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Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 3

Posted on 16 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Justin Forsett
Skinny: Even though Bernard Pierce received most of the workload against Pittsburgh, you still get the sense that Forsett is more comfortable running in a zone-blocking system and the veteran is superior to Pierce in pass protection. His size and age make you think he’ll continue to be the complementary back in the Baltimore running game, but Forsett has already provided a nice return on a one-year contract that garnered little attention in the offseason.

Kelechi Osemele
Skinny: Any lingering concerns about the left guard’s ability to return from last season’s back surgery have been quelled after Osemele turned in an All-Pro performance against Cincinnati in Week 1. A key to offensive improvement in 2014 was better play from the interior line and Osemele, Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, and center Jeremy Zuttah have received the highest grades of anyone on the offense, according to Pro Football Focus.

Brandon Williams
Skinny: Though limited to only nine defensive snaps against Pittsburgh because the Ravens used their nickel package for most of the game, Williams has done exactly what the Ravens have asked of him by disrupting run plays with a good push at the line of scrimmage. The second-year nose tackle has even put a little heat on the quarterback in the rare opportunities he’s had to play in passing situations. 

Jeremy Zuttah
Skinny: His pass blocking hasn’t stood out, but Zuttah’s ability to get a strong push off the line of scrimmage has been evident on inside run plays through the first two weeks of the season. Sunday will mark his first road game with the Ravens, which will be a test in terms of making the proper protection calls with crowd noise being a factor, but it’s difficult not to be pleased with the sizable upgrade Zuttah has provided over last year’s starter Gino Gradkowski. 

STOCK FALLING

Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson
Skinny: These two are grouped together, because it’s apparent there will still be significant concern at the No. 3 cornerback position when Lardarius Webb does return. Brown is still too vulnerable in coverage on the outside while Jackson has missed several tackles from the nickel spot, factors that prompted the Ravens to use safety Matt Elam at the nickel position against Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen whether Jackson will be cleared to return Sunday from last week’s concussion.

Kyle Juszczyk
Skinny: The second-year fullback looked like he would carve out a nice role in the passing game based on his preseason play, but Juszczyk has been limited to just 43 snaps in two games and has been targeted only once as a receiver out of the backfield. Even more concerning has been his vulnerability as a lead blocker as he hasn’t been able to generate much of a push to create space for Pierce or Forsett to maneuver behind him. 

Daryl Smith
Skinny: His first season in Baltimore was a pleasant surprise, but the 32-year-old veteran’s struggles against the run late last season have carried over in the first two games of 2014 as he has struggled to shed blocks to make tackles closer to the line of scrimmage. Smith’s biggest strength is in pass coverage, but you do wonder if the Ravens’ inside linebackers will wear down against the run as the year goes on with the light C.J. Mosley playing next to the veteran in the starting defense. 

Marlon Brown
Skinny: One of the few bright spots in a horrendous offense last year, the second-year receiver has all but disappeared in Gary Kubiak’s system after seeing just three offensive snaps against the Steelers a week after being targeted only once. Drop-off was to be expected with Steve Smith, Owen Daniels, and a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta now in the mix, but the 6-foot-4 receiver struggled to grasp the offense over the summer and hasn’t even been a factor in the red zone through the first two games.

 

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 27 July 2014 by Luke Jones

With 2014 training camp officially underway and the Ravens attempting to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, there are a number of early (too early?) takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. Steve Smith has looked like an elite player.

It’s fair to express doubts over a 35-year-old wide receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three consecutive years, but Smith has been as good as advertised going back to organized team activities in the spring, catching everything in sight and regularly beating cornerbacks during practices. On Saturday, he made an excellent catch on a deep ball defended by Chykie Brown and later made an impressive adjustment on a pass thrown behind him on a slant pattern. Of course, it’s important not to get carried away with how anyone performs in July, but if Smith can be that reliable target to help move the chains and provide a safety net for quarterback Joe Flacco, the investment in the 14th-year receiver will be well worth it.

2. The No. 3 cornerback for the 2014 Ravens may not yet be on the roster.

The organization spent plenty of time this offseason talking up the potential of Brown and Asa Jackson, but it’s difficult to find anyone on the field in which defensive coordinator Dean Pees would have confidence using in the nickel package along with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown has bit on play-action fakes and has struggled to find the ball when he is in position while Jackson — who is an inside defender in the nickel package — has also been beaten deep on a couple occasions. To make matters worse, Dominique Franks still hasn’t passed his conditioning test after fellow veteran newcomer Aaron Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the same test. The Ravens would prefer to use Webb inside in the nickel, but there have been no signs of anyone currently on the roster being capable of handling duties as the third cornerback.

3. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is moving well and is the biggest key for the offensive line.

The third-year lineman has moved well early in camp and will be the key in determining how effective the interior offensive line can be in 2014 after it was undersized and ineffective last season. It’s still too early to gauge whether his surgically-repaired back will be in issue, but Osemele delivered an impressive block 10 yards downfield that sent safety Darian Stewart to the ground on Saturday afternoon, a telling example of the improved mobility he simply didn’t have early last year. If the Ravens can be strong inside with Osemele and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda flanking new center Jeremy Zuttah, it will alleviate much of the pressure on Rick Wagner or whoever mans the right tackle position.

