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Offensive position battles aplenty for Ravens at start of OTAs

Posted on 24 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are holding their first organized team activities this week and with them come plenty of questions as on-field preparations begin for the 2016 season.

Few conclusions can be drawn from the voluntary workouts that will be conducted without a number of veterans, but the practices will provide an early look at some players returning from injuries as well as rookies competing with established NFL talent for the first time. Thursday’s workout will be open to media to conclude the first week.

Coming off their worst season in nearly a decade, the Ravens have plenty of jobs up for grabs on both sides of the ball.

Here is a look at the top offensive competitions:

1. Left tackle

The candidates: Eugene Monroe, Ronnie Stanley

The reality: With Monroe continuing his crusade for medical marijuana in Las Vegas this week, the rookie first-round pick Stanley should receive extensive opportunities at left tackle. If he proves to be more than ready to handle the job, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh can feel better about the possibility of letting the oft-injured Monroe go and saving $6.5 million in salary.

2. Left guard

The candidates: Ronnie Stanley, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, Vlad Ducasse Alex Lewis

The reality: This spot is directly tied to left tackle as Stanley would appear to be the slam-dunk choice to start should the Ravens keep Monroe for 2016. If Stanley plays tackle, the other four will compete for Kelechi Osemele’s old spot with Ducasse holding the experience edge with 22 career NFL starts, but both Urschel and Jensen have fared well at guard when given the chance to play there in the past.

3. Running back

The candidates: Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Trent Richardson

The reality: The veteran Forsett is the early favorite to start, but the size of this list reflects how wide open this competition could be. There is plenty of depth, but the question will be whether there is enough high-impact talent to make the running game thrive and not just a collection of No. 2 and No. 3 backs. At the very least, Allen and Dixon give Joe Flacco two attractive options as receivers out of the backfield.

4. Tight end

The candidates: Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta

The reality: All eyes will be on Pitta — with fingers crossed — as he is serious about returning to action, but it’s impossible to know what kind of player he can be after two serious hip injuries. Is the veteran newcomer Watson the favorite to start after a career year in New Orleans or will Gillmore build on his encouraging 2015? The 2015 second-rounder Williams could also be ready to take a big step forward.

5. Wide receiver

The candidates: Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman

The reality: We don’t figure to get a look at Smith until training camp, but Perriman will be intriguing to watch after missing his rookie season with a knee injury. Perriman and Wallace are better speed complements to Smith’s skill set, but it would be unwise to overlook Aiken after his 2015 campaign. The next tier of receivers that includes rookies Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Chris Matthews, and Daniel Brown will be competing for the last couple roster spots.

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Thirteen Ravens thoughts counting down to OTAs

Posted on 20 May 2016 by Luke Jones

With organized team activities set to begin next week, I’ve offered 13 Ravens-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ozzie Newsome was pleased with last month’s draft, but a key to 2016 will be the number of rookies making an immediate impact instead of merely serving as inventory for the future. That answer could be the difference in getting back to the playoffs or not after a down season.

2. The free-agent signing of Jerraud Powers last week brought a much-needed veteran to the cornerback mix, but I still can’t help but look at that group with concern — particularly on the outside — unless the pass rush is dramatically better, especially with Jimmy Smith coming off another foot procedure.

3. Inside linebacker reminds me of right tackle in 2014 and tight end last season before Rick Wagner and Crockett Gillmore emerged. My early money is on Zach Orr starting. I can’t buy Arthur Brown being the guy after he didn’t even play down the stretch of a lost 2015 season.

4. I’m curious to know how Lardarius Webb is preparing physically to move to safety after seven seasons a cornerback. It’s no secret that Eric Weddle isn’t the biggest guy, but Webb was listed at just 182 pounds last year. Who is going to cover the big, athletic tight ends?

5. Like anyone, I have questions about Steve Smith returning from a torn Achilles tendon at age 37, but I’m intrigued to see what he has in store for us. The Ravens can’t just assume greatness, but I won’t be surprised if he still provides plenty in his final season.

6. There’s merit to the medical marijuana cause Eugene Monroe is championing, but his scheduled appearance on a panel in Las Vegas in the middle of the first week of OTAs isn’t the best look for a player at a position where a 2016 first-round pick is breathing down his neck.

7. We probably won’t see him until next month’s mandatory minicamp, but I’m very curious to hear from Terrell Suggs. Where is he physically after tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2015 opener? Perhaps more importantly, where is he mentally entering his 14th season?

8. It wasn’t surprising to hear Kenneth Dixon say he tries to emulate Marshall Faulk as a running back. Watching his college highlights reminds you of Faulk or Ricky Watters as a receiver. The Ravens would love for him to be even a respectable fraction of either of those former greats.

