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Gilman grad remains invested in Baltimore despite NFL success elsewhere

Posted on 26 June 2017 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of Brandon Copeland)

At a time when NFL players often go off the grid to relax and prepare for the start of training camp next month, Brandon Copeland is counting tables in a cafeteria at the Gilman School on a hot June afternoon.

The Detroit Lions defensive end has enlisted more than 130 volunteers to help with his second annual Beyond the Basics camp being held at his alma mater on Saturday, July 8, but that doesn’t mean the self-described micromanager isn’t doing much of the heavy lifting before the big day — even down to making sure there are enough tables for campers to eat lunch. It isn’t surprising considering what Copeland has already accomplished, whether going from struggling undrafted free agent to playing in all 32 games for Detroit over the last two years or finding success in the investment world in the offseason.

When it comes to trying to master an NFL defensive playbook or evaluating stocks and companies, the details matter.

Copeland, a graduate of the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, doesn’t want to be known solely as a football player. That’s a message he wants to convey at his free camp that uses football as its hook while introducing young people ages 12 through 17 to individuals from many walks of life and different career paths.

“They genuinely look up to these people because they’re good people,” said Copeland, who was originally signed by the Ravens in 2013 and also spent time with Tennessee before eventually finding his NFL footing with the Lions. “Then, [campers] find out that, ‘Oh, this guy’s an engineer, this guy’s a doctor, this guy’s in law school right now.’

“It makes them say, ‘OK, I’d love to be Torrey Smith [or] Haloti Ngata, but if not, let me pursue this because I can be cool and down to earth and work on becoming an investment banker or whatever.’”

Having spent only a few months with the Ravens before being waived from the practice squad in Week 4 of the 2013 regular season, Copeland knows he’s not a household NFL name in Baltimore, but he draws inspiration from others such as the late Keion Carpenter who have made an indelible mark on the city over the years despite finding football success elsewhere.

At least 18 current and former NFL players — many with deep roots in Baltimore – are scheduled to appear at the camp, a list that includes the former Raven and University of Maryland standout Smith, a few of Copeland’s Lions teammates, former Gilman teammate and Tennesee wide receiver Darius Jennings, and his grandfather and former Baltimore Colts defensive end Roy Hilton. The 25-year-old dreams of one day holding camps in additional cities, but he says giving back to the place that helped shape him is of the utmost importance.

“Guys like Keion, they definitely had a huge influence on me and what I want to do and the imprint I want to leave on the city,” Copeland said. “When I was planning the camp last year, the one thing I thought was I’m not the biggest name in the world — I’m not any name if you ask me. I don’t have that at all, but I’ve been good to people throughout my life and I can get good people — great people — to come here and help. People like him make you want to have an imprint on this city.”

In addition to the on-field activities and fun one would expect from a football camp, Copeland is pleased to be able to give away some laptops, tablets, and headphones to attendees. However, he’s even more excited to pass along the lesson of helping others to the campers themselves, who will put together 500 book bags and hygiene kits to be distributed through the Franciscan Center in Baltimore.

“It teaches the kids a lesson that it took me longer than I would have liked to learn in terms of you can give back at any age,” said Copeland, who credits his fiancée, Taylor, as his greatest inspiration for being so active in helping others. “While climbing up your own respective ladder, you can pull other people up as well. I’m hoping that by us instilling this in the kids young, that trickles throughout their life.”

Copeland is hardly satisfied with his accomplishments to this point as he faces the challenge of making the Lions’ 53-man roster as a special-teams standout and defensive contributor for the third straight summer. His lofty goals include having a lengthy NFL career and using his investment prowess to make even more money off the field than on it through a variety of channels, whether using traditional means like real estate or perhaps even diving into the movie industry.

He wants to continue helping others and even has designs of sharing his investment strategies along the way, quipping that others can join him in becoming rich or going broke 10 or 15 years from now. Of course, Copeland cautions to be smart and to save — evident from his plan to live off just 10 to 15 percent of his current NFL salary — but he doesn’t intend to shy away from taking measured risks after coming this far in life.

The details of his journey haven’t always gone according to plan and he’s excited to see what the future holds both on and off the field, but being able to return to where it started to give back next month is a humbling opportunity.

