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Which free-agent newcomer will bring biggest impact to Ravens?

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

As usual, the Ravens weren’t big movers and shakers in the free-agent market this offseason, but general manager Ozzie Newsome did pick his spots to augment the roster with veteran talent.

Looking to improve the secondary as well as replace backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Ravens made three key veteran signings they hope will pay dividends during the 2015 season.

Below is a look at each one as you can vote in our poll and comment below on which signing will pay the biggest dividends for the Ravens:

Which Ravens' free-agent newcomer will make the biggest impact this season?

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S Kendrick Lewis
Age: 27
Contract: Three years, $5.4 million
Synopsis: The former Texans safety was part of a game of musical safeties in the AFC this offseason as ex-Raven Darian Stewart signed with Denver and former Bronco Rahim Moore landed with Houston. Considering their issues at safety last year, the Ravens hope Lewis can play an effective deep center field after the likes of Stewart and Terrence Brooks allowed too many balls to go over their head. During spring workouts, Lewis consistently worked with the starting defense while Will Hill and Matt Elam rotated at the other safety spot. Of their three biggest free-agent signings, the Ole Miss product projects to receive the most playing time as defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like him to provide an upgrade over Stewart, who underwhelmed for much of the 2014 season.

QB Matt Schaub
Age: 34
Contract: One year, $2 million
Synopsis: The Ravens and their fans pray that the only impact Schaub makes will come in the meeting room and on the practice field as a source of knowledge and experience to aid franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. You never want to draw too many conclusions from spring practices, but the former Texans quarterback didn’t inspire much confidence based on his play as he struggled to connect with receivers consistently and threw too many interceptions. If Schaub sees extensive playing time, it clearly means something has gone horribly wrong for the Ravens during the 2015 season. Baltimore invested real money in a backup quarterback for the first time since 2010, but I’m not convinced that Schaub will give them a much better chance to win if he needs to play than Taylor did the last couple seasons.

CB Kyle Arrington
Age: 28
Contract: Three years, $7 million
Synopsis: With the Ravens’ extensive injuries at the cornerback position a year ago, Newsome couldn’t afford to go into the 2015 campaign without an established veteran to go with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb in the nickel defense. The former New England cornerback is very solid defending the slot and allows Pees to keep Webb on the outside. This signing takes pressure off the likes of fourth-round rookie Tray Walker, Rashaan Melvin, and Asa Jackson on the depth chart, but the key to the secondary’s success will be the ability of Smith and Webb to stay on the field. Arrington will have to perform and isn’t a great fit playing outside, but the Ravens paid a very reasonable price when you remember some of the bloated contracts given to free-agent corners at the start of free agency.

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Nov 10, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam (26) in action against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2015 Ravens roster

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp behind them and training camp just over a month away, the Ravens turn their attention toward the preseason and eventually trimming the current 90-man roster down to 53 by the start of the regular season.

Little can be taken away from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — conducted without live contact — but my early look at the roster suggests as many as 40 players would be considered locks if the deadline to trim the roster took place in late June. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the roster lists 28 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some positions lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office pay attention to the number of players at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of receivers or cornerbacks or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. The Ravens are looking for reserves who can excel on special teams in addition to their designated position, so they will look carefully at players’ other abilities and overall athleticism in addition to what they bring to their specific position when filling out the bottom of the roster.

Of course, this breakdown could change at any point and certainly by the first day of training camp if any individuals report to Owings Mills in poor physical condition or have not done the necessary mental preparation for the summer.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. As we move into the preseason, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out during the different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Bryn Renner, Jerry Lovelocke
Skinny: Schaub did not impress in spring workouts open to media, but the Ravens invested $2 million in guaranteed money in the veteran quarterback to back up Flacco following the free-agent departure of Tyrod Taylor. Renner and Lovelocke will compete for a potential spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
BUBBLE: Fitz Toussaint
LONG SHOT: Kiero Small, Terrence Magee
Skinny: There doesn’t appear to be much drama in the backfield, but the competition between Taliaferro and Allen for carries behind Forsett will be interesting to watch. Toussaint will give himself a better chance to make the roster if he can offer something as a kickoff returner.

WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
LOCK: Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken
BUBBLE: Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, DeAndre Carter
LONG SHOT: Aldrick Robinson, Daniel Brown, Cam Worthy
Skinny: There are many questions beyond the reliable 36-year-old Smith, but there is intrigue and upside with this group of young wide receivers. You’re always waiting for Brown to take his game to the next level while the oft-injured Campanaro struggles to stay on the field, making it difficult to deem either a lock at this point. Butler was very impressive during spring workouts and Carter offers ability as a returner, making them two names to watch closely this summer.

