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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-23 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping their first road game of the season in a 34-23 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Third down was the defense’s demise in the first half as each of the Bengals’ four touchdown drives included a breakdown that kept Baltimore from getting off the field. Third-down penalties from Tony Jefferson and Terrell Suggs negated stops that would have led to likely field goals on two drives.

2. The Ravens defense found its footing in the second half, but no sacks and no takeaways will rarely add up to erasing a 21-point deficit. You wonder how the game might have turned out had Eric Weddle’s second foot been in on Andy Dalton’s end-zone throw on Cincinnati’s second drive.

3. Joe Flacco’s accuracy problems were more reminiscent of the last few seasons that the sharper quarterback observed throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Even several of his completions were delivered in ways that hindered receivers from picking up additional yardage.

4. Flacco wasn’t helped by an offensive line that played poorly for most of the night as even Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley had difficulties against the Bengals front. This group had no answers for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

5. Putting two blockers on Atkins makes sense, but Yanda and James Hurst double-teaming backup defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and tight end Nick Boyle being left alone to block Dunlap on Flacco’s third-quarter interception was as baffling as it gets. Dunlap hit Flacco’s arm to force the errant throw.

6. Too much is made of run-pass ratios and the Ravens were always going to go into a heavier pass mode after falling behind big, but Marty Mornhinweg still needs to get Alex Collins more than four touches in the second half. Buck Allen shouldn’t be matching Collins in snaps either.

7. Matt Judon’s roughing the passer foul in the first half fell into the category of needing to be smarter than that in today’s quarterback-sensitive NFL, but the holding call on Tavon Young on a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter was nothing short of awful. Touching a receiver isn’t a hold.

8. Considering the overall lack of pressure generated against the Bengals, I’d like to have seen Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser get more playing time than their combined 19 defensive snaps, especially after both played well in Week 1. Just like with Lamar Jackson, there’s an endgame to consider as well.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged considering kicking a field goal on the last drive to make it a one-score game, but not doing so was confusing as Flacco continued throwing underneath. No, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, but if that’s your argument, just kneel the ball a few times and go home.

10. Flacco throwing a one-yard pass to Allen on fourth-and-2 midway through the third quarter was an all-too-familiar occurrence. The play call itself was questionable enough, but the throw wasn’t even out in front of Allen to guide him to the mark.

11. That aside, I’m amazed by how many always oppose going for fourth downs or two-point tries in any situation that isn’t overwhelmingly obvious. Punting on short fields, forgoing two-pointers in logical situations, and kicking field goals inside the 5 are examples of playing not to lose rather than to win.

12. After crushing the mustard-colored pants worn for one game in 2015, I really liked the new purple pants with the white jerseys. Now just add similar side stripes to the black pants that look too much like tights. Let’s also see those purple pants with the black jerseys.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 47-3 win over Buffalo

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the season with an emphatic 47-3 win over Buffalo, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the first time in franchise history a Baltimore defense did not surrender a first down in the first half. The Bills had 33 yards compared to the Ravens’ 26 points at intermission. J. Peterman would have had a better chance than Nathan Peterman, who was awful.

2. Wink Martindale added some defensive wrinkles, including swapping out a linebacker for an extra defensive lineman in some nickel looks. My favorite was Za’Darius Smith’s quarterback sack when he also sent Terrell Suggs, Tim Williams, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, and C.J. Mosley after rookie Josh Allen. Yes, six linebackers.

3. Marlon Humphrey was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Ravens player as he finished with four pass breakups and two tackles. He’ll have bigger challenges over the next few weeks, but the 2017 first-round pick was excellent against the Bills.

4. How many people looking out their windows Sunday morning would have predicted Joe Flacco throwing 32 passes in the first half? He had no issues throwing a wet football and was Baltimore’s highest-graded offensive player, according to PFF.

5. It’s easy to forget how the offense sputtered in the second quarter as the Ravens gained only eight yards on 15 plays before the final touchdown drive when Michael Crabtree caught the 12-yard score. A pretty throw and even prettier footwork. That was an example of why they signed him.

