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Ten Ravens thoughts counting down to draft

Posted on 13 April 2016 by Luke Jones

With the offseason training program starting next week and the 2016 draft just two weeks away, I’ve offered 10 Ravens-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dennis Pitta restructuring his contract in an attempt to continue his career was newsworthy, but I’m not convinced it changes much as it relates to the Ravens’ 2016 plans. It merely gives them financial protection for a player who’s a health risk even taking the practice field this spring.

2. The Ravens raised eyebrows when they gave restricted free agent tight end Chase Ford a non-guaranteed $1.671 million tender, but they did it when the status of Crockett Gillmore was uncertain and they hadn’t signed Benjamin Watson. He became expendable after those realities came into focus, especially at that price.

3. It was interesting to see ESPN’s Mel Kiper mock Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott to Baltimore, but it only makes sense if you’re convinced he’s going to be a top 3 running back in the NFL over the next five years. If not, there’s not enough value there at No. 6.

4. A few others have already touched on this, but there’s little reason to think the Ravens will exercise their fifth-year option on 2013 first-round safety Matt Elam that would cost more than $5 million in 2017. He’ll need to worry about simply making the 53-man roster at this point.

5. I don’t love the idea of drafting Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley at No. 6, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take an offensive tackle in the early rounds. Perhaps they find an eventual replacement for Eugene Monroe or Rick Wagner, but they must improve their depth at the very least.

6. Whether it’s asking a Charlotte teenager with autism to prom or taking down Greg Hardy on Twitter, Steve Smith has certainly stood out in very positive ways. No matter what he brings to the field returning from injury in his final season, the Ravens are lucky he passed their way.

7. Reporters are just as fatigued as fans are from the vague updates regarding Breshad Perriman, but the true test will be whether the 2015 first-round receiver is out there running around during organized team activities open to media next month. Until then, I’ll remain as skeptical as anyone.

8. I rarely read much into what’s said before the draft and he was asked specifically about Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, but director of college scouting Joe Hortiz mentioning him being a coach’s son certainly made him sound like a “Ravens” kind of player. He wouldn’t be a bad first-round choice.

9. The Ravens hope at least one of Joey Bosa, Myles Jack, and DeForest Buckner makes it to No. 6, but trading back for an extra pick or two wouldn’t be the worst development if they can come away with a player like Hargreaves or Clemson edge defender Shaq Lawson.

10. Ozzie Newsome was wise to temper expectations when asked if he expected Baltimore to contend this year. There’s value with the signings of Watson, safety Eric Weddle, and receiver Mike Wallace, but finding high-impact talent in the draft will be more important to bouncing back significantly from a 5-11 season.

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Walker’s death takes on different meanings for Ravens

Posted on 18 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have dealt with tragedy before in their 20-year existence, but never quite like this.

The death of 23-year-old cornerback Tray Walker takes on different meanings for various members of the organization, very little of it having to do with football. Fans were limited in their experiences watching the 2015 fourth-round pick as he played just eight defensive snaps as a rookie, but he left an impression with team executives, coaches, and teammates in his far-too-short time in Baltimore.

We’ll never know what kind of football player Walker might have become, but that pales in comparison to such a loss of young life. It’s gut-wrenching to know a family that celebrated the start of his NFL career less than 11 months ago must now bury a young man whose adulthood was just getting started.

“Tray was one of the most humble persons we brought in for a pre-draft visit,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “That was striking. After we drafted him, he and his family were so excited to receive the call that he was about to become a Raven. It was one of the calls I will always remember. There was such joy for Tray and his family.”

Reactions collected on Friday evening reflected the various ways in which Walker’s death resonates with members of the organization.

Owner Steve Bisciotti noted that his two sons aren’t much older than Walker and expressed deep sadness for his grieving mother and family. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to outlive a child.

After writing such a heartfelt letter to all of his players earlier Friday, John Harbaugh recalled Walker’s smile and how the rookie defensive back often stood next to the head coach during the national anthem, which would result in a big hug before kickoff.

Those little moments are sometimes the most important ones in life, aren’t they?

Teammates ranging from Joe Flacco and Steve Smith to C.J. Mosley and Jimmy Smith expressed their grief and heartfelt condolences, but the words of one of Walker’s closest friends on the team, safety Terrence Brooks, were particularly powerful. Much like Walker, Brooks hasn’t firmly established himself in the NFL and spoke of their bond in that journey.

