Tag Archive | "Michael Crabtree"

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Veteran receiver Crabtree embracing “new start” with Ravens

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco developing chemistry with new wide receivers is nothing new in the spring, but these efforts have been severely hindered in recent years.

It’s reflected in the overall results.

Baltimore drafted Breshad Perriman in the first round of the 2015 draft to replace free-agent departure Torrey Smith, but the rookie injured his knee on the first day of training camp and missed the entire season, leaving Flacco and the passing game without a viable deep threat. Unfortunately, Perriman still hasn’t gotten his career on track three years later.

In 2016, Flacco missed spring workouts while recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery, hindering what would still turn out to be a solid rapport with free-agent newcomer Mike Wallace. The speedy veteran posted his first 1,000-yard season in five years, but the passing attack finished just 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

Last year, of course, Flacco missed all of training camp and the preseason with a back injury and logged only a few practices before starting the opener in Cincinnati, leading to a poor first half of the season for the Super Bowl XLVII MVP. Making matters worse, accomplished veteran Jeremy Maclin had only arrived at the end of spring workouts and never got on the same page with Flacco, leading to his disappointing campaign for Baltimore’s 29th-ranked passing attack.

For an organization that’s frequently — and deliberately — built its offense with a small margin for error, these extenuating circumstances have all but guaranteed mediocrity. But the Ravens hope 2018 will be different with Flacco healthy and throwing the ball exceptionally well this spring. General manager Ozzie Newsome followed through with his offseason promise to revamp the pass-catching positions with veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree headlining the group of additions.

The 30-year-old’s skill set resembles that of former Raven Anquan Boldin with his ability to make contested catches on third downs and make plays inside the red zone despite lacking great speed or overwhelming size. Quarterbacks and wide receivers building chemistry is a never-ending process with the spring and summer particularly valuable for both fine-tuning and experimentation.

How long has it taken Crabtree to feel that unspoken connection with quarterbacks at previous stops?

“You only see it in the game. You’d say the first game,” said Crabtree, who’s played with Alex Smith, Derek Carr, and Colin Kaepernick in his career. “Practice is what you practice, and then the game is show time. Once you see it in the game multiple times, then you get comfortable. It is what it is.”

Crabtree has attended voluntary workouts regularly after signing his three-year, $21 million in March. In addition to getting a head start in building timing with Flacco, the former Oakland Raider is aiming to rebound from a disappointing 2017 campaign in which he recorded just 618 receiving yards, his lowest total since 2013 when he played in only five games due to a torn Achilles tendon.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound receiver has only two 1,000-yard campaigns in his career, but the Ravens hope he’ll serve as a reliable possession receiver and continue his streak of three consecutive seasons with at least eight touchdowns. Crabtree isn’t taking his spot for granted this spring despite Baltimore returning only two wide receivers — Chris Moore and Perriman — who caught a single pass last year, only adding to the competition at the position.

“I guess it’s a little more intense because you’re learning the playbook, have a new quarterback, new offensive line, new receivers — just new guys period,” Crabtree said. “It’s definitely beneficial for me to be here early. That way, by the time camp starts, we’re rolling.”

His presence has also been a positive for a young wide receiver group. The other two veteran receivers signed this offseason — John Brown and Willie Snead — aren’t household names and are each coming off injury-plagued seasons in which they combined for 391 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

The Ravens shouldn’t expect Crabtree to suddenly become a Pro Bowl receiver in his 10th season, but they need him to be a steadying presence both on and off the field.

“‘Crab’ has done a great job. He’s a really hard worker,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He has a great feel for the game, a lot of the tricks of the trade he understands, and he’s willing to share with those guys. He’s been great for our locker room, for our meeting room.”

Crabtree has stood out in spring workouts with smooth route-running ability and was singled out by Flacco last week when he was asked for impressions of the new wide receivers. His speed may pale in comparison to the likes of Brown and Perriman — he wasn’t particularly fast even going back to his college days at Texas Tech — but Crabtree says he’s competing like he’s 21 again.

Newsome betting on a veteran receiver having a chip on his shoulder after a disappointing year is nothing new, something he’s tripled down on this year. Of course, the Ravens envision Crabtree being more Boldin or Steve Smith and less Maclin or Lee Evans.