“Whether it’s the Detroit Lions or the NFL or no NFL, I’m going to find a way to provide for myself and my family,” Copeland said. “But to be able to literally come back to Gilman and to see my former teachers, coaches, kids that are working out the way I used to back in the day, this is a dream come true.”

Register online for the second annual Beyond the Basics camp at www.bcopeland.com/camp

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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2017 Ravens roster

Posted on 20 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp in the rear-view mirror and training camp several weeks away, the Ravens now turn their sights toward the preseason and eventually paring the 90-man offseason to 53 by the start of the regular season.

Few conclusions should be drawn from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — without live contact — but my still-too-early look at the roster suggests as many as 38 players would be considered locks if the deadline to trim the roster took place now. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the roster lists 24 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some positions lacking enough quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

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, trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or cornerbacks or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other abilities and overall athleticism in addition to what they bring to their specific position when filling out the bottom of the roster.

Of course, this breakdown can change at any point with owner Steve Bisciotti even expressing his desire earlier this month to add a veteran to an offensive line that lost two starters in the offseason.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. As we move into the preseason, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Dustin Vaughan
Skinny: All eyes will be on Flacco to provide more consistent play being another year removed from his 2015 knee injury. The fact that the Ravens didn’t even give Vaughan a special non-contact quarterback jersey this spring suggests he’s not a real threat to Mallett for the backup job.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon
BUBBLE: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
LONG SHOT: Ricky Ortiz, Taquan Mizzell
Skinny: Taliaferro is an intriguing option at fullback if he stays healthy, but keep an eye on Ortiz if that doesn’t happen. Allen is the most interesting bubble name to watch in this group as he could have a tough time sticking on the roster, especially once Dixon returns from a four-game ban in October.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
LOCK: Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Tim White, Kenny Bell, Tim Patrick, Aaron Bailey, C.J. Board, Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The top four are clearly defined, but there will likely be one or two more spots up for grabs, making it a big summer for the likes of Campanaro and Reynolds. Special teams will be a major factor here, and it’s worth noting that White showed some ability as a returner this spring.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller, Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams
LONG SHOT: Vince Mayle, Ryan Malleck
Skinny: Depending on whom you ask, the lack of a lock here is a reflection of a deep and talented group or of an inventory having too many question marks. Health will be the biggest determining factor, and Williams is a strong candidate to start the summer on the physically unable to perform list.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Nico Siragusa
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, Matt Skura, Stephane Nembot
LONG SHOT: Brandon Kublanow, Jarell Broxton, Jarrod Pughsley, Roubbens Joseph, Maurquice Shakir
Skinny: The addition of a veteran center or right tackle could push any combination of Urschel, Jensen, and Hurst to the bubble line, but those three of easily received the most first-team reps in trying to replace Jeremy Zuttah and Rick Wagner. It’s difficult to trust this group as it’s presently constructed.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Willie Henry
LONG SHOT: Patrick Ricard
Skinny: Davis was lining up as the starting 3-technique defensive tackle to begin OTAs, but a pectoral injury once again leaves you wondering about his ability to stay on the field. Urban is a surprising lock at this stage of the offseason, but he handled virtually all 5-technique reps with the first team.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Albert McClellan
BUBBLE: Patrick Onwuasor, Lamar Louis
LONG SHOT: Boseko Lokombo, Bam Bradley, Donald Payne
Skinny: Onwuasor would be a good bet after shining on special teams as a rookie, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens add a veteran to the mix if Correa struggles in the preseason. There’s a clear opportunity here for the lesser names in this position group to earn a roster spot.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Za’Darius Smith, Brennen Beyer
LONG SHOT: Randy Allen
Skinny: This is a critical summer for Smith after he disappointed in his second season and fell behind Judon in the pecking order, but playing time is up for grabs off the edge, especially with Suggs turning 35 in October. Beyer has worked some as an inside linebacker to improve his roster chances.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady, Brandon Boykin, Sheldon Price
LONG SHOT: Robertson Daniel, Jaylen Hill, Al-Hajj Shabazz
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: Canady could be viewed as a lock based on the way he practiced in the slot in place of the injured Young, but many corners have stood out in the spring before fading and Boykin isn’t far removed from being a solid nickel in the NFL. Despite the improved depth outside, don’t sleep on Price.

