Tag Archive | "Ravens"

forsett

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Five questions pondering Forsett, Orioles corner outfielders, others

Posted on 24 April 2015 by Luke Jones

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

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or are we once again too quick to doubt Justin Forsett? I understand skepticism about a running back who will turn 30 in October and is coming off a career season, but there’s too much discussion about finding his replacement considering the Ravens still don’t know who will be starting at a wide receiver spot or at tight end. Yes, it will be a tall order for Forsett to duplicate his 5.4 yards per carry average from 2014, but we are still talking about a back who averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his career prior to last season and has less wear and tear on his body than the typical player his age. For those who wanted to give the offensive line most of the credit for Forsett’s dream season, why is Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley that attractive in the first round then? It makes sense for the Ravens to look at the running back position in the middle rounds, but I’ll be underwhelmed if a running back is the pick at 26th overall next Thursday night.

2. Is it just me or has Steve Pearce been buried too quickly? Make no mistake, the great story of the 2014 season is off to an awful start with a .507 on-base plus slugging percentage in 52 plate appearances, but I’m surprised to see manager Buck Showalter only give him one start in the last five games. It made sense to keep the red-hot Jimmy Paredes in the lineup, but I’m not sure why Alejandro De Aza (prior to Thursday night) and Chris Davis were automatically penciled into the lineup over that time. I said throughout the winter that asking Pearce to duplicate his .930 OPS from last season would be too much, but it’s not a good look for the organization to have him on the bench this early after he was often mentioned as a reason why money wasn’t spent to retain Nick Markakis or Nelson Cruz.

3. Is it just me or did Jimmy Smith’s injury history play a large part in the Ravens re-signing the cornerback now? It’s fair to acknowledge the risk in investing $21 million guaranteed in a player who’s missed 17 games over his first four seasons, but that played into general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens retaining Smith at a reasonable cost. A simple look at the $25.5 million guaranteed that the Philadelphia Eagles gave free agent Byron Maxwell — the former Seattle cornerback with all of 17 career starts — last month made it obvious Smith could have commanded much more on the open market next offseason. But it made sense for both sides to gain some long-term security as the Ravens couldn’t afford to let their top cornerback walk and Smith couldn’t risk a slow start coming back from a foot injury to hinder his market value. The Ravens will now keep their fingers crossed that this deal works out better than the 2012 extension they gave to Lardarius Webb.

4. Is it just me or are the Orioles’ issues at the corner outfield spots making you pay attention to Nolan Reimold in the minors? I don’t expect the 31-year-old to be the answer, but watching De Aza, Travis Snider, and David Lough make such cringe-worthy fundamental mistakes over the last week has me concerned about the corner outfield positions. Reimold has followed up his excellent spring with an unspectacular start at Triple-A Norfolk (.250/.333/.393), but he’s drawn seven walks and hit his second homer of the season on Thursday. Those numbers aren’t exactly beating down the door for a promotion, but the aforementioned names aren’t undisputed everyday players, either. It’s wishful thinking, but Reimold’s plate discipline and speed could eventually warrant a shot in the leadoff spot, which has produced more strikeouts and fewer walks than any other slot in the order for the Orioles.

5. Is it just me or did John Harbaugh provide some much-needed common sense and historical context in his essay about football? Kudos to the Ravens head coach for this impassioned piece about a game that’s increasingly under attack in the 21st century. Harbaugh struck a fine balance in acknowledging real concerns about the game that must be addressed while reminding us of the redeeming qualities of football that we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss or eliminate. Perhaps it’s the fact that I played nine years of football growing up and still maintain friendships with former teammates going all the way back to elementary school, but research, historical context, and thoughtfulness are more constructive than the fear-mongering we too often see about so many issues facing society. As Harbaugh wrote, the game needs to improve, but let’s not ignore the values it has taught many of us along the way.

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tucker

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Tucker signs restricted tender with Ravens

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Both of the Ravens’ restricted free agents are now reportedly under contract for the 2015 season as kicker Justin Tucker and safety Will Hill each signed their tenders on Thursday.

