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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2018 Ravens roster

Posted on 19 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With mandatory minicamp in the books and the start of training camp only a month away, the Ravens turn their sights toward the preseason and eventually paring the 90-man offseason to 53 by early September.

Few conclusions should be drawn from voluntary organized team activities and three mandatory practices — without live contact — but my all-too-early look at the roster suggests as many as 46 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects both the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball and Baltimore making seven selections in the first four rounds of this year’s draft.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — German fullback Christopher Ezeala carries a roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much 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, simply trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. Of course, the Ravens are looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that 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 (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: The Ravens haven’t carried three quarterbacks into the start of a season since 2009, but will Jackson show enough growth to be trusted as the sole backup and will the organization risk not having a third quarterback with the rookie expected to be involved in the offense in a variety of ways?

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: This group of long shots is worth monitoring this summer as Baltimore could still use another back who can either thrive in short-yard situations or make an impact catching passes out of the backfield. Dixon’s status will go a long way in determining whether another back has a chance to stick.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott
BUBBLE: Jordan Lasley, Tim White, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, Jaelon Acklin, Janarion Grant, DeVier Posey
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: Scott appears safe as a fourth-round pick, Lasley carries upside, and White’s return ability helps his cause. However, the Ravens don’t give up on former first-rounders easily and didn’t talk this spring as though they’re ready to move on from Perriman despite the bonus he’s owed early in camp.

TIGHT ENDS (6)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: The Ravens hope their rookie draft picks can contribute immediately in the passing game, but tight ends remain a critical part of their run-blocking schemes, which should help Williams’ roster chances. Mayle played extensively on special teams last year, but the numbers here aren’t in his favor.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa, Greg Senat, Bradley Bozeman, Andrew Donnal
LONG SHOT: Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Alex Thompson, Justin Evans,
Skinny: The battle for the final two or three line spots will be interesting with Eluemunor having the experience edge over other bubble players. Siragusa will need to prove he’s fully recovered from last summer’s serious knee injury while Senat and Bozeman are interesting developmental rookies.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (11)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban, Carl Davis
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Patrick Ricard, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: This remains one of the roster’s deepest position groups, but Urban and Davis are only under contract through 2018 and have injury histories. Sieler, a seventh-round rookie from Ferris State, looks the part of a 5-technique and could squeeze out the disappointing Kaufusi with a strong preseason.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan, Bam Bradley
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones
Skinny: Onwuasor remains the favorite to start next to Mosley, but Young will have every opportunity to push for snaps. McClellan has been a standout special-teams player and versatile backup for years, but how well he bounces back from last summer’s torn ACL will be a key in rounding out this group.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: Chris Board
Skinny: The Ravens have seemed to accept that Correa’s best fit is on the outside, but his versatility will still be the biggest factor in his ability to keep a roster spot. Bowser developing into a well-rounded third outside linebacker behind Suggs and Judon will be critical for this season and the future.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Jaylen Hill, Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LONG SHOT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Even with health concerns headlined by Smith’s return from a torn Achilles tendon, it’s difficult to recall the Ravens having many cornerback groups as deep as this one with multiple options outside and inside. Young is a real wild card if he can regain the form he showed as a rookie two years ago.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua
Skinny: This group lacks a dynamic center fielder in pass coverage, but the floor remains high with the savvy Weddle and different chess pieces for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to use in the dime and other sub packages. Elliott’s 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame makes him a rookie to watch this summer.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: There once again appears to be no drama with this veteran group. The Ravens haven’t often carried a second long snapper on the preseason roster in years in which the 32-year-old Cox wasn’t coming back from injury, so Sieg’s presence could be minimally interesting.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following mandatory minicamp

Posted on 15 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp to conclude their offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A year ago at this time, tight end Dennis Pitta and cornerback Tavon Young had already been lost for the season. The Ravens are dealing with some minor ailments, but the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith to practice this week further signaled the good health so far.

