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Twelve Ravens thoughts following second preseason victory

Posted on 12 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their 10th preseason game in a row in a 33-7 final over the Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Playing well in victory beats the alternative, but the Rams rested all but two projected starters and were playing their first preseason game while Baltimore starters played early and reserves and rookies were competing in their second exhibition contest. The action looked every bit like that.

2. Tim Williams followed Kamalei Correa’s standout performance in the Hall of Fame Game with five tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble to continue his strong summer. While those two see their stock rise, a groin injury isn’t helping Tyus Bowser’s bid for more playing time in 2018.

3. After watching Lamar Jackson run for his life in Canton, giving him a series with the first-team offensive line was a prudent move as he hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard completion and ran for a touchdown in highlight fashion. He looked more comfortable than last week, especially early on.

4. It was still another mixed-bag performance for Jackson, who took a sack on third down to create a longer field goal try that was unsuccessful and made an ill-advised throw from his end zone that should have been intercepted. My biggest concern remains the number of hits he’s willingly taking.

5. It was only nine defensive snaps, but no one expected Jimmy Smith to be playing this early in the preseason, a major credit to his rehab work. He moved well and closed quickly on a slant pass to keep it to a four-yard gain on the Ravens’ first defensive snap.

6. Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young being the second defense’s base cornerbacks and Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett the third unit’s reflect the embarrassment of riches at the cornerback position now. It’s quite a difference from the days of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown battling for the nickel job.

7. John Harbaugh said James Hurst still has the “inside track” in the right tackle competition, but Orlando Brown Jr. is doing everything he can to earn the job. He’s decreased his body fat from 31 percent in January to 19 percent now. The spot should be his sooner than later.

8. Patrick Ricard caught a touchdown from Joe Flacco and even ran a wheel route as a fullback, but he added 10 pounds in the offseason and his play along the defensive line is turning some heads as he finished with four tackles and a quarterback hit on Thursday.

9. I felt good for Breshad Perriman catching three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, but the fact that he didn’t play until the second half was telling. Barring injuries, his status as a former first-round pick might be the only factor keeping him on the bubble at this point.

10. Zach Sieler is one reason why the Ravens face tough roster decisions along the defensive line. The seventh-round rookie from Ferris State registered a sack and a quarterback hit against the Rams and is keeping himself in the roster conversation.

11. Greg Senat received extensive work at left tackle and played about how you’d expect a sixth-round rookie to fare. It would be interesting to see if the Ravens would consider moving Brown to left tackle — his college position — if something happens to Ronnie Stanley. Alex Lewis could also slide outside.

12. Props to Harbaugh for channeling Michael Scott of The Office when he declined to discuss the Ravens once again escaping a preseason game without any notable injuries. “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” Of course, I’m now expecting this reaction when the inevitable first big injury occurs.

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Flacco, Ravens offense offer proper cameo against Rams

Posted on 10 August 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There was no other appropriate outcome for Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ starting offense on Thursday night.

Facing a Los Angeles Rams defense that played only one projected starter — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam — while several Pro Bowl talents sat, the Baltimore starters did exactly what was expected with a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive lasting just under five minutes.

The cameo was short but sweet for Flacco, who was playing in only his second preseason game since 2015.

“You know you’re probably only going to play 20 snaps or so,” said the 11th-year quarterback, who took 12 snaps if you count two plays negated by penalty. “You’ve got to get yourself ready to play an NFL football game, so it’s just these weird situations in the preseason. To go up there and have a drive like we did, it’s obviously the way we wanted it to go.”

The series began with an over-the-middle completion to rookie tight end Hayden Hurst for 12 yards and a first down. The first-round pick continues to impress with his soft hands and ability to make catches in traffic, something the Ravens have lacked over the middle since the days of a healthy Dennis Pitta.

On the first third down, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for a formation shift involving running back Buck Allen, who split out wide before motioning back to the backfield. The movement set up a soft pick from wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s inside route to give Allen just enough space from linebacker Bryce Hager to catch a short swing pass and move the chains.

Facing a second-and-25 a few plays later, Flacco hit John Brown and Crabtree on consecutive throws for a total of 47 yards. Brown took advantage of a matchup against linebacker Ramik Wilson, the result of a trips alignment in which Hurst was split outside the speedy receiver. Crabtree showed chemistry with his new quarterback on the next play by running up the field as Flacco rolled left, leading to a 30-yard completion on a third-and-8 to put the Ravens inside the red zone.

