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Ravens position battles to watch this summer

Posted on 24 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens possess one of the deepest rosters in the NFL entering the 2015 season, but a number of key position battles will headline the summer as they seek their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

After losing the likes of Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Pernell McPhee, general manager Ozzie Newsome has done a remarkable job reloading, but several questions must be answered before the season begins in Denver on Sept. 13.

Below is an early look at each competition with the first full-squad workout of the summer set for July 30:

Starting wide receiver
The candidates: Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown
Why to be optimistic: The 26th overall pick in the draft, Perriman was projected to go in the middle of the first round by some and is a faster and bigger version of Torrey Smith on paper while Aiken and Brown are still developing and contributed a season ago.
Why to be concerned: Beyond the 13,000-plus receiving yards from 15-year veteran Steve Smith, the Ravens’ other returning wide receivers made a combined 55 catches last year, making you pray that Perriman is ready to contribute immediately.
The favorite: Aiken is the leader in the clubhouse following minicamp and has developed an impressive rapport with Joe Flacco, but Perriman’s skills are too enticing to pass on him as the favorite to start.

Starting tight end
The candidates: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
Why to be optimistic: Even if we assume Pitta will not be cleared to play in 2015, the Ravens invested a 2014 third-round pick in Gillmore and a second-round pick in Williams this spring for a reason.
Why to be concerned: Gillmore caught just 10 passes as a rookie while Williams did not stand out during spring practices and is still trying to adjust to Marc Trestman’s offensive system.
The favorite: After showing improvement late in his rookie year, Gillmore was a surprise of the spring with a better physique and improved ability to make catches in traffic while Williams was very quiet.

Starting defensive end
The candidates: Chris Canty, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban
Why to be optimistic: Canty and Guy were effective holding down the 5-technique position a year ago despite Urban’s knee injury that derailed his anticipated role in the rotation as a rookie.
Why to be concerned: Canty is entering his 11th year and the Ravens deemed him expendable before bringing him back at a cheaper rate while Urban has been unable to shake injuries going back to his collegiate days.
The favorite: Urban was very active during spring practices and could push the veteran starter, but it’s too tough to pick against Canty, who has started 119 games in his NFL career.

Starting safeties
The candidates: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
Why to be optimistic: Hill proved capable in handling a starting job in the second half of 2014 while Lewis was signed for his ability to play deep center, something the Ravens lacked in coverage a year ago.
Why to be concerned: Elam was a clear disappointment in his first two seasons while Brooks is still recovering from a torn ACL, creating legitimate depth concerns going into training camp.
The favorites: The Ravens gave Elam some reps with the starting defense this spring, but it would take substantial improvement for the 2013 first-round pick to overtake Hill or Lewis for starting spots.

Return specialist
The candidates: Michael Campanaro, DeAndre Carter, Asa Jackson, Fitz Toussaint, Lardarius Webb, Steve Smith
Why to be optimistic: Campanaro and Jackson have shown flashes in the return game in very limited opportunities while Webb and Smith bring experience to the equation.
Why to be concerned: It’s difficult to buy either Webb or Smith as a serious candidate to handle the job because of their importance, leaving the real competition to players lacking experience or facing questions about their durability.
The favorite: There isn’t one as this competition lacks candidates to really feel good about at this point, making you wonder if the man to handle the job is even on the current roster.

Backup running back
The candidates: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
Why to be optimistic: The Ravens feel very good about Justin Forsett in a starting role for a second straight year and have invested fourth-round picks in running backs in each of the last two drafts.
Why to be concerned: Taliaferro and Allen have a combined 68 carries in the NFL and are the primary backups behind a 29-year-old back who has one year of experience as a full-time back since college.
The favorite: Last month, Allen would have been my choice because of the versatility he showed in college, but a slimmed-down Taliaferro moved well this spring and has an experience edge for now.

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Plenty of intrigue surrounding Ravens wide receivers

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can easily be fooled by what you observe during spring football practice, but the Ravens’ young group of wide receivers displayed much to like over the last month.

It would be unwise to guarantee that the Ravens won’t experience any growing pains at the position following the free-agent departure of Torrey Smith, but there are many reasons to be intrigued with the upside of the group. More than a few showed their talents before the Ravens wrapped up their mandatory minicamp on Thursday, now turning their attention toward the start of training camp in less than six weeks.

“They come in all different sizes, certainly, and we have them here,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman of the young receivers. “But at the end of the day, it’s the guys that are really specialists that know how to get off the line and get open, and particularly when it’s bump-and-run, because that’s when it’s usually crunch time.”