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Daniel Henry, Otha Foster
Skinny: The Ravens may have the best safety group in the AFC, which will make it challenging for the sixth-round rookie Clark to make the team. There’s potential to be creative with Weddle, Jefferson, and Webb all on the field at the same time, so it will be interesting watching their usage this summer.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kenny Allen
Skinny: There’s no roster intrigue with this group, but Allen only needs to look at the success of Wil Lutz with New Orleans last year as evidence to soak up as much knowledge and experience as he can from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and the incumbent specialists this summer.

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Suggs remains strong presence in new era for Ravens defense

Posted on 16 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rookie second-round outside linebacker Tyus Bowser was 7 years old when the Ravens selected Terrell Suggs with the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft.

First-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey was 6.

Having years ago referred to former teammate and soon-to-be Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis as Mufasa — a reference to the sage leader of the Pride Lands in “The Lion King” — Suggs understands he’s the last of his kind and he’s embraced that, even referring to himself as the Darth Vader of a new era.

“I like having fun with the younger guys,” said the 34-year-old, now entering his 15th season in the NFL. “They tell me how old they are, and I’m like, ‘Holy s–t.’ It’s weird, but I like it. It feels good.”

This spring was different for Suggs, who had always skipped the voluntary offseason workout program in the past and would work out on his own before showing up for mandatory minicamp in June. His weight and conditioning levels varied from year to year, sometimes sparking criticism when he wasn’t in the best of shape.

But after hearing rave reviews from those teammates who worked with Ravens director of performance Steve Saunders last offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl selection elected to give it a try. Having gone through spring workouts in Owings Mills — head coach John Harbaugh chose to hold him out of the voluntary spring practices open to the media — Suggs says he hasn’t felt this good in June in many years.

“It’s funny seeing him die in workouts and doing the running, lifting,” said safety Eric Weddle, who was one of the first to embrace Saunders’ rigorous methods. “It’s great for him. I think he knows that at this point in his career, he needs to be in the best shape of his life. He needs to be as strong as he can so he can get through the season. We need him.”

Suggs enjoyed a fine 2016 in his return from the second Achilles tendon tear of his career — especially considering he played with a torn biceps for much of the season — but his eight sacks marked his lowest total in a year not substantially abbreviated by injuries since 2009. He may no longer stand among the elite defensive players in the NFL, but the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year is still an above-average starting linebacker who plays the run very well and can conjure up a big play in a critical spot.

His boisterous behavior is evident at practices when he’s hooting and hollering at someone or taking owner Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart for a joyride on his way out to the back fields at the team facility, but Suggs does much more than keep the mood light in the locker room and in the huddle. Having learned from obsessive students of the game like Lewis and nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed early in his career, Suggs is constantly praised by those who know him best for his football intellect.

The Ravens hope he continues passing down those lessons to young players such as Bowser, 2016 fifth-round pick Matt Judon, and fourth-round rookie Tim Williams to rebuild a pass rush that had markedly declined over the last couple years.

“You can really tell a difference in our types of practice when he is here and when he is not here,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who added that Suggs looks like he’s 25 years old again. “It’s more fun for me when he is here, too. But when it is time to be serious, there’s nobody more serious. There is really nobody smarter on this defensive football team than Terrell Suggs.”

Suggs was noncommittal when asked how much longer he hopes to play or whether he has any visions of trying to match Lewis’ 17 years with the Ravens, but he made it clear that he doesn’t feel like it’s his time to “cross that bridge” to retirement yet. His contract runs through 2018 and is scheduled to pay him $4 million in base salary for each of the next two years.

His commitment to be in the building this spring hasn’t gone unnoticed as the Ravens made a conscious effort to get younger this offseason after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. Seeing general manager Ozzie Newsome show the door to five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil likely served a reminder to Suggs about his own football mortality as he turns 35 in October.

“What I am so impressed with is the leadership by example that he has demonstrated in this offseason,” Harbaugh said. “He is out there doing it, and he is out there competing with the guys every day in the conditioning program. It is impressive to watch, and that is a great way to get guys attention if you want to be a leader.”

