Tag Archive | "kamar aiken"

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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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Ravens add much-needed diversity to passing game

Posted on 15 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked in early January whether the Ravens needed more speed in the passing game, Joe Flacco answered carefully while making his stance clear.

“I don’t know if it’s something that it needs, but you see what speed does,” the veteran quarterback said. “It does a lot for football teams. You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there.”

The Ravens took a step to copy Pittsburgh’s formula on Tuesday by signing former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace to a two-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million.

Not only does the union provide the Ravens another vertical threat to pair with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but it provides Wallace the chance to get his career back on track after setting new lows in receiving yards (473) and touchdowns (two) last year. Playing the last three seasons with quarterbacks in Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater who aren’t known for their arm strength, the 29-year-old sees the strong-armed Flacco as the perfect passer for his skill set.

“I always loved his deep ball ever since I was in Pittsburgh watching Torrey [Smith] catch them,” Wallace said. “I was like, ‘Man, this guy gets like eight of them in a row!’ I need me some of that.”

After Perriman missed his entire rookie season due to a right knee injury suffered on the first day of training camp, the Ravens can hardly afford a repeat of 2015 when they lacked a speed receiver to stretch the field and create more space for Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken on short-to-intermediate routes. Baltimore finished eighth in passing offense, but the unit ranked 30th in yards per attempt (6.6), reflecting its inability to push the ball down the field.

Now, the Ravens hope the addition of Wallace and Perriman’s healthy return will bring more diversity to the passing game and better utilize Flacco’s strengths.

Head coach John Harbaugh is excited about the potential of his top four receivers and how it might impact opponents’ preparation for his offense.

“It’s going to cause people some problems,” Harbaugh said. “You have some considerations back there on defense. If you’re going to put your defense over one guy or another guy and leave some pretty talented guys open on the other side, that’s going to create some problems for defenses.”

The Ravens may lack a true No. 1 option with Steve Smith turning 37 and coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, but Wallace doesn’t need to be a 1,200-yard receiver for the Baltimore passing game to thrive in 2016. The key is having wideouts who bring different skills to the table, whether you’re factoring in Steve Smith’s toughness and experience, Aiken’s reliable hands, or the high-end speed of Wallace and Perriman.

On paper, it could be the most talented group of pass-catchers the Ravens have had since the 2012 season that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII, and it should fulfill Flacco’s desire to have more speed on the outside.

Both Baltimore and Wallace hope their partnership will be the right fit. The Ravens need to replace the big-play ability they were missing after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure, and last year showed that they couldn’t count solely on the unproven Perriman to do it when he has yet to complete as much as a full-contact practice in the NFL. Wallace is out to prove he’s still capable of being the playmaker he was with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and isn’t just the guy who signed a mega contract with the Dolphins three offseasons ago and was all but forgotten in the Vikings offense last year.

“I’ll show everybody. I’ve been taking a lot of heat for about three years in a row,” Wallace said. “We’ll see about that though. I promise I’ll get the last laugh. Hopefully we can get where we want to get, and that’s to the championship.”

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Ravens place second-round tender on Aiken

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 5 p.m. Wednesday)

With the deadline to tender their restricted free agents falling on Wednesday afternoon, the Ravens officially placed a second-round tender on wide receiver Kamar Aiken.

The tender is worth $2.553 million and makes it unlikely that another team will pursue his services in what looks to be an underwhelming free-agent market of available receivers. Other teams are still allowed to sign the 26-year-old to an offer sheet, but the Ravens would have the opportunity to match the offer and would receive that team’s second-round pick if they chose to decline. Baltimore could have saved some money by offering Aiken the low tender worth $1.671 million, but teams could have signed him to an offer sheet with the Ravens only receiving a right to match and no draft compensation attached.

Aiken broke out in 2015 filling in for the injured Steve Smith, catching a career-best 75 passes for 944 yards and five touchdowns. With Smith turning 37 and coming back from a torn Achilles tendon and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman missing his entire rookie season with a knee injury, Aiken is Baltimore’s surest commodity at the position for now.

Starting 14 of 16 games in 2015, the 6-foot-2 Central Florida product made 50 of his 75 receptions serving as the team’s No. 1 receiver over the final eight games.