“Hearing most of the new receivers’ stories, we’ve all had our ups and downs,” Crabtree said. “It just feels good to have a new start and keep things rolling.”

Flacco will hope things keep rolling through the spring and summer without interruption.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from first open OTA workout

Posted on 25 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first open organized team activity session on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Most attention was on what Joe Flacco said in his first press conference since the draft, but the 11th-year quarterback looks leaner and is moving better than he has in quite some time. He threw the ball well and is pleased with the efforts made to improve the pass-catching spots.

2. Lamar Jackson connected on a beautiful back-shoulder touchdown to fellow rookie Jaleel Scott during a red-zone drill, but he later threw a bad interception to safety Kai Nacua in the flat. Patience is needed with his development, but he’s sure fun to watch when he takes off with the ball.

3. Many wide receivers can look great this time of year — Breshad Perriman has fit that description in the past — but Michael Crabtree stands out in a way similar to when Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin first arrived in Baltimore. You can tell Flacco is happy to have him.

4. Many players have cited new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale offering more freedom and flexibility within schemes, and John Harbaugh even used a military analogy to describe the changes (11:59 mark). It’s an interesting concept, but with great power comes great responsibility.

5. Kenneth Dixon could still stand to shed a couple pounds — Harbaugh acknowledged he hadn’t been in the best shape returning from last year’s knee injury and suspension — but he showed shifty moves in the open field. He remains a wild card for this offense if healthy and committed to football.

6. Kamalei Correa is again working at outside linebacker after attempts to make him an inside linebacker, but Martindale — formerly the linebackers coach — said last fall he envisions him in an Albert McClellan role being able to play all positions. That’s his best path to a roster spot.

7. Willie Snead looks the part of a slot receiver, using his running back-like frame to quickly change directions. I don’t expect him to put up huge numbers in this offense, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a productive addition.

8. Harbaugh said Patrick Ricard will continue to be used as both a fullback and defensive lineman, but his build more closely resembles a nose tackle now rather than the hybrid player he was as a rookie. He definitely got bigger this offseason.

9. Marshal Yanda won’t take part in spring workouts, but he watched part of practice and continues to work his way back to full strength. The muscle atrophy in his lower left leg is still noticeable, but the Ravens remain confident he’ll be ready well in time for the season.

10. The new kickoff rule drew praise from Harbaugh, who sees the potential for bigger returns with the kicking team no longer allowed a running start. The former special teams coordinator says teams could counter that by booting the ball into the end zone for touchbacks more frequently. We’ll see.

11. With Jimmy Smith still on the mend and carrying a $15.675 million cap figure next season, the Ravens would be wise to begin viewing Marlon Humphrey as their No. 1 cornerback. It’s easy to see the potential for him to be a special player sooner than later.

12. I liked seeing Ed Reed speak to the Ravens rookies during OTAs, but how could the timing not remind you of his annual flirtations with retirement and desires for a new contract this time of year? Those good old days also brought one of my favorite tweets of all time:

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Flacco’s eyes on present while acknowledging uncertain future

Posted on 24 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This time of year has typically been uneventful for longtime Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Other than his rookie season or two years ago when he was still rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee back to full health, Flacco has taken part in organized team activities with no topic of discussion more significant than adjusting to another offensive coordinator or a new wide receiver or two in Baltimore. Aside from his contract season of 2012 in which he famously bet on himself before leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl title several months later, the 33-year-old has been entrenched as the franchise quarterback with no serious discussion about his future.

Of course, that changed last month when Ozzie Newsome used the final first-round pick of his illustrious run as Baltimore’s general manager to select Louisville quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Members of the Ravens brass have stated more than once that Flacco remains the guy at quarterback, but the 11th-year veteran knows that Jackson’s addition clouds his future. He remains under contract through the 2021 season, but the Ravens could move on from the Super Bowl XLVII MVP as soon as next season if willing to endure $16 million in dead money on their salary cap.

“I don’t want to say I was surprised,” said Flacco, whose yards per attempt average has declined in each of the last three seasons. “Obviously, when you pick a quarterback — when you pick anybody in the first round — it means something. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know exactly what it is, but that’s not my job to worry about what it is. My job is to keep my approach exactly what it’s been for the last 10 years and help our team go win football games.”