Fun and camaraderie aside, Suggs wants to win. He hasn’t gone through a down period like this from a team standpoint since the end of the Brian Billick era and is counting on an extensive batch of defensive additions to help him get back to the playoffs.

Suggs may not have expressed any clear intention of trying to surpass Lewis for most years spent with the Ravens, but he did mention the way his former leader was able to go out on top with a championship.

“We can’t fall short anymore,” Suggs said. “It’s a terrible thing when you don’t capitalize on your potential. We’ve always had a capable team; we’ve just haven’t always capitalized on it. I think it’s time to cash in and don’t be one of the odd teams looking in when it becomes the second season in January.”

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Injury picture relatively clear for Ravens going into training camp

Posted on 15 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It was a trying spring for the Ravens from a health standpoint with both cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta sustaining season-ending injuries.

However, the overall status report has stabilized with most currently-injured players expected to be ready for the start of training camp next month. Linebacker C.J. Mosley (shoulder), wide receiver Michael Campanaro (toe), tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), and defensive tackle Carl Davis (pectoral strain) all missed this week’s mandatory minicamp, but each is expected to be back on the field in late July, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

Six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda has also been sidelined throughout the spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The 32-year-old is a candidate to begin camp on the active physically unable to perform list, but he made it clear Wednesday that he’ll be ready to go ahead of the season opener in Cincinnati on Sept. 10.

“We’ll see what happens. As you know with injuries and dates, you can talk to coach Harbaugh on that one,” Yanda said. “I’ll be working out hard every day, and I’ll be ready to go. I can just tell you [for] Week 1, I’m going to be out there. How about that?”

A bigger question mark than Yanda could be tight end Maxx Williams, who missed most of the 2016 season with a knee injury. The 2015 second-round pick was held out of spring workouts while continuing to work his way back to full strength from a mysterious knee surgery that had never been performed on an NFL player, according to the Baltimore coach.

With a deep inventory of tight ends that also includes Gillmore, Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, and Darren Waller, the Ravens could elect to slow-play Williams’ return to the field as they did with running back Lorenzo Taliaferro last summer. Watson (Achilles tendon) and Waller participated in minicamp after sitting out voluntary workouts earlier this spring.

“I think Maxx will be interesting, whether he will be there for the first day or not,” Harbaugh said. “He is going to push it. Knowing Maxx — I guarantee you one thing — if it is humanly possible, he will be ready. But he had that new surgery, so that is a little bit of a gray area for us knowing how he is going to respond.”

Veterans will now disperse for some time away from the training facility while rookies will remain in Owings Mills for two more weeks to continue workouts with director of performance Steve Saunders and strength and conditioning coach Juney Barnett.

The annual message to all players this time of year is to make good choices in preparing for the start of the 2017 season.

“Let’s keep an eye focused for what is ahead,” said Harbaugh, who will attempt to lead the Ravens back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. “Let’s get ourselves ready emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Let’s take care of our families, and let’s not lose any ground to our conditioning and our training. All those things are talked about.

“Take care of yourself, be smart — all of those kind of things — and let’s get ready to roll.”

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Pitta “not delusional” about future after latest devastating hip injury

Posted on 15 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta hasn’t lost his dry sense of humor less than two weeks after suffering his third devastating right hip injury to end his seven-year run with the Ravens.

Using crutches to stand before the media after Baltimore concluded its three-day minicamp, the 31-year-old immediately sparked laughter in what could have been a sobering “farewell” press conference.

“They asked me to do podium and I said, ‘I don’t even work here. Why do I have to come up?'” said Pitta, referencing the Ravens releasing him on an injury waiver last week. “But here I am.”

It was a surreal scene after he had quipped to media only three weeks ago how nice it was to no longer be fielding so many questions about his hip.

Pitta made no retirement announcement on Thursday, but he’s “not delusional” after dislocating and fracturing his hip for the third time in the last four years. The 2010 fourth-round pick spoke about his career in the past tense, but he wants to focus on making a full recovery before facing the finality of his playing days being all but officially over.

For Pitta, being on his feet and back at the Ravens’ training facility was gratifying enough after his horrific injury on June 2 and the surgery that followed. Being driven around by Steve Bisciotti in the owner’s golf cart during Wednesday’s practice, he was greeted by head coach John Harbaugh and many teammates happy to see him.

