Tag Archive | "Ravens"

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

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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perriman

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Ravens position battles to watch this summer

Posted on 24 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens possess one of the deepest rosters in the NFL entering the 2015 season, but a number of key position battles will headline the summer as they seek their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

After losing the likes of Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Pernell McPhee, general manager Ozzie Newsome has done a remarkable job reloading, but several questions must be answered before the season begins in Denver on Sept. 13.

Below is an early look at each competition with the first full-squad workout of the summer set for July 30:

Starting wide receiver
The candidates: Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown
Why to be optimistic: The 26th overall pick in the draft, Perriman was projected to go in the middle of the first round by some and is a faster and bigger version of Torrey Smith on paper while Aiken and Brown are still developing and contributed a season ago.
Why to be concerned: Beyond the 13,000-plus receiving yards from 15-year veteran Steve Smith, the Ravens’ other returning wide receivers made a combined 55 catches last year, making you pray that Perriman is ready to contribute immediately.
The favorite: Aiken is the leader in the clubhouse following minicamp and has developed an impressive rapport with Joe Flacco, but Perriman’s skills are too enticing to pass on him as the favorite to start.

Starting tight end
The candidates: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
Why to be optimistic: Even if we assume Pitta will not be cleared to play in 2015, the Ravens invested a 2014 third-round pick in Gillmore and a second-round pick in Williams this spring for a reason.
Why to be concerned: Gillmore caught just 10 passes as a rookie while Williams did not stand out during spring practices and is still trying to adjust to Marc Trestman’s offensive system.
The favorite: After showing improvement late in his rookie year, Gillmore was a surprise of the spring with a better physique and improved ability to make catches in traffic while Williams was very quiet.

Starting defensive end
The candidates: Chris Canty, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban
Why to be optimistic: Canty and Guy were effective holding down the 5-technique position a year ago despite Urban’s knee injury that derailed his anticipated role in the rotation as a rookie.
Why to be concerned: Canty is entering his 11th year and the Ravens deemed him expendable before bringing him back at a cheaper rate while Urban has been unable to shake injuries going back to his collegiate days.
The favorite: Urban was very active during spring practices and could push the veteran starter, but it’s too tough to pick against Canty, who has started 119 games in his NFL career.

Starting safeties
The candidates: Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks
Why to be optimistic: Hill proved capable in handling a starting job in the second half of 2014 while Lewis was signed for his ability to play deep center, something the Ravens lacked in coverage a year ago.
Why to be concerned: Elam was a clear disappointment in his first two seasons while Brooks is still recovering from a torn ACL, creating legitimate depth concerns going into training camp.
The favorites: The Ravens gave Elam some reps with the starting defense this spring, but it would take substantial improvement for the 2013 first-round pick to overtake Hill or Lewis for starting spots.

Return specialist
The candidates: Michael Campanaro, DeAndre Carter, Asa Jackson, Fitz Toussaint, Lardarius Webb, Steve Smith
Why to be optimistic: Campanaro and Jackson have shown flashes in the return game in very limited opportunities while Webb and Smith bring experience to the equation.
Why to be concerned: It’s difficult to buy either Webb or Smith as a serious candidate to handle the job because of their importance, leaving the real competition to players lacking experience or facing questions about their durability.
The favorite: There isn’t one as this competition lacks candidates to really feel good about at this point, making you wonder if the man to handle the job is even on the current roster.

Backup running back
The candidates: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Buck Allen
Why to be optimistic: The Ravens feel very good about Justin Forsett in a starting role for a second straight year and have invested fourth-round picks in running backs in each of the last two drafts.
Why to be concerned: Taliaferro and Allen have a combined 68 carries in the NFL and are the primary backups behind a 29-year-old back who has one year of experience as a full-time back since college.
The favorite: Last month, Allen would have been my choice because of the versatility he showed in college, but a slimmed-down Taliaferro moved well this spring and has an experience edge for now.

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

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Sizing up the post-minicamp 2015 Ravens roster

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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brown

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Veteran cornerback says Ravens interested in signing him

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

At a time of year when most free agents have at least found a home for training camp, veteran cornerback Tarell Brown says the Ravens are one of several teams showing interest in his services.

A former starter with the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, the 30-year-old told Sirius XM NFL Radio over the weekend that Baltimore was one of four teams who have expressed interest in signing him on the open market. He started 14 games last year in his only season with the Raiders, making 55 tackles and four pass breakups.

Brown spent the previous seven seasons with the 49ers, starting 47 games and collecting 11 interceptions. He was a starting cornerback against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, making three tackles and forcing a fumble.