9. Much focus will be on second-round rookie Kamalei Correa, but the Ravens need Za’Darius Smith to be able to step into Courtney Upshaw’s old role to allow Elvis Dumervil to be a situational rusher. Their willingness to let Upshaw go for peanuts in free agency reflects their confidence in Smith.

10. The Ravens having competition at wide receiver is nothing new, but there is better talent at the top of the depth chart this year. Marlon Brown already being let go reflects that reality when he was competing for the No. 3 wideout job only a year ago.

11. We’re all rooting for Dennis Pitta to stay healthy, but it’s fair to ask if he’s even one of Baltimore’s best three tight ends now. He’s played a total of seven games in three seasons and will be 31. Is he still explosive enough after two major hip injuries?

12. The fourth-round selection of Michigan defensive tackle Willie Henry reiterated how forgotten Carl Davis was by the end of his rookie season. The 2015 third-rounder provided the biggest impact of any rookie early on before hitting the wall and seeing just 17 defensive snaps over the final six games.

13. John Harbaugh deserves the chance to tell his story regarding players illegally wearing pads during rookie camp, but the current collective bargaining agreement has been in place since 2011. Even if they sincerely didn’t know the rules, it’s hard to imagine the Ravens hadn’t thought of doing this before.

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Ravens sign guard Vladimir Ducasse, quarterback Josh Johnson

Posted on 16 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Filling out their 90-man offseason roster after making several cuts last week, the Ravens signed guard Vladimir Ducasse and quarterback Josh Johnson on Monday.

Ducasse visited with Baltimore two months ago and started 11 games for the Chicago Bears last season. A 2010 second-round pick out of Massachusetts, the Haitian-born offensive lineman has played in 79 games (22 starts) with the New York Jets, Minnesota, and Chicago over six NFL seasons.

The 28-year-old is expected to compete with John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, and first-round pick Ronnie Stanley — if he’s not playing left tackle — for the starting left guard spot vacated by free-agent departure Kelechi Osemele. According to Pro Football Focus, the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Ducasse graded 47th among qualified guards in the NFL last season.

Johnson, 30, will provide the Ravens an extra quarterback for spring organized team activities and minicamp as starter Joe Flacco continues to rehab his surgically-repaired left knee. He will work with primary backup Ryan Mallett and former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson with Flacco not expected to be back until training camp.

A former fifth-round pick of Tampa Bay in the 2008 draft, Johnson has made five career starts in the NFL but none since 2011, his final season with the Buccaneers. Since then, the 6-foot-3 quarterback has had stints with a plethora of teams including Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Buffalo.

He has completed 54.2 percent of his passes for 1,042 yards, five touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, but Johnson hasn’t attempted a pass in a regular-season game since 2011.

The Ravens also signed defensive back Sam Brown, a rookie free agent from Missouri Western State.

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First-round pick Ronnie Stanley agrees to deal with Ravens

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Signing a first-round pick used to be a significant accomplishment for an NFL team, but now it’s little more than a formality.

Fifteen days after taking Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley with their earliest draft choice since 2000, the Ravens agreed to a four-year deal with the left tackle worth just over $20 million with a projected $13 million signing bonus. With the rookie wage scale introduced in the most recent collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, rookie holdouts have become a thing of the past as the Ravens have already signed nine of their 11 selections made in last month’s draft.

Stanley became the fourth top 10 pick from this year’s draft to agree to a contract.

It remains to be seen where Stanley will play as a rookie as incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe remains on the roster for now, but the veteran is set to make $6.5 million in base salary and would carry an $8.7 million salary cap cap figure for the 2016 season. Cutting Monroe after June 1 would save $6.5 million in cap space with $2.2 million in dead money on this year’s cap and $4.4 million dead on the 2017 salary cap.

The Ravens have sent mixed signals regarding Monroe’s status throughout the offseason as he has started just 17 games over two injury-riddled seasons since signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract in March of 2014. One option would be to keep Monroe for one more year while shifting Stanley to left guard to fill the void left by free-agent departure Kelechi Osemele.

Baltimore used a similar strategy in 1996 when it drafted future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden and played him at guard as a rookie while veteran Tony Jones stayed at left tackle before being traded to Denver the following offseason.

“The way we’re going to do it is we’re going to let Ronnie go in there and compete with Eugene,” offensive line coach Juan Castillo said on April 29. “What we want to do is play the best five players. We’re fortunate Ronnie is a very good athlete and good player, and so is Eugene. We’ll let them compete, and we know that we’re going to play the best five guys. The Ravens are all about competition.”

