Tag Archive | "Rick Wagner"

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Who could be this year’s Rick Wagner for the Ravens?

Posted on 21 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Nearly two weeks into free agency, the Ravens appear no closer to filling gaping holes at the wide receiver and tight end positions after losing Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels.

Viable options on the open market are dwindling and it would deviate from general manager Ozzie Newsome’s “best player available” philosophy to enter April’s draft with two starting positions to fill. Of course, a trade cannot be ruled out with Baltimore projected to have 10 or 11 draft picks — compensatory choices will be announced this week — and Newsome has acquired the likes of left tackle Eugene Monroe, center Jeremy Zuttah, and even former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin through trades in recent years.

But the lack of activity makes you wonder if the Ravens have more confidence in their current batch of wide receivers or tight ends — or both — than the outside world does.

It was only a year ago when many were discussing how desperately the Ravens needed a starting right tackle following the free-agent departure of the disappointing Michael Oher. Considered little more than an afterthought by most, 2013 fifth-round pick Rick Wagner became an instant upgrade and an above-average starter in his second NFL season after playing sparingly as a rookie.

Who might the Ravens view as this year’s Wagner?

At the wide receiver position, Marlon Brown is the most experienced receiver remaining behind veteran Steve Smith as he caught 24 passes for 255 yards in his second season after collecting 49 receptions for 524 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2013. Despite a slow start working in Gary Kubiak’s new offensive system, Brown became more involved as the 2014 season progressed with 16 of his 24 receptions going for first downs.

The other logical in-house candidate to emerge at the receiver position would be Kamar Aiken, who caught 24 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns in his first year with the Ravens. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound receiver plays with a physical nature that the organization likes.

Of course, a deep draft class of wide receivers makes it feasible that the Ravens could find an immediate starter in the first round, but the lack of a veteran addition could signal that they likes their young receivers more than we think. Either way, the addition of a productive vertical threat is an absolute must for strong-armed quarterback Joe Flacco by the start of the season.

Failing to do so would mean trouble for the Ravens offense in 2015.

Shifting focus to the tight end position, Crockett Gillmore is the strongest candidate of any player at any position to become this year’s version of Wagner. The 2014 third-round pick is currently the safest bet at his position on the offseason roster with veteran Dennis Pitta’s future remaining in doubt.

Gillmore caught just 10 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in the regular season, but he caught a 21-yard touchdown in the wild-card win over Pittsburgh and the Ravens appeared more comfortable involving him in the passing game as the season progressed. If you’re looking for precedent with the Ravens handing over the starting tight end job to an inexperienced option, then-rookies Ed Dickson and Pitta had a total of 12 receptions for 153 yards behind veteran Todd Heap in 2010 before combining to make 94 catches for 933 yards and eight touchdowns a year later.

Do the Ravens need to add another tight end? Absolutely, but the lack of free-agent activity to this point — Baltimore reportedly had mild interest in veteran Scott Chandler before he signed with New England — and an underwhelming draft class make you wonder if Baltimore has a higher opinion of Gillmore than most observers. Barring a trade, finding a backup tight end would certainly appear more feasible than a starter at this point.

The discussion at either position could become moot at any point as Newsome has more than five months to shape the roster for the regular season. No one is suggesting the Ravens should — or will — stand pat at wide receiver or tight end, but few would have endorsed Wagner as the starting right tackle at this time a year ago.

It’s simply a possibility to keep in mind as the offseason continues and we inch closer to the draft with the Ravens’ two biggest needs yet to be addressed.

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Monroe remains sidelined as Ravens practice on Christmas Eve

Posted on 24 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After losing right tackle Rick Wagner to a season-ending foot injury in Week 16, the Ravens face the prospects of being without left tackle Eugene Monroe for the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns.

Monroe (ankle) was absent from practice for the second consecutive day as the Ravens worked out inside their field house on Christmas Eve. The 27-year-old left in the fourth quarter of the 25-13 loss in Houston and was seen in a walking boot following the game.

Should Monroe be unable to play, the Ravens would play rookie free agent James Hurst at left tackle, a position where he started four games when Monroe underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier in the season. Baltimore would then likely move Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle with rookie John Urschel filling in at right guard against the Browns.

