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Examining the Ravens’ 2019 class of free agents

Posted on 09 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens enter their most interesting offseason in recent memory after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson helped lead them to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2019 salary cap commitment of roughly $163 million to 45 players (not including free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future deals), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2019 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

New general manager Eric DeCosta is likely to clear additional cap space by renegotiating or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. Of course, that list will be headlined by former starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be traded or released after 11 seasons in Baltimore. A trade or pre-June 1 release will save $10.5 million in cap space while leaving $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap, but Jackson’s $2.1 million cap number for next season makes that dead money easier to endure.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are other potential candidates to be cap casualties. Those decisions will depend on how drastically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year replacing Ozzie Newsome.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2019 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any team beginning on March 13 at 4 p.m.

RB Buck Allen The former fourth-rounder went from leading Ravens backs in snaps in some early games to being a healthy scratch late in the season, but his special-teams ability helps his value.

TE Nick Boyle He doesn’t offer too much as a receiver, but Boyle’s blocking ability was a critical part of Greg Roman’s run-game schemes, making his return a bigger priority than you might think.

WR John Brown The speedy wideout says he’s open to returning, but he caught only 10 passes for 128 yards in Jackson’s eight starts, which certainly didn’t do any favors for his market value.

QB Robert Griffin III The former first-round pick was a helpful mentor to Jackson and is open to returning as his primary backup unless he receives an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere.

RB Ty Montgomery – Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery is good in pass protection and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited duty, but the Ravens may want to look elsewhere.

LB C.J. Mosley – The Ravens would certainly love to keep the four-time Pro Bowl selection, but they may need to make him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker to do it, making this a tougher call.

LB Za’Darius Smith The versatile pass rusher isn’t the type of player Baltimore has typically re-signed to a big contract in the past, but other in-house options haven’t exactly stepped up.

LB Terrell Suggs The 36-year-old plans to return for a 17th NFL season and wants it to be with the Ravens, but his quiet second half of the season and asking price will be factors to consider.

DE Brent Urban The oft-injured lineman played in all 16 games and didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but a return on another cheap deal doesn’t appear out of the question.

TE Maxx Williams Though he never lived up to his second-round draft standing and makes minimal impact as a receiver, Williams developed into a useful blocker over the last two seasons.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has five days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2019 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.149 million in 2018) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.914 million in 2018) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.907 million in 2018) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens frequently elect to forgo a tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

RB Alex Collins (fifth) – Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2017, Collins once seemed like a good bet to receive a second-round tender, but a foot injury and disappointing production leave his future uncertain.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second) – The 6-foot-3 defensive back had a chance to make the team before breaking his arm late in the summer, but he could be back to compete for a spot on a cheap deal.

LB Patrick Onwuasor (undrafted) – A strong second half could prompt the Ravens to use a second-round tender on him to deter teams from pursuing him and to serve as insurance for Mosley.

DT Michael Pierce (undrafted) – Baltimore’s best defensive lineman this season, Pierce will likely receive the second-round tender and could be in line for a substantial payday after the 2019 campaign.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo After missing the entire 2018 season, the 6-foot-3 wideout will compete for a roster spot after flashing from time to time in his first training camp in 2017.

RB Gus Edwards One of the great stories of 2018, the 238-pound back will go into his second season trying to maintain the starting job in a run-heavy offensive attack.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor The 2017 fifth-round pick spent a few weeks on the practice squad early in the season and will again be competing for a job on the 53-man roster

C Matt Skura The former practice-squad member started all 16 games at center, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens seek an upgrade at this important position along the offensive line.

RB De’Lance Turner It’s easy to forget Turner received a practice-squad promotion before Edwards, but he’ll be fighting for a spot after spending most of the season on injured reserve.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-23 loss to New Orleans

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 4-3 in their 24-23 loss to New Orleans, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith played poorly in his first start with Marlon Humphrey sidelined, but some criticism was over the top. Being suspended didn’t change the reality of him coming back from a torn Achilles, an injury that takes time for someone to return to previous form. Michael Thomas is also terrific.