Baltimore looked like it would have to settle for a field goal until a third-down illegal contact penalty extended the drive. That was all Flacco would need as he finished it off with a play-action pass to fullback-defensive tackle Patrick Ricard in the flat for a 6-yard touchdown.

Frequently knocked for his mobility that’s suffered in recent years because of an ACL tear in 2015 and last summer’s back injury, Flacco moved effectively to extend plays and even managed to slide without breaking his knee brace on a scramble early in the drive. As has been the case all spring and summer, his passes were on point as he finished 5 of 7 for 71 yards and could have had another completion to Crabtree on a sideline throw that wasn’t corralled in traffic.

What more could you want in a limited sample?

“You get a sense of, ‘Hey, maybe we’re going to be good on offense,’” said head coach John Harbaugh, who called it a night for Flacco, Crabtree, Brown, and slot receiver Willie Snead after that touchdown. “But you want to see it in a game. And we’ll want to see it in another game. Then, we’ll want to see it in a regular-season game. We’re all going to feel that way about our offense and our defense.

“But to take this step at this time was really gratifying.”

Once again, it was a single preseason drive against another team’s backups. For some context, the Ravens offense struggled against the Rams’ first-team defense in Monday’s joint practice before bouncing back to move the ball more consistently the following day.

But taking care of business on that opening drive sure beat the alternative of a three-and-out, a turnover, or the listlessness too often on display in recent years.

The Ravens offense has practiced well, competing at a higher level against the talented Baltimore defense than it has in recent years. That hardly guarantees success when the season kicks off for real next month, but building mojo is important for a unit that couldn’t get out of its own way for much of last season, a big reason why the Ravens were again on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Thursday was a positive step for a quarterback and an offense with much to prove in 2018.

“Once the regular season starts, this isn’t going to mean anything,” Flacco said. “But what it does for our confidence as a group, our confidence as a team, that will carry us pretty far into the season. Hopefully, we can keep this going. I think we’ve got the guys to do it.”

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Hall of Fame Game behind them, the Ravens have turned their attention to what is normally the first preseason contest of the summer.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed he will treat Thursday’s contest with the Los Angeles Rams like the typical preseason opener with veterans starters unlikely to play more than a couple series after most sat out entirely against Chicago last week. Of course, this game brings extra interest after the teams practiced together twice in Owings Mills this week, a move that provided the Ravens a useful litmus test.

“That’s a good team. Obviously, they have a very good defense, and I think they have a very good offense,” said Harbaugh about the defending NFC West champions. “It’s excellent to practice against a team like this. That’s why we were excited when Sean [McVay] said they wanted to come in and practice. It was very positive for us.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to play in just his second preseason game since 2015, creating more intrigue as he comes off one of the most difficult seasons of his career.

Drawing strong conclusions from preseason performance is unwise, but Flacco would like to continue building chemistry with three veteran newcomers at the wide receiver position as well as two rookie tight ends. The Ravens have emphasized the need to start fast in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and would like to build some good mojo on the offensive side of the ball before the season opener on Sept. 9.

“You want to go out there, and you want to play well,” said Flacco, who missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury. “It’s obviously not at the point where it really, really counts, but I think it does a lot for the confidence of the team and the confidence of an offense to go out there and perform well.”

Thursday marks the fifth time the Ravens and the Rams will meet in the preseason with then-St. Louis winning the four previous meetings. However, Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

The Ravens own a 29-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won nine exhibition contests in a row.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

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

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

OUT: S Tony Jefferson, G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: WR Tim White, OL Randin Crecelius, OL Maurquice Shakir
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), TE Mark Andrews (hamstring), OT Greg Senat, RB Kenneth Dixon, LB Tyus Bowser, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson

Five players to watch Thursday night

DE Brent Urban

The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Urban played nine uneventful snaps against the Bears last week, a positive step in his return from last season’s Lisfranc foot injury. The Baltimore defense would love to see him become an impact interior rusher in sub packages, but Urban needs to prove he’s healthy and will stay that way. A heavier workload and a couple disruptive plays would be positive developments on Thursday.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.

