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Bisciotti not sure Kaepernick would help Ravens win games

Posted on 30 July 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Owner Steve Bisciotti says the Ravens are still weighing the possibility of signing Colin Kaepernick, but he isn’t sure whether the polarizing quarterback would help his team win games.

Speaking to fans at a special forum that included NFL commissioner Roger Goodell prior to Sunday’s practice at M&T Bank Stadium, Bisciotti said he is still discussing the matter with team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and head coach John Harbaugh while also surveying current and former players for their opinions. As Harbaugh indicated Friday, the status of starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who is currently sidelined with a bad back, remains the biggest variable in the decision-making process from a football standpoint.

Cass confirmed during the forum that the Ravens have had direct discussions with Kaepernick, who has expressed his desire to continue his football career.

“We do want to win games, and I’m not sure right now that he is going to help us do that,” Bisciotti said. “We’re monitoring Joe. We’ve talked to Joe about it. We’re monitoring [Ryan] Mallett. We’re keeping our door open. We’ve talked about [Robert Griffin III], bringing him in for a workout.”

Bisciotti admitted he wasn’t a fan of seeing Kaepernick sit during the national anthem last preseason, but he gained more respect for the former San Francisco 49er’s protest when he began kneeling for “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the 2016 preseason finale and continued that practice in the regular season.

The Ravens have said they’ve received plenty of fan feedback over the last few days and have carefully considered how Kaepernick’s signing would impact their brand.

“Colin’s made some assurances — I think through his intermediaries — that there would be no protesting, that he would be standing for the [national anthem],” Bisciotti said. “To quantify hurting the brand, I know that we’re going to upset some people and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did.

“Nonviolent protesting is something that we’ve all embraced.”

The Ravens had $6.956 million in salary cap space entering Sunday, but they then signed former New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell to a spot on their 90-man roster. Mallett, the current backup, was re-signed to a one-year, $2 million with a $1 million signing bonus in March.

Below is Bisciotti’s complete answer to a fan’s question about the potential impact a Kaepernick signing would have on the Ravens’ brand:

We are very sensitive to it. It’s been discussed between Dick and Ozzie and John, and we’ve talked to a lot of our current players and a lot of our former players. I was speaking to Ray Lewis this morning. I know Ozzie had a long conversation with Ben Watson. I wouldn’t divulge people’s opinions, but I think you’d be kind of shocked at some people that are against it and some people that are for it. It’s not racial lines. It’s not existing players versus former players. I care about the fan base, but I have to absorb the opinions of the players that have been there.

Colin’s made some assurances I think through his intermediaries that there would be no protesting, that he would be standing for the [national anthem]. To quantify hurting the brand, I know that we’re going to upset some people and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did. Nonviolent protesting is something that we’ve all embraced. I don’t like the way he did it. Personally, I kind of liked it a lot when he went from sitting to kneeling. I don’t know. I’m Catholic [and] we spend a lot of time kneeling. When I saw him develop last year and went from sitting to kneeling next to his teammates, I liked that. I just thought, ‘OK, if it’s still a silent protest, I don’t think that the level of disrespect is as strong that way.’

We do want to win games, and I’m not sure right now that he is going to help us do that. We’re monitoring Joe. We’ve talked to Joe about it. We’re monitoring Mallett. We’re keeping our door open. We’ve talked about [Robert Griffin III], bringing him in for a workout.

All I would ask is to just talk to your neighbors and your friends and your co-workers, too, because I think you’ll just get the same sense that I got. Wow, every time I hear something negative, I hear something positive and sometimes it shocks me who it’s coming from. I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what’s best for our fans. Your opinions matter to us, and you couldn’t get a consensus in here, either. Every time there’s a sensitive subject, we know.

When I fired [Brian] Billick nine years ago, it sounded like 90 percent of the people in Baltimore wanted me to fire him until I fired him and then I found out 80 percent thought I was an idiot. You’ve got to be careful about the vocal minority. They have the tendency to seem to be a bigger group than they are.

We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it. We’re still, as Ozzie says, scrimmaging it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tact. So, pray for us.

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Ravens remain in holding pattern with Flacco resting back

Posted on 28 July 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are in a holding pattern with franchise quarterback Joe Flacco continuing to rest his ailing back.

