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Ravens-Colts preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 19 August 2018 by Luke Jones

After beginning training camp more than a month ago, the Ravens have waited longer than usual to continue their preseason schedule as they take on Indianapolis on Monday night.

Entering a stretch of three exhibition contests in an 11-day period, John Harbaugh’s team also completed its second set of joint practices over the weekend, taking advantage of the longer-than-normal break since the Aug. 9 win over the Los Angeles Rams to work out with the Colts. An extra preseason game and joint practices with two different teams have broken up the usual monotony of summer and provided extra competition as the Ravens aim to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“It’s definitely strange. I think the last few years we’ve been stacked just every week on Thursdays,” said quarterback Joe Flacco about the preseason schedule. “It just is what it is. We’re in the training camp flow right now. Obviously, when you start to play these games, it breaks things up a little bit. It’s always nice to get back to football.”

The practice sessions with the Colts did not come without drama, however, as a number of skirmishes broke out on Saturday. The Ravens had mostly avoided any semblance of fights in practices this summer as even two competitive workouts with the Rams two weeks ago remained mostly free of incidents.

Might there be some carryover into a nationally-televised preseason game?

“It cracks me up. Is this a healthy obsession that we all have with fights in training camp practices?” said Harbaugh after Saturday’s practice. “It’s nothing. It’s much ado about nothing. It got broken up pretty quickly, and we’re moving on.”

Monday marks the second time the Ravens and the Colts will face off in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other exhibition encounter in 2016. Indianapolis leads the all-time regular-season series by an 8-4 margin and has won two of the three all-time postseason meetings.

The Ravens own a 30-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won 10 straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Monday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: LB Alvin Jones
QUESTIONABLE: CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), RB Kenneth Dixon (hamstring), LB Tyus Bowser (groin), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Kenneth Dixon

The 2016 fourth-round pick entered summer as a roster lock and was viewed as a wild card in this offense, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for the first two preseason contests. On top of that, Dixon hasn’t done much to distinguish himself when he has practiced as running backs coach Thomas Hammock even acknowledged the need for him to get his body right. I’m not yet buying rookie free agent Gus Edwards seriously pushing Dixon for a roster spot, but the latter needs to start showing more.

LB Albert McClellan

The special-teams ace doesn’t immediately stand out as one of the longest-tenured Ravens, but the eighth-year veteran is one of the most respected players in the organization. That said, he’s coming back from a major knee injury and is competing in a deep group of young linebackers with only so many roster spots to go around. This is the most vulnerable McClellan has looked since his first couple seasons.

WR/RS Tim White

Many anointed the undrafted free agent from Arizona State as Baltimore’s next return specialist after his standout preseason debut last year, but durability has been a concern as White sat out his rookie year with a thumb injury and missed more time this summer. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver has good speed and flashes from time to time as a receiver, but there’s no guarantee the Ravens will carry a specialized returner on the roster, especially with so many tough calls to make at other positions.

LB Tyus Bowser

Last year’s second-round pick had a terrific spring and looked poised to take on an expanded reserve role behind starting outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon, but a groin injury has cost him a sizable portion of training camp. His absence has opened the door for Tim Williams and Kamalei Correa to improve their stock in the linebacker pecking order, putting pressure on Bowser to stand out over these final three preseason games. The talent is there, but the 23-year-old needs these live-game reps.

OL Nico Siragusa

A long recovery from a serious knee injury made it tough to know what to expect from the 2017 fourth-round pick, but Siragusa has shown improvement since the start of camp. He was able to play 58 offensive snaps against the Rams after playing sparingly in the Hall of Fame Game, another encouraging sign. The battle for any reserve spots behind the top six offensive linemen looks to be wide open.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first week of training camp

Posted on 26 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the first full week of training camp in the books and the Hall of Fame Game right around the corner, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Brown had a fine spring and flashed from time to time, but Thursday was the first time he consistently wowed observers with several big plays shown below. The talent he showed in a 1,000-yard season in Arizona three years ago is still there if he can just stay healthy.

2. Marlon Humphrey was victimized by Brown on a few occasions and didn’t have a good practice, but it’s evident he’s in line to start over Brandon Carr based with the way first-team reps have been distributed so far in camp. The 22-year-old is too talented to keep off the field.

