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Ravens-Saints preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

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Ravens-Saints preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

Posted on 27 August 2014 by Luke Jones

While many have turned their attention toward the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7, the Ravens complete their preseason schedule by taking on the New Orleans Saints in their first visit to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since Super Bowl XLVII Thursday night.

Of course, the stakes pale in comparison to the last time the Ravens traveled to Louisiana, but the livelihood of a select group of players still vying for roster spots is on the line as key position battles remain at wide receiver and potentially on the offensive and defensive lines. After trimming their roster to 75 players earlier this week, the Ravens must produce their first 53-man roster by 4 p.m. Saturday while also scanning the open market to see what players might shake free from other teams.

Thursday represents the final time some players will ever play football while others will find themselves seeking opportunities with 31 other NFL teams by the weekend. In all reality, most decisions will have been made prior to Thursday’s game with only a couple spots potentially up for grabs when the Ravens take the field against the Saints.

“It’s hard every year. It seems like we get to this point every year and we feel this way about our team,” said head coach John Harbaugh of the final roster decisions. “It just seems like it’s a challenge every year. That’s a good problem to have. Getting to the season, I hope it’s proven true. I hope we don’t think we have good depth and all of the sudden we get into the season [and] find out we don’t. That’s the nature of what we do.”

Thursday’s game won’t offer much from an entertainment standpoint as Harbaugh confirmed earlier this week that most starters will not play against the Saints, a team the Ravens will face in the regular season on Nov. 24. With the number of injuries currently plaguing the secondary alone, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome will likely use the preseason finale as an evaluation tool of their secondary depth — the Ravens signed veteran cornerback Derek Cox on Wednesday — more than anything else.

Even without his starters playing in the final game of the summer, Harbaugh says expectations remain high for backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the rest of the Baltimore reserves who will either be filling out the 53-man roster or looking for work by Saturday.

“I want to win the game. We don’t go down there to not win the game,” Harbaugh said. “We are going to do everything we can to win the game. If we walk off the field without the win, I’m not going to be happy about it. I want to walk over and shake the other coach’s hand as the winner — not the loser.”

Thursday will be the second preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Saints, but Baltimore owns the 4-1 edge in the regular season and a 1-0 advantage in the preseason. The Ravens are 45-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 18-9 preseason mark in the Harbaugh era.

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 the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Thursday night’s game in New Orleans.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, does not take into account the many veterans — injured or not — who will be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), CB Asa Jackson (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (chest), DT Terrence Cody (hip)
DOUBTFUL: OL Jah Reid (head)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Owen Daniels (legs), S Matt Elam (leg), RB Bernard Pierce (head)
PROBABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (head)

Five bubble players to watch Thursday night

1. QB Keith Wenning

This one will be fairly clear-cut as you’d expect the Ravens to limit Wenning’s playing time if they desire to pass him through waivers and place him on the practice squad. If Wenning receives extensive playing time, it could be a sign that they’re prepared to keep him on the 53-man roster as the third quarterback behind Joe Flacco and Taylor. The Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on the active roster since 2009, so the consensus expectation is they’ll run the risk of losing their 2014 sixth-round pick and use that roster spot for another position of need while hoping Wenning makes it to the practice squad.

2. WR Deonte Thompson

The speedy third-year wideout has been one of the stars of the summer with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Dallas and a 21-yard touchdown reception against Washington, but Thompson has also failed to take advantage of past opportunities in Baltimore. Even in Saturday’s game in which he caught the touchdown from Taylor, Thompson played only nine offensive snaps compared to 19 taken by Kamar Aiken and 13 by seventh-round rookie Michael Campanaro. The wild card that could keep Thompson on the roster is his blinding speed, which is a nice asset to back up Jacoby Jones in the return game.

3. LB John Simon

I’d still expect the 2013 fourth-round pick to make the roster, but the Ohio State product hasn’t stood out this preseason with only three total tackles. Considering there are four outside linebackers — Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, and Pernell McPhee — ahead of him on the depth chart, Simon’s only chance to see the field will be as a special-teams player in his second season. Given the current vulnerabilities at cornerback and on the defensive and offensive lines, Simon could be a surprise cut as nothing about his play on the field during practices or limited game opportunities suggests he’s really deserving of being a lock.