2. Especially with the Saints down to their third-string left guard during Sunday’s game, you’d like to see the pass rush manage more than one sack and three quarterback hits. It’s very tough to beat a great offensive team without more disruption in the pocket or a game-changing turnover.

3. I’m all for trying to keep opponents guessing, but eight different Ravens running the ball at least once Sunday says plenty about the current state of a ground attack that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry. The only team worse (Arizona) just fired its offensive coordinator.

4. Of the 16 times running backs carried the ball, 10 went for two or fewer yards and only one netted a first down. I’d be much more interested in upgrading the offensive line before the trade deadline, but exploring other running backs should be a consideration as well.

5. Both Drew Brees and Sean Payton talked about the 20-play opening drive setting the tone and allowing the Saints to jump ahead in time of possession despite not scoring. The Ravens defense surrendered only seven points through three quarters, but that long series took a toll later in the game.

6. Of course, that drive would have ended quickly had the special teams stopped a fake punt attempt after what looked like an initial three-and-out. I’m a big Jerry Rosburg guy, but there have been too many lapses with multiple special-teams units this season.

7. Coming off two quiet games, John Brown made seven catches for 134 yards — season highs — and a touchdown. Considering he caught all seven targets, why not go to him even more, especially in the first two fourth-quarter drives when he was thrown to just once for 17 yards?

8. Mark Andrews caught a touchdown Sunday, but tight ends have combined for 11 receptions for 84 yards over the last three games. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are helping offensive tackles in pass protection, but you want more when dressing four tight ends. Hayden Hurst needs to be more involved.

9. Lamar Jackson’s usage continues to be debated, but it was good seeing him pass in a third-down situation, something the Ravens must be willing to do if he’s going to play. His first NFL touchdown on a read-option run was a great example of how to properly use him.

10. I agreed with kicking the extra point, but there would have been at least an argument to go for the win if the Ravens had a running game. I wouldn’t have loved their chances in overtime after Brees had carved up the defense on three straight drives. Challenge traditional thinking.

11. The Ravens are 8-13 in games decided by a single possession since the start of 2016 and dropped to 0-2 this season. Common sense would tell you a playoff-hopeful team should be .500 or better in this department. Fourth quarters like Sunday’s have loomed large.

12. The debut of the purple-on-purple uniform — non-“Color Rush” edition — was the sixth different combination used by the Ravens since the start of the preseason, and they haven’t even worn their black alternates or the aforementioned purple tops with gold numbering yet. Watch out, Oregon.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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Ravens dealt early-season blow at tight end position

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have been dealt their first summer injury that will impact the start of the 2018 season.

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, 2018 first-round tight end Hayden Hurst is likely to miss three to four weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him out of the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo. On Friday, Hurst will undergo a procedure to insert a screw in his foot to aid with the healing process. He had practiced without any apparent incident earlier this week, making the news surprising going into Saturday’s preseason contest at Miami.

It’s a tough early-season blow for a talented skill player the Ravens were expecting to contribute immediately as both a receiver and blocker. Hurst’s absence increases the roster chances of Maxx Williams as Baltimore uses tight ends prominently in its run-blocking schemes and the former second-pick is a good blocker despite never realizing his full potential due to injuries. Veteran Nick Boyle is Baltimore’s best blocking tight end and was already a lock to make the roster.

Turning 25 on Friday, Hurst was already trying to defy the history of NFL tight ends typically struggling as rookies by becoming a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco, so a foot injury won’t help his cause.The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hurst caught five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

Fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews, a third-round pick from Oklahoma, has been hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the spring and summer and hasn’t stood out in the preseason with just two catches for seven yards.

Hurst caught a combined 92 passes for 1,175 yards and three touchdowns over his final two seasons at South Carolina and was regarded as having some of the most reliable hands in the draft class. Boyle and Williams combined for just 43 catches last year while top receiving tight end Benjamin Watson signed with New Orleans in the offseason.

