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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

Posted on 25 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After much anticipation for the 2014 debut of Lardarius Webb last Sunday, the Ravens only needed to see Andrew Hawkins easily shake free from the veteran cornerback to realize the time wasn’t yet right.

The shifty receiver completely turned around Webb on a simple out route that went for 24 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter to put Cleveland in Baltimore territory, and it all but ended Webb’s day as he played only four defensive snaps in the eventual 23-21 win for the Ravens. Three weeks of full participation in practice hadn’t compensated for Webb missing nearly all of training camp after being sidelined with back spasms on July 25. Since returning to practice at the end of August, Webb has needed to knock off rust and improve his flexibility in bending for the critically-important backpedal that all cornerbacks need.

“We found out really quick,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Webb’s performance in Cleveland. “And I had a great talk with him on Monday, and he understands. When I saw it [coaching] in the press box, I said, ‘He’s not there yet.’ And game speed is faster than practice speed. There’s no way to simulate it. But he has to keep practicing, and he has to feel very confident that he can do it. That’s half the battle playing the back end; you better feel confident that you can do it.”

The secondary has struggled without a healthy and effective Webb as the Ravens’ pass defense is ranked 24th in the NFL and is allowing 262.3 passing yards per game. The combination of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown hasn’t inspired confidence when either has played opposite Jimmy Smith in the base defense, and the Ravens haven’t received good play at safety where Matt Elam and Darian Stewart have struggled.

Webb hasn’t been listed on the injury report this week as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s meeting against the Carolina Panthers, which suggests he could see an expanded role from what we saw in Cleveland. The 6-foot-2 Smith is likely to match up with 6-foot-5 rookie Kelvin Benjamin — who leads the Panthers with 19 catches for 253 yards — but the rest of the Panthers’ group of wide receivers doesn’t inspire fear beyond tight end Greg Olsen, who has caught 16 passes for 224 yards through three games.

Pees has tinkered with various alignments in the back end of the defense including the use of Elam as a slot corner, which reflects how little depth the Ravens have had at the cornerback position. A healthy Webb, who is at his best playing inside in the nickel package, would give Pees some flexibility to show different looks since Jackson is also capable of playing the nickel position. However, the Ravens need to finally see a version of Webb ready to play 60 to 70 snaps per game at a high level before making any decisions about the makeup of the secondary.

“We would be fortunate if we had both those guys, because each one of them could play [inside],” Pees said. “The other guy would go outside. We have to make that determination once he’s back.”

Even with Webb’s absence taken into account, Pees isn’t pleased with how his pass defense has performed, even acknowledging Thursday that he needs to do a better job of mixing coverages and pressures as the Ravens have relied heavily on a mostly-ineffective four-man rush and soft zone coverage through the first three weeks of the season.

Elam and others pointed to miscommunication being a problem after Sunday’s game as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for nearly 300 yards last Sunday, but Pees bristled at the suggestion, perhaps implying that he wants to see defensive backs take more accountability for mishaps. The signature play of the secondary’s problems came in the fourth quarter when Elam was beaten by Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 70-yard reception that included the second-year safety looking back at Jackson instead of touching the wideout down before he got up from the ground to gain extra yardage.

“‘Miscommunication’ would not be one of the words I would have used,” said Pees in evaluating the pass defense. “I would have said very poor technique in the back end. There are a couple of them [where] there wasn’t any communication [needed]. Just line up and play and play your position. We were beat on a three-deep coverage that I don’t know what communication is there other than, ‘Get your [butt] deep.’”

Three-headed monster

The Ravens have a three-headed monster shaping up at the running back position that they haven’t enjoyed since 2008 when Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice combined to rush for 2,027 yards in John Harbaugh’s first year as head coach.

Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro have all made major contributions to the league’s eighth-ranked rushing attack in the wake of Rice’s release, so it isn’t easy predicting who will receive the biggest workload moving forward. Pierce practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Ravens continue to monitor his improvement from a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for last Sunday’s game.

Taliaferro’s 91-yard game in Cleveland has led many to conclude he should be the starter moving forward, but the Ravens have maintained all along that they’ll go with the hot hand in the backfield. And they figure to have another good opportunity Sunday with the Carolina defense allowing 145.3 yards per game on the ground.

“I still go out there just as I did since I got here,” Taliaferro said. “Just make sure I do my job and compete. Even though it’s during the season and not so much of camp now, we’re still competing not just for each other’s job, but to make each other better.”

A rush-by-committee approach is nothing new for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who guided a number of rushing attacks years ago in Denver where unknown names such as Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary would suddenly emerge as 1,000-yard backs.

Pierce and Taliaferro bring more power and physicality in their rushing style while Forsett is more of a change of pace on third down, but Kubiak also pointed out other differences such as ability to pass protect and the special-teams contributions made by Forsett and Taliaferro that factor into the overall distribution of playing time.

“Lorenzo and Justin are three-down players that play in pass-protection situations, nickel situations, and those types of things,” Kubiak said. “That’s where Bernard needs to keep coming as a player, in my opinion, but he’s working at it and doing that.”

Of course, the biggest reason for the dramatic improvement of the Ravens’ running game has been the offensive line where running lanes have been created consistently unlike last season when the running game averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.

And their strong performance makes the debate over who will carry the ball less significant.