The rookie was the bright spot on a forgettable night in Canton for other young offensive linemen as he played 60 snaps. With Marshal Yanda back at practice this week, the expectation was that Brown would compete with James Hurst for a starting spot, but the Ravens kept Brown at right tackle when Yanda took limited reps on Tuesday. Another strong performance might make him the favorite over Hurst.

CB Tavon Young

The talented slot corner played 15 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, but he should see more playing time this week against the Rams’ talented trio of Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods. Perhaps the biggest sign of the Ravens’ confidence in Young coming back from last year’s ACL injury was the decision to move Maurice Canady, last year’s primary nickel, to a reserve outside cornerback spot.

WR/RS Janarion Grant

Tim White was considered the favorite to win the return specialist job — if the Ravens keep someone solely to do that job — but he’s been sidelined since the first preseason game, opening the door for Grant. The Rutgers product flashes ability and made a spectacular cut on a punt return against the Rams on Tuesday, but he also drew a taunting penalty — and the ire of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

OLB Tim Williams

On the heels of recording six pressures and a quarterback hit against the Bears, Williams was praised this week by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who stated his belief that the 2017 third-round pick will become a “premier” pass rusher in the NFL. Of course, Williams carrying over last week’s performance against better competition would go a long way in growing his confidence.

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Yanda returns to Ravens practice for first time since last September

Posted on 06 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — For the first time in nearly 11 months, longtime right guard Marshal Yanda was suited up and practicing for the Ravens as they hosted the Los Angeles Rams Monday for the first of two joint practices.

After missing nearly all of the 2017 campaign with a broken ankle sustained in Week 2 and undergoing shoulder surgery early in the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl lineman returned to the field on a limited basis, taking part in some light individual work for the first 35 minutes of practice. Yanda, 33, left practice as the Ravens moved into full-team periods and later returned to the sideline wearing workout clothes to watch the rest of the workout.

It’s part of the plan to make sure Yanda is eased back into action and ready to go for next month’s season opener.

“I think Marshal makes a big difference in our offensive line,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “What’s the exponential number, what percentage better? A lot. Seeing him out there today doing individual [drills] was good for my blood pressure. I’m happy to see it, and I just want to keep seeing him get better.”

Veteran James Hurst continued to take the reps as the starting right guard, but it remains to be seen what Yanda’s return might mean for him and the rest of the offensive line. The Ravens had planned for Hurst to compete with rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. for the starting right tackle spot, but the latter has taken virtually all reps at that position this summer and held up well in last Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game. If the Ravens are confident in Brown’s ability to start, Hurst could move to left guard — the position he played all last season — with Alex Lewis shifting to center. Matt Skura has served as the primary center so far this summer, but Lewis has also received snaps there.

Safety Tony Jefferson remains sidelined with what Harbaugh described Sunday as a “pull” of some kind. He has missed five of the last six practices and was among a large group of veteran players not to play against Chicago in the preseason opener.

Wide receivers Tim White and Jaelon Acklin and offensive linemen Randin Crecelius and Maurquice Shakir were again absent on Monday. After Yanda’s activation, three players remain on the physically unable to perform list: linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps).

As for any potential fireworks between wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Rams cornerback Aqib Talib, the old AFC West foes were on their best behavior going up against each other several times in practice. Their interactions were uneventful as Talib registered a breakup on a comeback route the only time Crabtree was targeted. And, no, it did not appear that Talib targeted Crabtree’s gold chain at any point.

“It always gets brought up,” said quarterback Joe Flacco when asked in general about players needing to maintain their tempers practicing with another team. “Having said that, you never know what’s going to happen once you get out there. It’s always tough to tell. I think the guys did a good job feeling each other out in the first few periods and really just doing a good job from there.”

The Ravens offense struggled to consistently move the ball early against a talented Rams defense that is without All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is holding out for a new contract. Baltimore didn’t make many costly mistakes through the air, but Joe Flacco and the other quarterbacks mostly settled for underneath throws because of heavy pressure in the pocket. Flacco eventually completed a 25-yard strike to speedy receiver John Brown and even took off for a 20-yard run at another point later in the practice.