“The good news is we have something to go pull back from,” said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak about Hurst and Urschel. “We went through, what, four, five weeks with the same issue as a team, and those two kids came in and played well. They’re going to have to play well for us to continue playing this year. We believe in them.”

It’s been a difficult year for Monroe after he agreed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract in the offseason to remain with the Ravens. The 2009 first-round pick began his career in Jacksonville before being traded to Baltimore in the middle of the 2013 season for fourth- and fifth-round draft choices.

Monroe played very well last season for the Ravens, but injuries have affected his performance this year as Pro Football Focus has graded him as the team’s worst starting offensive lineman and 40th in the league among tackles who’ve played at least 60 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. His pass blocking has been solid, but Monroe’s been vulnerable as a run blocker, which indicates the knee issue has hampered his lateral movement needed in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system.

The Ravens were also without defensive end Chris Canty (ankle/thigh) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (back/thigh) during Wednesday’s workout. Neither player was present during Tuesday’s viewing period, and Canty missed practice all last week with an ankle injury before ultimately playing against the Texans.

Players will be off on Thursday to celebrate Christmas Day with their families before returning to the practice facility on Friday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (ankle/thigh), OT Eugene Monroe (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (back/thigh)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Andrew Hawkins (thumb), QB Brian Hoyer (right shoulder/bicep), DL Ahtyba Rubin (ankle), C Ryan Seymour (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Gary Barnidge (rib), DL Desmond Bryant (thumb), CB Joe Haden (shoulder), WR Marlon Moore (knee), LB Jabaal Sheard (foot), CB K’Waun Williams (hamstring)

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Ravens right tackle Wagner lands on injured reserve

Posted on 23 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will try to advance to the playoffs Sunday without starting right tackle Rick Wagner, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.

The second-year lineman suffered a Lisfranc sprain in the third quarter of the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans this past week. He was carted to the locker room where he was ruled out for the remainder of the game and later seen using crutches and a walking boot.

Wagner becomes the 18th Ravens player to be placed on season-ending IR during the 2014 season, one shy of the 19 that landed on IR in John Harbaugh’s first season as head coach in 2008. The 2013 fifth-round pick thrived in his first year as a starter, allowing only two sacks and grading out as the second-best right tackle in the league behind New England’s Sebastian Vollmer, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Rick [had] a heck of a year,” said Harbaugh, who named Wagner the starting right tackle late . “He proved himself [and] proved the naysayers wrong. He did a great job.”

The Ravens could also be without starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who is dealing with an injured foot suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss. He was seen in a walking boot after the game and was not present during Tuesday’s practice.

Should Monroe be unable to play against Cleveland, the Ravens would likely move Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle. Rookie John Urschel would then play right guard in Yanda’s place.

Even if Monroe does play, the Ravens could still elect to use Yanda at right tackle with Urschel at guard with that potentially being a better overall alignment than Hurst — who is better suited for the left side — playing Wagner’s position.

In fact, when Monroe exited Sunday’s loss in Houston, the Ravens initially planned to play Urschel at right tackle before Yanda spoke up to declare he was sliding over. Yanda is no stranger to the right tackle position as he played there frequently earlier in his career and started during the 2010 season.

“I haven’t played there [regularly] in a long time, but we’ll see what happens come Sunday,” Yanda said. “We don’t know who is healthy yet, and obviously John [Harbaugh] does the injury report. But I’ve played there before, and I’m ready to go wherever I need to play. It’s part of the deal where you have to be ready to roll.”

In addition to Monroe, defensive end Chris Canty (ankle) and linebacker Terrell Suggs were not present during Tuesday’s practice. The Ravens will not release their first injury report of the week until Wednesday as they moved up their first day of on-field work to allow players to be off for Christmas on Thursday.

To fill Wagner’s spot on the 53-man roster, Baltimore promoted defensive end Steven Means from the practice squad. He played the role of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt for the scout team during practices last week.

The Ravens also waived defensive end Zach Thompson from the practice squad and signed reserve offensive linemen Nate Menkin and J.J. Unga. The latter spent a good portion of the 2013 season on the Ravens’ practice squad.

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Ravens lose both offensive tackles to injury in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

As if the embarrassment of their worst offensive performance of the year wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost both starting offensive tackles to injury in the 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Right tackle Rick Wagner was carted to the locker room with a foot injury sustained in the third quarter and didn’t return. The state of the offensive line turned even worse in the fourth quarter when veteran left tackle Eugene Monroe left the game and didn’t return.

