClellan is more consistent setting the edge on run plays than second-year linebacker Za’Darius Smith at this point. It’s critical that someone — McClellan, Smith, or even rookie Kamalei Correa — emerges to handle the “Sam” spot in order to allow Elvis Dumervil to return to more of a situational role in 2016. A special-teams standout for a number of years, McClellan has more trust with the coaching staff than many would think.

WR Chris Moore

With Breshad Perriman’s status for the start of the regular season looking in doubt, more attention will fall on the rookie fourth-round pick to be a decent complement to veteran Mike Wallace in the vertical passing game. Moore was arguably the biggest star over the first couple days of camp before a foot injury sidelined him until this week. The Ravens have had other receivers in and out of practice, but Moore has received plenty of second-team reps as well as some work with the first team. It’s not a guarantee that Moore will play so soon after a two-week absence, but his explosiveness is worth watching.

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Eyes on Ravens running backs as preseason opener looms

Posted on 07 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Asked at the start of training camp about the possibility of the Ravens using a committee approach at running back this season, veteran Justin Forsett pretended not to understand what the concept meant.

Despite a collection of young and talented backs behind him on the depth chart, the 30-year-old isn’t ready to relinquish the starting role he worked so hard to secure two years ago when he gained a career-high 1,266 yards after years as an NFL journeyman. But he has his hands full this summer.

“Everybody wants to be on the field all the time,” said Forsett, who missed the final six games with a broken arm last season after a career year in 2014. “I want to put myself in a position where they can’t take me off the field. That is my mentality. At the end of the day, everybody has their role, and I’ll let [the coaches] decide that.”

Plenty of questions remain on both sides of the ball, but we’re unlikely to learn too much in the first preseason game about the wide receiver, tight end, and outside linebacker positions where multiple players remain sidelined with injuries. But running back is a different story with four healthy options vying for meaningful playing time while 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro remains on the physically unable to perform list.

Projected to be on the bubble this summer, Baltimore native Terrance West has been the most impressive running back in camp, which isn’t as much a knock on Forsett, Buck Allen, or Kenneth Dixon as it is a compliment to the urgency with which the Towson product has played. Fifteen pounds lighter than last year and showing improved vision and quickness, West is looking like the back the Cleveland Browns thought they were getting when they selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft.

Of course, it’s generally unwise to draw too many conclusions from training camp as veterans assured of roles are often pacing themselves while getting ready for the fall and unproven players are maximizing every rep to etch out a spot on the 53-man roster. At the very least, West has made himself arguably the most intriguing player to watch in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.

“He is just out there working hard and trying to get better,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “He is running hard. He is running aggressively. He has been much improved in terms of his understanding of pass protection, which is critical to getting him on the field. I feel a lot more comfortable with that. He has had a tremendous attitude in the classroom and on the field.”

West isn’t the only young back trying to push Forsett for playing time as Allen wants to build on a solid rookie season in which he rushed for 514 yards and collected an additional 353 yards as a receiver. A fourth-round selection in 2015, Allen has looked the part of a good change-of-pace receiver out of the backfield.

But he’s aiming for a bigger role in his second season after focusing on becoming more explosive this offseason. One of the questions about Allen as a rookie was his ability to consistently run between the tackles to be a productive every-down back.

He averaged 3.8 yards per carry in a season in which he started the final six games.

“Just be more physical. Run like you’re 220 [pounds], not 212,” Allen said. “That’s something I really took personal. Making that jump cut look clean, that’s something I worked on. Only time will tell.”

Until the last few days, it had largely been a three-man competition in the Baltimore backfield since Dixon, a fourth-round rookie from Louisiana Tech, suffered a minor knee injury on the first day of camp. However, he returned to the field late last week and turned in his best practice of the summer at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night, flashing his skills as a receiver and some impressive moves in the open field.

Regarded by some as the second-best running back in this year’s draft behind fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, Dixon averaged 11.1 yards per reception to go along with a stout 5.6 yards per carry over four collegiate seasons. His 87 career touchdowns briefly gave him the NCAA Division I record last December before it was quickly eclipsed by fellow Ravens draft pick Keenan Reynolds.

“He looked quick and sharp; he made good cuts,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel like he did a pretty good job of pass protection. We will have to see. That last third-down run was really a special run. It was good to see him out there. He has been chomping at the bit.”

The question all along has been whether Forsett will recapture his success from two years ago to cement his status as the starter or if a younger back will seize the job, but the Ravens hope a clear-cut No. 1 back will emerge to provide the offense a much-needed play-maker.

In the meantime, it’s hard to argue with Forsett’s impeccable character leading the young group as his willingness to help younger players is a trait he picked up from those who helped him early in his career when he was simply trying to survive in the NFL.

“I feel like me being here is greater than football,” Forsett said. “Anytime I can help and serve my teammates [and] allow them to be better, I’m all for it. When I got into the league, it was guys like T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris, and Julius Jones that helped me along the way. Edgerrin James, those guys helped me be a pro and showed me the way.

“It is my duty to pass that on.”

He’s just not ready to pass on the starter’s workload yet.

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