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Ravens place Taliaferro on reserve PUP list to reduce roster to 75

Posted on 30 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens placed running back Lorenzo Taliaferro on the reserve physically unable to perform list in one of four moves to trim their roster to the 75-man limit Tuesday.

Taliaferro had not practiced this summer after undergoing season-ending Lisfranc surgery last October. He did take part in voluntary workouts on a limited basis this spring before being placed on the active PUP list to begin training camp in late July.

“We’ll see how he continues to progress with the foot,” head coach John Harbaugh said at the time. “Not that there is a big issue with it, but he is not quite there yet as far as practicing.”

The 2014 fourth-round pick is now ineligible for the first six games of the regular season, but he will not count against the 53-man roster limit. Taliaferro likely would have faced an uphill battle in a deep group of running backs to make the roster this summer, but the Ravens will now have the luxury of revisiting his status when he’s eligible as early as Week 7.

Limited to just 16 games in his first two seasons, the 225-pound running back from Coastal Carolina has rushed for 339 yards and five touchdowns in his career.

Baltimore also placed defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and offensive lineman Stephane Nembot on injured reserve and cut kicker Wil Lutz. Kaufusi, a 2016 third-round pick, sustained a broken ankle on Aug. 4 and was already expected to be out for the season.

Teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Saturday.

“A lot of decisions have been made. I think that’s obvious,” Harbaugh said. “And then there are a number of decisions that still have to be made. We talk about those every day. Every second of every day we think about it and try to do the right thing for our team.”

Eleven players were absent from Tuesday morning’s practice, a list including nose tackle Brandon Williams, tight ends Dennis Pitta (finger) and Maxx Williams, running back Kenneth Dixon (knee), guard John Urschel (contusion), linebackers Elvis Dumervil (foot) and Za’Darius Smith (ankle), and defensive backs Shareece Wright, Kendrick Lewis, Jerraud Powers, and Matt Elam (knee).

Safety Lardarius Webb, center Jeremy Zuttah, and running back Buck Allen returned to the field after missing Monday’s workout.

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Clock ticking on injured Ravens players to see preseason action

Posted on 14 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 season opener against Buffalo is still four weeks away, but the Ravens practicing without a whopping 23 players raised a few eyebrows on Saturday morning.

Of course, the Ravens were less than two days removed from their first preseason game and most of their current injuries aren’t major concerns, but we’re entering the point in the summer when you wonder if a handful of players in the midst of long-term absences will be back in time to appear in the preseason. This is especially true for the five players still on the active physically unable to perform list: wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro.

The clock is ticking.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that Suggs was the closest of the players on the PUP list to return to action, but you’d think he would need to begin practicing at some point this week to start getting into football shape if the goal is for the 33-year-old to get some reps in the “dress rehearsal” third preseason game. Saturday marked 11 months since Suggs tore his left Achilles tendon in the 2015 opener in Denver.

Still working his way back to full strength from his own Achilles injury, the 37-year-old Smith appears unlikely to play in the preseason and has expressed little concern about doing so. After undergoing an offseason foot surgery, Dumervil’s status for the preseason also remains unknown despite the Ravens not expressing any worry about his availability for the start of the regular season.

Perriman is the most interesting case after he suffered a partially-torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in June. Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews determined at the time that he would not need season-ending ACL reconstruction surgery, but the 2015 first-round pick has practiced so little over the last calendar year and wasn’t able to work with Joe Flacco this spring as the starting quarterback was still rehabbing his surgically-repaired left knee.

Considering he is essentially a rookie without even as much as a complete full-squad practice under his belt in the NFL, the Ravens would like to see Perriman get his feet wet in the preseason in a perfect world — one that assumes his knee is healthy. And if he’s to get some game time with Flacco this summer, the third preseason game would have to be the target with starters likely to sit out the summer finale.