It’s a struggle typically ignored by fans and media, but one that involves much hard work behind the scenes while dreaming of Sunday stardom.

“We vowed to each other to stick together and push each other as long as we remained on the same team,” said Brooks, who was drafted a year earlier than Walker. “We both shared similar life experiences growing up in Florida. We sat together every day during meetings. He was like a little brother to me. I especially remember times he would drop by my house, and we would have long talks and laughs just about the NFL and everyday life. I truly felt a brotherly bond with him.

“Tray was a young man with so much life experience. I feel like he was much more of a man just because of where he grew up. Football was his escape. Not many understood that. It hurts my heart that he’s not getting the chance to show the world just what type of man and football player he was going to be. I was looking forward to taking that field with him this year, because we both kept up with each other’s progress this offseason. I really felt he was going to have a great year.”

Even for those who didn’t know Walker well, his vow last spring to dedicate his rookie season to his father — who died of a heart attack several months before his son was drafted by the Ravens — made him easy to root for as an underdog from Texas Southern who wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. Anyone who has lost a father at a similar age understands the intense desire to make him proud and to carry on his legacy for the rest of your life.

It breaks your heart that his family experiences such a loss.

They — as well as the Ravens and everyone else — are left wondering what could have been.

In football and, much more importantly, in a longer life.

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Ravens add much-needed diversity to passing game

Posted on 15 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked in early January whether the Ravens needed more speed in the passing game, Joe Flacco answered carefully while making his stance clear.

“I don’t know if it’s something that it needs, but you see what speed does,” the veteran quarterback said. “It does a lot for football teams. You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there.”

The Ravens took a step to copy Pittsburgh’s formula on Tuesday by signing former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace to a two-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million.

Not only does the union provide the Ravens another vertical threat to pair with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but it provides Wallace the chance to get his career back on track after setting new lows in receiving yards (473) and touchdowns (two) last year. Playing the last three seasons with quarterbacks in Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater who aren’t known for their arm strength, the 29-year-old sees the strong-armed Flacco as the perfect passer for his skill set.

“I always loved his deep ball ever since I was in Pittsburgh watching Torrey [Smith] catch them,” Wallace said. “I was like, ‘Man, this guy gets like eight of them in a row!’ I need me some of that.”

After Perriman missed his entire rookie season due to a right knee injury suffered on the first day of training camp, the Ravens can hardly afford a repeat of 2015 when they lacked a speed receiver to stretch the field and create more space for Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken on short-to-intermediate routes. Baltimore finished eighth in passing offense, but the unit ranked 30th in yards per attempt (6.6), reflecting its inability to push the ball down the field.

Now, the Ravens hope the addition of Wallace and Perriman’s healthy return will bring more diversity to the passing game and better utilize Flacco’s strengths.

Head coach John Harbaugh is excited about the potential of his top four receivers and how it might impact opponents’ preparation for his offense.

“It’s going to cause people some problems,” Harbaugh said. “You have some considerations back there on defense. If you’re going to put your defense over one guy or another guy and leave some pretty talented guys open on the other side, that’s going to create some problems for defenses.”

The Ravens may lack a true No. 1 option with Steve Smith turning 37 and coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, but Wallace doesn’t need to be a 1,200-yard receiver for the Baltimore passing game to thrive in 2016. The key is having wideouts who bring different skills to the table, whether you’re factoring in Steve Smith’s toughness and experience, Aiken’s reliable hands, or the high-end speed of Wallace and Perriman.

On paper, it could be the most talented group of pass-catchers the Ravens have had since the 2012 season that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII, and it should fulfill Flacco’s desire to have more speed on the outside.

Both Baltimore and Wallace hope their partnership will be the right fit. The Ravens need to replace the big-play ability they were missing after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure, and last year showed that they couldn’t count solely on the unproven Perriman to do it when he has yet to complete as much as a full-contact practice in the NFL. Wallace is out to prove he’s still capable of being the playmaker he was with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and isn’t just the guy who signed a mega contract with the Dolphins three offseasons ago and was all but forgotten in the Vikings offense last year.

“I’ll show everybody. I’ve been taking a lot of heat for about three years in a row,” Wallace said. “We’ll see about that though. I promise I’ll get the last laugh. Hopefully we can get where we want to get, and that’s to the championship.”