“I think we’re really confident in our running game, and I definitely think that starts with our offensive line,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They have done a great job in this system, and they really lead the way. And I think you can see that [because] we had three different backs all have big days.”

Replacing Pitta

The offseason arrivals of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels have eased the season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta a bit, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains within the Baltimore offense.

Of course, the Ravens are more equipped to handle Pitta’s hip injury than they were a year ago, but they will still depend on Daniels and rookie Crockett Gillmore to pick up the slack for one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets. Phillip Supernaw was promoted from the practice squad to take Pitta’s place on the 53-man roster, but it remains to be seen what kind of role he can carve out for himself beyond special teams.

“It does make you stop in some of your preparation,” Kubiak said. “‘What happens in the game if this guy goes down? Now what do I go to? What personnel [groups] do I want to be in?’ Those are some things that you have to look at a little bit differently when you have these types of things happen.”

Juszczyk is another option who could see some more opportunities as the fullback has the ability to line up at tight end. He caught three passes for 54 yards and his first touchdown against the Browns last Sunday.

His emergence in the short passing game would be a welcome addition with Pitta no longer an option.

“I don’t think my role will change too much,” Juszczyk said. “I think I’ll be doing a lot of the same stuff I’ve been doing, but maybe more of it.”

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Ravens stock watching entering Week 4

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Ravens stock watching entering Week 4

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

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

STOCK RISING

Lorenzo Taliaferro
Skinny: Even if I could have run through a couple of the huge running lanes opened by the offensive line, the rookie took advantage of the Bernard Pierce injury by rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Cleveland. Taliaferro drew some comparisons to Jamal Lewis on his 31-yard run in which he showed impressive downhill speed. The starting job might not be his just yet, but there’s little debate that the fourth-round pick is firmly in the backfield equation now and the heat will be on Pierce to play at a high level. 

Kyle Juszczyk
Skinny: Just a week after appearing in the “falling” category, the second-year fullback’s strong performance against the Browns that included a 9-yard touchdown catch lands him back in the good graces of the coaching staff. The season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta will likely create more opportunities for Juszczyk to catch passes in the flat as the Ravens will need someone to complement veteran tight end Owen Daniels. His Lebron James chalk throw celebration earned him style points, but Week 3 was a step in the right direction for Juszczyk. 

Rick Wagner
Skinny: The second-year right tackle continues to be consistently solid in his first year as a starter and earned the third-highest grade among offensive players for Week 3, according to Pro Football Focus. Wagner and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda were able to open some sizable running lanes for Taliaferro and veteran Justin Forsett against the Browns defense as they did late in the Pittsburgh game. In fact, Wagner has been more consistent than left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has struggled in two of the first three weeks of the 2014 season. 

C.J. Mosley
Skinny: Aside from two unnecessary roughness penalties in the first three weeks, it’s easy to see why the Ravens were excited to draft Mosley with the 17th overall pick of May’s draft. The Alabama product finished with six tackles (one for a loss) and registered a hit on Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer on Sunday. Mosley would be the first to tell you that he’s left some plays out on the field, but his aggressiveness and instincts put him on track to be an impact player as he gains experience and more strength over the next year or two. 

STOCK FALLING

Matt Elam
Skinny: Elam is only three games into his second year, but we’re still waiting to see what the Ravens saw in him as a first-round pick as he misses too many tackles for a player with a reputation for physicality and has been exposed in pass coverage too often. Sunday was probably the worst game of his career as a long reception to Taylor Gabriel was made even worse when Elam was focused on the miscommunication in the secondary instead of bothering to touch the receiver who was on the ground. In fairness, Elam was out of position at free safety last year and has had to play the nickel this year, but he hasn’t impressed.

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: Head coach John Harbaugh opined that the veteran wide receiver is pressing through the first three weeks of the season, but Jones has been a non-factor with only three catches for 20 yards and has dropped several passes, including one that could have gone for a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter Sunday. Jones is a dynamic return specialist and there’s no reason not to put him on the field to run a few verticals per game, but his ability as a receiver is very limited beyond that. With Pitta out for the season, the Ravens need more production from the No. 3 receiver spot, whether it’s Jones or someone else.

Lardarius Webb
Skinny: Sunday was supposed to be a good day for the secondary with the long-awaited return of the veteran cornerback, but Webb played only four defensive snaps and looked like he was in quicksand trying to cover Andrew Hawkins on an out route. You hope it was just rust and not evidence of a lack of flexibility from the back injury, but Week 3 only raised concerns about Webb, who had practiced fully for the last three weeks leading into his season debut. It’s painfully clear that the Ravens need help in the secondary and what we saw from Webb against the Browns wasn’t close to being the tonic. 

Bernard Pierce
Skinny: Sunday was the first game Pierce had missed in his three-year career, but a thigh injury is just the latest ailment to hobble the starting running back, which led to Taliaferro making an emphatic statement in Cleveland. Pierce’s Week 2 stats (96 yards on 22 carries) were a bit deceiving as he was indecisive through three quarters before finally finding room against a tired Pittsburgh front. It’s too early to suggest Taliaferro has supplanted Pierce as the starting running back, but the 2012 third-round pick will need to play at a high level and stay healthy to hold off the rookie.