Of course, introducing the threat of contact will be the real test as countless receivers over the years have shown ability while knowing they aren’t about to be leveled by a hard-hitting defensive back or linebacker over the middle. This time of the year always favors the offense with defensive players lagging behind until the pads serve as the equalizer beginning in late July.

Perhaps the most comforting aspect about the group that allows so much optimism is the man who spent the entire spring mentoring them while continuing to look like the best player on the field in the process.

While other notable veterans skipped voluntary organized team activities and didn’t arrive in Owings Mills until this week’s mandatory minicamp, the 36-year-old Steve Smith spent the last month working with the likes of rookies Breshad Perriman and Darren Waller as well as helping young receivers such as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown. It’s easy to like your potential at a position when a seasoned commodity with five Pro Bowl selections and 13,000 receiving yards remains at the head of the class.

“He put in the time physically and he put in the time mentally to really grasp the changes that we were making and further enhance how he understood this offense,” wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said. “And, when he pulls a young guy aside, they’re going to listen. And when they see his work ethic, they better listen. His experience and his leadership has been invaluable not only for the receivers but for our entire team.”

While Smith continues to lead the way at the position, there were three young receivers who stood out this spring in particular.

Selected with the 26th overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft, Perriman has been as advertised with his combination of size and speed, and he appears to be ahead of where Torrey Smith was at this point in his rookie season. The Ravens made no secret about their desire to work him hard this spring as the Central Florida product consistently took reps with the first, second, and third-team offenses during practices, often battling fatigue to make sensational catches.

He wasn’t perfect as he suffered some drops from time to time — it hasn’t been a chronic issue — but the 6-foot-2 rookie feels good about his place in Trestman’s offense and adjusted well to the speed of the game when the full squad reported for practices this past week.

“I just like how they have the ability to move all the receivers around,” Perriman said. “For me, I’m decent at going deep, but at the same time, they have the ability to move me around and put all the receivers in different positions. Everyone can be a slot receiver and run different routes. That’s what I like about it.”

Perriman has drawn the outside attention as the team’s first-round draft pick, but Aiken may have impressed the most this spring with his consistency and strong rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco. After rising from anonymity to make last year’s roster, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Aiken caught 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season while adding another touchdown reception in the playoffs.

It would be premature — and unfair — to label Aiken a poor man’s Anquan Boldin, but perhaps he could be the poor man’s poor man’s version of the former Baltimore receiver, showing good strength and an ability to make catches in traffic. He is the current leader in the clubhouse to start opposite Smith — the Ravens almost always defer to their veterans over rookies to begin preseason competitions — but Aiken figures to be a meaningful part of the passing game, regardless of where he lands on the depth chart by the time September rolls around.

Aiken said this spring that he has never lacked confidence, but last year’s success has made him comfortable in preparing to just be himself instead of trying to do too much to make the roster as he was forced to do earlier in his career. Whether beginning the year as a starter or succumbing to Perriman, Aiken is confident he’s a good fit in a critical portion of the field.

“I like going across the middle, so I’ve never feared a route going across the middle,” Aiken said. “I feel like that’s where you make your money at. But [the coaches] do a lot of good things as far as mix and matching, just putting us in different areas [where we are] able to run different routes.”

While Perriman and Aiken have already become household names for Ravens fans, the biggest wild card could end up being Jeremy Butler, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve after turning a few heads during last summer’s training camp. It wasn’t a coincidence that Baltimore took advantage of Butler’s late-summer shoulder injury to stash him on IR, which essentially gave the Tennessee-Martin product a “redshirt” season to learn and improve.

At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Butler earned plenty of praise for his consistent hands over the last month. And while there have been many young players over the years to have good springs before disappearing in training camp and the preseason, it’s worth paying attention to Butler this summer after quiet acclaim from coaches last year and the compliments offered by Smith and Flacco this week.

If anything, Butler figures to offer some strong competition for Aiken in the slot as he occasionally received some first-team reps over these last few weeks.

“He might have had 1,500 yards in a three-day minicamp. He was incredible,” Flacco said. “He caught the ball extremely well. [He has] little things here and there to work on, but the biggest thing is catching the ball, and I think these guys are doing a really good job of that.”

With the ageless veteran Smith leading the way, the Ravens hope they’ll face some difficult decisions as far as how many receivers they will be able to keep. Perriman is an obvious lock and Aiken is an excellent bet, but how the depth chart plays out after that is anyone’s guess.

You’re always waiting for the 6-foot-5 Brown to take the next step after an impressive 2013 rookie season, but he didn’t do much to stand out this spring — good or bad — and you’d like to see him better utilize his massive frame, especially inside the red zone.