6. Tavon Young wouldn’t have been my guess to exploit a porous Buffalo line, but he became the first Baltimore defensive back since Bennie Thompson in 1996 to collect two sacks in a game and was strong against the run. Martindale calls the 5-foot-9 nickel a “pit bull” for good reason.

7. Not much was made of Alex Collins receiving only three preseason carries, but he found little room and lost a fumble. You do wonder if a few more live-game touches would have been beneficial for a player who’s had some past fumbling concerns. Of course, suspect blocking wasn’t his fault.

8. Janarion Grant offered good and bad with a 51-yard punt return and a fumble that fortunately rolled out of bounds in the first half. It’s easy to blame the rain, but Grant appeared to take his eyes off the ball with a defender bearing down. That can’t happen.

9. None had a negative impact, but the Ravens didn’t get much of a return on the five offensive snaps Lamar Jackson played before then relieving Joe Flacco in the second half. It’s something for which opponents must prepare, but you sometimes worry about upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense.

10. Mark Andrews didn’t stand out often over the summer, but the Ravens have to be pleased with his three catches for 31 yards in the first half. PFF gave him the second-best grade among offensive players.

11. Being able to rest key veterans in the second half bodes well for a quick turnaround at Cincinnati on Thursday, but young players receiving extensive regular-season action could pay off down the line. Inside linebacker Kenny Young and cornerback Anthony Averett stood out in particular.

12. At an ordinary 218 pounds, Buck Allen doesn’t look the part of a short-yardage back, but he has a knack for getting to the desired mark. He lined up as the fullback on his 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter and showed off a respectable Ray Lewis dance to boot.

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His future with Ravens unresolved, Mosley keeping focus on field

Posted on 05 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The list of goals taped to the locker of Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is there for everyone to see.

Lead league in tackles.

Lead linebackers in interceptions.

First-team All-Pro.

Pro Bowl.

Defensive MVP.

Super Bowl MVP.

Ambitious, for sure, but we’re talking about someone who was named to three Pro Bowls and voted a second-team All-Pro linebacker three times by age 25. He finished second among NFL linebackers in interceptions two years ago and tied for third in the league in solo tackles last season. This spring, he took the advice of new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale — his former linebackers coach — to remind himself of what he wants to accomplish in 2018.

“I’ve always had my goals, but putting them up so I can see them, that’s kind of a new step for me,” said Mosley, who also keeps the list on his phone since he quips that he’s always on it. “It’s just something to look at every day when I’m kind of tired and just gives me a little motivation to keep going, keep pushing.”

Mosley has reason to be motivated beyond on-field accolades or helping the Ravens return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The former first-round pick is entering the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him $8.718 million in 2018.

Many expected a long-term extension to be high on the Ravens’ offseason agenda with fellow defensive leaders Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle now entering their 16th and 12th seasons, respectively, but a deal hasn’t yet come to fruition. Mosley has repeatedly said he wants to remain a Raven and go down as the second-best inside linebacker in franchise history behind the recently-enshrined Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who just happened to reach every goal on Mosley’s list over the course of his 17-year career.

As Martindale revamped the defensive system this offseason to put more responsibility on his veteran leaders to make calls on the fly, Mosley faithfully attended voluntary workouts while others around the league with similar contract situations stayed away from their teams in the spring and even into the summer in some cases. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker says his focus remains on the field as begins his fifth season against Buffalo on Sunday.

“Right now, I’ve got my last year to play out,” Mosley said. “I guess maybe further down the road, it might become more of an issue – maybe not, I don’t know. Like I’ve said before, those are the types of things that I let my agent (Jimmy Sexton) and them work [on] upstairs. I’ll talk to my agent and we’re trying to get somewhere with it, so that’s about all I can tell you right now.”

Despite that last hint of optimism, there has been no progress towards a deal. It remains unclear how much Mosley is asking for or how much the Ravens are willing to pay, but his impressive resume would lead one to believe his representation seeks a contract north of the five-year, $62 million extension signed by Carolina’s Luke Kuechly three years ago that included $27 million guaranteed. The record-setting deals recently signed by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack emphatically set new standards at their positions, another factor to consider as Mosley — or any other standout defensive player — moves closer to free agency.