2. Alex Lewis and John Brown being among those dealing with minor health concerns isn’t as encouraging. These two could be pivotal in determining whether this offense makes meaningful progress from last season, but they must stay on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson was given the keys to run Thursday’s practice from the quarterback position as several veterans rested on both sides of the ball, and he responded with his most consistent passing performance to date. The rookie knows he has a long way to go, but his confidence is impressive.

4. Some pundits have cherry-picked quotes complimenting Jackson while ignoring the parts about him being a work in progress, but anyone who’s watched this spring knows Joe Flacco has been head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks. Ignore any noise from those pushing a quarterback controversy this early in the game.

5. It’s been evident that new quarterbacks coach James Urban has stressed mobility, pocket movement, and footwork timing with Flacco. The quarterback being healthy and another year removed from the knee injury is crucial, but these skills have been lacking since Gary Kubiak was in Baltimore.

6. Linebackers coach Mike Macdonald labeled Tyus Bowser the most productive linebacker of the spring as he even recorded an interception return for a touchdown on a Flacco pass. Bowser making a Matt Judon-like leap from his first to second year would create some much-needed long-term stability at outside linebacker.

7. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs is again in great shape as he enters his 16th year and comes off his first double-digit sacks season since 2014. He’s entered that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed territory in that the Ravens won’t easily replace what he’s brought to the table for so many years.

8. It’s difficult to evaluate line play in the spring, but Orlando Brown Jr. definitely showed growth from rookie camp until the end of spring workouts. This next month will be critical for him to keep himself in good shape to continue that momentum into the summer.

9. Willie Snead is developing a good rapport with Flacco as they frequently connected over the middle. Flacco complimented the slot receiver for having “a knack for seeing the game the way the quarterback does.” You can see why Drew Brees liked him a couple years ago in New Orleans.

10. I’ve been as critical as anyone about this Ravens offense, but I do believe it has more intrigue and potential than it’s enjoyed the last few years. The problem is there are so few sure things, meaning the floor remains very low.

11. Hats off to John Harbaugh for offering this truth about spring workouts: “This isn’t football practice. This is just getting ready for football practice. … Nobody is going to make a play here that’s going to make the team.” We now return to our regularly-scheduled overreacting.

12. Between Eric Weddle dropping a Wolverine reference about Smith and Wink Martindale joking that Suggs must have done his offseason training in Wakanda, this week’s quotes were a Marvel fan’s dream. You just hope Thanos stays away from the roster when training camp gets underway.

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Jimmy Smith returns to practice six months after Achilles tear

Posted on 13 June 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A torn Achilles tendon last December was supposed to put the start of the 2018 season in jeopardy for Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Instead, the veteran defensive back made a surprising appearance on the practice field for the second day of mandatory minicamp nearly three full months before the Sept. 9 opener and just over six months after the left Achilles that hampered him for much of the 2017 season ruptured in Week 13. For Smith to even be practicing on a limited basis like he did Wednesday prompted a teammate to question whether he possesses a mutant-like recovery power.

“I don’t know if Jimmy is like half-Wolverine, but the dude is healed up in half the time than normal, regular human beings with an Achilles [injury],” safety Eric Weddle said. “But he’s worked extremely hard. I mean I’ve been in here since after the Pro Bowl every week, and he’s been in here rehabbing. The medical staff has done a great job. It was nice to see him out here doing backpedaling and just being a part of the team.”

Smith spent much of the practice session on the sideline chatting with visiting former Ravens secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo, but his presence clearly bodes well for his availability for training camp and, more importantly, the start of the regular season. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner will have much to prove as he comes off a major injury and enters the penultimate year of a contract that carries salary cap figures of $15.675 million in 2018 and $16.175 million next year.

Injuries have repeatedly prevented the 2011 first-round pick from reaching Pro Bowl stature as 2017 marked the fifth time in his seven-year career that he’s missed at least four games in a season. Despite already being on injured reserve, Smith was also suspended without pay for the final four games of the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, adding insult to injury.

