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jimmysmith

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Monday brings first adversity to Ravens’ near-flawless summer

Posted on 20 August 2018 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the summer for the Ravens.

Despite a longer-than-usual training camp in preparation for the Hall of Fame Game, John Harbaugh’s team has avoided major injuries so far. By most accounts, the Ravens have practiced well on both sides of the ball with quarterback Joe Flacco in particular having his best preseason in years. Even the best teams face their share of questions this time of year, but the summer had been as close to flawless as one could hope with Baltimore aiming to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

But adversity finally arrived Monday before the Ravens improved to 3-0 in the preseason with a 20-19 win over Indianapolis.

Jimmy Smith was suspiciously absent during pre-game warmups before The Athletic reported the eighth-year cornerback is facing a potential multi-week suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The reason for the discipline remains unclear, but it possibly stems from a child custody case reported by The Sun last November that included accusations of domestic violence and illegal drug use. Smith did not face any criminal charges in the matter and denied the claims made by the mother of his first child.

Smith was scheduled to meet with league officials Monday as part of the appeal process, per The Athletic.

Harbaugh offered few details when asked about the veteran corner’s absence following the game. Smith has made an impressive return to the field after suffering a torn Achilles tendon last December, taking part in all but a few summer practices and playing nine snaps in the second preseason game on Aug. 9.

“A personal issue he was taking care of,” Harbaugh said, “so he was excused.”

Without knowing the circumstances leading to the discipline and speaking strictly from a football standpoint, Smith’s absence would be a difficult one for the Ravens to endure, but it’s one they’ve gotten used to dealing with in recent years. The oft-injured defensive back has played in all 16 games just twice in his first seven seasons and missed a total of 26 regular-season contests, the reason why he’s never achieved Pro Bowl status despite extended periods of strong play at various times in his career.

Smith’s season-ending Achilles tear last December was also accompanied by a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He said earlier this summer the failed test came from an unapproved pre-workout supplement.

Without Smith, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale would turn to dependable veteran Brandon Carr and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, the same duo who started when Smith was lost last December. Returning slot cornerback Tavon Young and versatile third-year corner Maurice Canady would serve as the primary backups with 2018 fourth-round pick Anthony Averett also showing promise in his first training camp. It’s no secret the pass defense has struggled without Smith in recent seasons, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has gone to great lengths to improving the depth at the position in recent offseasons.

Smith’s potential suspension could explain why the Ravens recently expressed interest in free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a move that appeared peculiar because of their depth at the position. It remains unclear whether Baltimore would make a stronger push to sign the former Washington starter when — and if — a suspension becomes official.

The Ravens also faced their most significant injury scare of the preseason Monday night when an Indianapolis player fell into the right knee of starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the first quarter. The 2016 first-round pick was able to walk off the field and didn’t return, but it appears he avoided serious injury and was walking around on the sideline without the use of crutches later in the game.

“It’s not any kind of big tear. It’s a strain,” Harbaugh said. “I was told during the game a knee strain. I’m sure they’ll look at that more, but they are usually pretty darn accurate with those things.”

Stanley will have close to three weeks to get ready for the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo, but his absence was a reminder of how tenuous the offensive line depth is as the Ravens try to figure out their best starting combination and identify two or three other reliable backups. Rookie sixth-round pick Greg Senat filled in at left tackle, but it’s unclear how Baltimore would proceed if Stanley were to miss any game action. James Hurst and Alex Lewis have filled in for Stanley in the past, but neither inspires much confidence at the position and both are better suited to play guard.

Six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has yet to play in the preseason, but he is on track to be ready for Week 1.

The Ravens appeared to make it through another preseason win with Stanley being their only injury concern, but the Smith news provided the first real dent to their prospects for the new season.

Baltimore can only hope its cornerback depth will answer the challenge.

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mcclellan

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Ravens-Colts preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 19 August 2018 by Luke Jones

After beginning training camp more than a month ago, the Ravens have waited longer than usual to continue their preseason schedule as they take on Indianapolis on Monday night.

