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Left side of Ravens offensive line uncertain for Sunday

Posted on 29 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to face one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, the Ravens don’t know what the left side of their offensive line will look like against Oakland on Sunday.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) and left guard Alex Lewis (concussion) were absent from practice for the second straight day, leaving their status up in the air for Week 4.

After being spotted in a walking boot in the locker room on Wednesday, Stanley was not wearing one on Thursday despite not talking to reporters. The 2016 first-round pick played in Week 3 despite missing a day of practice, but the foot issue has lingered, a definite concern with 2015 Pro Bowl defensive end Khalil Mack looming on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage on Sunday.

Lewis sustained a concussion late in the fourth quarter in Jacksonville and was replaced by Ryan Jensen at left guard. James Hurst is listed as the primary backup at left tackle on the Week 4 depth chart released by the public relations staff.

“We felt very good about Alex and Ronnie, and we will see what the trainers and doctors say,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “John [Harbaugh] determines at the end of the week how that goes, but we feel good about the guys we have.”

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (thigh) were full participants on Thursday after missing the opening practice of the week. Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was a limited participant for the second straight day.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) practiced fully once again and confirmed that he will make his season debut on Sunday. Veteran teammate Terrell Suggs broke the news on Wednesday that Dumervil would play against the Raiders.

“I guess my guy already said it,” said Dumervil as he laughed. “‘That is what we are shooting for.’ I can’t use that anymore. I’m excited to go out in front of our crowd.”

Meanwhile, the Raiders were without starting right tackle Menelik Watson (calf) for the second consecutive day of practice.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (concussion), CB Sheldon Price (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), RS Devin Hester (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), G John Urschel (shoulder)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Nate Allen (quadriceps), OT Austin Howard (ankle), OT Menelik Watson (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), OT Matt McCants (knee)

 

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 1 win over Buffalo

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the 2016 season with a 13-7 win over Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco easily could have been satisfied with a win in his first game back from knee surgery, but you could tell he wasn’t pleased with the performance and the failure to further exploit “cover 0” looks from Buffalo. I like that kind of attitude in a quarterback.

2. No one envisioned Shareece Wright as the Week 1 defensive MVP after a rough preseason, but he was outstanding against the run with three tackles for a loss and 11 tackles overall. His confidence can be fleeting — as it is for many cornerbacks — but he played with plenty of it.

3. Much was made about 10 different Ravens players making catches, but you wonder if offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s attempt to get so many players involved led to the clunky showing in the second half. Thirteen points were enough on Sunday, but this offense remains a work in progress.

4. It wasn’t surprising since he essentially took Carl Davis’ roster spot, but Michael Pierce being on the field with Brandon Williams gave the Ravens plenty of beef inside against a Buffalo running game that tried to avoid running between the tackles. That should really help in short-yardage situations.

5. After starting all last season, Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gillmore saw a total of three targets on Sunday. You can debate whether that’s a good thing or not, but it does illustrate how much deeper this group of pass catchers is.

6. The time is now for Timmy Jernigan to elevate his game as a third-year player. He collected a sack and had a tackle for a loss as a disruptive force up front. Improved discipline and health are the only factors holding him back from being an above-average starter.

7. The entire offensive line was less than stellar, but the struggles of Jeremy Zuttah stood out as a cadence issue led to a lost fumble on a snap and he whiffed blocking Jerry Hughes on a sack that ended another drive in the first half.

8. He’s received much criticism, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees put together an excellent game plan that left Tyrod Taylor confused and guessing as to who was rushing and who was dropping into coverage. The challenge will now be effectively disguising fronts and coverages every week.

9. You had to feel great for Steve Smith being back on the field after a horrible Achilles injury, but I’m sure he’d like to have more than 19 receiving yards on nine targets. It will be interesting to see how his role evolves with improved overall talent at receiver.