4. Veteran newcomer Darian Stewart has impressed and is the early favorite to start at free safety.

His unfortunate encounter with Osemele aside, Stewart has displayed good athleticism at the safety position and looks to be the favorite to line up next to Matt Elam in the starting defense. The former St. Louis Rams safety is versatile with the ability to line up closer to the line of scrimmage or to play the more traditional free position, and Pees has said on a number of occasions that he’s looking to mirror his safeties more than just having a traditional strong and free one. Rookie Terrence Brooks will need to make significant strides between now and the start of the season as he appears to be thinking too much when lined up on the field and has worked primarily with the third-string defense to this early point. Secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo is familiar with Stewart going back to their days in St. Louis, so the Ravens hope they’ve found another value signing like they did with Corey Graham a couple years ago.

5. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to move his skill players around in formations.

The Ravens are sure to experience growing pains implementing their new offensive system, but Kubiak has experimented plenty with his skill players to find strengths and weakness as well as potentially exploit vulnerabilities in a defense in a given matchup. His creative use of tight ends is a well-documented characteristic of his West Coast system, but it will be fun to watch how he uses fullback Kyle Juszczyk and big wide receiver Marlon Brown in addition to Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels this season. Ultimately, offensive success in the NFL comes down to winning 1-on-1 matchups no matter how clever your schemes might be, but pre-snap movement has been a regular feature of what we’ve seen so far in Owings Mills.

6. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw looks too heavy for the third straight preseason.

Coach John Harbaugh was more complimentary of Upshaw’s conditioning in the spring, but the third-year linebacker looks bigger at the start of training camp than he did during OTAs, continuing a theme of the 2012 second-round pick not taking the best care of his body. In fairness to Upshaw, he hasn’t noticeably labored during his first few practices, but temperatures have also been favorable thus far. He has been solid in his first couple seasons and has flashed potential to be better than that, but it’s just difficult to project a player to improve when he spends too much time playing catchup with his weight every summer. The early expectation is that Upshaw will once again split time with Elvis Dumervil at the strongside outside linebacker position.

7. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has a rare combination of strength and quickness that’s fun to watch.

More attention has been paid to first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley, but Jernigan is becoming an early favorite of Pees as he’s been very active and has shown plenty of power in the trenches early in camp. Brandon Williams is the favorite to line up as the starting nose tackle, but there’s no reason Jernigan won’t be a regular member in the rotation, and his play could be a deciding factor in how the Ravens handle the final year of Haloti Ngata’s contract after the season. Pees quipped on Saturday that Jernigan doesn’t always follow his assignment, but he’ll make a big play anyway, which is pretty high praise for a rookie defensive lineman just a few days into his first training camp.

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Osemele biggest key to Ravens fixing offensive line

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Osemele biggest key to Ravens fixing offensive line

Posted on 04 June 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It was a year ago when the only question about Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was whether he would become a Pro Bowl left guard in his second season in the NFL.

The expectations were high for the 2012 second-round pick after his successful shift to left guard was part of a offensive line shuffle that helped catapult the Ravens in a run to their Super Bowl XLVII championship. Osemele had played admirably at right tackle during his rookie season, but his postseason work inside made most think he was ready to take off in his second year.

Instead, a debilitating back injury led to poor play and, eventually, season-ending surgery while the offensive line crumbled with too many question marks all over. Now recovered and participating fully during voluntary organized team activities this spring, Osemele sees no reason why the lofty goal of making the Pro Bowl should be any different as he returns from surgery to repair a herniated disk.

“That’s always going to be the expectation for me as a player,” Osemele said. “Knowing the ability that I have and my work ethic, I feel like I would be an underachiever if that wasn’t my goal.”

With uncertainty lingering at right tackle after the Ravens re-signed left tackle Eugene Monroe and acquired veteran center Jeremy Zuttah this offseason to reshape their offensive line, Osemele is the linchpin of the group as he is currently slated to be the starting left guard. However, his versatility leaves the door open for the third-year lineman to shift back to right tackle should 2013 draft picks Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen fail to play well enough to win the job and general manager Ozzie Newsome chooses not to sign a veteran.

Putting aside the right tackle battle, the Ravens are still putting plenty of faith in Osemele regaining the form of his rookie year, even after the positive reviews and the way he’s looked during spring workouts in which players practice in helmets, jerseys, and shorts. They know the true test won’t come until training camp when players are in full pads and experiencing full contact. The organization will then see how well Osemele holds up against the likes of hefty defensive linemen Haloti Ngata, Timmy Jernigan, and Brandon Williams in practices.

“As far as explosiveness, it’s hard to gauge that for any player, because we’re not hitting out here,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t think you can really evaluate the power that a guy has, but I don’t doubt that it’s in there with him if you just watch the way he moves. He looks good. He’s going to be a lot better than he was last year.”

The Ravens and Osemele hope his best play has yet to come as he initially sustained the back injury during his collegiate days at Iowa State. The combination of him and Monroe on the left side of the offensive line is formidable on paper as Monroe’s athleticism at the left tackle spot is complemented well by Osemele’s combination of power and agility from the interior.