Even with his impressive accomplishments over his first four seasons, opinions vary in some circles as to how great Mosley truly is. The quality of his pass coverage has come under scrutiny as Pro Football Focus noted his problems last season, but the website still graded him 11th among linebackers in that category, perhaps a reflection of the scarcity of quality three-down linebackers in today’s game. It’s also worth noting Mosley dealt with a nagging ankle injury over the second half of last season when his difficulties covering tight ends were more pronounced.

Following in the footsteps of one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, Mosley has been held to Lewis’ impossible standard by some — consciously or not — despite his efforts to assume the mantle. Though clearly less demonstrative than the theatrical Lewis, Mosley gets his point across in his own way, according to teammates and coaches.

His stabilizing presence makes it easy to forget he was actually the Ravens’ second attempt at picking Lewis’ long-term successor after 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown — a player general manager Ozzie Newsome traded up to draft — was a disappointment. Selected with the 17th overall pick in 2014, Mosley was an immediate starter and became the first Ravens rookie to ever make the Pro Bowl.

“I feel like C.J. can go as high as he wants to go and be whoever he wants to be,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “He’s got that much talent. He’s got that much leadership ability, and I’ll follow him anywhere. I think C.J. can be, is, [and] will be forever a premier linebacker in this league.”

Of course, Mosley playing out the final year of his contract wouldn’t mean he’s destined to depart next offseason. Williams briefly hit the free-agent market last year before the Ravens made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league with a five-year, $52.5 million deal. Baltimore has used the franchise tag to retain the rights of former Pro Bowl defensive players such as cornerback Chris McAlister, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the $14.961 million cost to tag a linebacker — inside or outside — in 2018 will likely climb next year.

Perhaps the wait-and-see approach with Mosley is indicative of the Ravens’ overall transition. Newsome will step down after 2018, leaving successor Eric DeCosta to consider the futures of several key figures, ranging from Suggs to even head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.

Only 26, Mosley would seemingly be a pillar for the next era of Ravens football, especially if he can check off a few more items from the list on his locker.

“C.J. is one of the premier players in this league,” said Suggs, who is also in the final year of his contract as he begins his 16th season in Baltimore. “Like I’ve said before, not everybody can come through these doors and be considered a Raven for life. So far, I think his resume shows that, and I think he’s one of those rare guys that’s going to be a lifer here.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following fourth preseason win over Miami

Posted on 26 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens continuing their undefeated streak in a 27-10 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A Ravens defense playing without Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Brandon Carr, and Willie Henry held the Dolphins starters to a total of two yards in the first quarter. You can debate where the high-end talent ranks compared to other teams, but this defense is extremely deep.

2. Lamar Jackson had his best preseason performance, running for a touchdown and throwing for another. I was most impressed by his 33-yard completion to Tim White, a play in which he scrambled left and easily could have taken off. Seeing him keep his eyes down the field was a positive.

3. Between Jackson’s improved play and a new list of health concerns entering the season, Robert Griffin III can’t be liking his roster chances as much as he did a week ago. Whether it’s with the Ravens or elsewhere, the former first-round pick has proven he belongs on an NFL roster.

4. Tony Jefferson made his preseason debut, seeing 19 defensive snaps and making four tackles. After an underwhelming first season in Baltimore, Jefferson had to be itching to get out there as Chuck Clark played solid football and the now-injured rookie DeShon Elliott showed promise for the future.

5. Sixth-round pick Bradley Bozeman starting at right guard suggests he may have surpassed Jermaine Eluemunor for a roster spot, but it was more interesting seeing him flip positions with starting center Matt Skura later in the first half. Center remains a real concern after the free-agent departure of Ryan Jensen.

6. Stanley Jean-Baptiste is doing everything he can for a roster spot in the aftermath of Jimmy Smith’s suspension as he intercepted a pass in a second straight game. He and rookie Anthony Averett have played very well, which you don’t expect from corners so low on the depth chart.

7. With Hayden Hurst out to start the season, fellow rookie Mark Andrews now has a better chance to contribute immediately. His initial response to that opportunity was a drop on a Griffin pass thrown slightly behind him and a false start on a first-and-goal from the Miami 1. Not good.