3. Joe Flacco has carried a strong spring into the summer, showing improved footwork and more accuracy than he has in a long time. I have covered every training camp since 2009 and don’t recall the strong-armed quarterback ever showing so much touch on deep throws in particular.

4. The Ravens aren’t broadcasting how they’ve tweaked their defensive system, but the best way to describe it is how customized it is at every level. Rather than bunching certain fronts, blitzes, and coverages together in a standardized way, every option at every level could be in play. Sounds less predicable.

5. The Tim White hype borders on being out of control based on such a small sample size, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver and return man shows good hands and is very smooth in his movements. I’m looking forward to watching him play in the preseason.

6. No Raven has transformed his body more than Willie Henry, who is listed 17 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. He’s added muscle and should provide more of a pass-rush threat for the base front, allowing Brandon Williams to play more at nose tackle in the process.

7. Orlando Brown Jr. is still developing and needs to improve his technique, but he’s handled the conditioning aspect of camp well for someone who faced questions about his weight in high school and college. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him raise his performance in a live-game setting.

8. Martindale mentioned Kenny Young as being in competition with Patrick Onwuasor for the starting weak-side inside linebacker job, which was surprising since he was responding to a question that made no mention of the rookie. Young hasn’t necessarily stood out, but this competition is one to watch.

9. The health of the rookie tight ends has been an early topic of discussion, but Hayden Hurst shows soft hands and an ability to make plays over the middle when he’s on the field. So many missed practices aren’t helping Mark Andrews’ chances for early playing time.

10. I’m rooting for Nico Siragusa to make a full recovery from the serious knee injury he sustained last summer, but it’s apparent he’s still knocking off rust and isn’t moving around particularly well. He’s taking a few more reps lately, but I’m interested to see how the team handles him.

11. Kenneth Dixon drew praise from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg during a kickoff drill Thursday before walking gingerly to the locker room with a member of the training staff a few minutes later. It had been the most explosive he’d looked over the first week of camp.

12. With Ray Lewis officially being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week, Ed Reed deserving to follow next year, and Terrell Suggs still in the process of putting an exclamation point on his strong case, Ravens fans might as well become quite familiar with Canton, Ohio.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts prior to start of organized team activities

Posted on 15 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to begin organized team activities in Owings Mills next week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens won’t be at full strength when they begin organized team activities next week, but OTAs provide the first real look at the 2018 team. Observations will be blown out of proportion, but it’s another welcome checkpoint on the road to the start of the season.

2. Next week will hopefully conclude the ridiculous opening chapter of the Joe Flacco-Lamar Jackson saga in which some have tried to make you believe Flacco has ignored the rookie’s calls and texts, stolen his dog, and even asked Thanos to snap his fingers and make him disappear.

3. The coaching staff should do what it can to utilize Jackson’s explosive athleticism without disrupting the rhythm of the offense or hindering his long-term development. Flacco doesn’t have the rope this time around to balk at the notion of a “high school offense” like he did several years ago.

4. Baltimore returns all but one player — Lardarius Webb — who played a defensive snap last season. That’s a remarkable level of defensive continuity in the era of the salary cap. Now it’s up to new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to take this group to another level.

5. It’s easy to forget about Tavon Young after he sustained a season-ending knee injury nearly one year ago, but he ranked 30th among qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system during his rookie season in 2016. This secondary has so many options.

6. Kenneth Dixon was a quiet winner during draft weekend when the Ravens didn’t select a running back. Baltimore could really use his play-making ability to complement Alex Collins, but Dixon needs to prove he’s healthy and committed to being a professional after his knee injury and two drug suspensions.

7. I’ll buy stock in Martindale utilizing Tony Jefferson more effectively than Dean Pees did, but restructuring his contract is questionable after his underwhelming first season in Baltimore. As others have suggested, this makes you think the extension with C.J. Mosley that would have cleared needed cap space isn’t close.

8. Bradley Bozeman had quite the career at Alabama and could one day develop into a productive player, but this isn’t a diamond in the rough at a small school that was simply overlooked. Suggestions that the sixth-round rookie could be the starting center are premature.