Flacco says his focus is on the present, citing the work to be done to get on the same page with a new batch of wide receivers and tight ends to improve the league’s 29th-ranked passing game from 2017. He took special interest discussing Michael Crabtree, citing his unique style and craftiness in running routes that reminds many of former Raven Anquan Boldin.

But questions from media on Thursday predictably centered around Jackson with Flacco being asked about the lack of communication between the two in the days following the NFL draft. He called it “unfortunate” that the story was blown out of proportion and said their early interactions have been positive, adding that new quarterbacks coach James Urban has even joked with the two about the faux controversy.

“Everybody just wants to talk about it and act like I’m holding some grudge, and that’s not how it is,” Flacco said. “I think you guys have been around me for a long time and you know the way I am. We welcome Lamar here with open arms, and that’s the same for me.”

It remains to be seen how head coach John Harbaugh and the offensive staff will handle Jackson’s development, but the Ravens intend to include the rookie in this year’s offense when appropriate. The challenge will be striking the appropriate balance between maintaining the rhythm of the “traditional” offense under Flacco and identifying spots to utilize Jackson’s talents as a runner and passer.

Unlike five years ago when former offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell used backup Tyrod Taylor in some “Wildcat” plays, Flacco doesn’t seem inclined to push back on the idea of Marty Mornhinweg mixing in some special packages or gadget plays for Jackson. Of course, Flacco doesn’t hold the same clout to complain as he did then when he was less than a year removed from winning the Super Bowl.

“Listen, I want to win football games. Whatever is going to help us win,” Flacco said. “I’m probably going to maintain that I think myself under center is our best chance to win football games, but whatever helps us win football games, man, I’m game.”

He handled himself well speaking for the first time since the Ravens drafted their perceived quarterback of the future, something that couldn’t be said about Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers used a third-round pick on Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. Considering the Ravens’ poor efforts in putting offensive talent around him in recent years, Flacco could have shared a similar sentiment to his AFC North counterpart by saying the Jackson pick could have been used on another offensive player providing a greater immediate impact.

Flacco has been described as nothing but a good teammate over the years and figures to maintain that reputation with the young quarterback. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be doing everything he can to keep his new competition on the sideline for as long as possible.

That starts with winning more games and leading the Ravens back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“You pick guys in the first round — whenever you pick guys — you pick them for a reason,” Flacco said. “I don’t know what the plan is. I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen, but I’m worried about right now. I’m worried about myself getting these guys ready, winning football games, and nothing is ever promised.

“That’s the reality of it for me.”

It’s a different reality than he’s used to.

OTA attendance

Fourteen players were not taking part in Thursday’s voluntary workout as the Ravens concluded their first week of OTAs.

According to Harbaugh, wide receiver John Brown was excused to deal with a personal matter while linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) and cornerback Maurice Canady (knee) were resting minor ailments. The coach also said wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo would begin the season on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing an unspecified surgery on his left leg earlier this month.

The following players were not participating due to injuries sustained last season: guard Marshal Yanda (ankle), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and Jaylen Hill (knee), and linebackers Albert McClellan (knee) and Bam Bradley (knee).

Defensive ends Brent Urban (foot) and Carl Davis (shoulder) took part in the early portion of Thursday’s session before leaving the field while guard Nico Siragusa (knee) was also a limited participant.

Safeties Eric Weddle and Anthony Levine, cornerback Brandon Carr, and fullback Christopher Ezeala were also absent from the field. Linebacker Terrell Suggs has regularly been at the team’s Owings Mills training facility this offseason and is said to be in great shape entering his 16th season, but Harbaugh is keeping him off the practice field until mandatory minicamp for the second straight spring.

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New Orleans elects not to match Snead’s offer sheet with Ravens

Posted on 20 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Monday 11:15 a.m.)

The Ravens have taken another step in addressing the wide receiver position by signing restricted free agent Willie Snead to a two-year offer sheet that won’t be matched by New Orleans.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $7 million, which includes a $2 million signing bonus and an additional $3.4 million in incentives. New Orleans had until Wednesday to match the offer and will not receive any compensation for the former undrafted free agent’s departure. According to the NFLPA, the Saints entered Monday with just over $6 million in salary cap space, a limited amount for a team that recently signed wide receiver Cameron Meredith.

