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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-23 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping their first road game of the season in a 34-23 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Third down was the defense’s demise in the first half as each of the Bengals’ four touchdown drives included a breakdown that kept Baltimore from getting off the field. Third-down penalties from Tony Jefferson and Terrell Suggs negated stops that would have led to likely field goals on two drives.

2. The Ravens defense found its footing in the second half, but no sacks and no takeaways will rarely add up to erasing a 21-point deficit. You wonder how the game might have turned out had Eric Weddle’s second foot been in on Andy Dalton’s end-zone throw on Cincinnati’s second drive.

3. Joe Flacco’s accuracy problems were more reminiscent of the last few seasons that the sharper quarterback observed throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Even several of his completions were delivered in ways that hindered receivers from picking up additional yardage.

4. Flacco wasn’t helped by an offensive line that played poorly for most of the night as even Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley had difficulties against the Bengals front. This group had no answers for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

5. Putting two blockers on Atkins makes sense, but Yanda and James Hurst double-teaming backup defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and tight end Nick Boyle being left alone to block Dunlap on Flacco’s third-quarter interception was as baffling as it gets. Dunlap hit Flacco’s arm to force the errant throw.

6. Too much is made of run-pass ratios and the Ravens were always going to go into a heavier pass mode after falling behind big, but Marty Mornhinweg still needs to get Alex Collins more than four touches in the second half. Buck Allen shouldn’t be matching Collins in snaps either.

7. Matt Judon’s roughing the passer foul in the first half fell into the category of needing to be smarter than that in today’s quarterback-sensitive NFL, but the holding call on Tavon Young on a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter was nothing short of awful. Touching a receiver isn’t a hold.

8. Considering the overall lack of pressure generated against the Bengals, I’d like to have seen Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser get more playing time than their combined 19 defensive snaps, especially after both played well in Week 1. Just like with Lamar Jackson, there’s an endgame to consider as well.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged considering kicking a field goal on the last drive to make it a one-score game, but not doing so was confusing as Flacco continued throwing underneath. No, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, but if that’s your argument, just kneel the ball a few times and go home.

10. Flacco throwing a one-yard pass to Allen on fourth-and-2 midway through the third quarter was an all-too-familiar occurrence. The play call itself was questionable enough, but the throw wasn’t even out in front of Allen to guide him to the mark.

11. That aside, I’m amazed by how many always oppose going for fourth downs or two-point tries in any situation that isn’t overwhelmingly obvious. Punting on short fields, forgoing two-pointers in logical situations, and kicking field goals inside the 5 are examples of playing not to lose rather than to win.

12. After crushing the mustard-colored pants worn for one game in 2015, I really liked the new purple pants with the white jerseys. Now just add similar side stripes to the black pants that look too much like tights. Let’s also see those purple pants with the black jerseys.

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2018 season

Posted on 07 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Instead of going through the exercise of making league-wide predictions, the following focus on the Ravens and their goal to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season:

1. Joe Flacco will not have a career season, but he will throw 25 touchdowns for the third time in his 11 years. 

Coming off a career-worst 5.7 yards per attempt campaign, the 33-year-old is healthier than he’s been in three years, has a more diverse group of weapons, likes new quarterbacks coach James Urban, and, yes, feels some heat after Baltimore drafted a first-round quarterback. As the better part of the last five years taught us, you don’t want Flacco throwing the ball 600-plus times, but the aforementioned variables matched with a strong running game will lead to his best season since 2014. His 11 interceptions will be the third-lowest total of his career while a 7.0 yards per attempt average will elevate him to the middle of the pack, which is where he always was statistically when he played his best regular-season football.

2. Lamar Jackson will finish his rookie campaign with three touchdowns in a change-of-pace role.

Some national pundits continue to push the idea of Jackson taking Flacco’s job at some point in 2018, but the decision to retain Robert Griffin III should provide further confirmation that the rookie just isn’t ready to handle the starting duties. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would be crazy not to pick his spots to get Jackson on the field, especially as a runner. It won’t be a massive role as some defenses will be prepared for any trickery and Mornhinweg will need to be careful not to upset the overall rhythm of the offense, but Jackson will offer excitement and play a key role in helping the Ravens win a game or two over the course of the season.

