Tag Archive | "Terrance West"


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Eyes on Ravens running backs as preseason opener looms

Posted on 07 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Asked at the start of training camp about the possibility of the Ravens using a committee approach at running back this season, veteran Justin Forsett pretended not to understand what the concept meant.

Despite a collection of young and talented backs behind him on the depth chart, the 30-year-old isn’t ready to relinquish the starting role he worked so hard to secure two years ago when he gained a career-high 1,266 yards after years as an NFL journeyman. But he has his hands full this summer.

“Everybody wants to be on the field all the time,” said Forsett, who missed the final six games with a broken arm last season after a career year in 2014. “I want to put myself in a position where they can’t take me off the field. That is my mentality. At the end of the day, everybody has their role, and I’ll let [the coaches] decide that.”

Plenty of questions remain on both sides of the ball, but we’re unlikely to learn too much in the first preseason game about the wide receiver, tight end, and outside linebacker positions where multiple players remain sidelined with injuries. But running back is a different story with four healthy options vying for meaningful playing time while 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro remains on the physically unable to perform list.

Projected to be on the bubble this summer, Baltimore native Terrance West has been the most impressive running back in camp, which isn’t as much a knock on Forsett, Buck Allen, or Kenneth Dixon as it is a compliment to the urgency with which the Towson product has played. Fifteen pounds lighter than last year and showing improved vision and quickness, West is looking like the back the Cleveland Browns thought they were getting when they selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft.

Of course, it’s generally unwise to draw too many conclusions from training camp as veterans assured of roles are often pacing themselves while getting ready for the fall and unproven players are maximizing every rep to etch out a spot on the 53-man roster. At the very least, West has made himself arguably the most intriguing player to watch in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.

“He is just out there working hard and trying to get better,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “He is running hard. He is running aggressively. He has been much improved in terms of his understanding of pass protection, which is critical to getting him on the field. I feel a lot more comfortable with that. He has had a tremendous attitude in the classroom and on the field.”

West isn’t the only young back trying to push Forsett for playing time as Allen wants to build on a solid rookie season in which he rushed for 514 yards and collected an additional 353 yards as a receiver. A fourth-round selection in 2015, Allen has looked the part of a good change-of-pace receiver out of the backfield.

But he’s aiming for a bigger role in his second season after focusing on becoming more explosive this offseason. One of the questions about Allen as a rookie was his ability to consistently run between the tackles to be a productive every-down back.

He averaged 3.8 yards per carry in a season in which he started the final six games.

“Just be more physical. Run like you’re 220 [pounds], not 212,” Allen said. “That’s something I really took personal. Making that jump cut look clean, that’s something I worked on. Only time will tell.”

Until the last few days, it had largely been a three-man competition in the Baltimore backfield since Dixon, a fourth-round rookie from Louisiana Tech, suffered a minor knee injury on the first day of camp. However, he returned to the field late last week and turned in his best practice of the summer at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night, flashing his skills as a receiver and some impressive moves in the open field.

Regarded by some as the second-best running back in this year’s draft behind fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, Dixon averaged 11.1 yards per reception to go along with a stout 5.6 yards per carry over four collegiate seasons. His 87 career touchdowns briefly gave him the NCAA Division I record last December before it was quickly eclipsed by fellow Ravens draft pick Keenan Reynolds.

“He looked quick and sharp; he made good cuts,” head coach John Harbaugh said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel like he did a pretty good job of pass protection. We will have to see. That last third-down run was really a special run. It was good to see him out there. He has been chomping at the bit.”

The question all along has been whether Forsett will recapture his success from two years ago to cement his status as the starter or if a younger back will seize the job, but the Ravens hope a clear-cut No. 1 back will emerge to provide the offense a much-needed play-maker.

In the meantime, it’s hard to argue with Forsett’s impeccable character leading the young group as his willingness to help younger players is a trait he picked up from those who helped him early in his career when he was simply trying to survive in the NFL.

“I feel like me being here is greater than football,” Forsett said. “Anytime I can help and serve my teammates [and] allow them to be better, I’m all for it. When I got into the league, it was guys like T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris, and Julius Jones that helped me along the way. Edgerrin James, those guys helped me be a pro and showed me the way.

“It is my duty to pass that on.”

He’s just not ready to pass on the starter’s workload yet.

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Ravens unveil first depth chart ahead of preseason opener

Posted on 05 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens unveiled their first depth chart of the summer with very few surprises in relation to what we’ve witnessed in training camp so far.