9. I’m curious to see what Nico Siragusa’s level of participation will be this spring after he suffered such a serious knee injury last summer. He would be an interesting name to throw into the center mix if he’s fully recovered, but little has been said about his status.

10. Quincy Adeboyejo was already far from a lock to make the 53-man roster, but the second-year wide receiver underwent surgery on his left leg Tuesday and didn’t exactly comment as though it were something minor. You hate seeing injuries, especially this time of year.

11. With the Ravens not using meaningful draft capital or free-agent dollars on a pass rusher, either Tyus Bowser or Tim Williams needs to take a big step forward in the way Matt Judon did a year ago. You can’t expect Terrell Suggs to continue leading the way forever.

12. A rookie quarterback and a large draft class should benefit from both a longer training camp due to the Hall of Fame Game as well as joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis, but John Harbaugh must strike the right balance in keeping players healthy and fresh.

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Harbaugh says Ravens offensive line in better shape than last offseason

Posted on 27 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens lost two 2017 starters from their offensive line this month, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.

Of course, they’ll welcome back six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda this year as well as third-year lineman Alex Lewis, who started eight games as a rookie and was considered an ascending talent before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August. But Baltimore didn’t pick up its 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard and lost free-agent center Ryan Jensen to Tampa Bay, who made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at the position.

This marks the second straight year the Ravens will need to replace the previous season’s starters at those positions.

“You compare it to last year, I think we are in better shape than we were a year ago at this time really,” Harbaugh said. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago, and it turned out pretty well for us. I thought [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys obviously. Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job, and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league.

“We’ve got some prospects there. I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens have substantial plans for James Hurst, who signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension that included a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. Making 15 of his 16 starts at left guard in place of the injured Lewis last season, Hurst is now expected to move to right tackle.

It’s a position where he’s made only two career starts, but the 6-foot-5, 317-pound lineman practiced there last spring and summer and received sparkling reviews from a notable teammate.

“Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner. He’s going to set the record this year,’” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s performance at right tackle last summer. “That’s how he felt going against him in training camp. I remember him saying that. Then, we had the injury to Alex and we moved him inside. That shows you how versatile he is. That’s how we’ll start off, but it could change.”

The 11th-year head coach also said former practice-squad member Matt Skura — who started 12 games at right guard last year — will receive the first crack at securing the starting center job as many anticipated. Nico Siragusa will also be in the mix if the 2017 fourth-round pick is fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury sustained last summer.

With Hurst moving outside, Lewis is in line to reclaim the left guard spot, but the 2016 fourth-round pick must prove he can stay on the field after missing 22 games in his first two seasons. In assistant head coach Greg Roman’s run schemes, guards are frequently required to pull, making the agile Lewis an ideal fit.

He also remains a consideration at center if Skura is not up to the challenge.

“We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of the thing that Greg and Marty put in last year. We run a lot of different schemes — gap schemes and pull schemes and lead schemes — where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”

Of course, Harbaugh was only speaking about offensive linemen currently on the roster as you’d expect the Ravens to be looking to add competition and depth in the draft since Hurst and Skura lack extensive NFL experience at their projected positions.

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Zuttah, Reynolds, Taliaferro let go by Ravens in first wave of roster cuts

Posted on 01 September 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens began trimming their roster to the NFL-mandated 53-man limit Friday with few surprises among the cuts.

Veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, oft-injured running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, and wide receiver and former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds were among the most notable names to be released as general manager Ozzie Newsome pared his active roster from 90 to 67 players. Baltimore must set its initial 53-man roster by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

Re-signed by the Ravens two weeks ago after being cut by San Francisco on Aug. 9, Zuttah did not beat out new starting center Ryan Jensen and became expendable with the Friday acquisition of interior lineman Tony Bergstrom from the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional 2018 seventh-round pick. This marks the second time in less than six months that Newsome has parted ways with Zuttah as the former starter had been traded to the 49ers in March.

The undersized Zuttah was not considered to be a great fit in new senior offensive assistant Greg Roman’s blocking schemes, but the Ravens decided to bring him back for another look after guards Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa suffered season-ending injuries in training camp.

Taliaferro entered the summer atop the depth chart at the fullback position, but he never appeared comfortable at his new position and quickly fell behind undrafted free agent Ricky Ortiz and even rookie defensive lineman Patrick Ricard in the pecking order. The 2014 fourth-round pick showed promise as a rookie, but he had played in only 19 games over his first three NFL seasons because of injuries.