3. Rookies Orlando Brown and Kenny Young will be starting by mid-October.

The Ravens beginning the season with James Hurst as the starting right tackle isn’t surprising as they’ve frequently given the initial nod to veterans in past position competitions. That said, Hurst has struggled on the outside in the past while Brown was impressive in his first preseason, making his poor combine performance that dropped him to the third round of the draft a distant memory. Meanwhile, Young will begin the season sharing first-team snaps with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor and has shown an impressive nose for the football at the weak-side inside linebacker spot. C.J. Mosley said this week that someone needs to emerge eventually, and Young has the skills to do just that.

4. Alex Lewis and Za’Darius Smith will take a step forward.

Lewis has received much fanfare since becoming a Week 1 starter as a rookie two years ago, but he’s played in only 10 of a possible 32 games and needs to stay on the field to help an interior line with questions at the center spot. The starting left guard received looks at center in camp, an idea that could be revisited at some point. Many noted Tim Williams’ play in the preseason, but Smith was also very disruptive and enters a contract year. Often compared to ex-Raven Pernell McPhee when drafted in 2015, Smith’s 10 sacks over his first three year eclipsed McPhee’s 9 1/2 from 2011-2013. Smith has often done the dirty work as a pass rusher, but he’ll see a bigger payoff in the sack department this season.

5. Matt Skura and Brandon Carr will take a step back.

Skura went from the practice squad at the start of last season to starting 12 games and filling in respectably at right guard, but expectations are higher this year as he attempts to replace Ryan Jensen at the center position. There is concern about his ability to stand his ground against hefty defensive tackles and give a clear path to pulling guards, a staple in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes. The 32-year-old Carr is one of the most respected players in the locker room and will continue his amazing streak of 160 consecutive starts on Sunday, but he’ll find himself spending more time on the sideline once top cornerback Jimmy Smith returns from his four-game suspension in October.

6. Marlon Humphrey will tie for the team lead in interceptions and be named a Pro Bowl alternate.

We know the Ravens defense has struggled without Smith over the years, making Humphrey that much more critical entering his second season. The 2017 first-round pick could be asked to travel with elite receivers such as A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, and Antonio Brown in Smith’s absence, so the opening month will be a test run for him as the No. 1 guy. The Alabama product has the skills to be a shutdown corner, and it’s no secret that Smith has played all 16 games only twice in his career and is scheduled to carry a $15.85 million salary cap figure in the final year of his contract next season. Humphrey will play at a level making it easier to move on from Smith next offseason.

7. Michael Crabtree will have the most touchdown catches in a season by a Raven since 2014.

The former Oakland Raider and San Francisco 49er provides the highest floor of the three free-agent additions at wide receiver, and Flacco will depend on him to be his most dependable target in the red zone. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Crabtree may have difficulty running away from defensive backs at this point, but his ability to make contested catches will be critical on third down and inside the opponent’s 20. He has only one 1,000-yard season in the last five years, but his 25 touchdown receptions over his last three campaigns are exactly what the Ravens are looking for in 2018. Crabtree will catch the most touchdowns by a Raven since Torrey Smith snatched 11 in his final season in Baltimore.

8. Alex Collins will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

A slight 205-pound frame makes you take pause when predicting monster numbers for the breakout performer from a year ago, but Collins has excellent feet and is a perfect fit in this multi-look ground attack. He is carrying a few extra pounds to try to account for a bigger workload this season, but expecting him to carry the ball 20-plus times every week would seem like a recipe to wear him down. The Ravens would be wise to do what they can to keep their starter fresh and throw carries in the direction of reliable backup Buck Allen and the talented Kenneth Dixon, but Collins is the guy and should be able to build on what he did in an impressive 2017 season.

9. Marshal Yanda and C.J. Mosley will make the Pro Bowl.

The offensive line did its best and improved over the course of last season, but there’s no understating how devastating Yanda’s Week 2 loss was to the offense’s ceiling. His streak of six straight trips to the Pro Bowl was snapped, but the 33-year-old is healthy and primed to continue building on a career resume that could garner some Hall of Fame consideration when it’s over. Contract talks have been very quiet with Mosley, who had a healthy offseason and is eager to take an already-impressive start to his career to the next level. With defensive coordinator Wink Martindale putting more responsibility on his leaders to make calls and adjustments on the fly, Mosley will remind just how valuable he is.

