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Ravens’ health concerns growing in midst of tough stretch

Posted on 17 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ run of good health through the spring and summer hasn’t continued into a critical early stretch of the season that includes four of the next six games on the road.

Three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley may have avoided a serious left knee injury in the first quarter of Thursday’s loss at Cincinnati, but when he’ll return to action remains to be determined. No further clarity came Monday as the Ravens continue preparations to host Denver in Week 3.

“It’s just what was reported. It’s a bone bruise, and that’s good news,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t a structural issue, so we’ll just see how that thing comes along and keep our fingers crossed.”

Harbaugh confirmed veteran safety Eric Weddle will continue to relay calls in the defensive huddle in Mosley’s absence after taking over those responsibilities in the second half against the Bengals.

The re-signing of veteran Albert McClellan may offer a clue for Mosley’s Week 3 status as the only healthy inside linebackers on the 53-man roster had been second-year starter Patrick Onwuasor, 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young, and rookie free agent Chris Board. McClellan, 32, has made 23 career starts and has the ability to play all four linebacker positions in the Ravens defense, bringing more experience to the group.

“He knows everything we do. He gives us a lot on special teams as well,” Harbaugh said. “He can play middle linebacker. … I would say [he] kind of solidifies us in there a little bit having so many young players in the group.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley also left the Bengals game with what appeared to be a right arm injury, a concerning development with All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller coming to town on Sunday. With Stanley sidelined for the final 12 plays, right tackle James Hurst moved to the left side with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. assuming his position.

After the game, Stanley wouldn’t discuss what led to his departure or whether his status would be in question for Sunday’s game, only saying he was “fine” physically and deferring to Harbaugh for more details.

“We’ll just go with that. He said he’s fine, [so] he’s fine,” said Harbaugh as he smiled. “We’ll see. I don’t know, we’ll see. I think he’s OK. We’ll see.”

To make room for the returning McClellan on the 53-man roster, the Ravens placed backup cornerback Maurice Canady on injured reserve on Monday. Canady has been dealing with a hamstring injury since mid-August, but his versatility will be missed behind current starters Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey and nickel back Tavon Young. Top cornerback Jimmy Smith isn’t eligible to return from his four-game suspension for two more weeks, leaving the Ravens thin at a position that once enjoyed impressive depth.

Harbaugh confirmed Canady and running back Kenneth Dixon — who was placed on IR with a knee injury last week — are viable options to be designated for return later in the season. Both have to miss a minimum of eight weeks.

“If both those guys came back, those would be our two [designation] guys for the year,” said Harbaugh, citing the two-player limit to activate from IR. “I think it’s a wise choice by Ozzie [Newsome] and Eric [DeCosta] to make the move the way they did and just see how it plays out.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and third-year defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) will not return to practice this week, meaning they will miss their third straight game to begin the season. At the time of Hurst’s injury, Harbaugh confirmed the NFL Network report suggesting Hurst could miss three to four weeks, but Friday will mark four weeks since a screw was inserted in his foot to aid in the healing of a stress fracture, making one wonder if the talented first-round pick will be ready to play at Pittsburgh in Week 4, a key AFC North encounter.

Rookie third-round pick Mark Andrews has stepped up after a quiet summer, catching six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in two games.

“He’s kind of a gamer,” Harbaugh said. “He steps up and make plays, and that’s what we thought we had when we drafted him. He’s worked very hard in practice, and to see that show up in the games is good. He’s a pass catcher, but, I’ll tell you [he’s] a better run blocker than probably anybody thought. In the games, he kind of steps it up, so that’s a very big plus for us.”

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 13 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens had little time to revel in a blowout Week 1 victory with their Thursday trip to Cincinnati.

The second game of the season hardly approaches must-win territory, but each team has an opportunity to improve to 2-0 in the AFC North while Pittsburgh is coming off a tie with lowly Cleveland and continuing to experience life without Le’Veon Bell. A Thursday road game is a daunting challenge, but the early-season timing is a plus, especially after head coach John Harbaugh enjoyed the luxury of resting a number of key veterans in the second half of the 47-3 win over Buffalo.

