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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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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

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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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