Hurst’s early absence as well as the disappointing performance of the young wide receivers on the preseason roster could help create a path to a roster spot for tight end Darren Waller. Formerly a wide receiver, the 6-foot-6 Waller is coming off a yearlong drug suspension, but he brings the size and athletic upside to be a red-zone target and a bigger slot option. Waller has also shown the ability to contribute on special teams in the past, which could further enhance his case to make the team over 2017 special-teams contributor Vince Mayle.

The Hurst news comes just three days after the NFL announced Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith would be suspended for the first four games of the season without pay for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster entering fourth preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens remain healthy ahead of extended trip to Indianapolis

Posted on 16 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bowser, M. Williams return to practice amid competition at their positions

Posted on 13 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have benefited from superb health so far in the preseason and welcomed back two of their few recent absentees to the practice field on Monday.

Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and tight end Maxx Williams both missed last week’s preseason win against the Los Angeles Rams, but they participated in Monday’s workout on a limited basis. While Williams missed less than a week of action after an apparent ankle injury in one of the joint practices with the Rams, Bowser has missed much of training camp with a groin injury originally sustained on July 27. He returned to practice for a few days after missing the preseason opener on Aug. 2, but he was soon forced to the sideline again.

“It just doesn’t feel like he’s at 100 percent right now,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Sunday. “But he needs to get back out there. The competition is starting to heat up.”

The 2017 second-round pick is hardly in danger of not making the 53-man roster, but his quest to earn more playing time behind starters Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon has been hindered by his absence as well as the strong preseason play of Kamalei Correa and Tim Williams. Bowser played more defensive snaps than both Correa and Williams in 2017 and was having a strong start to camp before the injury, but Correa’s move to outside linebacker has only increased the competition for rotation reps among the young outside linebackers.

Williams, a 2017 third-round pick from Alabama, was arguably the best defensive player on the field for the Ravens against the Rams, finishing with a sack, a forced fumble, and five tackles. The situational rusher has made substantial improvement from last season when he was largely a non-factor and active for just eight games.

“It’s a mental toll just as much as it is a physical toll when they’re rookies,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “Some can push through it and some can’t. I think he has seen what it takes to be a Raven now, Tim has. We’re really excited for him because, as you saw, he can rush off the edge now.”

Unlike Bowser, Maxx Williams is not a lock to make the roster as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Injuries have prevented the 2015 second-round pick from living up to once-lofty expectations, but the Minnesota product carved out a role as a blocker frequently lining up as a fullback last season.

Already unofficially fourth in the pecking order behind 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst, blocking tight end Nick Boyle, and rookie third-rounder Mark Andrews, Maxx Williams was already competing with special-teams standout Vince Mayle for a possible fourth tight end spot before the return of Darren Waller from suspension last week. Waller faces quite a climb to secure a spot on the 53-man roster — he does have practice-squad eligibility — but his athleticism is undeniable and he provides more upside and team control.

Head coach John Harbaugh made it clear Waller has a long way to go to earn back the organization’s trust after being suspended for the entire 2017 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The 2015 sixth-round pick has been open in the past about using marijuana and confirmed that was the reason for his four-game suspension in his second season.

“Where’s he been? You have to be here,” Harbaugh said after Waller’s first practice on Saturday. “You don’t just come waltzing in and all of the sudden, you’re the starting tight end. You have to prove it. You have to do some things for us. You have to make plays. I love him, but like I told him, I’m going to be the hardest guy on him of anybody. I’m going to be on him every single day because he has a lot to prove.”

One of the more intriguing position battles of the summer continues to be at the weak-side inside linebacker spot next to starter C.J. Mosley. Incumbent Patrick Onwuasor entered the preseason as the favorite to start, but rookie fourth-round pick Kenny Young has closed the gap and has recently begun receiving some first-team snaps. Onwuasor did the same thing to Correa last summer and unseated him as the starter early in the 2017 season.

Young made one of the highlight plays of Monday’s practice, intercepting a short Joe Flacco pass intended for slot receiver Willie Snead.