But the recovering lineman acknowledged the changes he’s been forced to make in his training regimen after last fall’s surgery. He is no longer permitted to perform any lifting over his head or squats as he focuses more closely on core training and flexibility than he did in the past.

The preexisting back condition that he had managed for years worsened last offseason when he trained too hard with thoughts of the Pro Bowl on his mind. And it showed in his diminished performance that was limited to just seven games before he was placed on season-ending injured reserve and underwent surgery in November.

“I didn’t train very smart,” Osemele said. “It was definitely on me [and] the way that I had been training, obviously, without knowledge of how bad that it was and then throughout the season getting those multiple MRIs, and seeing the condition worsen and already being at a point where you have to [play] because you’ve been taking all the reps. I ate up all the reps and then couldn’t play to my ability.”

An offensive line that was already struggling took further lumps with Osemele sidelined as the undersized A.Q. Shipley filled in at left guard next to new starting center Gino Gradkowski, giving the Ravens major problems inside as their running game and pass protection could never get on track during a disappointing 8-8 season.

The question of what player will line up at right tackle isn’t one that figures to be resolved anytime soon, but Osemele’s return to the mix will ease the concerns of the entire organization. The Ravens saw more than enough during his rookie season to feel confident that Osemele can be an anchor of the offensive line as long as the back is no longer an issue.

He said Wednesday that he hasn’t felt this healthy and strong since his first year or two of college.

“He’s back to his usual self, running around,” Monroe said. “[He is] one of the best-conditioned guys on the field, just grinding and trying to get better. We are even having to slow him down a little bit because it has been a while since he played, and we have certain rules we have to follow right now. We’re just working together every day. I’m glad he’s right next to me, I really am.”

On Wednesday, Harbaugh reiterated the preference of Osemele staying at left guard next to Monroe while the Ravens solve the puzzle at the right tackle spot. Even if they don’t find a great answer at that position, there are plenty of ways for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to scheme help in protection to account for vulnerability on the right side.

One weak link on the offensive line can be overcome, but the Ravens cannot afford to be vulnerable at multiple spots like they were last season, making it critical that Osemele is once again the player that dominated defensive linemen in the 2012 postseason while helping the organization win its second Super Bowl title. He’s the most important variable in determining whether the unit makes substantial improvement or once again struggles this season.

Whether it’s ultimately at left guard or right tackle, Osemele needs to be a force.

“We can’t lock ourselves into saying one thing or another, because we just don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Harbaugh said. “[Osemele] gives us flexibility because he can move out to tackle, but I sure like the way he and Eugene look over on that left side. That’s the direction we’re heading right now and hopefully we can maintain that course.”

Wednesday OTA attendance

There were more veterans absent for Wednesday’s workout than at last week’s workout that was open to reporters as Ngata, linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith, defensive end Chris Canty, and guard Marshal Yanda were not on the field.

Ngata, Suggs, and Canty were the only veterans not present last Thursday.

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip surgery) and offensive lineman Jah Reid (calf strain) remained sidelined as they continue to rehab injuries. Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) returned to the practice field after he’d been sidelined since his first week with the organization.

Running back Bernard Pierce (shoulder surgery) and rookie defensive end Brent Urban (ankle surgery) were once again practicing after undergoing procedures earlier in the offseason.

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RickyWagner

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Ravens T Wagner on right tackle nod: “I definitely have to earn it”

Posted on 30 May 2014 by Ryan Chell

After an 8-8 season in which the Baltimore Ravens fell short of defending their Super Bowl title, many of John Harbaugh’s players are coming into this week’s OTAs with a huge chip on their shoulders in an attempt to get back to the playoffs.

However, that attitude is nothing new for Ravens 2nd-year offensive tackle Rick Wagner, who is getting a crack at the team’s starting right tackle spot going into OTAs-the position vacated by former first-round pick Michael Oher, who left via free agency to sign a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Other candidates for the job include 2013 LG Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen, as well as undrafted rookie James Hurst.

Wagner, the team’s 5th round pick (168th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin, has had an uphill battle since he was drafted by the Ravens last April.  Despite a high grade, he fell farther than his initial draft projection despite playing four years at Wisconsin-including 39 starts and Outland Trophy consideration.

The off-season was a disappointing one not only for Wagner in terms of becoming a starting NFL tackle, but also seeing his team fail to play deep into January for the first time in the John Harbaugh era.

“It’s not a good taste to have in our mouths right now,” Wagner told Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” Thursday. “You can tell with the vets that they’re not used to that. “They’ve been making the playoffs for years here so we wanna get back and ultimately-that’s our number one priority.”

But behind the team goals, Wagner does find himself with a unique opportunity being tapped as the early candidate to start at right tackle for the Ravens going into training camp and ultimately in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals on September 7th-a situation he fought his entire rookie year to try and achieve.

“I’m really excited, ” Wagner told Clark after practice. “Last year, I practiced like I was going start Week 1 because you never know what will happen with injuries, but [this year], I’m just trying to get the playbook down first, which I’m already feeling confident with in these first couple OTAs.”

That determination fueled Wagner going into his rookie year, and he earned playing time out of it-playing 13 games for the Ravens in 2013 and starting two as John Harbaugh’s “swing tackle” in Jumbo, short-yardage, and goal line situations. 

