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Ravens conclude spring preparations with mandatory minicamp

Posted on 16 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens conclude nearly two months of spring preparations for the 2015 season this week with their three-day mandatory minicamp.

With training camp roughly six weeks away, head coach John Harbaugh will get his first look at his full 90-man training camp roster this week as veterans who have not attended voluntary organized team activities will be back in Owings Mills. That list includes the likes of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil as well as four-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda.

On Tuesday, Suggs is scheduled to meet with the media for the first time since longtime teammate and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was traded to the Detroit Lions at the start of free agency in March. It will be interesting to hear what the 32-year-old has to say about being the last man standing of the old guard of Baltimore defense that also included future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

Yanda is also scheduled to answer questions at the podium and will surely be asked about his future as the 30-year-old enters the final season of a five-year contract signed in 2011.

The Ravens will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday before players enjoy their final weeks of downtime before the first full-squad training camp practice is held on July 30. Rookies will begin reporting to Owings Mills on July 22 as Baltimore seeks its seventh postseason berth in eight seasons under Harbaugh.

All three minicamp practices will be open to the media.

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Five questions pondering Schaub, Orioles bullpen, Flaherty

Posted on 12 June 2015 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com)

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or could the Orioles be in good position to pull off a trade at this year’s deadline? Much will depend on the next few weeks with a starting rotation currently battling health issues with Miguel Gonzalez on the disabled list and inconsistency from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris, but the depth could be there to orchestrate a trade to make a push for a second straight division title. The ability to trade Alejandro De Aza freed the remainder of his $5 million salary from the books and Norris and Wei-Yin Chen will both be free agents at the end of the season, making it desirable to at least explore what they might be able to fetch for one of them. Of course, this is assuming the Orioles would feel comfortable with Kevin Gausman being back in the rotation as the 24-year-old is still being stretched out as a starter in the minors. It’s no secret that the corner outfield situation is less than ideal, but Dan Duquette has shown a willingness to make in-season deals to try to help his club over the last couple seasons and there appears to be the cash and assets available to do it again.

2. Is it just me or have the early reviews of new Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub not been encouraging? I’m the last person to put much stock into what we see at organized team activities in the spring, but it hasn’t been a strong start for the 33-year-old backup, who has been intercepted frequently and has made too many errant passes in workouts open to media. This wouldn’t be too much of a concern until you remember how poorly Schaub played in his final season in Houston and last year when he was beaten out by rookie Derek Carr in Oakland. Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of the signing after years of pumping little money into the backup spot, but I figured Schaub would at least provide a decent upgrade from Tyrod Taylor at the backup position. It’s still very early, but I’m not convinced he will give the Ravens any more of a chance to win than Taylor should Flacco go down with an injury this season.

3. Is it just me or is Ryan Flaherty putting together a fine season after years of criticism? The utility infielder has been a target for many fans who tire of the Orioles’ micromanaging of their roster in recent years, but he is hitting a very respectable .260 with an .801 on-base plus slugging percentage in 90 plate appearances this season. Buck Showalter has valued the 28-year-old’s ability to play above-average defense at several spots over the last few years, but it’s been nice to see his offense catch up to his work in the field. In fact, had Jonathan Schoop not gotten off to such a strong start at the plate before hurting his right knee in mid-April, you wonder how many might be clamoring for Flaherty to remain the starting second baseman even after the 23-year-old returns. Make no mistake, Schoop is the future at the position, but Flaherty has done a fine job solidifying his place as the Orioles’ utility man despite missing a month with a groin issue this year.

4. Is it just me or is this season critical for the Ravens’ 2013 draft class? There’s no sugarcoating how disappointing Matt Elam and Arthur Brown have been in their first two seasons, making this a “make or break” year for both. Elam will be competing with Will Hill for the starting strong safety job while Brown needs to have a strong camp to simply avoid being cut after playing less in his second year than he did as a rookie. Beyond those two, this year looms large for Kyle Juszczyk, who will need to prove he can produce in offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s system that didn’t prominently feature a fullback in Chicago. It also figures to be an important year for 2013 sixth-round defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore after he missed his first two seasons with injuries. The selections of defensive tackle Brandon Williams in the third round and right tackle Rick Wagner in the fifth were terrific, but you can’t give a draft two thumbs up when you whiff so badly in the first two rounds.