Campanaro has flashed potential as a return man and at receiver, but his latest quadriceps injury creates more doubt about his ability to stay on the field.

A sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, the 6-foot-6 Waller has shown promise, but will he develop quickly enough to justify a roster spot as a rookie?

Can rookie free agent DeAndre Carter stand out as a receiver to augment his chances for winning a roster spot and serving as a return specialist?

Of course, not all of these names will pan out, but it’s tough not to like the Ravens’ chances to break camp with a group of young receivers having room to grow, especially with a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career throwing to them. Smith is looking forward to having a front-row seat for the battles this summer as he prepares for his 15th NFL season.

“It’s very competitive,” Smith said. “I’m actually going to sit back and watch it and just root for those guys and see them make plays.”

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Ravens open to numerous possibilities in return game

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Of the various position battles expected to take place this summer, the uneasiest ones for the Ravens come at the punt and kick returner spots.

With the Ravens jettisoning 2012 Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones earlier in the offseason, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg is casting a wide net in trying to find his replacement. If voluntary organized team activities are any indication, numerous veterans and rookies alike will be in the competition mix.

“I think we’ll limit it to keeping the offensive linemen out of there,” said Rosburg as he laughed on Monday afternoon. “We’re not going to let any of those guys go out there, but we are going to have a long line when it comes to that time.”

Younger players such as cornerback Asa Jackson, wide receivers Michael Campanaro and DeAndre Carter, and running back Fitz Toussaint figure to receive plenty of opportunities this summer, but Rosburg has also given veteran wideout Steve Smith some reps this spring and will do the same with veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb during training camp. Smith and Webb have shown plenty of ability in the return game throughout their careers, but the Ravens would obviously prefer not to use key veteran starters to return kicks on any kind of a regular basis.

In a perfect world, the Ravens would find someone to return both punts and kickoffs, but versatility will be critical as they’re not looking for a player to solely be a return man. That’s the biggest reason why the organization cut Jones, whose role as a wide receiver all but disappeared as he struggled with drops in his final season in Baltimore.

“You’d like to see a return specialist do both, and also contribute on offense or defense,” Rosburg said. “My personal philosophy is I don’t want just a return specialist. That’s not enough value to the roster. It doesn’t help the team enough.”

While training camp practices provide opportunities for evaluation, limits on contact during special-teams drills make it difficult for Rosburg to truly determine what he has. It’s easy to know what veterans such as Webb or Smith have to offer, but determining whether a rookie free agent like Carter can handle the job is best assessed during preseason games.

Securing the ball and turning upfield is simple enough on a Wednesday afternoon at the team’s Owings Mills training complex in early August, but doing it consistently when it matters is a different story.

“I like to see guys in games,” Rosburg said. “Practice is practice. It’s really valuable [and] it is important. You see what skills guys have, you watch them play, and you get a feel for them. Having said that, there’s nothing like game reps. Handling a crowd [and] handling a game situation is really important. We’ll make the decision based on who is best in preseason.”

Predicting which candidate that might be at this point is anyone’s guess.

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Which 2014 Ravens draft pick breaks out in second season?

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2014 draft class offered one of the better immediate returns for the Ravens in recent memory.

First-round pick C.J. Mosley became the first rookie in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl, an impressive feat considering general manager Ozzie Newsome’s impeccable track record with selections in the first round over the last two decades. It will be difficult for Mosley to gain much more notoriety than he received in his first year, but a number of other 2014 draft picks appear primed for a breakout second season.

Below are my thoughts on four breakout candidates from last year’s draft and you can vote in our poll:

Which 2014 draft pick is primed to break out for the Ravens in his second year? (Select up to two)

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Favorite: DT Timmy Jernigan
Skinny: The Ravens are expecting the 2014 second-round pick to lead the way in filling the large shoes left behind by Haloti Ngata, but Jernigan dealt with injuries that limited him to 12 games as a rookie. Rookie third-round pick Carl Davis will factor into the Ngata equation as well, but Jernigan should offer plenty as a pass rusher and showed he could be stout against the run in his college days at Florida State. With a 6-foot-2, 300-pound frame, he doesn’t have an overwhelming physical presence, but Jernigan used his strength, leverage, and quickness to fill in admirably when Ngata was suspended last December.

Underrated: TE Crockett Gillmore
Skinny: The Ravens traded up in the second round last month to select Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, but that doesn’t mean Gillmore won’t be counted on to contribute in the passing game after catching only 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season. At 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, Gillmore has the frame to not only be a terrific blocker, but he should be more of a factor inside the red zone in his second season. Williams will receive the attention, but it isn’t always easy for a rookie to adjust quickly to the NFL, which could leave a few more opportunities for Gillmore than most expect, especially early on.

