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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Running backs

Posted on 22 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore running backs:

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS 
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
BUBBLE: Fitz Toussaint
LONG SHOT: Kiero Small, Terrence Magee

Synopsis: It’s still strange to think how much this unit has changed from only a couple years ago when Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce appeared on track to being one of the best running back duos in the NFL, but the Ravens should feel very good about the current group. We saw last year that Justin Forsett was a perfect fit for their zone-blocking schemes and you won’t find a better mentor for the other young backs on the roster than the 29-year-old. It will be interesting to see what impact new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has on the running backs after Matt Forte caught 176 passes out of the backfield over the last two years in Chicago. With the entire offensive line returning, there’s little reason to think this group can’t succeed in 2015 with Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen competing behind Forsett for carries.

One to watch: The Ravens selecting Allen in the fourth round should grab the attention of Taliaferro, who had a solid rookie season cut short by a foot injury. Reporting to spring workouts looking leaner and faster, Taliaferro figures to have the early advantage for the No. 2 job after rushing for 292 yards and four touchdowns on 68 carries as a rookie. The Coastal Carolina product still must prove he can thrive in a one-cut, zone-blocking system, but his ability in short-yardage situations figures to only improve with experience under his belt.

One on notice: Kyle Juszczyk will need to prove he fits in Trestman’s offense, which didn’t feature much use for a fullback in Chicago. The Harvard product caught 19 passes out of the backfield in his second season, but fumbles did not land him in the good graces of the coaching staff. It also doesn’t help Juszczyk that the Ravens have so many young tight ends, which will likely limit his opportunities as a receiver. Kiero Small wouldn’t figure to provide much of a threat to Juszczyk, but this year will probably go a long way in determining whether the 2013 fourth-round pick is a long-term fit in Baltimore.

Sleeper: Fitz Toussaint wouldn’t figure to have a great chance to make the roster strictly as a running back, but the Ravens’ gaping hole in the return game could improve his chances. The Michigan product worked as a kick returner in the spring and should be in the mix during training camp and the preseason. The Ravens thought enough of Toussaint to not only promote him from the practice squad last year, but he even began receiving some carries, which illustrated how much they liked him as well as the immense disappointment that Pierce was in his final season with Baltimore.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Defensive line

Posted on 21 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to begin the 20th training camp in franchise history in less than two weeks, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore defensive linemen:

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN 
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, Carl Davis, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Lawrence Guy, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Christo Bilukidi, Casey Walker
LONG SHOT: None

Synopsis: Replacing the greatest defensive tackle in franchise history won’t be easy, but the Ravens should feel good about the strength in numbers they have to fill the void left behind by five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata. Brandon Williams enters his third season emerging as one of the best nose tackles in the NFL while 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan will receive the first crack at replacing Ngata in the starting lineup. Though Chris Canty is near the end of his NFL career, this is an extremely young group that should give defensive coordinator Dean Pees a strong rotation once the regular season begins. With all 10 defensive linemen in camp figuring to have a shot to make to make the roster, the coaching staff and front office will have some difficult decision at the end of August.

One to watch: With Canty possibly in his final season and Pernell McPhee now in Chicago, the Ravens would greatly benefit from Brent Urban showing he’s fully recovered from last summer’s knee injury and ready to contribute as an active member of the defensive line rotation. Not only could the 2014 fourth-round pick push Canty for the starting 5-technique defensive end spot, but his 6-foot-7 frame makes him an intriguing option as an interior rusher in certain passing situations, a role McPhee often filled successfully in recent years.

One on notice: DeAngelo Tyson has been a consistent part of the rotation over the last three years, but the presence of Canty and Urban as well as the re-signing of the steady Lawrence Guy could spell trouble for the 2012 seventh-round pick. After starting four games in place of the injured Canty last October, Tyson was inactive for six of Baltimore’s final nine games counting the playoffs as Guy passed him on the depth chart. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, he’ll need a strong summer with so many other younger linemen in the mix and vying for a roster spot.

Sleeper: Casey Walker showed a mean streak during spring practices and is a former undrafted free agent from Oklahoma who was signed off the New England practice squad last December. At 6-foot-1 and 330-pounds, Walker has good size to play an interior line position and is one to watch as the Ravens evaluate which of their young linemen will be most effective against the run. He may lack the pedigree of other drafted players, but his toughness in the spring wasn’t overlooked by coaches.