4. OT James Hurst

Despite receiving more attention that the typical rookie free agent after a broken leg factored into him going undrafted out of North Carolina, Hurst has struggled this summer and probably wouldn’t be receiving much consideration for a roster spot if not for the recent concussion suffered by fourth-year tackle Jah Reid. If Reid’s symptoms linger longer than expected, Hurst might find himself on the active roster when final cuts are made, but it’s doubtful that the Ravens would feel comfortable if needing to use him on game day. The likely scenario for Hurst would be the practice squad where he can continue to develop.

5. OL Ryan Jensen

The Ravens thought enough of the 2013 sixth-round pick as a rookie — and their struggling offensive line probably played a part as well — that they carried him on the 53-man roster despite a broken foot that sidelined him for an extensive part of the regular season. A year later, Jensen is firmly behind veteran A.Q. Shipley and fifth-round rookie John Urschel in the pecking order at guard as he saw only eight offensive snaps against Washington. Because he’s a recent draft pick, Jensen would figure to have a good chance to be signed to the practice squad, but his performance and playing time suggest his roster spot is in major jeopardy.


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Ravens sign veteran Derek Cox to boost secondary depth

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Ravens sign veteran Derek Cox to boost secondary depth

Posted on 27 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens attempted to boost depth in the secondary with the signing of veteran cornerback Derek Cox on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old was cut by the Minnesota Vikings earlier this week and is expected to play in the preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints Thursday night. The Ravens parted ways with rookie wide receiver Jace Davis to make room on their 75-man roster.

Cox began his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being selected in the third round of the 2009 draft out of William & Mary. He started 45 games for the Jaguars over his first four seasons before signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the San Diego Chargers prior to the 2013 campaign.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback began last season as a starter for San Diego before being benched for poor play and losing his starting job in Week 13. He finished with 38 tackles, one interception, and seven pass breakups in 16 games, 11 of them starts. According to Pro Football Focus, Cox graded out 106th out of 110 cornerbacks to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps during the 2013 season.

Cox was released by the Chargers in March and signed a one-year contract with the Vikings later that month.

With injury concerns and a lack of experience beyond starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, the Ravens have been looking for cornerback help for quite some time, but it remains unclear whether Cox will make the final roster, let alone be trusted to potentially leapfrog Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown on the depth chart. He is now joining his fourth team in just over two years, which doesn’t speak well for his recent play.

In five NFL seasons, Cox has 241 tackles, 13 interceptions, 39 pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

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Harbaugh sees no “desperation” for Ravens to make trade

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Harbaugh sees no “desperation” for Ravens to make trade

Posted on 26 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Eighty percent of the Ravens’ projected nickel secondary remains sidelined less than two weeks away from the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but you won’t observe any sense of panic from John Harbaugh.

Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson as well as strong safety Matt Elam are currently out with various ailments, but the head coach remains optimistic that all will be ready when Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and a talented Bengals offense comes to Baltimore on Sept. 7. Harbaugh said Tuesday he expects Webb — who’s been sidelined with back spasms since July 25 — and Smith to be practicing by early next week while Jackson was running and working on lateral movement during Tuesday’s practice. Elam is expected to be practicing again by the end of the week after suffering a minor leg injury in Saturday’s preseason game against Washington.

Even if those expectations become reality for the Baltimore defense, serious questions remain at the No. 3 corner spot that’s essentially become a starting role in today’s pass-happy NFL. Jackson has never played a defensive snap entering his third season while fourth-year corner Chykie Brown saw only 39 defensive snaps during the 2013 regular season.

Needless to say, general manager Ozzie Newsome has been scanning the market to potentially add veteran cornerback help following the free-agent departure of Corey Graham in the offseason. The Ravens signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dominique Franks in mid-June, but his play this summer has been inconsistent after he was largely relegated to special-teams duties last season.

The poor health and lack of experience behind Webb and Smith have prompted many pundits and fans alike to clamor for an impact move as soon as possible.

“Maybe there will be a guy that will fall and somebody is going to have a real need for something that we have to offer,” Harbaugh said. “I know Ozzie and Eric [DeCosta] and Vince Newsome and George [Kokinis] and those guys are all talking with everybody around the league in terms of what’s out there. Not that we feel we have any desperation things that we have to get, but from the standpoint that [if] there’s something that we can get better, we want to do that.”