The concern is hardly dire yet with the season opener still six weeks away, but that could change if the 32-year-old doesn’t respond favorably to the rest and treatment he’s receiving over the first week of training camp. Back injuries can be complicated and often linger if not handled carefully, making it wise for the Ravens to take their time with their most important player.

Of course, that hasn’t slowed the red-hot discussion about whether Baltimore should sign polarizing quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unemployed despite clearly possessing the talent to play in a league that lacks quality signal-callers. Over the last two days, head coach John Harbaugh has heaped plenty of praise on Kaepernick, who played for his brother and Ravens senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in San Francisco.

But it’s complicated.

“We’ll just see how it plays out. It has to do with our need,” Harbaugh said. “Joe is day to day. Do we really need to make that move or not? That’s the decision that really has to be made. There are a lot of layers to it, just from a football standpoint. I’ll focus on the football part.

“If there are other layers to it, then that’s taken into consideration at the appropriate level.”

Those other layers are very relevant from a business standpoint and primarily concern owner Steve Bisciotti and team president Dick Cass, but let’s focus on football, roster construction, and the salary cap. Your opinion on the non-football part of the discussion is unlikely to be swayed at this point anyway, whether you’re pounding the desk for him to be wearing purple or threatening to cancel your season tickets over his potential signing.

The newly-signed David Olson is irrelevant to this debate. Harbaugh said Thursday that the Ravens needed to add a camp “arm” immediately, and Olson merely assumed the reps that assistant coach Matt Weiss was forced to take because there were only two healthy quarterbacks on the field for Thursday’s full-squad practice involving a total of 85 players. The former arena quarterback isn’t replacing Flacco or backup Ryan Mallett and didn’t take a potential spot from Kaepernick, either.

That brings us to Mallett. In a vacuum, Kaepernick is the better quarterback who brings much more experience to the table. The incumbent backup possesses a similar skill set to Flacco that does make for an easy short-term transition from a schematic standpoint, but the Ravens also employed Tyrod Taylor as their backup for four years, making you think a difference in style shouldn’t be a major deterrent with all things being equal.

But Mallett was just signed to a one-year, $2 million contract with a $1 million signing bonus at the start of free agency back in March, which suggests they at least had a comfort level in him as a backup less than five months ago. You can fairly question the wisdom in re-signing him so quickly if they’re no longer enamored with his performance, which has been poor over the first couple days of camp.

According to the NFL Players Association, the Ravens currently have $6.881 million in salary cap space, a number that will shrink at the end of the preseason when the Rule of 51 no longer applies and teams must fit their entire 53-man roster, their players on injured reserve, and their 10-man practice squad under the cap. In other words, the Ravens do not have much flexibility right now and will still need a “rainy day” fund when other roster needs arise over the duration of the season.

Signing Kaepernick and cutting Mallett — assuming the Ravens would continue their current eight-year trend of entering a season with just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster — would leave $1 million of dead money on the cap. In other words, the Ravens would need to add that amount to whatever they would give Kaepernick, making his salary expectations quite relevant to this discussion. His ability suggests that he should be worth much more, but we know how his story has played out throughout the offseason and we don’t know if he would accept the veteran minimum or a little more than that.

As it stands, general manager Ozzie Newsome maybe has one moderate signing he can make without having to restructure veteran contracts and impacting future cap years. With so much concern along the offensive line as well as questions at other positions such as tight end and running back, should improving the backup quarterback spot really be a top priority? If there are questions about the offense with Flacco under center, would you rather have Kaepernick standing on the sideline as an insurance policy or add another offensive lineman that’s going to see the field and better protect a quarterback whose health is potentially in question?

Of course, that brings us back to the current holding pattern.

If the Ravens are more concerned about Flacco’s long-term availability going into the regular season than they’re currently indicating, Kaepernick makes plenty of sense. In a worst-case scenario, Roman could dust off some zone-read packages from his San Francisco days and allow Kaepernick to better utilize his athleticism in what would be viewed by some as a throwaway season anyway if the franchise quarterback were to be on the shelf.

If Flacco’s back is perfectly fine in a week or two, however, pumping more dollars into the quarterback position doesn’t seem like the best allocation of resources for a team desperate to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Yes, Kaepernick is good enough to play in this league, either as a starter or as a high-quality backup. He deserves to have that opportunity somewhere.

But the timing and conditions of a potential marriage with the Ravens will be on their terms.

And that’s not even considering those other layers currently being discussed by the powers that be.

