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Ravens to play two prime-time road games as part of 2018 schedule

Posted on 19 April 2018 by Luke Jones

Barring a flex scheduling change during the season, the Ravens will not host any prime-time games in 2018.

Baltimore opens the season at home against the Buffalo Bills for the second time in three years, but John Harbaugh’s team will face the challenge of playing four of its first six games away from M&T Bank Stadium, a stretch that includes two prime-time road games against AFC North rivals in the opening month and three straight road contests. The Ravens travel to Cincinnati for a Thursday game in Week 2 and will then try to exorcise their recent demons at Heinz Field for Sunday Night Football in Week 4.

For the first time since 2003, the Ravens will not play a Monday night game in the regular season.

In a peculiar twist, all three divisional road games will be completed by Week 5, the earliest the Ravens will have done this in franchise history. They will play just one AFC North team in the season’s final six weeks when Cleveland comes to Baltimore for Week 17.

After playing five of their first eight games on the road, the Ravens will stay home for the entire month of November, a period that includes their Week 10 bye.

The Ravens will play eight games against playoff teams from last season: Pittsburgh (twice), Buffalo, Kansas City, Tennessee, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Carolina. They have seven games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2017: Cincinnati (twice), Cleveland (twice), Denver, Tampa Bay, and Oakland.

For now, 11 of the Ravens’ 16 regular-season games are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday starts, but many of those games are subject to flexible scheduling (see below).

2018 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 9 vs. Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The Bills ended their 17-year playoff drought thanks to the Ravens’ Week 17 collapse last December, but this is a team in transition with A.J. McCarron at the helm — for now.

Thursday, Sept. 13 at Cincinnati Bengals — 8:20 p.m.
Skinny: The Bengals knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in one of the more stunning defeats in franchise history, an outcome that likely saved Marvin Lewis’ job.

Sunday, Sept. 23 vs. Denver Broncos — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Case Keenum was one of the feel-good stories of the 2017 season, but the Broncos have fallen on hard times since their Super Bowl victory a couple years ago.

Sunday, Sept. 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers — 8:20 p.m.
Skinny: Will the Ravens avoid losing a last-second heartbreaker at Heinz Field for the third straight year? This marks the fifth straight year the trip to Pittsburgh will be televised nationally.

Sunday, Oct. 7 at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Hue Jackson has already declared Tyrod Taylor his quarterback for the 2018 season, which means the Browns’ first-round pick will likely be at the helm by Week 5.

Sunday, Oct. 14 at Tennessee Titans — 4:25 p.m.
Skinny: The Week 9 loss in Nashville last year proved to be the difference between the Titans making the playoffs and the Ravens being left out for the third straight year.

Sunday, Oct. 21 vs. New Orleans Saints — 4:05 p.m.
Skinny: The Saints are very talented and Drew Brees will be enshrined in Canton one day, but he’s a surprising 0-4 in his career against the Ravens.

Sunday, Oct. 28 at Carolina Panthers — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The hype for this one will pale in comparison to the 2014 meeting as Steve Smith now enjoys retirement, but the Panthers did add Torrey Smith to their receiver group this offseason.

Sunday, Nov. 4 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: There’s something not right about these rivals wrapping up the season series three weeks before Thanksgiving, but the Steelers snapped their four-game losing streak in Baltimore last year.

Sunday, Nov. 11 BYE
Skinny: The bye will be in Week 10 for the second straight year and has fallen no earlier than Week 8 in seven straight seasons.

Sunday, Nov. 18 vs. Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: You’re telling me it’s not part of the NFL bylaws for the Ravens to play the Bengals in Week 17? This will be only the second time in nine years that hasn’t happened.

Sunday, Nov. 25 vs. Oakland Raiders — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Michael Crabtree put up huge numbers against Baltimore as a Raider, so we’ll see if he has a similar impact playing against his former team.

Sunday, Dec. 2 at Atlanta Falcons — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Who else is looking forward to reigniting those tired Matt Ryan-Joe Flacco debates stemming from the 2008 draft?

Sunday, Dec. 9 at Kansas City Chiefs — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Patrick Mahomes has big shoes to fill after the Chiefs traded Alex Smith, who led them to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.