Wagner said playing his rookie year really gave him an edge in his short NFL career getting acclimated to the changing pace of the professional game.

“It’s such a change from college,” Wagner said. “The speed is so much more amped up, and that’s the real difference. That really helped me out last year, and I’m ready to go.”

Wagner said it definitely put things on perspective when it came to his own work ethic.

“Every player in the NFL is the best player you’ve faced in college.  It’s just a whole new intensity you have to get used to.”

But even with that experience under his belt, Wagner still understands that he’s going to have to compete for the right tackle job and that he won’t have it handed to him.

“I definitely have to earn it,” Wagner said.  ”There’s nothing set until Week 1. I’m just gonna keep working and hope I earn that title.”

What’s he is getting used to in OTAs is lining up next to some new faces, including 3x All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda and getting line calls from a new center in former Buccaneeer Jeremy Zuttah.

Wagner said he owes so much to the two of them.

“It’s incredible to have him right next to me,” Wagner said of Yanda. “He helps me out every day and makes it so much easier when you have a vet like him next to you.”

And in regards to Zuttah, despite the center being in a Ravens uniform for two months, Wagner felt like with Zuttah’s knowledge and expertise, it feels like he’s been in the meeting rooms and on the field for years.

“We’re real comfortable already…it seems like he’s been here awhile,” Wagner said.  ”He’s a real athletic guy and he’s fit right in since the first day.”

Now it’s all about the whole group grasping this new scheme being implemented by incoming offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak. Despite the perceived complexity of a zone offense, Wagner though says it all comes down to execution despite the different terminology.

“Football is football,” Wagner said. “There isn’t really anything else we can do.”

What they do want to do is get back to establishing the running game to help out their quarterback in Joe Flacco.

“It’s a big emphasis. I’m really happy with the play-action stuff we have going this year-a lot different than last year.”

And while it’s been all business so far in camp, Wagner did say that he’s shared a few laughs so far seeing Flacco on some of Kubiak’s bootleg plays.

“He’s  a real athletic guy, and it’s good to see him getting out of the pocket and getting some runs going.”

WNST thanks Ricky Wagner for joining “The Reality Check!” Check out the entire conversation in the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault at WNST.net! 

 

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Harbaugh “very concerned” with Ravens’ off-field problems

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Harbaugh “very concerned” with Ravens’ off-field problems

Posted on 29 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens experiencing their most embarrassing offseason in recent memory, you could hardly blame head coach John Harbaugh for being happy to get his team back on the practice field.

Convening for the first week of organized team activities, the Ravens not only look to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the Harbaugh era but now face questions about leadership and a perceived lack of control at the top with four players being arrested over the last four months. Running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence case understandably garnered the most attention, but Harbaugh seemed to be speaking to a number of individuals when asked about dealing with such a tumultuous offseason following Thursday’s practice.

In addition to Rice, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, offensive lineman Jah Reid, and rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro were all arrested this offseason to bring further humiliation to an organization regarded as one of the finest in the NFL.

“I’m very concerned, always concerned,” Harbaugh said. “We talk to those guys all the time, and I’m disappointed in some of the silliness that’s going on. Guys are young, but … it’s not like you’re your 22- and 23-year-old buddies. You’re not in the same position that they’re in. You have to grow up faster than your pals, so you can’t go home and run around with your pals and think you’re in the same place that they’re in.”

A trimmer Rice was present and participating in Thursday’s practice less than a week after his public statements that were met with much negative reaction. The 27-year-old still awaits a potential fine and suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell after he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program last week to avoid prosecution on a third-degree aggravated assault charge in the state of New Jersey.

Harbaugh wasn’t present for Rice’s media session last Friday but acknowledged he’d read the statement and said he appreciated what the running back had to say.

“When he used the term, ‘failed miserably,’ that hit home with me,” Harbaugh said. “But like all those guys, it’s what you do going forward. That’s what everybody is going to take a look at it.”

Harbaugh acknowledged an increased effort to talk about off-field problems with players this spring and left the door open to making changes in the structure of training camp in terms of curfews and the structure for veterans if necessary.

Following the news of Taliaferro’s arrest in Williamsburg, Va. earlier this week, Harbaugh took some liberty in sending a message to the 2014 fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Taliaferro was arrested for public drunkenness and destruction of property, two misdemeanor charges, after punching out the window of a taxicab.

“We’ve had some conversations since what happened, but we also ran 18 full gassers out there together on Tuesday when we got back, and it was pretty hot,” Harbaugh said. “Was that punishment? No, I was going to do the workout anyway, but I needed some company. He needed to keep up with me.”

The Ravens can only hope the off-field headaches have come to an end with the structure of the third phase of the offseason training program upon players, but the front office and coaching staff will again hold their breath at the conclusion of their mandatory minicamp on June 19, which will leave roughly five weeks of free time for players before the start of training camp in late July. This is generally the time of year in which NFL teams are most concerned with players running afoul of the law.

Asked about alcohol being a common theme in players’ off-field issues, Harbaugh took the notion of drinking responsibly in public a step further by questioning whether highly-trained professional athletes are really helping themselves or their team by going out and consuming alcohol in the first place.