Unfortunately, this is familiar territory for the man who caught three touchdowns in the 2012 postseason run that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII.

“More of a nightmare, I would say, other than déjà vu,” said Pitta, who had told his wife, Mataya, that he was feeling better than ever just days before re-injuring his hip. “It is what it is. It’s something I’ve gone through before. It’s weird being out here and not being part of things. Just over a week ago, I was out here practicing and feeling really good, so things change in an instant. But I’m positive and staying in a good mind frame.”

We’ll always wonder where Pitta could have ranked on the franchise’s all-time receiving list as he appeared to be emerging as one of the top tight ends in the league when he sustained his first hip injury on July 27, 2013. He missed nearly three full seasons due to the first two injuries and played in a total of just 19 games after signing a five-year, $32 million contract in 2014 that included $16 million guaranteed.

His story is a reminder of how fragile an NFL career can be.

“It’s heartbreaking. I talked to him. He understands it. I understand it,” said veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs, who years ago nicknamed Pitta “American Express” for his reliability in being everywhere you want him to be. “It’s part of the game. Some of these guys look and say, ‘Dang, Sizz, 15 years?’ You know some people don’t have that long. That’s definitely something to be fortunate about. But I talked to him, and he’s in good spirits about it. It’s just one of those things. We play a very brutal sport.”

Pitta said his improbable return to the field in 2016 means even more to him now as he was the only Ravens tight end to appear in all 16 games and led all NFL tight ends with a career-high 86 receptions. He isn’t second-guessing his decision to come back last year despite previously contemplating retirement because of the slow rehab process that came with the 2014 injury.

Expressing gratitude for the support from both his family and the organization over these last few challenging years, Pitta sounded like a man at peace with his fate.

Even if he wasn’t quite ready to to use the “retirement” word.

“I think it’ll be a little bit more cut and dried this time,” Pitta said. “I certainly don’t regret coming back and playing last season. I felt great all year. I think I would have regretted it more being at home and feeling as good as I did and not playing. It was a tremendous year for me personally, just being able to overcome what I did and prove a lot to myself, and I don’t regret it one bit.

“I’m happy I played and fortunate that I was able to get another year in.”

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Correa trying to find niche with Ravens at inside linebacker

Posted on 14 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Expectations were high for Kamalei Correa when the Ravens selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft.

With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil coming off respective Achilles tendon injuries and veterans Daryl Smith and Courtney Upshaw no longer on the roster, Correa looked like a good bet at this time a year ago to see meaningful action as a rookie in the Baltimore defense. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case as he would play only 48 defensive snaps and struggled to grasp the Ravens system.

In an impressive draft class that produced three first-year starters in Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, and Tavon Young, Correa became an afterthought with former undrafted free agent Zach Orr emerging to take Smith’s inside linebacker position and leading the Ravens in tackles after the two had competed for the starting job in the spring and early summer. A year later, Orr’s unfortunate retirement due to a rare congenital spine condition has opened the door for Correa to win a starting spot.

“I learned a lot. The NFL is not like college football, and that was hard,” Correa said. “My playbook expanded. I didn’t really play special teams in college, so that was tough. I think it was just a huge learning year. Year 1 and Year 2 is such a big difference. I feel like in Year 2, you know what to expect, you know what is coming, you know your playbook a little more.

“In actuality, it really allows you to play faster. When you play faster, you start making plays, and when you start making plays, you are going to stay on the field.”

Correa was considered by most to be an edge defender with pass-rushing ability following his standout career at Boise State, but the Ravens elected to cross-train the rookie at all four linebacker positions. That’s hardly an uncommon practice with teams limited to 46-man rosters on game days, but Correa struggled to learn the many layers of the defense and didn’t embrace playing special teams, causing his plunge down the depth chart after initially turning heads in spring workouts.

He saw very limited action at outside linebacker last year, but the organization now views the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Correa’s best fit at inside linebacker. Despite checking off a number of other boxes with notable additions to the defense this offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome has not added a veteran inside linebacker, a show of faith that Correa can handle Orr’s old weak-side inside linebacker job.

