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Newsome says “high probability” of Ravens adding free agent before draft

Posted on 05 April 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While discussing the many prospects available in this month’s draft, general manager Ozzie Newsome hinted that the Ravens could be adding another veteran in the near future.

The longtime executive said during Baltimore’s pre-draft press conference that the organization could add another free agent before the NFL draft, which is set to begin on April 27. The comments came as former New York Jet Nick Mangold was visiting with the Ravens, leading many to speculate that Newsome was referring to the seven-time Pro Bowl center.

“We’re working,” said Newsome about adding to his free-agent class that already includes safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Brandon Carr, and running back Danny Woodhead. “We’re working, and I could say there is a high probability of that, yes.”

According to The Sun, Mangold left town without the sides agreeing to a deal on Wednesday, but there has been little reported interest from other teams trying to sign the 33-year-old. An ankle injury limited the 6-foot-4, 307-pound lineman to eight games in 2016, but Mangold had been incredibly durable in his career prior to that, missing a total of just four contests in his first 10 seasons.

The Ravens have a clear need at the center position after trading former starter Jeremy Zuttah to San Francisco last month. Head coach John Harbaugh has identified John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, and possibly even starting left guard Alex Lewis as candidates to take Zuttah’s place, but the Ravens have usually preferred having an established veteran at the position.

The top center prospects in this year’s draft include Ohio State’s Pat Elflein and LSU’s Ethan Pocic, but director of college scouting Joe Hortiz acknowledges the challenge of finding a rookie center who can immediately step into a starting role and have the confidence to make protection calls at the line of scrimmage.

“We have done a good job of sending our coaches out to work the guys out, put them through situations where they are going to have to make a call, make an adjustment, [and] get some other bodies out there for the guy to have a look,” Hortiz said. “Obviously, snapping is key, both from under center and then shotgun snaps. Especially as the league is spreading out, we are playing more gun snaps, so that is very important.

“You just look at a guy’s intelligence, his ability to assess things, adjust things, communicate along the line of scrimmage. You can find out about some of that in the fall even if he is not playing center, but I think putting him through workouts and spending time with the individual really helps.”

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Ravens trade veteran center Jeremy Zuttah to San Francisco

Posted on 15 March 2017 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 5:05 p.m.)

Vowing to improve their offensive line after an 8-8 season, the Ravens have opened up another starting job a week after starting right tackle Rick Wagner departed via free agency.

After NFL Network reported earlier in the day that he would be released, center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to San Francisco after three seasons and 41 starts with Baltimore. The teams will swap their 2017 sixth-round picks, meaning the Ravens move up 12 spots from 198th to 186th overall on the final day of April’s draft instead of receiving nothing in what would have been a release. The trade came a few hours after former Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk lamented his teammate’s reported release on Twitter and suggested he would be a good fit with the 49ers.

Zuttah was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl as an alternate this past year, but the Ravens are aiming to have a more physical presence for the middle of their offensive line. His trade saves $2.4 million in salary cap space, but Zuttah becomes the fourth Week 1 offensive starter to exit since the end of 2016, joining Wagner, Juszczyk, and retired wide receiver Steve Smith.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Zuttah was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 13th-best center in the NFL and was ranked 26th in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 system. Seeking an upgrade is an understandable goal, but it remains unclear how the Ravens will proceed as young linemen John Urschel and Ryan Jensen are the only internal candidates to replace Zuttah on the current roster.

Urschel started seven games in place of an injured Zuttah in 2015, but he played just 265 offensive snaps in 2016 despite plenty of unrest at the guard spots. Jensen made three starts at guard in 2016, but he appeared to fall out of favor as the season progressed. Of course, new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and new senior offensive assistant — and running game guru — Greg Roman may have higher opinions of these players than former offensive line coach Juan Castillo apparently did.

Many have speculated about the possibility of the Ravens pursuing seven-time Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, but there has been little chatter linking the 33-year-old to any team after an injury-riddled season. The New York Jets released Mangold late last month, ending their 11-year union.

The 2017 draft isn’t considered to be rich in center talent, either, but among the top center prospects are LSU’s Ethan Pocic and Ohio State’s Pat Elflein.

General manager Ozzie Newsome has received praise for the re-signing of nose tackle Brandon Williams and the addition of safety Tony Jefferson on lucrative deals to help the Baltimore defense, but the league’s 21st-ranked scoring offense has endured several losses while 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead has been the only addition to this point. And with the first wave of free agency over, the Ravens will likely be depending on the draft as the primary way to address most of their remaining needs on either side of the ball.

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