The depth chart reflects players currently on the physically unable to perform list, which explains why the likes of Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil are listed at the end of their position groups. In most cases, reserve players behind the projected starters are listed by seniority.

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The listed starting offensive line is exactly what we’ve seen at most practices in the spring and summer with rookie first-round tackle Ronnie Stanley set to protect Joe Flacco’s blindside and third-year lineman John Urschel still the favorite to take Kelechi Osemele’s old left guard spot.

Of course, the wide receiver position is difficult to project with Smith and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman still on the PUP list, but Michael Campanaro has practiced well while staying healthy so far, making a strong case to see time in the slot. Maxx Williams being listed fourth among the tight ends reflects how deep that position is.

Buck Allen is listed as the primary backup to Justin Forsett at running back, but Terrance West can further improve his case for a bigger role if he can build on an impressive training camp with good showings in the preseason.

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With Suggs and Dumervil still absent, Za’Darius Smith and Albert McClellan have handled starting outside linebacker duties in training camp. It will be interesting to see if McClellan remains at the “Sam” linebacker spot when Dumervil and Suggs return or whether Smith will slide over to that spot. The Ravens would like to see Dumervil return to his previous role as a situational pass rusher, but it’s unclear if Suggs will still be a three-down linebacker coming back from his second Achilles injury in four years.

The Ravens are listing veteran Zach Orr ahead of rookie Kamalei Correa as the starting weak-side inside linebacker, but the 2016 second-round pick has received more reps with the base defense during training camp. The nickel package has featured Orr entering at inside linebacker with Correa shifting to the edge.

Veteran Kyle Arrington is currently ahead of Will Davis and rookie Tavon Young on the depth chart, but that appears to be a nod to the veteran more than a reflection of what we’ve seen during camp.

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As for special teams, Kaelin Clay is the early leader to be the return specialist, but Campanaro remains in the mix as the Ravens try to keep him healthy. Former Navy star and sixth-round pick Keenan Reynolds has struggled to consistently catch punts and has a lot of ground to make up over the next few weeks. Young has shown impressive speed as a potential kick returner.

It’s important not to read too much into the first depth chart, especially once moving past the first and second units. The depth chart is composed by the Ravens’ public relations staff, but it is based on practice and game reps, giving fans and media a worthwhile snapshot.

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Ten Ravens thoughts on first week of training camp

Posted on 02 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens approaching the end of their first week of training camp, I’ve offered 10 early thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens have numerous injury questions, but Joe Flacco is looking less and less like one. Other than the brace on his left knee, you’d never know he’s eight months removed from surgery. He’s moving and throwing like he always did and says he’s not even thinking about the knee.

2. Everyone is rooting for Keenan Reynolds to make an impact after his brilliant career at Navy, but he’s a substantial work in progress. It’s still very early, but he hasn’t played with much confidence and has dropped more passes and kicks than you’d like to see even in practices.

3. With other running backs currently sidelined, Terrance West is taking advantage of the reps and has looked the part of a motivated young player vying for a significant role in the offense. West has shed 15 pounds from last season and is noticeably more explosive running the football.

4. After missing spring workouts to have the screws removed from his right foot, Jimmy Smith has had a quiet start. He hasn’t practiced poorly, but he’s still working his way back to full strength. The defense sorely needs him to return to his pre-surgery 2014 form this season.

5. An understated need in 2016 will be for Za’Darius Smith to become an impact player. He looks comfortable in pass coverage and has shown good pass-rush ability. If he can handle responsibilities formerly held by Pernell McPhee and Courtney Upshaw, less pressure falls on Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

6. Though Jerraud Powers remains the favorite to play slot cornerback in sub packages, rookie Tavon Young has displayed good ball skills and has shown good aggression in coverage. He also looked smooth and fast returning a kickoff at Monday’s stadium practice. He’s someone to watch in the preseason.

7. Much has been written about Kamalei Correa competing to start at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley, but he plays with an edge, evident by the skirmishes on Monday. The Ravens need more attitude and higher-end talent, and Correa has a chance to bring both to the defense.

8. It’s unclear how much time he’ll miss, but it was a shame to see rookie receiver Chris Moore walking with his left foot in a boot on Monday. It was only a couple practices, but his acceleration going after the deep ball reminds a little bit of Torrey Smith.

9. It was interesting to see Justin Tucker repeatedly pop kickoffs into the air that landed inside the 5-yard line on Monday. With touchbacks on kickoffs moving to the 25, John Harbaugh said this offseason that the Ravens could alter their approach instead of just booting it through the end zone.