“Discipline is not like a light switch,” Harbaugh said. “You can’t just walk out of this building and all of the sudden turn it off and then go back here and turn it on. Football discipline is a way of life. Football discipline, life discipline — it’s all the same thing.”

Offensive line update

Much focus will be on the revamped offensive line throughout the summer as the Ravens try to improve the league’s 29th-ranked unit from a year ago.

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2015 fifth-round pick, center Jeremy Zuttah worked with the starting offense Thursday and has made a favorable impression with the coaching staff as the Ravens try to implement offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone-stretch blocking scheme. Zuttah is expected to replace incumbent Gino Gradkowski at the center position as Baltimore struggled up the middle last season.

“He’s smart — really smart, really mature [and] goes about his business in a mature way,” said Harbaugh about Zuttah. “I’m just very impressed with how smart he is. He’s very quick. He’s about 305, 306 pounds. He looks good physically in there. But he can move, so we’ll see. It’s going to be interesting to watch him play to see if he can prove himself.”

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Ravens pleased with early turnout for offseason program

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Ravens pleased with early turnout for offseason program

Posted on 22 April 2014 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With players returning to Owings Mills this week to officially begin preparations for the 2014 season, the Ravens are pleased with the early turnout for the first phase of the offseason training program.

Strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki said attendance was “high” for the first two days of voluntary workouts with quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, wide receivers Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, and Jacoby Jones, tight end Owen Daniels, inside linebackers Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown, cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, and safety Matt Elam among the many players who were present. The first two weeks of the program focus solely on strength training and conditioning four days a week, but there is less time to ease players back into the routine under the current collective bargaining agreement that pushed back the starting date for the offseason training program.

Players were given the task of completing six 300-yard runs as a baseline for their conditioning and are focusing on strengthening their necks in the early stages of the program in addition to traditional weight training.

“Anybody that comes into this program, our expectations are always going to be high for them,” said Rogucki, now in his seventh year with the organization. “If we don’t start pressing that button today then three weeks from now, they aren’t going to be ready. Our expectations are always high and, right now, we’re pleased with what they’re doing.”

Despite a tumultuous offseason that included an indictment for aggravated assault, Rice has been present for workouts and received a positive review from the Ravens training staff. Reports indicated earlier this offseason that Rice had lost weight after head coach John Harbaugh said the seventh-year running back was too heavy in a career-worst season that included a Week 2 hip injury that hampered him for much of the year.

Rice’s pending legal case may still compromise his availability for the 2014 season, but his commitment to improve on the field hasn’t gone unnoticed. The 27-year-old rushed for a career-low 660 yards and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry while weighing in the neighborhood of 225 pounds last year.

The Ravens would like him to be at least 15 pounds lighter this season.

“He’s doing some things differently as far as his diet and so forth,” Rogucki said. “He told me he has a handle on it. He looks good. Whatever he did from the end of the season until now, he’s in a good position right now.”

Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele continues to make excellent progress after undergoing back surgery last fall and is expected to participate in organized team activities and minicamp practices.

Though workouts are officially voluntary, Rogucki and the rest of the coaching staff conveyed a clear message from the point players returned to the building.

“Every time they come in, they’re going to do more weight or more reps without bells and whistles,” Rogucki said. “There’s a lot of programs out there that have bells and whistles. In order to survive in this league, you’ve got to lift and you’ve got to lift heavy. That’s the bottom line. You’ve got to run and you’ve got to run fast. You’ve got to condition and you’ve got to condition long.

“There are no other answers but that to survive. It’s a collision out there. It’s a car crash every time they hit.”

 

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Harbaugh expects competition, changes along offensive line

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Harbaugh expects competition, changes along offensive line

Posted on 31 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasted no time in spelling out the biggest reasons why he thought his team fell short of the postseason for the first time in his six-year tenure in Baltimore.

The biggest downfall started up front with the offensive line, a unit that was so instrumental to the team’s Super Bowl XLVII run but one that also underwent several changes this season.

“We’re going to need to run the ball better, we’re going to need to protect Joe [Flacco] better,” Harbaugh said. “Offensively, those things will make us better.”

Finishing the season with three new starters from the line that protected Flacco so effectively in last year’s postseason, the Ravens averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry and rushed for 1,328 yards, two marks that shattered previous single-season lows in franchise history. Baltimore also allowed 48 sacks, the second-highest total in team history and the most given up since the 1999 Ravens were sacked 56 times.

Media and fans have pointed fingers most often at run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, who implemented a new zone-blocking scheme in his first year with the Ravens that didn’t fit an offensive line featuring a new center responsible for making calls at the line of scrimmage. Harbaugh said Tuesday that no changes to the coaching staff were in the works for now, but the coach alluded to the possibility of staff members potentially moving on to take other jobs as the Ravens’ brass will meet next week to make further evaluations within the organization.

Even if Castillo isn’t retained, Harbaugh was quick to point out that the former Philadelphia offensive line coach has a strong track record and was just one of many responsible for the shortcomings of the Ravens’ failures in the trenches.