Baltimore announced that fourth-year kicker Justin Tucker signed his restricted second-round tender worth $2.356 million for the 2015 season. Other teams had the right to negotiate and sign the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker to an offer sheet, but the Ravens would have had the right to match the deal and would have received the team’s second-round pick if they had elected to pass.

The high price that Tucker would command in addition to the compensation always made it highly unlikely that another team would seriously pursue him. The attention will now shift to Tucker’s future beyond this season as the Ravens have made it clear that they’d like to sign the former rookie free agent to a long-term contract, but he will aim to become one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL.

Tucker is currently the most accurate kicker in league history after making 97 of 108 career field goal attempts in his first three seasons.

The Ravens did not announce Hill’s signing, but the safety inked his low tender of $1.542 million, according to a report from The Sun. Considering there was no draft pick attached to Hill’s tender, his restricted free agency was worth monitoring, but his history of drug-related suspensions and off-field concerns likely scared away other teams from making a long-term financial commitment.

After serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy last season, Hill quickly emerged as a starting safety for the Ravens, collecting 42 tackles, an interceptions, and four pass breakups in 10 games (eight starts). He returned an interception for a touchdown in a Monday night win over the New Orleans Saints.

Originally an undrafted free agent from the University of Florida, Hill played the first two years of his NFL career with the New York Giants.

Friday is the final day that restricted free agents can be signed to offer sheets by other teams.

 

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The Baltimore Ravens unveil their 20th Anniversary patch

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Ravens announce plans for 20th season

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Photo courtesy of Shawn Hubbard, Baltimore Ravens

Approaching their 20th season in Baltimore this fall, the Ravens announced plans Thursday to commemorate the occasion.

Players will wear a 20th season patch on their jerseys this fall much like they did for the Ravens’ 10th season in 2005.

The organization also announced the 10 most popular players in franchise history as voted on by personal seat license holders earlier this year. Peter Boulware, Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Jamal Lewis, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Matt Stover, Terrell Suggs, and Marshal Yanda will each appear on tickets and the cover of the game-day program for a home game this season.

The Ravens noted in a release that five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was voted as one of the original top 10, but he will not appear on a game ticket or program after being traded to the Detroit Lions last month.

“You look at that list of players and you think of all the wins represented with this group, and that includes two Super Bowl championships,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a team statement. “Except for Matt and Marshal — both great stories in their own right — all of these players are first-round draft choices, and that’s something our scouts can be proud of.

“It is an impressive list with Hall of Famers, Ring of Honor members, and all-time greats. Our fans did a good job with the selections.”

The Ravens kick off their 20th season on the road against Denver on Sept. 13. Their home opener is against Cincinnati on Sept. 27.

 

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brandonwilliams

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Brandon Williams on Ngata’s exit: “The show must go on”

Posted on 22 April 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens know they have large shoes to fill after the departure of five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, but at least one member of the defensive line won’t be caught reflecting on the past.

After proving himself as an above-average nose tackle in his first year as a starter, 2013 third-round pick Brandon Williams expects no drop-off for the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense despite Ngata being traded to the Detroit Lions last month.

“It was surprising, but at the same time, you get the opportunity to step up and show what you’re actually capable of,” William said. “I love Haloti, great guy, wish him the best in Detroit, but we’re in Baltimore right now. The show must go on. Someone else has to step up.”

That someone is expected to be 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who filled in for Ngata during his four-game suspension for Adderall use in the final month of the regular season. Though not as massive as the 340-pound Ngata, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Florida State product collected 23 tackles and four sacks in 12 games as a rookie.

Jernigan has been complimented by teammates for having an impressive motor, which will be necessary as he takes on a larger role in his second season.

“He’s definitely ready. I call him the little pit bull, because he never stops,” Williams said. “He might be smaller than Haloti — not a lot of people are as big as Haloti — but he still gives it his all, 100 percent every single time. He never quits, so he’s definitely ready.”