It will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle Taliaferro with four other running backs clearly ahead of him on the depth chart. It might make sense to take advantage of his status by having the 2014 fourth-round pick begin the regular season on the reserve PUP list, which means he would not take a spot on the 53-man roster. Under that scenario, Taliaferro wouldn’t be eligible to be activated until Week 7, but perhaps there would be more clarity at the running back position in terms of both established roles and health at that point.

As for players not on the PUP list who are dealing with injuries, wide receiver Chris Moore (foot) hasn’t practiced since late July and is missing valuable practice time after turning some heads over the first couple days of training camp.

Arguably the most disappointing injury to come out of Thursday’s game was to cornerback Tavon Young, who hurt his left hamstring in the fourth quarter. Harbaugh did not offer a timetable for his return, but the rookie has had a strong summer and was pushing veterans Jerraud Powers and Kyle Arrington, who both struggled at the nickel spot against Carolina. Arrington missed practice on Saturday after being evaluated for a concussion in the second half of the preseason opener.

Other players absent on Saturday included wide receivers Chris Matthews and Michael Campanaro, safeties Kendrick Lewis and Anthony Levine, cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Maurice Canady, linebacker Chris Carter, guard John Urschel, tight ends Crockett Gillmore, Daniel Brown, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta, and defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Carl Davis, and Bronson Kaufusi.

Wide receiver and return specialist Kaelin Clay left Saturday’s practice with a foot issue, according to Harbaugh.

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Harbaugh expects PUP list players to be ready for season opener

Posted on 09 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn’t provided daily updates on the status of four high-profile players currently on the physically unable to perform list, but he does expect them to return for the start of the regular season.

Linebackers Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil (foot) and wide receivers Steve Smith (Achilles) and Breshad Perriman (knee) have yet to practice this summer, but the Ravens are still counting on them all to be on the field when they open the 2016 season against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11.

Players on the active PUP list who aren’t ready for the start of the regular season can be placed on the reserve PUP list, which does not count against the 53-man roster limit but requires them to miss at least the first six weeks of the season.

“We do expect them all to play in the opener,” Harbaugh said. “As far as [them playing in] the preseason, it goes back to, ‘We’ll see.’ They all want to play, I know that. They’re all working really hard to play in the preseason, but we’re certainly expecting them all back for the opener. We’ll just have to make some decisions.”

Of the four, Smith could be the furthest away from returning to the practice field as he continues to work his way back from a right Achilles tendon tear suffered last Nov. 1. Previously planning to retire at the end of last season prior to the season-ending injury, the 37-year-old has said he’s not worried about playing in the preseason.

Dumervil underwent foot surgery in the spring, but his status for the start of the season is not considered to be in question.

Meanwhile, Perriman is working his way back from a partially-torn ACL in his left knee that wasn’t deemed serious enough to require reconstruction surgery. The injury occurred only two months ago, but the Ravens remain optimistic that he will be ready to go by the start of the season after he missed his entire rookie year with a right knee injury.

According to Harbaugh, Suggs is the closest to returning to practice after tearing his left Achilles tendon 11 months ago.

“He’s already on me about practice, and I’m holding him back right now,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll be out there soon practicing. How much we play him remains to be seen. The other guys are probably a little longer away than he is — him being ready — but we’ll just see where we go.”

Third-year running back Lorenzo Taliaferro also remains on the active PUP list while working his way back to full strength from foot surgery last fall.

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Eyes on Ravens running backs as preseason opener looms

Posted on 07 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Asked at the start of training camp about the possibility of the Ravens using a committee approach at running back this season, veteran Justin Forsett pretended not to understand what the concept meant.

Despite a collection of young and talented backs behind him on the depth chart, the 30-year-old isn’t ready to relinquish the starting role he worked so hard to secure two years ago when he gained a career-high 1,266 yards after years as an NFL journeyman. But he has his hands full this summer.

“Everybody wants to be on the field all the time,” said Forsett, who missed the final six games with a broken arm last season after a career year in 2014. “I want to put myself in a position where they can’t take me off the field. That is my mentality. At the end of the day, everybody has their role, and I’ll let [the coaches] decide that.”