Despite many local fans rooting for him to succeed after a record-breaking collegiate career in Annapolis, Reynolds hasn’t progressed as quickly as the Ravens would have hoped after he spent his rookie season on the practice squad. The 2016 sixth-round pick did not record a reception in the preseason and fumbled a punt in Thursday’s preseason finale in New Orleans. It remains unclear whether the Ravens will look to re-sign him to their practice squad.

Other veterans cut on Friday included tight end Larry Donnell, running back Bobby Rainey, wide receiver Griff Whalen, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, and cornerback Trevin Wade. The Ravens also waived offensive linemen De’Ondre Wesley, Jarell Broxton, Roubbens Joseph, Jarrod Pughsley, and Derrick Nelson, kicker Kenny Allen, long snapper Taybor Pepper, linebacker Randy Allen, wide receiver C.J. Board, and safety Otha Foster.

Lewis, Siragusa, running back Kenneth Dixon, wide receiver Tim White, cornerback Tavon Young, and linebacker Albert McClellan were all officially placed on season-ending injured reserve. Because they did not remain on the active roster through Saturday’s deadline, none of the aforementioned players are eligible to receive a designation to return later in the season.

It’s worth noting that the Ravens did not place cornerback Maurice Canady on IR yet as he remains a candidate to return later in the season from knee surgery. He would have to stay on the initial 53-man roster until Sunday to remain eligible.

Friday’s transactions leave the Ravens with 67 players on their roster, meaning they must make 14 more moves by the deadline.

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Rookie offensive lineman Siragusa becomes Ravens’ latest injury victim

Posted on 01 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the preseason opener still over a week away, the season-ending injuries keep coming for the Ravens as rookie offensive lineman Nico Siragusa tore three knee ligaments in Tuesday’s practice.

According to NFL Network, the fourth-round pick from San Diego State suffered tears to the ACL, MCL, and PCL of his left knee in a pileup during an 11-on-11 goal-line drill. Siragusa confirmed the news of the devastating injury via his Twitter account as he becomes the seventh Baltimore player lost for the season since June 1, a staggering development for a team seeking its first playoff berth since 2014.

Siragusa was the first offensive player taken by the Ravens in the 2017 draft and was expected to serve as interior depth for an offensive line with new starters at center and right tackle. His injury comes less than a week after fourth-year lineman John Urschel surprisingly announced his retirement from football, leaving the Ravens very thin at both center and guard.

Head coach John Harbaugh did not have an immediate update on Siragusa’s condition after Tuesday’s workout, but he confirmed tight end Crockett Gillmore was likely to miss the entire season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn MCL in his right knee Monday. Second-year cornerback Maurice Canady is also out indefinitely after knee surgery, but he could still return this season, according to Harbaugh.

Undrafted rookie wideout Quincy Adeboyejo was carted off the field Tuesday morning with what appeared to be a back ailment.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman left Tuesday’s practice early with what Harbaugh described as hamstring tightness that wasn’t believed to be serious. The 2015 first-round pick tweaked the hamstring while running a pass route and consulted with head athletic trainer Mark Smith for several minutes before walking to the locker room less than an hour into the session.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (back), wide receiver Kenny Bell (hamstring), cornerback Sheldon Price (undisclosed), and center Brandon Kublanow (undisclosed) were absent on Tuesday. As expected, wide receiver and return specialist Michael Campanaro (toe) returned to practice after being activated from the physically unable to perform list.

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What to expect from each of Ravens’ seven 2017 draft picks

Posted on 30 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The picks are in for the 2017 draft, so what can we now expect from the Ravens’ seven selections?

Below is the early look at how each rookie fits:

CB Marlon Humphrey
Drafted: First round (16th overall) from Alabama
2017 projected role: One of the youngest players in the draft, Humphrey will compete with Brandon Carr for the starting job opposite Jimmy Smith and will serve as needed outside corner depth at the very least.
Long-term view: Having left other highly-touted players on the board, the Ravens better feel that Humphrey will eventually become a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. He has the size and pedigree that you like to see in a corner, but his struggles with the deep ball are something to monitor in his development.