Many have pointed to the performance of the defensive line in Ngata’s absence as a major reason why the organization took a firm stance in contract negotiations this offseason. In the four games Ngata missed, the Ravens allowed just under 3.6 yards per carry, which was right in line with the 3.6 yards per attempt allowed for the entire season.

While the offense struggled to find consistency in the final month of the season, the defense continued to excel without Ngata to help the Ravens qualify for the postseason with a 3-1 finish.

“It kind of got us ready for this point right here,” Williams said. “Haloti’s not here, so [Jernigan is] going to have to step it up. Someone’s going to have to step up — whoever it is. And we still had a great defensive line when Haloti had his stint away [on suspension]. It will be fine.”

Mosley on mend

Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley continues to wear a protective cast over his surgically-repaired left wrist, which will likely lead to him being limited in organized team activities set to begin next month.

“I’m going to do everything I can. I don’t know how much physical stuff I can do,” Mosley said. “But I’m going to be out on the field definitely.”

Mosley has visions of building on a successful rookie year in which he was the only player in the NFL to collect at least 125 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. He finished second behind St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Becoming the first rookie to make the Pro Bowl in franchise history, Mosley is currently limited in his ability to lift weights, but the 17th overall pick of last year’s draft is upbeat about his progress after he initially injured the wrist in December.

“Everything is progressing,” Mosley said. “I haven’t had any major setbacks so far, so I’m just getting back into it with the workouts and everything.”

Marlon Brown excited to work with Trestman

Wide receiver Marlon Brown isn’t paying much attention to the speculation of the Ravens needing to draft another receiver, but he cracked a big smile when asked about his early impressions of new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

The 6-foot-5 Brown took notice of how Trestman used bigger wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago and expects big things from himself in his third season.

“He’s so excited and so detailed about the offense,” said Brown about Trestman. “I like that he’s breaking it down, so the whole team can understand the aspects of the offense and everything. I’m loving him.”

It’s no secret that Brown struggled to find his way in his second year after the offseason signing of veteran Steve Smith and the implementation of Gary Kubiak’s offensive system, but the tall wideout eventually became a solid option on third down, finishing with 24 catches for 255 yards.

Depending on whether the Ravens add a wideout in this year’s draft, Brown could find himself with many more opportunities as he competes with the likes of Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro. The continuity that Trestman wants to maintain will certainly help as the Ravens try to replace the production of Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, who both departed via free agency.

“There’s been a couple changes with alignment issues and verbiage maybe,” Brown said. “Other than that, everything is pretty much the same.”

Attendance strong for first week of offseason program

The Ravens officially began their voluntary offseason conditioning program this week with attendance estimated to be in the high 50s, according to head strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki.

Sixty-three players are currently listed under contract on the Ravens’ official website, but that doesn’t include restricted free agents and exclusive-rights free agents who have yet to sign their tenders. Since the program is voluntary, the organization is cognizant of new training methods being introduced every year and tries to implement them to make it more attractive for as many players as possible to train at the Owing Mills facility.

“We try to bring something in every year just to add a change to what we do,” Rogucki said. “Our method and philosophy stays the same. If we don’t bring something new in, there’s going to be something out there that we’re not aware of. Players may find it and see it, so we try to keep up on the trend that’s out there. That’s just good business on our part.”

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suggsflacco

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2015 schedule features five prime-time games for Ravens

Posted on 21 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite being featured in five prime-time games, the Ravens will face the daunting task of playing five of their first seven contests on the road to begin the 2015 regular season.

Baltimore will open a season with two road games for the first time since 2010 as long trips to Denver and Oakland await. The Ravens are playing five of the first seven on the road for the first time since 2000, a season that culminated with the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

After beginning the season with two straight home games last year, the Ravens start the regular season in Denver for the second time in three years. Of course, the season-opening game against the Broncos will bring back the bad feelings of not beginning the season at home as the defending Super Bowl champions two years ago and subsequently being blown out as Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes in a nationally-televised Thursday night game.