Rookie running back Gus Edwards fumbled twice during 11-on-11 team work while second-year guard Jermaine Eluemunor was flagged for two false starts, which earned him runs to the opposite end zone and back.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was a visitor at Monday’s practice.

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Machado’s departure leaves behind numb feeling, concerning future for Orioles

Posted on 18 July 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have finally traded Manny Machado, who became a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.

It’s a sad day bidding farewell to one of the most talented players in franchise history, but this outcome had been clear for a long time. Even if the organization had shown the forward thinking and necessary aggressiveness a few seasons ago to sign the four-time All-Star infielder to an extension and buy out his first two or three years of free agency – along the lines of the six-year contract the Los Angeles Angels did with Mike Trout in 2014 – the last-place Orioles might still be in a position where dealing their most valuable player would have been the best move for the future. Only in that scenario, they would have fetched much more in a trade.

As two last-place seasons have now shown, having Machado alone doesn’t make up for other missteps, ranging from the annual refusal to play ball in the international market and the inability to develop impact starting pitching to the disastrous Chris Davis contract that runs through the 2022 season.

It’s ironic to note that the two best seasons of the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era occurred in 2012 and 2014 when Machado appeared in a total of just 133 games and accounted for only 3.9 wins above replacement. That speaks to how much else the Orioles had going for them at that point and how little they do now as they try to outrun their 115-loss pace over the final 2 ½ months of 2018.

Machado’s arrival in Baltimore on Aug. 9, 2012 helped fortify an unexpected contender in which many were still reluctant to believe at that advanced stage of the season. His superb defense at third base transformed a weakness into a strength as the Orioles went 33-18 the rest of the way to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. It’s a shame that his only playoff appearances with the Orioles came as a 20-year-old that October and in the infamous 2016 AL Wild Card Game in which Zach Britton is still waiting for the bullpen call from Showalter. We’ll never know if Baltimore’s fortunes would have been different in the 2014 postseason had Machado been healthy.

His departure comes at the franchise’s lowest point in 30 years – possibly ever – and only tightens the lock on the competitive window that slammed shut last September. Frankly, it brings more of a numb feeling than sadness with the Orioles an unthinkable 41 games below .500 in a season that was all but over in April. Many entered the year fearing the Orioles might be just mediocre enough to keep Machado past the deadline with unrealistic hopes of contending, but this club left no doubt that trading its best player for a quintet of prospects was the only play remaining with him set to hit the open market in a few months.

Perhaps trade centerpiece Yusniel Diaz eventually blossoms into an All-Star outfielder — maybe even taking part in an exhibition being held at Oriole Park at Camden Yards one day – or Dean Kremer develops into a top-half-of-the-rotation starter for Baltimore’s next contending club in a few years. Even so, Orioles fans will still reminisce about a 20-year-old Machado’s ninth-inning deke in a critical September tilt against Tampa Bay, his impossible throw from foul ground in the Bronx a year later, or any number of other defensive gems or heroics at the plate over these last six years.

Talents like him don’t come along often.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfect.

His knee injuries and subsequent surgeries in 2013 and 2014 likely killed any practical chance of an organization known for its rigorous medical reviews being as aggressive as it needed to be to extend him years ago. The bat-throwing incident against Oakland in 2014 was embarrassing, and his brawl with the late Yordano Ventura a couple years later didn’t help his reputation, which was likely a factor in Boston’s overreaction to his slide into Dustin Pedroia early last season. And he hasn’t always hustled as much as you’d want to see from a player of his magnitude.

To his credit, Machado has shown maturity and impressive patience answering questions about his future in numerous cities over the last several months, something that can’t be said about fellow free-agent-to-be Bryce Harper in Washington. And despite criticism he’s received about his desire to play shortstop this year and beyond, Machado was a professional deferring to veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy for years, even as the latter produced below-replacement-level offense in two of his final three seasons.

Whether Machado stuck around in the Charm City or not, no one should have ever expected him to be the next Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken, who created Hall of Fame standards on the field and impossible ones off it in different times. Even the best players rarely spend their entire careers with one team now, making one hope Machado isn’t treated the same way Mike Mussina was by some – even if he too signs with the New York Yankees this offseason.

It’s a business.