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Ranking the Ravens’ offensive needs for 2016

Posted on 21 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Trying to assess the 2015 Ravens offense isn’t easy.

Even if you weren’t always pleased with his play-calling and the lack of commitment to the running game, new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was without his franchise quarterback, two of his top three wide receivers, his starting running back, his starting center, his starting left tackle, and his starting tight end for large chunks of the season. In some ways, you have to be impressed that the Ravens finished 14th in total offense, but finishing 25th in points per game (20.5) reflects how much they lacked playmakers.

How can you fairly judge Trestman’s work with a starting offense in the second half of the season that resembled one you’d see in the fourth preseason game?

The good news is that the Ravens will begin consecutive seasons with the same offensive coordinator for the first time since Cam Cameron’s five-year run that concluded in 2012. That continuity will be critical with Joe Flacco spending the offseason rehabbing from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.

With free agency set to begin in less than two months — March 9 at 4 p.m. — and the draft set for April 28-30, the Ravens are currently evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the first of a three-part series — with defense and special teams to follow — I offer my thoughts on the offensive side of the football and rank the positions of greatest need.

1. Left tackle

Considering Eugene Monroe is under contract for three more years, some could still argue that receiver is a bigger need, but surely no position on either side of the ball is more complicated right now for the Ravens.

I’m not completely convinced that Monroe is a goner since Kelechi Osemele will be an unrestricted free agent and the former’s release would leave $6.6 million in dead money on a salary cap that is already way too tight. Monroe’s performance over the last two years certainly doesn’t reflect the five-year, $37.5 million contract he was awarded, but his play has mostly still been solid when he has been on the field.

Can you count on Monroe to stay healthy after starting just 16 games over the last two years? Is the organization simply finished with him after he reportedly refused a simple restructure of his contract last offseason?

Osemele figures to be in high demand as either a guard or a left tackle, making it difficult to predict whether the Ravens can be a serious contender to sign him. Their best strategy might be to keep Monroe until the 2016 draft when they could potentially come away with a top left tackle such as Laremy Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick and then part ways with the veteran. If it’s not a first-round talent, perhaps the Ravens draft a tackle in the second or third round and ride the roller coaster with Monroe for one more season.

2. Wide receiver

It’s a broken record at this position, but it was reassuring for Ravens fans to hear general manager Ozzie Newsome say at the season-ending press conference that he needs to add at least one more receiver.

There’s no reason to think Baltimore wouldn’t keep restricted free agent Kamar Aiken, but he is the group’s only fully-known commodity at the moment. No one doubts Steve Smith’s determination to return from an Achilles injury at age 37, but you can’t just bank on him being his old self, either. And even if the Ravens are confident that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman will be 100 percent for the offseason conditioning program, he has yet to complete as much as a full-contact practice in the NFL.

The Ravens averaged a league-worst 10.4 yards per catch in 2015, reflecting their inability to stretch the field with any success. Perriman can still be viewed as the primary option to provide that skill next season, but Newsome can’t be without a backup plan this time around.

Whether it’s a free agent or a pick in the first three or four rounds of this spring’s draft, the Ravens need another speed receiver with upside to add to the passing game for 2016.

3. Reserve offensive tackle

This is a need that will be based on what the Ravens ultimately do at left tackle, but they probably shouldn’t count on James Hurst as the primary backup tackle, especially if Monroe is retained.

The former undrafted free agent from North Carolina is a hard worker and a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo, but he graded 78th out of 81 qualified offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus and was simply overwhelmed for large stretches of playing time. He was also the one who fell into Flacco’s left knee to cause the season-ending injury against St. Louis on Nov. 22.

Starting right tackle Rick Wagner will also be an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season, so the Ravens need to be prepared to address that position a year from now.

Undrafted free agent De’Ondre Wesley finished the season on the 53-man roster, but it’s unclear whether he would be ready to step into a primary backup tackle role next year.

4. Reserve interior lineman

John Urschel is projected to take Osemele’s place as the starting left guard in 2016, but the Ravens would probably like to add another interior lineman to the roster mix if they can.

Reserve guard Ryan Jensen played well when Osemele moved to left tackle, but the organization lost rookies Kaleb Johnson and Robert Myers to other teams late in the season. Adding another interior lineman in the late rounds of the draft to develop for the future would make sense.

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What’s going on with Terrell Suggs?