Trades at the end of the summer have been sparse in the Harbaugh era as the only impact swap came at the end of the 2010 preseason when the Ravens traded a fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for cornerback Josh Wilson. Needing another defensive back after starter Domonique Foxworth suffered a season-ending knee injury at the start of training camp, Baltimore benefited greatly from that acquisition as Wilson — now with the Falcons — started nine games and intercepted three passes to help the Ravens to a 12-4 record and a third straight trip to the playoffs.

Might the Ravens draw from a position of strength such as linebacker or wide receiver and possibly couple that with a draft pick to nab an established cornerback?

Harbaugh isn’t betting on it.

“We look at that every year, the opportunities to make trades and things like that,” Harbaugh said. “And every year, I’m usually disappointed that we don’t get anybody, because people don’t want to trade good players. It’s not as predominant as you would like to think it is going to be.”

Options are slim on the current market with veterans such as Asante Samuel, Chris Houston, and Dunta Robinson carrying age- or injury-related baggage that hasn’t been attractive to teams this summer. If the Ravens were interested in any of those veteran options, they likely would have pulled the trigger by now to give them sufficient time to learn Dean Pees’ defensive system.

Over the years, Newsome has been known to find a gem or two who was let go by another team at the end of the preseason such as offensive tackle Willie Anderson in 2008 or safety James Ihedigbo in 2012, but cornerback talent is at an ever-increasing premium with rules consistently trending toward offense. The odds simply aren’t great to be able to complete a reasonable trade that will help, but that’s fine with the seventh-year head coach as the Ravens prepare to play their final preseason contest in New Orleans on Thursday night.

“I like our team right now the way it stands,” Harbaugh said. “If we can get better, great. You get your hopes up, [then] they’re probably going to be dashed. But you can never count Ozzie out. He’s pretty special.”

NOTES: Harbaugh said he has decided whether suspended running back Ray Rice will play in the preseason finale, but he chose not to disclose his answer to the media. It would be surprising to see the three-time Pro Bowl selection playing behind a second-string offensive line that’s been suspect this summer. … Sixth-round quarterback Keith Wenning’s future remains in limbo as the Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster since 2009, but Harbaugh downplayed the difficulty of the decision. “You just decide who your best 53 players are. If the third quarterback is in the top 53, he’s on the team. If he’s not, he’s not. It’s simple.” … Quarterbacks are wearing new practice jerseys (modeled by backup Tyrod Taylor below) that are black with purple numbers, replacing the red models worn since Harbaugh arrived in 2008. The change was likely inspired by the practice jersey worn by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — a black top with red numbering — when his team practiced with the Ravens in Owings Mills earlier this month.

 

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Most of Ravens secondary continues to be sidelined during practice

Posted on 26 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Completing their final full practice before the preseason finale in New Orleans, the Ravens continued to be without most of their projected starting secondary on Tuesday.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (chest), Lardarius Webb (back), and Asa Jackson (ankle) and safety Matt Elam (leg) were not working on Tuesday afternoon as the Ravens desperately try to get their secondary healthy for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7.

Jackson was doing some running and working on his lateral movement with head athletic trainer Mark Smith during the portion of practice open to the media. Webb was an observer on the practice field as he has been periodically since being stricken with back spasms on July 25.

Running back Bernard Pierce (concussion), offensive tackle Jah Reid (concussion), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip) were also missing from Tuesday’s practice. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the significance of Pierce’s concussion Monday while also acknowledging that recovery time can often be unpredictable.

“I was told by Mark [Smith] he’s feeling a lot better today,” Harbaugh said. “It was described as a mild concussion. Nowadays, with those things, I don’t take any stock in that until they tell me that he’s back. The concussion thing is just hard to predict.”

Wide receiver Kamar Aiken returned to practice a day after sitting out. He is currently competing for one of the last spots on the 53-man roster with final cuts needing to be made by 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

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Daniels returns to practice; Pierce, Elam absent on Monday

Posted on 25 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After trimming their roster to 75 players earlier Monday, the Ravens returned to the practice field with veteran tight end Owen Daniels back in action for the first time in two weeks.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, the 31-year-old had been dealing with leg fatigue and swelling despite no specific injury. The former Houston Texan caught one pass for six yards against San Francisco in the preseason opener but hadn’t practiced since Aug. 11.