Many nine-figure investments over the years have proven to be ill advised, but 26-year-olds aren’t typically hitting the open market to fetch those kinds of lucrative commitments either. Time will tell whether Machado continues on a Hall of Fame path and validates that kind of lucrative payment elsewhere as Orioles fans will instead see what happens with Davis’ .158 batting average that remains under contract for the next four years.

With Machado off to Hollywood to try to win a World Series with the Dodgers, what’s next for the Orioles?

Zach Britton is expected to go along with the possible trade of Adam Jones, whose exit will bring more pain after being the heart of the club for years and being such a pillar in this community. If the Orioles are going to get this rebuild right, the deals shouldn’t stop there as the likes of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Schoop, and Mychal Givens should all be on the table at the right price — now or in the near future.

Of course, there’s also the matter of determining what happens with Duquette and Showalter, whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the season.

Ownership establishing a clear vision and determining who will run baseball operations – while hopefully establishing a clear chain of command – are musts for a disgruntled fan base that just witnessed a generational talent being dealt away and will likely be watching losing baseball for quite some time. Wednesday’s trade was inevitable — even necessary at this broken stage — but that doesn’t make it less difficult with the future looking so bleak in Baltimore.

The Orioles have a mountain of work to do to create that same hope that accompanied Machado’s arrival in the midst of a surprising pennant race nearly six years ago. The last remnants of that feeling and one of the best players in baseball walked out the door Wednesday, leaving behind a last-place team and a fan base numb to the inevitable finally becoming reality.

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Machado goes hitless in likely final game wearing Orioles uniform

Posted on 17 July 2018 by Luke Jones

Manny Machado’s likely final night with the Orioles was an uneventful one on the diamond.

The starting American League shortstop went hitless in two at-bats in Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Washington, flying out to left in the second inning and popping out to third in the fourth. He handled his only fielding chance flawlessly in the bottom of the fifth before being replaced by Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor an inning later.

However, the four-time All-Star infielder left social media abuzz when he took a selfie with Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp in the second inning, a fun and cryptic moment during the exhibition. Multiple outlets are reporting the 26-year-old Machado is expected to be traded to the Dodgers before the regular season resumes on Friday.

In an interview with FOX Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal in the dugout upon leaving the game, Machado was asked about this likely being his final night playing for the Orioles.

“It was a tremendous honor to wear this uniform,” said Machado, who didn’t comment on his expected destination. “They gave me the opportunity to come up and play in the big leagues. That’s everyone’s dream. They gave me that. They gave me the opportunity to play shortstop again. The organization has done everything.

“If this is the last time, hopefully I treated them well and did everything I [could] for the organization.”

Minor-league outfielder outfielder Yusniel Diaz is expected to be the centerpiece of the deal with other players and details unknown, according to Rosenthal. The 21-year-old Cuba native is batting .314 with 20 extra-base hits, 30 runs batted in, eight stolen bases, and a .905 on-base plus slugging percentage for Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League this season. He was Baseball Prospectus’ No. 73 overall prospect entering the 2018 season and hit two home runs in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park.

Former Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis went 0-for-1 with a walk in his first career All-Star Game representing the Atlanta Braves. Milwaukee reliever and former Orioles prospect Josh Hader (Old Mill) gave up a three-run home run to Seattle’s Jean Segura in the eighth inning of the AL’s 8-6 victory.

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Ravens must balance opportunity with health in expanded preseason

Posted on 11 July 2018 by Luke Jones

Ravens rookies reported for the start of training camp on Wednesday, just a week after the Fourth of July holiday and two weeks before many other teams in the NFL begin their summer work.

The early start is the result of the Ravens’ first ever appearance in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game against Chicago on Aug. 2, which falls a full week before the start of the usual preseason schedule for the rest of the league. Extra practice time is predictably met with lukewarm enthusiasm from most players — particularly veterans reporting to Owings Mills next Wednesday — but an extra week of workouts and the shortening of that summer dead period when players are on their own is any coach’s dream.

The longer training camp prompted head coach John Harbaugh to schedule two sets of joint practices: the first with the Los Angeles Rams in Owings Mills on Aug. 6 and 7 and the other sessions in Indianapolis before Baltimore’s third preseason game on Aug. 20. These will be the first joint practices for the Ravens since they traveled to Philadelphia to work with the Eagles in 2015 and will provide Harbaugh and his coaching staff a useful litmus test, especially against the talent-laden Rams coming off an NFC West title last year.