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Among the many interesting topics expected to be covered when the Ravens’ brass gathers for Thursday’s season-ending press conference will be the status of Terrell Suggs.

Lost for the year after tearing his left Achilles tendon in the Sept. 13 opener, the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker spent very little time at the team’s Owings Mills training facility this season and was still wearing a walking boot as he watched the Week 16 upset victory over Pittsburgh from the sideline. In contrast, Suggs was out of a boot a little over two months after tearing his right Achilles tendon in the spring of 2012 — he amazingly returned to action in less than six months to play that season — and 36-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith shed his walking boot on Monday and suffered his Achilles injury seven weeks after the 33-year-old linebacker did.

Asked on Monday if he sought advice from his teammate who has been through a similar rehabilitation process twice, Smith made a cryptic remark that could be taken any number of ways.

“Suggs is a little vulnerable right now, so I’m not going to talk to Suggs about it,” said Smith, who announced last week that he would return for another season after previously planning to retire. “He’s not a ray of sunshine like he usually is.”

It’s worth noting that Smith’s comments were made as he smiled, but the veteran receiver can occasionally be sly with the media, making one wonder if there was more to it than Suggs simply having a bad day.

Suggs hasn’t spoken with reporters since suffering the injury in Denver.

Head coach John Harbaugh said in early November that the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year told him at the time of the injury that he intended to return in 2016, but Suggs was more reflective than usual about his career this past spring and struggled to cope with the departure of his longtime teammate and friend Haloti Ngata, who was traded to the Detroit Lions last March. Suggs wore a hat with No. 92 on it — Ngata’s jersey number for nine years in Baltimore that isn’t currently worn by a Ravens player — as he cheered on his teammates during the Steelers game on Dec. 27.

General manager Ozzie Newsome holds a unique relationship with the 2003 first-round pick, so it will be interesting to hear where the veteran stands in terms of his health and status for next season.

Suggs is under contract through 2018 and is scheduled to carry a $7.45 million salary cap figure for next season.

Hindsight with Osemele

With much discussion centering around the left tackle position, it’s fair to wonder why the Ravens didn’t try Kelechi Osemele at left tackle before the acquisition of Eugene Monroe a few years ago.

Following the win in Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore considered the possibility of moving Osemele to left tackle as Bryant McKinnie hit the free-agent market, but Newsome ultimately re-signed the veteran later that spring. Of course, McKinnie did not perform well and the Ravens traded fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to Jacksonville in exchange for Monroe in early October of 2013.

Had Osemele not been dealing with a chronic back issue at the time that eventually required season-ending surgery, he could have been a real option to move outside, but it’s difficult to fault the Ravens for not wanting to try it when he was already struggling just to perform at his regular left guard position. Instead, Monroe arrived and played so well over the remainder of the season that the Ravens rewarded him with a five-year, $37.5 million contract.

If the 2012 second-round pick had been healthy, perhaps he would have gotten his chance then and become Baltimore’s long-term left tackle a few years ago.

Complicated Webb

Following the season-ending loss to Cincinnati, veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb told reporters he viewed himself as a safety moving forward, but how the Ravens elect to handle that remains to be seen.

Webb and the Ravens already reworked his contract last offseason, but he is still scheduled to carry a $9.5 million salary cap number for 2016, which would put him among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. Of course, that would come with a very limited sample of Webb playing the position.

The 30-year-old may very well be an upgrade from recent options such as Kendrick Lewis and Darian Stewart, but the Ravens would need Pro Bowl-quality play to justify that price tag. There’s just no way of knowing he can do that, making it likely that Webb will be cut if he isn’t willing to further adjust his contract that expires after the 2017 season.

Need for speed

Asked whether the passing game needs more speed next season, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t answer with a definitive yes, but he was quick to point out how much it helps an AFC North rival.

“It does a lot for football teams,” said Flacco, who discussed the need to be able to push the ball down the field more at different times this past season. “You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference.”

Should the Ravens re-sign restricted free-agent receiver Kamar Aiken, they would have the trio of Aiken, Smith, and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but the latter two have questions about their health and only Perriman brings impact speed. The roster would benefit greatly from another speed option with upside.

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Steve Smith responds to latest doubters about his return

Posted on 04 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked last spring when the questions began about his age, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith offered the perfect quip as he prepared for his 15th season in the NFL.