It remained unclear what the extent of each player’s injury was immediately following the game, but reports from Houston indicated Wagner was wearing a protective boot on his foot and using crutches while Monroe was also wearing a protective boot on his foot.

“There’s nothing I want to share right now,” said head coach John Harbaugh about their status after the game. “We’ll just see how those guys come out of it and see where we’re at.”

Their departures caused plenty of shuffling on the starting line as the Ravens finished the game with rookie free agent James Hurst playing left tackle and Pro Bowl right guard moving out to right tackle, a position he hadn’t played since the 2010 season. Rookie John Urschel then entered the game to occupy Yanda’s normal position.

Hurst was previously filling in for Wagner at the right tackle spot before Monroe got hurt.

The Ravens were held to just 64 yards through the first three quarters of action and rushed for just 33 yards on 16 carries against the Houston defense.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 06 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Critical.

No word better describes what’s at stake as the Ravens travel to Sun Life Stadium to take on the Miami Dolphins.

The winner of Sunday’s game isn’t guaranteed a playoff spot in a crowded AFC wild-card picture, but losing in Miami would be a critical blow to either team. After the Ravens lost to the current No. 5 seed San Diego last Sunday, they can hardly afford to be on the wrong end of another head-to-head tiebreaker should they lose to the Dolphins.

In addition to having the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense, the Ravens took a major blow up front with Thursday’s announcement of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended for the remainder of the regular season due to a performance-enhancing drug violation. It’s just the latest trial for a 7-5 Ravens team that’s faced much adversity on and off the field.

Sunday will mark the 10th time these AFC teams have played in the regular season with the Dolphins holding a 5-4 edge and a 4-2 record in Miami. However, the Ravens are 4-0 against the Dolphins in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 27-9 wild-card round win at the end of the 2008 season.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 8-5 in their quest to return to the playoffs …

Who will win Sunday's game in Miami?

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1. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake will pick up a sack, but Rick Wagner will hold his own against the talented pass rusher. The second-year right tackle will face one of his biggest challenges of the season in trying to hold his own against the three-time Pro Bowl selection, but Wagner shouldn’t be counted out as he is the highest-graded pass-blocking — and highest-graded overall — right tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Miami possesses a formidable pass rush, but the Ravens have held up very well in pass protection this year with quarterback Joe Flacco only being sacked 15 times. They’ll need another strong performance Sunday, and it will start with Wagner on the right side.

2. Justin Forsett will not run for 100 yards, but the Ravens will still gain 150 on the ground against the Dolphins defense. The 29-year-old and the team have downplayed the significance of his knee injury, but it has to be a concern that his limited participation in Friday’s practice was his only on-field work of the week. The good news is the Dolphins’ run defense has dropped to 21st in the NFL and has given up 478 yards on the ground in the last two games against Denver and the New York Jets. We’ll see more of a committee approach than the Ravens have used in weeks as backups Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro will pick up some slack, but Forsett will still finish as the leading rusher on Sunday.

3. Dolphins slot receiver Jarvis Landry will catch a touchdown and lead his team in receiving yards on Sunday. The Ravens hope the return of cornerback Asa Jackson will help a struggling secondary, but Miami has too many weapons in the passing game to not be concerned. We’ll see Jackson line up inside in the nickel package, but he won’t have much luck slowing Landry, who has been very impressive in his rookie season with 57 catches for 518 yards and five touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill will try to get rid of the ball quickly in the face of an imposing Baltimore pass rush, which means quick outs and slants to Landry will be in order throughout the day and he’ll be the go-to target for Miami.

4. Jacoby Jones returns a kick deep into Miami territory to swing the momentum of the game in the second half. There’s no disputing how disappointing this year has been for the wide receiver and return specialist, but you hope Week 13 was a preview of bigger things to come down the stretch for Jones. His two catches for 35 yards as a receiver were nice, but his 72-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter set the Ravens up at the San Diego 30 before the offense had to settle for a field goal. Miami ranks 28th in the NFL in kick return coverage and 24th in punt return coverage, which should have Jones and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg licking their chops. A big return will set up a touchdown in the second half.