10. Crockett Gillmore has a rare combination of size and quickness that is fun to watch, but you wonder if his physical style of play will continue hindering his durability. He’s already had quite a few injuries in two-plus years with a hamstring strain the latest ailment to sideline him.

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Dixon eager to prove himself in Ravens’ crowded backfield

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens already had plenty of depth at the running back position when they selected Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round.

The question is whether someone will emerge as the clear-cut feature back for 2016 and beyond. Ranked by some as high as the second-best running back in the draft behind fourth overall selection Ezekiel Elliott, Dixon surprisingly fell all the way to the 134th pick where the Ravens snatched him up with the last of their record five fourth-round choices.

Watching his college highlights filled with big plays and impressive vision, it isn’t difficult to figure out which running back he tries to imitate on the football field as he wore No. 28 and averaged 11.1 yards per reception to go along with his robust 5.6 yards per carry over four seasons with the Bulldogs.

“The running back I really looked up to is Marshall Faulk,” Dixon said. “Just looking at his journey, just his work ethic that he had and the perseverance that he had through life. It’s always great, so that’s kind of who I modeled my game after.”

Of course, the Ravens would be thrilled if he could be half the player that Faulk was, but his physical gifts don’t stand out, a reason why he remained on teams’ draft boards until the end of the fourth round. His 4.58-second 40-yard dash time is good enough but hardly special and his 5-foot-10, 215-pound frame isn’t imposing, but then you watch his tape and look at his production as a four-year starter and can’t help but be intrigued.

Over four seasons, Dixon rushed for 4,483 yards on 802 carries — a heavy college workload that also might have scared some teams away — and caught 87 passes for 969 yards. His 87 career touchdowns temporarily gave him the NCAA Division I record last December before it was eclipsed by new Ravens teammate Keenan Reynolds, who is now Dixon’s roommate.

“It was kind of bittersweet. I was kind of mad at the time, but I’m especially happy for him and his journey,” said Dixon, who added that his mother is a huge Reynolds fan and asked for his autograph. “We all have different journeys, different walks through football. You never want to knock someone else’s walk through football. I gave him his props and everything.

“I told him if I had those other two [extra] games, he probably wouldn’t have been the leader.”

Dixon smiled as he noted that Reynolds had played in 13 games as a senior compared to his 11, but he’ll need that competitive fire in a backfield that includes 2014 Pro Bowl selection Justin Forsett, 2015 fourth-round selection Buck Allen, 2014 fourth-rounder Lorenzo Taliaferro, 2014 third-round pick Terrance West, and Trent Richardson, the third overall pick of the 2012 draft who is trying to revitalize his career. Of those six, the Ravens figure to keep four at most on their 53-man roster.

Plenty of intriguing talent, but who will seize the opportunity and run with it?

It would be unwise to overlook the man who scored more touchdowns than any running back in FBS history.

“It’s a lot of competition in the room,” Dixon said. “[Running backs coach Thomas] Hammock, he works really well with us. He does a great job with us. All we can do is control what we can control. That’s what we’re going to do is come out here and compete and work hard.”

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Making sense of Ravens’ running game in 2015

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Plenty of factors interfered with the Ravens’ ability to run the football in 2015.

The departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, injuries along the offensive line and to 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett, more eight-man boxes due to limited weapons in the passing game, and a questionable commitment from new coordinator Marc Trestman all contributed to the Baltimore rushing game dropping from eighth in 2014 all the way to 26th this past season. The Ravens averaged 4.5 yards per attempt in Kubiak’s lone season in Baltimore and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in 2015 (24th in the NFL).

“To the extent that we didn’t run the ball well, yes, we lost our identity a little bit and we have to be able to do that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re going to find our way back that way, and we’re going to work on that right now.”

Media and fans frequently speak about the commitment — or lack thereof — to the running game, citing overused stats about a team’s record when they rush a certain number of times in a game. For this reason, some have pointed to the Ravens’ 383 rushing attempts — fewest in franchise history and tied for 25th in the NFL — as the biggest culprit in the struggles.

That simply isn’t the case.

Research has shown over and over that running the ball more often doesn’t cause a team to win more games just like simply trying to bench-press the most weight doesn’t magically make you stronger. Being strong to begin with (having leads) puts you in position to lift that heavier weight (carrying the ball more frequently). Otherwise, a team would mindlessly run the ball for the first 20 or 25 plays of a game to hit those statistical landmarks and have a big lead in the first half, right?