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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2017 Ravens roster

Posted on 20 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp in the rear-view mirror and training camp several weeks away, the Ravens now turn their sights toward the preseason and eventually paring the 90-man offseason to 53 by the start of the regular season.

Few conclusions should be drawn from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — without live contact — but my still-too-early look at the roster suggests as many as 38 players would be considered locks if the deadline to trim the roster took place now. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the roster lists 24 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some positions lacking enough quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or cornerbacks or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches 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 can change at any point with owner Steve Bisciotti even expressing his desire earlier this month to add a veteran to an offensive line that lost two starters in the offseason.

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 at different stages of the summer.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Dustin Vaughan
Skinny: All eyes will be on Flacco to provide more consistent play being another year removed from his 2015 knee injury. The fact that the Ravens didn’t even give Vaughan a special non-contact quarterback jersey this spring suggests he’s not a real threat to Mallett for the backup job.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon
BUBBLE: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
LONG SHOT: Ricky Ortiz, Taquan Mizzell
Skinny: Taliaferro is an intriguing option at fullback if he stays healthy, but keep an eye on Ortiz if that doesn’t happen. Allen is the most interesting bubble name to watch in this group as he could have a tough time sticking on the roster, especially once Dixon returns from a four-game ban in October.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
LOCK: Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Tim White, Kenny Bell, Tim Patrick, Aaron Bailey, C.J. Board, Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The top four are clearly defined, but there will likely be one or two more spots up for grabs, making it a big summer for the likes of Campanaro and Reynolds. Special teams will be a major factor here, and it’s worth noting that White showed some ability as a returner this spring.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller, Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams
LONG SHOT: Vince Mayle, Ryan Malleck
Skinny: Depending on whom you ask, the lack of a lock here is a reflection of a deep and talented group or of an inventory having too many question marks. Health will be the biggest determining factor, and Williams is a strong candidate to start the summer on the physically unable to perform list.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Nico Siragusa
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, Matt Skura, Stephane Nembot
LONG SHOT: Brandon Kublanow, Jarell Broxton, Jarrod Pughsley, Roubbens Joseph, Maurquice Shakir
Skinny: The addition of a veteran center or right tackle could push any combination of Urschel, Jensen, and Hurst to the bubble line, but those three of easily received the most first-team reps in trying to replace Jeremy Zuttah and Rick Wagner. It’s difficult to trust this group as it’s presently constructed.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Carl Davis, Willie Henry
LONG SHOT: Patrick Ricard
Skinny: Davis was lining up as the starting 3-technique defensive tackle to begin OTAs, but a pectoral injury once again leaves you wondering about his ability to stay on the field. Urban is a surprising lock at this stage of the offseason, but he handled virtually all 5-technique reps with the first team.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Albert McClellan
BUBBLE: Patrick Onwuasor, Lamar Louis
LONG SHOT: Boseko Lokombo, Bam Bradley, Donald Payne
Skinny: Onwuasor would be a good bet after shining on special teams as a rookie, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens add a veteran to the mix if Correa struggles in the preseason. There’s a clear opportunity here for the lesser names in this position group to earn a roster spot.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Za’Darius Smith, Brennen Beyer
LONG SHOT: Randy Allen
Skinny: This is a critical summer for Smith after he disappointed in his second season and fell behind Judon in the pecking order, but playing time is up for grabs off the edge, especially with Suggs turning 35 in October. Beyer has worked some as an inside linebacker to improve his roster chances.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady, Brandon Boykin, Sheldon Price
LONG SHOT: Robertson Daniel, Jaylen Hill, Al-Hajj Shabazz
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: Canady could be viewed as a lock based on the way he practiced in the slot in place of the injured Young, but many corners have stood out in the spring before fading and Boykin isn’t far removed from being a solid nickel in the NFL. Despite the improved depth outside, don’t sleep on Price.

SAFETIES (7)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Daniel Henry, Otha Foster
Skinny: The Ravens may have the best safety group in the AFC, which will make it challenging for the sixth-round rookie Clark to make the team. There’s potential to be creative with Weddle, Jefferson, and Webb all on the field at the same time, so it will be interesting watching their usage this summer.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kenny Allen
Skinny: There’s no roster intrigue with this group, but Allen only needs to look at the success of Wil Lutz with New Orleans last year as evidence to soak up as much knowledge and experience as he can from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and the incumbent specialists this summer.

