OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to their indoor field house in Owings Mills Wednesday to take part in their first practice open to media since returning from their bye week.
Making preparations for Monday’s prime-time game against the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore was without Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda (knee), rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring), and reserve offensive lineman Jah Reid (hand). The Ravens do not have to release their first injury report until Thursday with their Week 12 game on Monday night.
Yanda played all 62 offensive snaps of the Ravens’ 21-7 win over Tennessee on Nov. 9, but he had been nursing a knee injury for a couple weeks prior to that.
Campanaro hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring in the Oct. 26 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope last week that the seventh-round pick would be close to returning after the bye as he’s missed the Ravens’ last two games.
Reid missed the Tennessee game after suffering a broken hand that required surgery. The Ravens have elected to keep him on the 53-man roster to this point instead of sending him to season-ending injured reserve.
The Saints appear to be in worse shape from an injury standpoint as talented rookie wideout Brandin Cooks (hand) and starting safety Rafael Bush (leg) were both placed on IR Tuesday. Cooks was New Orleans’ second-leading receiver behind All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham this season, and Bush had replaced injured Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who is also on IR.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning from their latest bye since the 2001 season, the Ravens hope a week of rest is the perfect tonic to propel them to the postseason for the sixth time in seven years under head coach John Harbaugh.
At 6-4, Baltimore finds itself in the thick of the AFC playoff race, but next Monday’s trip to New Orleans will be a challenge for a team that’s just 2-3 on the road in 2014. Harbaugh hopes the late-season bye will allow the Ravens to finish strong as four of their final six games come against teams with records of .500 or better and that’s not including the 4-6 Saints who possess the NFL’s second-ranked offense.
“We’re going to have our hands full, and we better be ready to go,” Harbaugh said. “I like to believe that our guys understand that, but we’ll find out Monday night. I believe they do understand that.”
Players were off Tuesday through Sunday while Harbaugh gave his assistant coaches Thursday through Sunday to recharge for the final six games of the regular season. The Ravens are 5-1 in games returning from their bye week in the Harbaugh era and have won 10 of their last 12 post-bye games since the 2002 season.
Harbaugh hopes history is on their side as well as the benefit of a later bye as the Ravens are currently chasing first-place Cincinnati, who improved to 6-3-1 with an impressive win over the Saints on Sunday. Baltimore ranked ninth in the AFC playoff chase as a result of Pittsburgh’s Monday night win to conclude Week 11.
“You don’t realize how exhausted you are until you get a chance to take a deep breath and relax,” Harbaugh said. “The next thing you know, you’re like, ‘Wow, this has really been helpful.’ Everybody gets a bye week. We had ours this week, and we hope to make the most of it going forward for the rest of the season.”
Harbaugh doesn’t question penalty for Coffman
Asked about the NFL’s decision to fine Chase Coffman $30,000 for his malicious sideline hit on assistant coach Tony Coaxum in Week 10, Harbaugh chose to take the high road about the league not suspending the Tennessee Titans tight end.
The Ravens coach said he was told the collision wasn’t intentional, but it’s no secret that the organization was very unhappy about what happened late in the fourth quarter of the 21-7 win over Tennessee. Coaxum was not injured, but the FOX Sports video below leaves little debate about Coffman’s conduct.
“It’s really difficult to have a response to the level of punishment,” Harbaugh said. “I know the league has protocols, and they have standards and histories and things like that that they look really hard at. We don’t ever really question that part of it. That’s in their purview.”
Ravens wanted to keep Sunday night star Gray
Former practice squad running back Jonas Gray became the toast of the NFL Sunday night with his 199-yard, four-touchdown performance in the New England Patriots’ 42-20 win over Indianapolis.
Gray spent the 2013 regular season on the Ravens’ practice squad before electing to sign a reserve-futures contract with New England last offseason. Asked about the Michigan native rushing for a single-game high in the NFL this season, Harbaugh mentioned their respective in-state ties as a springboard to a good relationship, even mentioning that Gray’s mom brought food to the team during their Week 15 game in Detroit last December.
“We were disappointed to lose Jonas last year when we lost him. We really thought he had a lot of upside,” Harbaugh said. “He felt like that was an opportunity that he wanted to pursue, and obviously, it’s paid off for him. I wish him nothing but the best, but I was happy for him [Sunday] night to see him do that. That was great to see.”
Of course, no one could have predicted Gray’s breakout performance as even New England stashed him on the practice squad for a large portion of this season, but you do wonder if the Ravens regret not giving him a look last season while they were experiencing such drastic woes with the running game.
Harbaugh’s strong ties to the University of Michigan are no secret, making for a fun moment Monday when he was asked to predict the winner of this Saturday’s Maryland-Michigan game in Ann Arbor.
Neither team is exactly fighting for a Big Ten title this year as there has been plenty of debate about the future of Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke. Harbaugh paused and smiled before providing his answer to the question about who would prevail.
“May the best team win,” he said while laughing. “How’s that?”
Practice squad changes (again)
The Ravens made their latest change to their practice squad Monday, signing tight end Allen Reisner and cutting tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi.