The reviews for the start of the 23-year-old’s second NFL season have been favorable.

“We have kind of honed him into one spot, and he is really working hard at that and really learning that spot,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think he’s been moving around great. You can never know about the running game too much in [organized team activities] and minicamp because you don’t have pads on. You have to be really careful and not be banging people.

“As far as where he fits and knowing his responsibilities and assignments and all that kind of stuff, I am very, very pleased with him at this point.”

Correa still leans on veterans C.J. Mosley and Albert McClellan to help refine his knowledge of coverage concepts and understanding where his help is coming from within the defense, but the young linebacker says he feels more like himself and is having more fun this season after struggling to find his way a year ago. Though acknowledging that trying to learn so many positions a year ago probably hurt his development, he placed the blame solely on his shoulders for not living up to expectations as a rookie.

And he believes the trials of his rookie season will only make him a better player in the long run.

“They picked me for a reason. I am here, I can do it. So, why not be me?” Correa said. “I just started to go to work, I put my best foot forward, I am letting the cards fall out on the table as it is, and I let them make the calls up there on who is playing. I just have to do my job and make plays.”

 

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Ravens tight end Watson practices for first time in nearly 10 months

Posted on 13 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson said it felt like Christmas morning when he woke up on Tuesday.

Having not practiced since tearing his right Achilles tendon on the first play from scrimmage in a preseason game in Baltimore last Aug. 27, the 36-year-old was itching to get back on the football field for the first time in nearly 10 months. Watson took part in some individual drills before working to the side during the full-team portions on the opening day of mandatory minicamp.

“I went to sleep last night, and my wife and I were talking and I told the kids,” said Watson, who is now entering his 14th NFL season. “They’ve been praying for me every day since I got injured, and they will continue to. I’m still not all the way there.

“It’s definitely exciting. It leaves you hungry for more, obviously, but the plan was to have a good day and not have any setbacks and just get my feet under me a little bit.”

Watson recently agreed to a pay cut to lower his scheduled $3 million salary to $1.25 million with incentives for the 2017 season, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. The move increases his chances of making the 53-man roster as the Ravens would like to have his veteran presence to lead an otherwise-inexperienced group of tight ends. Of course, Watson will need to show he can return to playing at a level high enough to justify keeping him around.

The veteran wasn’t the only tight end to return to the practice field Tuesday as Darren Waller was taking extensive reps with the first-team offense, once beating safety Tony Jefferson in coverage on a deep crossing route. However, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound former wide receiver would later leave the field for heat-related reasons.

Two-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley remained sidelined as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, but head coach John Harbaugh said he’s expected to be ready for the start of training camp in late July. Tight end Crockett Gillmore was also absent after leaving the field gingerly during last Thursday’s voluntary workout.

“Crockett tweaked his hamstring,” Harbaugh said. “I think some of you guys speculated on that, and that was right. I do not think it is real serious as far as I know. He should be ready for training camp easily.”

Other players missing from Tuesday’s workout included guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), wide receivers Michael Campanaro (toe) and Quincy Adeboyejo, linebacker Brennen Beyer, defensive tackle Carl Davis (pectoral), tight end Maxx Williams (knee), and cornerback Tavon Young (torn ACL).

Entering his 15th season, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs saw his first on-field action of the spring after being held out during voluntary organized team activities. Suggs took part in individual drills and saw some limited work during team drills.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin arrived in Owings Mills early Tuesday afternoon to officially sign his contract and will speak to the media after his first practice on Wednesday. To make room on the roster, the Ravens waived tight end Barrett Burns.

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Flacco excited to have Maclin, would also welcome Decker

Posted on 13 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco said two months ago that he didn’t believe the Ravens needed to sign a wide receiver after the early waves of free agency had come and gone without an addition.

The quarterback was understandably expressing confidence in a group of young options that included 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore, but we all knew the truth about what the offense still lacked. A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl wideout Jeremy Maclin on a two-year contract worth a reported $11 million, Flacco acknowledged it being a game-changing addition for the passing game.

The Ravens are confident that the 29-year-old will rebound from an injury-plagued 2016 in which he caught just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games and look more like the versatile target who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015. Doing so would make him the latest veteran receiver to enjoy a renaissance in Baltimore, joining the likes of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, and, most recently, Mike Wallace.