“Being in those meetings every single day and being a part of that thing every single day, I know better, and every one of our players knows better, and every one of our coaches knows that there are a lot of things that go into that,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve got complete confidence and belief in all of our coaches. I believe in our coaches. That goes for Juan Castillo; it goes for all of our guys. I think he’s a great coach, but I think all of our guys are great coaches. But, we’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to find a way to use our personnel better. We’ve got to get better.”

The Ravens are all but guaranteed to feature a new-look offensive line in 2014 with starting tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher both unrestricted free agents. Harbaugh complimented Monroe’s play and expressed hope that he would re-sign with Baltimore after he was acquired from Jacksonville for fourth- and fifth-round picks in early October, but the Ravens will not have a great amount of cap space and can’t overspend for an above-average tackle who has yet to make a Pro Bowl in his five-year career.

Meanwhile, Oher is expected to depart via free agency after a disappointing season at right tackle and failing to pan out as the left tackle of the future when he was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. The Ravens will evaluate 2013 fifth-round pick Rick Wagner for the right tackle spot and likely turn to the draft in early May to add more offensive line help.

Beyond the obvious holes at both tackle positions, Harbaugh made it clear that only Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda — coming off an underwhelming season by his high standards — is a sure bet to line up at the same position next year. The Ravens are encouraged with the progress made by second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele from his November back surgery to repair a herniated disc, but where he’ll fit in the 2014 puzzle remains to be seen. Osemele played right tackle during the regular season of his rookie year before being shifted to left guard for the 2012 playoffs and started 2013 at that spot before landing on injured reserve.

His versatility will provide general manager Ozzie Newsome with more options when trying to address two open tackle positions at the start of the offseason.

“I think there will be a competitive situation pretty much at every spot on the offensive line except right guard,” Harbaugh said. “We will be looking forward to getting [Osemele] back. Whether he plays left guard or right tackle, we will have to make a determination on that. He can play either one of those spots. I would assume that he will be in that lineup somewhere, because he’s that kind of a player, but he’s got to come back and do it.”

Adding new bodies to the mix at tackle will be a top priority, but the competition at center might be more intriguing as 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski struggled in his first season as a starter. Replacing 15-year pro Matt Birk, Gradkowski struggled to make the right protection calls for most of the season but improved as the year went on, according to Harbaugh.

Reserve lineman A.Q. Shipley competed for the starting center job in training camp before ultimately being needed to replace Osemele at left guard and rookie Ryan Jensen is considered an intriguing prospect with a 6-foot-4, 318-pound frame that would figure to physically hold up better than the smaller Gradkowski. However, the Ravens could elect to search free agency and the draft for more competition and a better option at center.

Gradkowski received the worst cumulative grade of any center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Early in the season, Gino would probably be the first to tell you that we had a lot of problems,” Harbaugh said. “You go from Matt Birk that does everything, that makes every call, and in some ways tells every lineman what to do in the heat of battle because he is so good — because you’ve got an offensive line coach basically in there playing center for you — to a guy that is doing it for the first time. That was part of the reason that we didn’t have a hat on a hat a lot of times early on, and that was a tough transition for us.

“And yet, Gino fights through it, and by the end of the year, he is making all those calls and doing a good job with that. [He is] a really smart guy, huge student of the game.”

A variety of other issues must be addressed on both sides of the ball as the Ravens try to regroup after their commendable run of five consecutive playoff appearances comes to an end, but the 2013 struggles of Flacco, Ray Rice, and the passing game were all impacted by the inconsistency along the offensive line.

It’s just one area that needs to be fixed, but it’s a critical one in which the Ravens must explore every avenue in hopes of improving by the time training camp rolls around in late July. Decisions in terms of coaching and personnel must be made carefully in arguably the most important offseason of the Harbaugh era.

And losing the battle up front was one major flaw the Ravens simply couldn’t overcome in 2013.

“Everything is going to be on the table that way [to improve],” Harbaugh said. “Every one of our guys, all of us understand in this league that it is a production business — coaches and players. We all have to be accountable for producing and winning.”

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Veterans, free agents ponder future with Ravens in 2014

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Veterans, free agents ponder future with Ravens in 2014

Posted on 30 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If Sunday’s season-ending loss left the Ravens shocked over missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, cleaning out their lockers brought a sense of finality to the 2013 season less than 24 hours later.

Players gathered at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills Monday for a meeting before collecting their belongings from the locker room in a scene that felt like the last day of school. However, the mood was more sobering for the Ravens after finishing 8-8 and failing to reach the postseason despite winning Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans less than 11 months ago.

For aging veterans with larger cap numbers and impending free agents, Monday also marked the potential end of their run with the organization. The Ravens have 14 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents — though veteran Brandon Stokley has already announced his retirement — and a number of others who may not be retained for salary-cap purposes.

One of those veterans is fullback Vonta Leach, who can see the writing being on the wall in terms of his future with the organization. With a season remaining on the two-year, $3.75 million he signed with Baltimore in August after being cut earlier in the summer, Leach is unlikely to return after being phased out of the three-wide, single-back offense the Ravens used more prevalently in 2013.