“When you get late in the year, your bodies have just taken such a beating already,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I’m not really saying this from personal experience, but just talking to some of the guys playing along the line of scrimmage, I think it’s definitely an advantage to do it early when you haven’t kind of taken the brunt of the whole season.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals collide for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals enjoying a 14-8 advantage in Cincinnati. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they came away with an impressive 20-0 win there to open the 2017 season.

Below are five predictions for Thursday night:

1. Bengals receiver A.J. Green will catch a touchdown in a mostly quiet night when matched against Marlon Humphrey. Lost in the agony of “fourth-and-12” was the defense holding the Pro Bowl wideout to two catches for 17 yards in the 2017 finale, a surprising feat without Jimmy Smith. The Ravens typically haven’t used their top corner to travel with elite receivers in recent years, but Wink Martindale would be wise to pick his spots for Humphrey to do just that. Green will find the end zone and be more productive this time around, but the Ravens won’t let him wreck the game.

2. Alex Collins and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon will both eclipse 75 total yards with a touchdown apiece. Not that it was needed with the passing game carving up the Bills, but the Ravens struggled to run the ball, averaging just 1.5 yards per carry in the first half and 3.4 for the game. Their offensive line will fare better against a Bengals front that gave up 4.2 yards per carry in 2017. Meanwhile, Mixon nearly eclipsed 100 yards against Baltimore last December and had 149 total yards last week. Neither back will find a ton of running room, but they’ll help keep their offenses on schedule.

3. Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins will register a sack and give Matt Skura big problems. One of the best matchups of the last several years in the NFL has been Atkins against six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda as both are among the absolute best at their positions, but the bigger concern is how Skura and the still-inexperienced Alex Lewis will hold up against the 300-pound defensive tackle. The coaching staff will use double teams and as much misdirection as they can, but Atkins will be disruptive against the run and pressure the pocket more than anyone did for Buffalo.

4. C.J. Mosley will collect a sack and an interception to set up a touchdown. The Pro Bowl inside linebacker didn’t have a monster statistical output in Week 1, but he was part of a strong effort to bottle up LeSean McCoy. Two of Mosley’s eight career interceptions have come against Cincinnati, and his coverage will be vital as Andy Dalton relies on short throws to tight ends and running backs to offset Baltimore’s rush. He’ll add another pick to put the Ravens on a short field and register a quarterback takedown as Martindale tests Bengals rookie center Billy Price with stunts and A-gap blitzes.

5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will come back to earth, but the Ravens will do just enough in a 20-17 win. It’s no secret the 11th-year quarterback has struggled against the Bengals throughout his career, and former Baltimore assistant Teryl Austin figures to show some new wrinkles in his first year running the Cincinnati defense. However, Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban spent the last seven years as a Bengals assistant, giving him some useful intel to combat their defense. Thursday games are rarely pretty because of the truncated time to prepare in addition to the physical challenges of a short week, which will keep scoring down as both teams plod through this one. If you subscribe to the idea of a playoff-hopeful team needing to go no worse than .500 on the road, this looks like one of the more reasonable games on the schedule to secure a victory. It won’t be pretty, but I’m buying more stock in the Ravens than the Bengals at this point as Harbaugh’s team will improve to 2-0.

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Ravens rule out running back Dixon before sending him to injured reserve

Posted on 12 September 2018 by Luke Jones

A disappointing start to Kenneth Dixon’s NFL career continued Wednesday with the Ravens placing the running back on injured reserve shortly after ruling him out for their Week 2 game in Cincinnati.

Appearing in his first regular-season game since the end of his rookie season, Dixon left late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Buffalo with a knee injury and didn’t return. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech missed the entire 2017 campaign after undergoing left knee surgery in July.

Dixon has appeared in just 13 career games because of multiple knee injuries and also served two drug-related suspensions while he was sidelined last season. He rushed for a game-high 44 yards on 13 carries and scored one of six Baltimore touchdowns against the Bills, but the 5-foot-10, 228-pound back missed a sizable portion of training camp with a hamstring injury, which prevented him from seriously challenging starter Alex Collins or top backup Buck Allen for more carries in the Ravens backfield.

It’s unclear just how long Dixon will be sidelined, but NFL Network reported earlier Wednesday that he was expected to miss “several” weeks. Dixon would be eligible to be designated to return later in the season after sitting out a minimum of eight weeks. Teams are allowed to bring back two players from IR over the course of the season and do not need to make the designation in advance.