The Ravens open their home schedule in Week 3 by welcoming the Cincinnati Bengals to town.

For the second straight year, both Baltimore-Pittsburgh games will be played in prime time as the Ravens travel to Heinz Field for a Thursday night game on Oct. 1 and Pittsburgh comes to M&T Bank Stadium for a Sunday night game on Dec. 27. The Steelers played a Thursday night game in Baltimore last season, but the Ravens will host a Sunday night game against their biggest rival for the first time since 2010.

These AFC North rivals will now have played at least one game in prime time in nine consecutive years.

The schedule features three other prime-time games as the Ravens play Monday night games at Arizona on Oct. 26 and in Cleveland on Nov. 30. Nine of Baltimore’s last 10 Monday night games have been scheduled on the road.

Baltimore will host another Sunday night game against the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks in Week 14.

For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Ravens will conclude the regular season in Cincinnati. The Bengals have been Baltimore’s opponent in the regular-season finale five times in the last six years.

While many will focus on having to play five road games in the first seven weeks, the most brutal aspect of the Ravens’ schedule is two different occurrences of back-to-back road games involving a great deal of travel as Baltimore plays San Francisco and Arizona in Weeks 5 and 6 after their first two games at Denver and Oakland. However, the organization had asked the league to schedule their road games in San Francisco and Oakland in consecutive weeks with the thought of staying on the West Coast, so you wonder if the Ravens will get creative with their travel plans for either of those stretches.

The five prime-time games are the Ravens’ highest total since the 2011 season.

The Ravens will play seven games against playoff teams from last season: Pittsburgh (twice), Cincinnati (twice), Denver, Seattle, and Arizona. Baltimore has five games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2014: Cleveland (twice), Jacksonville, Oakland, and St. Louis.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 13 at Denver Broncos – 4:25 p.m.
Skinny: The Ravens will recognize the familiar faces of Gary Kubiak and Owen Daniels, but how much will Peyton Manning have left at age 39?

Sunday, Sept. 20 at Oakland Raiders – 4:05 p.m.
Skinny: They’re still the Raiders, but the presence of young quarterback Derek Carr gives new head coach Jack Del Rio some hope that his predecessors never enjoyed.

Sunday, Sept. 27 vs. Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Four straight trips to the playoffs is a nice feat, but Andy Dalton no longer inspires confidence that he’ll lead this franchise to its first playoff win since Jan. 6, 1991.

Thursday, Oct. 1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:25 p.m. (CBS/NFL Network)
Skinny: Troy Polamalu and Haloti Ngata are the latest great players to depart this rivalry, but the Ravens earning their first playoff win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh last January brings new energy.

Sunday, Oct. 11 vs. Cleveland Browns – 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Until they find a quarterback, it’s difficult envisioning the Browns earning their first win in Baltimore since Mike Pettine was a member of Brian Billick’s staff.

Sunday, Oct. 18 at San Francisco 49ers – 4:25 p.m.
Skinny: Torrey Smith will be out to prove to the Ravens that they made a mistake letting him walk, but the shine is gone from this once-budding rivalry with Jim Harbaugh now in Ann Arbor.

Monday, Oct. 26 at Arizona Cardinals – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Skinny: Making their first trip to Arizona since 2003, the Ravens will face a team that would have been interesting to watch last January if something called a Ryan Lindley hadn’t been playing quarterback.

Sunday, Nov. 1 vs. San Diego Chargers – 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The Chargers handed Baltimore a stunning loss at M&T Bank Stadium last year, but will Philip Rivers still be their quarterback this time around?

Sunday, Nov. 8 — BYE

Sunday, Nov. 15 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The Jaguars hung tough against the Ravens last year and added Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas, but they haven’t won in Baltimore since Mark Brunell was their quarterback.

Sunday, Nov. 22 vs. St. Louis Rams — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: It generally doesn’t bode well for your franchise when people are focusing more on your future home than your prospects for the 2015 season.