 

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Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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Pitta’s status comes as no surprise entering training camp

Posted on 21 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Anyone surprised by the news of Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta’s status for the start of training camp shouldn’t be.

Even before The Sun reported the 30-year-old is expected to be placed on the physically unable to perform list, all signs had pointed to that reality throughout the offseason and spring.

The Ravens made no secret in preparing for life without Pitta by adding two tight ends — second-rounder Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle in the fifth round — in this year’s draft after they had selected Crockett Gillmore in the third round last year. And though Pitta had done some individual work — catching passes and running routes — during voluntary organized team activities in the spring, his full clearance never appeared imminent.

Pitta will initially be placed on the active PUP list during training camp — which allows a player to return to practice at any point — before he could then be moved to the reserve PUP list for the start of the regular season. Reserve PUP allows a player not to count against the 53-man roster limit, but that player is ineligible to return until after the first six weeks of the regular season.

Whether even that will happen remains to be seen after Pitta suffered two serious right hip injuries in a 14-month period, the second coming in Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2014. The innocent nature in which Pitta re-injured the hip — catching a short Joe Flacco pass and trying to turn upfield without being touched — immediately cast doubt over whether the 2010 fourth-round pick would ever play again.

“He’s going to have to be cleared by the doctors, and No. 2, he’s going to have to decide he wants to play,” head coach John Harbaugh said during last month’s mandatory minicamp. “Obviously, there will be some risk involved. The first thing hasn’t happened yet. He hasn’t been cleared by the doctors. He has been going through — as you saw before — the individual part of [voluntary] practice.

“In minicamp, unless you’re cleared, you can’t come out to practice. I don’t know if that’s a rule or a policy, but that’s the way it goes. Until he gets cleared by the doctors, he won’t be able to practice, and we’ll just have to see where that goes from here.”

Because Pitta’s $4 million base salary is guaranteed for the 2015 season, the Ravens lose nothing by allowing him to continue strengthening the hip in hopes of an eventual return. Confident after Pitta returned late in the 2013 season from the first injury and receiving assurances from doctors that he was at no greater risk to hurt the hip again, general manager Ozzie Newsome signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed last year.

His $5 million base salary for 2016 is not guaranteed, meaning the Ravens could cut him after this season and would only have to deal with the dead money from the remaining prorated portion of his $11 signing bonus on the salary cap. This would leave $6.6 million in dead money on next year’s cap if he were to be released next offseason.

With Pitta’s future remaining cloudy, Gillmore and Williams are expected to compete for the starting tight end job this summer.

In his five-year career, Pitta has caught 138 passes for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Quarterbacks

Posted on 20 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to begin the 20th training camp in franchise history in less than two weeks, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on July 29th and the first full-squad workout takes place the following day, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore quarterbacks:

QUARTERBACKS
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Bryn Renner, Jerry Lovelocke

Synopsis: The Ravens once again reap the benefits of having a franchise quarterback as Joe Flacco enters his eighth season. The signing of Schaub gives the Ravens their first established veteran behind Flacco since Marc Bulger was the backup during the 2010 season. Baltimore hasn’t carried three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster since the 2009 season, a trend that figures to continue this year with neither Renner nor Lovelocke being standout talents. His regular-season numbers never wow you, but Flacco fits into the exclusive group of quarterbacks capable of winning a championship that so many teams are lacking every year.

One to watch: Flacco is playing under his fourth offensive coordinator in four years and is essentially in a contract year with the sides needing to renegotiate his contract after the 2015 season. It will be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman impacts the veteran signal-caller, but there’s no reason to think Flacco won’t continue to get the job done at just 30 years of age.

One on notice: The 34-year-old Schaub’s lone season in Oakland only fueled concerns about his future after a disappointing end to his long run in Houston 2013. Truthfully, he did not impress during spring practices, consistently lacking arm strength and accuracy with his throws. His contract is guaranteed for 2015, but he’ll need a better summer to instill confidence that the Ravens won’t be in major trouble if Flacco even goes down for a relatively short period of time.

Sleeper: Lovelocke, an Edmondson graduate, is 6-foot-4 and has good arm strength and mobility, which could make him a candidate for the practice squad if he can develop his raw skills over the summer. Either way, it’s fun to root for a local kid after he had a good career at Prairie View A&M.