Already anticipating the healthy returns of starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, general manager Ozzie Newsome boosted the Ravens’ veteran depth at cornerback this offseason by signing former New England Patriots slot cornerback Kyle Arrington and former Indianapolis Colt Cassius Vaughn to compete with the likes of Rashaan Melvin, Asa Jackson, and Tramain Jacobs. Newsome hasn’t shied away from adding veteran cornerbacks over the summer in recent years as he signed Aaron Ross and Dominique Franks following last June’s minicamp.

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machado

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Five questions pondering Machado, Steve Smith, Harbaugh, Showalter

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Luke Jones

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

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or is Manny Machado rapidly closing the gap with Adam Jones for the title of best Oriole? Because he’s been around since 2012, we often forget that the third baseman only turns 23 next month, making his start to the 2015 season that much more encouraging. Machado has already matched his career high with 14 home runs and is just five walks shy of his personal best set in 2013, a major reason why he’s performed well in the leadoff spot as the Orioles have few options at the top of the order. Two years ago, Machado’s 51 doubles led the league as he made his first All-Star team and many projected some of those two-baggers to eventually turn into homers, something now coming to fruition. His early-season defensive struggles have vanished and the 2010 first-round pick entered Friday leading the club with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage. Take nothing away from Jones as he’s in the midst of another fine season and remains the heart and soul of the Orioles, you wonder how long he’ll be able to hold off Machado’s youthful talent to remain the best player on the team.

2. Is it just me or has Steve Smith been better than advertised as he approaches his second season with the Ravens? The 36-year-old will finish his NFL career with numbers that will garner Hall of Fame discussion, but I can’t help but be impressed with his commitment to the organization after spending his first 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Still making his home in Charlotte, Smith could have understandably skipped voluntary organized team activities and simply showed up for this week’s mandatory minicamp, but he was present in Owings Mills throughout the last month to work with first-round rookie Breshad Perriman and a number of other talented but inexperienced wide receivers. The five-time Pro Bowl selection not only practiced, but he continued to look like the best player on the field, which is one heck of an example for his younger teammates to emulate. Even if Smith is unable to match his numbers from a year ago when he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, the Ravens still got an absolute steal when they signed Smith to a three-year, $10.5 million contract last year.

3. Is it just me or are the Ravens and Orioles both reaping the benefits of continuity with their head men? It’s difficult to believe that John Harbaugh will only be one year shy of Brian Billick’s run with the Ravens after the 2015 season, but it speaks to the stability the franchise has had on the sideline for nearly two decades. As if this weren’t enough, I was shocked to learn that Buck Showalter became the fifth-longest tenured manager in the majors after San Diego fired Bud Black earlier this week. When you consider the Orioles had eight different managers in a 16-year period before Showalter was hired in 2010, it’s strange to think of them as one of the more stable organizations in baseball when it comes to their man in the dugout. Only six current NFL head coaches have been in their positions longer than Harbaugh, an impressive feat when you recall how little fanfare the hiring of the longtime Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator received in 2008. Baltimore is very lucky to have these two leading its professional sports teams on the field.

4. Is it just me or does ex-Raven Michael Oher sound ridiculous blaming “The Blind Side” for an underwhelming NFL career? I can understand Oher’s desire to not be defined by a motion picture, but to suggest that he’s been evaluated unfairly because of the movie borders on the absurd. Despite what some fans try to say, Oher was far from a “bust” as a first-round pick — such a label speaks to how spoiled this fan base has been with Ozzie Newsome’s draft success — and probably didn’t benefit from being shifted so frequently between left and right tackle early in his career, but two teams in two years — Baltimore and Tennessee — deemed Oher not to be worth keeping around. His propensity for penalties alone make him a liability unless his blocking grades are through the charts, which hasn’t been the case for most of his career. Oher’s story is a wonderful example of courage and overcoming adversity as he’s etched out a solid career in the NFL. He never became a dominating left tackle, but it has nothing to do with the movie and how people perceive his play as a result.

5. Is it just me or would it make too much sense for the MLB All-Star Game to adopt the Pro Bowl’s system for voting? The mere notion that MLB says it’s canceled 60 million online votes casts even more doubt on the All-Star voting that currently features eight Kansas City Royals in the American League lineup. It makes you long for the days of paper ballots distributed at ballparks and how we’d punch out the little paper holes with a car key or a pencil, doesn’t it? Of course, this isn’t the first time voting changes have been suggested as you don’t have to go back too far to see AL starting lineups littered with Yankees and Red Sox players. While I’d never trade the quality of play in the All-Star Game for what is passed off as football in the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s voting system in which fans, coaches, and players split the vote makes too much sense for baseball not to adopt something similar next year. Especially if you’re going to have home-field advantage in the World Series determined by the outcome, we need to make sure the voting is as legitimate as possible and protected from overzealous fans.