5. On a day when both quarterbacks have strong days, the Ravens find a way to secure their biggest win of the season in a 24-20 final. It’s tough to get a read on this one considering how up and down both teams have been throughout the year. You wonder if the Ravens will get off the mat after a tough loss to the Chargers and the suspension of Ngata while the Dolphins aren’t experienced in these kinds of high-stakes games. Flacco and Tannehill will both throw for over 200 yards, but the Dolphins are coming off a short week following a Monday night road win and that run defense is already wearing down significantly. That will be the difference as the Ravens pick up a crucial win in keeping their playoff hopes alive.

 

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Ravens right tackle Wagner earning attention in ways few expected

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens coaches offered similar sentiments over and over as second-year right tackle Rick Wagner was trying to secure his spot as a starter during spring organized team activities and summer training camp.

They’d say they hadn’t really noticed him on tape and not much was being said about him, which are compliments to a young offensive lineman in the same way you prefer an umpire or a referee to not stick out while officiating a game. But plenty of doubt was expressed from everyone else as the Ravens needed to replace right tackle Michael Oher after he departed in the opening days of free agency to sign a four-year, $20 million contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Instead of drafting an offensive tackle in the early rounds of May’s draft or adding a veteran familiar with Gary Kubiak’s system such as Eric Winston, the Ravens appeared content with Wagner competing against other in-house options such as Jah Reid and Ryan Jensen to take Oher’s place. The rest would be up to the 2013 fifth-round pick to prove them right.

“After I found out he was leaving, that was the first thing on my mind: ‘I have a great opportunity to take over the right side,'” Wagner said. “I was just thankful that the coaches trusted in me.”

That trust has certainly paid off with Wagner not only taking full control of the job but blossoming into an above-average right tackle who’s now garnering attention for his strong play instead of simply trying to blend in. In fact, Wagner has outperformed the man he replaced as he’s graded out as the best right tackle in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Oher has struggled in his first year with the Titans, ranking 49th among the 51 tackles who’ve played at least 443 offensive snaps this season, per the same website.

Wagner has also committed only one penalty all season — a false start in Week 8 — after infractions were a frequent issue with Oher in his five years with Baltimore.

In the last week, Wagner was named to mid-season All-Pro teams by CBSSports.com and PFF, a reflection of how he’s more than just holding the job for the Ravens’ improved offensive line and how he’s slowly turning heads around the league. Head coach John Harbaugh said he had no idea when asked whether Wagner was playing at a Pro Bowl level, but the question alone reflects what great strides the second-year tackle has made in 2014 after playing just 131 snaps as a rookie when he was primarily used as an extra blocking tight end in the jumbo package.

After a 2013 season in which offensive line coach Juan Castillo drew plenty of criticism for the play of his unit, Wagner has been the assistant’s greatest success story in Baltimore.

“The thing that jumps out at me is his consistency. Rick is very consistent,” Harbaugh said. “He executes the techniques exactly the way that the scheme calls for. He gets it right most all the time. If he does get beat — like anybody does at times — it’s physically. And that doesn’t happen very often.”

A quiet but imposing 25-year-old with a 6-foot-6, 310-pound fram, Wagner is admittedly uncomfortable speaking with media — he joked that he was more at ease playing in Pittsburgh last Sunday than he was at the podium in Owings Mills Wednesday — but he’s taking the high praise as a confidence boost in his first full year as a starter.

Playing next to three-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has certaintly helped Wagner’s development as the two share Big Ten roots — Yanda at Iowa and Wagner at Wisconsin — and have formed plenty of sizable running lanes for the league’s 10th-ranked running game. Despite being appreciative of the recognition, it’s clear Wagner prefers talking about the overall improvement of the offensive line rather than his individual contributions.

“I think pass protection has been pretty [improved],” said Wagner about how his game has improved since his rookie season. “Run blocking as a whole [offensive] line, we’ve been pretty good. It’s great playing next to Yanda. He really helps me out. It’s phenomenal playing next to him. The communication, the double-teams we have together — it makes my job easier.”

Wagner is the only Ravens player not to miss an offensive snap all season and doesn’t recall even missing a practice. It’s the kind of durability that commands respect and praise from teammates, both young and old.

There’s nothing fancy about him as veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs nicknamed Wagner “The Salesman” in reference to his ordinary name and a belief that he’d be good at selling “a lot of good stuff” despite his quiet demeanor. But there’s been nothing common about the tackle’s play as what was once a concern entering the season is now a position of strength for the Ravens.