 

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Dec 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) celebrates after kicking a field goal during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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Five questions pondering Tucker, Upshaw, Ravens defensive line

Posted on 17 July 2015 by Luke Jones

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

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or are the parameters now in place to work out a Justin Tucker contract extension? New England signed three-time Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski to a four-year, $17.2 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus this week, which should provide the framework for general manager Ozzie Newsome to extend Tucker for the long haul. Tucker is six years younger, so he will likely command more money — and perhaps an extra year or two on a deal — the longer the Ravens wait. A deal in the neighborhood of five years and $21 million total with a $7 million signing bonus would seem fair for both sides to continue their relationship.

2. Is it just me or does the hype surrounding Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo make you feel very lucky not to be a Bills fan? Taking nothing away from the former Ravens quarterback who was an acceptable backup and confidant for Joe Flacco, but it’s absurd to continue to see headlines about Taylor possibly becoming the Bills starting quarterback and simply shows how desperate teams without a franchise quarterback can be. With EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel as his only competition, Taylor is deserving of a chance to compete, but nothing about his play in the preseason or in very limited regular-season opportunities over the last four years suggested he has the ability to be a No. 1 quarterback.

3. Is it just me or will it be interesting to see how Courtney Upshaw performs in the final year of his rookie contract? Despite his weight being a sore subject in past summers, the 2012 second-round pick has been a mostly solid but unspectacular contributor for Baltimore in his first three seasons. Upshaw has profiled as a poor man’s Jarret Johnson, setting the edge and playing the run well, but I’m curious to see what kind of market there might be for the Alabama product. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are both on the wrong side of 30, but the free-agent loss of Pernell McPhee doesn’t leave the Ravens with any veteran depth behind them other than Upshaw. That said, the Ravens shouldn’t overpay to keep an outside linebacker who offers such little ability to rush the quarterback.

4. Is it just me or are you not buying Reggie Wayne as a good fit for the Ravens? The former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver says he wants to play one more year and has talked with several teams, but I don’t see this as a time when Baltimore needs a veteran receiver with his skill set as some have suggested. At this point in his brilliant career, Wayne profiles similarly to Steve Smith and is coming off a 2014 season in which he caught only 64 passes for 779 yards. If the Ravens are to add a veteran receiver to the picture, they’d be better off adding more speed to the outside in case Breshad Perriman is slow to develop. Wayne isn’t the player to do that.

5. Is it just me or could we see a couple talented defensive linemen left on the outside looking in at the end of the preseason? The Ravens will continue to hear questions about replacing five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but there’s no shortage of talent on the defensive line, which could make for some interesting decisions when they trim the roster to 53. It wouldn’t stun me to see a healthy Brent Urban push Chris Canty to the bubble or to see rookie Carl Davis push a veteran backup such as DeAngelo Tyson off the roster at the end of August. With 10 defensive linemen sporting at least a decent chance to make the roster, Baltimore will likely need to part ways with at least a couple quality players from this group.

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Nov 11, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch (4) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal in the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium.  Baltimore defeated Oakland 55-20.  Mandatory Credit: James Lang-US PRESSWIRE

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Ravens thoughts on Koch, safety position, Ngata

Posted on 14 July 2015 by Luke Jones

At a time of year when you pray for peace and quiet while counting down to the start of training camp, the Ravens made positive news last week by signing veteran punter Sam Koch to a long-term extension.

Despite being the second-longest tenured player on the team behind Terrell Suggs, the 32-year-old’s future had been under scrutiny the last couple offseasons due to a high salary cap figure for a punter, but general manager Ozzie Newsome showed how much the organization valued Koch by inking him to a five-year, $16.25 million extension that runs through the 2020 season. The 2006 sixth-round pick was coming off arguably the best season of his career in which he led the NFL in net punting with a 43.3 yard average.

Koch will receive good pay for however long he remains in Baltimore — the structure of the contract would make it fairly easy to cut him as early as the conclusion of the 2016 season if desired — but the deal still ranks outside the top five for punter contracts in total cash and guaranteed money. Remembering that the salary cap has increased by more than $23 million since 2011 makes Koch’s deal much easier to swallow considering his consistency.