5. Is it just me or are the Orioles in ideal position with their bullpen? Baltimore figured to have a good back of the pen with closer Zach Britton and setup man Darren O’Day, but the Orioles have been able to distribute the workload in an encouraging manner so far. A big difference with this year’s pen compared to previous seasons is its improved ability to strike out opposing hitters as Orioles relievers rank fourth in the American League in strikeouts and are averaging 9.2 per nine innings. The bullpen averaged just 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, 8.1 in 2013, and 7.5 in 2012. Strikeouts certainly aren’t everything, but there’s no disputing how helpful they can be when a reliever is summoned to escape a tough jam. On the open market, strikeouts are expensive — it’s the biggest reason ex-Oriole Andrew Miller received a four-year, $36 million contract — so it’s extremely beneficial when you can find inexpensive arms like Brad Brach (11.4 strikeouts per nine) and Chaz Roe (10.5 strikeouts per nine) who are able to miss so many bats. Though needed in the rotation at the moment, rookie Mike Wright figures to be another candidate who could settle into a bullpen role at some point this year.

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Ravens open to numerous possibilities in return game

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens to hold open stadium practice on Aug. 3

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have finalized their 2015 training camp schedule, which will again include an open practice at M&T Bank Stadium for fans to attend.

In what’s become a yearly tradition, fans are invited attend the stadium practice on Monday, Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. for an early look at this year’s Ravens. Admission is free.

The first full-squad camp practice takes place on July 30, a day after all veterans must report to the team’s Owings Mills training complex for the first team meeting of the summer.

Rookies report on July 22 with injured veterans arriving on July 24 and quarterbacks on July 26. Players must report for physicals, conditioning tests, and football school before they are allowed to practice.

Training camp breaks on Aug. 18 when the team travels to Philadelphia for three days of practices with the Eagles before their nationally-televised preseason game on Aug. 22.

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Nov 10, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam (26) in action against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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Elam having “best camp yet” in defensive coordinator’s mind

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made it clear this season is critical for Matt Elam and the third-year safety has responded favorably in at least one coach’s mind.

After general manager Ozzie Newsome stated earlier this offseason that the organization has “not been satisfied” with the performance of the 2013 first-round pick, defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he’s seeing plenty of progress with Elam, who has been splitting time with Will Hill at strong safety in the starting defense during voluntary organized team activities.

“Best camp he has had — bar none, not even close. I expect big things out of Matt,” Pees said on Monday. “I really do. I know there are some critics out there, but I’m just telling you I think No. 26 is going to be a good football player. I think he’s having a great camp.”

Of course, coaches will rarely go out of their way to be negative about a player publicly, but Pees’ comments contrast the tone the organization’s brass has offered when asked about the safety this offseason. The Ravens are still hoping that Elam will begin providing a better return after looking like one of the worst first-round picks in franchise history through two seasons.

The 23-year-old reported to the Ravens’ training complex in better shape this spring after losing eight pounds, according to head coach John Harbaugh. Baltimore hopes that will translate to better performance in the secondary where Elam has struggled in pass coverage and as a tackler despite a reputation for being a punishing hitter at the University of Florida.

According to Pro Football Focus, Elam graded out 78th among all safeties to have played at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2014 and led the Ravens defense with 16 missed tackles. Injuries in the secondary forced Elam into nickel duty too often — a problem that should be avoided with better cornerback depth this season — but that doesn’t excuse his inconsistency in bringing down ball carriers in 2014.

So, what specific improvement is Pees seeing from Elam that suggests this season will be different?

“Communication-wise, running to the ball wise, and every aspect,” Pees said. “Now, the thing that we can’t tell right now is tackling from anybody [in non-contact practices]. It wouldn’t be just him, [but] it would be anybody. We don’t know that. But as far as just communication, knowing the defense, being in the right spot, doing all those things, [it’s the] best camp he has had.”