Monday, Nov. 30 at Cleveland Browns – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Skinny: The Browns really aren’t playing in those god-awful new uniforms this year, right?

Sunday, Dec. 6 at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Counting the postseason, the Ravens have won four straight games in Miami and should consider having their mail delivered to Sun Life Stadium with the number of Baltimore fans who have traveled their for the last couple contests.

Sunday, Dec. 13 vs. Seattle Seahawks – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Skinny: A meeting between two of the last three Super Bowl champions is a marquee game on the 2015 NFL calendar as Seattle comes to Baltimore for the first time since 2003.

Sunday, Dec. 20 vs. Kansas City – 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The Ravens haven’t lost to Kansas City in over a decade, but facing former mentor Andy Reid always means a little extra for John Harbaugh.

Sunday, Dec. 27 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Skinny: NBC can’t get enough of Baltimore-Pittsburgh as the network will broadcast one of these rivalry games for the sixth consecutive season.

Sunday, Jan. 3 at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The Ravens haven’t won a game at Paul Brown Stadium since 2011, which sets this one up to be another crucial encounter with playoff implications.

Notes: In a move that was initiated last season, flexible scheduling can be applied in Weeks 5 through 10. During that period, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by moving a Sunday afternoon game into prime time and moving the Sunday night game to the afternoon.

Another recently-implemented wrinkle will be a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring some games to wider audiences.

Flexible scheduling will still be used in Weeks 11 through 17 as it has been in past years. In Weeks 11-16, the schedule lists the games tentatively set for Sunday Night Football on NBC. Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the tentatively scheduled Sunday night game would be moved to an afternoon start time.

Flexible scheduling cannot be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday, or Monday nights.

A scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Jan. 3.

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jimmysmith

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Ravens reach contract extension with cornerback Jimmy Smith

Posted on 21 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A little over a week away from the NFL draft, the Ravens have reached a contract extension with one of their best draft picks in recent years by coming to terms with cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Originally scheduled to earn $6.898 million in the fifth-year team option of his rookie contract this season, Smith will now make up to $48 million over the next five years with $21 million fully guaranteed, according to Pro Football Talk. The extension includes a $13 million signing bonus, a guaranteed $1 million base salary for 2015, and a $7 million guaranteed base salary next season, per multiple outlets.

The 2011 first-round pick was in the midst of the best season of his career when he suffered a season-ending foot injury last October. Graded by Pro Football Focus as the ninth-best cornerback in the NFL through the first seven weeks of 2014, Smith suffered a Lisfranc injury against Cincinnati on Oct. 26 that eventually required season-ending surgery on his left foot.

“For me, it was never truly about being the highest-paid corner,” Smith said. “I know I couldn’t be that on this team and be here just because of the talent already spread around. You have to pay other people. I knew that going into this [that it] would be that with the injury and all that. All those things came to mind, but it worked out.”

Smith had collected 28 tackles, an interception, and six pass breakups prior to the injury. The 6-foot-2 corner has secured five interceptions in his career.

After two disappointing and injury-riddled seasons to begin his NFL career, Smith is a good example of exercising patience with draft picks who don’t immediately blossom into starters. To show how far the Colorado product has come in two years, he began the 2012 postseason as the No. 4 cornerback behind even Chykie Brown on the depth chart before eventually making key plays on the final defensive series to protect a 34-31 win over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII.

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it clear this offseason that keeping Smith in Baltimore beyond the 2015 season would be a priority. The Ravens would also like to sign guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele and kicker Justin Tucker to long-term deals as they enter the final year of their current contracts.

“I think that his best football is still ahead of him,” Newsome said. “If he doesn’t get hurt in the Cincinnati game last year, I don’t know where he could have ended up as a player, but he was definitely trending up. I just want to thank Jimmy for committing five more years of football to us, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The deal does not come without some risk, however, as Smith has battled a number of injuries throughout his career and missed 17 games in his first four seasons.