Snead is coming off a forgettable season in which he caught only eight passes for 92 yards in 11 games. He was suspended for the first three games of 2017 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, a penalty stemming from charges of driving while intoxicated and failing to maintain proper control of a vehicle last June. The Ball State product also dealt with a hamstring injury for a large portion of last season, another factor leading to him falling out of the mix.

However, the 25-year-old was a major contributor for Drew Brees and the Saints offense in the previous two seasons, catching a combined 141 passes for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Snead will serve as Baltimore’s slot receiver, a position general manager Ozzie Newsome had yet to fill after Jeremy Maclin was released and Michael Campanaro signed a one-year deal with Tennessee.

With the Ravens landing Snead, they have added a possession receiver and red-zone weapon in Michael Crabtree, an outside speed target in John Brown, and now a slot receiver to a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. The three offer diverse skills and have all enjoyed success in the past, but they combined for just 87 catches for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns last season with Crabtree accounting for most of that production. In other words, Newsome has invested quite a bit in a trio of targets needing bounce-back seasons.

Signing Snead is expected to take the Ravens out of the running for former Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, who hasn’t publicly expressed any interest in signing with Baltimore. The Ravens would be wise to still make drafting another receiver or two a priority this week since none of the aforementioned receivers can be viewed as long-term solutions at this point.

Snead worked out for the Ravens in late March and caught passes from quarterback Robert Griffin III, who also signed with the team earlier this month.

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Flacco saying right things entering critical year for him and Ravens

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never come across as someone who peruses the mock drafts circulating this time of year.

But he’s aware of the smoke coming from even some of the more respected reporters and draft pundits suggesting general manager Ozzie Newsome may select a quarterback such as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State in the first round. The Ravens are either seriously considering taking a quarterback early or doing their best to make it look that way.

“It is what it is. It’s a business,” said Flacco, entering his 11th season in Baltimore. “Eventually, at some point, that’s going to have to happen. It’s not really for me to worry about. I come in here and you worry about what’s here and now and doing your job, which is for me right now getting guys out there working hard and making sure we’re moving towards our goal of getting to that championship.”

Whether the Ravens are serious or not, taking a quarterback in the first round would seem to contradict many circumstances facing the organization as owner Steve Bisciotti even said in early February that the Ravens had “bigger fish to fry” then finding Flacco’s successor. After Bisciotti acknowledged considering replacing head coach John Harbaugh at the end of last season, would the front office really give a coaching staff presumably fighting for its jobs a first-round pick who won’t see the field unless Flacco is injured or completely ineffective? The Ravens cited their late-season improvement as justification for retaining offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but they’re suddenly ready to move on from Flacco, who played well down the stretch despite little help at the pass-catching positions?

An organization having missed the playoffs four out of five seasons and facing an attendance crisis is going to use its first-round pick on a player unlikely to make any meaningful impact while Flacco carries a $24.75 million salary cap number this year and would still cost the Ravens another $16 million in dead money if he’s released next season? So much for maximizing the first couple years of having a young quarterback on a cheap rookie contract, and that’s assuming the drafted signal-caller pans out, which is far from the sure thing teams and their fans want it to be this time of year.

Finding a new franchise quarterback is a proposition never to be taken lightly.

Regardless of what happens next week, the pressure is mounting on Flacco, who is coming off a third straight subpar statistical campaign and is facing his most pivotal season since the final year of his rookie contract in 2012. The Ravens have done a poor job building an offense around him since Super Bowl XLVII, but that doesn’t absolve him from criticism as even his biggest supporters should be concerned with his declining yards per attempt average and questions about his durability moving forward as the 33-year-old missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury, an absence that severely stunted the offense. For what it’s worth, Flacco said he feels “really good” after placing an emphasis in his offseason training on keeping his back healthy.

Newsome has followed through on his vow to change the look of the wide receiver room this offseason with the free-agent additions of Michael Crabtree and John Brown, but it’s still debatable whether that duo is markedly better than Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and the Ravens still don’t have a pass-catching tight end on the roster after Benjamin Watson’s exit. To his credit, Flacco says he’s already spoken to Crabtree and Brown about working out away from the team’s Owings Mills facility before training camp. It’s an activity that’s been overrated by both media and fans on an annual basis, but there’s also no downside to it and such a commitment would likely garner some favor after both Newsome and Harbaugh mentioned the need for him to get on the same page with his new targets.