8. The weak-side inside linebacker competition is trending upward after good performances from both Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor. My guess is we’ll continue to see a rotation early in the season, but Young will be tough to keep off the field as he gains more experience.

9. Greg Senat started at left tackle and had a chance to solidify a roster spot with a decent showing, albeit against Pro Bowl defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Instead, the rookie struggled early and left with a foot injury, leaving his status in question. Stay healthy, Ronnie Stanley.

10. De’Lance Turner showed breakaway speed on his 65-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but the seal delivered by Nico Siragusa and perfect trap block from Randin Crecelius were refreshing to see after uninspiring play from the reserve interior line for most of the preseason.

11. It was good seeing Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant, and White show a pulse in the receiver and returner competitions after the Indianapolis debacle. I’m not convinced Grant or White is on the verge of “winning” the return job, but I still believe the Ravens like Lasley’s potential despite his struggles.

12. I agreed with the decision to rest key starters, but Joe Flacco has played 10.4 percent of the time a Ravens quarterback has lined up this preseason. Terrell Suggs has taken 23 snaps in four games. There has to be a better way without gouging fans for a bad product.

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Ravens rest key veterans as health concerns begin to grow

Posted on 26 August 2018 by Luke Jones

Even on a night when quarterback Joe Flacco and several other key veterans were held out, the Ravens are suddenly managing a growing list of health concerns following the 27-10 preseason win over Miami.

It was only last week that Baltimore was flirting with the proverbial perfect game as no player had suffered a long-term injury in the month since training camp had opened, a stark contrast from last year when the Ravens lost multiple players to season-ending injuries long before the season even began. However, that run of good fortune came to a screeching halt with the announcement of cornerback Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and the news that 2018 first-round tight end Hayden Hurst would miss multiple weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, a substantial blow to each side of the ball to start the season.

After Saturday’s game, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the Hurst injury and reported timetable of three to four weeks for his return and then revealed projected starting defensive tackle Willie Henry would also miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery for an umbilical hernia. It’s a tough break for a player from which many are predicting a breakout season, but the defensive line is one of the Ravens’ deepest position groups on either side of the ball. Henry’s absence could prompt defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to revert to last year’s base upfront alignment that featured Michael Pierce at the nose tackle spot with Brandon Williams as the 3-technique defensive tackle. Williams had been playing the nose this summer with Henry at the 3-technique on the starting defensive line and Pierce in a reserve role.

“It’s not really football related, but maybe it had been there and it just opened up on him a little bit,” said Harbaugh of Henry’s hernia. “He had surgery for that, so he’ll be [sidelined] a few weeks.”

The news was much worse for rookie safety DeShon Elliott as Harbaugh said it “looks like” he fractured his forearm in the second half of Saturday’s win over the Dolphins. It’s unclear whether the sixth-round pick from Texas will miss the entire season, but he will almost certainly be placed on injured reserve with the possibility of being designated to return later in the year. The short-term silver lining would be not having to carry a fifth safety on the 53-man roster, but the Ravens had been impressed with Elliott’s physicality and nose for the football despite his inexperience and current place on the depth chart.

Fellow sixth-round rookie Greg Senat also left Saturday’s game with a foot injury after making the start at left tackle in place of the injured Ronnie Stanley. Senat missed the first two weeks of training camp with a foot injury, and he’ll be evaluated further on Sunday to determine how long he’ll be sidelined.

In addition to Flacco, wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead, tight end Nick Boyle, guard Marshal Yanda, linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle were held out for precautionary reasons. It was an unusual measure with this week of the preseason traditionally serving as the final tuneup for the opener, but Harbaugh provided sound reasoning that went beyond not wanting to play Flacco behind an offensive line missing three notable players.

“We’ve had so much good work in training camp,” Harbaugh said. “We were here a week early. We had the two joint practices. We had four great practices where our starters got lots of reps. And we had already played, going into this game, three preseason games. Even though those [veteran] guys didn’t play in the first game, they played significantly in the last two. We just felt like we had the work we needed.”