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Plenty of intrigue surrounding Ravens wide receivers

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can easily be fooled by what you observe during spring football practice, but the Ravens’ young group of wide receivers displayed much to like over the last month.

It would be unwise to guarantee that the Ravens won’t experience any growing pains at the position following the free-agent departure of Torrey Smith, but there are many reasons to be intrigued with the upside of the group. More than a few showed their talents before the Ravens wrapped up their mandatory minicamp on Thursday, now turning their attention toward the start of training camp in less than six weeks.

“They come in all different sizes, certainly, and we have them here,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman of the young receivers. “But at the end of the day, it’s the guys that are really specialists that know how to get off the line and get open, and particularly when it’s bump-and-run, because that’s when it’s usually crunch time.”

Of course, introducing the threat of contact will be the real test as countless receivers over the years have shown ability while knowing they aren’t about to be leveled by a hard-hitting defensive back or linebacker over the middle. This time of the year always favors the offense with defensive players lagging behind until the pads serve as the equalizer beginning in late July.

Perhaps the most comforting aspect about the group that allows so much optimism is the man who spent the entire spring mentoring them while continuing to look like the best player on the field in the process.

While other notable veterans skipped voluntary organized team activities and didn’t arrive in Owings Mills until this week’s mandatory minicamp, the 36-year-old Steve Smith spent the last month working with the likes of rookies Breshad Perriman and Darren Waller as well as helping young receivers such as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown. It’s easy to like your potential at a position when a seasoned commodity with five Pro Bowl selections and 13,000 receiving yards remains at the head of the class.

“He put in the time physically and he put in the time mentally to really grasp the changes that we were making and further enhance how he understood this offense,” wide receivers coach Bobby Engram said. “And, when he pulls a young guy aside, they’re going to listen. And when they see his work ethic, they better listen. His experience and his leadership has been invaluable not only for the receivers but for our entire team.”

While Smith continues to lead the way at the position, there were three young receivers who stood out this spring in particular.

Selected with the 26th overall pick in the first round of this year’s draft, Perriman has been as advertised with his combination of size and speed, and he appears to be ahead of where Torrey Smith was at this point in his rookie season. The Ravens made no secret about their desire to work him hard this spring as the Central Florida product consistently took reps with the first, second, and third-team offenses during practices, often battling fatigue to make sensational catches.

He wasn’t perfect as he suffered some drops from time to time — it hasn’t been a chronic issue — but the 6-foot-2 rookie feels good about his place in Trestman’s offense and adjusted well to the speed of the game when the full squad reported for practices this past week.

“I just like how they have the ability to move all the receivers around,” Perriman said. “For me, I’m decent at going deep, but at the same time, they have the ability to move me around and put all the receivers in different positions. Everyone can be a slot receiver and run different routes. That’s what I like about it.”

Perriman has drawn the outside attention as the team’s first-round draft pick, but Aiken may have impressed the most this spring with his consistency and strong rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco. After rising from anonymity to make last year’s roster, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Aiken caught 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season while adding another touchdown reception in the playoffs.

It would be premature — and unfair — to label Aiken a poor man’s Anquan Boldin, but perhaps he could be the poor man’s poor man’s version of the former Baltimore receiver, showing good strength and an ability to make catches in traffic. He is the current leader in the clubhouse to start opposite Smith — the Ravens almost always defer to their veterans over rookies to begin preseason competitions — but Aiken figures to be a meaningful part of the passing game, regardless of where he lands on the depth chart by the time September rolls around.

Aiken said this spring that he has never lacked confidence, but last year’s success has made him comfortable in preparing to just be himself instead of trying to do too much to make the roster as he was forced to do earlier in his career. Whether beginning the year as a starter or succumbing to Perriman, Aiken is confident he’s a good fit in a critical portion of the field.

“I like going across the middle, so I’ve never feared a route going across the middle,” Aiken said. “I feel like that’s where you make your money at. But [the coaches] do a lot of good things as far as mix and matching, just putting us in different areas [where we are] able to run different routes.”