Sunday, Dec. 16 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Ryan Jensen returns to Baltimore after the Buccaneers made him the highest-paid center in the NFL last month.

*Saturday, Dec. 22 or Sunday, Dec. 23 at Los Angeles Chargers
Skinny: I suppose the NFL is taking flexible scheduling to a new level this year as the Ravens will be making their first ever trip to Los Angeles.

Sunday, Dec. 30 vs. Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: If the Ravens again need to win their season finale to secure a playoff berth and still can’t do it this time around, I really don’t know what to tell you.

* = The NFL will determine by Week 8 whether the Ravens-Chargers game will be played on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23.  If the game is played Saturday, it will kick off at either 4:30 p.m. or 8:20 p.m.on the NFL Network. Should the game be selected for Sunday, it will begin at 4:25 p.m. on CBS.

Notes: Flexible scheduling can be applied in Weeks 5 through 17. A flex scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game except for the final week of the season. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Dec. 30.

Another wrinkle implemented in recent years is a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring certain games to wider audiences.

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Flacco saying right things entering critical year for him and Ravens

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never come across as someone who peruses the mock drafts circulating this time of year.

But he’s aware of the smoke coming from even some of the more respected reporters and draft pundits suggesting general manager Ozzie Newsome may select a quarterback such as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State in the first round. The Ravens are either seriously considering taking a quarterback early or doing their best to make it look that way.

“It is what it is. It’s a business,” said Flacco, entering his 11th season in Baltimore. “Eventually, at some point, that’s going to have to happen. It’s not really for me to worry about. I come in here and you worry about what’s here and now and doing your job, which is for me right now getting guys out there working hard and making sure we’re moving towards our goal of getting to that championship.”

Whether the Ravens are serious or not, taking a quarterback in the first round would seem to contradict many circumstances facing the organization as owner Steve Bisciotti even said in early February that the Ravens had “bigger fish to fry” then finding Flacco’s successor. After Bisciotti acknowledged considering replacing head coach John Harbaugh at the end of last season, would the front office really give a coaching staff presumably fighting for its jobs a first-round pick who won’t see the field unless Flacco is injured or completely ineffective? The Ravens cited their late-season improvement as justification for retaining offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but they’re suddenly ready to move on from Flacco, who played well down the stretch despite little help at the pass-catching positions?

An organization having missed the playoffs four out of five seasons and facing an attendance crisis is going to use its first-round pick on a player unlikely to make any meaningful impact while Flacco carries a $24.75 million salary cap number this year and would still cost the Ravens another $16 million in dead money if he’s released next season? So much for maximizing the first couple years of having a young quarterback on a cheap rookie contract, and that’s assuming the drafted signal-caller pans out, which is far from the sure thing teams and their fans want it to be this time of year.

Finding a new franchise quarterback is a proposition never to be taken lightly.

Regardless of what happens next week, the pressure is mounting on Flacco, who is coming off a third straight subpar statistical campaign and is facing his most pivotal season since the final year of his rookie contract in 2012. The Ravens have done a poor job building an offense around him since Super Bowl XLVII, but that doesn’t absolve him from criticism as even his biggest supporters should be concerned with his declining yards per attempt average and questions about his durability moving forward as the 33-year-old missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury, an absence that severely stunted the offense. For what it’s worth, Flacco said he feels “really good” after placing an emphasis in his offseason training on keeping his back healthy.

Newsome has followed through on his vow to change the look of the wide receiver room this offseason with the free-agent additions of Michael Crabtree and John Brown, but it’s still debatable whether that duo is markedly better than Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and the Ravens still don’t have a pass-catching tight end on the roster after Benjamin Watson’s exit. To his credit, Flacco says he’s already spoken to Crabtree and Brown about working out away from the team’s Owings Mills facility before training camp. It’s an activity that’s been overrated by both media and fans on an annual basis, but there’s also no downside to it and such a commitment would likely garner some favor after both Newsome and Harbaugh mentioned the need for him to get on the same page with his new targets.

“I think sometimes those things are just as much, or more, about developing a relationship with those guys and developing that trust,” Flacco said. “For those guys to see that I really like who they are as football players, and for them to see that hopefully they like who I am as a football player. I think when you can get that relationship going, that’s going to help your football team out a ton.”