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Flacco excited to have Maclin, would also welcome Decker

Posted on 13 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco said two months ago that he didn’t believe the Ravens needed to sign a wide receiver after the early waves of free agency had come and gone without an addition.

The quarterback was understandably expressing confidence in a group of young options that included 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore, but we all knew the truth about what the offense still lacked. A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl wideout Jeremy Maclin on a two-year contract worth a reported $11 million, Flacco acknowledged it being a game-changing addition for the passing game.

The Ravens are confident that the 29-year-old will rebound from an injury-plagued 2016 in which he caught just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games and look more like the versatile target who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015. Doing so would make him the latest veteran receiver to enjoy a renaissance in Baltimore, joining the likes of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, and, most recently, Mike Wallace.

“Anytime you can add a good player, it helps your team,” said Flacco, a southern New Jersey native who first met Maclin when he played in Philadelphia earlier in his career. “I think we have a lot of guys out there competing, and putting him in that room will just up that ante a little bit.”

In fact, if it were up to the 10th-year quarterback, the stakes could still be raised higher. Asked about reports of the Ravens still being interested in former New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, Flacco praised a track record that includes three 1,000-yard seasons, two of them coming while playing with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver.

With the Ravens having lost roughly half of their receiving production from a year ago with wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, tight end Dennis Pitta, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk no longer on the roster, you can hardly blame Flacco for welcoming the possibility of adding another weapon. Of course, what precious salary-cap space that remains for the Ravens might be better spent adding a veteran offensive lineman before the start of the regular season.

Decker’s ability to work in the slot and to make catches on third down to move the chains would give the Ravens something they lost with Pitta’s third catastrophic hip injury and release earlier this month.

“Eric would be a great guy, too, especially [after] losing Dennis Pitta and getting a guy who can go inside, go outside and can run and separate and do a lot of those things,” Flacco said. “I think Marty Mornhinweg was probably with him up in New York when he was there. He’s been a great receiver, and he’s played with some good quarterbacks.”

Of course, Maclin’s addition is expected to alter the projected role for Perriman, who has been working as a starter opposite the speedy veteran Wallace in spring workouts. It will be interesting to see how the talented 23-year-old responds to having more veteran competition atop the depth chart after it looked like he might have a largely uncontested path to a starting role.

Flacco has seen much growth in Perriman from last year when they often weren’t on the same page. If the passing game is to thrive after finishing 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt in 2016, the young receiver needs to make meaningful strides to at least complement Maclin and Wallace.

“You can just see the confidence in his eyes. That’s the first thing,” Flacco said. “Then, when you go out there, it’s kind of back to how I felt probably the first couple of practices his rookie year when he was running by people, and you could tell he had something. He’s back at that level running, and his confidence is at an all-time high.”

With Maclin arriving in Owings Mills Tuesday and expected to be on the field for the second day of mandatory minicamp, the entire Ravens offense should also be feeling more confident with another accomplished receiver now part of the equation.

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Ravens land veteran wide receiver Maclin with two-year deal

Posted on 12 June 2017 by Luke Jones

It took longer than most envisioned at the start of the offseason, but the Ravens have finally landed a coveted veteran wide receiver.

Just a few days after a productive visit in Owings Mills, Jeremy Maclin agreed to a two-year deal and will fly to Baltimore to sign his contract on Tuesday morning, just in time for the start of a three-day mandatory minicamp. Released by Kansas City as a salary-cap casualty on June 2, the 29-year-old also visited Buffalo last week and told the Ravens he wanted more time to make a decision before leaving the team’s training facility without a deal on Friday afternoon.

Maclin was recruited on social media by Ravens safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson with the latter hosting the free agent for an NBA Finals viewing party with several other Ravens players last Thursday.

The 6-foot, 198-pound Maclin is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 in which he set career lows in catches (44), receiving yards (536), and touchdown receptions (two) while battling a groin ailment, but he enjoyed the best two seasons of his career just before that. His career-best 1,318 receiving yards with Philadelphia in 2014 prompted the Chiefs to sign him to a lucrative five-year, $55 million deal, and Maclin responded by collecting a career-high 87 catches with 1,088 receiving yards in 2015.

A first-round pick of the Eagles in 2009, Maclin has recorded at least 60 catches and 800 receiving yards in five of his seven active NFL seasons. He missed the entire 2013 campaign with a torn ACL suffered early in training camp.