That history of not being able to stay on the field coupled with the fact that Smith will soon turn 30 could prompt the Ravens to move on next season with 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey already looking the part of a future shutdown corner and other young cornerbacks on the roster showing promise. In the meantime, a healthy Smith would give new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale a good problem of determining how to distribute playing time among Smith, Humphrey, and veteran Brandon Carr, who has started all 160 games of his career and was a solid No. 2 corner last season.

“I think we have more depth in the secondary right now than we ever have,” Martindale said. “Where we’re going with this thing is really exciting to me.”

Defensive lineman Carl Davis (shoulder) also returned to practice on Wednesday. He underwent offseason shoulder surgery and had been a limited participant in organized team activities prior to being absent on Tuesday.

The Ravens are still without cornerbacks Maurice Canady (knee) and Jaylen Hill (knee) as well as safety Anthony Levine (foot) in the secondary. Guards Marshal Yanda (ankle) and Alex Lewis (back), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), tight end Vince Mayle, and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg) were not participating.

Wide receiver John Brown was also absent after appearing to tweak his knee during Tuesday’s workout. The issue did not appear serious at the time as he remained on the field for the rest of practice and even did some extra work with other receivers after its conclusion.

In addition to Smith, the Ravens welcomed back longtime reserve linebacker Albert McClellan, who practiced for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee last summer. The 32-year-old has been a core special-teams player for Baltimore since 2011.

“Albert is a warrior. Our young players benefit so much from having Albert on the field,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s a mentor, but he’s a great role model for how to practice and how to play physical, smart football.

“The other part of it is he’s really a great coach. If he wants to coach someday, he’s going to be a great coach because he understands football and is able to communicate to the young guys.”

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Unresolved contract doesn’t keep Mosley away from Ravens

Posted on 12 June 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — At a time of year when many NFL players seeking contract stability choose to skip voluntary workouts or even mandatory minicamp, Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley has continued to show up.

The long-term contract extension that many anticipated hasn’t yet come to fruition, but that hasn’t prevented the three-time Pro Bowl selection from regularly attending the offseason workout program. Mosley once again shied away from discussing his contract situation on Tuesday, but he explained why it hasn’t impacted his attendance in Owings Mills this spring.

“It’s just what I’m used to,” said Mosley, who is set to make $8.718 million this season. “Coming to work, being here with my guys in the offseason, building new relationships with the rookies and the new players on the team. For me, it’s just what I’ve been used to the last four years.”

With Don “Wink” Martindale taking over as the defensive coordinator this offseason and much discussion centering around the flexibility and responsibility being handed to veteran players with tweaks to the defensive system, the Ravens have been pleased to have their “Mike” linebacker on the practice field and in the huddle to ease the transition.

“We’re doing a lot of really neat things on defense; things that are really good,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “C.J. is excited to be in there and learn them and do them. The fact that we’re putting more than ever on our players on the field in real time to make decisions, you want your decision-makers out there practicing now.”

Mosley’s presence serves as a reminder of the stability he’s brought to the position despite being tasked with following in the colossal footsteps of Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. Whether the Ravens reward that productivity with something north of $10 million per year — the going rate for a top inside linebacker — remains to be seen.

Lewis sidelined with back issue

Two weeks after receiving an extended look at the center position, third-year offensive lineman Alex Lewis was sidelined with a back issue that could keep him out through the end of minicamp.

According to Harbaugh, Lewis started experiencing spasms in the weight room recently. The 2016 fourth-round pick showed promise as a rookie, but he’s played in just 10 of a possible 32 games so far in his career, a factor making one take pause about entrusting him with the all-important center spot.

“We’re just holding him out right now. We’ll be evaluating it,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think it’s anything, according to our trainers, serious that would keep him out of training camp or even keep him out for very long. But I didn’t see any reason to bring him out here today with all the work he’s got in already.”