The Ravens have more work to do with their offense, further making the notion of taking a quarterback in the first round a puzzling one. After taking just four offensive players — left tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and tight ends Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore — with their last 17 Day 1 and Day picks in the last five drafts, tight end, wide receiver, right tackle, and center remain among the roster’s biggest needs.

If Flacco has his way, the Ravens won’t wait until next week’s draft to add another pass catcher or two as he provided a ringing endorsement when asked about the possibility of adding former Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“I got used to throwing to a guy like that when Anquan [Boldin] was here,” Flacco said. “He was a guy that even if he didn’t have the separation, it may have taken me a couple games, but you got used to throwing him the ball and having trust that he was going to get it. At the end of the day, in order to win big games, you have to have guys that can do that, because eventually, you’re not going to have guys running wide open – you’re going to have guys that can deal with traffic, winning in traffic, catching the ball in traffic. I think he’s another one of those guys.”

If Newsome finishes the job of improving the offensive cast, there will be no more excuses for the veteran quarterback. Flacco’s current deal runs through 2021, but new general manager Eric DeCosta — and perhaps even a new head coach — could elect to move on next year if 2018 offers more of the same from Flacco and an offense that’s consistently been below average in recent years.

His renaissance would likely save jobs and change the outlook of the organization as it enters a new era with Newsome stepping down as general manager.

Yes, time very well could be running out. How the Ravens proceed next week could say plenty about just how much remains, but Flacco still deserves the chance to hit pause with an improved 2018 campaign.

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Ravens open voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

The Ravens began their voluntary offseason workout program for the 2018 season in Owings Mills on Monday.

The opening phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and is limited to strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. Coaches are not permitted to lead players in on-field workouts during this first part of the offseason program.

This phase of the program is voluntary, but most players beyond select veterans are quietly expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Tuesday, but photos and videos released by the team showed many players in attendance on the first day, a list including new wide receiver Michael Crabtree, quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Robert Griffin III, tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive linemen Michael Pierce and Carl Davis, safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, long snapper Morgan Cox, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Tyus Bowser, and running backs Alex Collins, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon among others.

In a series of moves that were mere formalities, Baltimore officially signed Collins, wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste, tight end Vince Mayle, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and offensive linemen Maurquice Shakir and Matt Skura to their exclusive-rights tenders on Monday.

The next phase of the program lasts three weeks and consists of on-field workouts that may include individual instruction and drills as well as team practice as long as the offense and defense do not work against each other. No live contact is permitted.

The third and final phase of the program lasts four weeks and permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are also voluntary. No live contact is permitted, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills.

Teams may hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

Earlier this month, the NFL released the following dates for the Ravens’ OTA and mandatory minicamp schedule, but these have been subject to change in the past:

First Day: April 16
OTA Offseason Workouts: May 21-22, May 24, May 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5, June 7-8
Mandatory Minicamp: June 12-14

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Dez Bryant could help, but is he the best fit for the Ravens?

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens still have much work to do to their offense with the NFL draft looming.

One of those positions remains wide receiver, but Baltimore has yet to add a pass-catching tight end following the free-agent departure of Benjamin Watson and has also lost two starters from last year’s offensive line. And while some help figures to come by way of a few draft choices next week, you never want to be in a position where you’re reaching with too many picks to fill out a depth chart, leaving a team at the mercy of how the draft board plays out and how other teams value the players you covet most.

That brings us to former Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was released Friday after eight seasons with the Cowboys that included three trips to the Pro Bowl and three 1,000-yard seasons. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver won’t turn 30 until November, making it reasonable to think he still has some good football left despite his statistical decline, recent health concerns, and his exit from a now receiver-needy team that moved ahead of the Ravens to draft him in the first round eight years ago.

It’s easy to be mesmerized by the memory of Bryant catching 273 passes for 3,935 yards and 41 touchdowns from 2012-2014 when he was one of the NFL’s top play-makers, but any interested team must have blinders to focus on the receiver he is today. That’s where the Ravens must determine if Bryant is the best fit for what they currently need.

With just over $10 million in salary cap space entering Monday and the ability to create more room with another contract restructure or two as well as a potential C.J. Mosley extension, general manager Ozzie Newsome can likely make it work. The Ravens can’t offer Bryant the opportunity to play against Dallas this season, but a contract in the neighborhood of Michael Crabtree’s three-year, $21 million deal inked last month would be doable if he wants to catch passes from Joe Flacco.