Falling back: RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
Skinny: The Ravens spent a fourth-round pick on a running back for the second straight year when they selected Buck Allen with the 125th overall selection. Taliaferro appeared slimmer and in excellent shape during last week’s voluntary workouts, but he didn’t look fully comfortable last year in Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone schemes that are expected to be used again under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. He will continue to be a strong option in short-yardage situations, but many consider Allen the favorite to be the primary backup behind veteran starter Justin Forsett.

Sleeper: DE Brent Urban
Skinny: A forgotten man after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in training camp, Brent Urban would have factored heavily into the defensive line rotation as a rookie. Veteran Chris Canty is back with the Ravens, but Urban appears to be a prime candidate to eventually start at the 5-technique defensive end position if he can prove he’s healthy. Because the injury occurred late July, Urban has had plenty of time to recover and should be fully cleared for training camp. The coaching staff will probably bring him along slowly, but the Virginia product is a player to watch this summer.

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Campanaro sidelined until training camp with torn quadriceps

Posted on 28 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Entering his second season with higher expectations, Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro instead finds himself in an all-too-familiar place.

The 2014 seventh-round pick suffered a partially-torn quadriceps in the team’s first voluntary organized team activity practice on Wednesday and will be sidelined for the rest of the spring. Campanaro was limited to just four regular-season games in his rookie campaign in large part due to a hamstring issue.

“I think there’s a slight tear in there,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It won’t require surgery, but he probably is out for the rest of this time here. No one is more disappointed or frustrated with it than Camp. He has been working hard, so he’ll just have to get that right and be ready for training camp.”

Expected to compete with Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown for the No. 3 wide receiver spot behind veteran Steve Smith and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, Campanaro is also a leading candidate to contribute in the return game following the offseason departure of specialist Jacoby Jones. He caught seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in the 2014 regular season before making four catches for 39 yards in the AFC divisional playoff game against New England.

Campanaro’s absence could open the door for rookie free agent DeAndre Carter, who has turned a few heads in this very early stage of the spring. Albeit at the FCS level, the 5-foot-9 Sacramento State product caught 99 passes for 1,321 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior season and was projected by some to be a late-round draft pick.

“I like [that] he’s hungry,” veteran wide receiver Steve Smith said. “I’m biased [since] he’s a West Coast guy. I just love his attitude. I see a young Randall Cobb in him, but I think he can play inside or outside. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Jimmy Smith “ahead of schedule”

One of the more encouraging signs of the first OTA workout open to media was the sight of cornerback Jimmy Smith participating in many drills.

The fifth-year defensive back signed a four-year, $41 million extension last month after seeing his 2014 season cut short by a Lisfranc injury in late October. Smith wasn’t a full participant, but he took part in several 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills throughout Thursday’s practice.

“I saw a little competitive streak today,” Harbaugh said. “I tried to remind him he has the red [injury] jersey. He won’t put it on. He just has it tucked in his belt right there. That tells you where his mind is. But so far, so good. He’s not full speed, but he’s out there working hard, and he’s probably ahead of schedule.”

Linebacker C.J. Mosley (wrist surgery) did some individual and special-teams work while continuing to wear a protective cast on his left arm, but he did not take part in full team drills. Cornerback Asa Jackson (knee) was participating fully.

The most surprising scene of the day was safety Terrence Brooks (knee) suited up and doing some light running. After Brooks suffered torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee last December, the Ravens said weeks ago that he’s expected to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, but Harbaugh said the second-year safety is making good progress.

Veterans and rookies absent

A number of veteran players were missing from Thursday’s voluntary OTA, but the Ravens were also without three of their top draft picks because of an NFL Players Association event in Los Angeles.

Perriman, second-round tight end Maxx Williams, and fourth-round running back Javorius “Buck” Allen were not present while undrafted rookie center Nick Easton and fifth-round tight end Nick Boyle were also missing due to their respective colleges still being in session. Other than the initial rookie minicamp, a first-year player is not allowed to participate in OTAs until after his school concludes its current semester.

The Ravens were also missing their entire starting offensive line as center Jeremy Zuttah (hip surgery) and right tackle Rick Wagner (foot) aren’t ready to practice while veterans Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, and Kelechi Osemele were not on the field.

Other veterans missing from Thursday’s voluntary practice were linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Albert McClellan, cornerback Lardarius Webb, and defensive end Chris Canty. Second-year defensive end Brent Urban was away attending his grandfather’s funeral.

Campanaro and injured rookie cornerback Julian Wilson (leg) were also absent as the latter was waived-injured on Thursday and would revert to injured reserve if he isn’t claimed.