At 5-foot-9 and already the oldest receiver in the league, Smith has heard the doubts throughout his career, so why would he expect anything different after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in what was originally supposed to be his final season? Even before he officially announced last week that he would return in 2016, many have questioned how effective he will be coming off a serious injury and turning 37 in May.

“To be honest, you guys don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, so it doesn’t matter,” said Smith, drawing laughter from reporters on Monday. “The numbers I put up will be the numbers I put up, and I’ll happen to put up those numbers at the age of 37.

“Can I run like I used to at 22? No, but I’m comfortable being 37 years old, being on this team, and they’re comfortable with me, so we’re going to operate that way.”

Producing some of the best numbers in the league with 46 catches for 670 yards in just seven games despite the Ravens’ disappointing 2-6 start, Smith acknowledged he had already begun reconsidering his retirement plans as early as Week 2 when his wife, Angie, brought up the possibility the night before the Oakland game. He then made the decision with his family after he “sobered up” from the surgery to repair the Achilles tendon in his right heel.

Now, Smith will take his time coming back from the injury with visions of ending his brilliant career on a higher note than when we last saw him with a towel over his head and being helped off the M&T Bank Stadium field on Nov. 1.

“I won’t be ahead of schedule. If anything — to be safe — I’ll be behind schedule,” Smith said. “With an injury like this, you don’t want to be ahead of schedule. That takes away a lot of stuff. Despite reports that I’m doing hydrotherapy, I’m the driest hydrotherapy recipient ever because I’m not doing hydrotherapy.”

While the Ravens have much work to do this offseason to rebound from a disappointing 5-11 season, they hope Smith can be a key part in the turnaround.

And they hope to give him a final shot at a Super Bowl title.

“I do have a desire to play and also have an organization that wants me to play and is encouraging me to play [and] to continue,” Smith said. “So, that’s what I want to do. I’m under contract for one more year. I’m injured. I still have to rehab no matter what for the betterment of wanting to play with my kids, so I’m going to rehab.

“I think rehabbing and playing is a lot better than rehabbing just to rehab.”

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Even with Smith’s return, Ravens have work to do at receiver

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Steve Smith returning for the 2016 season is good news for the Ravens.

You don’t easily replace the leadership, fire, and experience of a possible Hall of Fame player, and I won’t be the one to doubt his ability to defy the odds as a 37-year-old wide receiver coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, a serious injury for players even much younger than him.

But Ozzie Newsome must be realistic and can’t just plan on Smith being his No. 1 wide receiver in 2016. The longtime general manager needs to do more at the position this offseason after not doing enough this past year.

When the Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $10.5 million contract two offseasons ago, the veteran said he anticipated being a “complementary” receiver behind Torrey Smith, but we know how that turned out as the veteran was the clear No.1 guy — and deserved to be. This time around, however, the organization quietly needs to view him as a No. 2 or No. 3 option in his 16th NFL season and can then be pleasantly surprised if he posts the ninth 1,000-yard season of his brilliant career.

Contrary to most of the 20-year history of this franchise, it’s not against NFL bylaws to have a surplus of talent at the wide receiver position.

As the Ravens conclude the first losing season of the John Harbaugh era, they have Kamar Aiken and an abundance of No. 5 and No. 6 receivers on the current roster. Aiken has more than proven himself as a starting possession receiver in Smith’s absence, but the two have similar attributes at this point and didn’t mesh as well being on the field at the same time early this season.

Baltimore still needs more speed at the position.

No, I haven’t forgotten about 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but the Ravens can’t make the same mistake twice in counting on the Central Florida product without a backup plan. The 6-foot-2 Perriman may still realize his potential in the NFL, but questions will persist about his health and his overall ability until he can stay on the football field to silence them.

It’s easy to say the Ravens need a No. 1 receiver, but those talents aren’t just congregating outside the gates at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills waiting for a league-minimum contract. A less-than-ideal salary cap position makes it unlikely that a top free agent like Alshon Jeffery will be an option, and Newsome probably can’t afford to trade multiple picks for a bona fide No. 1 wideout when the Ravens need an infusion of talent at multiple positions on either side of the ball.

But hedging their bets on the trio of Smith, Aiken, and Perriman is a must. Whether it’s signing or trading for a starting-caliber veteran or selecting another receiver in the early rounds of the 2016 draft, the Ravens need another legitimate option to throw into the mix. It would be a move for the post-Smith future as much as next season.