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flacco

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Ravens begin voluntary offseason training program

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Luke Jones

With the start of the 2015 regular season less than five months away, the Ravens officially began their voluntary offseason training program on Monday.

The first phase of the program lasts for two weeks and includes only strength and conditioning work, physical rehabilitation, and mental preparation. This part of the offseason is strictly voluntary, but most players beyond select veterans are expected to attend regularly.

A video on the team’s official website that highlighted the first day showed a number of players in attendance including quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Phillip Supernaw, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Marlon Brown, linebackers C.J. Mosley, Courtney Upshaw, and Albert McClellan, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and offensive lineman John Urschel.

The Ravens did not provide access to media for the first day of the program, but Pitta’s attendance can be viewed as a positive sign as he hopes to continue his NFL career after dislocating and fracturing his right hip twice in a 14-month period.

Coaches are not allowed to lead players in on-field workouts during this first part of the offseason program.

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suggs

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NFL to release 2015 schedule on Tuesday night

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The wait is just about over.

The NFL announced it will release the 2015 regular-season schedule on 8 p.m. Tuesday night, which gives teams and their fans better framework to prepare for another season. Coming off their sixth trip to the postseason in seven seasons under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are once again anticipating being scheduled for a few marquee prime-time matchups.

Baltimore’s preseason schedule was announced earlier this month, but the Ravens will learn when they will play each of their opponents that were determined at the end of the 2014 season. In addition to their normal games against the rest of the AFC North, the Ravens will face the AFC West and the NFC West in addition to Jacksonville and Miami, who both finished third in their respective divisions like the Ravens.

Facing so many teams on the West Coast has sparked a unique scheduling request by the Ravens as they have asked the NFL to slot road games against San Francisco and Oakland in consecutive weeks. This would allow the team to remain in the Bay Area in the week between games and cut down on the toll of an additional cross-country trip.

Below are the Ravens’ opponents for the 2015 season:

HOME GAMES: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, Jacksonville

AWAY GAMES: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Oakland, San Francisco, Arizona, Miami

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mosley

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Separating wants from needs as Ravens approach NFL draft

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Luke Jones

In football and in life, wants and needs are relative terms often used interchangeably when they shouldn’t be.

As we’re finally two weeks away from the NFL draft, the line between those wants and needs has been blurred by the saturation of too many mock drafts as well as the attempt to decipher the truths, half-truths, and outright lies told by executives around the league.

We all know the Ravens will take the “best player available” and will “stay true to the board” over the three-day event, but it’s difficult to recall a time in recent years when they’ve had this many apparent needs going into the draft. With all significant free-agent activity over, below is a look at which positions remain real needs and which ones are merely wants.

Wide receiver — NEED
Skinny: I’d be more inclined to buy into the hype about Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro if this weren’t the same organization that thought it could find a starting receiver among Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson, and Tandon Doss two years ago. The trio of young receivers do show promise, but a team with Super Bowl aspirations can’t count on two former undrafted free agents and a 2014 seventh-round selection to be enough opposite veteran Steve Smith. The Ravens have done too good a job trying to convince everyone that they don’t need a receiver for them not to take one early, whether it’s a Jaelen Strong or Breshad Perriman in the first round or coming away with a wideout like Devin Smith or Devin Funchess in the second round.

Pass rusher — WANT
Skinny: Make no mistake, this one likely tops their list of wants, but the Ravens aren’t doomed if they don’t find a replacement for Pernell McPhee, who was a unique talent but not always consistent in his four years in Baltimore. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are still a formidable duo while Timmy Jernigan looks like a perfect candidate to help pick up the slack with some of the inside pressure that McPhee was so good at applying. The Ravens hope defensive end Brent Urban can also be part of that pass-rush equation, but he will need to prove he’s healthy. Perhaps outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw finally seizes the opportunity to rush the quarterback more often, but he’s never shown a consistent ability to do it at the NFL level.