In a surprising move, the Ravens gave tight end Chase Ford the low tender, perhaps an indication that the status of tight end Crockett Gillmore after surgery to both shoulders is more uncertain than general manager Ozzie Newsome indicated at the NFL combine last month. Ford caught a combined 34 passes for 391 yards and a touchdown in 2013 and 2014 for Minnesota, but he was only briefly on the Ravens’ 53-man roster last season before going to injured reserve.

As expected, Baltimore did not tender safety Brynden Trawick and wide receiver Marlon Brown, who were also restricted free agents. However, it remains possible that either could return on a cheaper contract than the $1.671 million low tender.

The Ravens also declined to tender a contract to defensive tackle Micajah Reynolds, an exclusive-rights free agent who spent the entire 2015 season on IR.

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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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Aiken holds chance to reach rare company on Sunday

Posted on 02 January 2016 by Luke Jones

A forgettable 2015 season for the Ravens has been anything but that for wide receiver Kamar Aiken.

In a starting offense that’s lost six Week 1 starters and first-round receiver Breshad Perriman to season-ending injuries, Aiken has quietly produced one of the better receiving seasons in franchise history. And with 132 receiving yards in Sunday’s season finale against Cincinnati, the 26-year-old Aiken would produce the 12th 1,000-yard receiving season in the 20-year history of the franchise.

Only six Ravens players — Derrick Mason (four times), Qadry Ismail (twice), Derrick Alexander (twice), Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, and Michael Jackson — have earned the achievement in an underwhelming history for the Ravens at the receiver position. Even if Aiken became the last man standing to which quarterbacks could confidently throw — four different signal-callers have started over the last six games — he’s firmly established himself as a legitimate possession receiver with 51 receptions for 597 yards and three touchdowns over his last eight games.

After being held without a catch — the only time all season — against the Bengals in Week 3, the 6-foot-2 receiver would like nothing more than to have the career-best performance needed to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.

“It’d be big just to get it because you never know when you’re going to get another chance to get that close,” Aiken said. “Tomorrow’s not promised; that next down isn’t promised, so it’d be big from that standpoint. I’m going to do everything I can to possibly get it if I can, and that’s all I can do about it.”

In a season lacking continuity on the offensive side of the ball due to injuries, Aiken can set a franchise record if he can make five catches on Sunday, which would give him nine consecutive games reaching that plateau. He’s currently tied with Mason, who caught at least five passes in eight straight contests in 2007.

With the Ravens lacking another established receiver down the stretch, Aiken has likely seen more targets than he would have in a more prolific offense, but he’s caught 61.4 percent of his 114 targets, which isn’t far behind Steve Smith’s 63 percent before his Achilles injury on Nov. 1. Unlike his veteran teammate, however, Aiken has had to adapt to playing with Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen, and Ryan Mallett after starting quarterback Joe Flacco was lost for the season in late November.

Head coach John Harbaugh has also praised his toughness and durability as many liken Aiken’s qualities and skill set to those of Anquan Boldin, who never had more than 921 receiving yards in any of his three seasons with Baltimore.

“He has been hit in the head more times probably than any receiver in the league, and it hasn’t been called,” Harbaugh said. ” He doesn’t get protected. He bounces back up and he’s back out there, and he shows up the next week. It’s just impressive what he has done this year, and I’m proud of him.”

In the most frustrating season in franchise history, Harbaugh and the Ravens can certainly appreciate the example and production that Aiken has offered.

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Even with Smith’s return, Ravens have work to do at receiver

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Steve Smith returning for the 2016 season is good news for the Ravens.

You don’t easily replace the leadership, fire, and experience of a possible Hall of Fame player, and I won’t be the one to doubt his ability to defy the odds as a 37-year-old wide receiver coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, a serious injury for players even much younger than him.

But Ozzie Newsome must be realistic and can’t just plan on Smith being his No. 1 wide receiver in 2016. The longtime general manager needs to do more at the position this offseason after not doing enough this past year.

When the Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $10.5 million contract two offseasons ago, the veteran said he anticipated being a “complementary” receiver behind Torrey Smith, but we know how that turned out as the veteran was the clear No.1 guy — and deserved to be. This time around, however, the organization quietly needs to view him as a No. 2 or No. 3 option in his 16th NFL season and can then be pleasantly surprised if he posts the ninth 1,000-yard season of his brilliant career.

Contrary to most of the 20-year history of this franchise, it’s not against NFL bylaws to have a surplus of talent at the wide receiver position.