To take Dixon’s place on the 53-man roster, the Ravens promoted undrafted rookie running back De’Lance Turner, who rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

The Ravens will also be without one of their top reserve cornerbacks against the Bengals as Maurice Canady was declared out with what’s listed as a thigh injury. The third-year defensive back missed the final three preseason games with a hamstring injury, but he played in the season opener and was even on the field for the final play of the game, making it unclear when he might have suffered a setback.

Canady’s absence means rookie cornerback Darious Williams is likely to be active after being a healthy scratch in Week 1. Baltimore was already dealing with the suspension of top cornerback Jimmy Smith, so not having the versatile Canady will further test the depth behind current starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr and nickel corner Tavon Young.

Rookie return specialist Janarion Grant was listed as questionable to play after being limited in practice with a hand issue, something worth monitoring going into Thursday’s game.

As expected, tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were declared out.

Only two Bengals players appeared on the final injury report as reserve wide receiver Cody Core (back) was listed as doubtful and linebacker Preston Brown (ankle) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast at Paul Brown Stadium calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid- to low-70s as the evening progresses with little to no wind.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Maurice Canady (thigh), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: WR/RS Janarion Grant (hand)

CINCINNATI
DOUBTFUL: WR Cody Core (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Preston Brown (ankle)

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Breaking down the 2018 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 01 September 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s important to remember Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will continue to explore additions and other changes to the roster with a move or two likely before the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo, but below is a breakdown of the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (3) — Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III, Lamar Jackson
Analysis: The skeptic would say the Ravens drafted a quarterback in the first round and don’t even trust him to be the backup, but a few players going on injured reserve in recent days made it easier to keep Griffin on the 53-man roster — at least for now. I still believe Jackson would be perfectly fine handling the No. 2 job, but I’m indifferent to backup quarterback conversation and the Ravens would be in trouble with either reserve at the helm if Flacco were to miss more than a game or two.

RUNNING BACKS (4) — Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: There were no surprises with this group other than perhaps Dixon not making a stronger push for touches behind Collins and Allen this summer. The 2016 fourth-round pick remains a wild card in this rushing attack, but health issues have continued to stunt his development. Ricard could find himself earning even more snaps on the defensive line than at fullback after the summer he had.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant
Analysis: Lasley and Grant were the last men standing in a very underwhelming competition among the young wide receivers and return specialists in camp. It would have been a bad look for the Ravens to cut a fifth-round pick with their draft history at the wide receiver position, and Grant cleanly beat out Tim White despite losing a fumble in the preseason. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens scan the waiver wire for another option in the return game.

TIGHT ENDS (4) — Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
Analysis: Hurst’s absence due to a foot injury made Williams’ blocking ability indispensable in Baltimore’s run-blocking schemes, but the Ravens need someone to emerge in the passing game until the first-round rookie returns. Andrews, a third-round rookie, finally had a strong showing against backups in the final preseason game, but he had an underwhelming summer beyond that.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Jermaine Eleumunor, Bradley Bozeman
Analysis: Head coach John Harbaugh should feel good about right tackle after the rookie Brown’s performance in the preseason, but center remains a concern with Skura looking shaky and the Ravens apparently preferring to keep Lewis at guard after giving him some center reps this summer. Hurst’s versatility is valuable, but Eluemunor and Bozeman didn’t inspire confidence with their preseason play. Adding a quality depth piece or two should be the top priority for Newsome in the coming days.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Chris Wormley, Zach Sieler, Willie Henry
Analysis: With Henry sidelined for a few weeks due to hernia surgery, I thought the Ravens might value Carl Davis’ versatility a little more, but there’s more than enough depth to feel good about this group as Ricard gives them a seventh defensive lineman. Wormley worked outside and inside this summer, so the Ravens hope he can add some quality versatility after a quiet rookie year. Is this the year Urban finally stays healthy and fulfills his potential?