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

Posted on 22 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ worst fear became reality Monday as tight end Dennis Pitta underwent surgery on his dislocated right hip and will miss the remainder of the season.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news a day after Pitta injured his hip for the second time in 14 months, leaving many to ponder his future after he was injured while trying to turn up field while catching a simple short pass in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 23-21 win over the Browns. Pitta remained hospitalized in a Cleveland hospital overnight before undergoing the surgical procedure Monday afternoon.

“We do not have the results of the surgery, specifically, yet,” Harbaugh said. “We do know that he’s going to be done for the season.”

Pitta’s absence now leaves the Ravens to rely more heavily on veteran Owen Daniels, rookie Crockett Gillmore, and second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who has the versatility to line up at the tight end position and caught three passes for 54 yards on Sunday. Harbaugh acknowledged that the organization will be looking to add another tight end, but it remains unclear whether the Ravens will promote Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad.

The disappointing news for Pitta comes so soon after a rigorous four-month rehab last year that allowed him to return for the final four games of the regular season after initially injuring his hip on July 27, 2013. Some medical experts have offered opinions that Pitta’s career could be over after suffering a second traumatic injury to the same hip.

For now, the Ravens will await the initial results and hope there wasn’t significant damage to the hip area beyond the dislocation and a likely fracture. The first injury did not damage any ligaments or cartilage, which helped facilitate a quicker return, but medical experts will surely look at the structure of his hip with even more scrutiny this time.

“I don’t know the ramifications of that long term,” Harbaugh said. “The specialists will probably give us some information on that, so I really don’t know. I’m going to be really hopeful for Dennis’ return, and I’m sure we’ll learn about that in the coming weeks.”

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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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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2014 season

Posted on 06 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As everyone else goes through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts that will ultimately mean very little, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their effort to bounce back from the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

1. Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player.

The quarterback won’t suddenly transform into a 5,000-yard passer with 35 touchdowns, but the arrival of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will bring the most efficient Flacco we’ve seen since the 2010 season when he completed nearly 63 percent of his passes and posted a 93.6 passer rating. A steadier running game will alleviate pressure on the seventh-year signal-caller to feel the need to do it all like he encountered last year, which will only make him more effective with better weapons to target. Flacco will throw 25 touchdown passes for the second time in his career.

2. Haloti Ngata will be playing his final season in Baltimore.

The Ravens and Ngata talked about a new contract this offseason in the same way the organization extended Terrell Suggs’ deal, but talks didn’t go anywhere with the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle carrying a $16 million salary cap figure this year and next. The difference next year will be the ability to save $8.5 million in cap space by releasing him, which will be easier to execute with the emergence of second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and nose tackle Brandon Williams this season. Though Ngata is still a good defensive tackle, anyone who’s closely watched him play over the last few years has seen a decline in impact and durability, making it likely this is his final season with the Ravens unless he alters his financial expectations significantly.

3. Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Williams will be players to take a step forward.

The second-year fullback was a non-factor offensively as a rookie, but it’s clear Kubiak envisions a role for Juszczyk as a receiver out of the backfield, making it possible he catches 30 passes in the way H-back James Casey did in Kubiak’s Houston offense a few years ago. Meanwhile, Williams will need to emerge to soften the blow from the loss of defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency, and the 2013 third-round pick was impressive against the run in the preseason. The Ravens need more young players to emerge to offset the reality of several core players approaching the end of their careers, and Juszczyk and Williams will make a bigger impact in 2014 after very quiet rookie campaigns.

4. Marlon Brown and Elvis Dumervil will be players to take a step back.

Even though the second-year receiver had an inconsistent summer, his inclusion in this prediction has more to do with the sheer number of weapons added to the equation with a fully-healthy Dennis Pitta back and the free-agent additions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Brown won’t catch 49 passes again, but he will still be a target in the red zone, which will give him a chance to make his limited opportunities count. Dumervil collected 9 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Ravens, but had only one in his final seven games. He added weight in the offseason, which sounds like a questionable strategy for a 30-year-old rush specialist dependent on speed to get around the edge.

5. Jimmy Smith will be the player who deserves to make the Pro Bowl but won’t.

Before a scary fall that caused bruising and bleeding from his lungs in the second preseason game, Smith was having the best summer of any Baltimore defensive player and appears primed for a breakout campaign after taking significant strides in his first season as a starter. The rest of the secondary is a major concern right now, but Smith could be chosen by defensive coordinator Dean Pees to shadow Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green and the other elite receivers the Ravens encounter in 2014. It may take another year for Smith to finally receive league-wide recognition after an injury-riddled start to his career, but he will play at a Pro Bowl level for an otherwise shaky secondary this season.

6. Terrence Brooks will be starting at free safety before Halloween.

If Smith and Lardarius Webb are healthy, the Ravens should be alright at cornerback even with uncertainty at the No. 3 spot, but there is no such comfort at safety where 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam and veteran newcomer Darian Stewart will start. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage allows him to make a bigger impact, but his summer was quiet as he still struggled to cover and tackle consistently. Stewart didn’t show any signs of being an impact defender playing deep center field and the third-round rookie Brooks took major strides at the end of the summer, making it only a matter of time before the Florida State product supplants him in the starting defense.

7. Steve Smith will be the top veteran newcomer.

It’s easy to be skeptical of the impact Smith will bring at age 35 by pointing to his yards per catch average steadily decreasing over the last three seasons, but the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was too impressive this summer to think he won’t be a substantial upgrade to the offense. His swagger and attitude will pump life into an offense that lacked any a year ago, and he has the ability to help move the chains and provide production similar to what Anquan Boldin did in his three years with the Ravens when he averaged 882 receiving yards per season. He won’t be able to bring the same explosiveness all 16 weeks that we saw this summer, but he will still be a significant reason why the offense improves from its 29th overall ranking a year ago.