“I’m going to sit down with them in the next couple days,” said Leach, who played a total of 12 offensive snaps in the final three games of the season. “Obviously, I wasn’t in the offense a whole lot this year. If they had a role for me, ideally, I’d want to come back here. I understand that this is a business.”

For free agents such as defensive tackle Arthur Jones, inside linebacker Daryl Smith, and left tackle Eugene Monroe, the Ravens will be interested in retaining their services but will only have so many resources with $70.9 million in cap space already tied to just six players — Haloti Ngata, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb, Ray Rice, and Marshal Yanda — for the 2014 season. Of the Ravens’ 14 unrestricted free agents, tight end Dennis Pitta, Monroe, and Smith figure to be at the top of the wish list to re-sign while Jones has likely priced himself out of the Ravens’ plans after a strong 2013 campaign.

In his first season in Baltimore, Smith led the Ravens in tackles and provided a strong veteran presence at the inside linebacker spot vacated by the retired Ray Lewis.

“I think they want me back, but we’ll see,” said Smith, who signed a one-year, $1.125 million deal last June after nine years in Jacksonville. “Only time will tell. I know they’ve got a lot of stuff to do this year, and a lot of guys up [with expiring contracts]. We’ll see.”

Others such as wide receiver Jacoby Jones, strong safety James Ihedigbo, and cornerback Corey Graham figure to be too pricey for general manager Ozzie Newsome, who will look for younger and cheaper options — or upgrades — to fill their roles. The door isn’t completely closed to their returns, of course, but the potential of needing to move elsewhere crosses any free agent’s mind at this time of the year.

Known primarily as a special-teams player before signing with the Ravens in 2012, Graham was a starting cornerback for the Super Bowl XLVII championship team and remained a dependable nickelback for Dean Pees’ defense this season, meaning he could draw some interest as a starter with other teams this offseason.

“I would like to be here,” said Graham, who led the Ravens with four interceptions this year. “When you win a Super Bowl somewhere, you get the opportunity to play somewhere, and things start to go well for you, you want to be in the place where they gave you opportunities. It’s a good organization; they gave me a chance to play. When I first came here, all I said was that I wanted an opportunity — they did that. I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve gotten here.”

Free agency will begin on March 11, the same date on which teams must be under the 2014 salary cap.

Here’s a list of the Ravens’ 14 unrestricted free agents:

TE Dallas Clark
DT Terrence Cody
TE Ed Dickson
CB Corey Graham
DT Arthur Jones
WR Jacoby Jones
S James Ihedigbo
S Jeromy Miles
OT Eugene Monroe
OT Michael Oher
TE Dennis Pitta
RB Bernard Scott
LB Daryl Smith
WR Brandon Stokley (intends to retire)

Osemele progressing well after back surgery

Left guard Kelechi Osemele told reporters his recovery from November back surgery is going well and he expects to be fully cleared to begin offseason workouts in roughly a month.

The second-year lineman had been dealing with a herniated disc since his rookie year and missed the final nine games of the 2013 season. However, Osemele said his back hasn’t felt this good since his college days at Iowa State and he’s looking forward to being back on the field in 2014.

Where Osemele might line up for the Ravens next year remains to be seen as both of their starting tackles are unrestricted free agents. The 2012 second-round pick played right tackle in his rookie year before he was shifted inside to left guard for the 2012 postseason and played at an exceptional level in helping the Ravens win the Super Bowl.

“To be honest with you, it really doesn’t matter,” said Osemele when asked if he preferred playing guard or tackle. “I’m going to play wherever they put me. Whether I play guard or play tackle really doesn’t matter, especially off an injury. I just want to get back on the field.”

Most believe Osemele is better suited for guard, but his versatility does provide Newsome and the front office more flexibility in trying to revamp an offensive line that played poorly this season.

Ravens sign eight to reserve-future deals

In a procedural move following the conclusion of the 2013 regular season, the Ravens signed eight members of their practice squad to reserve-future deals on Monday.

Headlining the list was former Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg, who is currently recovering from sports hernia surgery and spent the entire year on the Ravens’ developmental squad. With all three tight ends on the 53-man roster scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and only Pitta being a strong bet to be retained, Furstenburg figures to have a good chance of making the active roster in 2014.

The Ravens also signed wide receivers Gerrard Sheppard and Kamar Aiken, defensive tackle Cody Larsen, offensive tackle David Mims, tight end Nathan Overbay, quarterback Nick Stephens, and center Reggie Stephens to offseason deals.

Baltimore did not announce a reserve-future deal for running back Jonas Gray on Monday, the only member of the practice squad to finish the season who hadn’t been signed as of Monday afternoon.

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Osemele going to IR, Asa Jackson suspension comes to end

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Osemele going to IR, Asa Jackson suspension comes to end

Posted on 04 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As expected, the Ravens will place left guard Kelechi Osemele on season-ending injured reserve this week as he prepares to undergo back surgery to correct a bad disc that’s affected him in each of his first two seasons in the NFL.

Coach John Harbaugh confirmed the news on Monday as the Ravens regrouped from a disappointing 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns. After Osemele missed practices last Thursday and Friday, Harbaugh announced the second-year guard would be out for Sunday’s game and indicated his hopes of playing again in 2013 were very slim.