Flacco played only 31 snaps in the preseason, but he’s performed well in two games, completing 12 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 141.4. More importantly, he has practiced very well and remained healthy throughout the spring and summer, a quality the Ravens were very wise to preserve on Saturday.

In addition to the veterans who sat out, Stanley, offensive lineman James Hurst, cornerback Maurice Canady, safety Bennett Jackson, and linebacker Alvin Jones all missed the game for injury-related reasons. Stanley and Hurst are both expected to be ready to return well ahead of the Sept. 9 opener.

Another interesting absence from Saturday’s game was rookie wide receiver Jaleel Scott, who participated in practices this week and was not known to be dealing with an injury before sitting out. The fourth-round pick from New Mexico State has struggled this summer and played only three offensive snaps against Indianapolis last Monday, leading many to believe he could become the first fourth-round pick in Ravens history to be cut as a rookie.

Perhaps the Ravens have discovered an ailment that could conveniently land Scott on IR — and off the 53-man roster — or they’re attempting to hide him in hopes of passing him through waivers and re-signing him to the practice squad. Either way, Saturday was more evidence that the 6-foot-5 is unlikely to be on the active roster come Week 1.

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Ravens guard Yanda aiming for another chapter of greatness

Posted on 07 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Last season was supposed to be the continuation of Ravens veteran Marshal Yanda’s reign as the best guard in the NFL.

His six straight Pro Bowl selections had tied Ray Lewis for the third-longest streak in franchise history behind only Jonathan Ogden (11 straight from 1997-2007) and Ed Reed (seven in a row from 2006-12). That exclusive company began prompting some discussion about Yanda’s chances of joining that trio — and perhaps current teammate Terrell Suggs — in Canton one day, especially if he were to add a few more years of elite play to his impressive resume. The Hall of Fame is certainly rare territory for a guard, but momentum had been building as analytic sites like Pro Football Focus touted his excellence and Yanda was even profiled by a national website last summer.

Then, his 2017 season was over soon after it started when he fractured his left ankle in Week 2, an injury that required surgery to repair the damage. After battling through countless ailments to play all but five games in the previous eight seasons, Yanda would sit out the final 14 contests and the Ravens would miss the playoffs for the third straight year, in part because of an offensive line that struggled to gel without its best player in the first half of the season. The 2007 third-round pick has shown little interest in individual accolades over the years, but the thought of not being there for his team was difficult to take.

“It was a heart-breaking deal. I thought I was going to maybe miss some time but be able to find some way to fight through it and get back on the field,” Yanda said. “But to have the news that it was season-ending was really tough. It was really hard for me being away, but that’s part of football. You have to deal with it.”

The frustration didn’t end there as Yanda hurt his shoulder lifting weights just as he was winding down his ankle rehabilitation last December. Instead of risking further damage to his rotator cuff by trying to push through the injury, the 2007 third-round pick chose to have surgery early this offseason, a move that further delayed his return to the practice field.

There was no doubt that Yanda would return to action in 2018, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll regain his elite playing status as he turns 34 next month and comes off his third shoulder surgery — each arm has been worked on — in the last five years. Of course, he need look no further for inspiration than Suggs, who has recorded a total of 19 sacks in two seasons since suffering the second torn Achilles tendon of his career in 2015. At the time of that injury, many thought a 33-year-old Suggs might be all but finished, but he’s only strengthened his case for an eventual place in the Hall of Fame.

It isn’t difficult envisioning the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman following a similar script to put himself in the conversation at the very least.

Yanda swats away any mention of him eventually being worthy of such a historic honor, but he has every intention of again being the leader and linchpin of the Baltimore offensive line after returning to the practice field this week for the first time in 11 months.

“You understand that guys can definitely come back from [injuries], and even though they’re older players, they can still be productive,” Yanda said. “They can still do everything they want to do, so I’ve just attacked [rehab] every single day. I feel like, as you get older as a player, this game means more to you every single year that you play.

“I obviously understand that it’s a young man’s game, but I’m going to be fighting every single day to be ready to roll and to be productive.”