TIGHT ENDS (6)
LOCK: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Allen Reisner, Konrad Reuland
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Dennis Pitta
Skinny: The Ravens invested a second-round pick in Williams, but Gillmore was the one who stood out during spring practices as the two will battle for the starting job this summer. I’d never want to count out Pitta, but if doctors wouldn’t clear him to participate in a non-contact minicamp, what are the odds that he’ll be allowed to take part in training camp this summer?

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (17)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Robert Myers, James Hurst, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Marcel Jones, Nick Easton, Leon Brown, Kaleb Johnson, Darryl Baldwin, Blaine Clausell, De’Ondre Wesley
Skinny: Myers and Hurst are in great shape from a roster standpoint, but you never know with offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who loves working with unheralded linemen and has found some diamonds in the rough in his coaching career. Re-signed to a one-year deal, Reid is a former third-round pick who never lived up to expectations and looks more like camp depth than a great candidate to make the roster at this point, but the health of Wagner’s foot could alter that thinking if the starting right tackle isn’t ready to practice by late July or early August.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Canty, Carl Davis, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Lawrence Guy, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Christo Bilukidi, Casey Walker
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The narrative centers around replacing five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, but the Ravens have a nice collection of talent in this group, which will likely lead to them being forced to part ways with one or two NFL-caliber defensive linemen. Baltimore is curious to see how hard Urban can push the veteran Canty at the 5-technique defensive end spot. This is probably a make-or-break summer for Lewis-Moore, who has not played a snap in his first two seasons due to injuries.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
LOCK: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Zachary Orr
LONG SHOT: Andrew Bose
Skinny: While it’s certainly possible that all three inside linebackers on the bubble make the 53-man roster, you wonder how much patience the Ravens will have with Brown, who couldn’t even make it on the field as a special-teams player in his second season. McClellan has been one of their best special-teams players over the last few seasons, but Orr is younger and cheaper and took extensive reps with the second-team defense this spring.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Za’Darius Smith
BUBBLE: Steven Means, Brennen Beyer, Zach Thompson
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The Ravens need to look at this position with an eye toward the future as Upshaw becomes a free agent after the season and Suggs didn’t exactly make it sound like he’s definitely committed to continue playing beyond 2015, making it even more critical that the fourth-round rookie Smith develops sooner rather than later. The organization has talked up Means this offseason, but time will tell whether he’s the next great find or another Adrian Hamilton or Michael McAdoo.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Kyle Arrington, Tray Walker
BUBBLE: Asa Jackson, Rashaan Melvin, Tramain Jacobs, Cassius Vaughn
LONG SHOT: Chris Greenwood, Quinton Pointer
Skinny: Smith and Webb remaining healthy are the biggest keys to this group’s improvement, but Arrington appears to be a good fit playing inside in the nickel package and takes some pressure off the development of the fourth-round rookie Walker. Newsome appears to have some second- and third-tier depth, but the Ravens pray they won’t have to tap into it like they did last season.

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
BUBBLE: Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick, Nick Perry
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: The Ravens have put Elam on notice, but there’s not enough talent in this group to seriously think the 2013 first-round pick is in jeopardy of not making the team at this point. Levine’s ability to play cornerback and safety makes him a good bet to make the roster while Perry is a former Alabama product and one of the Ravens’ more highly-touted rookie free agent signings. It will be interesting to watch Brooks this summer as his progress coming back from a torn ACL suffered in December was one of the biggest surprises of the spring.

SPECIALISTS (5)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Justin Manton, Patrick Scales
Skinny: If Cox’s surgically-repaired knee were in question, Scales could make a push to replace him, but the veteran long snapper looked fine during spring workouts and remains as reliable as they come in the NFL.

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Nov 10, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam (26) in action against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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Elam having “best camp yet” in defensive coordinator’s mind

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made it clear this season is critical for Matt Elam and the third-year safety has responded favorably in at least one coach’s mind.

After general manager Ozzie Newsome stated earlier this offseason that the organization has “not been satisfied” with the performance of the 2013 first-round pick, defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he’s seeing plenty of progress with Elam, who has been splitting time with Will Hill at strong safety in the starting defense during voluntary organized team activities.

“Best camp he has had — bar none, not even close. I expect big things out of Matt,” Pees said on Monday. “I really do. I know there are some critics out there, but I’m just telling you I think No. 26 is going to be a good football player. I think he’s having a great camp.”