Players no longer on the roster accounted for 53 percent of the Ravens’ receptions and 49.7 percent of their receiving yards a year ago as the offense struggled to produce consistently. This reality made it clear that general manager Ozzie Newsome needed to do more than simply hope that 2015 first-round wide receiver Breshad Perriman and a deep inventory of tight ends would emerge to replace the likes of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Kamar Aiken. Baltimore did not select a wide receiver in the draft for the first time since 2009, creating even more angst within the fan base.

Pitta’s unfortunate hip re-injury and subsequent release earlier this month made it even more critical for the Ravens to add an experienced threat for quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens’ projected top receiving trio of Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Perriman should provide more than enough speed with Maclin also offering the route-running ability and toughness to play in the slot and work the intermediate portion of the field. Baltimore has also shown interest in soon-to-be-released New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker — an ESPN report said his addition was still a possibility despite Maclin’s signing — but it would be difficult to fit both veterans under an already-tight salary cap.

Maclin has registered 474 receptions, 6,395 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns in his NFL career.

The next question will be whether Newsome adds a veteran offensive lineman after starting right tackle Rick Wagner departed via free agency and starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded this offseason. The Ravens have rotated the trio of Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Matt Skura at the starting center spot while fourth-year veteran James Hurst has worked as the first-team right tackle during spring workouts.

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Free-agent receiver Maclin leaves Ravens facility without deal

Posted on 08 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin left the Ravens’ training facility without signing a contract Thursday afternoon.

Head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens had “a great visit” with Maclin, who also met extensively with the Buffalo Bills earlier in the week. Despite famously reaching agreements with past free-agent receivers such as Steve Smith and Mike Wallace before they left the building, Baltimore had no such luck with Maclin, who will continue to weigh his options.

“We didn’t press him to stay. You give us way too much credit on that,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “I think talking to his wife is really important. He has a wedding this weekend, so he wants a little more time to make his decision. The main thing is you want guys to be happy. If they come here or wherever they go, you want them to look back and say, ‘Hey, I made the best decision of my life to do that.’ Well, he just got married, so second-best decision of his life. And that’s what we’re hoping for if he decides to come here.”

According to Harbaugh, Maclin had dinner with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram Wednesday evening before meeting up with several Ravens players to watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The retired Smith was in Owings Mills Thursday doing work for NFL Network and posted a picture of himself with Maclin outside the team cafeteria Thursday morning.

With Smith, fellow wide receiver Kamar Aiken, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and the recently-released tight end Dennis Pitta no longer on the roster, the Ravens are trying to replace roughly half of their receiving production in the passing game from a season ago. Maclin is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 campaign that brought only 44 receptions for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games, but he registered back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015.

General manager Ozzie Newsome has spoken about adding more of an intermediate receiver to go along with Wallace and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman since the start of the offseason, but the Ravens have yet to add a veteran in free agency and did not draft a wideout in April.

“It was great the way it worked out, so he had a chance to get to know the players, which is one of the big factors, certainly,” said Harbaugh of Maclin being in the building Thursday before the Ravens conducted a voluntary workout. “He was in here all morning into the early afternoon getting to know us and us getting to know him.”

With Maclin mulling offers, the Ravens could shift their focus toward New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, who is expected to be released or traded in the coming days. The 30-year-old missed all but three games last year with shoulder and hip injuries, but he has posted three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his career.

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Five questions for start of Ravens organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now holding their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s workout to the media, below are five questions surrounding John Harbaugh’s team in late May:

1. What will the offensive line look like?

Many have said the Ravens are returning to their roots with such an offseason focus on improving their defense, but the accompanying thoughts of relying on the running game have come without any high-profile additions to an offensive line that no longer sports above-average right tackle Rick Wagner or center Jeremy Zuttah. Is John Urschel or Ryan Jensen even as good as Zuttah, let alone better? Is there a real solution at right tackle in a motley crew of candidates that includes James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, and Stephane Nembot? The biggest wild card could be where Alex Lewis ends up despite an internal belief at the end of last season that his best position was left guard. New senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris deserve the chance to leave their mark on this group, but you need a dominant offensive line to play ball-control football and the Ravens have a long way to go to prove they can have that kind of a group.