8. Owen Daniels will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 31-year-old tight end revealed a few days ago that he was dealing with a hamstring injury to clarify Harbaugh’s vague “leg soreness” diagnosis that forced him out of practice for two weeks, but Daniels wasn’t impressive when he was practicing in training camp, struggling to gain separation and make plays to complement Pitta at the tight end position. The Ravens have given Daniels the benefit of the doubt because he is so familiar with Kubiak’s system, but it’s difficult not to be reminded of how little Dallas Clark had remaining in the tank last season while watching Daniels practice this summer. Rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore will need to be ready to step up if Daniels can’t provide what the Ravens need in 2014.

9. C.J. Mosley will be the top Ravens rookie.

This prediction isn’t exactly going out on a limb as he’s the only first-year player currently starting on either side of the football for the Ravens. The Alabama product could occasionally struggle to hold up against physical blockers in defending the run, but he has shown impressive ability in pass coverage, which will make him a three-down linebacker in Week 1. The selection of Mosley raised eyebrows considering the Ravens already had depth at inside linebacker and needs at a number of other positions, but he’s been as good as advertised and has the potential to be a dynamic defensive player in the years to come.

10. The Ravens will make the playoffs with a 9-7 record as a wild card, but they will exit in the first round.

The Ravens will move into the top half of the offensive rankings in 2014, but the defense will slide from last season’s 12th overall spot with an aging front seven and a shaky secondary. This adds up to only modest improvement from 2013 when Baltimore finished 8-8 and fell short of the postseason. Cincinnati will prevail in the AFC North with a 10-6 record, but the overall mediocrity of the AFC will leave the door open for the Ravens to finish 3-1 in the month of December and grab one of the two wild-card spots before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.

Bonus Super Bowl XLIX prediction no one asked for: New Orleans will beat Denver in a 30-24 final.

A defense that continues to improve under coordinator Rob Ryan will offset last year’s road struggles and put Drew Brees and the Saints in position to win their second Super Bowl title in the last six years while Peyton Manning and the Broncos fall short on the NFL’s biggest stage for the second straight year.

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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Week 2 observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 05 August 2014 by Luke Jones

With two weeks of training camp in the books and the Ravens making final preparations to take on the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener Thursday night, there’s a new batch of takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. We’ve witnessed a quieter Joe Flacco this summer.

This development won’t please fans and critics clamoring for a more vocal quarterback entering his seventh season as Flacco has refrained from trash talking with Terrell Suggs like we saw last summer and hasn’t been very vocal with the rest of his offensive teammates during practices open to media. Those around him have downplayed his quieter demeanor, insisting he’s focusing on fine-tuning his grasp of Gary Kubiak’s system. The new offensive coaching staff has emphasized Flacco having better footwork and getting rid of the ball quickly, two requirements in Kubiak’s West Coast offense. Flacco has been steady but unspectacular in practices to this point, but it’s all about the games that count for the signal-caller at this stage of his career.

2. Matt Elam has yet to stand out in his transition to the strong safety position.

Much attention has been paid to the free safety spot as well as the lack of cornerback depth in the Baltimore secondary, but the 2013 first-round pick hasn’t stood out after moving to the more natural position he played at the University of Florida. In fairness to Elam, there aren’t many full-contact periods in practices for him to genuinely show off his physicality, but he’s made few plays in coverage and hasn’t looked the part of a rising impact defensive player. During Monday’s practice, Elam was spelled by special-teams standout Jeromy Miles on a few occasions, but it remained unclear whether the second-year safety was dealing with a physical concern or the coaching staff was trying to create a little more urgency in Elam by throwing Miles into the mix.

3. Torrey Smith is emerging as a leader in the final year of his rookie contract.

So much focus has been placed on the leadership of Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, and Haloti Ngata since Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed departed, but Smith’s quiet leadership has emerged over the last couple years. He was responsible for gathering teammates to support Rice during his recent press conference and simply carries himself with a maturity that suggests a leader by example. Assuming a contract extension isn’t reached before the start of the season, it will be interesting to see how Steve Smith and a healthy Dennis Pitta impact Smith’s production after his first 1,000-yard season. The University of Maryland product has had a strong camp, making spectacular catches and showing more consistency than in the past. General manager Ozzie Newsome shouldn’t pay Smith like an elite receiver, but his value shouldn’t be underestimated, either.

4. Owen Daniels has struggled to get separation in his first training camp with the Ravens.

The signing of Daniels to a one-year deal was an obvious move given his familiarity with Kubiak’s offensive system, but the 31-year-old hasn’t stood out in practices, struggling to gain separation against linebackers in coverage. Both Daniels and fellow tight end Dennis Pitta thrive in finding open windows in zone coverage, but the former will need to show a little more against man coverage to have the kind of impact the Ravens are looking for. The former Houston Texan was limited to five games due to a broken leg last season, but the Ravens won’t need him to play 75 snaps a game with Pitta ahead of him on the depth chart. You hope his slow start is more about pacing himself than a sign of declining skills like the Ravens saw with Dallas Clark last year.