10. The Ravens will go 10-6, return to the playoffs, and advance to the divisional round.

After predicting 8-8 finishes in the last two years, I’m buying stock in a revamped and healthier offense being more consistent and finishing in the top half of the league, which would be marked improvement. I also think there hasn’t been enough discussion about the personnel continuity on defense, something that should more than make up for any early hiccups in the transition to Martindale as coordinator. There’s little question that big changes will be in order if the Ravens fail to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Despite a tougher schedule that includes a very competitive NFC South, I see a top-five defense and an improved Flacco guiding the Ravens into January and winning a playoff game.

Bonus Super Bowl pick no one asked for: New Orleans 31, Los Angeles Chargers 24

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees earns a second ring and retires after edging out Philip Rivers, the man who took his place in San Diego once upon a time.

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Stanley, Hurst return to Ravens offensive line for Monday’s practice

Posted on 27 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the start of the regular season less than two weeks away, the Ravens welcomed back two key members of their offensive line for Monday’s practice.

Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley and the versatile James Hurst were taking part in the portion of practice open to media one week after suffering minor injuries in the preseason win at Indianapolis. Both sat out Saturday’s preseason contest at Miami, but head coach John Harbaugh said last week that their availability for the season opener wouldn’t be in doubt.

“It’s great to get healthy on the offensive line,” Harbaugh said. “It’s great to see those guys out there practicing. Just as I mentioned last week, they were short-term-type injuries, and that’s fortunately what they turned out to be.”

Stanley, Hurst, and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda — who hasn’t played in the preseason after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery — are unlikely to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against Washington, but rookie Greg Senat was the only offensive lineman on the 90-man roster not practicing on Monday. The sixth-round offensive tackle from Wagner exited the first half of Saturday’s game with a foot injury and didn’t return, leaving his roster status for the regular season in question.

Tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery), cornerback Maurice Canady (muscle strain), safeties DeShon Elliott (forearm) and Bennett Jackson (undisclosed), and linebacker Alvin Jones (undisclosed) were also absent on Monday. Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps) remain on on the physically unable to perform list and will not count against the 53-man roster to start the regular season.

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Ravens rest key veterans as health concerns begin to grow

Posted on 26 August 2018 by Luke Jones

Even on a night when quarterback Joe Flacco and several other key veterans were held out, the Ravens are suddenly managing a growing list of health concerns following the 27-10 preseason win over Miami.

It was only last week that Baltimore was flirting with the proverbial perfect game as no player had suffered a long-term injury in the month since training camp had opened, a stark contrast from last year when the Ravens lost multiple players to season-ending injuries long before the season even began. However, that run of good fortune came to a screeching halt with the announcement of cornerback Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and the news that 2018 first-round tight end Hayden Hurst would miss multiple weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, a substantial blow to each side of the ball to start the season.

After Saturday’s game, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the Hurst injury and reported timetable of three to four weeks for his return and then revealed projected starting defensive tackle Willie Henry would also miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery for an umbilical hernia. It’s a tough break for a player from which many are predicting a breakout season, but the defensive line is one of the Ravens’ deepest position groups on either side of the ball. Henry’s absence could prompt defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to revert to last year’s base upfront alignment that featured Michael Pierce at the nose tackle spot with Brandon Williams as the 3-technique defensive tackle. Williams had been playing the nose this summer with Henry at the 3-technique on the starting defensive line and Pierce in a reserve role.

“It’s not really football related, but maybe it had been there and it just opened up on him a little bit,” said Harbaugh of Henry’s hernia. “He had surgery for that, so he’ll be [sidelined] a few weeks.”

The news was much worse for rookie safety DeShon Elliott as Harbaugh said it “looks like” he fractured his forearm in the second half of Saturday’s win over the Dolphins. It’s unclear whether the sixth-round pick from Texas will miss the entire season, but he will almost certainly be placed on injured reserve with the possibility of being designated to return later in the year. The short-term silver lining would be not having to carry a fifth safety on the 53-man roster, but the Ravens had been impressed with Elliott’s physicality and nose for the football despite his inexperience and current place on the depth chart.

Fellow sixth-round rookie Greg Senat also left Saturday’s game with a foot injury after making the start at left tackle in place of the injured Ronnie Stanley. Senat missed the first two weeks of training camp with a foot injury, and he’ll be evaluated further on Sunday to determine how long he’ll be sidelined.

