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Ravens begin final wave of cuts with Saturday deadline looming

Posted on 30 August 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens need to trim their roster to the regular-season limit of 53 by Saturday and began their work with multiple cuts including the departures of running back Anthony Allen and rookie cornerback Marc Anthony on Friday.

The team also waived quarterbacks Caleb Hanie and Dayne Crist, running back Delone Carter, tight end Alex Silvestro, linebackers Nigel Carr and Brandon Copeland, offensive tackles Jordan Devey and Rogers Gaines, center Reggie Stephens. As expected, linebacker D.J. Bryant (knee) was placed on season-ending injured reserve after suffering a serious injury in the preseason finale against St. Louis.

These moves brought the roster down to 63 players with more moves coming by Saturday’s 6 p.m. deadline. The Ravens currently have two IR candidates on their active roster in tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen while defensive backs Asa Jackson and Christian Thompson will each be placed on the reserve-suspended list, meaning they won’t count against the 53-man roster. However, the Ravens are likely to give Pitta the designation to return, meaning he would need to be on the active roster until Tuesday while the Ravens carry only 52 healthy players in the meantime.

“We want to make [this team] as good as we possibly can in every way we can,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a long season, so the improvements that will be made between Week 1 and Week 16 will be dramatic, we hope.”

Allen was a standout special-teams player for last season’s Super Bowl XLVII team. He was initially let go on the final day of cuts last season before being re-signed in time for the season opener and served an important role on special teams, specifically as a lead blocker for Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones on the kickoff return team.

He was originally a seventh-round selection in the 2011 draft.

The decision to part ways with both Allen and Carter, who was acquired from Indianapolis in the David Reed trade last week, likely paves the way for preseason standout Bobby Rainey to make the roster as the No. 3 running back. He scored two touchdowns in Thursday’s 24-21 loss to the Rams.

With much attention being paid to the wide receiver and tight end positions, the Ravens did not cut any of the eight receivers on their 75-man roster Friday while Silvestro was the only tight end to be let go. Harbaugh was complimentary of rookie wideouts Marlon Brown and Aaron Mellette — indicating each “looks good” in terms of their 53-man roster standing — and didn’t dismiss the possibility of even keeping all eight.

“You look at that position and people considered it a weakness of ours. There is a lot of depth there,” Harbaugh said. “Who becomes the stars that everybody talks about in terms of being a strong wide receiver group remains to be seen. But all of those guys are going to be really good players in the National Football League, and just because they aren’t household names now doesn’t mean they won’t be soon.”

The Ravens also surprisingly parted ways with one of their 2013 draft picks by waiving the seventh-round choice Anthony, the rookie confirmed in a text message. This decision leaves the projected roster with only four cornerbacks when remembering that Asa Jackson will be suspended for the first eight games of the regular season.

Anthony was the team’s first draft pick to be let go in the year he was selected since fifth-round tight end Davon Drew and sixth-round running back Cedric Peerman were waived at the end of the 2009 preseason.

It would appear the Ravens will at least explore the possibility of adding another cornerback once final cuts are made around the league, and they’ve remained in contact with veteran cornerback Chris Johnson releasing him earlier this month.

“It’s always possible,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged that free safety Michael Huff could play cornerback in a game-day pinch. “I don’t know if a corner of that caliber is going to come available. It’s pretty hard to say that that’s going to happen, but we’ve got some flexibility.”

Though not unexpected, the departures of Hanie and Crist mean the Ravens are in line to carry just two quarterbacks on their regular-season roster for the fourth straight year. As he’s done in the past, general manager Ozzie Newsome will likely sign a third quarterback to the practice squad.

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the day for updates and analysis and be sure to subscribe to the WNST.net Text Service to stay in the loop all weekend.

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Ravens-Falcons preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2012 by Luke Jones

The Ravens ramp up their summer preparations for the 2012 season by traveling to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in their preseason opener Thursday night.

Meeting the Falcons for the ninth time ever in the preseason, the Ravens are 5-3 all-time and defeated Atlanta by a 21-7 margin in their preseason finale last season. The two teams have met four times in the regular season, with the series tied 2-2.