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
Analysis: Albert McClellan’s release suggests the knee injury suffered by Young in the preseason finale isn’t too serious. Onwuasor figures to receive the veteran courtesy in what will be an early timeshare at the spot next to Mosley, but the fourth-round rookie Young looks too promising to keep off the field for long. Board is the latest rookie free-agent linebacker to make the Ravens roster, joining the likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Onwuasor over the years.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
Analysis: Williams looked like the most improved player on the roster this summer and should receive more pass-rushing snaps after an underwhelming rookie campaign. A groin injury cost Bowser valuable practice time, but he needs to take a step forward as the backup “Sam” linebacker to Judon. Suggs is still going strong entering his 16th season, but younger options showing improvement would allow the Ravens to keep the 35-year-old on more of a pitch count to keep him fresh late in the year.

CORNERBACKS (6) — Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett, Darious Williams
Analysis: This group isn’t as impressive at the top with Jimmy Smith serving a four-game suspension, but Young’s return from last year’s ACL injury and the 2018 fourth-round pick Averett’s strong summer make you feel better about the current depth. Williams’ inclusion on the roster was a surprise likely aided by Stanley Jean-Baptiste breaking his arm in the preseason finale. The key for the present and future will be Humphrey playing like a No. 1 corner, something he has the ability to do.

SAFETIES (4) — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
Analysis: This group may lack someone with a dynamic center-field presence, but Weddle’s mental prowess and the versatility of the other three give new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the ability to use various sub packages in passing situations. The Ravens appear committed to playing Jefferson closer to the line of scrimmage more consistently, but this is a big year for him to justify the big contract he received last year.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its seventh consecutive season together. You rarely find continuity like that in the NFL.

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster entering fourth preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games remaining, it’s time to to once again examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster as we move closer to final cuts being made next weekend.

My current assessment suggests as many as 44 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar — or even marginally better — in talent who’s nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 24. You can check out last week’s projection HERE.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Harbaugh said the decision whether to keep Griffin will “go right to the wire” next week, but I continue to see too many other useful players at other positions for the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009. This decision has always been much more about Jackson than Griffin, so seeing the rookie make strides over the last two preseason games would ease concerns.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon showed Monday exactly what the organization needed to see to eliminate any notion of him being on the bubble, but durability continues to be a concern with the 2016 fourth-round pick. Edwards is closer to being a practice-squad candidate than to having much of a chance to making the team, but it was interesting to see him line up as a fullback in a short-yardage situation on Monday.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The young wide receivers are the most disappointing position group of the summer as Lasley has regressed and Scott appears in great danger of becoming the first fourth-round pick in franchise history to be cut as a rookie. Returner candidates White and Grant each fumbled against the Colts and haven’t done enough to warrant a spot while Perriman still hasn’t played a single special-teams play.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx WilliamsDarren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: The foot injury to Hurst improves the chances of Williams sticking to start the year since the Ravens use tight ends prominently in their run-blocking schemes. And with young wide receivers like Scott disappointing this summer and taking into account his special-teams skills, Waller could land on the roster as a red-zone and slot option while assuming Mayle’s special-teams role from last year.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE:  Nico Siragusa, Bradley Bozeman, Greg Senat, Jermaine Eluemunor
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: Siragusa and Eleumunor have gone in opposite directions with the former improving from the start of camp and the latter not playing like the most experienced member of this bubble group. You can probably flip a coin between Bozeman and Senat as the uncertainty at center and the lack of quality backup options behind Stanley help their roster chances, making it possible they both stick.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Zach SielerCarl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Momentum continues for Sieler to make the roster while the veteran Davis hasn’t done as much to enhance his chances, prompting me to flip those two in the group’s overall hierarchy. Kaufusi’s standing as a former third-round pick is probably the only factor keeping him in any serious roster discussion, but he’s likely on the outside looking in with the versatile Ricard factoring into this group.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Chris Board, Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: McClellan remains a very tough call and still shouldn’t be dismissed as his experience, special-teams ability, and versatility are valuable traits. Young had a strong performance against Indianapolis and appears to be closing the gap with Onwuasor for the starting job next to Mosley, but the weak-side inside spot remains a fair concern going into the regular season.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: There was much buzz about Correa’s great performance in the Hall of Fame Game, but he’s been quiet in the last two preseason contests and is still depending on his special-teams play and versatility to be the difference in earning a spot. Williams has looked like the most improved player on the roster and is also playing the run better than he did as a rookie last year.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LONG SHOT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: Smith’s suspension and Canady being in and out of practice with nagging physical issues could prompt the Ravens to keep Jean-Baptiste, who has had a good summer and has impressive 6-foot-3 size on the outside. The argument against keeping him is be the versatility of players such as Canady, Young, Anthony Levine, and Chuck Clark, who can line up in multiple places in the secondary.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Between Clark last year and Elliott this spring, the organization has found good value at the safety position in the sixth round, which is important considering how many cap resources are devoted to Weddle and Jefferson. This hasn’t been discussed much, but you would have liked to have seen Jefferson play more in the preseason after he didn’t have the most impressive debut year in Baltimore.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: Koch labeled Vedvik “one of the most impressive guys” he’s seen among the many camp bodies to come through Owings Mills and Westminster over so many summers. That’s high praise from a straight shooter like Koch as Vedvik definitely has the talent to catch on elsewhere.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following third preseason victory