In addition to Flacco, wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead, tight end Nick Boyle, guard Marshal Yanda, linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle were held out for precautionary reasons. It was an unusual measure with this week of the preseason traditionally serving as the final tuneup for the opener, but Harbaugh provided sound reasoning that went beyond not wanting to play Flacco behind an offensive line missing three notable players.

“We’ve had so much good work in training camp,” Harbaugh said. “We were here a week early. We had the two joint practices. We had four great practices where our starters got lots of reps. And we had already played, going into this game, three preseason games. Even though those [veteran] guys didn’t play in the first game, they played significantly in the last two. We just felt like we had the work we needed.”

Flacco played only 31 snaps in the preseason, but he’s performed well in two games, completing 12 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 141.4. More importantly, he has practiced very well and remained healthy throughout the spring and summer, a quality the Ravens were very wise to preserve on Saturday.

In addition to the veterans who sat out, Stanley, offensive lineman James Hurst, cornerback Maurice Canady, safety Bennett Jackson, and linebacker Alvin Jones all missed the game for injury-related reasons. Stanley and Hurst are both expected to be ready to return well ahead of the Sept. 9 opener.

Another interesting absence from Saturday’s game was rookie wide receiver Jaleel Scott, who participated in practices this week and was not known to be dealing with an injury before sitting out. The fourth-round pick from New Mexico State has struggled this summer and played only three offensive snaps against Indianapolis last Monday, leading many to believe he could become the first fourth-round pick in Ravens history to be cut as a rookie.

Perhaps the Ravens have discovered an ailment that could conveniently land Scott on IR — and off the 53-man roster — or they’re attempting to hide him in hopes of passing him through waivers and re-signing him to the practice squad. Either way, Saturday was more evidence that the 6-foot-5 is unlikely to be on the active roster come Week 1.

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Banged-up offensive line could impact Ravens’ plans for Miami game

Posted on 22 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Going into what will be most starters’ final preseason tuneup on Saturday night, the Ravens are banged up along the offensive line.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley left Monday’s game in Indianapolis with what was labeled a minor knee sprain, and the versatile James Hurst quietly exited before fellow interior starters Matt Skura and Alex Lewis and was not present for Wednesday’s practice. The potential absence of both Stanley and Hurst — who has served as the backup left tackle in past seasons — could complicate Baltimore’s plans against Miami, and that’s not even considering the status of right guard Marshal Yanda, who is practicing but has yet to play in the preseason after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

Should those three not play against the Dolphins, it’s fair to wonder whether head coach John Harbaugh would alter his plans for quarterback Joe Flacco’s playing time.

“It’s always a part of the decision-making,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “However, it is football. And I’ll tell you what, with a backup man that’s fighting for a starting job, a good strategy is to put him in with the rest of the ‘ones’ and see how he does rather than put him in with the ‘twos’ or ‘threes.’ Sometimes you can’t get quite the evaluation, so there are a couple of those things that may happen as well.”

Rookie sixth-round pick Greg Senat has worked as the second-team left tackle in the preseason while Hurst has practiced at either right guard or right tackle. A former basketball player at Wagner, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Senat is an intriguing prospect, but his lack of experience would be less than ideal protecting Flacco’s blindside this close to the start of the season.

Senat missed the start of training camp and the Hall of Fame Game with a lower leg injury before returning to practice in early August.

“Greg was hurt for a period of time,” Mornhinweg said. “The really good thing is — and we’ve had several players do this that have come in; they don’t have much work under their belt, but they’re getting better every day. He got better from last week to this week. That’s a good thing, and let’s see how far he can go in the next two weeks.”

Hurst’s absence could increase the likelihood of rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. beginning the season as the starting right tackle.

Returner competition

Monday wasn’t a banner game for return specialists Tim White and Janarion Grant, who each lost a fumble against the Colts, but the Ravens aren’t giving up on their potential.

Whether that means either makes the 53-man roster remains to be seen.

“They have the duty to the rest of the team to protect the football, and they know that,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “It’s two young players that got in situations where they didn’t realize that they needed to practice the ball-security habits that they both have. They have those skills, and in both those situations, they need to lock the ball down and they didn’t. Hopefully, the lesson has been learned.”