Even if that addition wouldn’t be a No. 1 receiver himself, Newsome adding more impact talent can only help the current group.

As for other receivers on the roster such as Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Darren Waller, Chris Matthews, and Daniel Brown, the Ravens can bring as many as they’d like to organized team activities and training camp, but none should be projected as anything better than No. 5 or No. 6 options at this point. Let’s face it, we’ve heard the hype about the late-round picks and rookie free agents on an annual basis with little to show for it as even Aiken had spent time with three other organizations before finally arriving in Baltimore in 2013.

The Ravens left themselves with no margin for error at the wide receiver position this season and paid dearly for it when Perriman went down on the first day of training camp and Smith was lost midway through the season. Both have the potential to help the Ravens immensely in 2016, but Aiken is the only safe bet of their top three right now.

Even if he’s not his old explosive self after the injury, Smith can still help on the field and in the meeting rooms.

But he can’t be viewed as the only solution this offseason to the problems at wide receiver.

Such expectations would be unfair to him and unfair to the Ravens.

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Steve Smith announces return to Ravens for 2016

Posted on 30 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith will return for his 16th NFL season in 2016.

Though the Ravens wide receiver originally intended to retire at the end of the season, a Achilles tendon injury prompted many to speculate that Smith would return in 2016. Multiple reports in recent weeks had indicated the fiery 36-year-old was leaning toward a return, but he made it official on his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon.

Smith had cited a desire to spend more time with his family when he announced his retirement plans on Aug. 10.

“I don’t want to hold on,” Smith said. “I said it this summer: Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver to ever play, but I don’t believe that chasing whatever it is to chase for four more years would be conducive to my family or be conducive to me. I would be having to give up something.”

Smith was among the league leaders at the time of his injury on Nov. 1, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns in seven games. With the Ravens off to a 1-6 start, many had speculated that the 5-foot-9, 195-pound receiver was already contemplating a return for 2016 as he has never won a Super Bowl in his career.

Head coach John Harbaugh and many of Smith’s teammates expressed their belief at the time of the injury that he would return for one more season.

Some of his teammates already knew he would be returning.

“I’m not surprised at all about that,” guard Kelechi Osemele said. “He’s not the type of guy to go out like that. Obviously, we can’t wait to have him back. I know he’s going to come back in the best shape of his life, and he’s going to dominate, because that’s just the type of person he is.”

Smith ranks eighth on the NFL’s all-time list for combined yards (18,381), 15th for receptions (961), and 11th for receiving yards (13,932). Smith and recent Hall of Fame inductee Tim Brown are the only players in NFL history to eclipse 13,000 receiving yards and 4,000 return yards.

Originally selected in the third round of the 2001 draft, Smith spent his first 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers before signing a three-year, $10.5 million contract on March 14, 2014. Though he continues to make his home in Charlotte, N.C. and will be remembered most for what he did with Carolina, Smith has rapidly made his mark in Baltimore both on and off the field.

Now, he’ll have one more year to add to that legacy with the Ravens.

“If you’re in a war, there’s no better guy that you want on your sideline with you in that war than Steve,” five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said. “I’m fired up about it, but I respected whatever he was going to do. If he was going to retire, I was going to be happy. If he was going to play for us, I was going to be happy, because he has earned that respect over the years playing in this league.”

Smith is already the oldest receiver in the NFL and will turn 37 in May.

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Ravens place first-round pick Perriman on injured reserve

Posted on 17 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Another disappointing chapter was added to the story of the 2015 Ravens on Tuesday as rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman was placed on injured reserve, ending his season before it ever started.

The first-round pick from Central Florida sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, an injury initially diagnosed as a bruise that would only keep him out for a day or two. After making very slow progress, Perriman briefly returned to the practice field in late September before pulling up lame in a pre-game workout at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 27.

A few days later, Perriman visited renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews and underwent arthroscopic surgery and received a platelet-rich plasma injection to help speed the recovery process. Shortly after the procedure, head coach John Harbaugh called the injury “one of the all-time slowest-healing sprained PCLs ever,” and Perriman never appeared to get close to returning to practice before Tuesday’s decision.

“Breshad has worked hard to come back from his injury,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement, “but after discussing his current condition with our medical staff and Breshad, we have decided that putting him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season is our best course of action.”