Posted on 21 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 in the preseason in a 20-19 win over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s OK to believe the Ravens have the depth to endure the potential suspension of Jimmy Smith and to still be worried about potential drop-off. The combination of Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr still looks good on paper, but a healthy Smith and a more experienced Humphrey could be special.

2. Kenneth Dixon needed to show up in his first preseason action and did exactly that with 56 yards from scrimmage on nine touches. He showed better speed than he had in practices and was able to gain yards after contact. Now, he needs to build on that performance.

3. Tim Williams still looks like the most improved player on the roster as he collected five tackles, a sack, and another quarterback hit while making a few good plays against the run. Pro Football Focus credited him and Za’Darius Smith with a combined 10 pressures. That’s an interesting rotational duo.

4. Remember the anticipated competition among the young wide receivers? It hasn’t materialized, continuing a summer tradition. The Ravens have never cut a fourth-round pick in his first season, but Jaleel Scott played only three offensive snaps and dropped a short slant pass late in the fourth quarter. Yikes.

5. The return specialist battle hasn’t been any better as both Tim White and Janarion Grant fumbled. There are too many crowded position groups to keep a returner you don’t trust to secure the ball. Chris Moore returning kicks and a veteran such as Willie Snead handling punts remain options.

6. After starting fast and then regressing in the second preseason game, Lamar Jackson did the opposite against Indianapolis, struggling mightily early before regrouping. His bullet touchdown to Moore reinforced the notion that he’s better throwing on the run than from the pocket. He remains a work in progress.

7. Michael Pierce feels like a forgotten man with Brandon Williams back at nose tackle and Willie Henry manning the 3-techinique spot in the base defense, but he gave Colts center Ryan Kelly fits and collected a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. His 13 snaps were very disruptive.

8. Kenny Young continued to alternate series with incumbent starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, but the rookie fourth-rounder led the team with seven tackles and shows impressive closing quickness to the football. His fill and tackle on the late two-point try is exactly what you want to see.

9. Orlando Brown Jr. hasn’t played flawlessly, but his body of work continues to support him being deserving of starting at right tackle over James Hurst, who’s practiced there recently while still taking all live-game snaps at right guard. How can you not root for Brown after a tweet like this?

10. Despite Brown’s progress, the interior offensive line beyond Yanda remains a concern as the sight of former Ravens edge rusher John Simon bull-rushing Hurst back into Joe Flacco’s legs brought back unpleasant memories. This group struggled to protect Jackson in particular.

11. Anthony Averett was terrific during the third-quarter goal-line stand with an assisted tackle, a pass breakup, and tight coverage on an incompletion on consecutive plays, continuing his solid preseason. Not bad for a fourth-round rookie who’s only fifth or sixth in the cornerback pecking order right now.

12. Flacco finished a solid but unspectacular night with good throws to Michael Crabtree and John Brown on his final touchdown drive, but his hard count inducing a neutral zone infraction didn’t go unnoticed. Varying the cadence has quietly been a focus this summer after too much predictability in the past.

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Ravens-Colts preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 19 August 2018 by Luke Jones

After beginning training camp more than a month ago, the Ravens have waited longer than usual to continue their preseason schedule as they take on Indianapolis on Monday night.