“We don’t have to pack quite as much into that time,” Harbaugh said last month, “which I think is a plus for us — especially with a young team and a young quarterback and three new receivers. It should benefit us.”

Harbaugh has already confirmed that most veterans will not play in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, but rookie first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rest of a franchise-record-tying 12-man draft class playing in an extra preseason game has value. Considering how poorly the offense played for much of 2017 after Joe Flacco missed the entire preseason with a back injury, the veteran quarterback having an extra week of practice to continue building chemistry with newcomer receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead is a bonus. And even a defense returning all but one player (reserve defensive back Lardarius Webb) from last season will benefit from extra sessions with new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale and his revamped schemes.

But that all comes with a risk.

Players aren’t immune to injuries when even working out on their own, of course, but Harbaugh will be tasked with striking the right balance between maximizing the extra opportunities and keeping his team healthy before kicking off the 2018 season against Buffalo on Sept. 9. It’s no secret that injuries have been crippling at times with Baltimore ranking sixth or higher in adjusted games lost in two of the last three seasons, an undeniable factor in not making the playoffs since 2014.

Measures have been taken in recent years to combat health concerns by revamping the offseason conditioning program and installing natural grass at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Ravens had a whopping 13 players on injured reserve by the time the 2017 season kicked off in Cincinnati last September. That number didn’t include tight end Dennis Pitta’s career-ending hip injury in the spring or Flacco’s summer-long absence and preceded season-ending injuries to Marshal Yanda and Brett Urban in the first three weeks of the regular season.

Injuries are inevitable in such a violent game with each competitive rep presenting the risk for something to go awry, whether it’s one player rolling into another’s leg, a big hit, or a simple misstep trying to cut upfield. That’s why Harbaugh will pick his spots as he’s annually done to try to keep players — particularly his veterans — as healthy as possible.

The extended preseason should provide more opportunities for that built-in rest as well.

“More is not always more,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to get more because of the time, but too much more would be too much. The ability to space that out a little bit, the fact that we can go hard and recover a little more because we have a little more time to do that is going to be a plus for us.”

A bigger plus would be a healthier roster when the real games begin, which will require disciplined planning and more luck than in recent years.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on approaching trade deadline

Posted on 10 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline just three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Manny Machado wasn’t pleased being asked by New York media about the Yankees’ reported trade interest after Monday’s doubleheader, but I don’t blame him after he’d answered multiple questions about his future earlier in the day. He’s handled the endless trade questions very well all season.

2. Machado has repeatedly stated his desire to stay at shortstop, but that’s a bigger issue for free agency than a contender needing a third baseman for 2 1/2 months. He was a pro deferring to J.J. Hardy for years, so this shouldn’t be any different, especially having a chance to win.

3. Any serious objection to trading Machado to the Yankees is based only on emotion. If theirs is the best offer, the Orioles would be foolish not to accept. Refusing to trade him to the Yankees won’t prevent him from signing in the Bronx if that’s where he wants to be.

4. The idea that the Orioles will deliberately keep Machado until after the All-Star Game in Washington was only a theory presented by another baseball executive to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, but that even being a possibility speaks to the negative perception of the organization. That must change.

5. Zach Britton has averaged a season-best 95.8 miles per hour on his sinker in each of his last two outings. That’s an encouraging sign and should ease some concerns about his poor performance and underwhelming velocity over his first eight outings of the season.

6. Meanwhile, Brad Brach’s trade value has been torpedoed by a 4.63 season ERA and a 7.50 mark since June 7. At this point, I’m not sure he’ll fetch much more than what the Orioles got for Tommy Hunter in 2015, a deal that brought only “Quad-A” outfielder Junior Lake.

7. In this era in which minor-league prospects are valued more than ever, packaging Machado and Britton together seems like a sound approach to land the two or three talents you really covet from another organization. Contenders can never have enough bullpen help, making that a formidable rental duo.

8. It’s hardly shocking there hasn’t been more out there about Adam Jones as marquee talents like Machado dominate headlines, but he remains a solid trade piece. His defense in center is a big topic of discussion, but don’t forget the remainder of his $17.33 million salary owed for 2018.