There are always exceptions, but teams that run the most generally do so because they have the lead with Carolina being a perfect example with a league-high 526 rushing attempts despite a 4.3 average that ranked only 10th in the NFL. It’s no coincidence that the 15-1 Panthers led for a league-best average of 39:47 per game and trailed an average of just 8:57 — also best in the NFL — according to Football Outsiders. They also averaged fewer runs in the first quarter than in any of the final three quarters, reflecting again that it’s more about running when you have the lead than “establishing the run” early.

In contrast, the 5-11 Ravens led an average of just 14:37 per game (27th in the NFL) and trailed for 32:13 per contest (26th in the league), easily their worst marks since Football Outsiders began keeping track in 1997. Of the 66 periods (counting two overtimes) in which they played during the 2015 season, the Ravens led at the conclusion of just 19 of them.

Of the five teams that led less frequently than the Ravens in 2015 — Miami, Chicago, Jacksonville, San Francisco, and Cleveland — only the Bears finished outside the bottom 10 in rushing attempts. All five of those teams also averaged better than Baltimore’s 3.9 yards per carry clip.

Whether they take it too far or not, teams pass more frequently when they’re behind as even the worst passing teams in the NFL average more yards per throwing attempt than the most efficient rushing teams average yards per carry. It’s common sense that you can catch up more quickly by going through the air, even if that leaves you prone to more turnovers.

The 2010 Ravens averaged 3.8 yards per carry — a mark slightly worse than this year’s team — but carried the ball 104 more times in a 12-4 season. Yes, you can argue that Cam Cameron had a stronger affinity for the running game than Trestman, but Baltimore also enjoyed the lead an average of 38:26 per contest, the best in the NFL that season.

It’s easy to run the ball when you’re protecting a lead.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the running game wasn’t problematic or one of many reasons leading to the first losing season of the Harbaugh era. The issues with the running game just didn’t have as much to do with the number of attempts as it did the lack of efficiency and how regularly the Ravens trailed in games.

In looking at the breakdown of rushes by quarter, however, there’s little excusing Trestman for the Ravens only having 91 rushing attempts in the first quarter compared to the league average of 106.3. Strangely, the Ravens collected more rushing attempts (105) in the fourth quarter than in any other period — a trend usually indicative of a winning team — but that number was skewed by a combined 25 fourth-quarter carries against Pittsburgh and Cleveland in Weeks 4 and 5, their best rushing performances of the season by a significant margin.

At times, there was certainly a questionable commitment to the running game — a knock on Trestman before he was hired by Harbaugh last January — but the Ravens’ frequent deficits magnified the problem.

“Part of that is scheme, part of that is how many times we call it and when we call it,” said Harbaugh about the problems with the running game. “There’s play-action that goes with it [and] passes behind runs that keep the linebackers off your run game — all of those things that we need to build into our run game to be as good as we can be.”

The healthy returns of Forsett and starting center Jeremy Zuttah, finding stability at left tackle, and the continued development of Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West should help to improve the running game. Gaining more leads by playing better on both sides of the ball will create more opportunities that weren’t there for a ground game that struggled to find its groove throughout the season.

But it will ultimately be about running the ball better — not just more often — in 2016.

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Allen’s benching a head-scratcher in lost season for Ravens

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens’ performance on Sunday matched their new uniform pants.


Of course, we’re used to this by now as the 4-10 Ravens clinched just the fifth campaign of double-digit losses in franchise history with the 34-14 defeat against Kansas City. For the second straight week, it was a Buck Allen fumble in the first half transforming a close game into a lopsided affair.

This time, however, head coach John Harbaugh had seen enough and benched the rookie fourth-round pick for the remainder of the game after Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch returned the fumble 73 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

“You play the best players. At running back, the best players don’t fumble,” said Harbaugh, who added that the benching “probably” won’t continue next week. “Fumbling — it is what it is. You have to hold on to the football. He knows that. I have a lot of love and respect for Buck. No way is Buck going to be banished by any stretch. He has done a lot for us. He has a great future for us.”

Allen took the demotion in stride and said himself that fumbling is unacceptable, but what is really accomplished by benching him for the rest of the game, especially when you’re 4-9 and in evaluation mode for the rest of 2015? If you’re still in playoff contention and are afraid of him putting the ball on the turf again, then, fine, go in a different direction if you have a better option.

But what did Harbaugh hope to gain by keeping Allen out for the remainder of the game with just two weeks remaining in a lost season?

Benching him for the rest of the first half and using Terrance West — a former third-round pick with his upside of his own — as the No. 1 option would have been a reasonable punishment, but making the rookie sit for nearly 48 minutes of action and giving former practice-squad member Terrence Magee his playing time only created a bigger headline and more embarrassment for the lone bright spot of a disappointing rookie draft class in 2015.