While more attention has understandably fallen on the future of 2013 Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker — who is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2015 season — Koch has long been a respected member of the locker room that extends beyond his reputation for executing directional kicks as well as any punter in the league. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg passionately summarized Koch’s value to the Ravens after the veteran failed to make the Pro Bowl last December despite winning the fan vote:

I think the fans got it right. The fans prove to be more informed than the experts in this particular regard, in my opinion. Sam has his team as the No. 1 net punt and No. 1 gross punt team in the league if you’re looking just at numbers – which I’m assuming people did – and that’s hard to do. It’s hard to do both. And other numbers that jump out at you – he’s one of the lowest numbers in percentage of returned balls, one of the lowest numbers in percentage of yards returned, one of the highest percentage of inside-the-20 punts in the league.

Besides that, he’s probably – and I don’t have numbers to back it up – but I suspect that the numbers would back me up to say he’s probably the best holder in the history of football. He has held for three Pro Bowl kickers since he has been here. This last year, he held for three different snappers, actually four counting Haloti [Ngata]. What more does a guy have to do? I guess that’s the way I look at it. And this is meant as no disrespect for the two outstanding players that made it, but the reason we do what we do is because Sam can do it. And the season he has had has been phenomenal. He went through an offseason where he got some undeserved criticism that was thrown out there and some people swallowed it and then spit it back up. His family endured that, and all Sam did is work and take care of his family.

He’s a great husband and a father, an outstanding member of his community. This is a model for pro athletes. If anybody wants to look at a pro athlete, I say, ‘Look at Sam. Be like Sam.’ His teammates have an enormous amount of respect for him. The thing I think has happened here is, because he’s such an unassuming team man – that he doesn’t seek attention for himself – that I think he has been overlooked for a number of years. Certainly not by us, not by his teammates – he is not being overlooked. We are passionate in our support of Sam Koch, because he’s such an outstanding man and an outstanding player.

Is Rosburg partial to the only punter he’s known in Baltimore? Of course, but his words tell all you need to know as to why the Ravens felt it was important to lock up their veteran punter.

Of course, the bigger challenge will be signing Tucker, but the franchise tag is almost certain to be in play if the sides don’t strike a deal by next February.

Safety concerns

The Ravens were able to augment their depth at the cornerback position with the additions of veteran Kyle Arrington and fourth-round rookie Tray Walker this offseason, but safety remains a concern as they enter training camp later this month.

Newsome made a modest commitment to veteran newcomer Kendrick Lewis with a three-year, $5.4 million contract, but only time will tell whether he represents an upgrade from Darian Stewart, who wasn’t exactly stellar in his lone season in Baltimore last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Lewis graded out as the 27th-best safety among those playing at least 50 percent of team snaps while Stewart was 23rd, but the Ravens believe Lewis has better ability to play deep coverage — an area in which the pass defense struggled dramatically a year ago.

Strong safety Will Hill could be the wild card for the Ravens secondary if he can build on his 2014 campaign in which he graded out as the 14th-best safety in the league, per PFF. Head coach John Harbaugh challenged the 25-year-old Hill to keep himself out of trouble this offseason after he was suspended three times in his first three years in the NFL, resulting in him being jettisoned by the New York Giants last year.

Baltimore will knock on wood hoping no news is good news with Hill as his continued emergence would mean less reliance on the disappointing Matt Elam or the rehabbing Terrence Brooks to begin the 2015 season. Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, Hill would not only solidify his standing in the starting defense with a strong season, but he’d put himself in line for a nice payday despite the tumultuous beginning to his professional career.

Ngata story

The winner of this year’s Ravens-related topic that isn’t remotely a story might have been the recent comments made by Haloti Ngata about his new defense in Detroit.

Apparently, the five-time Pro Bowl selection saying he had “never been a part of a defense like this” meant he was trashing his former team as if he’s supposed to walk on eggshells in describing his new surroundings. Many of those stirring up controversy failed to mention that Ngata will be playing in a base 4-3 front for the first time in his NFL career and — wait for it — will have different teammates than the ones with whom he played in Baltimore, very much making it a defense he’s “never been a part of” before.

If you need further evidence to dismiss the notion that Ngata was out of line in expressing admiration for a non-Baltimore defense, Detroit finished ahead of the Ravens in total defense and points allowed in 2014.

While I wouldn’t describe the separation between Ngata and the Ravens as harmonious after contract talks broke down this winter, each side ultimately made a business decision the other respected. The veteran spent nearly a decade in Baltimore, rarely ever used the media to draw attention to himself, and has expressed nothing but respect for his former organization since the March trade, making last week’s created controversy absurd.