Entering a stretch of three exhibition contests in an 11-day period, John Harbaugh’s team also completed its second set of joint practices over the weekend, taking advantage of the longer-than-normal break since the Aug. 9 win over the Los Angeles Rams to work out with the Colts. An extra preseason game and joint practices with two different teams have broken up the usual monotony of summer and provided extra competition as the Ravens aim to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“It’s definitely strange. I think the last few years we’ve been stacked just every week on Thursdays,” said quarterback Joe Flacco about the preseason schedule. “It just is what it is. We’re in the training camp flow right now. Obviously, when you start to play these games, it breaks things up a little bit. It’s always nice to get back to football.”

The practice sessions with the Colts did not come without drama, however, as a number of skirmishes broke out on Saturday. The Ravens had mostly avoided any semblance of fights in practices this summer as even two competitive workouts with the Rams two weeks ago remained mostly free of incidents.

Might there be some carryover into a nationally-televised preseason game?

“It cracks me up. Is this a healthy obsession that we all have with fights in training camp practices?” said Harbaugh after Saturday’s practice. “It’s nothing. It’s much ado about nothing. It got broken up pretty quickly, and we’re moving on.”

Monday marks the second time the Ravens and the Colts will face off in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other exhibition encounter in 2016. Indianapolis leads the all-time regular-season series by an 8-4 margin and has won two of the three all-time postseason meetings.

The Ravens own a 30-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won 10 straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

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

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

OUT: LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: LB Alvin Jones
QUESTIONABLE: CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), RB Kenneth Dixon (hamstring), LB Tyus Bowser (groin), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Kenneth Dixon

The 2016 fourth-round pick entered summer as a roster lock and was viewed as a wild card in this offense, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for the first two preseason contests. On top of that, Dixon hasn’t done much to distinguish himself when he has practiced as running backs coach Thomas Hammock even acknowledged the need for him to get his body right. I’m not yet buying rookie free agent Gus Edwards seriously pushing Dixon for a roster spot, but the latter needs to start showing more.

LB Albert McClellan

The special-teams ace doesn’t immediately stand out as one of the longest-tenured Ravens, but the eighth-year veteran is one of the most respected players in the organization. That said, he’s coming back from a major knee injury and is competing in a deep group of young linebackers with only so many roster spots to go around. This is the most vulnerable McClellan has looked since his first couple seasons.

WR/RS Tim White

Many anointed the undrafted free agent from Arizona State as Baltimore’s next return specialist after his standout preseason debut last year, but durability has been a concern as White sat out his rookie year with a thumb injury and missed more time this summer. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver has good speed and flashes from time to time as a receiver, but there’s no guarantee the Ravens will carry a specialized returner on the roster, especially with so many tough calls to make at other positions.

LB Tyus Bowser

Last year’s second-round pick had a terrific spring and looked poised to take on an expanded reserve role behind starting outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon, but a groin injury has cost him a sizable portion of training camp. His absence has opened the door for Tim Williams and Kamalei Correa to improve their stock in the linebacker pecking order, putting pressure on Bowser to stand out over these final three preseason games. The talent is there, but the 23-year-old needs these live-game reps.

OL Nico Siragusa

A long recovery from a serious knee injury made it tough to know what to expect from the 2017 fourth-round pick, but Siragusa has shown improvement since the start of camp. He was able to play 58 offensive snaps against the Rams after playing sparingly in the Hall of Fame Game, another encouraging sign. The battle for any reserve spots behind the top six offensive linemen looks to be wide open.

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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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griffin

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster after second preseason game