5. After a very quiet rookie year, Kyle Juszczyk is a sleeper to watch in Gary Kubiak’s system.

A year ago at this time, the Ravens had re-signed Vonta Leach because of Juszczyk’s inability to hold up as a blocker, but his second training camp has been far more encouraging. Listed at 248 pounds, the Harvard product looks stronger and has held up better when engaged as a blocker, but Juszczyk has also shown some explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield as he displayed in catching a touchdown matched up against Miles in Annapolis Monday night. Kubiak has compared Juszczyk’s skill set to former Texas fullback James Casey, who caught 34 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. It would be a stretch to expect that much production from the 2013 fourth-round pick, but he’s made some nice plays when given chances in practice.

6. Keith Wenning is beginning to look more comfortable in his first training camp.

For the most part, the Ball State quarterback has looked like any other underwhelming third-string quarterback the Ravens have invited to camp in recent summers, but he put on a show in Annapolis, throwing several beautiful deep balls for touchdowns in team drills. It would be a major stretch to expect Wenning to challenge incumbent backup Tyrod Taylor based on what we’ve seen in the first two weeks of camp, but Wenning’s preseason performance could make for a difficult decision when it comes to finalizing the roster. The Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on the 53-man squad since 2009, but it might be difficult to get Wenning through waivers and to the practice squad if he has more nights like he did Monday in preseason games.

7. Barring injury, the first unofficial depth chart is unlikely to change by the start of the season.

There were few surprises on the first offensive depth chart of the summer as Rick Wagner being listed at right tackle was the only note of interest but wasn’t the least bit surprising. On the defensive side, second-year lineman Brandon Williams is listed as the starting nose tackle with Ngata sliding to the 3-technique defensive tackle spot, which should allow him to take on fewer double teams and provide more opportunities to make plays. Unsurprisingly, rookie first-round pick C.J. Mosley was listed as the starting weakside inside linebacker next to Daryl Smith while Arthur Brown is his backup. Darian Stewart being listed as the starting free safety isn’t surprising based on the struggles of third-round pick Terrence Brooks, and there’s little to suggest that’s changing anytime soon.

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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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Ravens-Panthers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 21 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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

After witnessing disappointing performances in each of the Ravens’ first two preseason games, all eyes will be on the starting offense in the all-important third summer contest treated as the “dress rehearsal” for the season opener.

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half with some being pulled a little earlier and others receiving action in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers in a nationally-televised contest on Thursday night. Much attention will be paid to the wide receiver position where the Ravens have been unable to find trustworthy options beyond third-year wideout Torrey Smith to this point in the summer.

The Ravens also hope to gain further clarity in the competition for the starting center position between Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley after each started a game with the first-team unit in the first two weeks.

“This is going to be important. It’s going to be important the way we play,”  said coach John Harbaugh, who labeled last week’s first-half performance as being as poor as any he had seen in his six years in Baltimore. “We want to win every game, and I really am proud of the way our guys have found ways to win. But we also want to play well, and that means every little thing we look at, whether it’s run blocking or run defense or the way we make checks and adjustments, the decisions we make at quarterback. We want to play good, solid football.”

Thursday marks the sixth time the Ravens and Carolina have met in a preseason contest with Baltimore holding a 4-1 advantage. However, the Panthers enjoy a 3-1 edge in regular-season meetings despite the Ravens winning the last meeting between these teams in 2010.

The Ravens will see three familiar faces on the Panthers roster as safety Haruki Nakamura, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, and quarterback Derek Anderson all spent time in Baltimore to begin their respective careers.

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 15-7 in the preseason and have won 14 of their last 18 exhibition contests. Baltimore is 42-27 in all-time preseason play, winning eight of its last nine played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. Cornerback Lardarius Webb and right guard Marshal Yanda have begun practicing on a full basis in recent days as Harbaugh described each as having a good chance to play in the third preseason game of the summer, but no decision had been made as of the final day of media availability this week.

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

OUT: TE Ed Dickson (hamstring), WR Deonte Thompson (foot), LB Jameel McClain (neck), OL Ryan Jensen (foot), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
DOUBTFUL: LB Adrian Hamilton (wrist)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Lardarius Webb (knee)
PROBABLE: OL Ramon Harewood (knee), LB Bryan Hall (hamstring), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), WR Marlon Brown (knee), RB Anthony Allen (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. S Matt Elam

The first-round pick has chased veteran James Ihedigbo in the battle at strong safety all summer, but Elam appeared to close the gap last week, receiving some extensive time with the starting unit in addition to playing in sub packages. The hard-hitting safety finished with six tackles, including one for a loss, and has shown an impressive nose for the football throughout the summer.

Secondary coach Teryl Austin acknowledged Elam is still learning the finer intricacies of the Baltimore defense, but the Ravens aren’t at all unhappy with the 32nd overall pick of April’s draft. He may not start Week 1, but that’s probably a bigger credit to the play of Ihedigbo than an indictment on Elam’s development so far.

2. WR Aaron Mellette

The rookie from Elon has two touchdown catches on two targets in the preseason and is slowly climbing the depth chart to the point where he’s received extensive reps with the first-team offense over the last week of practices, which is both a compliment to him and a commentary on the alarming state of the wide receiver unit. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Mellette certainly has the size to play in the NFL and he’s shown more toughness in recent weeks to make catches in traffic in both practices and games.