Ideally, one of the two would seize the job and be able to provide a spark in the field-position game, but the Ravens could elect to just go with established veterans better trusted to secure the ball. Wide receiver Chris Moore served as the primary kick returner for much of last season, but not a single player to return a punt last season remains on the roster, leaving less clarity for that role.

Slot receiver Willie Snead has fielded plenty of punts during spring and summer workouts, but he fumbled his only career punt return for New Orleans last season.

“He’s been efficient. He’s in every meeting. He’s locked in,” Rosburg said. “He comes out here and practices well, and we’ll see how it plays out down the road. Again, we still have two preseason games left, so we want to give those other guys an opportunity to show what they can do.”

Mornhinweg concerned with Jackson taking hits

More than a few observers have expressed concerns about the number of hits taken by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in the preseason, a sentiment shared by Mornhinweg.

Shoddy pass protection from reserve offensive linemen has led to Jackson being sacked six times, but the former Heisman Trophy winner has taken multiple hits in the open field in lieu of trying to protect himself. It’s understandable for a rookie to be eager to make plays — especially playing before a national audience in two of the first three preseason games — but the Ravens clearly want him to stay healthy to continue his development.

“Yeah, that’s not good. You see what I’m saying? It’s just that simple,” Mornhinweg said. “Between the numbers, now, we want to get down underneath the hits unless you think you can score and typically you’re one-on-one. Outside the numbers, we want to get up and get out. And we’d rather get down a step too early than a step too late or get up and out a step too early than a step too late.

“That’s an ongoing process. Some of it is experience because he does have to filter through exactly what he can get away with and what he can’t in this league. It’s a little different situation here, a little different league, a little different speed, a little different quickness — all those things.”

Wednesday attendance

In addition to Stanley and Hurst, running back Kenneth Dixon, tight end Mark Andrews, defensive backs Maurice Canady and Bennett Jackson, and linebacker Alvin Jones did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.

Harbaugh noted after Monday’s game that Dixon was still not 100 percent after dealing with a hamstring injury for a large portion of camp. The third-year running back drew praise in his preseason debut by collecting 56 total yards on his nine touches, his first live-game action since 2016.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following third preseason victory

Posted on 21 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens guard Yanda aiming for another chapter of greatness

Posted on 07 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Last season was supposed to be the continuation of Ravens veteran Marshal Yanda’s reign as the best guard in the NFL.

His six straight Pro Bowl selections had tied Ray Lewis for the third-longest streak in franchise history behind only Jonathan Ogden (11 straight from 1997-2007) and Ed Reed (seven in a row from 2006-12). That exclusive company began prompting some discussion about Yanda’s chances of joining that trio — and perhaps current teammate Terrell Suggs — in Canton one day, especially if he were to add a few more years of elite play to his impressive resume. The Hall of Fame is certainly rare territory for a guard, but momentum had been building as analytic sites like Pro Football Focus touted his excellence and Yanda was even profiled by a national website last summer.

Then, his 2017 season was over soon after it started when he fractured his left ankle in Week 2, an injury that required surgery to repair the damage. After battling through countless ailments to play all but five games in the previous eight seasons, Yanda would sit out the final 14 contests and the Ravens would miss the playoffs for the third straight year, in part because of an offensive line that struggled to gel without its best player in the first half of the season. The 2007 third-round pick has shown little interest in individual accolades over the years, but the thought of not being there for his team was difficult to take.

“It was a heart-breaking deal. I thought I was going to maybe miss some time but be able to find some way to fight through it and get back on the field,” Yanda said. “But to have the news that it was season-ending was really tough. It was really hard for me being away, but that’s part of football. You have to deal with it.”

The frustration didn’t end there as Yanda hurt his shoulder lifting weights just as he was winding down his ankle rehabilitation last December. Instead of risking further damage to his rotator cuff by trying to push through the injury, the 2007 third-round pick chose to have surgery early this offseason, a move that further delayed his return to the practice field.

There was no doubt that Yanda would return to action in 2018, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll regain his elite playing status as he turns 34 next month and comes off his third shoulder surgery — each arm has been worked on — in the last five years. Of course, he need look no further for inspiration than Suggs, who has recorded a total of 19 sacks in two seasons since suffering the second torn Achilles tendon of his career in 2015. At the time of that injury, many thought a 33-year-old Suggs might be all but finished, but he’s only strengthened his case for an eventual place in the Hall of Fame.