Plenty of questions remain on both sides of the ball, but we’re unlikely to learn too much in the first preseason game about the wide receiver, tight end, and outside linebacker positions where multiple players remain sidelined with injuries. But running back is a different story with four healthy options vying for meaningful playing time while 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro remains on the physically unable to perform list.

Projected to be on the bubble this summer, Baltimore native Terrance West has been the most impressive running back in camp, which isn’t as much a knock on Forsett, Buck Allen, or Kenneth Dixon as it is a compliment to the urgency with which the Towson product has played. Fifteen pounds lighter than last year and showing improved vision and quickness, West is looking like the back the Cleveland Browns thought they were getting when they selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft.

Of course, it’s generally unwise to draw too many conclusions from training camp as veterans assured of roles are often pacing themselves while getting ready for the fall and unproven players are maximizing every rep to etch out a spot on the 53-man roster. At the very least, West has made himself arguably the most intriguing player to watch in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.

“He is just out there working hard and trying to get better,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “He is running hard. He is running aggressively. He has been much improved in terms of his understanding of pass protection, which is critical to getting him on the field. I feel a lot more comfortable with that. He has had a tremendous attitude in the classroom and on the field.”

West isn’t the only young back trying to push Forsett for playing time as Allen wants to build on a solid rookie season in which he rushed for 514 yards and collected an additional 353 yards as a receiver. A fourth-round selection in 2015, Allen has looked the part of a good change-of-pace receiver out of the backfield.

But he’s aiming for a bigger role in his second season after focusing on becoming more explosive this offseason. One of the questions about Allen as a rookie was his ability to consistently run between the tackles to be a productive every-down back.

He averaged 3.8 yards per carry in a season in which he started the final six games.

“Just be more physical. Run like you’re 220 [pounds], not 212,” Allen said. “That’s something I really took personal. Making that jump cut look clean, that’s something I worked on. Only time will tell.”

Until the last few days, it had largely been a three-man competition in the Baltimore backfield since Dixon, a fourth-round rookie from Louisiana Tech, suffered a minor knee injury on the first day of camp. However, he returned to the field late last week and turned in his best practice of the summer at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night, flashing his skills as a receiver and some impressive moves in the open field.

Regarded by some as the second-best running back in this year’s draft behind fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, Dixon averaged 11.1 yards per reception to go along with a stout 5.6 yards per carry over four collegiate seasons. His 87 career touchdowns briefly gave him the NCAA Division I record last December before it was quickly eclipsed by fellow Ravens draft pick Keenan Reynolds.

“He looked quick and sharp; he made good cuts,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel like he did a pretty good job of pass protection. We will have to see. That last third-down run was really a special run. It was good to see him out there. He has been chomping at the bit.”

The question all along has been whether Forsett will recapture his success from two years ago to cement his status as the starter or if a younger back will seize the job, but the Ravens hope a clear-cut No. 1 back will emerge to provide the offense a much-needed play-maker.

In the meantime, it’s hard to argue with Forsett’s impeccable character leading the young group as his willingness to help younger players is a trait he picked up from those who helped him early in his career when he was simply trying to survive in the NFL.

“I feel like me being here is greater than football,” Forsett said. “Anytime I can help and serve my teammates [and] allow them to be better, I’m all for it. When I got into the league, it was guys like T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris, and Julius Jones that helped me along the way. Edgerrin James, those guys helped me be a pro and showed me the way.

“It is my duty to pass that on.”

He’s just not ready to pass on the starter’s workload yet.

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Flacco “comfortable” in first full practice since knee injury

Posted on 28 July 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In his first full practice since injuring his left knee last November, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a dart down the seam to Dennis Pitta for a big completion during an 11-on-11 drill.

The play conjured memories of their many connections during the run to Super Bowl XLVII and was the highlight of Thursday’s no-contact session. Less than eight months removed from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, Flacco also reminded us of his big-league arm by hurling a 50-plus-yard strike to hit rookie Chris Moore in stride during individual drills.