He doesn’t fit the profile of a receiver who will line up in the slot, but Mellette is certainly putting himself in prime position to grab a spot on the 53-man roster. If he can be productive working with Joe Flacco and the starters on Thursday night, the Ravens might be looking at Mellette as a real contributor sooner rather than later.

3. C Gino Gradkowski

Gradkowski appeared to gain some separation last week after a disappointing outing from Shipley with the starting offensive line, but this battle is still a little too close to predict who will definitely be lining up with the first team against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 5. It appears that Gradkowski received more reps with the starters this week, which could be an indication of who the Ravens are leaning toward right now.

Neither player has risen significantly above the other, but Gradkowski has been steadier in the first two preseason games and was a fourth-round pick a year ago with the sole thought of becoming the heir apparent to the retiring Matt Birk. The biggest question is whether Gradkowski or Shipley is big enough to hold up against the beefier defensive tackles in the league, but the impressive guard combination of Yanda and Kelechi Osemele certainly quell concerns in that department.

4. FB Kyle Juszczyk

The Harvard product got off to a slow start during camp and virtually became a forgotten man after the return of Vonta Leach, but the Ravens have been using Juszczyk in more creative ways over the last week or two of practice, occasionally lining him up at tight end and even putting him in the slot. He’s shown consistent hands and could be viewed as a third tight end and H-back if offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is willing to be creative with the fourth-round selection.

Juszczyk’s work on special teams might be his best opportunity to see playing time in his rookie season and the Ravens are using him in all phases of Jerry Rosburg’s units. He is also working as the lead blocker on the kickoff return team, which could spell trouble for Anthony Allen’s security on the 53-man roster if the Ravens prefer newcomer Delone Carter or Bobby Rainey for the No. 3 running back job.

5. TE Dallas Clark

The 34-year-old tight end has caught nearly everything thrown his way in practice and has looked much like the player who used to torment the Ravens as a member of the Indianapolis Colts years ago, but we’ve yet to see him in live-game action. Clark looks smaller than his listed 6-foot-3 height and 252-pound weight — but with apologies to Ed Dickson, who is more of a straight-line route runner — he might be the best option the Ravens have in trying to replicate Dennis Pitta’s role in the offense.

The Ravens plan to use Clark and veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley extensively in Thursday’s preseason game to see if they can be the elixir for their woes in the passing game. If not, concerns will only grow with the regular-season opener just two weeks away.

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Leach’s return provides insurance for uncertain offensive identity

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Leach’s return provides insurance for uncertain offensive identity

Posted on 31 July 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. — Believe it or not, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t immediately get on the phone with fullback Vonta Leach to grovel and beg for him to return after the disappointing season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta last weekend.

As was the case with newly-signed veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, the Ravens were already having discussions about bringing Leach back after releasing the three-time Pro Bowl selection less than two months ago. Newsome simply never panics, regardless of how troubling the loss of Pitta was to a passing game already facing major question marks at wide receiver with the offseason departure of veteran Anquan Boldin.

But the bruising blocker Leach’s return on a two-year deal is a critical insurance policy to have when you don’t know what your passing game is going to look like or whether it will be effective enough to win games consistently. The Ravens undoubtedly have a franchise quarterback who proved his worth with one of the finest postseason runs in NFL history, but Joe Flacco needs someone to catch the ball, too.

The combination of Pitta’s injury and the re-signing of Leach to a two-year deal have prompted many to suspect that the Ravens will lean more heavily on their running game, which features Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and impressive backup Bernard Pearce. On paper, it’s difficult to disagree that the running game appears to be more of a sure thing than a passing attack that features Flacco and speedy third-year wideout Torrey Smith but not many proven commodities after that.

In the Flacco era, the Ravens have gradually moved away from a run-first mentality to open up a passing game that remained stagnant for more than a decade before the University of Delaware product arrived in Baltimore in 2008. The Ravens ran the ball 57.76 percentage of the time in Flacco’s rookie season, 47.85 percent in 2009, and 49.80 percent in 2010.

Since those first three seasons, their running play percentage has dropped out of the league’s top 10 with 45.76 percent in 2011 (13th in the NFL) and just 44.22 percent of their 2012 offensive plays (15th in the league).

With Boldin and Pitta now out of the picture, are the Ravens poised to return to their once-familiar profile of relying heavily on their running game and a revamped defense to lead them to victories?

“We don’t know,” Leach said. “Like I said, we never know what our identity is going to be until after training camp. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays. People are going to have to step up – that’s just always been the motto around here. ‘Next man up.’”

That motto has been uttered repeatedly over the years, most recently last season when the likes of Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Lardarius Webb went down with long-term injuries but were replaced admirably by Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Corey Graham. But Pitta’s loss reaches beyond backup tight end Ed Dickson because of an underwhelming group of wide receivers that include only two known commodities in Smith and a deep-ball threat in Jacoby Jones.

Pitta was being groomed to replace Boldin in the slot, serving as Flacco’s go-to target on third down and an excellent red-zone option as he was over the last two seasons. It wasn’t unreasonable to predict a Pro Bowl season for Pitta playing a hybrid role of wide receiver and tight end in a contract year

Yes, Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the front office have spoken glowingly all offseason about the potential of Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, David Reed, LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, and seventh-round wide receiver Aaron Mellette, but anyone fully confident in that group of players is taking a significant leap of faith based on a handful of cameo appearances in regular-season games for a few and only practice and preseason reps for the rest of the bunch.