“I still think it’s an even competition,” Martindale said. “Right now, I don’t like to say I don’t care, but it doesn’t bother me who starts between the two of them and [we might] rotate them back and forth. You’re going to have a really good linebacker in that situation, and somebody will eventually take that job over. You’ll see it. I just don’t know who to bet on yet.”

Suggs received a veteran day off on Monday while linebacker Alvin Jones and defensive back Bennett Jackson were absent with undisclosed injuries. Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps) remain on the physically unable to perform list.

Young wasn’t the only defensive player to shine Monday as cornerback Brandon Carr and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard returned interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays during an 11-on-11 period. Carr picked off a Robert Griffin III pass intended for tight end Nick Keizer while Ricard grabbed a Josh Woodrum pass that was batted up in the air by defensive end Brent Urban.

Flacco shook off the Young interception by throwing a 50-plus-yard completion to Chris Moore. The ball traveled more than 60 yards in the air as Flacco heaved it from one side of the field to the other, an impressive toss even for a quarterback known for having no shortage of arm strength.

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Amid many doubts, Flacco trying to win the only way he can

Posted on 22 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In many ways, Joe Flacco can’t win at this point.

The writing appears to be on the wall with the Ravens drafting a quarterback in the first round, even if former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson needs some seasoning. Despite the proclamations of Flacco still being the franchise guy, an organization wanting to win now isn’t using two second-round picks to trade up to the 32nd overall selection simply for a better backup or someone seen as a project.

Even Flacco’s biggest supporters must acknowledge the need for him to show meaningful improvement after a third consecutive lackluster season in which Baltimore once again missed the playoffs and he finished dead last among qualified passers in yards per attempt. Some fans and critics are already clamoring for Jackson and will even louder at the first hint of trouble for the 11th-year quarterback and a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season.

On the flip side, a Flacco renaissance will be chalked up by many solely to Jackson’s arrival motivating the former Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. And even if Flacco does play better, he might still receive the Alex Smith treatment next offseason as Kansas City traded its Pro Bowl quarterback in March to clear the way for 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.

Is the rookie’s presence the reason why some see more of a bounce in Flacco’s step this offseason?

“I don’t know. Does it matter what I say?” said Flacco as he smiled. “I think you guys will probably link it to Lamar anyway.”

It’s human nature in any line of work to feel more urgency when your employer hires a threat to your job, but perhaps he’s pleased with the organization making more than its typical halfhearted effort — at times, less than that — to improve the offensive side of the ball. Much is made about Flacco’s expensive price tag while the front office has frequently received a pass for investing resource after resource after resource into a defense that’s still come up too small in defining moments of the last five years.

Flacco’s hefty contract may justify more free-agent dollars going toward the defense in recent years, but using all but four of 17 total picks in the first three rounds of the 2013-17 drafts on defense was asking a quarterback to do more with less than anyone in the NFL. Exactly one of those four offensive picks (left tackle Ronnie Stanley) has made a lasting impact while the other three are either gone (tight end Crockett Gillmore) or likely soon on their way out the door (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams).

So little cheap labor with upside in addition to few impact free agents on his side of the ball for years, but it’s still all about his contract in the minds of many.

That the free-agent additions of wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead — three players all coming off down seasons — and the early-round selections of tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are viewed as a Herculean effort speaks to the lukewarm commitment to building a good offense since Super Bowl XLVII. These offseason additions still don’t make Baltimore anywhere close to a top 10 offense on paper, but they at least bring a more diverse skill set to the passing game to give Flacco a better chance to succeed in this make-or-break year.

“I know we brought in a lot of pieces, a lot of draft picks to help him do that,” said Snead, who has shown early chemistry with Flacco and caught a combined 141 passes in his first two seasons with New Orleans. “I think that’s all he needed — weapons. I think it’s all on him now to be able to make those plays, which I know he can.”

Perhaps even more important than the possibility of improved weapons is the veteran quarterback’s health. Flacco is another year removed from his 2015 knee injury and appears to be over the back injury that cost him all of last summer and hindered him well into the 2017 regular season.