The extended absence for Daniels had led some to wonder about his future and desire to continue playing after he was limited to five games because of a broken leg last season. However, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had been adamant several times that he was not injured, and Daniels had been seen around the building regularly.

“I don’t anticipate [his health] affecting his status,” Harbaugh said. “I just go by what [the medical staff] tells me. There’s no tear; there’s no pull. There is swelling in the legs. That’s probably the result of stress. Obviously, he’s not right, or we would’ve played him. But we also felt like he has had so many reps in this offense — just take a week or a week and a half and just let him getting fully recovered and let him get fully rested.

“We’ll bring him back now today, tomorrow, a little bit on Wednesday, and then I really do anticipate him practicing fully on Friday. We’ll just have to see, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t practice on Friday fully.”

Despite the good news about their No. 2 tight end, the Ravens had three new absences on Monday as running back Bernard Pierce, safety Matt Elam, and wide receiver Kamar Aiken were not present during the portion of practice open to media. Pierce left Saturday’s game with a concussion, but the third-year back posted on his official Twitter account that he was “fine” on Sunday afternoon.

Harbaugh confirmed Elam has “a little leg issue” but expected him back on the practice field by Friday, but the head coach said he wasn’t sure why Aiken wasn’t practicing.

Others missing from Monday’s practice included cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle), offensive lineman Jah Reid (head), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (hip). It remains unclear if Cody will begin the season on the reserve physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from offseason surgery.

“We have a couple options on that. He’s progressing well,” Harbaugh said. “He’s done a really good job. Whether he’s ready to play yet or not, we’ll have to decide and determine. But I don’t want to say at this time what we plan on doing, and we really don’t know yet.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (chest) was not suited up to practice on Monday afternoon, but he was running and catching passes on the field, encouraging signs that he’s moving closer to a return. The fourth-year defensive back suffered bruising and bleeding from the lungs after falling on his back early in the second preseason game against Dallas on Aug. 16, but Harbaugh said last week that Smith probably could have played against Washington had it been a regular-season game.

Players were practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday.

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Poly grad Williams, Omar Brown among Ravens’ cuts to get to 75

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Poly grad Williams, Omar Brown among Ravens’ cuts to get to 75

Posted on 25 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens completed the process of trimming their preseason roster to 75 a day prior to Tuesday’s deadline by cutting a number of players headlined by wide receiver LaQuan Williams and safety Omar Brown on Monday.

Linebackers Austin Spitler and Nick DiMarco, offensive tackle David Mims, cornerbacks Deji Olatoye and Marrio Norman, running back Cierre Wood, wide receiver Mike Willie, and punter Richie Leone were also released.

Baltimore waived offensive lineman Brett Van Sloten (knee) and fullback Shaun Chapas, who were both dealing with injuries.

To complete their transformation from 90 to 75 players on the current roster, the Ravens placed defensive linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles tendon) and Brent Urban (knee) as well as offensive lineman Will Rackley (head) on season-ending injured reserve. Lewis-Moore and Urban had already undergone season-ending surgeries while Rackley continues to recover from a concussion sustained at the start of training camp.

“There is a feeling when you have fewer guys,” said head coach John Harbaugh about trimming his roster for the first time this summer. “It starts in the meeting. We came in the meeting, I walked in and I waited a little bit, and my first thought was, ‘Everybody is not here. Do we have everybody?’ We did have everybody, but we didn’t.

A Poly grad and University of Maryland product, Williams was re-signed by the Ravens in the offseason after being cut last year but was unable to distinguish himself in a deep group of wide receivers. A feel-good story as an undrafted free agent who made the Ravens’ 53-man roster in 2011, Williams hadn’t recorded a reception in three preseason games and failed to make his mark on special teams as he had in previous seasons.

Brown had spent the last two seasons bouncing back and forth between Baltimore’s practice squad and active roster, but his future appeared clear when he didn’t take any defensive snaps and was only on the field for two special-teams plays in Saturday’s 23-17 win over Washington.