“He’s headed to IR,” Harbaugh said Monday. “He’s working right now with the doctors and his representative to find what type of surgery he wants to do and who’s the best person to do it.”

Backup center A.Q. Shipley made his first career start at left guard against the Browns and appears likely to remain as the starter at the position for now. The former Indianapolis Colt took over at left guard after the opening series against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 5 with Osemele unable to play with back spasms.

Third-year lineman Jah Reid and rookie Ryan Jensen will also be evaluated during practices, but Harbaugh indicated Shipley would remain the starter for at least the time being.

“A.Q.’s a pit bull. He’s a fighter in there,” Harbaugh said. “He’s smart. He knows what to do, and he plays with good technique. We’re pleased with the way he played.”

With Osemele expected to be placed on IR at some point this week, the Ravens could use the open roster spot to activate cornerback Asa Jackson from the reserve-suspended list. The 2012 fifth-round pick was suspended for eight games after testing positive for Adderall, his second violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

The groin injury suffered by starting cornerback Jimmy Smith against the Browns isn’t considered serious, but his uncertain status improves Jackson’s chances to return to the roster. The Ravens only have four cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, and Jackson would likely be a useful player to have on the kick coverage units.

“Asa says he’s been working hard [and] that he’s in great shape,” Harbaugh said. “He was working with trainers in Arizona and Los Angeles — some football trainers working on football-related stuff. Hopefully he’s in the kind of shape where he can slide right in there and help us.”

The Ravens would likely be granted a roster exemption if they wanted to take a few extra days to evaluate his level of conditioning since he hasn’t been able to practice with the team since early September.

The decision to remove Smith from the game on Sunday was more of a precautionary measure, but it’s a disappointing development for the 2011 first-round pick, who has struggled to stay healthy in his brief NFL career. However, Harbaugh said the cornerback was “feeling better” when he arrived at the team’s Owings Mills facility on Monday morning.

“He had a little groin in there, and we felt like it was better for Chykie [Brown] to play during the game — the trainers did,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll keep working on that through the course of the week, and we’ll see how that develops and see how he practices Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.”

Jackson is the second Ravens player to come off suspension this year as former fourth-round safety Christian Thompson served a four-game ban to start the season, but the organization elected to waive the 2012 draft pick after he had done very little to impress during the preseason.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 03 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Hoping to get the post-bye portion of their schedule off on a positive note, the Ravens travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns for the 30th time in franchise history.

Baltimore hopes to improve upon a disappointing 3-4 start while debuting a new look on the offensive line following Friday’s news that left guard Kelechi Osemele is expected to miss the rest of the season with a back injury. Backup center A.Q. Shipley will start in his place and receive the first opportunity to hold down the job with the likes of Jah Reid and Ryan Jensen potentially in the mix moving forward.

Reid is active for only his second game this season and for the first time since Week 3 and will serve as the primary backup guard while the rookie Jensen is inactive for Sunday’s game.

Reserve defensive tackle Terrence Cody is also active for the first time since injuring his knee in Week 3 against the Houston Texans. His return along with the emergence of rookie Brandon Williams prompted the Ravens to part ways with veteran Marcus Spears earlier this week.

Linebacker Josh Bynes is active after he missed his first game of the season in Pittsburgh two weeks ago due to undergoing finger surgery, but he will mostly serve on special teams as veteran Jameel McClain regained his starting job at weakside inside linebacker in Week 7.

After being listed as questionable and practicing on a limited basis all week, veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley is inactive for the third straight game as he continues to manage a groin injury he’s dealt with since the end of September.

Newly-signed No.3 running back Bernard Scott is listed as inactive as he’s still in the process of getting acclimated to the Baltimore offensive system.

The Ravens will be meeting a Browns offense looking different from the group we saw in Baltimore in Week 2 as veteran Jason Campbell will receive his second straight start behind center and big-play wide receiver Josh Gordon is available after serving a two-game suspension to begin the 2013 season. The Browns also feature former Raven Willis McGahee at running back, but, much like the Ravens, Cleveland has been unable to get its running game going all season.

Campbell will be making his second career start against the Ravens and replaced Brandon Weeden in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore’s Week 2 win over Cleveland. That lone start came in 2008 when Campbell threw for 218 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions in a 24-10 win for Baltimore in a win over Washington.

Baltimore will be trying to extend its winning streak to 12 straight over the Cleveland Browns while also improving to 6-0 coming off the bye week in the John Harbaugh era. The Ravens are 10-4 all-time in Cleveland and lead the regular-season series by a 22-7 margin since 1999.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants while Cleveland dons brown jerseys with white pants on Sunday afternoon.

Scott Green will be the referee for Sunday’s game in Cleveland. Forecasts are calling for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds up to nine miles per hour.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
S Brynden Trawick
RB Bernard Scott
G Kelechi Osemele
C Ryan Jensen
WR Brandon Stokley
DE DeAngelo Tyson
LB John Simon

CLEVELAND
OL Patrick Lewis
OL Martin Wallace
OL Garrett Gilkey
OL Reid Fragel
DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
TE Keavon Milton
LB Paul Hazel

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for updates and analysis as Nestor Aparicio brings live coverage from FirstEnergy Stadium throughout the day.

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