“Anytime you can add a good player, it helps your team,” said Flacco, a southern New Jersey native who first met Maclin when he played in Philadelphia earlier in his career. “I think we have a lot of guys out there competing, and putting him in that room will just up that ante a little bit.”

In fact, if it were up to the 10th-year quarterback, the stakes could still be raised higher. Asked about reports of the Ravens still being interested in former New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, Flacco praised a track record that includes three 1,000-yard seasons, two of them coming while playing with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver.

With the Ravens having lost roughly half of their receiving production from a year ago with wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, tight end Dennis Pitta, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk no longer on the roster, you can hardly blame Flacco for welcoming the possibility of adding another weapon. Of course, what precious salary-cap space that remains for the Ravens might be better spent adding a veteran offensive lineman before the start of the regular season.

Decker’s ability to work in the slot and to make catches on third down to move the chains would give the Ravens something they lost with Pitta’s third catastrophic hip injury and release earlier this month.

“Eric would be a great guy, too, especially [after] losing Dennis Pitta and getting a guy who can go inside, go outside and can run and separate and do a lot of those things,” Flacco said. “I think Marty Mornhinweg was probably with him up in New York when he was there. He’s been a great receiver, and he’s played with some good quarterbacks.”

Of course, Maclin’s addition is expected to alter the projected role for Perriman, who has been working as a starter opposite the speedy veteran Wallace in spring workouts. It will be interesting to see how the talented 23-year-old responds to having more veteran competition atop the depth chart after it looked like he might have a largely uncontested path to a starting role.

Flacco has seen much growth in Perriman from last year when they often weren’t on the same page. If the passing game is to thrive after finishing 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt in 2016, the young receiver needs to make meaningful strides to at least complement Maclin and Wallace.

“You can just see the confidence in his eyes. That’s the first thing,” Flacco said. “Then, when you go out there, it’s kind of back to how I felt probably the first couple of practices his rookie year when he was running by people, and you could tell he had something. He’s back at that level running, and his confidence is at an all-time high.”

With Maclin arriving in Owings Mills Tuesday and expected to be on the field for the second day of mandatory minicamp, the entire Ravens offense should also be feeling more confident with another accomplished receiver now part of the equation.

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Ravens land veteran wide receiver Maclin with two-year deal

Posted on 12 June 2017 by Luke Jones

It took longer than most envisioned at the start of the offseason, but the Ravens have finally landed a coveted veteran wide receiver.

Just a few days after a productive visit in Owings Mills, Jeremy Maclin agreed to a two-year deal and will fly to Baltimore to sign his contract on Tuesday morning, just in time for the start of a three-day mandatory minicamp. Released by Kansas City as a salary-cap casualty on June 2, the 29-year-old also visited Buffalo last week and told the Ravens he wanted more time to make a decision before leaving the team’s training facility without a deal on Friday afternoon.

Maclin was recruited on social media by Ravens safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson with the latter hosting the free agent for an NBA Finals viewing party with several other Ravens players last Thursday.

The 6-foot, 198-pound Maclin is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 in which he set career lows in catches (44), receiving yards (536), and touchdown receptions (two) while battling a groin ailment, but he enjoyed the best two seasons of his career just before that. His career-best 1,318 receiving yards with Philadelphia in 2014 prompted the Chiefs to sign him to a lucrative five-year, $55 million deal, and Maclin responded by collecting a career-high 87 catches with 1,088 receiving yards in 2015.

A first-round pick of the Eagles in 2009, Maclin has recorded at least 60 catches and 800 receiving yards in five of his seven active NFL seasons. He missed the entire 2013 campaign with a torn ACL suffered early in training camp.

Players no longer on the roster accounted for 53 percent of the Ravens’ receptions and 49.7 percent of their receiving yards a year ago as the offense struggled to produce consistently. This reality made it clear that general manager Ozzie Newsome needed to do more than simply hope that 2015 first-round wide receiver Breshad Perriman and a deep inventory of tight ends would emerge to replace the likes of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Kamar Aiken. Baltimore did not select a wide receiver in the draft for the first time since 2009, creating even more angst within the fan base.