“He has been working his tail off, and I think that’s a feel-good story,” Suggs said. “He showed that he can hold his own, and he has been playing phenomenal for us. You have to tip your hat to a guy that shows up to work. Those guys [are] in there in the trenches. They don’t really get a lot of credit for the things that they do, but he has definitely been a big part of our success.”

And it’s about time he’s being noticed for it.

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Five up, five down: Ravens stock at midway point

Posted on 29 October 2014 by Luke Jones

At the midway point of the season, we take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is up and down after the first eight games of 2014 …

STOCK UP

1. Justin Forsett
Skinny: What else can be said about the 29-year-old journeyman who currently ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (571) and second among running backs in yards per carry (5.5). Forsett said it best last week in quipping that many people didn’t even know he was still in the NFL entering 2014, but he’s been a saving grace in the aftermath of the Ray Rice saga. For an organization that’s found plenty of diamonds in the rough over the years, Forsett has been as good of a story as any.

2. Pernell McPhee
Skinny: The rush specialist has picked the perfect time to have a career year with his rookie contract set to expire. McPhee is second on the team in sacks (four) despite playing fewer snaps than Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil, a reflection of how effective he’s been in putting pressure on quarterbacks. The 2011 fifth-round pick’s improved health as well as defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ effective use of McPhee have added up to the Ravens having their best interior rusher in quite some time.

3. C.J. Mosley
Skinny: Many were obviously high on the 2014 first-round pick, but Mosley has been better than advertised in serving as the Ravens’ best inside linebacker and a top candidate for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Mosley ranks fourth in the NFL in tackles entering Week 9 and has recorded two interceptions, six pass breakups, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. For a front seven that needed some new blood, Mosley has been a high-impact addition.

4. Rick Wagner
Skinny: Remember when right tackle was a major topic of discussion throughout the offseason? Wagner has not only quelled those concerns, but the 2013 fifth-round selection has been an above-average player at his position, a major reason why the offensive line has been one of the strengths of the 2014 Ravens. He and perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda have been an impressive tandem opening lanes on the right side of the line for the league’s eighth-ranked running game.

5. Brandon Williams
Skinny: There were high hopes for the second-year nose tackle to slide into a starting role and Williams hasn’t disappointed while wreaking havoc for interior offensive linemen against the run. He is seventh on the team in tackles and has made it far more difficult for teams to focus their attention on defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Very athletic for his size, Williams has recorded 25 tackles, 1/2 sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in his first year as a starter.

Others receiving consideration: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Steve Smith

STOCK DOWN

1. Jacoby Jones
Skinny: His season has been nothing short of disastrous as he’s dropped more passes (five) than he’s caught (four) and has twice lost fumbles on returns. The Ravens re-signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus in March, which is now looking like one of the worst contracts the organization has handed out in recent memory. He’ll need a big second half just to avoid being cut after the 2014 season, but his role has all but disappeared in the offense.

2. Bernard Pierce
Skinny: It’s been a dramatic fall for the 2012 third-round pick, who began the year as the starting running back and was a healthy inactive in Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. Pierce’s 3.6 yards per carry average is nearly two yards worse than Forsett’s (5.5) and lags behind rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro (4.4), which reflects his struggles and indecisiveness running in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system. Pierce hasn’t taken advantage of what was a huge chance to prove himself as a feature back.

3. Matt Elam
Skinny: It’s fair to point out that Elam has been out of position for a large portion of his career, playing free safety as a rookie and often filling in at the nickel spot often in 2014. However, it isn’t just his pass coverage that’s been unsatisfactory as the 2013 first-round pick leads the team in missed tackles with 12, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s too early to label Elam a bust, but he hasn’t consistently displayed qualities of a good strong safety, let alone the versatility the Ravens expected him to have.

4. Torrey Smith
Skinny: The fourth-year receiver has had his moments and has drawn several significant pass interference calls, but he’s gone from a wideout who produced 1,128 receiving yards a year ago to one on pace for 36 catches and 616 yards in 2014. The Steve Smith factor is obvious, but Torrey Smith has averaged just 1.22 yards per route run, which is the 14th-worst mark in the NFL among players targeted at least 20 times. A down season couldn’t have come at a worse time with his rookie contract expiring.