The 26th overall pick of April’s draft and the first receiver selected in the first round by the Ravens since Mark Clayton in 2005, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Perriman was expected to immediately fill the void of Torrey Smith after the speedy veteran signed with San Francisco in the offseason. Instead, Perriman becomes the first first-round pick in Ravens history to miss his entire rookie season.

Though acknowledging the clock was ticking on the rookie receiver for this season, Harbaugh had expressed hope earlier this month that Perriman would be able to play in the final four games, which would have given the Ravens the opportunity to evaluate him despite being on track to experience their first losing season since 2007. Now, they’ll have to wait until next year.

“It’s a huge disappointment not being able to play my first year in the NFL, but I will come back harder than ever,” Perriman wrote on Twitter. “Thanks to all of the Ravens fans for the support.”

With Perriman remaining an unknown and veteran receiver Steve Smith announcing his intentions to retire before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury on Nov. 1 — though many feel the injury could prompt him to return in 2016 — the wide receiver position couldn’t be in worse shape as the Ravens must also renegotiate quarterback Joe Flacco’s contract this offseason.

The Ravens made several other roster moves on Tuesday, cutting wide receiver and return specialist Jeremy Ross and cornerback Asa Jackson. On Sunday, Ross lost a fumble on a punt return for the second time in the last three games while Jackson committed two 15-yard penalties on special teams in the 22-20 loss to Jacksonville.

On Monday, Harbaugh criticized both players for their performances in Sunday’s game.

Dealing with an ankle injury, Jackson was given the waived-injured designation and would revert to injured reserve if he clears waivers.

To fill the three open spots on their 53-man roster, the Ravens signed veteran cornerback Cassius Vaughn, tight end Chase Ford, and rookie wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Vaughn was with Baltimore during the preseason while Clay and Ford were signed off the practice squads of Detroit and Minnesota respectively.

After being cut by the Ravens in early September, Vaughn hasn’t been with another team, but he owns 138 career tackles, 24 pass breakups, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery in his five NFL seasons.

Ford has played in 20 career NFL games (five starts), producing 34 catches for 391 yards and a touchdown. Clay has yet to appear in a game, but the Utah rookie is considered an intriguing option in the return game after being drafted in the sixth round of this year’s draft.

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Zuttah absent, Monroe returns to practice on Wednesday

Posted on 11 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Conducting their first full practice since returning from their bye, the Ravens welcomed back a starting member of their offensive line while being without another.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) was a full participant in Wednesday’s workout, but center Jeremy Zuttah continues to recover from a left shoulder injury suffered in the Week 8 win over San Diego. Monroe had missed the Nov. 1 game against the Chargers, but head coach John Harbaugh had previously expressed optimism that he would return after the bye week.

The Ravens appear optimistic about Zuttah’s chances to be ready for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

“We’re anticipating — we’re hoping — that Jeremy will be out later in the week to practice,” Harbaugh said prior to Wednesday’s workout, “but he won’t be out [on the field] today.”

Rookie cornerback Tray Walker (concussion) participated fully in Wednesday’s practice after missing the San Diego game. Though still on injured reserve with the designation to return, defensive end Brent Urban (biceps) also took practiced with his 21-day participation window having opened on Monday.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) remains sidelined from practice.

Wednesday also brought the practice debut of former Towson running back Terrance West, who was signed to Baltimore’s practice squad a day earlier. Jettisoned by both Cleveland and Tennessee in the last two months, the Northwestern High grad hopes a return home will be the key to getting his once-promising NFL career back on track.

Harbaugh said he spoke with wide receiver Steve Smith following his successful Achilles tendon surgery in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday.

“He’s in great spirits,” Harbaugh said. “He’s looking forward to the rehab, and he was pretty fired up about the way [the surgery] went.”

Meanwhile, the Jaguars were without two starters during their Wednesday workout as standout second-year receiver Allen Hurns (foot/thigh) and outside linebacker Dan Skuta (groin) were non-participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Breshad Perriman (knee), C Jeremy Zuttah (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (shoulder), CB Tray Walker (concussion)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Michael Bennett (hamstring), DE Chris Clemons (non-injury), WR Allen Hurns (foot/thigh), LB Dan Skuta (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marqise Lee (hamstring), S James Sample (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Zane Beadles (knee), RB Toby Gerhart (groin), WR Rashad Greene (thumb), TE Julius Thomas (abdomen)

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