Of course, coaches will rarely go out of their way to be negative about a player publicly, but Pees’ comments contrast the tone the organization’s brass has offered when asked about the safety this offseason. The Ravens are still hoping that Elam will begin providing a better return after looking like one of the worst first-round picks in franchise history through two seasons.

The 23-year-old reported to the Ravens’ training complex in better shape this spring after losing eight pounds, according to head coach John Harbaugh. Baltimore hopes that will translate to better performance in the secondary where Elam has struggled in pass coverage and as a tackler despite a reputation for being a punishing hitter at the University of Florida.

According to Pro Football Focus, Elam graded out 78th among all safeties to have played at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2014 and led the Ravens defense with 16 missed tackles. Injuries in the secondary forced Elam into nickel duty too often — a problem that should be avoided with better cornerback depth this season — but that doesn’t excuse his inconsistency in bringing down ball carriers in 2014.

So, what specific improvement is Pees seeing from Elam that suggests this season will be different?

“Communication-wise, running to the ball wise, and every aspect,” Pees said. “Now, the thing that we can’t tell right now is tackling from anybody [in non-contact practices]. It wouldn’t be just him, [but] it would be anybody. We don’t know that. But as far as just communication, knowing the defense, being in the right spot, doing all those things, [it’s the] best camp he has had.”

In two seasons, Elam has totaled 127 tackles, one interception, seven pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

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Five questions pondering Flacco, Webb, Monroe, Ravens guards

Posted on 05 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or should the Cam Newton contract put all discussion to rest about the deal Joe Flacco received two years ago? To some degree, criticism we heard about Flacco’s contract is now being thrown Newton’s way as he received an extension that pays him an average yearly salary of $20.8 million. We spend so much time ranking quarterbacks and determining which ones are “elite” when it really comes down to a very simple question for NFL teams. Can your quarterback win you a Super Bowl with a reasonable supporting cast around him or not? If the answer is yes, you pay him — plain and simple. Of course, determining the line of demarcation is the challenge as Miami recently paying Ryan Tannehill was an example of that. In terms of average annual salary, does Newton deserve to be the fourth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL? No, but it was his turn in line and Carolina has enough reason to think he can eventually lead the Panthers to the promised land. That’s all that matters.

2. Is it just me or does the Ravens’ current guard situation remind you of the 2011 season? Most assume Baltimore will ultimately re-sign Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda while fourth-year left guard Kelechi Osemele will likely depart via free agency after this season, but I do wonder if that would be the best path for the Ravens. Yanda is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the best guard in the NFL, but he’ll also be 31 in September. If his demands are through the roof, can you justify giving lucrative money to a player who will be approaching his mid-30s during the life of the contract? Meanwhile, Osemele turns just 26 later this month is likely to get even better over the next couple years. The situation isn’t identical, but it reminds me of 2011 when Ben Grubbs and Yanda were both scheduled to become free agents. Many thought the Ravens should sign Grubbs, but Yanda received an affordable extension that summer and the 2007 first-round pick departed the following winter. I’ll still assume that the Ravens keep Yanda, but it would be tough allowing a much younger player to depart.

3. Is it just me or should Lardarius Webb and Eugene Monroe be attending voluntary organized team activities after injury-plagued campaigns last season? Any veteran player has the right to skip voluntary spring practices, but I can’t help but think the Ravens aren’t thrilled to see Webb and Monroe missing OTA workouts — at least the ones that have been open to media thus far. Counting the playoffs, injuries forced Monroe to miss seven starts last season and the left tackle’s contract is structured in a way that the Ravens could release him next offseason if they’re not thrilled with his performance, as was the case last year. Meanwhile, Webb may have restructured his current contract this offseason, but Baltimore could easily cut the veteran cornerback next winter if his play doesn’t improve substantially from 2014. It’s one thing for established veterans to skip spring workouts, but those with question marks from the previous year are taking a chance to further fall out of good graces when they’re not around in the spring.

4. Is it just me or could a healthy Brent Urban be a difference-maker for a revamped defensive line? Much attention has been paid to the interior part of the line following the trade of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the 5-technique defensive end spot is a position of interest as veteran Chris Canty was cut and re-signed at a cheaper rate earlier this year. Canty has been mostly solid in his two years with Baltimore, but he will also be 33 in November and contemplated retirement this past winter. Urban has been quite active during spring workouts and appears fully recovered from last summer’s knee injury. Not only could he challenge Canty for his starting spot, but the 6-foot-7 University of Virginia product could be an intriguing option to replace Pernell McPhee as an interior pass rusher on third down. Urban will need to prove himself this summer, but it was no secret that the 2014 fourth-round pick was going to be a big part of the rotation as a rookie. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a key contributor for the Ravens’ front this season.