Baltimore has won 10 of its last 12 preseason games, but the Ravens will naturally only play their starters a brief time as coach John Harbaugh labeled it a “standard” plan for the opening preseason contest. Most starters will play roughly a quarter and the Ravens have not game-planned in any way for the Falcons specifically.

Even with the brief cameo, quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offense hope to play efficiently before calling it a night roughly midway through the first half.

“It’s all about timing and execution,” Harbaugh said. “How crisp do we play? How do we execute under pressure? How do the guys take that execution from a practice environment and take it to a game environment against another team in a live-type situation? It’s all about executing our offense.”

A story that may go overlooked by most fans Thursday night will be who is officiating the game at the Georgia Dome. The National Football League is currently using replacement officials after locking out its regular officials when labor negotiations were going nowhere in early June. Reports suggest the league is prepared to begin the season with replacement officials.

Some concerns have been raised over the competency of replacement officials and how it might impact player safety, but most players have had little to say about the labor dispute and the Baltimore coach took the high road when asked about the situation earlier this week.

The league has put the replacement officials through extensive training and candidates have officiated at the collegiate level or for other professional leagues.

“We don’t even think about that,” Harbaugh said. “The refs will be fine. They will be what they are. Everybody is going to try to do their best. Our guys have plenty of things to worry about besides the officiating.”

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 at what the injury report would look like if there were one.

Harbaugh revealed that any player who didn’t practice Tuesday would not play in the game and players who have recently been held out of extensive practice due to injury may not play either. Older veterans may also be included in the list of inactives, which could mean linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed sit out the preseason opener.

Again, this is not meant to be an official injury report:

OUT: C Matt Birk (back), DE Arthur Jones (hip), CB Jimmy Smith (back), LB Josh Bynes (back), RB Bernard Pierce (hamstring), LB Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), LB Darryl Blackstock (groin), WR Patrick Williams (leg), TE Dennis Pitta (hand), OL Jah Reid (calf), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon), WR David Reed (knee)
DOUBTFUL: LB Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), WR Tandon Doss (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Jacoby Jones (undisclosed), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), DT Haloti Ngata (hamstring), OT Bryant McKinnie (back)
PROBABLE: G Marshal Yanda (limited Monday and Tuesday)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. LT Bryant McKinnie

The 32-year-old lineman told WNST.net Wednesday morning that he will not only play but receive more reps than usual in the preseason opener in an effort to get into better football shape after missing the start of training camp with a lower back injury. McKinnie has worked mostly with the second-team offensive line as Michael Oher continues to receive most of the first-unit reps on the left side.

If McKinnie has a good showing against the Falcons, he’ll likely find his way back into his starting spot sooner rather than later as the Ravens will want to build some continuity with the offensive line. However, if he struggles, this competition could play out a little longer, especially if rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele continues to impress as he has during training camp.

2. LB Albert McClellan

With Upshaw unlikely to play, McClellan could find himself making the start at outside linebacker along with Paul Kruger. Last season, the former practice squad member established himself as one of the team’s best special teams players and even filled in admirably at inside linebacker when Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe were sidelined late in the season.

McClellan could at least put himself in the conversation with Upshaw for a starting spot if he can take advantage of his opportunities to work with the starting defense. Upshaw’s weight is still higher than it should be, and he’s just coming back from a sprained shoulder that sidelined him for over a week.

Upshaw clearly has the higher upside, but McClellan has had a strong start to training camp and his versatility could earn him some significant time defensively this season.

3. LB Nigel Carr

The rookie from Alabama State has earned plenty of publicity early in training camp, but he needs to turn in a strong performance on Thursday with Ellerbe unlikely to play with a hamstring injury.

Much like Ellerbe, Carr is considered a “thumper” and has drawn praise from the coaching staff and media alike, but he will need to show more discipline and the ability to drop into pass coverage to earn stronger consideration for a roster spot. Ellerbe figures to see action in the nickel package and is a good backup despite questions about his work ethic and durability.

If Lewis is also held out of Thursday’s game, Carr may even see some time with the starting defense, and you can’t ask for more than that as an undrafted rookie. The 6-foot-2, 247-pound linebacker will need to prove he belongs, however.

4. RB Anthony Allen

Expected to battle the rookie Pierce for the backup running back job behind Ray Rice, Allen has found plenty of reps with the 2012 third-round pick sidelined for much of camp with a hamstring injury. Instead, Allen has seen more competition from diminutive rookie free agent Bobby Rainey at running back.