Monroe has become an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana, recently making an $80,000 donation to researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania. He is also scheduled to appear on a medical marijuana research panel in Las Vegas in the midst of the Ravens’ first three-day set of organized team activities in less than two weeks.

To no surprise considering the NFL’s stance on marijuana, the Ravens have distanced themselves from Monroe’s position.

The Ravens have just two remaining 2016 draft picks who have yet to sign, third-round defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and sixth-round wide receiver Keenan Reynolds.

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Ravens sign corner Jerraud Powers, waive receiver Marlon Brown

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

After failing to select a cornerback until the fourth round of last month’s draft, the Ravens added veteran depth to their secondary with the signing of eighth-year cornerback Jerraud Powers on Friday.

The one-year deal is worth $1.75 million, according to NFL Network.

Most recently with the Arizona Cardinals, the 5-foot-10 Powers has started 82 games in his NFL career and will likely compete with Shareece Wright for the starting cornerback job opposite Jimmy Smith. A 2009 third-round pick of Indianapolis, the Auburn product has the ability to play both outside and in the slot, bringing more versatility to new secondary coach Leslie Frazier’s cornerback group that also includes veterans Kyle Arrington and Will Davis as well as 2016 draft picks Tavon Young and Maurice Canady.

Powers has collected 380 tackles, 11 interceptions, 69 pass breakups, two sacks, and three forced fumbles in his NFL career. In 2015, the 28-year-old missed three games due to hamstring and calf injuries, but he started all other games including Arizona’s two playoff contests.

By waiting until after May 12 to sign Powers, the Ravens are still in line to receive a compensatory pick for the departure of starting left guard Kelechi Osemele as all unrestricted free agents signed after that date do not factor into the formula.

The Ravens also waived veteran wide receiver Marlon Brown, defensive end Nordly Capi, safety Nick Perry, and defensive back Jermaine Whitehead on Friday.

A feel-good story as a rookie free agent who caught 49 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, the 6-foot-5 Brown struggled in each of the last two seasons and was considered a long shot to make the 53-man roster this fall. After the Ravens elected not to tender him as a restricted free agent, they had re-signed him to a one-year contract in March.

The organization also announced it signed first-round offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley to a four-year contract, leaving only third-round defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and sixth-round wide receiver Keenan Reynolds unsigned from their 2016 draft class.

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Ravens receiver Reynolds granted permission from Navy to play

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds has received permission to play in the NFL this season.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said on The Dan Patrick Show Friday morning that the former Navy quarterback will serve in the Navy Reserves, allowing him to begin his NFL career in Baltimore immediately. Naval Academy graduates are required to serve a five-year active term in the military upon completing school, but Mabus indicated last week that Reynolds would likely be approved to play football like New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona was a year ago.

Baltimore’s sixth-round pick in last month’s draft, Reynolds is expected to compete for the Ravens’ return specialist job as well as at the wide receiver position. He scored more touchdowns than anyone in NCAA Division I history over his four years in Annapolis.

Mabus also confirmed that Cardona, a 2015 fifth-round pick, would be allowed to continue his playing career with the Patriots in 2016 after appearing in all 16 games as a rookie.

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Ravens lose veteran scout to Philadelphia

Posted on 11 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have lost East regional scout Andy Weidl to Philadelphia where he will reunite with former Baltimore national scout Joe Douglas.

On Wednesday, the Eagles officially announced the hiring of Weidl as their assistant director of player personnel. They also hired Douglas, who spent last season as the director of college scouting for the Chicago Bears and will now become Philadelphia’s new vice president of player personnel.

With the Ravens since 2005, Weidl had served as the organization’s East regional scout since the 2013 draft and was responsible for scouting the entire eastern section of the United State, which included players from the ACC, American Conference, Big Ten, MAC, and SEC. He also evaluated and provided crosschecking scouting reports on players deemed “draftable” by the scouting department.

Both Douglas and Weidl were respected members of the scouting department valued by general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz.

“I have known Joe for several years and have admired his work with both the Ravens and the Bears,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Wednesday. “He is a guy that we had targeted from the outset. I feel that we are very fortunate to have him lead our player personnel department. Ozzie Newsome and [Bears general manager] Ryan Pace spoke very highly of him and his work. He is passionate about football, passionate about scouting, and he played a vital role in the success of the Ravens over the last decade.

“Andy also comes from the Ozzie Newsome tree of talent evaluators in Baltimore, and he has a great working relationship with Joe. I spoke with Tom Donahoe, who hired Andy in Pittsburgh, and he had nothing but great things to say about his work ethic. Like Joe, you can sense his drive for scouting right off the bat, and he has spent his entire career working for an opportunity like this. We are very pleased to have him join us.”