10. The whiff on a potential sack leading to Buffalo’s longest offensive play was ugly, but Albert McClellan played well against the run in Courtney Upshaw’s old spot. His tackle of Reggie Bush for a loss derailed Buffalo’s opening drive of the second half that ended with a missed field goal.

11. Mike Wallace offered the line of the day on his 66-yard touchdown catch when he said, “If you have a safety on me, he’s dead every time.” You have to love that kind of speed — and swagger — that was sorely lacking in this passing game a year ago.

12. It’s difficult to evaluate the pass rush as the Ravens wanted to keep Taylor in the pocket, but edge rushers didn’t generate consistent disruption against backup offensive tackles. Getting Elvis Dumervil back will certainly help, but Terrell Suggs will hopefully show more as he knocks off rust.

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Ravens offense trying to turn potential into production in 2016

Posted on 07 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This Ravens offense looks promising on paper.

Some observers have even dared to say this is the most talented collection of skill players in the history of the franchise. Of course, we know that bar isn’t all that high with Baltimore being much more known for its defense over the last two decades.

But that doesn’t mean ninth-year quarterback Joe Flacco is ready to call this the deepest group he’s had around him, either.

“I think that has yet to be seen,” Flacco said. “We have to go out there and prove that we’re weapons and that we can do it in live games on Sundays. I think it’s a very promising group and I’m very excited about it, but we have to go out there and prove it.”

It’s easy to be excited about the healthy returns of Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Dennis Pitta as well as the additions of veteran free agent Mike Wallace and rookie fourth-rounder Chris Moore, but the most critical factor will be how well the offensive line performs with two new pieces on Flacco’s blindside. From the moment he arrived in Owings Mills this spring, first-round pick Ronnie Stanley has looked the part of a starting left tackle, but the regular season brings an even faster speed to which he’ll need to adjust.

Fellow rookie Alex Lewis may join him in the starting lineup after third-year guard John Urschel missed much of the summer with a shoulder injury. For either option at left guard, replacing the accomplished Kelechi Osemele won’t be easy and will make life for Stanley even more challenging.

That left side of the offensive line is sure to be tested right away by a Buffalo defense that looks undermanned but will try to throw the kitchen sink at inexperienced linemen. Bills head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was very complimentary of both Stanley and Lewis on Wednesday, but he’s also aware of their inexperience and will try to exploit it.

“I’ve never seen it before where two [rookies] start on the offensive line because that is tough,” Ryan said in a conference call with the Baltimore media. “There’s so much to it. But those two guys I’m sure have done a great job studying and things. But it’s not easy, that’s for sure.”

The offensive line protecting Flacco in the pocket is a nonnegotiable prerequisite for success, but opening holes in the running game proved to be a problem last season as the Ravens rushed for an underwhelming 3.9 yards per carry. An offense regularly trailing in most of its games a year ago was predictably going to lean more on the pass, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman struggled to commit to the ground attack even when opportunities were there.

We know Flacco is at his best as a passer when he has the support of a strong running game, and head coach John Harbaugh has made it clear that improving in that area is a must.

Trying to figure out how the carries will be distributed will be interesting as veteran Justin Forsett is still expected to begin the year as the starter, but both Terrance West and the presently-injured Kenneth Dixon figure to factor more heavily into the equation as the season progresses. It sounds fine to say you’ll use a by-committee approach, but there’s a fine line between giving multiple backs opportunities and allowing the right one to get into a rhythm.

That trio of backs along with 2014 fourth-round pick Buck Allen all have their strengths and weaknesses, but at least one will need to prove capable of being a No. 1 kind of talent when it matters most.

“In the end, wisdom is in the results,” Harbaugh said. “We will all be judged how well we run the ball as a group. My goal is for all those guys to have success running the ball. I think they all bring something different to the table, style-wise [and] ability-wise.”