With Lewis absent from Tuesday’s practice, Matt Skura was once again manning the center spot with Jermaine Eluemunor and James Hurst at the left and right guard spots and Ronnie Stanley and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. at the left and right tackle positions. The versatile Hurst has already lined up as the starting right tackle, starting left guard, and starting right guard at different points this spring.

“That’s part of the job, moving around,” said Hurst, who signed a new four-year, $17.5 million contract in March. “We have so many young guys out there right now that they have that flexibility. Marshal [Yanda] isn’t out there right now, and Marshal is the right guard. Everyone knows that. Because of that flexibility, it gives us the chance to try guys and move guys around and get everyone in their best position, which is promising.”

Attendance report

A total of 11 players were not taking part in Tuesday’s workout, a list that included Lewis, Yanda (ankle), cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), Maurice Canady (knee), and Jaylen Hill (knee), safety Anthony Levine (foot), linebackers Albert McClellan (knee) and Bam Bradley (knee), defensive tackle Carl Davis (shoulder), tight end Vince Mayle (undisclosed), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

On the flip side, defensive end Brent Urban (foot) increased his activity level from earlier spring workouts by taking reps in full-team drills, an encouraging step ahead of the grind of training camp. The 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 3 of last season

“He looks good from what I can tell,” Harbaugh said. “He has a lot of rust, sure. It’s all new to him. But it’s good to get this in before he gets the time away [and] then back to training camp to get a little feel for it again. He’s a big guy. It’s fun seeing him out there.”

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Ravens getting “creative juices flowing” with Lamar Jackson

Posted on 12 June 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — First-round pick Lamar Jackson remains a work in progress at quarterback, but it’s becoming increasingly clear the Ravens still want the talented rookie on the field this fall.

As Baltimore conducts its mandatory minicamp this week, the former Heisman Trophy winner continues to line up at different positions in addition to taking extensive reps as a more conventional quarterback working with the second and third offenses. There’s hardly a quarterback controversy brewing with the start of the season now less than three months away — veteran starter Joe Flacco has been head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterback group this spring — but the Ravens are walking the line between trying to win now after missing the playoffs in four of the last five years and preparing for the future.

“If we put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense?” head coach John Harbaugh. “That’s what we try to figure out, so [Jackson’s] back there throwing the ball, he’s back there doing other things. Then, Joe has to do some other things, too, if he’s throwing the ball.

“It gets to be — I don’t want to say challenging — but it gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they’ve worked hard at it.”

It’s an unconventional strategy with few modern examples from which to draw. However, hearing players continue to marvel at Jackson’s combination of special athleticism and arm strength makes you understand why offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and assistant head coach Greg Roman have embraced the challenge.

An offense that’s lacked play-makers for years should be exhausting every avenue for an edge, and even his defensive teammates have taken notice of Jackson’s skills.

“Once he gets out of the pocket, it’s like watching a young Michael Vick. It’s amazing to watch,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “When you’re defending him, you just have to act like you’re tagging off. You don’t want to be on the highlight reel. It’s fun to watch him.”

The experiment doesn’t come without risk.

The league’s 29th-ranked passing offense from a year ago is already trying to assimilate three new veteran wide receivers atop the depth chart as well as two rookie tight ends expected to play significant roles. When an offense tries to extend itself with too much change and innovation, it runs the risk of mastering too little, leaving the unit incomplete and unproductive. Striking a balance between a more traditional offense with one quarterback on the field and implementing a Jackson package of plays over the course of a game requires strong feel as a play-caller, a trait Mornhinweg hasn’t always been credited with having during his time as Baltimore’s offense coordinator.

Perhaps even worse than the potential drawbacks to the 2018 offense could be the impact of Jackson’s usage as a hybrid player on his overall development. The Ravens clearly have designs of Jackson being their quarterback of the future — whenever that time might come — but his uneven play from the pocket this spring reflects the need to improve his footwork and accuracy in addition to the general challenges any young quarterback faces entering the NFL.