5. Is it just me or are the Ravens getting more than enough love this offseason? I’ve made no secret about how impressed I was with general manager Ozzie Newsome’s work in the 2015 draft and the savvy signing of slot cornerback Kyle Arrington last month, but I was surprised to see Sports Illustrated’s Peter King list the Ravens first in his preseason power rankings. Looking at it objectively, Ravens fans would be incensed if Pittsburgh were ranked No. 1 after losing a starting wide receiver, a starting tight end, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, an impact pass rusher, and a good offensive coordinator. Make no mistake, I expect the Ravens to be a playoff team in 2015 and they could very well be poised to make a championship run if wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams are ready to make meaningful contributions as rookies. Everything the Ravens have done looks strong on paper, but that doesn’t always mean it comes to fruition on the field as quickly as you’d like, especially when relying on unproven players. For the fans who like to play the disrespect card in terms of how the national media views their team, King is taking a leap of faith to put Baltimore at the top of the list.

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Ravens still looking to add veteran cornerback to mix

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Nearly two weeks after addressing most of their positional needs and wants in the 2015 draft, the Ravens apparently aren’t done addressing their cornerback depth.

Speaking to season-ticket holders in a conference call Tuesday night, head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed the organization remains interested in adding a veteran cornerback. Baltimore feels comfortable with the health of starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb after both dealt with injuries last season, but the important No. 3 cornerback spot remains up for grabs with Asa Jackson, Rashaan Melvin, and fourth-round rookie Tray Walker the top contenders.

“We want to add some competition in there. Ozzie is working on that right now,” Harbaugh said. “I think Ozzie has said [that] we’re not finished there.”

After being released by New England earlier this week, veteran Kyle Arrington would appear to be a good fit at the slot cornerback position, which would take pressure off the Ravens’ younger options. Newsome did not express any specific interest in Arrington, but the 28-year-old would figure to draw plenty of interest around the NFL after collecting 39 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, and four pass breakups.

Arrington’s play declined in the second half of 2014, but the 5-foot-10 cornerback brings plenty of experience with 56 starts and nine interceptions under his belt in a six-year career. With just over $10 million in salary cap space, the Ravens will clearly have the ability to make a competitive offer for Arrington if they consider him a worthy addition.

“There are a lot of players available now that I have been on the phone talking to representatives [about],” Newsome said. “This is the time of the year where because of the draft, teams start to tweak their rosters. We’ll be on the lookout not just for additions to the secondary but for any other good players that may get released.”

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Ed Reed always kept everyone on their toes

Posted on 07 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only certainty about Ed Reed over the years was to be ready for just about anything.

Announcing his retirement after 12 NFL seasons — 11 with the Ravens — and speaking to the Baltimore media, the future Hall of Fame safety tossed a few more laterals and certainly didn’t disappoint during his farewell press conference.

“This is home. Baltimore, I love the city, I love this organization,” Reed said. “I hope that I did more than I was supposed to as a Raven, bigger than any contract could ever explain as a player.”

In discussing the ceremonial one-day contract he signed with general manager Ozzie Newsome, Reed revealed that he lobbied for a three-day contract or even one more season with the Ravens. He was joking, of course.

At least we think he was.

From honestly expressing his love playing against Cleveland’s many quarterbacks to awkwardly dropping a 4-20 reference, Reed covered it all in his 45-minute press conference that also featured Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and team president Dick Cass. He compared his early relationship with longtime teammate Ray Lewis to Mufasa and Simba from “The Lion King” and even worked in a final jab at the media for the perceived twisting of his words over the years.

It was just Ed being Ed, one of the greatest safeties in the history of the NFL and one of the most unique sports personalities Baltimore has ever seen.

Depending on the day of the week or even the hour in the day, Reed could be thoughtful or disinterested or cordial or surly with just about anyone. He was as likely to take a moment to introduce himself to a young and clueless media member covering his first training camp in Westminster as he was to grumpily walk by his closest teammates in the locker room without saying a word.

The only thing you knew about Reed — other than him being one of the best players in franchise history — was that you never knew. He liked it that way.