Yes, it’s a slow news time in the NFL, but there was nothing to see there at all.

 

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Which free-agent newcomer will bring biggest impact to Ravens?

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

As usual, the Ravens weren’t big movers and shakers in the free-agent market this offseason, but general manager Ozzie Newsome did pick his spots to augment the roster with veteran talent.

Looking to improve the secondary as well as replace backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Ravens made three key veteran signings they hope will pay dividends during the 2015 season.

Below is a look at each one as you can vote in our poll and comment below on which signing will pay the biggest dividends for the Ravens:

Which Ravens' free-agent newcomer will make the biggest impact this season?

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S Kendrick Lewis
Age: 27
Contract: Three years, $5.4 million
Synopsis: The former Texans safety was part of a game of musical safeties in the AFC this offseason as ex-Raven Darian Stewart signed with Denver and former Bronco Rahim Moore landed with Houston. Considering their issues at safety last year, the Ravens hope Lewis can play an effective deep center field after the likes of Stewart and Terrence Brooks allowed too many balls to go over their head. During spring workouts, Lewis consistently worked with the starting defense while Will Hill and Matt Elam rotated at the other safety spot. Of their three biggest free-agent signings, the Ole Miss product projects to receive the most playing time as defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like him to provide an upgrade over Stewart, who underwhelmed for much of the 2014 season.

QB Matt Schaub
Age: 34
Contract: One year, $2 million
Synopsis: The Ravens and their fans pray that the only impact Schaub makes will come in the meeting room and on the practice field as a source of knowledge and experience to aid franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. You never want to draw too many conclusions from spring practices, but the former Texans quarterback didn’t inspire much confidence based on his play as he struggled to connect with receivers consistently and threw too many interceptions. If Schaub sees extensive playing time, it clearly means something has gone horribly wrong for the Ravens during the 2015 season. Baltimore invested real money in a backup quarterback for the first time since 2010, but I’m not convinced that Schaub will give them a much better chance to win if he needs to play than Taylor did the last couple seasons.

CB Kyle Arrington
Age: 28
Contract: Three years, $7 million
Synopsis: With the Ravens’ extensive injuries at the cornerback position a year ago, Newsome couldn’t afford to go into the 2015 campaign without an established veteran to go with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb in the nickel defense. The former New England cornerback is very solid defending the slot and allows Pees to keep Webb on the outside. This signing takes pressure off the likes of fourth-round rookie Tray Walker, Rashaan Melvin, and Asa Jackson on the depth chart, but the key to the secondary’s success will be the ability of Smith and Webb to stay on the field. Arrington will have to perform and isn’t a great fit playing outside, but the Ravens paid a very reasonable price when you remember some of the bloated contracts given to free-agent corners at the start of free agency.

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Ravens position battles to watch this summer

Posted on 24 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens possess one of the deepest rosters in the NFL entering the 2015 season, but a number of key position battles will headline the summer as they seek their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

After losing the likes of Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Pernell McPhee, general manager Ozzie Newsome has done a remarkable job reloading, but several questions must be answered before the season begins in Denver on Sept. 13.

Below is an early look at each competition with the first full-squad workout of the summer set for July 30:

Starting wide receiver
The candidates: Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown
Why to be optimistic: The 26th overall pick in the draft, Perriman was projected to go in the middle of the first round by some and is a faster and bigger version of Torrey Smith on paper while Aiken and Brown are still developing and contributed a season ago.
Why to be concerned: Beyond the 13,000-plus receiving yards from 15-year veteran Steve Smith, the Ravens’ other returning wide receivers made a combined 55 catches last year, making you pray that Perriman is ready to contribute immediately.
The favorite: Aiken is the leader in the clubhouse following minicamp and has developed an impressive rapport with Joe Flacco, but Perriman’s skills are too enticing to pass on him as the favorite to start.

Starting tight end
The candidates: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
Why to be optimistic: Even if we assume Pitta will not be cleared to play in 2015, the Ravens invested a 2014 third-round pick in Gillmore and a second-round pick in Williams this spring for a reason.
Why to be concerned: Gillmore caught just 10 passes as a rookie while Williams did not stand out during spring practices and is still trying to adjust to Marc Trestman’s offensive system.
The favorite: After showing improvement late in his rookie year, Gillmore was a surprise of the spring with a better physique and improved ability to make catches in traffic while Williams was very quiet.