“Omar and LaQuan are just two guys who have been here for a long time,” Harbaugh said. “[They] have been Ravens for a number of years and have contributed so much to us. That’s the toughest thing. They’re going to go play for other teams — I don’t doubt that at all. But those guys have contributed so much, and we’re so appreciative of what they’ve done.

“All of those guys will get opportunities elsewhere or back here again in the future. That was a tough day. Some tears, some hugs, and you come back out and you go back to work.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must trim the roster to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday.

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Sizing up the 2014 Ravens roster after third preseason game

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Sizing up the 2014 Ravens roster after third preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2014 by Luke Jones

(Editor’s note: A line through a names indicates any player who was removed from the preseason roster on Monday afternoon.)

With three preseason games in the books, the Ravens’ 53-man roster picture continues to take shape with final cuts less than a week away and some questions still remaining.

Depth concerns are apparent along the defensive line and in the secondary, which has almost certainly prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to look for outside help to enhance the roster between now and the start of the season. Meanwhile, the Ravens appear to have some depth at linebacker that could leave one or two incumbents on the outside looking in by the end of the summer.

My current look at the roster suggests 43 players are locks if the deadline to trim the roster to 53 took place today. My rough assessment of the 90 players on the roster lists 16 players on the bubble with at least a decent chance of making the final roster. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain positions lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and the remainder of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the number of players at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of wide receivers or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. The Ravens will always look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their specific positional group.

The Ravens must trim the roster from the current 90 players to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday and must go down to the regular-season number of 53 by Saturday.

Take a look at last week’s roster projection to see whose stock is up and who might have landed on the wrong side of the bubble after the 23-17 win over Washington.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players’ names that are underlined are currently on my projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 24. Players listed as injured or suspended are not projected to count against the 53-man roster when final cuts are made.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
BUBBLE: Keith Wenning
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Wenning not playing at all in the third preseason game provides more evidence that the Ravens are hoping to sneak him through waivers to place him on the practice squad. There are too many other needs to use a roster spot on a third-string quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
LOCK: Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cierre Wood, Fitz Toussaint, Shaun Chapas
SUSPENDED: Ray Rice (will be suspended for the first two games of the regular season)
Skinny: Forsett landed himself in the lock category after a good showing against Washington as both a blocker and a rusher. His presence becomes even more important if Pierce takes some time to recover from the concussion he sustained on Saturday night.

WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
LOCK: Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Kamar Aiken, Deonte Thompson
LONG SHOT: Jeremy Butler, LaQuan Williams, Mike Willie, Jace Davis
Skinny: Aiken saw more playing time than Thompson Saturday, but the latter took advantage of an opportunity for the second straight week by catching a 21-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Thompson’s ability as a backup kick returner gives him the slight edge with Aiken not even catching a pass over the last two games, but this battle isn’t over yet.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
LOCK: Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore
BUBBLE: Owen Daniels, Nathan Overbay
LONG SHOT: Phillip Supernaw
Skinny: Considered a lock throughout the summer, Daniels’ leg fatigue and two-week absence from practice make you wonder if he’s going to be the factor many had assumed when he signed a one-year contract. The 31-year-old’s track record speaks for itself, but Daniels wasn’t exactly impressing on the practice field before his current issues began.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
LOCK: Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, Gino Gradkowski, John Urschel, Jah Reid
BUBBLE: A.Q. Shipley, James Hurst, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Will Rackley, Brett Van Sloten, Reggie Stephens, David Mims, Parker Graham
Skinny: If Reid’s concussion sidelines him much longer, Hurst could find himself on the 53-man roster, but Harbaugh already said Reid had earned the third tackle job before he injured his head. Shipley took 18 offensive snaps while Jensen played only eight on Saturday night, leading you to believe that Jensen could be destined for the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (12)

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Ravens running back Pierce leaves Saturday’s game with concussion

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Ravens running back Pierce leaves Saturday’s game with concussion

Posted on 24 August 2014 by Luke Jones

Slated to be the Ravens’ starting running back as Ray Rice serves a two-game suspension to begin the season, Bernard Pierce left Saturday’s game against the Washington Redskins with a concussion.

The third-year back was injured in the first quarter when Washington safety Brandon Meriweather delivered a blow to his head on a carry for a 5-yard loss. The hit was legal because Pierce was not considered a defenseless player, but Meriweather has earned a reputation for being a headhunter entering his eighth NFL season.