“I never thought about making it to the Hall of Fame,” said Reed, who is eligible for induction as soon as 2019. “I just wanted to be a great football player for my teammates. I was just studying and doing all that so that we could be our best. As everybody knows, this is a team sport, but an individual business. As an individual, I had to make sure I was taking care of my business.”

The 36-year-old says he hasn’t yet hung up his cleats despite announcing his retirement from the NFL as he continues to work out regularly and is currently busy coaching his 7-year-old son’s flag football team. Reed quipped that the latter experience doesn’t really make him want to be a coach, but he acknowledges that football is in his blood and has entertained thoughts of coaching at a higher level. This was evident late in his career when he quietly mentored the likes of Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith while Lewis received the spotlight as the leader of the Ravens.

Despite not enjoying talking to the media for much of his career, Reed opened up on Thursday.

He shed light on his passion for helping others, which has been evident through various charitable endeavors over the years and his adoption of Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore early in his career. He spoke sincerely on the recent unrest in the city, emphasizing the need for youth to have sports and other positive avenues on which to focus beyond school.

Along with his nine Pro Bowl selections, 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year award, and Super Bowl XLVII championship ring, Reed’s contributions in the community — here and in his home state of Louisiana — make him an easy choice to be officially inducted into the Ring of Honor on Nov. 22. Of course, a trip to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame will follow.

“Deep commitment to the city of Baltimore,” said Cass, adding that Reed invited 26 Booker T. Washington students to every home game for over a decade in addition to the other contributions he made to the school. “The love that he felt for the city has been returned many times over by our fans and by the people in Baltimore who know that Ed is committed to the city. That deep commitment is returned to you in many ways.”

No, Reed didn’t have the storybook ending to his career in the same way Lewis did as he made the business decision to chase another payday with the Houston Texans. His final season with Houston and then the New York Jets was forgettable, but the 2002 first-round pick always moved to his own beat, even joking about his retirement as recently as April Fools’ Day last month.

Whether it was an ill-advised lateral on the field, the mixed signals about his contract and possible retirement in his later years, or the calculated and well-studied gambles that resulted in countless game-changing plays, Reed did things his way. No other player could provide you the full array of emotions in a matter of seconds, whether he was blocking a punt, recklessly flipping the ball to a teammate in heavy traffic, or intercepting a pass deep in his own end zone before sprinting the length of the field for a record-setting touchdown.

Everyone — coaches, teammates, media, and fans — was just along for the ride. And even if we rarely knew what was happening, what an exciting trip it was.

“When he told me later, yes,” said Harbaugh as he laughed when asked if he always knew what Reed was thinking on the field. “I was happy to hear about it.”

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Ed Reed to officially announce retirement on Thursday

Posted on 06 May 2015 by Luke Jones

After 12 NFL seasons, nine Pro Bowls, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and a Super Bowl trophy, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is officially calling it a career.

The Ravens will hold a 2 p.m. press conference Thursday to announce the 36-year-old’s retirement after he did not play during the 2014 season. Reed retires as one of the best players in franchise history and holds the franchise record of 61 interceptions before finishing his NFL career ranked sixth on the all-time list.

Owner Steve Bisciotti said earlier this year that Reed would be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium as soon as he officially retired from the NFL. Always an enigmatic figure during his time in Baltimore, Reed hinted that he was retiring as an April Fools’ Day joke last month before coming to his final decision.

Counting the postseason, the 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year scored a remarkable 14 touchdowns during his career. Not only making an impact as a ball-hawking safety, Reed is the only player in NFL history to score touchdowns off an interception, blocked punt, punt return, and fumble recovery.

The 2002 first-round pick often lived in the shadow of linebacker Ray Lewis, but Reed finally tasted championship glory in his final game with Baltimore, securing an interception in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII. Instead of retiring like Lewis, the University of Miami product elected to continue his career with the Houston Texans and the New York Jets during the 2013 season.

Reed was considered a great all-around player before suffering a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder late in the 2007 season, an injury that hindered his tackling ability in the latter stages of his career. Despite Reed’s physical limitations, opposing quarterbacks were forced to continue to account for the game-changing free safety on every play as his preparation and knowledge of the game were second to none. When playing the Ravens, four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady famously wrote on his wristband a telling message about Reed’s potential impact on any given game:

“Find 20 on every play.”

Reed finishes his career with 643 tackles, 64 interceptions, six sacks, 113 pass breakups, and 11 forced fumbles.

He will be eligible for induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019, one year after Lewis.