LB Tyus Bowser
Drafted: Second round (47th overall) from Houston
2017 projected role: With Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster and Albert McClellan the only established veteran behind Terrell Suggs, Bowser will compete for playing time at outside linebacker.
Long-term view: He is raw, but Bowser is a terrific athlete who has experience dropping into coverage, something the Ravens like in a starting “Sam” linebacker. His pass-rushing skills need further development, but his upside is very high for someone selected in the middle of the second round.

DE Chris Wormley
Drafted: Third round (74th overall) from Michigan
2017 projected role: Wormley will have every opportunity to compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for the starting 5-technique defensive end spot after Lawrence Guy’s free-agent departure.
Long-term view: The Ravens should have a good read on Wormley after he played for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, and he has the skill set to become a dependable starter in the base defense. He would further enhance his value if he can become a productive interior rusher in passing situations.

OLB Tim Williams
Drafted: Third round (78th overall) from Alabama
2017 projected role: Williams has a long way to go to be considered an every-down player, but his pass-rushing ability off the edge should put him in the mix for situational snaps in sub packages.
Long-term view: His off-field concerns and limited experience playing the run caused his slide down the draft board, but Williams showed impressive explosiveness off the edge playing in the SEC. He may only be a one-trick pony in the NFL, but getting to the quarterback is a premium skill for any team.

G Nico Siragusa
Drafted: Fourth round (122nd overall) from San Diego State
2017 projected role: A three-year starter at left guard for the Aztecs, Siragusa has the size and power to compete for a starting job if the Ravens move Alex Lewis or even Marshal Yanda out to right tackle.
Long-term view: The Ravens have had recent success selecting Day 3 offensive linemen as both Lewis and former right tackle Rick Wagner blossomed into starters in a short period of time. Siragusa’s physicality is his strength, making him a logical fit for Greg Roman’s power running game schemes.

OT Jermaine Eluemunor
Drafted: Fifth round (159th overall) from Texas A&M
2017 projected role: Considering Eluemunor didn’t play football until high school and was only a one-year starter for the Aggies, expecting him to offer more than depth as a rookie would be ambitious.
Long-term view: The 6-foot-4, 330-pound lineman lacks experience and needs developing, but his rapid improvement from junior college player to SEC starter bodes well for his ceiling. Eluemunor has a long way to go to become an NFL starter at tackle or guard, but his physical tools make it a possibility.

S Chuck Clark
Drafted: Sixth round (186th overall) from Virginia Tech
2017 projected role: With the high-profile names ahead of him on the depth chart, Clark will be competing for a spot on the 53-man roster as a special-teams player and developmental defensive back.
Long-term view: A three-year starter for the Hokies, Clark has good instincts and is a good tackler, but little about him screams future NFL starter. With Lardarius Webb serving as the current No. 3 safety, Clark figures to have a decent chance to stick around if he can shine as a special-teams player.

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Revamped Ravens defense better live up to expectations

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stayed true to their board, but that doesn’t change reality after going defense with their first four picks of the 2017 draft.

This is an unbalanced roster with the heaviest lifting of the offseason now in the books. Yes, general manager Ozzie Newsome reminded us again Saturday that the Ravens aren’t done building this year’s team, but there are only so many viable free agents still out there to move the meter in any meaningful way. Right now, Baltimore has a below-average offense that’s going to be difficult to improve dramatically without some substantial improvement from players already on the roster.

The Ravens may still add Nick Mangold or bring back Anquan Boldin, but there’s a reason why they’re still out there. They’re not “Plan A” guys anymore.

Of the seven Ravens players selected in the first three rounds over the last two drafts, just one — left tackle Ronnie Stanley — was an offensive player. It’s difficult to improve on that side of the ball if you’re not spending free-agent dollars or investing early draft picks, which will make life more difficult for quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as they will likely lean on unproven talent at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

Asked about the state of his offense after the first wave of free agency last month that included lucrative contracts for nose tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson and another deal for cornerback Brandon Carr, Newsome fairly pointed to the draft as the way to build the rest of the roster. But the Ravens came away with fourth-round guard prospect Nico Siragusa and fifth-round developmental right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor as their only picks for that side of the ball.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Ravens should have reached to draft offensive players purely out of need as they did appear to get good value with their picks, but the 2017 draft being so rich in defensive talent was a reason why the offense should have been a bigger focus in free agency. The outcome is an offense that’s lost a starting wide receiver, a starting right tackle, a starting center, and a Pro Bowl fullback and has netted only 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead and two Day 3 offensive linemen.