Allen is a physical runner and impressed as a seventh-round rookie last preseason, but he doesn’t possess great vision, which may limit him to short-yardage and goal-line situations. However, he can gain separation from Pierce in their competition with a strong performance against the Falcons.

Rice will likely play no more than a series or two, meaning Allen will receive touches with the first-string offense as well as the second unit. The Georgia Tech product must secure the football and recognize running lanes in the Ravens’ zone blocking schemes.

5. K Justin Tucker

Tucker has impressed over and over again during the first two weeks of training camp, with a 62-yard field goal at M&T Bank Stadium being the highlight in front of 20,000 fans. As good as incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff has been during training camp, Tucker has created a serious competition by being even better.

It will be interesting to see if Tucker brings the same swagger and consistent leg to the Georgia Dome turf with the knowledge that kicks in preseason games will undoubtedly hold more weight in the eyes of Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. Considering the Ravens have now had a kicking competition in three of their last four seasons, it’s important to remember kicks in practice only mean so much.

The Ravens will likely alternate quarters or halves for the two kickers, so you’d expect the veteran Cundiff to handle duties in the first quarter, but many eyes will be on the rookie from Texas when he gets an opportunity to line up against the Falcons.

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Ravens training camp mailbag

Posted on 05 August 2012 by Luke Jones

Two weeks into training camp, I’ve decided to clean out the inbox and answer your Ravens questions to this point. I plan to make this a Sunday feature during the remainder of the preseason, so send your first name/location and questions to luke@wnst.net to be included next week.

Here’s the first edition of the training camp mailbag:

How does undrafted rookie linebacker Nigel Carr look to you and could he be the next Bart Scott and Jameel McClain? — John in Towson

I hesitate to draw conclusions before I see rookies compete in an actual preseason game, but Carr’s physicality and athleticism are impressive as an undrafted free agent from Alabama State. Carr has definitely caught the attention of the coaching staff after John Harbaugh said the 6-foot-2, 247-pound linebacker “runs around and hits everything he sees” on the practice field. Considering how much Baltimore linebackers have struggled against the pass in recent years, Carr’s ability to drop in coverage — albeit against second and third-team offenses — hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.

His troubled past, which included five felony charges that led to his dismissal from the Florida State football team two years ago, caused many teams to shy away from the linebacker this spring, but the Ravens have provided Carr an opportunity that he’s taken advantage of to this point. For what it’s worth, Carr is listed fourth at the Mike linebacker position on the team’s depth chart released late last week.

It’s way too premature to suggest Carr will be the next diamond in the rough for the Ravens at the linebacker position or that he will even make the 53-man roster, but a strong preseason will definitely put him in the conversation for a spot. As is the case with any young player, how Carr fares on special teams will factor heavily in his chances to make the team.

Considering the Ravens have made little — or no — real improvement with the offensive line to give Joe Flacco and Co. time, how much do you see the play-calling changing to compensate for that? — Scott in New Zealand

Until we actually know what the offensive line will look like in early September, this question remains difficult to answer, but I don’t expect offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to dramatically change his approach to play-calling. The key will be how much more efficient the Ravens can be in the passing game and in short-yardage situations.

Assuming Bryant McKinnie regains his job at left tackle and Michael Oher moves back to the right side, the question will be how effective the Ravens can be running the ball to the left behind McKinnie and new left guard Bobbie Williams. Baltimore struggled to run effectively to that side last season when Ben Grubbs was sidelined and veteran Andre Gurode filled in at left guard, and McKinnie was never regarded to be an exceptional run blocker even in the prime of his career.

The Ravens will attempt to go vertical often as they did last season, but they hope to be more effective with a more experienced Torrey Smith and the addition of speedy veteran Jacoby Jones. However, the offensive line must give Flacco enough time for these vertical plays to develop.

Regardless of how the line looks, the Baltimore offense will still thrive with the contributions of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and the use of tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Improving their efficiency in the down-field passing game will be the biggest challenge in this offense taking it to the next level.

Among the injured Ravens players to miss extensive time at the start of camp, who is hurting himself the most? — Justin in Cockeysville

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