In two seasons, Elam has totaled 127 tackles, one interception, seven pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

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Trestman bringing tweaks, passion to Ravens offense

Posted on 08 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Since Marc Trestman was hired in January to become the Ravens’ fourth offensive coordinator in four years, the same question has been asked over and over.

How would the offense change from a year ago when the Ravens finished eighth in the NFL in points scored and 12th in total yards in their only season under Gary Kubiak?

At the time of Trestman’s hire, head coach John Harbaugh vowed to maintain the same principles and zone-blocking schemes in the running game that worked so well in 2014 and there’s little evidence at this stage to suggest that won’t be the case. Several players have described the transition from Kubiak to Trestman as smooth, but that doesn’t mean the former Chicago Bears head coach hasn’t added a few wrinkles here and there.

“The verbiage is the same, [but] some of it’s new,” wide receiver Steve Smith said. “If you don’t listen very carefully, you can easily get tricked. It’s good; it keeps you sharp.”

Known for his fondness for the passing game for much of his coaching career, Trestman is using the shotgun formation more than Kubiak based on limited looks during voluntary organized team activities. Vertical passes, waggles, and swing passes to running backs have stood out in voluntary practices without several starters on each side of the football taking part.

The most visible departure from Kubiak might be the new coordinator’s demeanor as Trestman has taken more of a hands-on approach during practices — regularly conversing in the huddle and sometimes running downfield to congratulate players — while the former coordinator would observe and typically allow his position coaches to handle the bulk of the on-field instruction.

“I’ve always been pretty active coaching on the field in a positive way,” Trestman said. “Very passionate, outwardly emotional at the right time. Just kind of let it happen the way it does during practice and in games, but more in practice where you have a chance to move around a little bit more, be a little bit more verbal with the player. There is time to do that and to coach on the run.”

While acknowledging the season opener is more than three months away, it appears that Trestman has won over quarterback Joe Flacco, who has shown an impressive propensity to succeed with a laundry list of coordinators and quarterbacks coaches as he enters his eighth season. The 59-year-old coordinator says he’s impressed with Flacco’s “quiet confidence” on the practice field but admits the two are still getting to know each other.

Of the three practices open to media over the last couple weeks, Flacco easily had his finest performance on Monday, throwing two touchdowns to tight end Crockett Gillmore inside the red zone and a long score to rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman against cornerback Asa Jackson during 11-on-11 team drills. You could forgive the franchise quarterback for being skeptical after enjoying arguably the best regular season of his career in 2014, but his early reviews have been positive for the man who’s worked with the likes of Steve Young, Rich Gannon, and Bernie Kosar in his long coaching career.

“It’s been great to work with him so far,” Flacco said during the first week of OTAs. “He’s very detailed in what he wants and how he puts things in and making sure that he teaches it in a way that everybody understands it and gets it pretty quickly. I think he’s doing a great job of motivating and getting everybody going, so it’s been good.”

While comparisons to Kubiak are inevitable, Trestman is working with a different deck of cards following the free-agent departures of wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in the offseason. It will be up to the new coordinator to make it work with Perriman and second-round tight end Maxx Williams as important parts of the offense in their rookie season.

Both have much to learn, but Trestman thinks the Ravens have found a good one in Perriman, who is primarily working with the second offense at this point but has made big plays in practices.

“What we saw on tape is what we are getting. What we’re getting is a guy who is continually improving,” Trestman said. “He has a good understanding of the game. He’s not just a fast guy; he’s a smart guy. He is going to learn how to use technique and use patience and use other aspects of playing the position — his size, his hand speed — to get off the line of scrimmage. That’s really awesome to see that he’s a quick learner, and he’s catching the ball and making plays just like we saw him do on tape.”