The truth is no one really knows exactly what the offense is going to look like in coordinator Jim Caldwell’s first full season in charge. Make no mistake, the Ravens won’t be conjuring Woody Hayes’ “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy with Flacco under center, but the sixth-year quarterback may not receive his wish to throw the ball at will with so few targets to trust.

The question would then become whether the current offensive line that includes four starters from Super Bowl XLVII — the center spot is up for grabs with Gino Gradkowski the favorite over A.Q. Shipley — is up to the challenge of more run blocking and the physicality it involves.

Even the Ravens admit the offense is a work in progress, not knowing exactly who will be most involved. Newsome is always monitoring the market for potential trades and signings, but the prevailing thought is that it’s unclear whether there’s anyone available that’s undoubtedly better than what they already have and fits their need for a receiver who can work the middle of the field. As a result, Baltimore is content with continuing to evaluate their young wide receivers with the option of adding a veteran pass-catching target before the season opener on Sept. 5.

“We haven’t made any determination three or four days into training camp what our offensive personality is going to be,” Harbaugh said. “You always have to build your offense around your players. And you have to see how your players work together and what they do well individually and who emerges. The fact that [the Pitta injury] happened this early is probably something that makes it a little bit less difficult in that sense.”

In the days following Pitta’s injury, Dickson has impressed lining up at tight end and occasionally in the slot, making several long receptions and catching nearly everything thrown his way. However, the fourth-year tight end has struggled with catching the football consistently at different points in his young career, which is one reason why Pitta eventually supplanted him as the primary tight end in the second half of the 2011 season.

Just as they viewed Boldin’s departure, the Ravens won’t lean too heavily on Dickson alone to replace Pitta’s production, but the 126 receptions, 1,590 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns that Pitta and Boldin combined to provide last year will have to come from somewhere.

Finding that right combination won’t be easy and the Ravens understand that while reminding everyone that the month of August is just beginning. This is the time to see exactly what you have in Dickson and their young receivers while understanding they have Leach and a heavier reliance on the running game as a fallback plan.

“You have to prove out here in practice each and every day that you’re the guy, and you can get the job done,” Dickson said. “It was high expectations for the whole group, and that’s just the standard.”

But there’s no guarantee that individuals from a group of unproven candidates will ultimately emerge.

And that’s what makes Leach’s return just a bit more comforting this week.

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Baltimore Ravens 2013 Season Preview Part One

Posted on 05 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

Baltimore’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII was bittersweet. The Ravens had a reason to celebrate but it must also be put into perspective. Ray Lewis will never play for the Baltimore Ravens again. Neither will Ed Reed.

Many fan favorites are gone from Baltimore. Guys like Bernard Pollard, Carry Williams, and Anquan Boldin weren’t just great players. They were tempo setters. They brought intangibles to the team that personified the Ravens playing style and can’t be replaced.

Even with all the departures, the Ravens still stand a chance to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Don’t forget, they still have number five and 27 in the backfield. The Ravens offense will live and die by Flacco and Rice this season. Both are highly regarded by their peers and are a dangerous duo when Rice is involved in the passing game.

Even though Rice remains, the heart and soul of the offense is gone. Anquan Boldin will be wearing a 49ers jersey this season and will be greatly missed. In my opinion, the Ravens received too little for Boldin who is worth much more than a sixth round draft pick. Experts say he was getting old and could not separate but what does it matter if he still catches everything thrown his way?

In the coming season, the Ravens will replace Boldin’s production with Dennis Pitta. Pitta should play a hybrid position in 2013 between tight end and wide receiver. He will line up in the slot more often, which will allow more opportunities for Ed Dickson to be a pass catching threat. Don’t forget that Dickson can be a dangerous weapon when utilized. Before Pitta broke out in the 2012 season, Dickson had nearly 60 catches and 528 receiving yards.

Having Pitta in a hybrid role would also allow the Ravens to utilize versatile rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell could have a lot of fun with Juszczyk who played fullback, running back, and tight end at Harvard last season. His versatility will cause matchup, spelling, and pronunciation nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, the Ravens defense will cause many of them this season. This defense has the ability to be one of the best in franchise history. Possibly the best Baltimore has seen since 2006. If you have followed the team closely, that must be music to your ears.

The main point behind my argument is this. The Ravens are younger, faster, more athletic, and extremely versatile.

The trio of Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata will be a lethal combination. All three players are elite at their respective positions and can take over games by themselves. Just think of all the fun they will have!

Ngata is so dominant that he will occupy blockers on the inside. In turn, other defensive lineman like Arthur Jones and Chris Canty will have an easier path to the quarterback. Suggs and Dumervil will then face less blockers on the outside but will also open things up for Ngata, Canty, and others when offenses are forced to put more attention on them. So in a way, offenses will have to pick their poison when facing the Ravens defense.

Despite the promise I see for the Ravens, a tough season still lies ahead. Thanks to the Orioles, the Ravens are forced to open on the road against Denver. Unless Jacoby Jones and Joe Flacco have another miracle up their selves, I don’t see this game ending well.

Following a tough opening game, the Ravens return home to face the Browns and Texans in consecutive weeks. If the Ravens do not perform well, the season could easily start with two losses to the Broncos and Texans. Following the Texans, the schedule gets progressively tougher. There are weaker teams on the schedule but the Packers, Steelers, Bears, Vikings, and Patriots will test Baltimore to their limits.