As the Ravens conclude the first losing season of the John Harbaugh era, they have Kamar Aiken and an abundance of No. 5 and No. 6 receivers on the current roster. Aiken has more than proven himself as a starting possession receiver in Smith’s absence, but the two have similar attributes at this point and didn’t mesh as well being on the field at the same time early this season.

Baltimore still needs more speed at the position.

No, I haven’t forgotten about 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but the Ravens can’t make the same mistake twice in counting on the Central Florida product without a backup plan. The 6-foot-2 Perriman may still realize his potential in the NFL, but questions will persist about his health and his overall ability until he can stay on the football field to silence them.

It’s easy to say the Ravens need a No. 1 receiver, but those talents aren’t just congregating outside the gates at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills waiting for a league-minimum contract. A less-than-ideal salary cap position makes it unlikely that a top free agent like Alshon Jeffery will be an option, and Newsome probably can’t afford to trade multiple picks for a bona fide No. 1 wideout when the Ravens need an infusion of talent at multiple positions on either side of the ball.

But hedging their bets on the trio of Smith, Aiken, and Perriman is a must. Whether it’s signing or trading for a starting-caliber veteran or selecting another receiver in the early rounds of the 2016 draft, the Ravens need another legitimate option to throw into the mix. It would be a move for the post-Smith future as much as next season.

Even if that addition wouldn’t be a No. 1 receiver himself, Newsome adding more impact talent can only help the current group.

As for other receivers on the roster such as Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, Chris Matthews, and Daniel Brown, the Ravens can bring as many as they’d like to organized team activities and training camp, but none should be projected as anything better than No. 5 or No. 6 options at this point. Let’s face it, we’ve heard the hype about the late-round picks and rookie free agents on an annual basis with little to show for it as even Aiken had spent time with three other organizations before finally arriving in Baltimore in 2013.

The Ravens left themselves with no margin for error at the wide receiver position this season and paid dearly for it when Perriman went down on the first day of training camp and Smith was lost midway through the season. Both have the potential to help the Ravens immensely in 2016, but Aiken is the only safe bet of their top three right now.

Even if he’s not his old explosive self after the injury, Smith can still help on the field and in the meeting rooms.

But he can’t be viewed as the only solution this offseason to the problems at wide receiver.

Such expectations would be unfair to him and unfair to the Ravens.

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Ravens come out of Pittsburgh win in good health

Posted on 28 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after the Ravens’ surprising win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, head coach John Harbaugh received a surprising revelation from head athletic trainer Mark Smith.

“Mark gave me the good news,” said Harbaugh on Monday. “‘There’s good news and good news: We won the game, and nobody is getting an MRI [the day after a game] for the first time all year.'”

In the final stretch of an injury-plagued 2015 season, the Ravens came out of Sunday’s game without any substantial injury concerns, a rarity in what is typically a physical game with their biggest rival. Wide receiver Kamar Aiken was the only player noticeably shaken up during the 20-17 win, but his hand injury was not deemed serious before he returned to the game.

On Monday, Harbaugh did offer clarity on the status of wide receiver Marlon Brown, who missed his fifth consecutive game with a back injury and will not play against Cincinnati in the season finale.

“His back has just not responded,” said Harbaugh, who wasn’t sure why general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t put Brown on injured reserve a couple weeks ago. “He’s had back spasms, then they found — I don’t know what it was exactly, whether it was a little bit of a disc issue or something in there.

“They kept trying to get him back. And then about two weeks ago, I could just tell he wasn’t going to get back, so I kind of gave up hope, and I think he did, too. He just knew it wasn’t responding.”

Brown is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, making it possible that he’s played his final game with the Ravens. After catching 49 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, Brown has caught just 38 passes for 367 yards and no touchdowns in his last two seasons combined.

Harbaugh also confirmed left tackle Eugene Monroe underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Monroe was placed on season-ending IR earlier this month and played in only six games this season.

“I think it’s a pretty quick recovery,” Harbaugh said. “It shouldn’t be an issue from what I understand.”

TV CHANGE: Originally scheduled to be televised on CBS, Sunday’s Baltimore-Cincinnati game will instead be shown on FOX at 1 p.m. after it was cross-flexed by the NFL on Monday.