Ball security is of the utmost importance — no one is saying it isn’t. But even the best running backs fumble sometimes as the great Adrian Peterson has seven this year. Allen has fumbled twice all season, hardly making this an epidemic despite one in each of the last two weeks.

“You have to hold on to the football,” Harbaugh said. “That football belongs to everybody in the organization, every fan, everybody that cares about the Ravens, and it’s a precious commodity. You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over.”

The eighth-year coach is correct, but you don’t win when players commit foolish penalties, either.

That begs the question why second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan wasn’t disciplined in a harsher manner for an inexcusable late hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on a third-and-11 play that extended Kansas City’s opening drive. Instead of punting from their own territory, the Chiefs scored on a 38-yard run by Charcandrick West three plays later to give them a 7-0 lead.

In Week 2, Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer penalty on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive with less than two minutes to go, proving his talent has been overshadowed by a lack of discipline on more than one occasion. He was also flagged for unnecessary roughness in last week’s loss to Seattle.

“I took him out for a play and put him back in,” said Harbaugh when asked about Jernigan’s penalty after he had just explained Allen’s benching. “I don’t need to justify that. Timmy Jernigan is a guy that I’ve talked to about that. He understands where we’re at. I made the decision to keep him in the game.”

But has the 2014 second-round pick gotten the message?

It didn’t sound that way after the game.

“If he’s going to run along the sideline, I’m going to hit him every time,” Jernigan said. “I’m not going to apologize for that one any time. I was running to the ball, and I saw the quarterback running along the sideline.

“To me, it doesn’t look like the guy is noticeably slowing down and running out of bounds. If you’re along the sideline, I’m going to hit you. I don’t care who you are unless you make it obvious that you’re going out of bounds. If you’re running along the sideline, and you don’t go out, I’m going to have cameras in my face asking me why I didn’t hit you. And then the quarterback runs for an 80-yard touchdown. I feel like I’m just doing what I can to help the team.”

You’d really like to give Jernigan the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t see a replay of his obvious infraction before talking to reporters. But if he did see it and failed to recognize that Smith was obviously out of bounds when he hit him, it just reinforces the lack of discipline the Ravens have shown all season as they entered Week 15 ranked 25th in penalties and 29th in penalty yards.

Either way, benching Allen for the remainder of the game was excessive, especially after Jernigan came away with what amounted to barely a slap on the wrist. It’s not as though the latter is an established veteran or multi-time Pro Bowl selection beyond reproach.

The Ravens repeatedly hurting themselves on Sunday was nothing new in this disappointing season.

But Harbaugh abruptly sending a rookie to the doghouse was a head-scratcher.

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Pondering Ravens left tackle, 2015 draft class, quarterback, more

Posted on 08 December 2015 by Luke Jones

It wasn’t long ago that left tackle Eugene Monroe was emerging as one of the Ravens’ best players.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and the organization certainly thought so after they acquired the former Jacksonville Jaguar for fourth- and fifth-round picks just over two years ago. His strong play in 11 games in 2013 prompted the Ravens to sign Monroe to a five-year, $37.5 million contract that included $17.5 million in guaranteed money.

Since then, Monroe has started just 17 of 30 games (including the postseason) as knee, foot, and shoulder injuries as well as a concussion at the start of the 2015 season have cost him extensive time. The 28-year-old missed only four games over his first five NFL seasons, but he’s started and finished just three games this year, leaving the overmatched James Hurst to fill in at left tackle. Even when Monroe has played, it’s been at an underwhelming level in comparison to his $7.7 million cap figure this year.

Many fans have questioned Monroe’s toughness, and it was interesting to hear John Harbaugh mention the left tackle’s agent on Monday when discussing the status of his injured shoulder that’s cost him three games and parts of two others this season. To be clear, the head coach did not speak with any hint of animosity, but you simply don’t hear an agent being cited very often in such discussions, leading one to wonder if the Ravens and Monroe have differing opinions on his health.

Regardless of whether Monroe returns to play in 2015, the Ravens will need to take a long look at the left tackle position this offseason as he simply hasn’t been dependable enough at a critical position. Hurst is a hard worker, but Pro Football Focus has graded him 74th out of 76 offensive tackles this season and he was the one who rolled into Joe Flacco’s left knee, causing the season-ending injury last month. The second-year tackle is just not starting material.

Monroe is scheduled to make $6.5 million and to carry an $8.7 million cap figure in 2016, but cutting him would still leave $6.6 million in dead money unless the Ravens were to use a post-June 1 designation. However, that strategy wouldn’t free up that cap space until after most free-agent activity was long finished.