5. Arthur Brown
Skinny: The 2013 second-round pick has been a healthy inactive for eight straight games as the Ravens have elected to use the likes of Albert McClellan and rookie free agent Zach Orr on special teams. The re-signing of Daryl Smith and the drafting of Mosley made it pretty obvious that Brown would need to remain patient in terms of expanding his role from a year ago when he served as a nickel linebacker. But for him to not even suit up for games is pretty telling of his current status.

Others receiving consideration: Marlon Brown, Chykie Brown, Lardarius Webb

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Ravens stock watching entering Week 4

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Lorenzo Taliaferro
Skinny: Even if I could have run through a couple of the huge running lanes opened by the offensive line, the rookie took advantage of the Bernard Pierce injury by rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Cleveland. Taliaferro drew some comparisons to Jamal Lewis on his 31-yard run in which he showed impressive downhill speed. The starting job might not be his just yet, but there’s little debate that the fourth-round pick is firmly in the backfield equation now and the heat will be on Pierce to play at a high level. 

Kyle Juszczyk
Skinny: Just a week after appearing in the “falling” category, the second-year fullback’s strong performance against the Browns that included a 9-yard touchdown catch lands him back in the good graces of the coaching staff. The season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta will likely create more opportunities for Juszczyk to catch passes in the flat as the Ravens will need someone to complement veteran tight end Owen Daniels. His Lebron James chalk throw celebration earned him style points, but Week 3 was a step in the right direction for Juszczyk. 

Rick Wagner
Skinny: The second-year right tackle continues to be consistently solid in his first year as a starter and earned the third-highest grade among offensive players for Week 3, according to Pro Football Focus. Wagner and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda were able to open some sizable running lanes for Taliaferro and veteran Justin Forsett against the Browns defense as they did late in the Pittsburgh game. In fact, Wagner has been more consistent than left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has struggled in two of the first three weeks of the 2014 season. 

C.J. Mosley
Skinny: Aside from two unnecessary roughness penalties in the first three weeks, it’s easy to see why the Ravens were excited to draft Mosley with the 17th overall pick of May’s draft. The Alabama product finished with six tackles (one for a loss) and registered a hit on Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer on Sunday. Mosley would be the first to tell you that he’s left some plays out on the field, but his aggressiveness and instincts put him on track to be an impact player as he gains experience and more strength over the next year or two. 

STOCK FALLING

Matt Elam
Skinny: Elam is only three games into his second year, but we’re still waiting to see what the Ravens saw in him as a first-round pick as he misses too many tackles for a player with a reputation for physicality and has been exposed in pass coverage too often. Sunday was probably the worst game of his career as a long reception to Taylor Gabriel was made even worse when Elam was focused on the miscommunication in the secondary instead of bothering to touch the receiver who was on the ground. In fairness, Elam was out of position at free safety last year and has had to play the nickel this year, but he hasn’t impressed.

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: Head coach John Harbaugh opined that the veteran wide receiver is pressing through the first three weeks of the season, but Jones has been a non-factor with only three catches for 20 yards and has dropped several passes, including one that could have gone for a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter Sunday. Jones is a dynamic return specialist and there’s no reason not to put him on the field to run a few verticals per game, but his ability as a receiver is very limited beyond that. With Pitta out for the season, the Ravens need more production from the No. 3 receiver spot, whether it’s Jones or someone else.

Lardarius Webb
Skinny: Sunday was supposed to be a good day for the secondary with the long-awaited return of the veteran cornerback, but Webb played only four defensive snaps and looked like he was in quicksand trying to cover Andrew Hawkins on an out route. You hope it was just rust and not evidence of a lack of flexibility from the back injury, but Week 3 only raised concerns about Webb, who had practiced fully for the last three weeks leading into his season debut. It’s painfully clear that the Ravens need help in the secondary and what we saw from Webb against the Browns wasn’t close to being the tonic. 

Bernard Pierce
Skinny: Sunday was the first game Pierce had missed in his three-year career, but a thigh injury is just the latest ailment to hobble the starting running back, which led to Taliaferro making an emphatic statement in Cleveland. Pierce’s Week 2 stats (96 yards on 22 carries) were a bit deceiving as he was indecisive through three quarters before finally finding room against a tired Pittsburgh front. It’s too early to suggest Taliaferro has supplanted Pierce as the starting running back, but the 2012 third-round pick will need to play at a high level and stay healthy to hold off the rookie.