Pitta on his own

Dennis Pitta practiced on a limited basis, catching some passes and doing some agility work on his own for the first half of the session.

The sixth-year tight end watched team drills for the rest of practice as it remains unknown whether he will be able to play this season. Pitta’s $4 million salary for 2015 is guaranteed, but he still hopes to return to football despite suffering catastrophic right hip injuries in each of the last two seasons.

Early observations

Defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan were among the best players on the field Thursday as they exploited a patchwork first-team offensive line missing all five starters. Both appeared to be in good shape and repeatedly won battles against guards Robert Myers and Marcel Jones.

Regularly scrutinized for his conditioning at this time of the year, linebacker Courtney Upshaw appeared to be in relatively good shape as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

Signed to the 53-man roster late last season, defensive tackle Casey Walker drew Harbaugh’s anger for tackling rookie running back Terrence Magee in non-contact 11-on-11 drills. Several minutes later, the 340-pound Walker mixed it up with offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, but no punches were thrown as order was quickly restored.

The highlight play of the day was an interception returned for a touchdown by rookie linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who leaped high in the air to pick off a pass from quarterback Matt Schaub. In the veteran backup’s defense, he was trying to recover after taking a poor shotgun snap.

Both Schaub and starter Joe Flacco were erratic during Thursday’s practice, missing several open targets as the Ravens continue to adjust to new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

Baltimore will conclude its first week of OTAs on Friday and will pick with Week 2 on Tuesday.

 

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Five Ravens questions for start of 2015 OTAs

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens officially begin their organized team activities on Wednesday, below are five questions for this still-early stage of 2015:

1. How is Joe Flacco adjusting to his fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons?

The franchise quarterback’s early reviews of Marc Trestman have been positive, but it has to be frustrating to now be working with a different coordinator for a fourth straight season. Fortunately, Trestman has a good reputation for working with quarterbacks and intends to maintain many of the principles used in Gary Kubiak’s system, which allowed Flacco to have arguably the best regular season of his career. If the veteran weren’t entering his eighth season, this would be a bigger concern, but the 2008 first-round pick has proven he can work with just about anyone over the years.

2. Which players will be healthy enough to participate?

There is an extensive list of players coming off season-ending injuries or offseason surgeries including tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (foot) and Asa Jackson (knee), linebacker C.J. Mosley (wrist surgery), right tackle Rick Wagner (foot), center Jeremy Zuttah (hip surgery), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), and safety Terrence Brooks (knee). Many of these players figure to at least be limited during OTAs. Not counting the uncertainty surrounding Pitta, Brooks appears to be the furthest away as the Ravens have said he’ll likely begin the year on the physically unable to perform list.

3. Will promising slot receiver Michael Campanaro stay healthy?

There has been plenty of offseason hype about the potential of the 2014 seventh-round pick, but head coach John Harbaugh has said over and over that Campanaro needs to prove he can consistently stay on the field and that will begin this spring. Catching seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in four games, Campanaro shows promises as both a slot receiver and a punt returner, but hamstring issues plagued him throughout his rookie season. If he wants to make his mark in a crowded group of wide receivers, the 5-foot-9 Campanaro simply staying healthy this spring would be a good start.

4. What will Terrell Suggs have to say about Haloti Ngata being traded?

The silence from the 13th-year linebacker has been deafening as it relates to the departure of longtime teammate Haloti Ngata, whose locker was next to Suggs’ at the Ravens’ Owings Mills training complex. This isn’t to suggest that Suggs and the organization are on poor terms, but you do wonder how it went over in his mind to see Ozzie Newsome deal one of the best players in team history for two mid-round picks. Of course, the 32-year-old understands it’s a business after signing a team-friendly extension a year ago, but it will still be interesting to hear what he has to say about Ngata no longer being in purple.

5. Which veterans will not participate?

We’ll likely have to wait until next month’s mandatory minicamp to hear from Suggs as the Ravens generally have a handful of veterans who skip the voluntary OTAs. The most interesting name to monitor will be four-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, who is entering the final year of a five-year contract. The Ravens want to sign him to an extension, but no deal was close as of a couple weeks ago. Some fans and media will take exception to any veterans skipping OTAs, but their attendance simply doesn’t mean that much to the overall outcome of the 2015 season when it’s all said and done.

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Is paralysis by analysis hurting Ravens at receiver?

Posted on 07 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A month after watching starting wide receiver Torrey Smith depart via free agency, the Ravens have expressed a strong sentiment this offseason.