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Ravens have taken holiday spirit too literally in 2015

Posted on 23 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s better to give than to receive, right?

Perhaps the Ravens have taken the spirit of the holiday season too literally in 2015 as they enter Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers holding the second-worst turnover ratio in the NFL at minus-15. It’s a major reason why Baltimore has long been out of the playoff race and needs one win in the final two weeks of the season just to avoid tying the worst record in franchise history.

“You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s loss to Kansas City in which his team committed three turnovers. “If any team this year should understand that, it’s the Baltimore Ravens. Until we learn that lesson, we can play as hard as we want, we can be as physical as we want, we can be as tough as we want, we can play some pretty darn good football. But if you turn the ball over, you’re not going to win.”

The Ravens have committed 26 turnovers, the second-highest total of the Harbaugh era with only their 2013 total (29) being higher. It’s no coincidence that those are the Ravens’ only non-playoff seasons under their eighth-year coach.

But the inability to create turnovers from the opposition has been a much greater problem for the Ravens in 2015. With just 11 takeaways in 14 games, they’re on pace to shatter the franchise-worst mark of 22 set in 1996 and matched last season.

The current Ravens can only dream of forcing 49 turnovers like the 2000 team that won Super Bowl XXXV or the 2006 squad that forced 40 on the way to the best regular-season mark (13-3) in franchise history. The Baltimore defense of old feels light years away as its old rival comes to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

“To be able to play like [that], you’ve got to get the lead,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We just shoot ourselves in the foot when we don’t get [the lead] early. It’s always harder to play behind versus with the lead. I think that’s a valuable lesson we’re all learning this year.”

Though the Ravens have held a lead in 10 of their 14 games this season, those advantages have often been brief as they’ve led at the conclusion of just 14 of 58 quarters of play (counting two overtime periods) all season. The game-winning points in all four of their victories have come on the final play of the game.

We know that the Ravens lack dynamic, game-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball, but it isn’t easy to set the tempo and attack opposing offenses when they’re always on their heels and taking the punches.

“It’s being in the right place consistently, creating a little momentum [and] probably creating pressure on quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “Getting the lead has a lot to do with turnovers, especially interceptions. I think you’ll find – if you look at the analytics – that when you have the lead and you force quarterbacks to be a little more desperate in some of their decision-making, they’ll throw you the ball quite a bit more. We have been behind most of the season, so I think that factors into it.”

Yanda in exclusive company

After being named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl on Tuesday, right guard Marshal Yanda became the sixth Ravens player in franchise history to be named to at least five Pro Bowls, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata.

Having played with all five of those individuals in his nine-year career, Yanda realizes he’s entered special company as he quietly carves out his place as one of the best players in Ravens history.

“It’s awesome. It’s a great honor, obviously, to be mentioned with those guys,” Yanda said. “Those guys are Hall of Famers, and it’s just awesome, and I feel fortunate to be able to stay healthy at the right time and be able to play on a good team, good organization.

“I understand a lot of that stuff sometimes has to help, too, [with Pro Bowl selections]. Obviously, you see that other teams are having a really good year [and] more guys get voted in. When you’re having a tough year, less guys get voted in.”

The Ravens have made the playoffs in six of Yanda’s nine seasons.

New England reunion

The Ravens are trying to get quarterback Ryan Mallett up to speed with their offense as quickly as possible, but one of his new teammates was already familiar with him.

Before spending the last two seasons with the Houston Texans, Mallett spent three years backing up Tom Brady in New England where he practiced with a current Ravens wide receiver on the scout team.

“I know Mallett pretty well,” said Kamar Aiken, who spent time with the Patriots in 2012 and 2013. “I’ve been catching balls with him when I was in New England, so I’m pretty comfortable with him and everybody else. He’s a really talented guy. He has to get the offense.”

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Ravens thoughts on Aiken, Pittsburgh, injuries, Pro Bowl

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Kamar Aiken is one of the last men standing in the Ravens offense.

In a lost season on so many levels, the Central Florida product has established himself as a productive NFL receiver and an important piece moving forward. His 62 catches for 802 yards — already the 24th-highest single-season receiving yardage total in franchise history — and five touchdowns would make for a good season without accounting for the two games he still has to add to those totals.