Starting defensive end
The candidates: Chris Canty, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban
Why to be optimistic: Canty and Guy were effective holding down the 5-technique position a year ago despite Urban’s knee injury that derailed his anticipated role in the rotation as a rookie.
Why to be concerned: Canty is entering his 11th year and the Ravens deemed him expendable before bringing him back at a cheaper rate while Urban has been unable to shake injuries going back to his collegiate days.
The favorite: Urban was very active during spring practices and could push the veteran starter, but it’s too tough to pick against Canty, who has started 119 games in his NFL career.

Starting safeties
The candidates: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
Why to be optimistic: Hill proved capable in handling a starting job in the second half of 2014 while Lewis was signed for his ability to play deep center, something the Ravens lacked in coverage a year ago.
Why to be concerned: Elam was a clear disappointment in his first two seasons while Brooks is still recovering from a torn ACL, creating legitimate depth concerns going into training camp.
The favorites: The Ravens gave Elam some reps with the starting defense this spring, but it would take substantial improvement for the 2013 first-round pick to overtake Hill or Lewis for starting spots.

Return specialist
The candidates: Michael Campanaro, DeAndre Carter, Asa Jackson, Fitz Toussaint, Lardarius Webb, Steve Smith
Why to be optimistic: Campanaro and Jackson have shown flashes in the return game in very limited opportunities while Webb and Smith bring experience to the equation.
Why to be concerned: It’s difficult to buy either Webb or Smith as a serious candidate to handle the job because of their importance, leaving the real competition to players lacking experience or facing questions about their durability.
The favorite: There isn’t one as this competition lacks candidates to really feel good about at this point, making you wonder if the man to handle the job is even on the current roster.

Backup running back
The candidates: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
Why to be optimistic: The Ravens feel very good about Justin Forsett in a starting role for a second straight year and have invested fourth-round picks in running backs in each of the last two drafts.
Why to be concerned: Taliaferro and Allen have a combined 68 carries in the NFL and are the primary backups behind a 29-year-old back who has one year of experience as a full-time back since college.
The favorite: Last month, Allen would have been my choice because of the versatility he showed in college, but a slimmed-down Taliaferro moved well this spring and has an experience edge for now.

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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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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2015 Ravens roster

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp behind them and training camp just over a month away, the Ravens turn their attention toward the preseason and eventually trimming the current 90-man roster down to 53 by the start of the regular season.

Little can be taken away from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — conducted without live contact — but my early look at the roster suggests as many as 40 players would be considered locks if the deadline to trim the roster took place in late June. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the roster lists 28 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some positions lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office pay attention to the number of players at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of receivers or cornerbacks or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. The Ravens are looking for reserves who can excel on special teams in addition to their designated position, so they 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 could change at any point and certainly by the first day of training camp if any individuals report to Owings Mills in poor physical condition or have not done the necessary mental preparation for the summer.

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 during the different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Bryn Renner, Jerry Lovelocke
Skinny: Schaub did not impress in spring workouts open to media, but the Ravens invested $2 million in guaranteed money in the veteran quarterback to back up Flacco following the free-agent departure of Tyrod Taylor. Renner and Lovelocke will compete for a potential spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
BUBBLE: Fitz Toussaint
LONG SHOT: Kiero Small, Terrence Magee
Skinny: There doesn’t appear to be much drama in the backfield, but the competition between Taliaferro and Allen for carries behind Forsett will be interesting to watch. Toussaint will give himself a better chance to make the roster if he can offer something as a kickoff returner.

WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
LOCK: Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken
BUBBLE: Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, DeAndre Carter
LONG SHOT: Aldrick Robinson, Daniel Brown, Cam Worthy
Skinny: There are many questions beyond the reliable 36-year-old Smith, but there is intrigue and upside with this group of young wide receivers. You’re always waiting for Brown to take his game to the next level while the oft-injured Campanaro struggles to stay on the field, making it difficult to deem either a lock at this point. Butler was very impressive during spring workouts and Carter offers ability as a returner, making them two names to watch closely this summer.

TIGHT ENDS (6)
LOCK: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Allen Reisner, Konrad Reuland
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Dennis Pitta
Skinny: The Ravens invested a second-round pick in Williams, but Gillmore was the one who stood out during spring practices as the two will battle for the starting job this summer. I’d never want to count out Pitta, but if doctors wouldn’t clear him to participate in a non-contact minicamp, what are the odds that he’ll be allowed to take part in training camp this summer?