It isn’t difficult envisioning the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman following a similar script to put himself in the conversation at the very least.

Yanda swats away any mention of him eventually being worthy of such a historic honor, but he has every intention of again being the leader and linchpin of the Baltimore offensive line after returning to the practice field this week for the first time in 11 months.

“You understand that guys can definitely come back from [injuries], and even though they’re older players, they can still be productive,” Yanda said. “They can still do everything they want to do, so I’ve just attacked [rehab] every single day. I feel like, as you get older as a player, this game means more to you every single year that you play.

“I obviously understand that it’s a young man’s game, but I’m going to be fighting every single day to be ready to roll and to be productive.”

Whether it was returning from emergency leg surgery in days to help the Ravens clinch a division title in 2011 or switching from right guard to left guard because of a serious shoulder injury and still making the Pro Bowl in 2016, Yanda has proven time and time again not to doubt him. His place among the top 10 players in franchise history is cemented, but his toughness is second to none in the 22-year history of the franchise.

How much longer Yanda will play remains to be seen as his current contract runs through the end of next season. With more than a decade in the NFL under his belt, the Iowa native is taking a year-by-year approach to his career.

“Me not playing pretty much at all last year, there was no question I definitely wanted to play this fall and get after it and be a part of it,” Yanda said. “You reassess and reevaluate. I’ll take my time after the season, but right now I’m focused on this year and doing my part.”

The Ravens are hoping it’s that same gigantic part as before.

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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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As Ravens wait on Yanda, offensive line continues experimenting

Posted on 29 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have used both Matt Skura and Alex Lewis as the starting center in the early days of training camp as they must fill the void of accomplished 2017 starter Ryan Jensen.

Asked how that battle is playing out in this early stage of summer, head coach John Harbaugh offered an interesting description of what’s currently happening with his offensive line.

“I’m not so sure I’d call it a competition right now,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just trying to find the best combination. Probably, that’s a better way of saying it. Matt is playing very well. Alex is playing very well. How do the pieces fit together? I think they’re both doing a good job.”

For what it’s worth, Skura has received more reps as the first-team center and is considered the early favorite to replace Jensen, but the Ravens won’t have their best look at the 2018 offensive line until longtime right guard Marshal Yanda returns to practice later in the summer. Having lost Jensen as well as moving on from starting right tackle Austin Howard in the offseason, Baltimore needs Yanda, the six-time Pro Bowl selection recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, healthy and poised to resume his dominant level of play if the offense is to make meaningful improvement in 2018.

The Ravens know Yanda will play right guard and 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley will once again man the left tackle position, but how the rest of the starting line will look in September remains to be seen. In the meantime, Lewis is receiving his first extended looks at center, a position he’s labeled as the “quarterback of the offensive line” for the responsibility of identifying the “Mike” linebacker and making protection calls.

“There’s that one word called ‘opportunity’ for many of them,” second-year offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said, “where you check and see if they can play that position, how they can handle that. Then, if you see they start handling it pretty good, you start giving them a little bit more reps. Some of them may not, and you maybe say, ‘OK let’s hold off and we’ll keep you at one position.'”

A byproduct of Yanda’s absence has been the shift of versatile veteran James Hurst to right guard, which has allowed 2018 third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. to take extensive snaps as the starting right tackle. Brown and Hurst are competing for the right tackle job with the rookie expected to eventually be the long-term starter.

Flexible pieces such as Lewis and Hurst are valuable commodities on game days when teams usually have only seven active offensive linemen available.

“It helps tremendously,” Harbaugh said. “You have Alex, who could probably play either guard, learning how to play center, and [he] played tackle in college. He has played tackle for us here already. James Hurst is another one that has amazing versatility. We’re teaching Nico Siragusa how to play center as well, and [Maurquice Shakir] is in there practicing at center.

“This early part of training camp is going to be a big part of that. Probably, [when] we get to the Rams and then to the Colts [preseason games], for sure, we’ll start honing in on what we’re going to do.”

Breeland rationale

Harbaugh didn’t have much to say Friday when asked about reports of free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland visiting the Ravens.