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Even after strong draft, Ravens remain vulnerable at cornerback

Posted on 05 May 2015 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens receive much-deserved praise for addressing an extensive list of needs and wants in this year’s draft, one clear truth remained at the end of an otherwise-successful weekend.

The secondary remains vulnerable after the Ravens finished 23rd in pass defense during the 2014 season. To be clear, this isn’t meant to be a biting criticism as detractors pointing to the failures of the Ravens defense in the divisional playoff loss to New England last January are conveniently failing to mention that Baltimore needed to replace starting wide receiver Torrey Smith and starting tight end Owen Daniels before worrying about a No. 3 cornerback or help at safety, a position with few immediate solutions in this year’s draft.

Yes, the defense deserved more blame than the offense in that 35-31 defeat to the Patriots, but the Ravens weren’t going to replace two individuals responsible for 32 percent of Joe Flacco’s 2014 passing yards on hopes and dreams alone, which is why they selected Brehad Perriman and Maxx Williams with their first two picks.

Of the nine selections made by general manager Ozzie Newsome, however, fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker has raised the most eyebrows as many projected the Texas Southern product to be a late-round selection or even a priority free agent. The Ravens really like the 6-foot-2 corner’s upside and worked him out privately during the pre-draft process, but it’s fair to wonder if it was a reach to ensure they’d come away with at least one cornerback with room for grwoth. At the very least, it would be quite ambitious to assume Walker will be ready to immediately step into the No. 3 cornerback role behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

“Could we have taken a corner in the first round? We probably could have. In the second round? We probably could have,” Newsome said. “But at the point when we were picking, it wasn’t the best player. But we do feel good. Getting Jimmy back healthy, Lardarius having a year to train, and then some of the young guys to have a chance to play being in the system for a second year [will help].”

Newsome’s correct about the Ravens being ravaged by injuries with five cornerbacks finishing the season on injured reserve. While Rashaan Melvin wouldn’t have been filling a starting role late last season under normal circumstances, the former Tampa Bay practice-squad member played well enough to garner a look as the potential third cornerback. He, Walker, Anthony Levine, and the oft-injured Asa Jackson currently stand as the candidates for the No. 3 job, but the Ravens will also be depending on first-year cornerbacks coach Matt Weiss and first-year defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt — who served as Steve Spagnuolo’s assistant secondary coach a year ago — to oversee their development.

Finding a No. 3 cornerback is not an impossible task, but that only comes with the assumption that Smith is back to form after a season-ending Lisfranc injury and Webb can build on the improvement shown late in 2014 after a back injury cost him all of training camp and the first month of the regular season. The two have missed 33 regular-season games due to injuries in their respective careers and have only played full 16-game seasons three times between them.

It’s also worth noting that the Ravens ranked just 24th in pass defense before Smith went down for the season in Week 8, proof that all wasn’t well in the secondary before defensive coordinator Dean Pees lost his top cornerback.

With the draft complete, it’s worth noting that some teams will part ways with veteran cornerbacks in the coming days and weeks like the Patriots did with Alfonzo Dennard on Tuesday. Of course, none of those names can be regarded as a sure bet, but the Ravens could find an appealing candidate or two to throw into the current No. 3 and No. 4 mix, especially with more than $10 million in current salary cap space.

“We’re not done putting this team together right now,” Newsome said at the draft’s conclusion. “It’s still maybe four months before we have to play Denver [in the season opener]. We’re still going to be mining for players to make our roster to make us better.”

Despite everything accomplished with their nine selections this past weekend, cornerback remains a top position to try to improve between now and the start of the season.

Pondering Pitta’s future

Admittedly, I’ve been surprised by some of the reaction to the Ravens drafting two tight ends and the “new-found” conclusions many have reached about the future of veteran Dennis Pitta.

All offseason, Baltimore has expressed hope that the 2010 fourth-round pick would be able to play again after suffering two devastating right hip injuries in a 14-month span. But, like everyone else, the organization saw the manner in which Pitta innocuously caught a short pass and tried to turn upfield before crumpling to the ground without even being touched in Cleveland last September.

Knowing Pitta’s character and commitment to the game, I would never count out his potential return to the field. But I’m also rooting for a 29-year-old man to do what’s best for him and his family, whether that means trying to play football again or calling it a career with what should be plenty of financial security.

If Pitta returns, having too many tight ends is a great problem to have, but the Ravens simply can’t count on any production from him in 2015 or beyond. Even if he does resume playing, it will be difficult for the Ravens — or anyone else — to shake the fear of what happened to Pitta in Cleveland from happening again.