Part of that process for a mobile quarterback is learning how to be judicious using his legs in an effort to keep himself healthy as much as being a successful passer for the long haul. Might that learning curve be stunted by asking Jackson to focus too much on going all out as a runner or even a receiver in more of a non-quarterback role right now?

“This is a little unique; you have the ability to put two quarterbacks on the field at one time,” Harbaugh said. “There are a lot of considerations that go into that, and everybody has an opinion. I’ve read a few that people might have, and there are a lot of ways to look at it, and we’re aware of that. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys.”

Bridging the gap between the present and future on offense will continue to be one of the biggest story lines going into the 2018 season, but the Ravens are embracing the creativity and the risk that comes with it.

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Ravens lose final two OTA days, fined for violating offseason rules

Posted on 06 June 2018 by Luke Jones

For the third time in the 11-season tenure of head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have been stripped of organized team activity sessions for violating offseason workout rules.

The NFL announced Baltimore would forfeit its final two OTA sessions scheduled for Thursday and Friday and the organization and Harbaugh would be fined. Details of the violation weren’t specified in the league’s statement, but it apparently stemmed from contact in pass coverage situations, which is not permitted during spring workouts.

“We take very seriously reading, understanding, abiding by and playing by the rules,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “Our coaches, staff and players have worked extremely hard to run the offseason program according to all the collective bargaining agreement rules. Our team has been singled out for pass coverage contact during the early part of OTAs. We have heavily emphasized these CBA pass coverage rules in meetings, and coached them diligently on the practice field. It has also been our priority to include our veteran players, along with new Ravens who have practiced and played for other teams, in the process and use their input and ideas. Even with consistent and repeated teaching, these rules pose considerable adjustments for the young players.

“We have tried very hard to eliminate contact in pass coverage during OTAs, even so far as to pull players out of practice who struggle with these adjustments. I am confident we have done everything within our power and ability to practice within the rules, and we will continue to focus on preparing, teaching and practicing the right way.”

The team will still conduct its three-day mandatory minicamp next week.

In 2016, the Ravens forfeited three days of OTA sessions and were fined after players illegally dressed in pads during rookie minicamp. In 2010, the final week of the offseason program was canceled for rules violations involving the intensity and tempo of drills as well as the length of practices.

Two years ago, Harbaugh took full accountability for the violation. General manager Ozzie Newsome said the league’s action was “appropriate” in 2010 and that the organization wouldn’t let it happen again.

Based on the organization’s reaction to Wednesday’s announcement, there could be more gray area with the latest violation, but previous transgressions have undoubtedly left the Ravens under the league’s microscope. Either way, it’s a bad look for an organization with plenty of experience in leadership positions and no excuse to not be able to follow a CBA that’s been in place since 2011.

“We are vigilant about practicing within the collective bargaining rules. I am. John and his assistants are,” Newsome stated. “I attend every practice and then watch the practices again on video. I see how the coaching staff teaches, corrects and addresses issues immediately on the field. In meetings, I have watched John’s presentation to his players and assistants regarding how to properly practice and the pace of these sessions. We have players competing, including rookies and those fighting to make our team. Sometimes breaking old practice habits of these players, especially rookies, takes more repetitions. We’ll continue to be vigilant about this.”

According to NFL Network, Harbaugh will be fined $50,000 while owner Steve Bisciotti receives a $100,000 fine.

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Ravens sign quarterback Lamar Jackson to rookie deal

Posted on 05 June 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have signed first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson to his rookie contract.

The four-year deal includes a fifth-year club option for the 2022 season, a factor that led general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade 2018 and 2019 second-round picks to Philadelphia to move up to the final pick of the first round to select Jackson and secure that extra year. Only first-round picks carry a fifth-year team option with their rookie deals.