Pitta’s unfortunate hip re-injury and subsequent release earlier this month made it even more critical for the Ravens to add an experienced threat for quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens’ projected top receiving trio of Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Perriman should provide more than enough speed with Maclin also offering the route-running ability and toughness to play in the slot and work the intermediate portion of the field. Baltimore has also shown interest in soon-to-be-released New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker — an ESPN report said his addition was still a possibility despite Maclin’s signing — but it would be difficult to fit both veterans under an already-tight salary cap.

Maclin has registered 474 receptions, 6,395 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns in his NFL career.

The next question will be whether Newsome adds a veteran offensive lineman after starting right tackle Rick Wagner departed via free agency and starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded this offseason. The Ravens have rotated the trio of Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Matt Skura at the starting center spot while fourth-year veteran James Hurst has worked as the first-team right tackle during spring workouts.

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With Pitta chapter closed, Ravens must find out about tight end inventory

Posted on 09 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have prepared for this reality for a few years now.

Long before Dennis Pitta surprised us all by returning to the football field to lead all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions in 2016, general manager Ozzie Newsome had taken significant steps to replace him. And with the veteran sadly suffering a third dislocation of his right hip in a four-year period last week — prompting his release on Wednesday — the time is now for the Ravens to find out about their extensive inventory of tight ends.

To call it depth would be presumptuous since all five carry enough baggage to make it difficult to handicap a favorite for the top of the depth chart going into the start of training camp next month.

Benjamin Watson has caught four times as many passes in his career as Baltimore’s four other tight ends combined, but the 36-year-old is coming off a torn Achilles tendon and won’t be fully cleared to return to action until later this summer. His leadership and experience will be valued in meeting rooms and on the practice field in training camp, but whether he has anything left in the tank is a critical question for a veteran player scheduled to make a $3 million base salary for 2017.

Crockett Gillmore has been the most productive of the young tight ends on the roster, but the 2014 third-round pick has missed 13 of the Ravens’ last 20 games since emerging as the starter in 2015 with 33 receptions for 412 yards and four touchdowns over 10 contests. His rare combination of blocking ability and productive hands is enticing, but Gillmore must prove he can stay on the field. Even during Thursday’s voluntary workout in Owings Mills, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound specimen left the field with what appeared to be some type of injury.

The Ravens envisioned Maxx Williams having the most upside of any of their current tight ends when they traded up in the second round of the 2015 draft to take him, but the Minnesota product did not register a catch in four games last season before undergoing a mysterious knee surgery that no other NFL player has had, according to head coach John Harbaugh. A rookie campaign of 32 receptions and a touchdown in 14 games was respectable given the typical learning curve for tight ends entering the league, but how could anyone possibly know what to expect from the 23-year-old Williams before he returns to the practice field later this summer?

Nick Boyle might be the safest bet to secure no worse than a complementary role with his blocking skills and underrated hands, but the 2015 fifth-round selection from Delaware has twice been suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and is a strike away from a two-year ban. Despite a steady 24 receptions for 197 yards over his 17 career games as a backup, Boyle’s past doesn’t exactly breed trust to include him in any long-term plans.

And that brings us to Darren Waller, a 2015 sixth-round pick who was converted from wide receiver to tight end last year and easily has the most athleticism and speed in the group. After serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy to begin 2016, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Waller caught 10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He flashed potential from time to time, but that’s not enough production over 12 games for him to shed the “experiment” label at his new position.

The emergence of at least one or two of the aforementioned names is even more critical this season with the Ravens still lacking a trustworthy short-to-intermediate receiver for quarterback Joe Flacco in the passing game. Baltimore offenses have historically been at their best with a go-to tight end such as Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap, or Pitta there to move the chains on third down and to shine in the red zone.

As unfortunate as the latest news was about Pitta, the Ravens believe they are prepared for it with a process that began more than two years ago. Pitta’s unexpected return in 2016 offered a one-year safety net with the rest of the group dealing with injuries or suspensions, but his release earlier this week signals the official end of an era.

Now the Ravens will learn whether some of that inventory turns into real depth for a roster with playoff aspirations but with significant questions on the offensive side of the ball.

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