Tight end — NEED
Skinny: Even if Dennis Pitta returns to football or Crockett Gillmore is ready to become a starter, another tight end is needed if the offense is serious about continuing to use the same system installed by former coordinator Gary Kubiak last season. The problem will be trying to find one as Minnesota’s Maxx Williams or Miami’s Clive Walford would be a reach at 26th overall, but both could be gone by the time the Ravens’ second-round pick rolls around. There are a few other decent mid-round options such as Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman, Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, or even Penn State’s Jesse James, but none of the aforementioned prospects scream immediate starter, which will put substantial pressure on Gillmore going into the 2015 season if the Ravens don’t add another veteran.

Running back — WANT
Skinny: There’s been plenty of conjecture about the Ravens selecting Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley in the first round, but you’ll have a tough time convincing me there’s enough value there unless either rapidly becomes one of the top four or five backs in the NFL. The release of Bernard Pierce shouldn’t faze anyone considering he was a major disappointment over the last two years anyway. The combination of Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro is enough with such a formidable offensive line in front of them. With an eye toward the future, the Ravens will still have a good chance to grab a solid back in the middle rounds such as Northern Iowa’s David Johnson, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, or Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, but it’s not the pressing need some have made it out to be.

Cornerback — NEED
Skinny: There’s validity to general manager Ozzie Newsome’s assessment that the position will be in better shape with the return of Jimmy Smith, but let’s not pretend the pass defense was playing that well before his injury last year. Rashaan Melvin showed promise as a solid depth corner, but neither he nor Asa Jackson — who will be coming off a knee injury and wasn’t very good when he played in 2014 anyway — should be penciled in as a No. 3-caliber corner. With Smith having a history of injuries and Lardarius Webb turning 30 this season, the Ravens are again begging for trouble if they put too much confidence in their current cast of corners. If it’s not a first-round talent such as Kevin Johnson or Marcus Peters, a second-round corner such as Quinten Rollins or Ronald Darby would be quite desirable.

Interior offensive lineman — WANT
Skinny: Center Jeremy Zuttah had offseason hip surgery and guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele are scheduled to become free agents next winter, making it a slam dunk that the Ravens would like to add another interior lineman to go with 2014 fifth-round choice John Urschel. It isn’t a necessity for 2015, but Newsome could find himself in a tough spot a year from now if the Ravens don’t pick up a lineman in the middle-to-late rounds this year.

Defensive tackle — WANT
Skinny: Even if Timmy Jernigan is ready to step into the gigantic shoes left behind by Haloti Ngata, the Ravens lack an obvious backup to swing between the 3-technique and Brandon Williams’ nose tackle spot, which could be an issue if they don’t add a bulky defensive lineman. A mid-to-late-round talent with upside such as Ellis McCarthy of UCLA would make a lot of sense to give the defensive line a boost in short-yardage situations.

Safety — WANT
Skinny: Not that the combination of Will Hill and the newly-signed Kendrick Lewis will make anyone forget about Ed Reed, but there just aren’t any safeties in this draft beyond Landon Collins of Alabama who represent a clear upgrade over what the Ravens already have. The return of 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks from the knee injury he suffered late last year will be an improvement over anything else they would likely come away with in this draft.

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reed

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Thoughts on could-be, former, and never-were Ravens

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu last week revitalized an old debate of deciding between him or former Ravens safety Ed Reed as the best safety of this generation.

The split between the fan bases in Baltimore and Pittsburgh is obvious, but it’s difficult to compare players who brought such different skills to the table. Polamalu was superior against the run, but many forget how effectively Reed played closer to the line of scrimmage early in his career before a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder hampered him physically. On the flip side, Reed was the superior ball hawk throughout their careers, but Polamalu wasn’t always the same liability in coverage that he became over the last few seasons of his 12-year career.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King stirred up Ravens fans by deeming Polamalu the best playmaking and instinctive safety of this era. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but Reed’s ability to make plays as a safety, a punt blocker, and as an occasional punt returner was as good as any playmaker I’ve seen short of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. In his prime, Reed may have been the greatest free safety in the history of the NFL as his calculated gambles often turned games around for the offensively-challenged Ravens of the time.