Entering a stretch of three exhibition contests in an 11-day period, John Harbaugh’s team also completed its second set of joint practices over the weekend, taking advantage of the longer-than-normal break since the Aug. 9 win over the Los Angeles Rams to work out with the Colts. An extra preseason game and joint practices with two different teams have broken up the usual monotony of summer and provided extra competition as the Ravens aim to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“It’s definitely strange. I think the last few years we’ve been stacked just every week on Thursdays,” said quarterback Joe Flacco about the preseason schedule. “It just is what it is. We’re in the training camp flow right now. Obviously, when you start to play these games, it breaks things up a little bit. It’s always nice to get back to football.”

The practice sessions with the Colts did not come without drama, however, as a number of skirmishes broke out on Saturday. The Ravens had mostly avoided any semblance of fights in practices this summer as even two competitive workouts with the Rams two weeks ago remained mostly free of incidents.

Might there be some carryover into a nationally-televised preseason game?

“It cracks me up. Is this a healthy obsession that we all have with fights in training camp practices?” said Harbaugh after Saturday’s practice. “It’s nothing. It’s much ado about nothing. It got broken up pretty quickly, and we’re moving on.”

Monday marks the second time the Ravens and the Colts will face off in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other exhibition encounter in 2016. Indianapolis leads the all-time regular-season series by an 8-4 margin and has won two of the three all-time postseason meetings.

The Ravens own a 30-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won 10 straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Monday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: LB Alvin Jones
QUESTIONABLE: CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), RB Kenneth Dixon (hamstring), LB Tyus Bowser (groin), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Kenneth Dixon

The 2016 fourth-round pick entered summer as a roster lock and was viewed as a wild card in this offense, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for the first two preseason contests. On top of that, Dixon hasn’t done much to distinguish himself when he has practiced as running backs coach Thomas Hammock even acknowledged the need for him to get his body right. I’m not yet buying rookie free agent Gus Edwards seriously pushing Dixon for a roster spot, but the latter needs to start showing more.

LB Albert McClellan

The special-teams ace doesn’t immediately stand out as one of the longest-tenured Ravens, but the eighth-year veteran is one of the most respected players in the organization. That said, he’s coming back from a major knee injury and is competing in a deep group of young linebackers with only so many roster spots to go around. This is the most vulnerable McClellan has looked since his first couple seasons.

WR/RS Tim White

Many anointed the undrafted free agent from Arizona State as Baltimore’s next return specialist after his standout preseason debut last year, but durability has been a concern as White sat out his rookie year with a thumb injury and missed more time this summer. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver has good speed and flashes from time to time as a receiver, but there’s no guarantee the Ravens will carry a specialized returner on the roster, especially with so many tough calls to make at other positions.

LB Tyus Bowser

Last year’s second-round pick had a terrific spring and looked poised to take on an expanded reserve role behind starting outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon, but a groin injury has cost him a sizable portion of training camp. His absence has opened the door for Tim Williams and Kamalei Correa to improve their stock in the linebacker pecking order, putting pressure on Bowser to stand out over these final three preseason games. The talent is there, but the 23-year-old needs these live-game reps.

OL Nico Siragusa

A long recovery from a serious knee injury made it tough to know what to expect from the 2017 fourth-round pick, but Siragusa has shown improvement since the start of camp. He was able to play 58 offensive snaps against the Rams after playing sparingly in the Hall of Fame Game, another encouraging sign. The battle for any reserve spots behind the top six offensive linemen looks to be wide open.

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Ravens remain healthy ahead of extended trip to Indianapolis

Posted on 16 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens nearly had their full complement of players for their final workout before their road trip to Indianapolis for two joint practices and their third preseason game.

Rookie linebacker Alvin Jones was the only player not on the physically unable to perform list not to be on the field for the portion of practice open to media on Thursday. The Ravens were practicing indoors as new sod was being laid on their outdoor fields in Owings Mills.

John Harbaugh’s team will practice with the Colts on Friday and Saturday before their nationally-televised preseason game on Monday night.

Third-year running back Kenneth Dixon is one of a few players yet to play in the preseason who will need to take advantage of remaining opportunities to improve his roster standing. Dixon missed the entire 2017 season after suffering a meniscus injury while working out shortly before training camp. He also served two drug-related suspensions last season after accumulating 544 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns as a rookie fourth-round pick in 2016.