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Wagner named starting right tackle to begin 2014 season

Posted on 18 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A position debated for much of the offseason has a resolution with the start of the season just under three weeks away as Ravens head coach John Harbaugh named Rick Wagner his starting right tackle following Monday’s practice.

The news was anticlimactic considering Wagner has received nearly all first-team reps since the start of training camp with fourth-year lineman Jah Reid working as the second-string right tackle. Wagner has held up well in his first summer working with the starting unit, earning compliments from coaches and teammates alike.

“He’s earned it. He’s earned that spot,” Harbaugh said. “And Jah has earned the third spot. Jah has done a heck of a job, too, as far as working his way into the third tackle spot.”

It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will elect to keep rookie offensive tackle James Hurst, an undrafted free agent from North Carolina who has worked as the backup left tackle behind Eugene Monroe in practices. In the event of an injury to Monroe, the Ravens could shift Wagner to left tackle with Reid moving into the right spot if they only elect to keep three tackles.

After so much discussion over who would replace former right tackle Michael Oher in the offseason, Wagner has gone largely unnoticed in practices this summer, which is a good thing at a position where most attention tends to be negative. Wagner played 41 snaps against San Francisco in the opener and 30 snaps against Dallas on Saturday night.

As a fifth-round rookie out of Wisconsin last season, Wagner served primarily as a blocking tight end in jumbo package situations.

“He’s been solid. Solid is the next step before being good, and good is the next step before being great,” Harbaugh said. “He’s on his way in a lot of ways. He has plenty of things to work on, but he does not make mistakes twice. He’s a good athlete. [Defenses have] tried to bull-rush him and go after him that way, and he has not really been moved too much at all. I’m proud of him.”

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Ravens-49ers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 06 August 2014 by Luke Jones

A brotherly reunion and Super Bowl XLVII rematch adds a little more spice to the preseason opener as the Ravens welcome the San Francisco 49ers to Baltimore on Thursday night.

As is always the case with the first preseason game, the contest will offer little more than a cameo appearance for veteran starters expected to make the biggest impact this season, but it does provide welcome change for a group of players tired of working against one another after two weeks of practices in Owings Mills. While most veteran starters figure to see little more than a series or two, younger starters figure to see more extensive action in the first half if history holds to form.

“We’re kind of on a standard plan right now, as far as that [goes],” coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t know exactly the number of plays yet, but it won’t be anything we haven’t done in the past.”

Of course, the first preseason game won’t be the standard road trip for the 49ers as they’ll then join the Ravens at their training facility in Owings Mills for three days of practices, providing extra competition as well as opportunities to evaluate just how much improvement has been made to a team that failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007. Much will hinge on the offense under new coordinator Gary Kubiak, who is bringing his version of the West Coast attack to reinvigorate a group that finished 29th in the NFL last year.

Entering his seventh season at the helm of the Ravens offense, Joe Flacco has been all business this summer as Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison have focused on the veteran quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly while improving his footwork. Flacco isn’t the only one who will be under the microscope with the new offensive attack, but even he acknowledges the preseason opener carrying more significance than in past years because of the dramatic changes made this offseason.

Of course, the outcome of the opener won’t provide any definitive answers for questions facing the Ravens on both sides of the football, but the game will sharpen points of emphasis for both coaches and players after facing another team.

“Anytime you’re running a new offense and you think you’re doing it pretty well, it’s always nice to get out there and have a real test,” Flacco said. “Have people hitting you and flying around and going full speed under the lights. It’s probably a little more important.”

Thursday will mark the first ever preseason meeting between the Ravens and the 49ers, but Baltimore owns the 3-1 edge in the regular season and a 1-0 advantage in the postseason after their 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The Ravens are 42-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 15-9 preseason mark in the Harbaugh era.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play in either of the first two preseason games as he’s been sidelined with a lower back injury since July 25.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Will Rackley (head), DT Terrence Cody (hip), DE Brent Urban (knee)
DOUBTFUL: LB Daryl Smith (groin)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Campanaro (ribs), CB Marrio Norman (unspecified)
PROBABLE: DT Timmy Jernigan (back), CB Jimmy Smith (back)

Five players to watch Thursday night

1. RB Ray Rice

With so much attention justifiably paid to his off-field transgressions, you almost forget the 27-year-old back is coming off the worst season of his career in which he averaged a meager 3.1 yards per carry. Rice was heavy, slow, and banged up during the 2013 season and must play well to not only hold off backup Bernard Pierce but give the Ravens confidence that they can move forward with the three-time Pro Bowl selection beyond the 2014 season. Rice will want to use the first couple preseason games to make a favorable impression on Kubiak with his two-game suspension looming at the start of the season.