Players drafted from Weidl’s territories over the years included five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle Arthur Jones, wide receiver Torrey Smith, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

Weidl played his college football at Villanova where he graduated with a degree in communications in 1996. He had previous NFL stops with the Steelers and New Orleans before joining the Ravens more than a decade ago.

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Dixon eager to prove himself in Ravens’ crowded backfield

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens already had plenty of depth at the running back position when they selected Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round.

The question is whether someone will emerge as the clear-cut feature back for 2016 and beyond. Ranked by some as high as the second-best running back in the draft behind fourth overall selection Ezekiel Elliott, Dixon surprisingly fell all the way to the 134th pick where the Ravens snatched him up with the last of their record five fourth-round choices.

Watching his college highlights filled with big plays and impressive vision, it isn’t difficult to figure out which running back he tries to imitate on the football field as he wore No. 28 and averaged 11.1 yards per reception to go along with his robust 5.6 yards per carry over four seasons with the Bulldogs.

“The running back I really looked up to is Marshall Faulk,” Dixon said. “Just looking at his journey, just his work ethic that he had and the perseverance that he had through life. It’s always great, so that’s kind of who I modeled my game after.”

Of course, the Ravens would be thrilled if he could be half the player that Faulk was, but his physical gifts don’t stand out, a reason why he remained on teams’ draft boards until the end of the fourth round. His 4.58-second 40-yard dash time is good enough but hardly special and his 5-foot-10, 215-pound frame isn’t imposing, but then you watch his tape and look at his production as a four-year starter and can’t help but be intrigued.

Over four seasons, Dixon rushed for 4,483 yards on 802 carries — a heavy college workload that also might have scared some teams away — and caught 87 passes for 969 yards. His 87 career touchdowns temporarily gave him the NCAA Division I record last December before it was eclipsed by new Ravens teammate Keenan Reynolds, who is now Dixon’s roommate.

“It was kind of bittersweet. I was kind of mad at the time, but I’m especially happy for him and his journey,” said Dixon, who added that his mother is a huge Reynolds fan and asked for his autograph. “We all have different journeys, different walks through football. You never want to knock someone else’s walk through football. I gave him his props and everything.

“I told him if I had those other two [extra] games, he probably wouldn’t have been the leader.”

Dixon smiled as he noted that Reynolds had played in 13 games as a senior compared to his 11, but he’ll need that competitive fire in a backfield that includes 2014 Pro Bowl selection Justin Forsett, 2015 fourth-round selection Buck Allen, 2014 fourth-rounder Lorenzo Taliaferro, 2014 third-round pick Terrance West, and Trent Richardson, the third overall pick of the 2012 draft who is trying to revitalize his career. Of those six, the Ravens figure to keep four at most on their 53-man roster.

Plenty of intriguing talent, but who will seize the opportunity and run with it?

It would be unwise to overlook the man who scored more touchdowns than any running back in FBS history.

“It’s a lot of competition in the room,” Dixon said. “[Running backs coach Thomas] Hammock, he works really well with us. He does a great job with us. All we can do is control what we can control. That’s what we’re going to do is come out here and compete and work hard.”

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Ravens sign fourth-round cornerback Tavon Young

Posted on 09 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continued to make quick work of signing their 2016 draft class by agreeing to a deal with fourth-round cornerback Tavon Young on Monday morning.

The Temple product from Oxon Hills became the eighth of Baltimore’s 11 draft picks to ink his four-year contract as the signing process has become elementary with the the most-recent collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011. The only Ravens draft picks who had yet to sign through Monday night were first-round offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, third-round defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, and sixth-round wide receiver Keenan Reynolds.

The 104th overall pick and the first of a record five fourth-round selections made by the Ravens in last month’s draft, the 5-foot-9 Young is expected to compete with veteran Kyle Arrington for the nickel cornerback role this summer.

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Ravens great Ray Lewis reportedly out at ESPN

Posted on 09 May 2016 by Luke Jones

After serving as an NFL analyst for the last three seasons, former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is reportedly out at ESPN.

According to The Big Lead, ESPN is parting ways with Lewis, who was not part of the network’s NFL draft coverage last month. The future Hall of Fame linebacker was hired by ESPN immediatey after his retirement at the end of the 2012 season, but his work had been criticized during his tenure on more than one occasion with his trademark passion not always translating to cogent analysis.

Lewis isn’t the only ex-player leaving the network as Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter is also being let go while Randy Moss will join fellow newcomers Matt Hasselbeck and Charles Woodson this season.

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