Pierce was taken to the locker room by team doctors as he began going through the league’s mandatory concussion testing protocol and didn’t return to the game.

“We’ll have to see. I’m not sure where he’s at right now,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the 23-17 win. “He obviously didn’t return in the game. His head, we’ll just have to see how that goes.”

The 2012 third-round pick was making his second straight start of the preseason and carried the ball four times for -3 yards against Washington. In three contests this summer, Pierce has gained 89 yards on 21 carries and has made one reception for three years. He has looked lighter and faster this summer after a disappointing 2013 campaign in which he averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per carry.

Pierce indicated on his official Twitter account on Sunday afternoon that he was fine.

“If anyone was wondering, I’m fine,” Pierce wrote.

Pierce has never missed a game in his brief NFL career despite sustaining a concussion late in his rookie season and dealing with other nagging injuries in his first two years. After spending a large portion of the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, Pierce will have two weeks to recover in time for the season opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 7.

In what didn’t come as a major surprise considering Harbaugh had already said the Ravens would focus on giving carries to Pierce as well as reserve running backs Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro on Saturday night, Rice did not play against Washington. It remains unclear if the Ravens will allow Rice to play in Thursday’s game against New Orleans since most starters rarely play in the final preseason tuneup and he’d be running behind the second-string offensive line.

“That was our plan this week [not to play Rice],” Harbaugh said. “Next week, we’ll let you know. You’ll see it when you see it.”

Forsett carried seven times for 30 yards while the rookie Taliaferro carried 11 times for 25 yards.

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Dorsey’s Dugout – Ravens vs. Washington and Rookie Quarterback Situations

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Dorsey’s Dugout – Ravens vs. Washington and Rookie Quarterback Situations

Posted on 22 August 2014 by Nick Dorsey

 

 

Offense the Focus Facing Washington

Pre-season football is nearly unbearable to watch throughout its entirety, especially with the abundance of penalty flags that have been thrown through the first two weeks. Fortunately for the fans, the third exhibition game is on the horizon.

The third game of an NFL pre-season game is better known as the “dress rehearsal” for a team as the starting players play more than the first half. With Baltimore entering their second to last exhibition match, the offense will be the focal point of their match up against Washington.

It would have been interesting to see how the Ravens questionable secondary would do against an offense that is loaded with talented receivers, but that opportunity has been squandered with injuries. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Asa Jackson will not suit up against the Redskins.

With Baltimore’s top three cornerbacks not seeing any action, the defense will most likely not fair too well against a solid offense. Their performance will get an exception if it displays a poor effort due to the significant injuries. So take the eye off the defensive side of the ball and focus on what the Ravens offense has to offer in week three.

The Redskins have a decent defense with a solid group across the front seven. The number one thing to watch for is how the Ravens rush offense fairs against that group.

One of the main problems last season for Baltimore was the lack of production from the rush offense. The Ravens finished the regular season with the 30th ranked rushing offense in the league with only Jacksonville and Atlanta behind them. They also only averaged an underwhelming 3.1 yards per carry average, which ranked last in the league.

Part of the problem with the rush offense was the offensive line and the running backs not playing up to their ability. So far in the pre-season, the offense has shown progress in that area.

Through the first two games of the pre-season, Baltimore has a 4.9 yards per carry average that ranks second amongst the league. That is encouraging even though it is through two exhibition games. If the Ravens can continue that success against Washington, it will be a good sign going forward with a revamped offensive line.

Start the Rookies When the Situation is Right

Last weeks column featured a piece on how Gus Bradley should start the third overall pick from the 2014 NFL Draft Blake Bortles. He has shown flashes throughout the pre-season of being a legitimate starting quarterback and the coaching staff needs to take the plunge and plug him in for week one.

That same leap of faith should be a league-wide choice made by the head coaches that have talented rookie quarterbacks battling for a starting position. That of course being said, if the situation presents the rookie with an opportunity for success.

Dating back to 2008, Josh Freeman, Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker are the quarterbacks selected in the first round that did not start week one. It almost sees like too much of a coincidence that those quarterbacks listed above have not had success in the NFL.