With the Ravens now 4-8 and potentially picking in the top five of April’s draft, Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil will be one of many intriguing prospects to watch over the next few months.

Awful year for rookie class

The four-game suspension of rookie tight end Nick Boyle was the rotten cherry on top of a lousy first season for the 2015 draft class aside from fourth-round running back Buck Allen.

Facing so many offseason departures, the Ravens used their draft class to fill an assortment of needs, but that meant a cast of rookies needed to contribute immediately if they were to reach their lofty goals for the 2015 season. Needless to say, that hasn’t come close to happening.

Selected to replace speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith, first-round pick Breshad Perriman hurt his knee on the first day of training camp and didn’t play as much as a preseason snap in his rookie season. Tight end Maxx Williams has flashed potential here and there, but 19 catches and one touchdown are nothing to write home about for a second-round pick.

Drafted to essentially take the spots of free-agent departures Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis and fourth-round Za’Darius Smith have largely been non-factors with the former not even being active for the last two games. And though fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker was considered a bit of a project out of Texas Southern, it’s become clear that the Ravens drafted him way too early — even if he does eventually develop into a useful player.

Fifth-round guard Robert Myers didn’t even make the team — he’s now on the practice squad — and sixth-round receiver Darren Waller caught only two passes before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve.

Yes, it’s only the first season, so this isn’t a final condemnation on the 2015 draft class by any means. But the group couldn’t have been much more disappointing in its rookie campaign.

And now that Boyle’s better-than-expected play has been superseded by the disappointment of a four-game ban, Allen’s development into a starting-caliber back is the only saving grace of the group in 2015.

Running back debate

Allen is the most intriguing reason to watch the Ravens these days, but his performance is creating an interesting debate for the offseason.

Though he is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry, his ability as a receiver out of the backfield — an impressive 29 catches on 32 targets — is making quite a statement for the USC product to be the Ravens’ No. 1 back in 2016. And Terrance West has provided good depth in averaging 4.5 yards per carry in his two games with Baltimore thus far.

For those reasons, might the Ravens consider moving on from veteran Justin Forsett this offseason?

The 30-year-old will carry a $3.7 million cap figure next year and releasing him would save $2.3 million in salary cap space, no small amount for a team that will be looking for room even after renegotiating Flacco’s massive contract. And it’s not as though the Ravens wouldn’t have an impressive collection of young talent with Allen, West, and a returning Lorenzo Taliaferro in the backfield.

That trio would certainly benefit from Forsett’s experience and leadership, but how much is that worth? Would the Ravens feel comfortable handing the reins to an inexperienced threesome?

If Allen and West continue to play well over the final quarter of the season, Newsome may be faced with a difficult decision on Forsett, who is a popular player in the locker room and has been one of the feel-good stories of the last couple seasons.

Depressing quarterback situation

I can’t bring myself to care about a quarterback controversy for a 4-8 football team, but some fans are already clamoring for Jimmy Clausen to play with Matt Schaub having thrown two interceptions returned for touchdowns in two starts.

Given the current state of the offensive line and how sore Schaub was after the Miami game, it would not be surprising to see Clausen get a look sooner rather than later. It’s also worth remembering that the Ravens worked out former Houston quarterback Ryan Mallett last week, and he could still be summoned at some point over the final month.

The organization would like to identify someone who can handle the backup job, especially with Flacco unlikely to be ready until training camp at the earliest next season. But is it really all that interesting to watch such a competition play out for a team that’s going nowhere in December?

I’d rather watch Flacco rehab his surgically-repaired left knee.

NFC Least

Over the years, some Baltimore fans have suggested how interesting it would be if the Ravens were to move to the NFC East to compete against geographic neighbors Washington and Philadelphia.

Imagine if the 4-8 Ravens could be just one game out in a hapless division currently sporting three 5-7 teams tied for first place.

My pick to win that awful division?

Just give it to the Arizona Cardinals for old times’ sake after they languished in the NFC East for years.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 05 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Identical records, but two teams seemingly going in opposite directions.