Assuming there’s mutual interest and a financial match, what would the Ravens be getting at this stage of his career?

Bryant never had elite wheels as he used his leaping ability and physicality to complement his speed in making big plays in his prime, but knee, foot, and ankle problems have slowed him considerably. Making that more problematic is that he’s never been a disciplined route-runner, making a transition to the slot more difficult to envision as his physical tools aren’t what they once were to win as consistently on the outside. While acknowledging the physical challenges that limited him to just 150 catches for 2,035 yards and 17 touchdown in 38 games over the last three years, Bryant also had to adjust to a new quarterback and a greater emphasis on running the ball in Dallas over the last two seasons, variables that can also limit a receiver’s production.

That brings us to how he’d fit in the Baltimore passing game with Crabtree and fellow free-agent acquisition John Brown already in the mix.

Neither Crabtree nor Brown have shown great productivity in the slot in the past, a reason why the Ravens expressed interest in the likes of Cam Meredith, Willie Snead, and Eric Decker in recent weeks. Crabtree’s prime never approached Bryant’s best years, but the two are similar receivers at this point, lacking good speed and relying on making contested catches in tight coverage and in the red zone to remain productive. Many might prefer Bryant to Crabtree, but the latter is already under contract and on the roster, making that argument rather inconsequential.

We often get caught up in the labels of a No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, but passing games need receivers with diverse skill sets. With the Ravens employing two tight ends more frequently than anyone in the NFL last season — a staple in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes — the starting duo of Bryant and Crabtree sounds good in terms of name recognition, but it doesn’t leave much speed on the field and the Ravens still lack a tight end who can beat a defender down the seam, potentially leaving them even more vulnerable to tight underneath coverage. On top of that, the Ravens offensive line will be replacing two starters and wasn’t exactly elite in pass protection last year, leaving one to wonder how long Bryant and Crabtree would have to maneuver against coverage before Flacco must get rid of the ball in the pocket.

Of course, there are ways around this and you wouldn’t assume the Ravens offense to remain exactly the same as last year with different personnel at wide receiver. Perhaps even more critical, however, would be how Bryant meshes with another wideout who would be used in similar ways. It’s no secret that Bryant can be a handful from an emotional standpoint, but Crabtree has also been viewed as a mercurial player at previous stops.

Is Bryant prepared to come to a new team with an internal understanding that he isn’t the same star he was five years ago? No one expects the Ravens to morph back into a pass-happy attack, so would both veterans remain patient when the targets aren’t coming their way as frequently? What about those game situations when Baltimore simply needs to have more speed on the field?

Looking at the rest of the roster and the salary cap, would a Bryant signing make it more difficult to add a veteran offensive lineman or a tight end who might shake free between now and the start of the season? Would his addition prompt the Ravens to once again forgo using a meaningful draft pick on a wide receiver who could still contribute now and then develop into a long-term answer?

Is the juice worth the squeeze for a volatile receiver whose last 1,000-yard season came a year before Jeremy Maclin’s?

The answer very well might still be yes, but these are all factors that must be considered carefully. And they should far outweigh the attraction of simply adding another big name at a position of need.

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Ravens to host joint practices with Rams prior to preseason game

Posted on 12 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Los Angeles Rams will make a cross-country flight to Baltimore for more than just the Aug. 9 preseason game with the Ravens.

The teams will conduct joint practice at the Ravens’ Owings Mills training facility prior to the exhibition contest at M&T Bank Stadium. This marks the first time in three years that John Harbaugh’s team will practice with another squad as the Ravens hosted Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in 2014 and worked out with the Eagles in Philadelphia the following year.

The Rams will bring a local flavor to the joint practices with former Dunbar star and wide receiver Tavon Austin and Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley, who spent his childhood in Baltimore before moving to North Carolina for high school.

The entertaining matchup to watch will be new Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree and new Rams cornerback Aqib Talib renewing their old AFC West rivalry. The two brawled in each of the last two seasons with Talib ripping off Crabtree’s gold chain each time. Last year’s altercation resulted in ejections and one-game suspensions for each player.