Which side of the ball had its coordinator fired again last year?

Like it or not, the Ravens prioritized building a great defense above anything else this offseason. The unit collapsed down the stretch in 2016, but the primary cause of that was the absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith as John Harbaugh’s team went 2-5 in games in which he missed meaningful time.

When Smith was on the field, the Ravens had a strong defense despite an underwhelming pass rush. And even with the resources used in both free agency and the draft to revamp the secondary and the pass rush, Smith’s availability remains arguably the biggest key for defensive success.

On paper, the Ravens defense does look better than the 2016 edition, but it will need to be great — possibly even special — to justify the use of so many resources and to make up for an offense with a ton of question marks. Taking that kind of a leap is no sure thing, especially in the modern NFL that is geared toward offense.

Will some combination of the pass-rushing group of Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams be ready to step up with Terrell Suggs set to turn 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster? Is first-round rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey going to be ready to play at a high level if Smith goes down again for some period of time? Can Kamalei Correa hold down the inside linebacker spot vacated by the retired Zach Orr? Will defensive coordinator Dean Pees use so many new pieces effectively and maximize their versatility?

The excitement for the defense is understandable with so much youth and potential at every level, but remember there isn’t a 25-year-old Ray Lewis leading this group before waxing nostalgic about replicating the 2000 Ravens. Even if we’re looking for a more contemporary comparison — it’s a different game than it was nearly two decades ago — the 2015 Denver Broncos had a generational talent in Von Miller and two 1,000-yard receivers on the other side of the ball.

A winning blueprint leaning so heavily on defense is very difficult to execute.

But it’s where the Ravens find themselves after free agency and the draft.

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Back to the future – recap of Baltimore Ravens 2017 NFL Draft

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Dennis Koulatsos

After the Baltimore Ravens selected Chuck Clark with their last selection in the 6th round of the 2017 NFL draft, the vision that the front office and scouting staff had for the 2017 season began to come into focus.  Clark – a defensive back from Virginia Tech – was one of 5 picks for the defense versus 2 for the offense.  In fact Joe Flacco, Marty Mornhinweg and company had to wait until day 3 of the draft before hearing an offensive player’s name called.

Based on Joe Flacco’s performance last year, his penchant for the untimely turnover, coupled with the defense’s inability to hold a 4th quarter lead in 4 November and December games, led to the defensive windfall. It looks to me that they will try to do all they can to “Dilferize” the offense, limiting turnovers, and relying on the defense and special teams to win games.  They will put a premium on field position, and they will scrap the zone blocking scheme for one that is of the  power blocking hat on hat variety.

Justin Tucker will take over the role that Matt Stover had in 2000.  The 4 defensive players (the Ravens took 5 but I do not expect Chuck Clark to make the team) will have to have an immediate impact, as will newly signed free agents Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr.  Of course this defense will not be anywhere near as good as the historically good 2000 version was, but it should be dramatically better than last year’s which couldn’t hold a lead.

Georgia’s Tuys Bowser (2nd round pick) and Alabama’s Tim Williams (3rd round pick) will both get opportunities to rush QBs from the edge, while Michigan’s Chris Wormley will see playing time at defensive tackle as a 5-technique end (lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle).  First round pick Marlon Humphrey will see get some valuable time early in the season, in case Jimmy Smith’s legs do not hold up as has been the case the past two years.

The Ravens also selected guard Nico Siragusa (absolutely no relation to Tony – although how great is it going to be to yell “Goooooooose” at M&T Bank once again:) a huge guard out of San Diego State in the 3rd round, and fellow guard Jermaine Eluemunor out of Texas A&M.  Eluemunor was told he was going to compete for the right tackle position, presumably against holdovers De’Ondre Wesley, Stephane Nembot and James Hurst.