“I really want to see him out there in a game,” Harbaugh said on Tuesday. “He looked good in practice the past few days [and] looks like he’s healthy. To see him in a game will be exciting. I’ll be holding my breath and looking forward to seeing him make one of his signature moves and make somebody miss and all that. If he can do that, that would be good for our team.”

Other players needing to make a good impression after sitting out last Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams include outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, wide receiver and return specialist Tim White, and tight ends Maxx Williams and Darren Waller. Unlike the other aforementioned names, Bowser isn’t fighting for a roster spot after being the Ravens’ second-round pick last year, but he has lost ground to both Tim Williams and Kamalei Correa in the competition for rotational playing time at outside linebacker behind starters Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon.

Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps) remain on the physically unable to perform list and will carry that designation into the regular season. That means the trio will not count against the 53-man roster limit, but they will be required to sit out at least the first six weeks of the season.

Bradley and Hill have been slow to recover from ACL tears suffered last season while Adeboyejo injured his quadriceps and underwent surgery in mid-May.

“As far as their relative progress, I really don’t know,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t get daily updates on those guys. We’ll see how it goes once the long-term portion of the injury is over.”

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster after second preseason game

Posted on 14 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games in the books, it’s time to to examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current assessment suggests as many as 45 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar in talent who’s nearing the end of his rookie contract.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones just making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 14.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Many are clamoring for Griffin to make the roster after his solid preseason thus far, but there are just too many talented players at other positions for the Ravens to keep a third quarterback for the first time since 2009. If you can’t trust Jackson to even be your backup and fill in for a game or two in the event of a Flacco injury, that’s not exactly an encouraging sign for his long-term development. Griffin is doing enough to show he belongs on a roster somewhere after sitting out the 2017 season.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, Gus Edwards
LONG SHOT: Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Ricard wouldn’t be a lock solely as a fullback or as a defensive lineman, but his ability to play both should land him on the roster without question. Dixon hasn’t done anything to quell concerns about his durability as he missed the first two preseason games and running backs coach Thomas Hammock even said he needs to get “his body right” to stay on the field. Edwards has impressed as an undrafted rookie, but I’d still predict only an outside addition would push Dixon off the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: History says a rookie fourth-rounder is a lock for the Baltimore roster, but Scott has done little to distinguish himself even compared to the fifth-round pick Lasley, who at least flashes and has grown as a special-teams player. White’s durability remains a question as he and Grant have more work to do to justify the Ravens keeping one as a return specialist. The eyeball test and lack of a special-teams role tell you Perriman is more of a long shot than a bubble guy, but he’s still a former first-round pick.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx Williams, Darren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: Williams certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick, but he’s the best blocker of the bubble trio, something to remember with the Ravens’ run-blocking schemes that frequently employ two-tight sets. Waller has well-documented upside, but he’s difficult to trust and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the coaching staff hide him in the preseason to try to sneak him onto the practice squad. Mayle is a good special-teams player, but his path to the roster looks pretty steep.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa, Greg Senat, Bradley Bozeman
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: These four bubble players carry intrigue, but none have separated themselves from the rest of the pack to nail down a roster spot. Eluemunor has the experience edge, and Siragusa being a 2017 fourth-round pick makes it more problematic to get him through waivers and to the practice squad despite legitimate concerns about his surgically-repaired knee. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Senat or Bozeman stick on the 53-man roster, but late sixth-round picks are logical practice-squad candidates.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Zach Sieler, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Last year taught us not to doubt Baltimore’s propensity for hoarding defensive linemen, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see one roster spot come down to the versatile veteran Davis or Sieler, who shows impressive strength as a seventh-round pick. Davis looks vulnerable as he’s in the final year of his contract, but he’s a favorite of the coaching staff and has the ability to hold his own at all three base positions on the defensive line, a valuable game-day trait. Kaufusi needs to pick it up to win a spot.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: Cutting McClellan, a longtime special-teams leader and versatile reserve, would be a gut-wrenching decision as he’s loved by teammates and coaches, but he’s 32 and returning from a major knee injury. Releasing him would save $1.25 million in cap space, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg does carry some clout regarding the back end of the roster. A slower-than-expected recovery from a torn ACL has prevented Bradley from joining the competition between Onwuasor and Young.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: Chris Board
Skinny: I see one spot potentially coming down to McClellan or Correa, but the latter has youth on his side, is also capable of playing all four linebacker positions, and performed well on special teams last year. Smith is in the final year of his rookie deal, but his ability to contribute as an inside rusher in sub packages makes him more valuable. Bowser isn’t in danger of being cut, but the 2017 second-round pick hasn’t been able to stay on the field while Williams has elevated his stock this summer.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: It’s tough to recall the last time the Ravens had a cornerback sextet with this much talent as Young and Canady look like starting-caliber players and even the rookie fourth-rounder Averett has progressed this summer. In the past, Jean-Baptiste and Williams very much would have been in the roster conversation, but it’s difficult to see a path to a roster spot for either unless there’s an injury or a trade ahead of them. Hill beginning the season on PUP is a blessing in disguise with the numbers here.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott will need to rein in some of his physicality as secondary play continues to evolve, but the rookie sixth-round pick shows a nose for the ball and has flashed enough to warrant keeping him around for the future. Clark has had a good summer filling in for a banged-up Jefferson and could develop into a future starter. Known primarily for his special-teams play over the years, Levine is a big factor in the dime package, which is expected to be Baltimore’s primary sub package again.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: There’s no roster drama here, but Vedvik’s leg has been so impressive that I’d be surprised if there aren’t at least a couple teams trying to claim him off waivers at the end of the preseason.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from first open OTA workout