As mentioned earlier, the situation has to be somewhat set up for the rookie to have a chance at some success. One of the only rookie quarterbacks that should not start week one is Johnny Manziel.

The former Heisman trophy winner does not have a great situation that surrounds him as his receiving corps is severely depleted. The offensive line is good and the backfield features talent, but not much can be accomplished without Gordon on the outside.

Hoyer is the right choice to start right off the bat because Manziel would struggle heavily under center due to the difficult schedule ahead. The Browns face Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore to start the season.

Starting any rookie quarterback against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is extremely risky. Even when a rookie is having success, LeBeau knows how to make the game confusing and difficult for a rookie. When RG3 was having a stellar rookie season, one of the few struggles he had during his rookie campaign came against Pittsburgh.

So with the Browns, Hoyer is the right choice until the Browns bye week comes shortly into the season. The bye week would be the perfect opportunity to work Manziel into the starting fold.

The rookie quarterback with the best chance at early success is Teddy Bridgewater. The former Louisville star is currently in a battle with Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder for the starting position. First year head coach Mike Zimmer needs to come to the realization that Bridgewater gives his team the best chance to win.

Ponder was drafted in the top fifteen during the 2011 Draft and has not shown any signs that he has franchise potential. Matt Cassel has been around the league since 2005 and at this point he is what he is. If you have a quarterback situation that features a stopgap type of starter and a rookie, just go with the rookie and see what you might potentially have.

Throwing Bridgewater into the mix is not like throwing the young quarterback into the wolves because he is in a good situation. He has the best running back in the league lining up behind him and one of the better up and coming tight ends in the league. Bridgewater has a veteran wide out on the outside to go along with a young promising playmaker in Patterson.

With a good looking set up on the offense, the defense will give Bridgewater opportunities to win games. Coach Zimmer is a defensive mastermind and his unit will definitely do its part with the plethora of talent they have.

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J. Smith, Jackson, Webb missing from practice, won’t play Saturday

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J. Smith, Jackson, Webb missing from practice, won’t play Saturday

Posted on 21 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to take the field for Saturday’s all-important third preseason game against the Washington Redskins without three key members of their secondary.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (chest), Asa Jackson (ankle), and Lardarius Webb (back) were all missing from the open portion of Thursday’s practice and will miss Saturday’s game, which is viewed as the final tuneup for the start of the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh had already ruled out Webb for the remainder of the preseason while expressing optimism that Smith and Jackson might be able to play against Washington.

“Our top three corners are going to be out,” said Harbaugh, who added that Smith would probably be able to play if it were a regular-season game. “It’s going to be an opportunity for those [backups] to go against the best for a long period of time. Those guys are among the best receivers in football and have a great quarterback. The whole offense is very well stocked with talent. It’s going to give us a good chance to evaluate where we’re at and give those guys an opportunity to prove they can play with the best.”

Starters are not expected to play in next week’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints as a season-opening matchup with All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals only 17 days away.

Against Washington, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will likely turn to fourth-year veteran Chykie Brown, former Atlanta Falcon Dominique Franks, rookie free agent Tramain Jacobs, and third-round rookie safety Terrence Brooks as cornerback options to rotate with the starting defense on Saturday night. In 2013, Brown played just 39 defensive snaps in the Baltimore secondary while Franks took only 13 in the Falcons defense, according to Pro Football Focus.

Since Webb has been sidelined with back spasms since July 25, the Ravens have gone through the entire summer without an opportunity to see what their starting secondary will look like, which is concerning as Brown and Jackson were competing for the No. 3 cornerback position.

“[It's] always a concern. We want guys that are going to play,” Pees said. “Somebody asked [Wednesday] about who we’d have out there [for the] first game, and I said, ‘Whoever we have healthy.’ But even when you get guys back, if a guy has been off for three or four weeks, he hasn’t played game tempo — all that stuff. It’s always a concern at any position.”

Other players missing from Thursday’s workout included tight end Owen Daniels (legs), offensive linemen Jah Reid (head), Will Rackley (head), and Brett Van Sloten (knee), fullback Shaun Chapas (undisclosed), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (active physically unable to perform list – hip surgery).

Daniels hasn’t practiced since Aug. 11 as Harbaugh has repeatedly said the 31-year-old veteran is resting his legs and not dealing with a specific injury.

 

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