I’d take Reed over Polamalu because of his home-run potential, but I would have been happy with either one.

Like King does in evaluating these two great safeties, I’ve been guilty of using the term instinctive, a word that sounds like a compliment but sells short the amount of preparation each player put into his craft. Yes, these are blessed athletes who often appear to have a sixth sense for the ball, but the game-changing plays each safety made were the result of hours of film study and their years of experience on the football field.

It’s worth noting that the Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn’t been kind to safeties historically, but I just don’t see that applying to Reed or Polamalu when they are eligible for induction. As two of the centerpieces in arguably the best rivalry in the NFL over the last 15 years, both received plenty of mainstream attention and each won an AP Defensive Player of the Year award (an honor awarded to a safety just five times in 44 years). Even if they aren’t first-ballot guys — they should be, by the way — neither will wait long to receive the invitation to Canton.

Of course, Reed hasn’t officially retired, which is something with which he needs to come to terms. I’m always supportive of an athlete in his desire to play as long as he wants and to go out on his own terms, but the writing has been on the wall for nearly two years and no one wanted the nine-time Pro Bowl selection in 2014. It’s time for him to call it a career, which will allow the Ravens to induct him into their Ring of Honor this fall.

* After reports surfaced that the Ravens were among the teams showing the most interest in Michael Crabtree, the free-agent wide receiver came to terms on a one-year deal to join the Oakland Raiders Monday night.

The news wasn’t surprising as there were never any indications that Baltimore strongly coveted Crabtree, who was coming off a down season in San Francisco. Questions remain over his explosiveness and ability to separate from defenders following an Achilles injury two years ago, and he was never the type of burner that the Ravens currently need.

I’ll continue to remain skeptical of the organization’s ability to find a suitable replacement for Torrey Smith until it happens. The Ravens can talk up the likes of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro as much as they want, but they need a receiver to stretch the field and take pressure off the soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith. The current group alone won’t cut it.

* King again fired up fans in predicting that Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon wouldn’t make it past the Ravens with the 26th overall pick, but it wouldn’t be a shocking development given their everlasting commitment to the ground game.

Anyone who watched Gordon play in the Big Ten knows he has the potential to be a special back and Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock is very familiar with him after they worked together in Madison. A running back hasn’t been selected in the first round since 2012, but it appears there’s a good chance of that changing in the upcoming draft.

Would Gordon satisfy one of their biggest needs? No, but Justin Forsett will be 30 and isn’t a long-term solution at the position.

I personally would look to a number of running backs who would be attractive in the middle rounds, but coming away with Gordon wouldn’t be surprising or necessarily a bad thing for the Ravens.

* The latest news about former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips being suspected of killing his prison cellmate is another reminder of how lucky the Ravens were to come away with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick of the 1996 draft.

Had he given into late owner Art Modell’s preference to have Phillips, Ozzie Newsome might not still be the general manager in Baltimore today. At the very least, it’d be difficult to argue that the Ravens would have still won Super Bowl XXXV in only their fifth season in Baltimore.

More than anything, the Ravens might want to thank the Arizona Cardinals for surprisingly taking Simeon Rice with the third pick that year, allowing Ogden to fall into Newsome’s lap.

As the Ravens now begin their 20th season in Baltimore, it’s still incredible to think that Newsome selected two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis went 26th overall later in the first round — with the first two draft picks in team history.

* Per Pro Football Talk, the NFL is set to release the 2015 regular-season schedule on April 23.

Considering we already know the Ravens’ opponents, the announcement always comes with too much hype, but it’s intriguing to find out which matchups land in prime time.

I’m only guessing, but I’ll predict that the Ravens play a Thursday night road game in Pittsburgh, a Monday night home game against Cincinnati, and a Sunday night home game against Seattle.

Which games would you like to see in prime time this year?

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