Return game

Another position of interest that appeared to go unaddressed in this year’s draft was return specialist as the Ravens must replace veteran Jacoby Jones.

Many have pointed to wide receiver Michael Campanaro as the top candidate to return punts, but it will be worth keeping an eye on rookie free agent DeAndre Carter from Sacramento State. Carter is only 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, but he was projected by some to be a late-round pick with potential to be a solid return man at the next level.

The Ravens have a history of finding rookie free agent returners from B.J. Sams and Cory Ross to Deonte Thompson, so an opportunity could be there for Carter despite a very crowded group of young wide receivers.

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Football a family affair for Ravens’ top picks Perriman, Williams

Posted on 04 May 2015 by Luke Jones

Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams will forever be linked as the first two Ravens picks of the 2015 draft, but the standout pass catchers share another connection as second-generation NFL players.

With fathers who combined to play 21 years in the NFL, Perriman and Williams have a lot to live up to in not only becoming immediate starters for the current Baltimore offense, but they’ll also try to step outside of their fathers’ NFL shadows. Brett Perriman, a standout receiver at the University of Miami, caught 525 passes and 30 touchdowns in 10 NFL seasons with New Orleans, Detroit, Kansas City, and Miami. Brian Williams spent 11 seasons as a center with the New York Giants, appearing in 129 games and making 62 starts.

Of course, a strong bloodline doesn’t guarantee success as Jarrett Payton — the son of the late Walter Payton — and Jerry Rice Jr. both went undrafted after their collegiate careers. But both Perriman and Williams hope their professional careers play out more like Peyton and Eli Manning, who have both surpassed their father’s acclaim in the NFL by wide margins.

Though not a trait the Ravens were intentionally seeking — general manager Ozzie Newsome admitted he wasn’t even aware that Williams’ father had played in the NFL before drafting the Minnesota tight end — it’s clear that the organization views the circumstance as a positive trait.

“The thing that I like about Perriman is that he has grown up around the game of football with his dad, Brett,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “He’s been around Michael Irvin, Bennie Blades, Brian Blades, and all of those guys [from Miami], so the game is not going to be too big for him.”

Breshad Perriman has already surpassed his father in terms of where he was drafted after being picked 26th overall by the Ravens. The senior Perriman was drafted by the Saints in the second round of the 1988 draft.

Brett’s greatest success came in Detroit while playing with former Ravens quarterback Scott Mitchell. Posting 1,488 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 1995 and following that with another 1,000-yard season in 1996, Brett Perriman has shared his experiences with his 21-year-old son, who was too young to remember his father’s playing days.

“For me looking up to him when I was a child, I kind of wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Breshad Perriman said. “Once I created a great passion for the game, I wanted to make a name for myself. I’m slowly doing that, and I feel like there’s no one else better to celebrate that with.”

Similar to his new teammate, Maxx Williams was only five when his father retired from football, but it was actually his mother, Rochelle, who taught him how to catch. She and Brian Williams also attended the University of Minnesota where she played volleyball and he was a future first-round pick for the Gophers. Maxx’s grandfather was a quarterback at Notre Dame and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1959 before choosing to go to medical school.

Such a bloodline would make you wonder if complacency would be a problem, but the 2015 second-round pick exceeded expectations at Minnesota where he made 25 receptions for 417 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman and was named a finalist for the John Mackey Award last year after catching 36 passes for 569 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore.

With some already touting the 6-foot-4, 250-pound target as an offensive rookie of the year candidate, what advice did Williams’ father offer him about life in the NFL?

“You have to earn respect,” the 21-year-old tight end said. “You have to go in, shut your mouth, and go to work every day and earn the respect of your teammates and show who you are, because now you’re at the highest level where no matter what, everyone’s the best there is.”

Having dealt with the reality of trying to escape their fathers’ shadow for most of their lives, Perriman and Williams will have a better idea of what to expect as they prepare for their first minicamp later this week. With the Ravens needing both to fill significant roles as rookies, their bloodlines and mentors figure to help along the way.

Now playing in an organization that values family — beginning with head coach John Harbaugh who grew up the son of a longtime college coach and regularly has his father around the training facility — Perriman and Williams should fit right in despite high expectations. The former didn’t wait long to find another tie to his father’s NFL career when he met the inspirational O.J. Brigance on Friday.