First-round tight end Hayden Hurst is now the only unsigned rookie of the Ravens’ league-high 12 picks from April’s draft.

Despite much discussion and speculation about when Jackson might replace veteran Joe Flacco, Baltimore has made it clear that the latter remains the starter, a proclamation reinforced by the distribution of reps during spring workouts. The talented rookie from Louisville has often worked with young players on another field while Flacco and veteran backup Robert Griffin III have worked with the first- and second-team offenses during organized team activities.

“He’s a talented guy; he’s practiced well every practice he’s been out here,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Jackson two weeks ago. “But the toughest thing for him is calling the plays right now. He’s never been in that kind of a system. I would say he’s made a big jump in calling the plays and annunciating the offense. He’s done well with that.”

Jackson was the third quarterback to be drafted by the Ravens in the first round in the 23-year history of the franchise, joining Flacco in 2008 and Kyle Boller in 2003.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from second open OTA workout

Posted on 02 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The accuracy of Joe Flacco’s strong throwing arm has left something to be desired in recent seasons, but that hasn’t been the case this spring as he’s thrown countless deep strikes, including a few that receivers haven’t caught. Pushing the ball down the field more effectively is an absolute must.

2. Chris Moore made the plays of Thursday’s session with a deep one-handed sideline catch against Brandon Carr and a leaping touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. His continued development isn’t as critical after the offseason additions, but he showed some growth late last season.

3. On the flip side, Breshad Perriman hasn’t flashed in the same way he would in past springs, dropping passes and not having good awareness along the sidelines and in the end zone. A fresh start for him elsewhere might be what’s best for both parties at this point.

4. C.J. Mosley’s attendance at OTAs really speaks to his level of commitment to the organization. I wouldn’t have blamed him for skipping voluntary workouts since he’s still without a long-term contract extension, but his presence is a plus for new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

5. John Brown has shown the impressive speed employed in his 1,000-yard season for Arizona in 2015, but his 5-foot-11 listing looks generous. It will be critical for a red-zone target beyond Michael Crabtree to emerge with rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews being obvious candidates.

6. Lamar Jackson worked extensively with other rookies on a separate field from the first-team offense. Improving his footwork remains a priority as he still has a tendency to make flat-footed throws that sail and lack accuracy. It’s a process.

7. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Willie Henry take on a starting role this season with Brandon Williams shifting from the starting 3-technique spot back to the nose and Michael Pierce moving to a rotational role. This says much more about Henry’s improvement than any disenchantment with Pierce.

8. With Anthony Levine still sidelined from offseason foot surgery, second-year safety Chuck Clark has an opportunity to state a case for more involvement in the dime package. He dropped what could have been a pick-6 on a Flacco pass intended for Hurst on Thursday.

9. You wouldn’t know Tavon Young was only a year removed from his ACL injury by watching him practice. He’s the favorite to handle the nickel, a spot where he excels. Maurice Canady currently being hindered by a knee issue is allowing Young to take even more first-team reps.

10. Much was made about Alex Lewis getting his first look at center, but the offensive line alignment used during mandatory minicamp in two weeks will provide more meaningful insight on what the Ravens are thinking at the center position. Matt Skura is still very much in the conversation.

11. Uncertainty exists at every spot beyond left tackle and right guard, but Ronnie Stanley said how confident incumbents are in their second year with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and assistant head coach Greg Roman, who did admirable work with a patchwork unit last year.

12. Yes, the wide receiver group had some drops on Thursday, but I caution about drawing too many conclusions — good or bad — from a limited sample this time of year, especially with rookie players. This becomes a bigger concern, of course, if it’s still occurring regularly in training camp.

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Alex Lewis gets look at center during Ravens OTA

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens using various offensive line combinations this time of year isn’t surprising, especially with six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda sidelined until training camp.

But Thursday’s first-team alignment included third-year lineman Alex Lewis at center, an idea discussed in each of the last two offseasons after the 2016 fourth-round pick started games at left guard and left tackle as a rookie.