Flacco, 31, did show some rust as he was picked off by Sheldon Price and nearly threw another interception to Shareece Wright, but the number of errant throws was no greater than you’d typically see in the first practice of the summer.

Regardless of how he might have practiced, the mere sight of the franchise quarterback healthy and back on the field was more than enough for the Ravens on the first day of training camp.

“It felt really good to be out there,” said Flacco, who wore a red non-contact jersey and a black brace on his left knee. “I wasn’t as efficient as I’d like to be, but I felt comfortable. I just need to throw it a little better and complete some more passes.”

Flacco moved well in the pocket and did not appear to be limited in his practice reps, only abstaining from a drill in which the other quarterbacks practiced falling on fumbles.

With other key players such as wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil beginning the summer on the physically unable to perform list, questions will remain about the Ravens’ play-making ability at key positions, but the healthy return of Flacco alone is enough to provide hope that 2016 will bring better fortune than last year.

“He looked good. He seemed confident and wasn’t back there hobbling around or stumbling or footwork was off,” said safety Eric Weddle, who was excited to be able to practice against Flacco after playing against him several times with San Diego over the years. “You couldn’t tell he just had surgery in the offseason. It’s definitely a positive sign.

“He’s got the ‘it’ factor, and it brings everyone else’s level up.”

Nine players absent on first day

Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) was added to the active physically unable to perform list, joining wide receivers Steve Smith (Achilles tendon) and Breshad Perriman (left knee), linebackers Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), and running back Trent Richardson (knee). Those six players may begin practicing at any point, but the Ravens are proceeding cautiously with the aforementioned veterans coming back from injury.

Cornerback Jerraud Powers and wide receiver Dobson Collins joined receiver Mike Wallace on the non-football injury list as the three had yet to pass the conditioning test. Harbaugh wouldn’t comment when asked whether Wallace was any closer to passing the test after failing on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t matter,” Harbaugh said. “You pass it or you don’t. You make it or you don’t.”

Dixon injures knee

After finishing the 2015 season with 20 players on injured reserve, the Ravens couldn’t escape an injury in their first practice of the summer as rookie running back Kenneth Dixon suffered a knee injury diagnosed as a Grade 1 MCL sprain.

The fourth-round pick is considered day-to-day and left Baltimore with just three healthy running backs at the end of Thursday’s session: Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, and Terrance West.

“He’s going to be OK. He’s got just a little slight thing with the knee,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He should be fine. Maybe tomorrow, we’ll see.”

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Dixon eager to prove himself in Ravens’ crowded backfield

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens already had plenty of depth at the running back position when they selected Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round.

The question is whether someone will emerge as the clear-cut feature back for 2016 and beyond. Ranked by some as high as the second-best running back in the draft behind fourth overall selection Ezekiel Elliott, Dixon surprisingly fell all the way to the 134th pick where the Ravens snatched him up with the last of their record five fourth-round choices.

Watching his college highlights filled with big plays and impressive vision, it isn’t difficult to figure out which running back he tries to imitate on the football field as he wore No. 28 and averaged 11.1 yards per reception to go along with his robust 5.6 yards per carry over four seasons with the Bulldogs.

“The running back I really looked up to is Marshall Faulk,” Dixon said. “Just looking at his journey, just his work ethic that he had and the perseverance that he had through life. It’s always great, so that’s kind of who I modeled my game after.”

Of course, the Ravens would be thrilled if he could be half the player that Faulk was, but his physical gifts don’t stand out, a reason why he remained on teams’ draft boards until the end of the fourth round. His 4.58-second 40-yard dash time is good enough but hardly special and his 5-foot-10, 215-pound frame isn’t imposing, but then you watch his tape and look at his production as a four-year starter and can’t help but be intrigued.