The same general thought process applies at wide receiver and tight end where health is clearly a factor for the 37-year-old Smith coming off an awful Achilles injury last November and for the 31-year-old Pitta, who hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years and missed most of training camp with a broken finger this summer. Even if those two stay healthy to go along with the rest of the bunch, the challenge is there for Trestman and Flacco to spread the ball around in a way that’s most productive for the overall offense.

More options in the vertical passing game will ideally open up the short-to-intermediate portion of the field for Smith, Pitta, Kamar Aiken, and Crockett Gillmore, but that comes with the understanding that there will be times when the Ravens want to best utilize that speed with certain substitution packages.

Whether you’re a talented first-year player or a 16th-year receiver with Hall of Fame credentials, there’s no room for ego when trying to bounce back from a 5-11 season.

“You know you are going to get your plays, but you are also ecstatic to be able to clear it out and open it up for other guys,” Smith said. “[If] I go down and run a route to open it up for Mike and Mike catches it, then I’m on the hunt. I get to peel back on somebody and knock the s–t out of them. That is what I am excited about, so I can play my role for Mike and Mike can play his role.

“Anyone can catch the ball, but can you be a team player to clear it out and understand the integrity of the play and what you are supposed to be doing for the other guy? That is the ultimate team player right there.”

The Ravens signed Wallace to provide an established speed presence on the outside that the offense sorely lacked a year ago, but the wild card for the aerial attack is Perriman, who is finally healthy after two different knee injuries and flashed his ability in the preseason finale last week.

With a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and blinding speed, Perriman is the type of talent at the wide receiver position that the Ravens have lacked throughout their history. We still have no idea whether his talent and size will translate to NFL success, but general manager Ozzie Newsome selected him in the first round last year to help take this offense to a different level.

Patience will be key, but the Ravens hope Perriman can eventually be a major factor in transforming a solid offense into a great one.

“We haven’t had a ton of work together, but [we] just have to keep it simple,” Flacco said. “Hit him in the chest and give him the chance to make plays. I think the more plays that he’s given the chance to make, the more he’s going the make and the more his confidence is going to go up.”

It all sounds great and looks promising a few days out from the season opener, but the Bills will be the first team to give the Ravens offense a real idea of how good it is. Potential is there, but questions exist wherever you look, including with Flacco as he comes back from the first serious injury of his entire career.

The schedule sets up for a potential fast start with only one playoff team from last year on the docket before the Ravens hit their bye in Week 8. But how quickly will it all come together for an offense with several new pieces as well as familiar faces returning from injury?

“I think I know what to expect from these guys,” Flacco said. “I’m really just excited about getting out there and doing it and making sure that we do it — not just go out there and play around. I want to go out there and I want to play well. That’s what I expect from our guys, and I think that’s what everybody else expects, too.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Indianapolis

Posted on 21 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens continuing the preseason with a 19-18 win over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens didn’t give up any first-half touchdowns, but the starting defense struggling again against the opposing first unit was disappointing as Andrew Luck completed all eight of his passes. The group tightened up in the red zone, but surrendered three long drives and missed too many tackles.

2. The second of those long drives was halted thanks to a forced fumble by Albert McClellan, who continues to make a good case to be Baltimore’s strong-side outside linebacker in early-down situations. He set the edge well and finished with three tackles.

3. John Harbaugh was displeased with 11 penalties for 91 yards, including three defensive pre-snap penalties in the first half that resulted in first downs. When you have a shortage of play-makers, it’s even more critical to play smart and disciplined football, something the Ravens failed to do last year.

4. After a terrible first quarter, the offense came alive with Kamar Aiken drawing a 41-yard pass interference flag and catching a 14-yard touchdown on a beautiful crossing route. I’m interested to see what Aiken’s role looks like with Steve Smith’s return, but he deserves his share of targets.

5. The Ravens re-signed Shareece Wright this offseason to be a starting cornerback and he was solid down the stretch of a lost 2015 season, but he remains shaky in coverage — even against the Colts’ second offense — and is the logical target for opponents to test in this secondary.