While Perriman and Aiken have already become household names for Ravens fans, the biggest wild card could end up being Jeremy Butler, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve after turning a few heads during last summer’s training camp. It wasn’t a coincidence that Baltimore took advantage of Butler’s late-summer shoulder injury to stash him on IR, which essentially gave the Tennessee-Martin product a “redshirt” season to learn and improve.

At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Butler earned plenty of praise for his consistent hands over the last month. And while there have been many young players over the years to have good springs before disappearing in training camp and the preseason, it’s worth paying attention to Butler this summer after quiet acclaim from coaches last year and the compliments offered by Smith and Flacco this week.

If anything, Butler figures to offer some strong competition for Aiken in the slot as he occasionally received some first-team reps over these last few weeks.

“He might have had 1,500 yards in a three-day minicamp. He was incredible,” Flacco said. “He caught the ball extremely well. [He has] little things here and there to work on, but the biggest thing is catching the ball, and I think these guys are doing a really good job of that.”

With the ageless veteran Smith leading the way, the Ravens hope they’ll face some difficult decisions as far as how many receivers they will be able to keep. Perriman is an obvious lock and Aiken is an excellent bet, but how the depth chart plays out after that is anyone’s guess.

You’re always waiting for the 6-foot-5 Brown to take the next step after an impressive 2013 rookie season, but he didn’t do much to stand out this spring — good or bad — and you’d like to see him better utilize his massive frame, especially inside the red zone.

Campanaro has flashed potential as a return man and at receiver, but his latest quadriceps injury creates more doubt about his ability to stay on the field.

A sixth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, the 6-foot-6 Waller has shown promise, but will he develop quickly enough to justify a roster spot as a rookie?

Can rookie free agent DeAndre Carter stand out as a receiver to augment his chances for winning a roster spot and serving as a return specialist?

Of course, not all of these names will pan out, but it’s tough not to like the Ravens’ chances to break camp with a group of young receivers having room to grow, especially with a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career throwing to them. Smith is looking forward to having a front-row seat for the battles this summer as he prepares for his 15th NFL season.

“It’s very competitive,” Smith said. “I’m actually going to sit back and watch it and just root for those guys and see them make plays.”

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ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 29: Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during a pre-season game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on August 29, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Rams beat the Ravens 24-21.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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Ravens to remain out west for both sets of back-to-back road games

Posted on 18 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Faced with two sets of back-to-back games out west during the 2015 regular season, the Ravens have decided to cut down on substantial travel time by remaining out west for both trips.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed his team will travel to the Bay Area following the season opener against the Denver Broncos on Sept. 13 and will remain there for the week before a Sept. 20 meeting against Oakland Raiders. The Ravens will then repeat that practice after their Oct. 18 game at San Francisco by traveling to Phoenix for the week leading up to their Monday night contest against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 26.

“We spent a little bit of time with some of the science on it,” Harbaugh said. “But really, what it came down to was a gut decision and talking to the players.”

Before the 2015 schedule was released in late April, Harbaugh and the Ravens had lobbied the NFL to play the road games against the Raiders and the 49ers in consecutive weeks in hopes of staying in the Bay Area to eliminate a cross-country flight. That request wasn’t granted, but it appeared the NFL may have done the Ravens a favor by bunching their other long-distance road games together.

Quarterback Joe Flacco was pleased that players were asked for their opinions on the matter and feels the strategy will give the Ravens a better chance during a difficult stretch of five out of seven games on the road to begin the 2015 season.

“I feel good about it. Us, as players, we’re part of that communication,” Flacco said. “John asked us and looked for input, and I’m one of the guys that was directly involved in making that decision. I’m happy about it. I think it’s going to be a good thing for us.”

Asked how the lengthy road trips might impact his wife, Dana, and three young sons, Flacco acknowledged she might not love the decision as much as him.

“I’m thinking that’s going to be a week off from being ‘Dad,'” said Flacco as he laughed. “She probably is going to be in for it a little bit. That’s just part of being an NFL quarterback’s wife. That’s why you’ve got to get a strong one.”

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Webb aiming to put difficult 2014 campaign behind him

Posted on 18 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb knows this is a critical season for his NFL future.

Though he restructured the remaining three years of his current contract to provide the organization extra cap space earlier this offseason, the 29-year-old knows he probably won’t survive a repeat of last year when he missed training camp and three of the first four games of the regular season due to a lower back injury. When he did play, Webb appeared slow and struggled in pass coverage for much of the season as the Ravens were dealt a plethora of injuries at cornerback and finished 23rd in the league in pass defense.