Over four seasons, Dixon rushed for 4,483 yards on 802 carries — a heavy college workload that also might have scared some teams away — and caught 87 passes for 969 yards. His 87 career touchdowns temporarily gave him the NCAA Division I record last December before it was eclipsed by new Ravens teammate Keenan Reynolds, who is now Dixon’s roommate.

“It was kind of bittersweet. I was kind of mad at the time, but I’m especially happy for him and his journey,” said Dixon, who added that his mother is a huge Reynolds fan and asked for his autograph. “We all have different journeys, different walks through football. You never want to knock someone else’s walk through football. I gave him his props and everything.

“I told him if I had those other two [extra] games, he probably wouldn’t have been the leader.”

Dixon smiled as he noted that Reynolds had played in 13 games as a senior compared to his 11, but he’ll need that competitive fire in a backfield that includes 2014 Pro Bowl selection Justin Forsett, 2015 fourth-round selection Buck Allen, 2014 fourth-rounder Lorenzo Taliaferro, 2014 third-round pick Terrance West, and Trent Richardson, the third overall pick of the 2012 draft who is trying to revitalize his career. Of those six, the Ravens figure to keep four at most on their 53-man roster.

Plenty of intriguing talent, but who will seize the opportunity and run with it?

It would be unwise to overlook the man who scored more touchdowns than any running back in FBS history.

“It’s a lot of competition in the room,” Dixon said. “[Running backs coach Thomas] Hammock, he works really well with us. He does a great job with us. All we can do is control what we can control. That’s what we’re going to do is come out here and compete and work hard.”

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Making sense of Ravens’ running game in 2015

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Plenty of factors interfered with the Ravens’ ability to run the football in 2015.

The departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, injuries along the offensive line and to 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett, more eight-man boxes due to limited weapons in the passing game, and a questionable commitment from new coordinator Marc Trestman all contributed to the Baltimore rushing game dropping from eighth in 2014 all the way to 26th this past season. The Ravens averaged 4.5 yards per attempt in Kubiak’s lone season in Baltimore and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in 2015 (24th in the NFL).

“To the extent that we didn’t run the ball well, yes, we lost our identity a little bit and we have to be able to do that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re going to find our way back that way, and we’re going to work on that right now.”

Media and fans frequently speak about the commitment — or lack thereof — to the running game, citing overused stats about a team’s record when they rush a certain number of times in a game. For this reason, some have pointed to the Ravens’ 383 rushing attempts — fewest in franchise history and tied for 25th in the NFL — as the biggest culprit in the struggles.

That simply isn’t the case.

Research has shown over and over that running the ball more often doesn’t cause a team to win more games just like simply trying to bench-press the most weight doesn’t magically make you stronger. Being strong to begin with (having leads) puts you in position to lift that heavier weight (carrying the ball more frequently). Otherwise, a team would mindlessly run the ball for the first 20 or 25 plays of a game to hit those statistical landmarks and have a big lead in the first half, right?

There are always exceptions, but teams that run the most generally do so because they have the lead with Carolina being a perfect example with a league-high 526 rushing attempts despite a 4.3 average that ranked only 10th in the NFL. It’s no coincidence that the 15-1 Panthers led for a league-best average of 39:47 per game and trailed an average of just 8:57 — also best in the NFL — according to Football Outsiders. They also averaged fewer runs in the first quarter than in any of the final three quarters, reflecting again that it’s more about running when you have the lead than “establishing the run” early.

In contrast, the 5-11 Ravens led an average of just 14:37 per game (27th in the NFL) and trailed for 32:13 per contest (26th in the league), easily their worst marks since Football Outsiders began keeping track in 1997. Of the 66 periods (counting two overtimes) in which they played during the 2015 season, the Ravens led at the conclusion of just 19 of them.

Of the five teams that led less frequently than the Ravens in 2015 — Miami, Chicago, Jacksonville, San Francisco, and Cleveland — only the Bears finished outside the bottom 10 in rushing attempts. All five of those teams also averaged better than Baltimore’s 3.9 yards per carry clip.