They’re not panicking at the wide receiver position. Of course, a tight salary cap left them on the outside looking in with the top options available on the free-agent market, but the Ravens have given no clear indications that they’ve actively been trying to add a solid veteran to a mix that includes a soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith and no other receiver who registered more than 24 catches last season.

Instead, the organization has talked up its current group of young receivers — Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro — while attempting to throw cold water on the notion that they’re desperate for a starter. Last week, owner Steve Bisciotti spent more time discussing the need for a pass rusher and another tight end rather than a wide receiver in a conference call with season-ticket holders.

Of course, it’s the season of smokescreens around the NFL, so anything said at Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. But you can count on general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz offering the same synopsis of the wide receiver position that they typically do.

“The wide receiver draft class is deep,” Harbaugh said at the league meetings in Arizona last month. “I think there are options for the Ravens in rounds one through seven. It’s always hard. Every position is different. We’ve done studies on that as far as the success rate in different rounds at different positions.

“Receiver is a little bit of a crapshoot in the first round. It turns out, it’s a crapshoot in every round. A lot of receivers, they’ve been seventh-round picks, fifth-round picks, third-round pick receivers that have turned out to be Hall of Fame-type players. Then, you’ve got first-round picks that have never really done anything. Obviously, your chances are higher the higher you pick a guy. But it’s hard to predict.”

Harbaugh’s right on both accounts. This year’s draft class of wide receivers is one of the best in recent memory with many analysts projecting upwards of five or six being taken in the first round with plenty of quality depth available in subsequent rounds.

Drafting a wide receiver is a tricky proposition with the results all over the map around the league. The Ravens have certainly had a slew of misses with first-round disappointments Travis Taylor (2000) and Mark Clayton (2005) as well as a number of other failed picks before finally hitting on Torrey Smith in the second round of the 2011 draft.

But the expression of being able to take a receiver in any of the seven rounds will remind observers of the Ravens’ recent years in which they haven’t drafted a wideout outside the sixth or seventh round since 2011. It’s fair to wonder if some paralysis by analysis exists with the Ravens not taking even a moderate risk at the position in any of the last three drafts when wide receiver was at least a consensus area to improve.

The run began in 2012 with the sixth-round selection of Tommy Streeter, who never played a regular-season snap in Baltimore.

“Really the whole draft, there are guys in each round that can help us,” Hortiz said prior to the 2013 draft when the Ravens needed a receiver after trading Anquan Boldin. “There is a really solid core group of guys in the middle rounds that I think will go in the second or third round that will be solid, dependable starters in the NFL.”

The Ravens came away with only Aaron Mellette in the seventh round that year and struggled in the passing game on their way to missing the playoffs for the only time in the Harbaugh era. Mellette never played a snap for the Ravens, but the organization deserves credit for signing Brown as an undrafted free agent that year and he’s exceeded expectations in his first two seasons.

Last year when Torrey Smith was entering the final season of his rookie contract and newcomer Steve Smith was entering his 14th NFL season, Newsome repeated a familiar assessment about another class of wide receivers held in high regard.

“I would say that’s a position where you could probably draft a player in any of the seven rounds, and I think our board stacks that way,” Newsome said. “If there is an opportunity for us to add another receiver, we will definitely do it based on the way our board is stacked right now.”

The Ravens did take Campanaro in the seventh round, and the 5-foot-9 Wake Forset product shows some promise to be a contributor if he can remain healthy. But he was unable to do that last year as he dealt with two different hamstring injuries and a rib injury. As Harbaugh has suggested, Campanaro can’t be counted on until he proves he can stay on the field.

The lack of movement to add a veteran through free agency or trade over the last month only raises the need to add a wide receiver in the draft. And even though the consensus top three receivers in the draft — West Virginia’s Kevin White, Alabama’s Amari Cooper, and Louisville’s DeVante Parker — are expected to be gone by the time the Ravens pick 26th in the first round, a number of intriguing options should be available over the first two days.

Yes, it’s the one position in the draft in which the otherwise-shrewd Newsome has struggled, but the Ravens can’t focus so much on risk aversion that they’re caught standing on the sideline while receivers come off the board in the first few rounds.

A repeat of two years ago cannot happen if the Ravens want to be back in championship contention for 2015.

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Harbaugh says Ravens keeping all options open at receiver

Posted on 24 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix on Tuesday, head coach John Harbaugh says the Ravens are keeping their options open at the wide receiver position.

After releasing Jacoby Jones and allowing starter Torrey Smith to depart via free agency, Baltimore has yet to add a wideout to the current roster while veteran options available on the market have dwindled over the last two weeks. The top remaining free-agent receivers include Michael Crabtree, Greg Jennings, Nate Washington, Denarius Moore, and Hakeem Nicks.