Ten starters missing from Monday’s voluntary workout

The Ravens continued to be without a number of key players as 10 projected starters were not on the field on Monday.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb, linebackers Daryl Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil, offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner (foot), center Jeremy Zuttah (offseason hip surgery), guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, defensive ends Chris Canty and Steven Means, and wide receivers Michael Campanaro (quadriceps) and Aldrick Robinson (knee) were absent during the session open to reporters.

After missing last Wednesday’s workout, starting cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot) was practicing and working on a limited basis. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (offseason wrist surgery) and safety Terrence Brooks (knee) also continued to participate on a limited basis.

Baltimore will hold its final three voluntary OTA workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday before beginning mandatory minicamp on June 16.

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Five questions pondering Flacco, Webb, Monroe, Ravens guards

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or should the Cam Newton contract put all discussion to rest about the deal Joe Flacco received two years ago? To some degree, criticism we heard about Flacco’s contract is now being thrown Newton’s way as he received an extension that pays him an average yearly salary of $20.8 million. We spend so much time ranking quarterbacks and determining which ones are “elite” when it really comes down to a very simple question for NFL teams. Can your quarterback win you a Super Bowl with a reasonable supporting cast around him or not? If the answer is yes, you pay him — plain and simple. Of course, determining the line of demarcation is the challenge as Miami recently paying Ryan Tannehill was an example of that. In terms of average annual salary, does Newton deserve to be the fourth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL? No, but it was his turn in line and Carolina has enough reason to think he can eventually lead the Panthers to the promised land. That’s all that matters.

2. Is it just me or does the Ravens’ current guard situation remind you of the 2011 season? Most assume Baltimore will ultimately re-sign Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda while fourth-year left guard Kelechi Osemele will likely depart via free agency after this season, but I do wonder if that would be the best path for the Ravens. Yanda is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the best guard in the NFL, but he’ll also be 31 in September. If his demands are through the roof, can you justify giving lucrative money to a player who will be approaching his mid-30s during the life of the contract? Meanwhile, Osemele turns just 26 later this month is likely to get even better over the next couple years. The situation isn’t identical, but it reminds me of 2011 when Ben Grubbs and Yanda were both scheduled to become free agents. Many thought the Ravens should sign Grubbs, but Yanda received an affordable extension that summer and the 2007 first-round pick departed the following winter. I’ll still assume that the Ravens keep Yanda, but it would be tough allowing a much younger player to depart.

3. Is it just me or should Lardarius Webb and Eugene Monroe be attending voluntary organized team activities after injury-plagued campaigns last season? Any veteran player has the right to skip voluntary spring practices, but I can’t help but think the Ravens aren’t thrilled to see Webb and Monroe missing OTA workouts — at least the ones that have been open to media thus far. Counting the playoffs, injuries forced Monroe to miss seven starts last season and the left tackle’s contract is structured in a way that the Ravens could release him next offseason if they’re not thrilled with his performance, as was the case last year. Meanwhile, Webb may have restructured his current contract this offseason, but Baltimore could easily cut the veteran cornerback next winter if his play doesn’t improve substantially from 2014. It’s one thing for established veterans to skip spring workouts, but those with question marks from the previous year are taking a chance to further fall out of good graces when they’re not around in the spring.

4. Is it just me or could a healthy Brent Urban be a difference-maker for a revamped defensive line? Much attention has been paid to the interior part of the line following the trade of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the 5-technique defensive end spot is a position of interest as veteran Chris Canty was cut and re-signed at a cheaper rate earlier this year. Canty has been mostly solid in his two years with Baltimore, but he will also be 33 in November and contemplated retirement this past winter. Urban has been quite active during spring workouts and appears fully recovered from last summer’s knee injury. Not only could he challenge Canty for his starting spot, but the 6-foot-7 University of Virginia product could be an intriguing option to replace Pernell McPhee as an interior pass rusher on third down. Urban will need to prove himself this summer, but it was no secret that the 2014 fourth-round pick was going to be a big part of the rotation as a rookie. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a key contributor for the Ravens’ front this season.