Reporting for this week’s mandatory minicamp, Webb appears slimmer and had a strong practice on Wednesday, breaking up several passes and playing tight coverage in 11-on-11 drills. Entering his seventh season in Baltimore, the 2009 third-round pick isn’t taking his newfound health for granted.

“It feels good just to be able to run around and [not] have any pain,” Webb said. “But right now, we’re just working on the secondary [and] just putting the work in to get us back to where we’re supposed to be.”

The healthy returns of Webb and fellow starting cornerback Jimmy Smith are the biggest reasons why the Ravens expect to be much better in the secondary than they were a year ago. General manager Ozzie Newsome added further depth at the position by taking Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker in the fourth round of this year’s draft and signing veteran slot cornerback Kyle Arrington last month.

Though Webb’s absence from voluntary organized team activities was surprising considering he was coming off a difficult year and could be a cap casualty next offseason, the veteran defensive back said he was focused on individual training to strengthen and balance his core during that time. Should he not bounce back from last year’s struggles, the Ravens could save $3.5 million in cap space by cutting him next winter before he’s scheduled to carry a $9.5 million cap figure in 2016.

The early reviews for Webb this week have been mostly positive as he bounced back from a shaky opening day against veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to break up several passes on Wednesday, including an end-zone throw intended for Marlon Brown and an outside route to rookie tight Maxx Williams.

“He came out and he looks like he’s in shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “His feet look really good. He’s moving his feet, he’s changing direction. Better today than yesterday, which is to be expected. He hasn’t been in the OTAs, so the football movement stuff is going to be new for him. He looks good, so it’s a plus.”

Webb and the secondary are trying to put the memories of last season behind them as they aim for health and better production in 2015 to help the Ravens advance deeper into the playoffs. After watching the Ravens offense twice jump out to 14-point leads and score 31 points against New England in a four-point loss in the divisional round, it’s clear that Webb wants the pass defense to be able to provide better support to the other side of the ball in 2015.

After the Ravens collected only 11 interceptions a year ago, Webb and Smith being able to play full seasons would go a long way in trying to create more game-changing plays this coming season.

“Let’s get the ball. Let’s get the ball back to Joe Flacco and let him do his thing,” Webb said. “You know Joe’s got all the pieces around him. Joe is an awesome quarterback, so if we can just give him extra possessions, it’s going to be a big year.”

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Suggs adjusting to life as last man standing from old Ravens defense

Posted on 17 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Terrell Suggs was all smiles on Tuesday, but the longtime Ravens linebacker is adjusting to major change as he moves toward his 13th NFL season.

Reporting to the team’s Owings Mills training facility for a three-day mandatory minicamp, Suggs was reminded of the offseason departure of five-time defensive tackle Haloti Ngata simply by looking to the locker next to his. The 32-year-old laughed while describing the funny look he offered second-year offensive tackle James Hurst, who now occupies the quarters previously used by Suggs’ close friend and teammate of nine years.

Admitting surprise upon learning Ngata had been traded to the Detroit Lions on March 10, Suggs said the right things on Tuesday, but you could tell it’s something he’s not yet gotten over more than three months later.

“Me and Haloti are very close, so it definitely was kind of weird coming back and him not being here,” Suggs said. “But the show must go on. We wish Haloti the most tremendous success until they play us. He’ll always be a Raven in spirit, but I’m just trying to cope with it for right now.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Suggs has faced seismic change to the Baltimore defense. Two years ago, he was answering questions about the retirement of linebacker Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of safety Ed Reed, two future Hall of Famers who had led Suggs on the field and in the locker room throughout the first decade of his career.

But that transition was made easier by having Ngata next to him as the two Pro Bowl players walked out to the practice field together on a daily basis to lead the first defense in team history not to feature Lewis.

Now, Suggs is hardly alone with the likes of fellow Pro Bowl linebackers Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley and young cornerback Jimmy Smith serving as impact players and leaders in a very talented group, but he can’t help but feel like the last man standing from the old guard of Ravens defense that dominated year after year.

“It’s [season] 13, so it’s weird. It’s a whole new look, a whole new team,” Suggs said. “Like I said, I’m just trying to enjoy it. It’s a whole new feel. But it’s definitely weird having everybody kind of just go on.”

Never one to take himself too seriously, Suggs was as reflective as we’ve ever seen him in discussing his career on Tuesday, repeatedly making mention of this being his 13th season and how long he’s been around.