Despite limited options, Harbaugh isn’t shooting down the possibility of the Ravens signing a free agent to add to the current mix.

“We’d be interested in adding any position right now, wide receiver being one of them if it’s the right guy,” Harbaugh said. “Again, it’s got to fit. It’s got to fit as far as the player, the personality, the talent obviously, a fit for our offense, and — of course — the financial part of it.”

Many have pointed to the draft as the best avenue to find Smith’s long-term replacement, and Harbaugh agreed with assessments of 2015 being a very deep class. Though it’s a statement that’s been uttered by the Ravens’ brass in past seasons, Harbaugh suggested there should be viable options at the receiver position in all seven rounds of the draft.

General manager Ozzie Newsome would figure to have a good chance to hit on a receiver with 10 choices over the first 203 seletions of the draft, but the organization owns a poor track record drafting receivers with Smith having represented the biggest success story in the 20-year history of the franchise.

Many have pointed to the likes of Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, Auburn’s Sammie Coates, and Ohio State’s Devin Smith as potential fits in the first or second round. But you won’t find a more unpredictable position in the draft other than quarterback.

“It’s always hard. Every position is different,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve done studies on that as far as the success rate in different rounds at different positions. Receiver is a little bit of a crapshoot in the first round. It turns out it’s a crapshoot in every round. A lot of receivers, they’ve been seventh-round picks, fifth-round picks, third-round pick receivers that have turned out to be Hall of Fame type players. Then, you’ve got first-round picks that have never really done anything. Obviously, your chances are higher the higher you pick a guy, but it’s hard to predict.”

Regardless of how that crapshoot might play out or whether they’re able to add a veteran through free agency or a trade, the Ravens know they’ll need more contributions from young receivers already on the roster such as Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Butler.

Beyond veteran Steve Smith (79 receptions for 1,065 yards) and running back Justin Forsett (44 catches for 263 yards), the Ravens don’t have another player on the current roster who made more than 24 receptions last year. In 2014, Aiken and Brown were solid No. 3 and No. 4 receivers in the passing game while the rookie Campanaro showed some flashes (seven receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown) in very limited playing time.

The bar will be higher for the coming season.

“They are going to have to handle more. That’s going to be their job,” Harbaugh said. “They are excited about it, they want to handle more. They’ll have their opportunity to prove it.

“I think Campanaro is a talented guy in the slot. He’s gifted as far as getting open, catching the football, and making plays after the catch. I’m excited to see if he can stay healthy and grow. Aiken is a strong receiver that’s just gotten better every single practice and every single day. If he continues to improve like that, he’ll be a very good player.”

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Snap Counts

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Baltimore Ravens – Snap Counts vs Steelers

Posted on 08 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Here is a break down of the snap count of every offensive and defensive player, in the Ravens’ win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Offense:

57 – LT James Hurst – he played the whole game, and struggled mightily vs James Harrison

57 – LG Kelechi Osemele – had some problems in pass protection, but was an absolute mauler in the run game

57 – C Jeremy Zuttah – got pushed back in to Joe Flacco time and time again. He has to do better against the Patriots

57 – RG John Urshel – graded out well overall. Had a better night pass blocking than run blocking

57 – RT Marshal Yanda – best offensive lineman in the league. Pass blocked well and was a road grader in the run game

57 – QB Joe Flacco – threw 2 TDs, managed the offense well, and didn’t turn the ball over. “January Joe.”

54 – TE Owen Daniels – struggled with pass blocking, but was a factor in the passing game; caught 4 for 70 yards

50 – RB Justin Forsett – didn’t have a great running night running the ball, lost a fumble, but capably blocked blitzing LBs from the A gaps

40 – WR Torrey Smith – caught an 11 yard TD pass from Flacco; missed a certain TD when he didn’t drag his foot in the end zone

39 – TE Crockett Gillmore – caught a 21 yard TD from Flacco; blocked whistle to whistle

35 – WR Steve Smith – made a couple of tough catches in traffic; caught 5 for 101 yards

25 – WR Kamar Aiken – caught just 1 pass for 4 yards

20 – FB Kyle Juszczyk – caught 2 for 16 yards

13 – WR Marlon Brown – caught 1 for 9 yards

5 – WR Jacoby Jones – caught 1 for 9 yards

4 – RB Bernard Pierce – just 1 rushing attempt but it was good for a 5 yard TD

Defense:

76 – ILB Daryl Smith – save for the TD pass given up to Antonio Brown, he was stout vs the pass as well as the run

75 – CB Lardarius Webb – he was targeted a lot by Roethlisberger, and had an ok game overall