5. Is it just me or are the Ravens getting more than enough love this offseason? I’ve made no secret about how impressed I was with general manager Ozzie Newsome’s work in the 2015 draft and the savvy signing of slot cornerback Kyle Arrington last month, but I was surprised to see Sports Illustrated’s Peter King list the Ravens first in his preseason power rankings. Looking at it objectively, Ravens fans would be incensed if Pittsburgh were ranked No. 1 after losing a starting wide receiver, a starting tight end, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, an impact pass rusher, and a good offensive coordinator. Make no mistake, I expect the Ravens to be a playoff team in 2015 and they could very well be poised to make a championship run if wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams are ready to make meaningful contributions as rookies. Everything the Ravens have done looks strong on paper, but that doesn’t always mean it comes to fruition on the field as quickly as you’d like, especially when relying on unproven players. For the fans who like to play the disrespect card in terms of how the national media views their team, King is taking a leap of faith to put Baltimore at the top of the list.

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Ten starters missing from Wednesday’s voluntary OTA workout

Posted on 03 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the midst of their second week of organized team activities, the Ravens were missing 10 starters during their voluntary workout on Thursday afternoon.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, linebackers Terrell Suggs, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil, defensive end Chris Canty, and offensive linemen Jeremy Zuttah (offseason hip surgery), Eugene Monroe, Marshal Yanda, and Rick Wagner (foot) were all missing from the field as media observed practice. Jimmy Smith and Daryl Smith were both present for the first voluntary workout open to media last week.

In addition to second-year wide receiver Michael Campanaro (quadriceps) already being sidelined until training camp, the Ravens confirmed wideout Aldrick Robinson suffered a Grade 2 medial collateral ligament sprain that will keep him out for the remainder of the spring.

Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele was present and working after he was absent for last Thursday’s practice.

Tight end Dennis Pitta was once again catching passes and working on an individual basis as he tries to come back from two serious right hip injuries in the last two years.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the spring has been the progress of safety Terrence Brooks (knee), who increased his activity level from the previous week and took part in some team drills on Thursday. The 2014 third-round pick suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last December, but he appears to be ahead of schedule after team officials said repeatedly in the offseason that he would begin the season on the physically unable to perform list and may not be able to play this year.

The star of Thursday’s practice was wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who was working opposite veteran Steve Smith in the starting offense. Aiken made a series of impressive catches as he tries to build from his surprising 2014 season in which he rose from anonymity to catch 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season before adding another touchdown catch in the divisional playoff loss to New England.

Rookie Breshad Perriman saw most of his reps with the second-string offense, which isn’t surprising considering the Ravens historically defer to veteran players in positional battles during the spring and the early portion of training camp. During 11-on-11 team drills, the 2015 first-round pick made a nice adjustment on a seam route to catch an underthrown pass by backup quarterback Matt Schaub.

After missing last Thursday’s workout to attend his grandfather’s funeral, defensive end Brent Urban was active along the defensive line, at one point drawing the ire of head coach John Harbaugh for getting too close to the quarterback in a non-contact situation.

“It was Brent’s second time, so he was sent to his room for a couple of plays,” said Harbaugh as he laughed after practice. “He was a little too close, and then he was celebrating it. That’s what sent me over the edge. It’s like, ‘Do you understand what we’re doing here?’ But he has practiced really well.”

Now practicing fully after suffering a season-ending torn ACL in last summer’s training camp, Urban will be competing with Canty for the starting 5-technique defensive end job this summer.

Harbaugh said the Ravens hope to finalize their travel plans later this week for two instances of back-to-back road games out west during the regular season.

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Which 2014 Ravens draft pick breaks out in second season?