“I think sometimes those things are just as much, or more, about developing a relationship with those guys and developing that trust,” Flacco said. “For those guys to see that I really like who they are as football players, and for them to see that hopefully they like who I am as a football player. I think when you can get that relationship going, that’s going to help your football team out a ton.”

The Ravens have more work to do with their offense, further making the notion of taking a quarterback in the first round a puzzling one. After taking just four offensive players — left tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and tight ends Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore — with their last 17 Day 1 and Day picks in the last five drafts, tight end, wide receiver, right tackle, and center remain among the roster’s biggest needs.

If Flacco has his way, the Ravens won’t wait until next week’s draft to add another pass catcher or two as he provided a ringing endorsement when asked about the possibility of adding former Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“I got used to throwing to a guy like that when Anquan [Boldin] was here,” Flacco said. “He was a guy that even if he didn’t have the separation, it may have taken me a couple games, but you got used to throwing him the ball and having trust that he was going to get it. At the end of the day, in order to win big games, you have to have guys that can do that, because eventually, you’re not going to have guys running wide open – you’re going to have guys that can deal with traffic, winning in traffic, catching the ball in traffic. I think he’s another one of those guys.”

If Newsome finishes the job of improving the offensive cast, there will be no more excuses for the veteran quarterback. Flacco’s current deal runs through 2021, but new general manager Eric DeCosta — and perhaps even a new head coach — could elect to move on next year if 2018 offers more of the same from Flacco and an offense that’s consistently been below average in recent years.

His renaissance would likely save jobs and change the outlook of the organization as it enters a new era with Newsome stepping down as general manager.

Yes, time very well could be running out. How the Ravens proceed next week could say plenty about just how much remains, but Flacco still deserves the chance to hit pause with an improved 2018 campaign.

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Ravens open voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

The Ravens began their voluntary offseason workout program for the 2018 season in Owings Mills on Monday.

The opening phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and is limited to strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. Coaches are not permitted to lead players in on-field workouts during this first part of the offseason program.

This phase of the program is voluntary, but most players beyond select veterans are quietly expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Tuesday, but photos and videos released by the team showed many players in attendance on the first day, a list including new wide receiver Michael Crabtree, quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Robert Griffin III, tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive linemen Michael Pierce and Carl Davis, safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, long snapper Morgan Cox, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Tyus Bowser, and running backs Alex Collins, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon among others.

In a series of moves that were mere formalities, Baltimore officially signed Collins, wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste, tight end Vince Mayle, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and offensive linemen Maurquice Shakir and Matt Skura to their exclusive-rights tenders on Monday.

The next phase of the program lasts three weeks and consists of on-field workouts that may include individual instruction and drills as well as team practice as long as the offense and defense do not work against each other. No live contact is permitted.

The third and final phase of the program lasts four weeks and permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are also voluntary. No live contact is permitted, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills.

Teams may hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

Earlier this month, the NFL released the following dates for the Ravens’ OTA and mandatory minicamp schedule, but these have been subject to change in the past:

First Day: April 16
OTA Offseason Workouts: May 21-22, May 24, May 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5, June 7-8
Mandatory Minicamp: June 12-14

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Dez Bryant could help, but is he the best fit for the Ravens?

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens still have much work to do to their offense with the NFL draft looming.

One of those positions remains wide receiver, but Baltimore has yet to add a pass-catching tight end following the free-agent departure of Benjamin Watson and has also lost two starters from last year’s offensive line. And while some help figures to come by way of a few draft choices next week, you never want to be in a position where you’re reaching with too many picks to fill out a depth chart, leaving a team at the mercy of how the draft board plays out and how other teams value the players you covet most.

That brings us to former Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was released Friday after eight seasons with the Cowboys that included three trips to the Pro Bowl and three 1,000-yard seasons. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver won’t turn 30 until November, making it reasonable to think he still has some good football left despite his statistical decline, recent health concerns, and his exit from a now receiver-needy team that moved ahead of the Ravens to draft him in the first round eight years ago.

It’s easy to be mesmerized by the memory of Bryant catching 273 passes for 3,935 yards and 41 touchdowns from 2012-2014 when he was one of the NFL’s top play-makers, but any interested team must have blinders to focus on the receiver he is today. That’s where the Ravens must determine if Bryant is the best fit for what they currently need.