The Ravens have many factors in their favor for the 2013 season. Their recent dominance over the AFC North indicates they should win the division yet again. In addition, Joe Flacco is better than most of the quarterbacks the Ravens will face this year. The only quarterbacks better than Flacco on the Ravens schedule are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning. Flacco is also very good in clutch situations so the Ravens will have an advantage over 13 teams they will face at the most important position on the field.

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Yanda sidelined until training camp after offseason shoulder surgery

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Yanda sidelined until training camp after offseason shoulder surgery

Posted on 11 June 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 the Ravens convened for the start of their mandatory three-day minicamp on Tuesday, a critical piece of their offensive line was nowhere to be found as Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was absent from the field.

Coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose the exact ailment from which Yanda is recovering, but The Sun reports that the seventh-year lineman underwent offseason shoulder surgery. Yanda was present for the Ravens’ trip to the White House and the ring ceremony last week but will not return to the practice field until training camp as he continues to rehab.

“We expect him back by camp to some degree,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s done a great job. Marshal Yanda has done a great job with the rehab. He’s right on schedule, probably ahead of schedule. He’s doing really well.”

Yanda missed two games last year after suffering an ankle injury against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9 but recovered to play in all four of the Ravens’ postseason games en route to the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship. Two years ago, Yanda suffered chest and leg injuries in the penultimate game of the regular season but played the following week as he helped the Ravens clinch a division title and first-round bye in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

He was elected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons and is not only regarded as one of the toughest players on the team but also as one of the best guards in the NFL.

The long-term prognosis for Yanda doesn’t appear to be concerning, but the 28-year-old would be eligible to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list should he not be ready to practice by late July. Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood split time filling in for Yanda as the starting right guard on Tuesday.

Ngata feeling “80 percent”

Speaking to reporters in Owings Mills for the first time since he sprained the MCL of his left knee at the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata declared himself to be 80 to 85 percent of where he needs to be after spending much of the offseason rehabbing the injury.

Ngata did not need to undergo surgery, but the eighth-year defensive lineman acknowledged feeling frustrated after dealing with a plethora injuries over the last two seasons, including knee, shoulder, thigh, and ankle ailments at different points. He just began running a few weeks ago after rehabbing the knee injury that knocked him out of the second half of Super Bowl XLVII.

“It’s been real tough,” Ngata said. “Especially towards the end of the season, it just limited me. What I wanted to do was be an explosive player, and not being able to really come off or getting off blocks as well … It definitely was tough towards the end of the season, but you just fight through it, and we got a Super Bowl out of it.”

Much was made of Ngata’s noticeable weight gain last season as he played with 10 extra pounds after complaining of wearing down during the latter half of the 2011 season. Ngata doesn’t appear lighter than he did at the end of last season, but Harbaugh didn’t express concern over the defensive tackle’s level of conditioning with training camp roughly six weeks away.

“He’s in good shape. He’s fine,” Harbaugh said. “He’s right where he needs to be at this time. He’s doing well.”

With the offseason signings of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, Ngata will not be asked to play defensive end this year and will instead play inside at nose tackle and defensive tackle where he feels he can take better advantage of interior linemen with his strength and quickness.

Ngata didn’t offer any predictions or specifics when asked about a specific weight goal he has in mind for this season, but the Ravens privately hope he’ll be in better condition than he was last season.

“We’ll see what it is. I definitely just want to come in in great shape,” Ngata said. “After this minicamp, these next five weeks are going to be really important for me to make sure I’m in really good shape to come in and participate in camp.”

The four-time Pro Bowl selection signed a five-year, $61 million contract early in the 2011 season and carries an $11.5 million salary cap number for 2013.

Leach’s presence will be missed

With the official release of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach on Tuesday, there was plenty of talk about how the veteran will be missed not only on the field but in the locker room.

Leach was scheduled to make a $3 million base salary and was released when he and the Ravens were unable to work out a restructured contract.

“Vonta [Leach] has been as much of the heart and soul of this team as anybody since he’s been here,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been a great leader. He’s been a tremendous performer. I’ve never had more fun with a player since he’s been here, personally as a coach, than I have had with Vonta.”

Attention will now turn toward rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is expected to inherit Leach’s starting role despite possessing different skills than the traditional blocking back. Teammates are looking forward to the versatility the fourth-round pick can provide at the position after gaining a reputation as an excellent receiver out of the backfield at Harvard.

Juszczyk caught a team-high 52 passes for 706 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season.

“I would just say his athleticism and the ways you can use him,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Catching the football, blocking, running the football, lining him up in diesel formations and having him run routes. Obviously, we’re going to have to wait to see when we put on the pads in training camp to get a good sense for what he does with that kind of stuff.”

The Ravens began shying away from using Leach on a regular basis as the offense became more pass-heavy last season, but that doesn’t mean the 31-year-old’s departure and Juszczyk’s increased presence will dramatically change Baltimore’s plans on the offensive side of the ball.

“It doesn’t,” run-game coordinator Juan Castillo said. “[Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery] is working with Kyle to get him so he can learn our schemes. He’s a rookie. He’s been working hard to learn our schemes. He should be able to do a good job once he gets some experience.”

Slimmer Suggs

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