Standing at 4-7, the Ravens only have a microscopic chance of making the playoffs, but they’ve continued to fight under eighth-year head coach John Harbaugh, winning three of their last four games with a roster that’s been completely ravaged by injuries. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins have already fired their head coach and both coordinators this season and have lost four of their last five with all coming by multiple scores.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Miami meet for the 11th time in the all-time regular-season series with the teams currently tied 5-5. The Ravens are 3-4 at Sun Life Stadium — 5-4 counting the postseason — but they will try to win in Miami for the third straight year.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their third consecutive game …

1. Miami will attempt to commit to the run, but the Ravens won’t allow that to happen. After running the ball just nine times against the New York Jets last week, interim head coach Dan Campbell fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and new play-caller Zac Taylor vowed to get the ground game going. That will be easier said than done against a Ravens defense that ranks eighth against the run and has allowed just 3.7 yards per carry this season. Lamar Miller is a solid back, but Brandon Williams and his defensive line mates will swallow up the Dolphins’ ground attack, forcing them to throw the ball more that they would would like as the game progresses. Miami will only rush for 70 yards on the day.

2. Buck Allen and Terrance West will combine to rush for 130 yards. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has drawn criticism for his lack of commitment to running the ball, but there is no reason not to stay on the ground against the league’s 32nd-ranked rush defense. Matt Schaub showed against Cleveland that he can make some plays with his arm here and there, but you want to limit his opportunities to make game-changing mistakes, something the Ravens will do on Sunday. Allen and West combined to carry 19 times for 92 yards against the Browns, but they’ll receive more extensive opportunities in an effort to wear down the Miami front in the heat and potential rain.

3. Jarvis Landry will shine for the Dolphins, but DeVante Parker and Jordan Cameron will catch touchdown passes. In his second year out of LSU, Landry is Miami’s best offensive player and will give the Ravens fits with his ability to gain yards after the catch on his way to a 100-yard day. However, the Dolphins will be without starting receiver Rishard Matthews and will need more from Parker, who has just eight catches in nine games after being selected 14th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. The rookie will shake free for a score. Though Cameron has disappointed with his new team, the Ravens have struggled against tight ends this season and he’ll catch a touchdown inside the red zone.

4. Elvis Dumervil will collect two sacks to once again torment Ryan Tannehill. The Baltimore defense has collected a combined 12 sacks in the last two trips to Miami, and the Dolphins will be without right tackle Ja’Wuan James on Sunday. Dumervil’s six sacks in 2015 don’t tell the story of how well he’s played needing to step into a full-time role with Terrell Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the opener. Instead of matching Dumervil against left tackle Branden Albert all day, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will pick his spots to line up the 31-year-old pass rusher on the opposite side against Jason Fox. He’ll take advantage by picking up two sacks and pressuring Tannehill all day.

5. The Ravens will show they have more under the hood than Miami in a 26-17 win. The Dolphins have more talent than this current version of Harbaugh’s team, but they have mailed it in too many times in a disappointing season, something you can’t say about the Ravens with all 11 of their games decided by one score. One factor to remember is that Baltimore is on the road again after a Monday night road game, making a slow start a distinct possibility. For the first time all season, the Ravens will play a game decided by more than one score and will come out on the winning end, which will say even more about the Dolphins’ ineptitude than Baltimore’s intestinal fortitude.

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Youth comes up big for Ravens in thrilling victory

Posted on 01 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Monday will go down as one of the most thrilling finishes in the 20-year history of the Ravens as well as in the annals of Monday Night Football.

But as Crash Davis from “Bull Durham” would remind you, “The moment’s over.”

If you’re trying to focus on the long haul, what can the 4-7 Ravens really take away from Monday’s win that worsened their 2016 draft position?

Though all players and coaches continue to fight admirably with all 11 of Baltimore’s games being decided by a single possession in 2015, the performances of five players under the age of 25 might bring the most hope from Monday’s win as it relates to the Ravens’ goal of returning to a championship level.

Below is a look at each in no particular order of significance:

WR/RS Kaelin Clay
Age: 23
Impact: Prior to Monday, the rookie from Utah was best known for a major gaffe against Oregon last season, but the sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced his presence with authority by returning the Browns’ first punt of the game 82 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Even better was the fact that Clay returned three other punts and two kickoffs without putting the ball on the ground, a factor that’s been a concern for Baltimore returners this season. Clay played only one offensive snap, so it remains to be seen what he can offer as a receiver, but his big return energized the Ravens early.

DE Brent Urban
Age: 24
Impact: After missing the first 26 regular-season games of his NFL career due to injuries, the 6-foot-7 Urban made a major impact in blocking Travis Coons’ 51-yard field goal attempt, which allowed safety Will Hill to return the ball 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining. The 2014 fourth-round pick also made two tackles in his 11 defensive snaps and offered a glimpse of why the Ravens elected to use their designation to return on him after he tore his biceps early in training camp. He will be one of the most intriguing young players to watch over the final five weeks of the season.