Asked this past week to reflect on how challenging it was to step right into Week 1 last year after missing all of training camp and the preseason, Flacco still wasn’t interested in making excuses for his poor numbers. After registering just eight touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, a 72.7 passer rating, and just 5.3 yards per attempt over the first nine games of 2017, the Delaware product posted 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, an 89.1 passer rating, and 6.2 yards per attempt the rest of the way.

But it wasn’t enough to get the Ravens back to the postseason for the first time since 2014 or to prevent general manager Ozzie Newsome from drafting his likely successor.

“Hey, I wish we went out there last year and made the playoffs and won more games and wouldn’t have to deal with it,” Flacco said. “I wouldn’t have to deal with answering stuff, questions like that about making excuses and not getting that part of camp. That’s all in hindsight and it’s not the most ideal situation, but we should have made it work.”

The most observable difference with Flacco this spring and summer has been his mobility as his movement within the pocket has been more fluid and he’s looked faster on those rare occasions when he takes off running. That’s a reflection of better health and the arrival of new quarterbacks coach James Urban, who has emphasized improving his footwork that has slacked in recent seasons. No one ever accused Flacco of being a mobile quarterback, but better movement will be key with the Ravens trying to incorporate more run-pass options this season, another harbinger of Jackson.

With Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda not practicing on Sunday, Flacco effectively stepped up in the pocket and moved his feet in response to constant pressure from the defensive front, even taking off once or twice to gain positive yardage.

“Many of those subtle movements are important, and once again he looks really healthy,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who estimated that a quarterback must deviate from his designed drop roughly half the time. “If you remember now, it’s been a couple years since he’s been healthy. He was really a fine, fine athlete [before the injuries], and he is a fine, fine athlete, especially for his size.”

Doubts surrounding his future will remain as Flacco is set to carry a $26.5 million cap figure with an $18.5 million base salary in 2019. Short of him being selected to his first Pro Bowl or making a deep playoff run, the Ravens may choose to move on from their longtime quarterback next offseason, especially if the gifted Jackson looks like the real deal in his development.

But Flacco has every intention of silencing such talk and at least delaying what many see as the inevitable in the only way he can — on the field.

“I think we’re going to win,” said Flacco, exuding the same confidence he had six years ago when he bet on himself as a pending free agent and led the Ravens to a championship. “And we’re not going to hear about it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on opening of training camp

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first full-squad workout on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much has been made about the risks of a longer training camp, but John Harbaugh believes it provides the opportunity to extend the normal three-day acclimation period to try to curtail early-camp injuries. We’ll see how it works out, but easing key veterans into action certainly makes sense.

2. With Joe Flacco conducting off-site passing sessions with his receivers last week, when do the playoff tickets go on sale? In seriousness, there’s no downside to doing it and the optics are favorable, but I’ve always filed this over-discussed topic more into the eyewash department than anything moving the meter.

3. You could have made good money if you’d wagered last December that Jimmy Smith would be taking part in 11-on-11 drills on the first day of training camp. The oft-injured cornerback turns 30 next week and enters a critical season as he carries a $16.175 million cap figure in 2019.

4. Harbaugh wouldn’t confirm ESPN’s report that the organization will pay Breshad Perriman his $649,485 roster bonus, but the 2015 first-round pick practiced Thursday and drew groans from fans when he dropped a routine pass during an individual drill. As I wrote recently, the Ravens hate giving up on early picks.

5. Inside linebacker depth behind C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor is a concern with Albert McClellan coming off an ACL injury and Bam Bradley’s return from his own ACL tear not imminent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore explore a veteran addition, especially if Kenny Young is slow to develop.

6. It appears Matt Skura will get the first chance to nail down the starting center job. His 12 starts at right guard last year provided valuable experience, but he must prove he can be physical enough and won’t lose ground as a pass blocker up the middle.

7. Tony Jefferson labeled last year a learning experience and believes new defensive coordinator Don Martindale will effectively use his strength of playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Dean Pees didn’t always use Jefferson correctly, but the high-priced safety still needs to show much more this year.