In the six games since Steve Smith suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 8, Aiken has caught 37 passes for 469 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers put the 6-foot-2 receiver on pace for a 98-catch, 1,250-yard season over a full 16 games. Of course, the Ravens currently don’t have a whole lot besides Aiken in terms of viable pass-catching targets — Torrey Smith’s production similarly ballooned in 2013 — but he’s also played with three different quarterbacks including the last two games with Jimmy Clausen, who’s been with Baltimore for all of a month.

It’s been impressive work from the former practice-squad receiver who had never made an NFL reception before last season. But Aiken’s emergence shouldn’t make general manager Ozzie Newsome feel he’s set at wide receiver this offseason.

Reports persist that Steve Smith is likely to return if his rehabilitation goes well, but he will also be 37 next year and coming off a serious injury that impacts explosiveness. It’d be foolish to doubt such a fierce competitor’s desire to return and be productive in 2016, but expecting him to come back as a No. 1 option like nothing ever happened would be unrealistic — and unfair.

Breshad Perriman will be back, but the Ravens haven’t seen their 2015 first-round pick play as much as a snap in a preseason game. He will need to prove his knee is healthy and that he can contribute as an NFL wide receiver before anyone signs off on him as the No. 1 receiver of the future.

With a plethora of needs on both sides of the ball, the Ravens may not need to draft a receiver in the first round this spring, but another wideout should firmly be on Newsome’s radar in the first few rounds of the draft. Otherwise, Baltimore will once again enter a season with too many questions at a position that’s been an Achilles heel for much of the 20-year history of the franchise.

At the very least, Aiken is shaping up to be a dependable possession receiver — a poor man’s Anquan Boldin — and the one commodity at the position that the Ravens can really trust while shaping their 2016 roster this offseason.

Bracing for Pittsburgh

Based on the number of Seattle and Kansas City fans that made their way to M&T Bank Stadium over the last two weeks, Steelers fans may make Sunday’s game feel like it’s being played at Heinz Field, which would be a disheartening conclusion to a home schedule that has already included five losses — most in franchise history.

I’ll never judge fans for selling their tickets — personal seat licenses and season tickets are a heck of a financial commitment for mere entertainment — but you’d like to see Ravens fans protect their home turf against their biggest rival if at all possible. I wrote about this topic earlier this season, but I also won’t fault fans trying to make some money around the holiday season as the injury-ravaged hometown team is barely recognizable at this point.

To add insult to injury, the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss against New England on Sunday. And, oh yeah, Pittsburgh has scored 30 or more points in six straight games and will be facing a pass defense that has offered little resistance all season.

Optimists will call it a rivalry game in which anything can happen, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for Ravens fans to brace themselves for it to get ugly two days after Christmas.

Injury excuse

With the preseason feel of recent games that have followed the loss of quarterback Joe Flacco, the narrative surrounding the 2015 Ravens — particularly from a national perspective — now centers around their numerous injuries.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore became the 21st Ravens player to officially be lost to a season-ending injury when he was placed on injured reserve with a back ailment on Monday, but many of the significant names on that list went down after the season was already in the dumpster. Below is a look at the Ravens’ Week 8 starting lineup when they sported a 1-6 record and welcomed San Diego to Baltimore:

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My point?

Injuries are certainly part of the story — particularly the early losses of Terrell Suggs and Perriman — but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that’s the only — or even the most — significant explanation for the team’s failures this year. It was apparent early in the season that a number of problems unrelated to injuries contributed to this nightmare season.

The loss of players like Flacco, Smith, and Justin Forsett merely turned a lost year into a punchline with players now on the field whom fans have needed to google on a weekly basis.

Pro Bowl picks

The NFL will announce its Pro Bowl selections Tuesday night and while no Ravens players won the fan vote, coaches and players account for two-thirds of the voting.

My picks would be guard Marshal Yanda, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and punter Sam Koch.

Yanda has shown no signs of slowing down as he should be in line for his fifth straight Pro Bowl invitation. Meanwhile, Williams has proven himself as the top run-stopping nose tackle in the NFL and has steadily received more praise around the league this season, leading you to believe he has a solid chance to have his name called. But even as Haloti Ngata learned several years ago, players are sometimes deserving of the Pro Bowl a year or two before they are finally recognized to go.

I’m pulling for Koch to finally earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as he is leading the NFL in net punting for the second straight year and is the longest-tenured Ravens player behind only Suggs. Now in his 10th season in Baltimore, Koch has routinely been one of the better punters in the NFL and has brought innovation to the position that should be recognized with a trip to Honolulu.