“This is the time to kind of experiment,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re going to need your guards to play backup center anyway, so we need to get Alex that work anyway. But if it evolves into something bigger than that, then that’s great. That’s what you just kind of see how it goes and see what your best combinations are.”

Fully recovered after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August, Lewis worked at left guard during the first week of organized team activities with Matt Skura handling the first-team reps at center and Jermaine Eluemunor playing right guard. On Thursday, Skura was practicing at right guard with James Hurst shifting from right tackle to left guard and rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. receiving first-team looks at right tackle.

That kind of spring shuffling has been commonplace for the Ravens when trying to fill vacancies on the offensive line in the past. Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Skura each spent a week of last year’s OTA sessions as the starting center before Jensen ultimately won the job in training camp.

Those opposed to moving Lewis to center have pointed to questions about his durability — he’s missed 22 games over his first two seasons — as well as his 6-foot-6 frame being unconventional for a position dependent on having a low center of gravity. Skura is listed at 6-foot-3 and was considered the favorite to start at center entering offseason workouts.

“If a player can bend, that’s really the bottom line — bend and get leverage,” said Harbaugh, noting that Matt Birk being 6-foot-4 wasn’t a problem over his long and successful career. “Alex is a big man. We typically would like to see our centers be bigger guys, especially in terms of the run game that we have. Matt [Skura] is 315 pounds, so he’s a big guy, too, so that’s where we go with it.”

Young “almost at 100 percent”

While countless players around the NFL are still working their way back to full strength after suffering ACL injuries last season, third-year cornerback Tavon Young says he’s “almost at 100 percent.”

Working at the nickel position without any limitations this spring, Young is hoping to reestablish himself as a rising young player. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple intercepted two passes and started 11 games as a rookie and was in line for a big role last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury during OTAs. The silver lining for Young was having a longer recovery time compared to other players with in-season ACL injuries who then have preparations for the following season impacted by the lengthy rehab process.

“That was one of the things that kind of cheered me up,” Young said. “After I got hurt, I realized I had a lot of time to get healthy. I didn’t have to rush back into it or come back midway through the season. I came back at comfort, and now I just let loose.”

Levine recovering from foot surgery

Ten Ravens players didn’t take part in Thursday’s workout, a group that included Yanda (ankle), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, inside linebackers Albert McClellan (knee) and Bam Bradley (knee), wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg), and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), Maurice Canady (knee), and Jaylen Hill (knee).

Harbaugh revealed defensive back Anthony Levine underwent offseason foot surgery and is still working his way back to full strength. Levine suffered the injury in the Week 17 loss to Cincinnati and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp if he doesn’t take part in the mid-June mandatory minicamp.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) was present and working after missing last Thursday’s workout that was open to media. Some had wondered whether Mosley would attend voluntary workouts this spring since he is still seeking a long-term extension and is only under contract through the 2018 season.

Tight end Nick Boyle was excused to deal with a family matter, according to Harbaugh.

Cookout with coach 

Harbaugh invited rookies to his home for a post-Memorial Day cookout on Wednesday with the group posing for a picture in front of his swimming pool.

“They did not throw me in the pool. When we have the veteran party, I have a feeling that’ll be a possibility,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “But we had a great time. It’s a good group, and they get a chance to bond a little bit and relax and see the coaches in a different setting, too.”

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Veteran receiver Crabtree embracing “new start” with Ravens

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco developing chemistry with new wide receivers is nothing new in the spring, but these efforts have been severely hindered in recent years.

It’s reflected in the overall results.

Baltimore drafted Breshad Perriman in the first round of the 2015 draft to replace free-agent departure Torrey Smith, but the rookie injured his knee on the first day of training camp and missed the entire season, leaving Flacco and the passing game without a viable deep threat. Unfortunately, Perriman still hasn’t gotten his career on track three years later.