Whether they take it too far or not, teams pass more frequently when they’re behind as even the worst passing teams in the NFL average more yards per throwing attempt than the most efficient rushing teams average yards per carry. It’s common sense that you can catch up more quickly by going through the air, even if that leaves you prone to more turnovers.

The 2010 Ravens averaged 3.8 yards per carry — a mark slightly worse than this year’s team — but carried the ball 104 more times in a 12-4 season. Yes, you can argue that Cam Cameron had a stronger affinity for the running game than Trestman, but Baltimore also enjoyed the lead an average of 38:26 per contest, the best in the NFL that season.

It’s easy to run the ball when you’re protecting a lead.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the running game wasn’t problematic or one of many reasons leading to the first losing season of the Harbaugh era. The issues with the running game just didn’t have as much to do with the number of attempts as it did the lack of efficiency and how regularly the Ravens trailed in games.

In looking at the breakdown of rushes by quarter, however, there’s little excusing Trestman for the Ravens only having 91 rushing attempts in the first quarter compared to the league average of 106.3. Strangely, the Ravens collected more rushing attempts (105) in the fourth quarter than in any other period — a trend usually indicative of a winning team — but that number was skewed by a combined 25 fourth-quarter carries against Pittsburgh and Cleveland in Weeks 4 and 5, their best rushing performances of the season by a significant margin.

At times, there was certainly a questionable commitment to the running game — a knock on Trestman before he was hired by Harbaugh last January — but the Ravens’ frequent deficits magnified the problem.

“Part of that is scheme, part of that is how many times we call it and when we call it,” said Harbaugh about the problems with the running game. “There’s play-action that goes with it [and] passes behind runs that keep the linebackers off your run game — all of those things that we need to build into our run game to be as good as we can be.”

The healthy returns of Forsett and starting center Jeremy Zuttah, finding stability at left tackle, and the continued development of Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West should help to improve the running game. Gaining more leads by playing better on both sides of the ball will create more opportunities that weren’t there for a ground game that struggled to find its groove throughout the season.

But it will ultimately be about running the ball better — not just more often — in 2016.

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Pondering Ravens left tackle, 2015 draft class, quarterback, more

Posted on 08 December 2015 by Luke Jones

It wasn’t long ago that left tackle Eugene Monroe was emerging as one of the Ravens’ best players.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and the organization certainly thought so after they acquired the former Jacksonville Jaguar for fourth- and fifth-round picks just over two years ago. His strong play in 11 games in 2013 prompted the Ravens to sign Monroe to a five-year, $37.5 million contract that included $17.5 million in guaranteed money.

Since then, Monroe has started just 17 of 30 games (including the postseason) as knee, foot, and shoulder injuries as well as a concussion at the start of the 2015 season have cost him extensive time. The 28-year-old missed only four games over his first five NFL seasons, but he’s started and finished just three games this year, leaving the overmatched James Hurst to fill in at left tackle. Even when Monroe has played, it’s been at an underwhelming level in comparison to his $7.7 million cap figure this year.

Many fans have questioned Monroe’s toughness, and it was interesting to hear John Harbaugh mention the left tackle’s agent on Monday when discussing the status of his injured shoulder that’s cost him three games and parts of two others this season. To be clear, the head coach did not speak with any hint of animosity, but you simply don’t hear an agent being cited very often in such discussions, leading one to wonder if the Ravens and Monroe have differing opinions on his health.

Regardless of whether Monroe returns to play in 2015, the Ravens will need to take a long look at the left tackle position this offseason as he simply hasn’t been dependable enough at a critical position. Hurst is a hard worker, but Pro Football Focus has graded him 74th out of 76 offensive tackles this season and he was the one who rolled into Joe Flacco’s left knee, causing the season-ending injury last month. The second-year tackle is just not starting material.