6. He has plenty of stickers on his suitcase as a journeyman, but Josh Johnson has performed better than anyone expected and has outplayed Ryan Mallett for much of the summer. Harbaugh acknowledged it now being a competition for the backup job, but I’d still be surprised if Mallett is unseated.

7. It was interesting to see Will Davis play quite a bit at slot cornerback in the nickel, especially after Jerraud Powers struggled for the second straight week. Normally an outside corner, Davis made some plays inside and finished the game with five tackles and a sack.

8. Despite being a versatile backup, center Ryan Jensen had arguably the most embarrassing play of the evening when he was completely pancaked back into running back Kenneth Dixon on a third-and-goal play from the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Not a good look.

9. Rookie edge rusher Matt Judon impressed for the second straight week, collecting another sack and showing a promising combination of strength and quickness. The Grand Valley State product is still raw, but you can see why the Ravens were so happy to land him in the fifth round.

10. Known for his deep-threat ability at Cincinnati, Chris Moore ran crisp routes and showed strong hands in catching three passes for 20 yards after missing the preseason opener with a foot injury. With Breshad Perriman’s Week 1 status remaining in doubt, Moore becomes more interesting in this offense.

11. Credit the NFL last year for adopting the college rule allowing the defense to run back a conversion try for two as Anthony Levine did to win the game. It’s a rare play that might occur only once or twice a year around the league, but what excitement it brings.

12. Sitting Joe Flacco again was probably the right move, but the third preseason game now carries more importance than normal for the Ravens. With so many starters playing so little this summer, it’s hard to get a feel for just how good this team will be in 2016.

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It’s unwise to count out and easy to root for Steve Smith

Posted on 18 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith did it all in his first day back at practice for the Ravens.

On the field, he made a touchdown catch and spun the football in the end zone, adding his trademark flavor to what was an otherwise bland walk-through session. Displaying his veteran leadership and his willingness to learn despite being in his 16th NFL season, Smith talked at length with rookie — and roster long shot — Darius White and said he even picked up a new route-release technique from former CFL wideout Dobson Collins, another player unlikely to make the 53-man roster.

Speaking to local reporters for the first time since mid-June, he got choked up explaining why he had decided to return, chastised media “jackasses” for doubting his 2016 prospects, and warned defensive backs that their vacation was over with the “bully” back on the field. Smith wouldn’t say directly whether this will be his final season, only acknowledging it was his last year “contractually” and that he’s only focused on playing this season.

The veteran then spent time posing for pictures and signing autographs with young Ravens fans and military personnel attending practice. He did make a point to say he’s going to smile more and have fun in what most assume to be his final season.

We know that conventional thinking says a 37-year-old can’t and won’t be the same player after a ruptured Achilles tendon, but what has ever been that conventional about Steve Smith?

A wide receiver standing 5-foot-9 and hailing from the University of Utah isn’t supposed to rank 15th on the NFL’s career receptions list, but he is one of the all-time greats when it comes to surprising people. Guys in their mid-30s aren’t supposed to play like a top 10 receiver, but that’s exactly what he was doing last year before the injury, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns in only seven games.

Of course, these feats aren’t surprising to Smith, who thrives on — arguably even obsesses over — proving his critics wrong. He was asked Thursday about the possibility of having more left in the tank than even he can imagine right now.

“Than I imagine?” Smith replied. “I’ve been rehabbing for nine months. I know exactly what’s left.”

It’s never been easier to doubt Smith than it is right now, but doing so feels no less unwise if you’ve paid attention to his career. General manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens made contingency plans by signing veteran Mike Wallace and drafting Chris Moore in the fourth round to fortify their wide receiver group that also includes Kamar Aiken and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but they’re not viewing Smith’s return solely through the lens of nostalgia, either.

The Ravens demanding him to be an 1,000-yard receiver this season would be unfair, but no one should be shocked if he turns out to be. It would be just like Smith to spike the ball and laugh in the face of Father Time once more before finally calling it a career.