8. Maxx Williams made a nice sideline catch off a Jefferson tip during an 11-on-11 session on Thursday. With rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the picture and Nick Boyle a better blocker, the 2015 second-round pick needs a strong and healthy summer to maintain his roster spot.

9. One of Thursday’s highlight defensive plays was Chuck Clark intercepting a Lamar Jackson pass that either went off Hurst’s hands or was tipped by Tavon Young in tight coverage. Clark could push Anthony Levine for dime snaps, especially with the latter missing much of the offseason with a foot injury.

10. Alex Collins being a veteran excused from practice early a year after he was cut by Seattle was surprising, but it speaks to the need to keep the undersized back fresh. After playing at 200 pounds last year, he’s carrying five extra pounds to see how his body responds.

11. The other quarterbacks in camp receive all the attention, but Josh Woodrum threw a beautiful deep touchdown to DeVier Posey in an 11-on-11 drill. I’ll set the over-under on my remaining mentions of Woodrum this summer at 3.5.

12. Speaking of quarterbacks, seeing Flacco, Jackson, and even Robert Griffin III throw the football reminds me how painful it was to watch Ryan Mallett with Flacco sidelined all last summer. It’s no wonder the passing game was an utter disaster over the first half of the 2017 season.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to start of training camp

Posted on 12 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning full-squad training camp workouts in less than a week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alex Collins was no fluke in 2017, but he hit the 20-carry mark in just two games and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry over the second half of last season. His slighter 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame still suggests a need for an impactful complementary back like Kenneth Dixon to emerge.

2. I believe Michael Crabtree offers the highest floor and John Brown the highest ceiling of the wide receiver newcomers, but Willie Snead is my sneaky choice to stand out the most. Joe Flacco has been at his best when he’s had reliable slot options like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

3. For those inclined to blame Flacco for all of the offense’s problems, Pro Football Focus recently noted the 2017 wide receiver group generated the lowest rate of positively-graded plays and the highest rate of negatively-graded plays in the league last year. Yuck.

4. Speaking of 2017, I’m interested to see how Mike Wallace fares in Philadelphia after somewhat rebooting his career in Baltimore. Many say Flacco doesn’t elevate the play of his receivers, but wouldn’t these guys go elsewhere and at least do as well? Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken, anyone?

5. Given the untapped youth and long-term questions at both inside and outside linebacker, John Harbaugh is showing great faith in new linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. Veterans Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley will be huge assets for the 31-year-old assistant, who was hired by the Ravens in 2014.

6. I’m curious to see who plays center on the first day of full-squad workouts next Thursday. Ryan Jensen topped the depth chart on the first day last year — even as John Urschel surprisingly retired — and never relinquished the spot. Will it be Matt Skura or Alex Lewis?

7. The Ravens ranked 24th in PFF’s preseason offensive line rankings. Whether you agree or not, the publication is spot on saying the group’s upside rests on Marshal Yanda. Is it realistic to expect him to be the same elite player coming off a major injury and being another year older?

8. I’m frequently asked about Lamar Jackson possibly starting over Flacco this year, but I only see it if the Ravens enter December with a 4-7 record and are out of the playoff race. Assuming Flacco and the offense haven’t played well under that scenario, Jackson playing would be a no-brainer.

9. I won’t hide from my criticism of the Ravens drafting a first-round quarterback this year, but that won’t temper my excitement to watch Jackson play this summer. I rarely look forward to “fake” football, but this is easily the most anticipated preseason for this organization in a long time.

10. It’s easy and fair to label Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, and Bronson Kaufusi as potential cuts, but the Ravens rarely give up on former early picks until they absolutely have to. The disappointing Terrence Cody was even re-signed for another year. Just keep that in mind.

11. Close to 2,000 fans being able to attend training camp daily will be a plus for an organization needing to reconnect more strongly with its fans. The fallout of leaving Westminster was always going to be felt more at a time when the Ravens weren’t winning as frequently.

12. I get the rationale and advantages of the new digital ticket system, but the collector in me is bummed to see traditional game tickets go away. Hopefully the complimentary programs will continue to be distributed for years to come to appease those still desiring a physical souvenir from the game.

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