Monroe is scheduled to make $6.5 million and to carry an $8.7 million cap figure in 2016, but cutting him would still leave $6.6 million in dead money unless the Ravens were to use a post-June 1 designation. However, that strategy wouldn’t free up that cap space until after most free-agent activity was long finished.

With the Ravens now 4-8 and potentially picking in the top five of April’s draft, Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil will be one of many intriguing prospects to watch over the next few months.

Awful year for rookie class

The four-game suspension of rookie tight end Nick Boyle was the rotten cherry on top of a lousy first season for the 2015 draft class aside from fourth-round running back Buck Allen.

Facing so many offseason departures, the Ravens used their draft class to fill an assortment of needs, but that meant a cast of rookies needed to contribute immediately if they were to reach their lofty goals for the 2015 season. Needless to say, that hasn’t come close to happening.

Selected to replace speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith, first-round pick Breshad Perriman hurt his knee on the first day of training camp and didn’t play as much as a preseason snap in his rookie season. Tight end Maxx Williams has flashed potential here and there, but 19 catches and one touchdown are nothing to write home about for a second-round pick.

Drafted to essentially take the spots of free-agent departures Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis and fourth-round Za’Darius Smith have largely been non-factors with the former not even being active for the last two games. And though fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker was considered a bit of a project out of Texas Southern, it’s become clear that the Ravens drafted him way too early — even if he does eventually develop into a useful player.

Fifth-round guard Robert Myers didn’t even make the team — he’s now on the practice squad — and sixth-round receiver Darren Waller caught only two passes before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve.

Yes, it’s only the first season, so this isn’t a final condemnation on the 2015 draft class by any means. But the group couldn’t have been much more disappointing in its rookie campaign.

And now that Boyle’s better-than-expected play has been superseded by the disappointment of a four-game ban, Allen’s development into a starting-caliber back is the only saving grace of the group in 2015.

Running back debate

Allen is the most intriguing reason to watch the Ravens these days, but his performance is creating an interesting debate for the offseason.

Though he is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry, his ability as a receiver out of the backfield — an impressive 29 catches on 32 targets — is making quite a statement for the USC product to be the Ravens’ No. 1 back in 2016. And Terrance West has provided good depth in averaging 4.5 yards per carry in his two games with Baltimore thus far.

For those reasons, might the Ravens consider moving on from veteran Justin Forsett this offseason?

The 30-year-old will carry a $3.7 million cap figure next year and releasing him would save $2.3 million in salary cap space, no small amount for a team that will be looking for room even after renegotiating Flacco’s massive contract. And it’s not as though the Ravens wouldn’t have an impressive collection of young talent with Allen, West, and a returning Lorenzo Taliaferro in the backfield.

That trio would certainly benefit from Forsett’s experience and leadership, but how much is that worth? Would the Ravens feel comfortable handing the reins to an inexperienced threesome?

If Allen and West continue to play well over the final quarter of the season, Newsome may be faced with a difficult decision on Forsett, who is a popular player in the locker room and has been one of the feel-good stories of the last couple seasons.

Depressing quarterback situation

I can’t bring myself to care about a quarterback controversy for a 4-8 football team, but some fans are already clamoring for Jimmy Clausen to play with Matt Schaub having thrown two interceptions returned for touchdowns in two starts.

Given the current state of the offensive line and how sore Schaub was after the Miami game, it would not be surprising to see Clausen get a look sooner rather than later. It’s also worth remembering that the Ravens worked out former Houston quarterback Ryan Mallett last week, and he could still be summoned at some point over the final month.

The organization would like to identify someone who can handle the backup job, especially with Flacco unlikely to be ready until training camp at the earliest next season. But is it really all that interesting to watch such a competition play out for a team that’s going nowhere in December?

I’d rather watch Flacco rehab his surgically-repaired left knee.

NFC Least

Over the years, some Baltimore fans have suggested how interesting it would be if the Ravens were to move to the NFC East to compete against geographic neighbors Washington and Philadelphia.