Siragusa in particular is very intriguing.  He is a mauling guard who excels at pulling and blowing up defenders are the line of scrimmage as well as turning up field.  The fingerprints of new run coordinator Greg Roman are already evident. This team will employ a similar power running scheme that the 49ers used effectively back in 2012, when they played the Ravens in the Super Bowl.  It is a scheme that allows offensive linemen to pin their ears back and fire off of the ball.

The key is going to be who’s going to start on the offensive line and how quickly it comes together. Perhaps the Ravens will sign former Jet Nick Mangold to anchor that line from the center position, or maybe former Duke center Matt Skura – with one year in an NFL weight room – has progressed enough to man the position.

The Ravens have enough running backs to get the job done. Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, Buck Allen, Ken Dixon and Stephen Houston are all solid between the tackles, and Danny Woodhead offers the team a great change of pace back as well as a third down threat. This scheme also requires a fullback that’s very much an anvil, and currently they don’t have one on the roster.  Moving TE Nick Boyle (6’4, 265 pounds) may be an option, but look for the Ravens to be very active in the undrafted free agent market for a couple of stout blocking fullbacks.

In the NFL if you run the ball effectively, if you don’t turn it over, and if you have a great defense and special teams you will win a lot more than you lose. It is a formula that worked in 2000 and it looks like the Ravens brass are hedging their bets that it will also work in 2017.

I was also thinking about titling this blog “Saving Joe Flacco from himself.”  That’s what the Cowboys did with Tony Romo a few years ago.  They put a huge offensive line around him, and then they had DeMarco Murray run in excess of 400 times behind it.  The end result was a 12-4 record, and after three successive 8-8 seasons they finally made the playoffs.

Joe Flacco does not need to put the ball up 40-50 times a game.  That’s a formula for disaster.  The Ravens need to run the ball effectively.  This way the safeties come up in the box, the cornerbacks come closer to the line of scrimmage, and then Flacco can do some serious damage.  Plus he’s always been a “chunk” quarterback.  He has a big arm and he is not wired for a West Coast offense.  He excels when the Ravens are running the ball effectively (as they did in 2102 with Ray Rice), where he can plant his feet and let if fly downfield.

The last thing is that the Ravens final roster is nowhere near complete.  There will be the June 1 cuts, and there will be several veteran players available that can help the team. No need to panic at this time that there are no clear starters at inside linebacker next to CJ Mosley, or at right tackle and center.  The Ravens will address all of those needs well before the pre-season commences.

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Ravens finally address offensive line on draft’s final day

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After taking defensive players with their first four picks of the 2017 NFL draft, the Ravens have finally taken steps to address their offense on the final day.

Making his first addition to that side of the ball since signing veteran running back Danny Woodhead at the start of free agency on March 10, general manager Ozzie Newsome selected San Diego State guard Nico Siragusa with the 122nd overall pick on Saturday. Though no relation to former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound offensive lineman brought size and power to the Aztecs to pave the way for running back Donnel Pumphrey to set a new FBS record for career rushing yards.

Baltimore selected Texas A&M offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor in the fifth round.

Siragusa was a three-year starter at left guard for San Diego State, playing in 54 career games and making 42 starts. He was a two-time first-team all-Mountain West pick as well as a third-team All-American selection by the Associated Press. His ability as a run blocker would appear to be a good fit with the Ravens’ stated intent of wanting to improve their running game this season.

With two openings along the Baltimore offensive line, it remains to be seen whether Siragusa will remain at guard or potentially try working at center, which is one of the Ravens’ biggest needs following the trade of veteran Jeremy Zuttah. Siragusa told reporters that he’s never played center beyond intramural football, but he would be open to the challenge of a new position.

This marks the second straight year in which the Ravens have selected an offensive lineman in the fourth round. Alex Lewis was the 130th overall pick in the 2016 draft and started eight games as a rookie.

Eluemunor is an interesting prospect after living in England until age 14 and only beginning to play football in high school. The 6-foot-4, 330-pound lineman started four games at right guard and seven games at right tackle for the Aggies last season and saw action in 13 games as a junior in 2015.

The Ravens told their raw fifth-round pick that he will compete at right tackle, the spot vacated by veteran Rick Wagner after he signed with the Detroit Lions last month.

Of course, Eluemunor expressed excitement about the Ravens playing their first ever game in London this fall when they face Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium on Sept. 24.

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