2. Are the front office and coaching staff really this confident in their wide receivers?

This offseason feels similar to 2013 when veteran Anquan Boldin was traded away for a sixth-round pick and nothing meaningful was done to replace him, leading to substantial problems for quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game. There is no shortage of speed with Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore, but who is going to be that short-to-intermediate receiver who moves the chains and makes tacklers miss like Steve Smith did over the last three seasons? With general manager Ozzie Newsome having not signed a free-agent wideout to this point and not taking one in last month’s draft, it’s become clear that the Ravens are counting on Perriman to live up to his first-round billing and Moore to emerge as another gem from last year’s impressive fourth-round haul. No matter how the likes of Perriman, Moore, and Michael Campanaro look practicing in shorts over the next few weeks, however, it remains almost inconceivable that the Ravens are again going down this path at this position.

3. How will new safety Tony Jefferson be used?

A four-year, $34 million contract is awfully rich for a traditional strong safety, so the bet here is that Jefferson will be deployed in a way unlike any other safety we’ve seen during defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ tenure. With the re-signing of veteran safety Lardarius Webb and the uncertainty at the weak-side inside linebacker spot due to the unfortunate retirement of Zach Orr, it makes sense for the Ravens to use the dime as their primary sub package with Jefferson essentially lining up as a hybrid linebacker in passing situations. His greatest strengths in Arizona were the ability to stop the run and to cover tight ends, which are critical responsibilities for a linebacker in a more conventional nickel alignment. Considering Webb played well in the second half of 2016 and will now be relegated to a part-time role, Jefferson needs to be a difference-making presence to justify the Ravens throwing him so much money that could have been used to address a below-average offense from a year ago.

4. Who steps into starting roles along the defensive line?

The Ravens have plenty of young options up front, but they will be replacing two starters in Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy who also served as useful interior rushers in passing situations. Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry will be vying for the starting 3-technique defensive tackle job previously held by Jernigan while 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley will compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for Guy’s old 5-technique defensive end spot. We’ve heard a lot about these names, but Pierce is the only one who saw extensive playing time a year ago and even he is only entering his second season. There isn’t a ton to take away from the non-contact nature of these spring practices, but it will be interesting to see who will be receiving the early reps with the first-team defense. The good news is that re-signed nose tackle Brandon Williams will be there to anchor the rest of a defensive line that will look quite different than it did in 2016.

5. Will Kamalei Correa begin living up to his second-round billing?

The Ravens passed on a few highly-touted prospects such as Myles Jack and Noah Spence to take Correa with the 42nd overall pick of the 2016 draft, making his rookie season that included only 48 defensive snaps that much more disappointing. With Orr having retired, the Ravens need someone to emerge as the starter in the base defense next to C.J. Mosley with Correa appearing to be the most logical candidate on paper. Outside opinions have been split on whether the Boise State product is better off playing inside or outside, but Newsome drafting edge defenders Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams last month signals where the Ravens stand in that debate. The coaching staff acknowledged that they may have put too much on Correa’s rookie plate by having him work at both inside and outside linebacker, but the Ravens need him to make a major leap in his second season or the groans from fans and media about another failed second-round pick will grow even louder. He has to at least begin looking the part this spring.

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Former Ravens running back Forsett announces retirement

Posted on 03 May 2017 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens running back Justin Forsett is calling it a career.

The 2014 Pro Bowl selection announced his retirement on Wednesday after a nine-year career spent with seven different teams, but he will be remembered for his unexpected rise in Baltimore during a trying time for the organization both on and off the field. Signed only weeks after three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice was arrested for assaulting his future wife in an Atlantic City casino elevator in 2014, the career journeyman emerged as the starting running back on his way to a career-high 1,266 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Those contributions helped the Ravens to their only trip to the playoffs since Super Bowl XLVII.

Forsett also became a leader in the locker room and an active member of the community as the Ravens were trying to repair their image after the embarrassing mishandling of the Rice saga. Recognizing his value both on and off the field, general manager Ozzie Newsome signed Forsett to a three-year, $9 million deal on March 12, 2015.

Despite a respectable 2015 campaign cut short because of a broken arm, the 31-year-old would not play out his entire contract as he was released by the Ravens last fall when Terrance West emerged as the No. 1 back over the first month of the season. Also spending time with Detroit and Denver in 2016, Forsett rushed for 291 yards and averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in nine games.

The 2008 seventh-round pick out of California ran for 3,890 yards and 19 touchdowns in his NFL career, but more than half of that production came in his three seasons with the Ravens.

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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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