9. With that in mind, you’d like to see the Orioles be willing to eat some money in an effort to sweeten the pot of prospects coming their way. Including some cash could really improve a deal with a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold.

10. Time will tell what talent the Orioles secure in trades, but it’s encouraging seeing them target a number of prospects at the Single- and Double-A levels. The worst thing they could do is insist on major-league ready talent — with a lower ceiling — in an effort to be competitive in 2019.

11. His defensive struggles and a $13.5 million salary for 2019 are major obstacles, but Mark Trumbo is doing what he can to present himself as a long-shot trade piece. He entered Tuesday second on the Orioles with 12 homers and owns an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage. It’s still doubtful.

12. When you’re 40-plus games under .500 in July, all trade possibilities should be on the table, including players with years of club control remaining. Are the Orioles really going to be back in contention by the time Kevin Gausman (post-2020), Dylan Bundy (post-2021), and Mychal Givens (post-2021) hit free agency?

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Ravens sign all eight Day 3 draft picks

Posted on 05 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have wasted little time signing most of their team-record-tying 12 draft picks to four-year contracts.

Baltimore announced agreements with eight selections on Saturday, a list comprised of fourth-round cornerback Anthony Averett, fourth-round linebacker Kenny Young, fourth-round wide receiver Jaleel Scott, fifth-round wide receiver Jordan Lasley, sixth-round safety DeShon Elliott, sixth-round offensive tackle Greg Senat, sixth-round center Bradley Bozeman, and seventh-round defensive end Zach Sieler.

The Ravens must still sign first-round tight end Hayden Hurst, first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson, third-round offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., and third-round tight end Mark Andrews, but those tasks are considered little more than formalities with the structure of the current collective bargaining agreement in place since 2011. As first-round selections, both Hurst and Jackson will carry fifth-year options the Ravens will have the choice to exercise for the 2022 season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome had the entire 2017 draft class signed by May 17 last season.

Doubling up on joint practices

The Ravens hadn’t conducted any practices with other teams since 2015, but they’ll double up in ending that drought this summer.

Asked about his team’s already-announced plan to practice with the Los Angeles Rams for two days ahead of the Aug. 9 preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium, head coach John Harbaugh revealed the Ravens will also practice in Indianapolis ahead of their Aug. 20 contest at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Both of those coaches called us,” said Harbaugh, referring to Rams head coach Sean McVay and new Colts head coach Frank Reich. “We have the longer training camp this year with our extra preseason game with the Hall of Fame game [on Aug. 2]. The way the training camp laid out, it looked like it would be good for us to create some breaks in the schedule where we could go against somebody else and organize the practices appropriately. We have to do a good job of that.”

The Ravens hosted joint practices with San Francisco in 2014 and practiced against the Eagles in Philadelphia in 2015.

Odds & ends

Nine days after being drafted, Jackson said he hasn’t yet talked to starting quarterback Joe Flacco. … Harbaugh said he was impressed with Jackson’s accuracy and “natural arm talent” during rookie minicamp. … Andrews having Type 1 diabetes wasn’t a consideration in the Ravens’ decision to draft him, according to Harbaugh. … Several players noted the challenge of the temperature rising north of 90 degrees on Friday, but Harbaugh was pleased with the rookies’ conditioning level and noted there were no major or soft-tissue-related injuries during the minicamp.

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Ravens to host joint practices with Rams prior to preseason game

Posted on 12 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Los Angeles Rams will make a cross-country flight to Baltimore for more than just the Aug. 9 preseason game with the Ravens.

The teams will conduct joint practice at the Ravens’ Owings Mills training facility prior to the exhibition contest at M&T Bank Stadium. This marks the first time in three years that John Harbaugh’s team will practice with another squad as the Ravens hosted Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in 2014 and worked out with the Eagles in Philadelphia the following year.

The Rams will bring a local flavor to the joint practices with former Dunbar star and wide receiver Tavon Austin and Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley, who spent his childhood in Baltimore before moving to North Carolina for high school.

The entertaining matchup to watch will be new Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree and new Rams cornerback Aqib Talib renewing their old AFC West rivalry. The two brawled in each of the last two seasons with Talib ripping off Crabtree’s gold chain each time. Last year’s altercation resulted in ejections and one-game suspensions for each player.

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