Last year, the Arizona State product eclipsed the 100-sack mark for his career and matched his second-highest single-season sack total with 12, but Suggs sounds more like a man reaching the light at the end of the tunnel than one obsessed with moving up the list of career sacks from the 24th spot he currently occupies. Asked about his individual goals for 2015, Suggs simply stated he hopes to be better than he was last year while shifting the focus to his hopes for the Ravens building on last year’s playoff run that ended in the divisional round.

Carrying some extra weight for this week’s mandatory minicamp, Suggs acknowledged treating this offseason differently from past years. He said he’s now more concerned with keeping himself fresh for the latter stages of the season rather than being in optimal shape by June.

“I can participate in practice without getting hurt and without getting tired, but I’m definitely not at my ‘fighting’ weight,” Suggs said. “I’m pretty much at my ‘walking around’ weight. Like I said, this is year 13 for me. I can’t really be stressing. I used to always [say], ‘I need to be ready by minicamp,’ and it used to weigh on me; it used to bother me. I didn’t want to let it bother me this year. I just figured at the 13th year, I owe it to myself to sit, pace yourself.”

To be clear, Suggs never said on Tuesday that 2015 would be his final year, but he made it clear that he’s thinking more about his football mortality and isn’t taking anything for granted. Though proclaiming himself to be a “young” 32 — he’ll turn 33 in October — the 2003 first-round pick acknowledged being on the “back nine” of a career that includes the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year award and six Pro Bowl selections.

Suggs is under contract through the 2018 season after signing a four-year extension last offseason, but you have to wonder if he’ll even come close to playing that out at this point. Witnessing longtime teammates depart over the last couple years would make anyone contemplate his own end.

He sees no reason to change his leadership style with Ngata no longer around and repeatedly expressed confidence in the likes of Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan picking up the slack with the 340-pound veteran no longer anchoring the defensive line. But Suggs is keeping his focus on this season alone as he’s the last remaining member of the old guard leading a Ravens defense in transition.

“I’m really looking forward to this year,” Suggs said “At the end of this year, we’ll talk, but you just kind of take it year by year and see what you can do.”

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Pitta not cleared to participate in minicamp

Posted on 16 June 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens welcomed back a number of key players for this week’s mandatory minicamp, but one veteran who had been practicing throughout the spring was not participating on Tuesday.

Attempting to return to the NFL after two serious right hip injuries in two years, tight end Dennis Pitta had taken part in voluntary organized team activity workouts on a limited basis this spring, but he has not been medically cleared to participate in minicamp. Head coach John Harbaugh and others have said throughout offseason that Pitta’s status for the 2015 season will not be determined until later this summer, but Tuesday was a reminder of how far he still has to go to return to action — if it happens at all.

Pitta watched Tuesday’s practice from the sideline.

“A couple things are going to have to happen for him to play, ultimately,” Harbaugh said. “No. 1, he’s going to have to be cleared by the doctors, and No. 2, he’s going to have to decide he wants to play, because, obviously, there will be some risk involved. The first thing hasn’t happened, yet. He hasn’t been cleared by the doctors. He has been going through — as you saw before — the individual part of practice.”

During OTAs, Pitta caught passes and did light agility work with the other Ravens tight ends, but he was relegated to working on his own during the team portions of practices. Baltimore has proceeded this offseason as though Pitta would not be able to play in 2015 and drafted Max Williams in the second round and Nick Boyle in the fifth round of this year’s draft after making Crockett Gillmore a third-round selection last year.

With the soon-to-be 30-year-old Pitta not participating in minicamp, he remains eligible to begin the summer on the physically unable to perform list. The 2010 fourth-round pick’s $4 million base salary for the 2015 season is fully guaranteed.

“Unless you’re cleared, you can’t come out to [minicamp] practice,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if that’s a rule or a policy, but that’s the way it goes. Until he gets cleared by the doctors, he won’t be able to practice, and we’ll just have to see where that goes from here.”

While several veterans such as linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and guard Marshal Yanda made their 2015 practice field debuts on the first day of mandatory minicamp, the Ravens were still without a number of players including starting center Jeremy Zuttah (hip), starting right tackle Rick Wagner (foot), rookie guard Robert Myers (shoulder), and wide receivers Michael Campanaro (quadriceps), Aldrick Robinson (knee), and Cam Worthy.

Harbaugh confirmed all players missing from the practice field on Tuesday were dealing with some type of physical ailment, but he would not go into further detail.

“I don’t really remember what it is. It might be the shoulder,” said Harbaugh when asked specifically about the 2015 fifth-rounder Myers. “But all those guys that weren’t practicing today have some tweak. They’re not practicing.”

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