Such a competitor is easy to root for and impossible not to respect.

“All I’m going to do is play ball,” Smith said. “You all worry about all of the wrong things, and all the good things that happen, you glance over. We’re going to have a good time. We’re going to have some fun, and we’re going to make some plays.

“Oh yeah, and I happen to be 37 years old while I’m doing it.”

It was anything but an easy rehabilitation process for Smith, who acknowledged there were a few different points along the way when he thought he might be done. We don’t have a clear picture of what he will do against younger opponents — some of whom were in kindergarten when he was a rookie with Carolina in 2001 — but Smith made it clear that this isn’t just a feel-good farewell tour.

As he so eloquently worded it, he still plans to rip his opponents to shreds.

Who are we to say he won’t?

If nothing else, it will be a blast watching him try to prove us “jackasses” wrong again.

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Ravens lose needed upside with Perriman’s latest injury

Posted on 13 June 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are better equipped to handle Breshad Perriman’s absence than they were a year ago when he was their only hope in replacing Torrey Smith.

But that doesn’t make his latest knee injury any less disappointing for both him and the Ravens as they try to bounce back from a 5-11 season. We’re still waiting to see how Perriman’s skills translate to the NFL, of course, but that kind of upside is what Baltimore was counting on to help return to the playoff picture in the AFC after a one-year absence.

Perriman’s injury hardly ruins their season, but the Ravens have now lost a potential solution to a problem that plagued them a year ago. Even before the many injuries that sent the 2015 season spiraling out of control, John Harbaugh’s team lacked game-changing talent on either side of the ball, too often leaving the Ravens on the losing end of close games.

Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and quarterback Joe Flacco will now lean more heavily on veteran newcomer Mike Wallace, a former 1,200-yard receiver coming off the worst season of his career. To be fair, the 29-year-old wasn’t a good fit in Minnesota with Teddy Bridgewater’s limited throwing arm, but Wallace’s career hasn’t exactly been trending in the right direction since leaving Pittsburgh a few years ago.

The combination of Perriman and Wallace made you salivate about the deep-ball potential with Flacco’s strong arm, but the Ravens will likely now take a longer look at fourth-round rookie Chris Moore, another vertical threat out of Cincinnati. Perhaps Moore is a diamond in the rough who can pair nicely with Wallace, but neither possesses the same apparent ceiling as the speedy Perriman.

When you’re coming off a 5-11 season, you need game-changing talent. The Ravens have enough solid-to-good players on this roster, but first-round picks are supposed to have the potential to become great ones, which is what general manager Ozzie Newsome envisioned when he took Perriman last year to compete in a division that has such game-changing receivers as Antonio Brown and A.J. Green.

That’s why the 22-year-old’s latest setback stings for a roster with aging players at a number of key positions. Perriman was himself still an unknown, but the Ravens hoped he would be a major answer at wide receiver, a position where there are other options but plenty of questions.

Will Steve Smith still look like the same player at age 37 and coming off an Achilles tendon injury?

Can Kamar Aiken prove last year’s production wasn’t merely the result of Ravens quarterbacks having no one else to throw to in the second half of the season?

Does Wallace still have the ability to hurt opposing defenses in the vertical passing game?

Will anyone from the group of Moore, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Keenan Reynolds, and Chris Matthews emerge to be a bigger force than expected?

If the Ravens were coming off their typical season under Harbaugh in which they made the playoffs and were firmly in the AFC title hunt, Perriman’s injury would be a bummer but calmly received with the “next man up” mantra. But a lot of ground needs to be made up when you’re coming off the type of season Baltimore had in 2015.

The Ravens need high-impact talent to emerge and the ball to bounce their way in 2016 after a season in which seemingly everything went wrong.

Perhaps they will still find their answers elsewhere, but it hurts to again lose a talent envisioned as such a difference-maker.

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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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