74 – ILB CJ Mosley – was solid vs the run but struggled in pass coverage

72 – FS Will Hill – was solid vs the run and even better vs the pass; defended well all night long

66 – CB  Rashaan Melvin – did a really good job in pass coverage, came up in run support

56 – OLB Terrell Suggs – stopped the run, pressured the QB, didn’t get a sack, but got a sick interception

52 – DT Haloti Ngata – looked fresh all game long, collapsed the pocket and applied pressure up the middle, got one sack

49 – SS – Darian Stewart – played one of his best games all season; got the game ending pick

47 – OLB Elvis Dumervil – applied great pressure from the edge consistently; ended up with 2 sacks

46 – OLB Pernell McPhee – had an outstanding game overall; was a force vs the run, and hit the QB a few times

39 – OLB Courtney Upshaw – did a great job setting the edge as usual; defended the pass well

31 – NT Brandon Williams – no one is going to move him backwards; applied consistent pressure through the A gaps; 1 sack

31 – DE Chris Canty – stopped the run and pressured the QB on numerous occassions

31 – CB Anthony Levine – the converted safety struggled in pass coverage; it was clear Roethlisberger was looking for him

29 – FS Jeromy Miles – solid game overall, but had a couple of lapses in pass coverage

29 – CB Matt Elam – yes, the SS played corner most of the night, and played the position well overall; was strong in pass coverage

13 – DE DeAngelo Tyson – was brought in on obvious passing downs; did not have a good night, did not apply pressure

11 – DE Lawrence Guy – did a solid job defending the run in his limited action on the field

6 – CB Antone Cason – came is when Melvin was shaken up; let up a catch during Melvin’s short absence

2 – ILB Albert McClellan – was only in for two plays; obviously not enough field time to analyze performance

1- SS Brynden Trawick – same as McClellan

Special Team notes – Justin Tucker was lights out as usual. The 52 yarder was particularly special, as you don’t see too many successful field goals at Heinz Field over 50 yards. Sam Koch had a good night – save for the blocked punt which was due to blocking assignment breakdowns. He was also directionally kicking it away from Antonio Brown, and that factored in as well. Jacoby Jones did not have a good night. He lost his footing and slipped during his first kick off return, and seemed tentative after that. Michael Campanaro had a couple of fair catches on punt returns. Hope his hamstring has healed to the point where he could be a factor vs the Patriots

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Harbaugh calls Torrey Smith “day-to-day” with apparent knee injury

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Uncertainty continues to surround the health of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound overly concerned about his status on Monday.

Despite Smith leaving Sunday’s game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent right knee injury, Harbaugh downplayed the severity of any injury and didn’t even acknowledge what was wrong with the fourth-year receiver after he missed the final two offensive series.

“Torrey really didn’t have anything too serious,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t even know how to describe it right now. [Head athletic trainer Mark Smith] hasn’t explained to me what it was. He’ll just be getting ready for Miami. I guess I’d call him day-to-day.”

Smith spoke to reporters following Sunday’s 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but he declined to discuss his injury and was seen walking with a limp. He caught six passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort.

Harbaugh confirmed wide receiver Marlon Brown will continue to go through the concussion testing protocol after leaving in the second quarter of Sunday’s game and not returning. Brown caught three passes for 25 yards in a little over a quarter of play in what was easily his best performance of the year.

He was ruled out for the game with a diagnosed concussion shortly before halftime.

Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) missed his fourth straight game on Sunday, but Harbaugh expressed cautious optimism that he might be ready to return while also acknowledging frustration with the slow healing process. The 5-foot-9 wideout returned to practice on a very limited basis last week.

“It’s just been slow. I don’t know what else to say,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been slow. It was supposed to be two weeks ago. Now you’re just at the point where it’s, ‘Let me know when you’re ready.’ And hamstrings are like that. That’s just the fact of it. He’s working really hard, and I think there’s a chance for this week. Now you get to the point where I’m just not going to count on it until he’s back.”

The Ravens hope Sunday will bring the return of cornerback Asa Jackson to the secondary for the first time since suffering a turf toe injury on Oct. 5. The third-year defensive back was placed on injured reserve-designated to return and is eligible to return to game action in Week 14.

Jackson returned to practice on Nov. 21 after he started four of five games earlier this season when veteran Lardarius Webb was still working his way back to form after a summer back injury.

“We’ve just got to see that he’s moving and he’s bursting,” Harbaugh said. “Then, the [toe] feels good the next day and you get back out and do it again. [We have to see] that he’s healthy and that he can play at an NFL level, which is a high level. He had a good week last week, and I’m very optimistic. You don’t know until you see it.”

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