“I don’t think he really knew the O.J. story, and he went in and Breshad was great,” Harbaugh said. “O.J. was talking through his machine, and he said, ‘I played with your dad in Miami,’ and Breshad was like, ‘Wow!’ They played together in 1997, I think it was. Another amazing connection.”

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Puzzle pieces impressively fall into place for Ravens’ 2015 draft

Posted on 02 May 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The smiles on the faces of the Ravens decision-makers said it all at the conclusion of the 2015 NFL draft.

Entering the three-day event with 10 scheduled picks and an extensive grocery list of positions to address, general manager Ozzie Newsome was able to put a check mark next to nearly every item by the time Saturday evening rolled around. The Ravens may have stayed true to their draft board, but it’s difficult to recall a time when it aligned so closely with their biggest needs and wants.

“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “I think, just in terms of if we had imagined this draft beforehand, we’d be very, very excited. We got it, and it looks great on paper. But hopefully, it looks good in person as well.”

Seven weeks after waving goodbye to Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, Haloti Ngata, and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens said hello to wide receiver Breshad Perriman, tight end Maxx Williams, defensive tackle Carl Davis, and defensive end Za’Darius Smith with their first four draft picks. It’s a sequence of selections that would make you think the Ravens were drafting solely for need if not for the fact that all four prospects were projected to be taken earlier in the draft by many pundits.

Newsome followed that by adding a cornerback (Tray Walker) and a running back (Buck Allen) — two other positions of need in most minds — before finally building more offensive depth with tight end Nick Boyle, guard Robert Myers, and wide receiver Darren Waller.

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Time will tell how well these nine players pan out — history tells us at least a couple won’t — but it’s difficult not to be impressed with the manner in which the Ravens worked. Newsome only pulled off one trade to do it, forfeiting one of three fifth-round picks to move up three spots in the second round to take the consensus top tight end in Williams.

“We’re not done putting this team together right now,” said Newsome, adding that they had already begun the process of signing rookie free agents. “It’s still maybe four months before we have to play Denver [in the season opener]. As a personnel staff, we’re still going to be mining for players to make our roster to make us better.”

Of course, no draft is perfect as the fourth-round selection of Walker, a lesser-known player from FCS school Texas Southern, could be considered a reach with many projecting him as a late-round pick or priority free agent. His 6-foot-2, 191-pound frame is impressive for a corner, but he’s unlikely to quell concerns about the depth behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

Then again, Walker’s performance at the College Gridiron Showcase game as well as his private workout with cornerbacks coach Matt Weiss left the Ravens very impressed, making you wonder if they’ve uncovered the latest diamond in the rough. Unsurprisingly, Newsome wouldn’t rule out the possibility of making other additions when he was inevitably asked about a secondary that endured a mountain of injuries in 2014.

The selection of two tight ends confirmed what we’ve known all offseason about the Ravens not counting on the return of veteran Dennis Pitta, who reiterated last week that he hopes to play again despite two serious right hip injuries in two years. Baltimore wasn’t going to forgo the opportunity to add the best tight end in the draft as well as Boyle, a physical blocking tight end from Delaware.

If Pitta can make his way back to the field at some point, a position of clear weakness before the draft could ultimately become of the Ravens’ biggest strengths. Having too many tight ends would be a good problem to have in the West Coast offense that will continue to be used by new offensive Marc Trestman.

“I still don’t know what’s going to happen with [Pitta],” Newsome said. “But Maxx Williams was way ahead of anybody that we had on the board when we picked him, and Boyle was the same way. We have a very tight end-friendly offense, so having one or two is not enough.

As always, the Ravens weren’t only drafting for 2015 as the selection of Myers provides insurance behind guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, who are both set to become free agents next offseason. And while Baltimore hopes Perriman becomes an immediate starter and the eventual No. 1 receiver, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Waller is an intriguing project to keep an eye on during training camp as the 204th overall pick and final Ravens selection of this year’s draft.

Beyond giving two thumbs up for addressing virtually every need and want on their list — safety and kick returner were the only real positions of interest to go untouched — you don’t grade a draft immediately after its conclusion despite the many who will try to. Three or four years from now, Newsome and the Ravens might look at this weekend fondly or they could cringe with regret.

The value and names are impressive on paper, but now these draft picks — along with a batch of rookie free agents to follow — must show how it translates on the field.

“Our needs and the types of things that are going to make our team better — specifically by position or by the type of player and where they were strategically found — I just thought it was masterful,” said Harbaugh in summarizing this year’s draft. “It’s a big success. Now we have to turn these guys into a football team.”

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