Posted on 14 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games in the books, it’s time to to examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current assessment suggests as many as 45 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 in talent who’s nearing the end of his rookie 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 just making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 14.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Many are clamoring for Griffin to make the roster after his solid preseason thus far, but there are just too many talented players at other positions for the Ravens to keep a third quarterback for the first time since 2009. If you can’t trust Jackson to even be your backup and fill in for a game or two in the event of a Flacco injury, that’s not exactly an encouraging sign for his long-term development. Griffin is doing enough to show he belongs on a roster somewhere after sitting out the 2017 season.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, Gus Edwards
LONG SHOT: Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Ricard wouldn’t be a lock solely as a fullback or as a defensive lineman, but his ability to play both should land him on the roster without question. Dixon hasn’t done anything to quell concerns about his durability as he missed the first two preseason games and running backs coach Thomas Hammock even said he needs to get “his body right” to stay on the field. Edwards has impressed as an undrafted rookie, but I’d still predict only an outside addition would push Dixon off the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: History says a rookie fourth-rounder is a lock for the Baltimore roster, but Scott has done little to distinguish himself even compared to the fifth-round pick Lasley, who at least flashes and has grown as a special-teams player. White’s durability remains a question as he and Grant have more work to do to justify the Ravens keeping one as a return specialist. The eyeball test and lack of a special-teams role tell you Perriman is more of a long shot than a bubble guy, but he’s still a former first-round pick.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx Williams, Darren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: Williams certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick, but he’s the best blocker of the bubble trio, something to remember with the Ravens’ run-blocking schemes that frequently employ two-tight sets. Waller has well-documented upside, but he’s difficult to trust and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the coaching staff hide him in the preseason to try to sneak him onto the practice squad. Mayle is a good special-teams player, but his path to the roster looks pretty steep.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa, Greg Senat, Bradley Bozeman
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: These four bubble players carry intrigue, but none have separated themselves from the rest of the pack to nail down a roster spot. Eluemunor has the experience edge, and Siragusa being a 2017 fourth-round pick makes it more problematic to get him through waivers and to the practice squad despite legitimate concerns about his surgically-repaired knee. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Senat or Bozeman stick on the 53-man roster, but late sixth-round picks are logical practice-squad candidates.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Zach Sieler, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Last year taught us not to doubt Baltimore’s propensity for hoarding defensive linemen, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see one roster spot come down to the versatile veteran Davis or Sieler, who shows impressive strength as a seventh-round pick. Davis looks vulnerable as he’s in the final year of his contract, but he’s a favorite of the coaching staff and has the ability to hold his own at all three base positions on the defensive line, a valuable game-day trait. Kaufusi needs to pick it up to win a spot.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: Cutting McClellan, a longtime special-teams leader and versatile reserve, would be a gut-wrenching decision as he’s loved by teammates and coaches, but he’s 32 and returning from a major knee injury. Releasing him would save $1.25 million in cap space, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg does carry some clout regarding the back end of the roster. A slower-than-expected recovery from a torn ACL has prevented Bradley from joining the competition between Onwuasor and Young.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: Chris Board
Skinny: I see one spot potentially coming down to McClellan or Correa, but the latter has youth on his side, is also capable of playing all four linebacker positions, and performed well on special teams last year. Smith is in the final year of his rookie deal, but his ability to contribute as an inside rusher in sub packages makes him more valuable. Bowser isn’t in danger of being cut, but the 2017 second-round pick hasn’t been able to stay on the field while Williams has elevated his stock this summer.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: It’s tough to recall the last time the Ravens had a cornerback sextet with this much talent as Young and Canady look like starting-caliber players and even the rookie fourth-rounder Averett has progressed this summer. In the past, Jean-Baptiste and Williams very much would have been in the roster conversation, but it’s difficult to see a path to a roster spot for either unless there’s an injury or a trade ahead of them. Hill beginning the season on PUP is a blessing in disguise with the numbers here.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott will need to rein in some of his physicality as secondary play continues to evolve, but the rookie sixth-round pick shows a nose for the ball and has flashed enough to warrant keeping him around for the future. Clark has had a good summer filling in for a banged-up Jefferson and could develop into a future starter. Known primarily for his special-teams play over the years, Levine is a big factor in the dime package, which is expected to be Baltimore’s primary sub package again.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: There’s no roster drama here, but Vedvik’s leg has been so impressive that I’d be surprised if there aren’t at least a couple teams trying to claim him off waivers at the end of the preseason.

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following second preseason victory

Posted on 12 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flacco, Ravens offense offer proper cameo against Rams

Posted on 10 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more could you want in a limited sample?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

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

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

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

Five players to watch Thursday night

DE Brent Urban

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

OT Orlando Brown Jr.

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

CB Tavon Young

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

WR/RS Janarion Grant

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

OLB Tim Williams

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

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Ravens guard Yanda aiming for another chapter of greatness

Posted on 07 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yanda returns to Ravens practice for first time since last September

Posted on 06 August 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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