Interception perspective

Not only do the Ravens rank last in the NFL with just four interceptions, but 10 players around the league have more than four this season. The previous franchise low for interceptions in a season was 11 set in 2005 and matched last season.

Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed collected more than four picks in a season seven different times in his career.

Baltimore has just one interception in its last 11 games.

Where have you gone, Ravens defense of old?

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 November 2015 by Luke Jones

This isn’t a “homecoming” game for the Ravens.

Scoff as much as you’d like over the notion of the 2-6 Jacksonville Jaguars winning a road game for the first time in nearly two years and earning a victory at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since Bill Clinton was in the White House (1999), but the 2-6 Ravens have no room to be taking any opponent lightly these days. That’s especially true when one of the Jaguars’ greatest strengths — the NFL’s 11th ranked passing game — matches up against Baltimore’s 29th-ranked pass defense.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have spoken all week about Sunday providing the opportunity for a fresh start and the first of many steps toward climbing back into an underwhelming AFC playoff race, but they’ll first need to show they’ve put some of their first-half struggles behind them.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Jacksonville meet for the 19th time in the regular-season history and for the second consecutive year at M&T Bank Stadium. The Jaguars hold a 10-8 advantage in the all-time series, but that can be attributed to Jacksonville winning the first eight all-time meetings between the teams from 1996-1999 when they were old AFC Central foes. Dating back to 2000, the Ravens have won eight of 10 against Jacksonville.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win consecutive games for the first time all season …

1. The team that performs better on third down will win on Sunday. This is a boring talking point often used by the unimaginative, but I only bring it up because both teams are so poor in this area, a major reason why they sport matching 2-6 records. The Ravens rank 24th in third-down offense and dead last in the NFL in third-down defense while Jacksonville is 19th in third-down offense and 29th in third-down defense. Baltimore will be challenged to find success running the ball in early-down situations against the league’s seventh-ranked rush defense while the Jaguars want to avoid putting the mistake-prone Blake Bortles in third-and-long spots. This will be critical factor in a close contest.

2. The Ravens secondary will snap Allen Hurns’ touchdown streak, but Allen Robinson will post over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. Hurns is questionable to play with a foot injury, meaning he will be less than 100 percent if he does find his way to the field on Sunday to try to continue a streak of six consecutive games with a touchdown reception. However, the 2014 second-round pick Robinson is emerging as one of the better big-play threats in the NFL and will create problems for Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. The Ravens should be fine if they can limit one of Jacksonville’s two impact receivers, but Robinson is just too good for the Baltimore secondary to stop at this point.

3. Kamar Aiken will have an encouraging day as the No. 1 receiver, catching six passes for 80 yards and a score. After two weeks to prepare and to talk a good game, the Ravens will now face the reality of life without Steve Smith the rest of the way. The good news for Baltimore is that Jacksonville sports the league’s 25th-ranked pass defense and has struggled to create pressure on quarterbacks this season, which should allow time for Aiken and Chris Givens to gain separation. Jacksonville’s starting cornerbacks, Davon House and Aaron Colvin, are solid, but No. 3 option Dwayne Gratz is a liability in the nickel, which will create a good matchup for Aiken on a touchdown pass.

4. Bortles will throw a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have created four or more turnovers in a game 51 times in franchise history, but they have just four total takeaways in eight games in 2015. That trend just has to change at some point, right? Bortles has shown plenty of promise and has played at a high level at times this season, but he hasn’t been able to avoid critical mistakes like he made against the New York Jets last week. In a tight game, the Ravens will force their first turnover since Week 3 to end a scoring threat and preserve a narrow lead. The five-game streak without a takeaway has to end — even if it’s by accident.

5. Efficiency will be the theme of the day for Joe Flacco and the Ravens in a 28-23 win over Jacksonville. I feel for the Ravens quarterback, who has been given inferior weapons to work with in two of the last three seasons, but you never hear him complain about the factors regularly working against him. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens offense functions the rest of the way with Steve Smith out and the running game being a disappointment to this point. But Flacco will consistently make plays to move the chains and take a few deep shots to Givens in the process. The Ravens found a way to score 30 points without Smith in Week 5, and they’ll find ways to score enough against Jacksonville.

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