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Five questions pondering Machado, Harbaugh, Lough, others

Posted on 29 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Orioles or Ravens (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or does Manny Machado need to be careful not to develop a reputation as a hothead with umpires? The talented 22-year-old was ejected in the eighth inning of Thursday’s doubleheader after throwing his bat down in disgust upon being called out on a check-swing attempt. Machado said he wasn’t concerned about already having three career ejections, stating that “there’s going to be more where that came from.” Of course, this comes a year after the infamous bat-throwing incident that fetched him a five-game suspension and drew the ire of teammates and fans. The sky’s the limit for Machado, but there has to be some concern about his tendency to lose his temper, which includes him often throwing his helmet or bat after unsuccessful trips at the plate. With situations like this, I’m often reminded of Cal Ripken telling the story of how veteran teammate Ken Singleton once scolded him as a rookie for throwing his helmet, simply saying, “We don’t do that here.” Perhaps someone needs to have that conversation with Machado if it hasn’t happened already.

2. Is it just me or did John Harbaugh react too harshly to questions on Thursday about another offensive coordinator impacting Joe Flacco? The Ravens coach was in no mood to address queries about having his fourth coordinator in four years, going on the defensive and saying it was “irrelevant” and a non-story the media was trying to create. Anyone paying attention over the last few years understands the circumstances that led to coordinator changes and wouldn’t criticize the Ravens for any of them, but it clearly is a challenge for a franchise quarterback and an offense to experience that much change in a short period of time. It’s a testament to Flacco that he’s worked so well with so many different coaches and it’s a credit to the organization for finding individuals who have made enough of an impact in Baltimore to earn head coaching gigs elsewhere. The Ravens feel confident that success will continue under a talented offensive mind in Marc Trestman, so I’m not sure why the head coach took such exception to being asked about another change.

3. Is it just me or is now the time to give David Lough an extended look in the outfield? With Alejandro De Aza designated for assignment on Wednesday, it creates more opportunities for other Orioles outfielders, but Lough has received far fewer chances than Delmon Young, Travis Snider, and Steve Pearce this season. He hasn’t started consecutive games all year, but Lough does provide strong defense and speed, two assets the other outfielders who currently aren’t thriving at the plate lack. Truthfully, I don’t think Lough is an everyday player, but it can’t be easy to produce when you receive roughly one start per week and feel like you have to get three hits are you’ll be right back on the bench the next night. It might not be a bad idea for manager Buck Showalter to start Lough every day — at least against right-handed starters — for two or three weeks for a final assessment to determine whether he can be a starting player. If he doesn’t take advantage, the Orioles shouldn’t hesitate to move on from Lough if they want to explore other options in the outfield.

4. Is it just me or is criticism for established NFL veterans skipping voluntary organized team activities absurd? Yes, rookies and veterans on shaky footing are only hurting themselves by skipping OTAs, but entrenched veterans should not feel obligated to attend voluntary workouts. Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady was the latest to suffer a season-ending knee injury in a voluntary workout this week. I realize injuries can happen at any point, but why put yourself in harm’s way if you don’t feel the need to? This notion would be much different if NFL players had guaranteed contracts, but do you think the Broncos will hesitate cutting Clady next year when he’s coming off a major knee injury and is scheduled to make $9.5 million if they feel it will help their salary cap situation? Loyalty is a two-way street, but NFL teams typically take up the entire road in these matters. Of course, players can’t do anything about the lack of guaranteed contracts until it’s time for the next collective bargaining agreement, but that doesn’t mean they need to show up for voluntary workouts.

5. Is it just me or are the Orioles benefiting from their best pitching depth in a long time? Not that they were all great in Thursday’s doubleheader, but rookies Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, and Oliver Drake combined to pitch 12 of the 18 innings as the Orioles split with the Chicago White Sox. With all attention paid to the Orioles’ top six starting candidates and a crowded veteran bullpen this spring, it’s been refreshing to see pitchers come up from Triple-A Norfolk while Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman are currently on the 15-day disabled list. With Norris, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O’Day, and Tommy Hunter all scheduled to become free agents this offseason, the Orioles will likely have some opportunities available in both the rotation and bullpen for 2016, and that doesn’t seem like a bad thing with the contributions they’ve received from young pitchers so far. Of course, it’s also worth noting that pitching prospect Dylan Bundy will be out of options next year and will need to be on the 25-man roster, giving the Orioles more incentive to want to see him in Baltimore at some point later this season. Bundy is currently dealing with right shoulder tendinitis.

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