With just over $10 million in salary cap space entering Monday and the ability to create more room with another contract restructure or two as well as a potential C.J. Mosley extension, general manager Ozzie Newsome can likely make it work. The Ravens can’t offer Bryant the opportunity to play against Dallas this season, but a contract in the neighborhood of Michael Crabtree’s three-year, $21 million deal inked last month would be doable if he wants to catch passes from Joe Flacco.

Assuming there’s mutual interest and a financial match, what would the Ravens be getting at this stage of his career?

Bryant never had elite wheels as he used his leaping ability and physicality to complement his speed in making big plays in his prime, but knee, foot, and ankle problems have slowed him considerably. Making that more problematic is that he’s never been a disciplined route-runner, making a transition to the slot more difficult to envision as his physical tools aren’t what they once were to win as consistently on the outside. While acknowledging the physical challenges that limited him to just 150 catches for 2,035 yards and 17 touchdown in 38 games over the last three years, Bryant also had to adjust to a new quarterback and a greater emphasis on running the ball in Dallas over the last two seasons, variables that can also limit a receiver’s production.

That brings us to how he’d fit in the Baltimore passing game with Crabtree and fellow free-agent acquisition John Brown already in the mix.

Neither Crabtree nor Brown have shown great productivity in the slot in the past, a reason why the Ravens expressed interest in the likes of Cam Meredith, Willie Snead, and Eric Decker in recent weeks. Crabtree’s prime never approached Bryant’s best years, but the two are similar receivers at this point, lacking good speed and relying on making contested catches in tight coverage and in the red zone to remain productive. Many might prefer Bryant to Crabtree, but the latter is already under contract and on the roster, making that argument rather inconsequential.

We often get caught up in the labels of a No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, but passing games need receivers with diverse skill sets. With the Ravens employing two tight ends more frequently than anyone in the NFL last season — a staple in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes — the starting duo of Bryant and Crabtree sounds good in terms of name recognition, but it doesn’t leave much speed on the field and the Ravens still lack a tight end who can beat a defender down the seam, potentially leaving them even more vulnerable to tight underneath coverage. On top of that, the Ravens offensive line will be replacing two starters and wasn’t exactly elite in pass protection last year, leaving one to wonder how long Bryant and Crabtree would have to maneuver against coverage before Flacco must get rid of the ball in the pocket.

Of course, there are ways around this and you wouldn’t assume the Ravens offense to remain exactly the same as last year with different personnel at wide receiver. Perhaps even more critical, however, would be how Bryant meshes with another wideout who would be used in similar ways. It’s no secret that Bryant can be a handful from an emotional standpoint, but Crabtree has also been viewed as a mercurial player at previous stops.

Is Bryant prepared to come to a new team with an internal understanding that he isn’t the same star he was five years ago? No one expects the Ravens to morph back into a pass-happy attack, so would both veterans remain patient when the targets aren’t coming their way as frequently? What about those game situations when Baltimore simply needs to have more speed on the field?

Looking at the rest of the roster and the salary cap, would a Bryant signing make it more difficult to add a veteran offensive lineman or a tight end who might shake free between now and the start of the season? Would his addition prompt the Ravens to once again forgo using a meaningful draft pick on a wide receiver who could still contribute now and then develop into a long-term answer?

Is the juice worth the squeeze for a volatile receiver whose last 1,000-yard season came a year before Jeremy Maclin’s?

The answer very well might still be yes, but these are all factors that must be considered carefully. And they should far outweigh the attraction of simply adding another big name at a position of need.

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Ravens to host joint practices with Rams prior to preseason game

Posted on 12 April 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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Wallace leaves Ravens to join Super Bowl champion Philadelphia

Posted on 22 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Less than a week after Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the door was still open for Mike Wallace to return, the speedy wide receiver has joined the defending Super Bowl champions.

The 31-year-old has agreed to a one-year deal with Philadelphia worth a reported $2.5 million plus incentives, according to NFL Network. He becomes Baltimore’s second unrestricted free agent to depart this offseason after starting center Ryan Jensen signed a lucrative contract with Tampa Bay.

Wallace expressed hope at the end of last season that he’d remain with the Ravens, but he said his top priority would be winning, adding that his family has plenty of financial security at this later stage of his career.