Imagine if the 4-8 Ravens could be just one game out in a hapless division currently sporting three 5-7 teams tied for first place.

My pick to win that awful division?

Just give it to the Arizona Cardinals for old times’ sake after they languished in the NFC East for years.

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With Forsett in question, Ravens promote Magee from practice squad

Posted on 17 October 2015 by Luke Jones

With starter Justin Forsett’s status in jeopardy due to an ankle injury, the Ravens promoted rookie running back Terrence Magee from the practice squad ahead of Sunday’s game against San Francisco.

To make room for Magee on the 53-man roster, Baltimore waived cornerback Charles James, who had been promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week.

Forsett practiced on a limited basis on Friday and was labeled a game-time decision by head coach John Harbaugh before being designated as questionable on the final injury report. However, the decision to promote Magee isn’t exactly an encouraging sign that the Ravens will have their 2014 Pro Bowl selection in the backfield.

With the Ravens off to a 1-4 start and No. 1 receiver Steve Smith nursing a back injury, the timing of Forsett’s injury couldn’t have been worse after he had rushed for a combined 271 yards in the last two games. The 30-year-old injured his ankle late in regulation of the Week 5 overtime loss to Cleveland.

“Hopefully, some more healing takes place,” Forsett said on Friday afternoon. “I think we’re going in the right direction, so hopefully we’ll be ready to go.”

Should Forsett not be able to play, the Ravens would be forced to depend on the rookie trio of Buck Allen, the recently-claimed Raheem Mostert, and Magee. Saturday marked the second time Magee had been signed to the 53-man roster since the end of the preseason, but the LSU product has seen action in just one game and has yet to play an offensive snap. Because of his familiarity with the offense, Magee would likely serve as the primary backup to Allen if Forsett can’t play.

Needless to say, the running back picture is less than ideal as No. 2 option Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week after undergoing foot surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury. Taliaferro had been listed as probable on the Week 5 injury report before being deactivated for the Cleveland game.

“It kind of took us by surprise there a little bit, but the foot had been bothering him,” Harbaugh said on Friday. “He tweaked it — maybe it was Oakland or one of those weeks in there — and sat out that week [and] then came back the next week and just wasn’t getting much better.

“We sent him to see the foot specialist; I believe it was Dr. [Robert] Anderson, and he just felt like the Lisfranc had reemerged from last year. They decided not to do surgery on it last year and just let it heal, and in some way, it kind of happened again. They decided to do the surgery right there.”

Taliaferro has played in just 16 games in his NFL career.

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Ravens place running back Taliaferro on injured reserve

Posted on 14 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The injury picture continues to get worse for the Ravens as they placed second-year running back Lorenzo Taliaferro on injured reserve on Wednesday.

The 2014 fourth-round pick had been dealing with a foot injury and was inactive for Sunday’s loss to Cleveland despite being listed as probable on the final injury report, making it unclear whether he experienced some sort of setback over the weekend. Taliaferro was placed on I.R. with a foot injury last December, meaning he will have played just 16 games in his first two NFL seasons.

The Coastal Carolina product rushed for just 47 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries this season. The 225-pound Taliaferro ran for 292 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie.

With starter Justin Forsett hobbled by an ankle injury suffered in the fourth quarter of the Browns game, the Ravens are dangerously thin at cornerback, which promoted general manager Ozzie Newsome to claim rookie Raheem Mostert off waivers from the Miami Dolphins. The rookie free agent from Purdue at a strong preseason with the Philadelphia Eagles before he was waived at the end of the summer.

Mostert joins fellow rookie Buck Allen has the only healthy running backs on the roster while the Ravens will hope Forsett’s ankle improves enough for him to play against San Francisco on Sunday. If not, Baltimore could promote running back Terrence Magee, another rookie currently on the practice squad.

Still more than a month away from Thanksgiving, the Ravens now have 11 players on I.R. even though defensive end Brent Urban holds the designation to return. Tight end Dennis Pitta is on the reserve physically unable to perform list.

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