In 2016, Flacco missed spring workouts while recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery, hindering what would still turn out to be a solid rapport with free-agent newcomer Mike Wallace. The speedy veteran posted his first 1,000-yard season in five years, but the passing attack finished just 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

Last year, of course, Flacco missed all of training camp and the preseason with a back injury and logged only a few practices before starting the opener in Cincinnati, leading to a poor first half of the season for the Super Bowl XLVII MVP. Making matters worse, accomplished veteran Jeremy Maclin had only arrived at the end of spring workouts and never got on the same page with Flacco, leading to his disappointing campaign for Baltimore’s 29th-ranked passing attack.

For an organization that’s frequently — and deliberately — built its offense with a small margin for error, these extenuating circumstances have all but guaranteed mediocrity. But the Ravens hope 2018 will be different with Flacco healthy and throwing the ball exceptionally well this spring. General manager Ozzie Newsome followed through with his offseason promise to revamp the pass-catching positions with veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree headlining the group of additions.

The 30-year-old’s skill set resembles that of former Raven Anquan Boldin with his ability to make contested catches on third downs and make plays inside the red zone despite lacking great speed or overwhelming size. Quarterbacks and wide receivers building chemistry is a never-ending process with the spring and summer particularly valuable for both fine-tuning and experimentation.

How long has it taken Crabtree to feel that unspoken connection with quarterbacks at previous stops?

“You only see it in the game. You’d say the first game,” said Crabtree, who’s played with Alex Smith, Derek Carr, and Colin Kaepernick in his career. “Practice is what you practice, and then the game is show time. Once you see it in the game multiple times, then you get comfortable. It is what it is.”

Crabtree has attended voluntary workouts regularly after signing his three-year, $21 million in March. In addition to getting a head start in building timing with Flacco, the former Oakland Raider is aiming to rebound from a disappointing 2017 campaign in which he recorded just 618 receiving yards, his lowest total since 2013 when he played in only five games due to a torn Achilles tendon.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound receiver has only two 1,000-yard campaigns in his career, but the Ravens hope he’ll serve as a reliable possession receiver and continue his streak of three consecutive seasons with at least eight touchdowns. Crabtree isn’t taking his spot for granted this spring despite Baltimore returning only two wide receivers — Chris Moore and Perriman — who caught a single pass last year, only adding to the competition at the position.

“I guess it’s a little more intense because you’re learning the playbook, have a new quarterback, new offensive line, new receivers — just new guys period,” Crabtree said. “It’s definitely beneficial for me to be here early. That way, by the time camp starts, we’re rolling.”

His presence has also been a positive for a young wide receiver group. The other two veteran receivers signed this offseason — John Brown and Willie Snead — aren’t household names and are each coming off injury-plagued seasons in which they combined for 391 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

The Ravens shouldn’t expect Crabtree to suddenly become a Pro Bowl receiver in his 10th season, but they need him to be a steadying presence both on and off the field.

“‘Crab’ has done a great job. He’s a really hard worker,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He has a great feel for the game, a lot of the tricks of the trade he understands, and he’s willing to share with those guys. He’s been great for our locker room, for our meeting room.”

Crabtree has stood out in spring workouts with smooth route-running ability and was singled out by Flacco last week when he was asked for impressions of the new wide receivers. His speed may pale in comparison to the likes of Brown and Perriman — he wasn’t particularly fast even going back to his college days at Texas Tech — but Crabtree says he’s competing like he’s 21 again.

Newsome betting on a veteran receiver having a chip on his shoulder after a disappointing year is nothing new, something he’s tripled down on this year. Of course, the Ravens envision Crabtree being more Boldin or Steve Smith and less Maclin or Lee Evans.

“Hearing most of the new receivers’ stories, we’ve all had our ups and downs,” Crabtree said. “It just feels good to have a new start and keep things rolling.”

Flacco will hope things keep rolling through the spring and summer without interruption.

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