“Ray has looked really good,” Harbaugh said. “Comparisons to years in the past, we’ll find all that out during the season. But he’s in tremendous shape. I’m seeing him make good lateral cuts. He has really good burst, acceleration is there, [and] vision is there. He’s been very patient with the zone runs, which is something that I believe to be an improvement over the past — even two years ago.”

2. FS Darian Stewart

Signed to a one-year, $1.3 million contract in the offseason, the former St. Louis Ram has yet to be seriously challenged at the free safety position with third-round pick Terrence Brooks struggling to grasp the playbook in his first season. Stewart isn’t spectacular, but he’s been complimented by Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees for knowing his assignments and being in the right place, traits that shouldn’t be taken for granted considering the Baltimore defense gave up too many big plays a year ago. Stewart isn’t a long-term answer or dynamic player, but the Ravens hope he can be a value signing comparable to when they signed Corey Graham a couple years ago.

“I see a grown, mature, confident guy that I think fits really well in our room,” said secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was Stewart’s head coach for two years in St. Louis. “He’s kind of slipped in there. I’ve noticed he’s taken a backseat, which you have to do when you change teams a little bit, and that was early on. Now, I see his personality coming out. I think that will happen more and more. I think he’s going to be a great leader for us. I really do.”

3. RT Rick Wagner

Perhaps the storyline received too much attention during spring workouts, but there’s been less buzz about the right tackle position than you’d expect with second-year lineman Rick Wagner continuing to be the favorite to start over fourth-year disappointment Jah Reid. The Ravens have been higher on Wagner than most of the outside world all along, but the Wisconsin product will need to prove capable against preseason opponents to put concerns to rest. Wagner doesn’t need to be a Pro Bowl tackle, but he needs to hold his own as the Ravens are too challenged offensively to be forced to constantly provide help in protection on the right side of the line.

“He is doing a lot better,” said linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who often matches up against Wagner during practice. “You’ve got to stay consistent with [offensive line coach] Juan Castillo’s scheme — his protection, his switching it up. But for the most part, he’s just doing a really good job.”

4. DT Brandon Williams

The 2013 third-round pick appeared to be emerging as a contributor in the defensive line rotation last year before wearing down and being inactive over five of the last six games, but the Ravens have shown plenty of confidence in Williams so far this summer by sliding Haloti Ngata back to the 3-technique defensive tackle position and lining up the Missouri Southern State product at the nose. His strength and athleticism have been mentioned frequently, but Williams will need to show those traits translate in taking on interior blockers and making plays in stopping the run. If Williams is not up to the challenge, the Ravens could elect to shift Ngata back to the nose and take longer looks at second-round rookie Timmy Jernigan and third-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson.

“Now, his strength is a lot more functional because he understands the technical part of the game a lot better,” defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. “He understands how we play a lot better and how we want things done. He understands that, and he was able to take his natural strength and work it into what we want. So far, everything is on the upswing.”

5. CB Tramain Jacobs

Most eyes will inevitably fall on Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson as the Ravens try to figure out who will be lining up at the No. 3 cornerback spot in the regular-season opener, but Jacobs is on a short list of rookie free agents to watch this summer. Playing at Texas A&M, the 5-foot-11, 182-pound cornerback saw plenty of tough competition in college practices matching up against wideout Mike Evans with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel throwing the football. Jacobs has shown good athleticism and a nose for the football to put him in the conversation for a spot on the 53-man roster. With so much concern over the lack of depth at the cornerback position, Jacobs will have opportunities to turn heads if his play carries over to preseason games.

“Everybody’s getting a good look. It’s a stiff competition right now,” said starter Jimmy Smith, who mentioned Jacobs as someone in contention for the No. 3 cornerback job. “Obviously, we don’t want Webb hurt, but that gives opportunity for [others]. It’s a stiff battle at the third cornerback position right now.”

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