Posted on 25 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first open organized team activity session on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Most attention was on what Joe Flacco said in his first press conference since the draft, but the 11th-year quarterback looks leaner and is moving better than he has in quite some time. He threw the ball well and is pleased with the efforts made to improve the pass-catching spots.

2. Lamar Jackson connected on a beautiful back-shoulder touchdown to fellow rookie Jaleel Scott during a red-zone drill, but he later threw a bad interception to safety Kai Nacua in the flat. Patience is needed with his development, but he’s sure fun to watch when he takes off with the ball.

3. Many wide receivers can look great this time of year — Breshad Perriman has fit that description in the past — but Michael Crabtree stands out in a way similar to when Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin first arrived in Baltimore. You can tell Flacco is happy to have him.

4. Many players have cited new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale offering more freedom and flexibility within schemes, and John Harbaugh even used a military analogy to describe the changes (11:59 mark). It’s an interesting concept, but with great power comes great responsibility.

5. Kenneth Dixon could still stand to shed a couple pounds — Harbaugh acknowledged he hadn’t been in the best shape returning from last year’s knee injury and suspension — but he showed shifty moves in the open field. He remains a wild card for this offense if healthy and committed to football.

6. Kamalei Correa is again working at outside linebacker after attempts to make him an inside linebacker, but Martindale — formerly the linebackers coach — said last fall he envisions him in an Albert McClellan role being able to play all positions. That’s his best path to a roster spot.

7. Willie Snead looks the part of a slot receiver, using his running back-like frame to quickly change directions. I don’t expect him to put up huge numbers in this offense, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a productive addition.

8. Harbaugh said Patrick Ricard will continue to be used as both a fullback and defensive lineman, but his build more closely resembles a nose tackle now rather than the hybrid player he was as a rookie. He definitely got bigger this offseason.

9. Marshal Yanda won’t take part in spring workouts, but he watched part of practice and continues to work his way back to full strength. The muscle atrophy in his lower left leg is still noticeable, but the Ravens remain confident he’ll be ready well in time for the season.

10. The new kickoff rule drew praise from Harbaugh, who sees the potential for bigger returns with the kicking team no longer allowed a running start. The former special teams coordinator says teams could counter that by booting the ball into the end zone for touchbacks more frequently. We’ll see.

11. With Jimmy Smith still on the mend and carrying a $15.675 million cap figure next season, the Ravens would be wise to begin viewing Marlon Humphrey as their No. 1 cornerback. It’s easy to see the potential for him to be a special player sooner than later.

12. I liked seeing Ed Reed speak to the Ravens rookies during OTAs, but how could the timing not remind you of his annual flirtations with retirement and desires for a new contract this time of year? Those good old days also brought one of my favorite tweets of all time:

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