“I have no idea. Not really thinking about it right now,” Harbaugh said. “I like our guys, and we’re coaching our guys.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome always says you can never have too many corners, but the Ravens seemingly have their best depth at the position in years and wouldn’t appear to be the best spot for a fifth-year player with 57 career starts already under his belt to re-establish his market value for next offseason. Breeland had agreed to join Carolina on a three-year, $24 million deal in March before his physical revealed an infection from a cut on his foot, voiding the deal.

The former Washington cornerback ranked 21st among outside cornerbacks in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings last season while current Ravens cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Brandon Carr ranked second, 17th, and 22nd, respectively. Short of something unforeseen like a pending suspension that hasn’t been reported or a preseason decision to move on from Carr and his $7 million cap number for 2018, adding Breeland to an already-crowded group doesn’t seem to make much sense with other positions of greater need currently on the roster.

Injury report

The Ravens gave a number of players the day off on Saturday, a list that included linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and safety Anthony Levine.

Running back Kenneth Dixon, linebacker Tyus Bowser, tight end Mark Andrews, offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius, and cornerback Bennett Jackson remained sidelined with unspecified injuries. Four players remain on the active physically unable to perform list: Yanda (shoulder/ankle), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

Baltimore returns to the practice field Monday morning.

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Ravens tight end Hurst practices, Harbaugh clarifies “callused up” remarks

Posted on 24 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after Ravens head coach John Harbaugh lamented rookies not being as “callused up” as they used to be, tight end pick Hayden Hurst was back on the practice field.

The 2018 first-round pick participated in Tuesday’s workout on a limited basis after he hadn’t practiced since last Thursday because of a “soft-tissue” injury. Hurst made an impressive contested catch against cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and powered past safety DeShon Elliott for a sizable gain during an 11-on-11 period of practice before leaving the field with a member of the training staff with roughly 30 minutes remaining in practice. Harbaugh said that was part of the plan for Hurst’s return.

The 11th-year coach reiterated his commentary on the easier nature of college football practices in recent years was not intended to be a criticism of Hurst or fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews, who remains sidelined and was dealing with a hamstring injury toward the end of spring workouts.

“Young people are amazing. This generation is going to change the world,” Harbaugh said. “It really is. They’re smart. They want to work, they want to be pushed, they want to do the right thing. That’s been my experience, and I would say to our generation — to my point — [that] we don’t need to be babying them. They’re tough, they want to be great, and let’s not be afraid to push them and bring the best out in them and have high expectations.”

Cornerback Maurice Canady (knee) also returned to practice after receiving Monday off, but the Ravens held out No. 1 corner Jimmy Smith for a second straight day, a deliberate attempt to give him extended rest with all players also having off on Wednesday. Smith has returned from last December’s torn Achilles tendon much sooner than anyone anticipated, so there’s no need to push him too hard so early in the summer.

Rookie offensive lineman Greg Senat and cornerback Bennett Jackson are still sidelined with undisclosed injuries. Guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (knee) remain on the active physically unable to perform list.

With quarterback Joe Flacco and starting wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown among a group of veterans excused from practice early, rookie Lamar Jackson took extensive snaps with the remaining members of the first-team offense. It was an inconsistent day for the first-round quarterback, who was picked off by cornerback Marlon Humphrey on the first play of full-team drills and nearly threw another interception on an underthrown pass to wide-open tight end Vince Mayle a few plays later. However, Jackson rebounded to throw a deep completion to speedy wide receiver Tim White and showed plenty of zip on a deep-slant connection to rookie wideout Jaleel Scott.

Jackson struggled with his accuracy during a practice period in which quarterbacks threw to receivers inside the red zone without any defense, misfiring on a number of throws to the end zone.

“There’s a lot going on. We put in a bunch of new plays today, and Joe wasn’t here, so Lamar had the group along with the other two guys (Robert Griffin III and Josh Woodrum),” Harbaugh said. “But that’s all new to him. As much as anything, he’s trying to make sure he gets the play called right in the huddle with the new stuff, and the fact that he’s not really been a play-caller [until this year]. That hasn’t been the offense he’s been in, so he’s doing a good job with that.

“He did make some overthrows, but he also made some really good throws, too. And he made a couple scramble runs that were eye-opening. With a young player, I don’t think you expect perfection, but he looks pretty good out there to me.”

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