“I want to win a Super Bowl. I got there my second year, and it’s been so far away ever since,” Wallace said on Jan. 1. “When you’re a young player, you’re like, ‘Oh, we will be right back.’ I’ve never seen it again, and I’ve been on some great teams that I thought had potential. It just did not work out. It’s that hard.”

Wallace arrived in Baltimore with his career at a crossroads coming off a 2015 campaign in Minnesota in which he’d recorded a career-low 473 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He thrived in his first season with the Ravens, however, catching 72 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns and looking more like the productive deep threat he was in Pittsburgh at the start of his career.

His production fell off last season as the entire passing game struggled mightily in the wake of Joe Flacco’s back injury, but Wallace rebounded after the Week 10 bye with 32 catches for 481 yards and two touchdowns over the final seven games. He finished 2017 with 52 catches for 748 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Ravens in receiving yards and finishing tied for first in touchdown catches.

Newsome vowed to change the look of the wide receiver room, and that has certainly happened with Wallace and Jeremy Maclin gone and free agents Michael Crabtree and John Brown signing with the Ravens last week. The speedy Brown will likely assume Wallace’s role in the offense and brings youth and upside, but he’s caught only 60 passes for 816 yards and five touchdowns combined over the last two seasons while dealing with injuries. Brown caught 65 passes for 1,003 and seven touchdowns in 2015.

Wallace’s depature isn’t insurmountable by any means, but he effectively filled the void left behind by Torrey Smith the last two seasons as 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman has failed to develop. And the two-year, $11.5 million contract Wallace signed in 2016 proved to be good value for the Ravens.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first week of free agency

Posted on 21 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the first week of NFL free agency now in the books, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I like the Michael Crabtree signing, but looking at past notable receivers’ first season with Baltimore is concerning. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Lee Evans, and Jeremy Maclin all saw their catch and yardage totals fall from the previous year. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace were the exceptions.

2. Benjamin Watson signing with Kansas City would put the Ravens in line to receive a 2019 third-round compensatory pick for Ryan Jensen. These comp choices shouldn’t drive the entire offseason, but that’s a pick too valuable to pass up to sign any unrestricted free agents remaining on the market.

3. Watson’s potential exit reiterates how big a need tight end remains. I’m not enthusiastic about anyone remaining on the market, but history suggests counting heavily on a rookie is a big mistake. This position may simply remain a question, but an early draft pick would bring enticing upside.

4. The reported visits of restricted free agents Willie Snead and Cameron Meredith reflect the desire to further address wide receiver, but structuring an offer sheet is tricky. You don’t want to exhaust too much effort when you may just be negotiating a deal for the original team in the end.

5. Declining the option on Austin Howard cleared $3 million in cap space, but was it wise to part ways with a reliable starting right tackle for only moderate savings? James Hurst hasn’t fared well at that spot in the past and Alex Lewis is a complete unknown there.

6. Jensen becoming the NFL’s highest-paid center is a reminder that incumbents can get markedly better over time and late bloomers do exist. There’s still at least a glimmer of hope for the likes of Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, and Bronson Kaufusi, even if the Ravens aren’t banking on it.

7. It appears Brandon Williams’ eye disorder is under control, but that’s still not something you want to hear about for anyone, let alone one of your best players who just received a lucrative contract 12 months ago.

8. I’m interested to watch Tim White and Quincy Adeboyejo this summer, but I still see some fans putting too much stock into small glimpses of promise. We’ve seen this movie before, and the Ravens shouldn’t expect any of their young incumbent receivers beyond Chris Moore to make the 2018 roster.

9. Wink Martindale attending Derwin James’ pro day garnered attention, but a team needs to be sure any prospect — not just James — praised for athleticism and being able to line up at multiple positions will truly excel at at least one spot before using such a high pick.

10. Ryan Grant wasn’t going to get the same deal elsewhere after failing Baltimore’s physical, but a one-year, $5 million deal with Indianapolis is such a drop-off that you wonder if others had concerns about his ankle. I feel for him, and this still wasn’t a great look for the Ravens.

11. Eric DeCosta hasn’t been made available to local reporters since Steve Bisciotti announced the longtime assistant general manager would be taking over for Ozzie Newsome next year, but he shared his thoughts on the pending change with the team’s website HERE.

12. I’m amused by anyone believing the proposed language changes will fix the catch rule, but at least the league is trying to fix it. I can’t wait for those heated debates over what “the ability to perform a football move” really means.

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