RB Terrance West
Age: 24
Impact: We all know the local kid’s story and the baggage he already carries in only his second NFL season, but the 225-pound back showed good vision against his old team, rushing for 37 yards on seven carries in his Ravens debut. With Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro both out for the season, West will have every opportunity to make an impact for an offense lacking established weapons. It will be up to him to show the maturity and work ethic that will warrant more carries in the coming weeks, but the former Towson star made valuable contributions for his hometown team in Week 12.

DT Timmy Jernigan
Age: 23
Impact: After beginning the season in John Harbaugh’s doghouse due to a foolish roughing the passer penalty in Oakland, the 2014 second-round pick has quietly picked up his play over the last seven games, registering three sacks and eight quarterback hits. In 42 defensive snaps against Cleveland, Jernigan finished with three tackles, a half-sack, and three quarterback hits to wreak havoc in the pocket along with veterans Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty. Jernigan’s sack total doesn’t stand out, but he ranks second behind Dumervil with 10 quarterback hits and has been the Ravens’ best interior rusher.

RB Buck Allen
Age: 24
Impact: It helped facing the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense, but the 2015 fourth-round pick continued to impress in his first start, carrying 12 times for 55 yards and catching four passes for 29 yards that included a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It remains to be seen whether the 220-pound Allen can consistently thrive running between the tackles, but his receiving ability out of the backfield is as dynamic as anyone the Ravens have used since Ray Rice at his best. After facing questions at running back for a few years now, the Ravens would love to see Allen show No. 1 back production.

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Forsett expected to be ready for offseason workouts

Posted on 23 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Overshadowed by the season-ending knee injury suffered by Joe Flacco, Ravens running back Justin Forsett underwent surgery to repair a broken right forearm on Monday.

The 30-year-old suffered fractures to the radius and ulna in the first quarter of Sunday’s 16-13 win over St. Louis, but head coach John Harbaugh doesn’t expect the injury to be a major disruption to Forsett’s preparations for the 2016 season.

“My assumption is that bones heal pretty quickly, so I’m sure he’ll be back in the offseason lifting weights and training,” Harbaugh said. “I would expect Justin back next year full-speed, ready to go. He’s under contract and a big part of what we’re doing going forward.”

Signed through the 2017 season, Forsett is scheduled to make a $3 million base salary and carry a $3.7 million cap figure next season. A reserve journeyman when he was signed by the Ravens, Forsett rushed for a career-high 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season.

In Forsett’s absence, rookie Buck Allen is expected to assume the starting role for the remainder of the season. The fourth-round pick from USC ran for 67 yards on 22 carries and caught five passes for 48 yards against the Rams on Sunday.

Another interesting option in the backfield will be second-year running back and former Towson standout Terrance West, who was initially signed to the practice squad and elevated to the 53-man roster last week. The 2014 third-round pick wore out his welcome in both Cleveland and Tennessee earlier this year, but his decorated career at the FCS level makes him a viable back to evaluate over the final six games of 2015 if he’s willing to put in the work.

“He’ll definitely get an opportunity,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see as far as activation and depth charts and things like that as we go throughout the course of the week. But he’s practiced well for us since he has been here and is learning the offense. He doesn’t have it all probably 100 percent down right now, but he’s working hard at it. We’ve been impressed with what we’ve seen so far.”

Receiver shuffling

As all attention now falls on the new man who will be delivering the football, the Ravens again shuffled the deck at the wide receiver position  by promoting Chuck Jacobs from the practice squad and waiving veteran Joe Morgan on Monday.

“He has been practicing with us and done a really nice job, so we’re excited to add him,” said Harbaugh about Jacobs, who played for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. “We let Joe Morgan go to make room on the [roster]. Joe did a good job for us. It just wasn’t working in the plans there for us fit-wise.”

Baltimore also signed Seattle wide receiver Chris Matthews to the practice squad. The 6-foot-5 target has just four career regular-season catches, but he made a name for himself with four receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX.

Koch short-lived backup

The Ravens were working on signing another quarterback on Monday to back up new starter Matt Schaub, which means punter Sam Koch’s time as the primary backup won’t last long.

When asked if Koch had received any reps as Baltimore’s emergency No. 3 quarterback this season, Harbaugh laughed and insisted he had not. Before the veteran punter, ex-Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin served as the emergency signal-caller from 2010-2012, but he began his college career at Florida State as a quarterback.

“I guess it’s by default like they have the line and everybody steps back,” Harbaugh said. “And Sam was still standing there. That’s how Anquan got it. Anquan actually played in college at least, but Sam can throw.”

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