Reisner is in his fourth NFL season and has spent time with Jacksonville, Minnesota, and New England. He has registered seven catches for 58 yards in 15 career games split between the Jaguars and Vikings.
As if they weren’t encouraged enough by watching the New Orleans Saints drop their second straight home game Sunday, the Ravens learned a day later they won’t have to deal with standout rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks in Week 12.
Cooks suffered a broken thumb that’s expected to sideline him at least for a few weeks, meaning the Saints’ first-round pick and emerging wideout won’t be available when Baltimore travels to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Monday night. Of course, New Orleans has a wide array of other weapons in All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills, but the Saints are coming off their lowest scoring output at home since 2006 and Cooks was emerging as their second-best playmaker behind Graham in recent weeks.
He leads all NFL rookies with 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdown catches, ranking second on the team behind Graham in all three categories.
The Saints are also banged up in the secondary after losing safety Rafael Bush to a broken fibula in the fourth quarter of their 27-10 loss to Cincinnati. This comes after New Orleans already lost Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd for the season last month.
Though their Monday night trip won’t be easy with an inexperienced secondary, the Ravens should be feeling much better about their chances with quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints off to an underwhelming 4-6 start and even experiencing inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball at times this season.
The Ravens finished setting their 10-man practice squad Monday by signing former New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Marcel Jones.
A seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, Jones has yet to play in an NFL game after spending his rookie season on injured reserve and the 2013 campaign as a member of the Saints’ practice squad. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound lineman was cut over the weekend after playing 25 snaps against the Ravens in the preseason finale last Thursday.
The Nebraska product has the ability to play tackle or guard and gives Baltimore more depth in the event of injuries to their current 53-man roster that includes nine offensive linemen.
The Ravens signed nine players to their practice squad on Sunday as offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, cornerbacks Tramain Jacobs and Deji Olatoye, defensive tackles A.J. Pataiali’i and Jamie Meder, linebacker John Simon, tight end Phillip Supernaw, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, and quarterback Keith Wenning rejoined the organization after being waived at the end of the preseason.
The Ravens are less than a week away from needing to decide whether to use the franchise tag on tight end Dennis Pitta, but it appears that the potential conflict over the position at which he’ll be tagged won’t be up to them.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rappoport, when a team sends a letter to the league announcing its intention to name a franchise player, it does not designate that player at a specific position. In Pitta’s case, the league — not the Ravens — would then determine whether he is to be tagged as a tight end or wide receiver.
Much like New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Pitta is expected to file a grievance through the NFL Players Association arguing that he should be tagged as a wide receiver after he lined up in the slot on 79.7 percent of his snaps in 2013. The collective bargaining agreement states that a franchise player is to be tendered at the position “at which [he] participated in the most plays during the prior league year.”
The 2014 salary cap hasn’t been officially set — with new reports surfacing that the cap may climb higher than $130 million — but the current estimated franchise tenders for the tight end and wide receiver positions are $6.89 million and $11.86 million, respectively.
Teams have until Monday at 4 p.m. to elect to name a franchise player.
This clarification serves to benefit the Ravens in two important ways while they continue negotiations to lock up the 28-year-old tight end to a long-term agreement.
First, it would seem to eliminate any argument that a player could be deemed an unrestricted free agent if an arbitrator were to find a team had incorrectly tagged a player and, thus, missed the March 3 deadline to designate him properly. There had been some speculation about Graham — and possibly Pitta — using this argument as a way to still be able to cash in on a monster free-agent contract in 2014, but with teams not being the ones to designate a franchise player’s position, it’s assumed that the franchise tender amount would simply be altered from one figure to another with the tag remaining in place.
Secondly, this process would appear to diminish animosity over a franchise-tag fight with the Ravens having no say over Pitta being tagged as a tight end or a wide receiver. Of course, contract negotiations can create plenty of tension already without the added element of a position squabble that could mean a difference of nearly $5 million in salary.
The Ravens are expected to use the franchise tag on Pitta if they can’t sign him prior to March 3, but coach John Harbaugh wasn’t ready to rule out the possibility of the organization allowing the fifth-year tight end to test the open market. Free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. on March 11.
“I think every scenario is possible here,” Harbaugh told reporters in Indianapolis last week. “The franchise tag is very vague right now, so anything could happen.”
Of course, the Ravens would prefer to get a deal ironed out sooner rather than later, but no agreement was considered imminent at the conclusion of the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis earlier this week.
15 positive observations from the weekend of football, seven not so positive observations and we acknowledge a “zero” from outside the world of football. A reminder, there’s never any Ravens game analysis here. We do plenty of that elsewhere. It’s a trip through the weekend of football via videos, GIFs, memes, pictures, links, Tweets and shtick.
True story. Tom Hanks only took the starring role in “Captain Phillips” because he was turned down for a similar role in a movie musical version of the 15-7-0. We parted amicably after negotiations, so truthfully I have not cared for some of the things he’s chosen to say in the media during the blitz for the film. I’ll take the high road…as always.