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (17)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Robert Myers, James Hurst, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Marcel Jones, Nick Easton, Leon Brown, Kaleb Johnson, Darryl Baldwin, Blaine Clausell, De’Ondre Wesley
Skinny: Myers and Hurst are in great shape from a roster standpoint, but you never know with offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who loves working with unheralded linemen and has found some diamonds in the rough in his coaching career. Re-signed to a one-year deal, Reid is a former third-round pick who never lived up to expectations and looks more like camp depth than a great candidate to make the roster at this point, but the health of Wagner’s foot could alter that thinking if the starting right tackle isn’t ready to practice by late July or early August.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, Carl Davis, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Lawrence Guy, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Christo Bilukidi, Casey Walker
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The narrative centers around replacing five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, but the Ravens have a nice collection of talent in this group, which will likely lead to them being forced to part ways with one or two NFL-caliber defensive linemen. Baltimore is curious to see how hard Urban can push the veteran Canty at the 5-technique defensive end spot. This is probably a make-or-break summer for Lewis-Moore, who has not played a snap in his first two seasons due to injuries.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
LOCK: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr
LONG SHOT: Andrew Bose
Skinny: While it’s certainly possible that all three inside linebackers on the bubble make the 53-man roster, you wonder how much patience the Ravens will have with Brown, who couldn’t even make it on the field as a special-teams player in his second season. McClellan has been one of their best special-teams players over the last few seasons, but Orr is younger and cheaper and took extensive reps with the second-team defense this spring.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
BUBBLE: Steven Means, Brennen Beyer, Zach Thompson
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The Ravens need to look at this position with an eye toward the future as Upshaw becomes a free agent after the season and Suggs didn’t exactly make it sound like he’s definitely committed to continue playing beyond 2015, making it even more critical that the fourth-round rookie Smith develops sooner rather than later. The organization has talked up Means this offseason, but time will tell whether he’s the next great find or another Adrian Hamilton or Michael McAdoo.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Kyle Arrington, Tray Walker
BUBBLE: Asa Jackson, Rashaan Melvin, Tramain Jacobs, Cassius Vaughn
LONG SHOT: Chris Greenwood, Quinton Pointer
Skinny: Smith and Webb remaining healthy are the biggest keys to this group’s improvement, but Arrington appears to be a good fit playing inside in the nickel package and takes some pressure off the development of the fourth-round rookie Walker. Newsome appears to have some second- and third-tier depth, but the Ravens pray they won’t have to tap into it like they did last season.

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
BUBBLE: Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick, Nick Perry
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The Ravens have put Elam on notice, but there’s not enough talent in this group to seriously think the 2013 first-round pick is in jeopardy of not making the team at this point. Levine’s ability to play cornerback and safety makes him a good bet to make the roster while Perry is a former Alabama product and one of the Ravens’ more highly-touted rookie free agent signings. It will be interesting to watch Brooks this summer as his progress coming back from a torn ACL suffered in December was one of the biggest surprises of the spring.

SPECIALISTS (5)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Justin Manton, Patrick Scales
Skinny: If Cox’s surgically-repaired knee were in question, Scales could make a push to replace him, but the veteran long snapper looked fine during spring workouts and remains as reliable as they come in the NFL.

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Veteran cornerback says Ravens interested in signing him

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

At a time of year when most free agents have at least found a home for training camp, veteran cornerback Tarell Brown says the Ravens are one of several teams showing interest in his services.

A former starter with the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, the 30-year-old told Sirius XM NFL Radio over the weekend that Baltimore was one of four teams who have expressed interest in signing him on the open market. He started 14 games last year in his only season with the Raiders, making 55 tackles and four pass breakups.

Brown spent the previous seven seasons with the 49ers, starting 47 games and collecting 11 interceptions. He was a starting cornerback against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, making three tackles and forcing a fumble.

Already anticipating the healthy returns of starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, general manager Ozzie Newsome boosted the Ravens’ veteran depth at cornerback this offseason by signing former New England Patriots slot cornerback Kyle Arrington and former Indianapolis Colt Cassius Vaughn to compete with the likes of Rashaan Melvin, Asa Jackson, and Tramain Jacobs. Newsome hasn’t shied away from adding veteran cornerbacks over the summer in recent years as he signed Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks following last June’s minicamp.

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