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Ravens release 2018 preseason schedule

Posted on 11 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The countdown to the release of the 2018 regular-season schedule continues, but the Ravens have unveiled their preseason slate that begins with their first ever appearance in the Hall of Fame Game and includes another nationally-televised road game.

The Ravens learned in February that they would play Chicago in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 2 — a game televised on NBC — but they will also travel to Indianapolis for ESPN’s Monday Night Football on Aug. 20, leaving John Harbaugh’s team with two nationally-televised preseason contests.

Baltimore’s first home preseason game comes on Aug. 9 with the Los Angeles Rams visiting M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens will play the all-important third preseason game at Miami on a date to be determined, marking the second straight year they’ll play the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

For the first time since 2008, Ravens season-ticket holders already miffed about the cost and overall quality of exhibition games will be subjected to the preseason finale at M&T Bank Stadium on Aug. 30. Baltimore will host Washington in a game likely to feature very few starters. This marks the second straight year that the Ravens will play a home preseason game against the Redskins.

The Ravens are 55-32 in their preseason history — including an 8-0 record over the last two summers — and own a 28-12 preseason mark under Harbaugh.

Final dates and times will be announced at a later time.

2018 Ravens preseason schedule
Hall of Fame Game: Thursday, Aug. 2 – vs. Chicago (Canton, Ohio)
Week 1: Thursday, Aug. 9 – vs. Los Angeles Rams
Week 2: Monday, Aug. 20 – at Indianapolis
Week 3: Date to be determined – at Miami
Week 4: Thursday, Aug. 30 – vs. Washington

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Campanaro becomes latest Ravens wide receiver to depart

Posted on 11 April 2018 by Luke Jones

Michael Campanaro became the latest Ravens wide receiver to depart this offseason by agreeing to a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday.

The River Hill product turned in the best season of his career in 2017, leading the AFC in punt return average (10.8 yards per attempt) and catching a career-high 19 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown. Campanaro returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown in the Week 6 overtime loss to Chicago.

A 2014 seventh-round pick out of Wake Forest, Campanaro endured a slew of injuries that limited him to just 11 games over his first three seasons before playing in 13 contests in 2017. The 5-foot-9, 191-pound receiver joins Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin as Baltimore wide receivers to exit this offseason. The Ravens signed free-agent wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown last month to try to breathe new life into the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing attack.

Campanaro posted the following farewell message to his Twitter account:

In 24 career games for the Ravens, Campanaro caught 31 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 10 times for 131 yards and a touchdown.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following pre-draft press conference

Posted on 04 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their pre-draft press conference on Wednesday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I have no strong opinion on Robert Griffin III, but the notion that an oft-injured quarterback who was out of the league last year pushing Joe Flacco is silly. Perhaps he sticks as the backup, but the signing shouldn’t impact any plans to draft a quarterback in the middle rounds.

2. Ozzie Newsome has been criticized for rarely talking to media, but he said he’s taking “all the blame” for missing the playoffs three straight times and was complimentary of John Harbaugh. He remains measured, but you can tell he really wants to right the ship in his final season.

3. Asked about last year’s draft, Newsome quipped that he hopes the Ravens won’t be taking four defensive players with their first four picks, but he reiterated — as he always does — they’ll stay true to their draft board. I can only imagine the fan reaction if that were to happen again.

4. Newsome remains open to signing another wide receiver before the draft, but he wouldn’t discuss any specifics, ranging from whether he’s had discussions with the New York Giants about Odell Beckham Jr. to potential contract talks with restricted free agents Cameron Meredith and Willie Snead.

5. Eric DeCosta offered interesting thoughts HERE (4:25 mark) about whether the Ravens have undervalued wide receivers in the draft compared to other teams, but he admitted “you’ve got to swing” and that the organization hasn’t done much of that at receiver. We’ll see if that finally changes.

6. Director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said he thinks there are tight ends throughout the draft who could help the Ravens, but he acknowledged the challenge of even most standout tight ends not coming on strong as rookies, citing Dennis Pitta as an example. That position remains a major concern.

7. DeCosta estimated as many as eight or nine quarterbacks in this class have a real chance to start and be productive during their rookie contract. I’d still be surprised to see the Ravens take one in the first round, but you sense they’d really like to nab one with upside.

8. Hortiz described Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore as “holding his water” in the pre-draft process and was complimentary of his college production and talents without sounding overly enthusiastic. Interpret that as you wish.

9. Newsome’s role with the organization beyond 2018 is yet to be determined, but DeCosta welcomes as much involvement as his mentor prefers. Let’s not forget Newsome went into a scouting role immediately after his Hall of Fame playing career concluded in 1990. He may want more of a breather.

10. It wasn’t surprising to hear DeCosta stick up for younger Ravens scouts after owner Steve Bisciotti noted in February how many experienced ones the organization has lost in recent years. However, the real proof will come after the draft when you typically see changes to scouting departments among teams.

11. You could sense DeCosta’s deep respect for Newsome as he labeled him “probably the best GM in the history of football.” They both downplayed this draft feeling any different than past ones, but you know it has to be with the changing of the guard looming next year.

12. Listening to Newsome speak (3:20 mark) about the draft still giving him the same butterflies he felt running out of the tunnel before a game as a player offers a glimpse into what’s made him so successful in both roles. What a competitor with a remarkable a body of work.

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Dates set for Ravens’ 2018 offseason workout program

Posted on 02 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will officially return to work in two weeks to begin preparations for the 2018 season.

The first phase of the nine-week workout program begins April 16 and is limited to two weeks of conditioning and strength training as well as physical rehabilitation. Many notable players and young players alike have been present for the first day in past years, but all of these workouts are officially voluntary.

The next phase of the offseason schedule occurs over three weeks. On-field workouts that include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practices conducted on a “separate” basis are permitted, but no live contact or team offense against team defense drills can be conducted.

The third phase of the offseason program covers the final four weeks. During this period, teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or OTAs. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are allowed.

Though these workouts are voluntary by definition, most players are expected to attend regularly. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement allows for a mandatory three-day minicamp for veteran players, which may occur during the third phase of the offseason.

Each club may also conduct a rookie football development program for a period of seven weeks, which may begin on May 14. During this period, no activities may be held on weekends except one post-draft rookie minicamp, which may be conducted on either the first or second weekend following the draft. The dates for Baltimore’s rookie minicamp have not yet been announced, but it usually falls on the first weekend after the draft.

Below is the Ravens’ 2018 offseason training program schedule that was released Monday by the NFL:

First Day: April 16
OTA Offseason Workouts: May 21-22, May 24, May 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5, June 7-8
Mandatory Minicamp: June 12-14

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Former Ravens tight end Watson returns to New Orleans on one-year deal

Posted on 28 March 2018 by Luke Jones

After contemplating retirement earlier this offseason, former Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is going back to New Orleans.

On Wednesday, the 37-year-old agreed to a one-year contract with the Saints, the team he left two offseasons ago to sign a two-year, $8 million deal with Baltimore. Watson was reportedly moving toward a deal with Kansas City last week, but a reunion with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees proved too enticing as he caught a career-high 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns with New Orleans in 2015.

Watson led the Ravens with 61 receptions and tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches last season, completing an impressive comeback after missing the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon. He was highly respected on the field and for his work in the community as he was the team’s 2017 nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, but Baltimore hopes to add more youth and play-making ability to the position to go along with blocking tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams.

How the Ravens will do that remains to be seen with few appealing options remaining on the free-agent market and history suggesting it’s an unwise gamble to count too heavily on a rookie tight end. This year’s draft class lacks an elite talent at the position, but Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State, Mike Gesicki of Penn State, and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are considered good prospects

“We’re going to try and get one,” said head coach John Harbaugh at the owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday. “Not to take anything away from Maxx and Nick — I think those guys have skills and stuff. I think they both have excellent hands and they can make plays for you, especially underneath moving the chains and those kinds of things. But I also think those guys are excellent blockers. They’ve proven that. Those guys have a huge role on our team. I love those two guys.

“A pass-catching tight end is someone that can stretch the field, make some big plays for us. That’s something that we want to have.”

Watson is the Ravens’ third unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere this offseason, joining center Ryan Jensen (Tampa Bay) and wide receiver Mike Wallace (Philadelphia). He will be entering his 15th NFL season and has caught 495 passes for 5,485 yards and 42 touchdowns over his career spent with New England, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Baltimore.

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