Whether it was returning from emergency leg surgery in days to help the Ravens clinch a division title in 2011 or switching from right guard to left guard because of a serious shoulder injury and still making the Pro Bowl in 2016, Yanda has proven time and time again not to doubt him. His place among the top 10 players in franchise history is cemented, but his toughness is second to none in the 22-year history of the franchise.

How much longer Yanda will play remains to be seen as his current contract runs through the end of next season. With more than a decade in the NFL under his belt, the Iowa native is taking a year-by-year approach to his career.

“Me not playing pretty much at all last year, there was no question I definitely wanted to play this fall and get after it and be a part of it,” Yanda said. “You reassess and reevaluate. I’ll take my time after the season, but right now I’m focused on this year and doing my part.”

The Ravens are hoping it’s that same gigantic part as before.

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Ravens-Bears preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 01 August 2018 by Luke Jones

At a time when most teams are still settling into the training camp routine, the Ravens will kick off the NFL preseason schedule while celebrating the most iconic player in franchise history.

Baltimore will face the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night, the opening of induction weekend as Ray Lewis officially joins football immortality. This marks the first time the Ravens will be playing in the Canton, Ohio exhibition in their 23-year history.

“We’re excited. A really good couple weeks of practice, but it’s time to go play a game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s what you work for, a chance to play the game. It’s going to be a great opportunity for a lot of our players.”

It remains to be seen how many notable veteran players will take part as Harbaugh made it clear months ago that the likes of Joe Flacco, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs would not play in the extra preseason contest preceding the typical four-week schedule. In recent years, participating teams have typically held out most starters and some key backups in the Hall of Fame Game with young players on the 90-man preseason roster receiving most of the playing time.

The message is clear for young players competing for a starting role or simply trying to be noticed in their quest to earn a spot on the 53-man roster or 10-man practice squad.

“Keep it simple, pay attention to what’s important, and that’s going to be knowing your assignment and playing hard,” Harbaugh said. “If you’re on defense, run to the football. If you’re on offense, make the catch, finish the play. Keep it simple, play football, and let the chips fly.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Chicago will meet in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other meeting in 1998. However, the Bears won a 27-24 overtime contest at M&T Bank Stadium last October and lead the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

Baltimore has a 28-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and has won eight straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the extensive list of veteran players and starters expected to be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps), TE Mark Andrews, OL Greg Senat
DOUBTFUL: RB Kenneth Dixon
QUESTIONABLE: LB Tyus Bowser, S Tony Jefferson, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson, TE Hayden Hurst, G Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), CB Maurice Canady (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Lamar Jackson

Who else would top the list? It remains to be seen whether Jackson or Robert Griffin III will get the start, but all eyes will be watching how effectively the first-round rookie commands the huddle and offense in general. Quarterbacks coach James Urban wants Jackson to simply “compete and complete” on Thursday, taking what throws the defense gives him and using his athletic ability if receivers are covered. Predictably, Jackson has been inconsistent this summer, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a highlight play or two, especially against reserves with little shot of making the Bears’ 53-man roster. Jackson’s presence alone makes this arguably the most anticipated preseason in team history.

LB Kamalei Correa

Many thought a move back to outside linebacker might finally allow Correa to reach his full potential as a former second-round pick, but he’s had a quiet start to summer and is on the roster bubble. His best path to a roster spot continues to depend on special-teams play and serving in a versatile reserve role like Albert McClellan, but that’s not what Ozzie Newsome envisioned when drafting Correa in 2016.

WR Jordan Lasley

Lasley has been as advertised coming out of UCLA, flashing big-play ability and showing inconsistent hands. He’s an emotional player, which can serve as a strength or a detriment depending on the situation. Fortunately, the Ravens don’t need Lasley to step into an impact role immediately, but seeing him connect with Jackson a few times Thursday night will have fans daydreaming about the future.

LB Kenny Young

Defensive coordinator Don Martindale went out of his way to mention the 2018 fourth-round pick being in the thick of the competition with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor for the weak-side inside linebacker spot, a surprising development based on practice reps to that point. Since then, Young has seen some snaps with the starting defense, but making an impact in pass coverage would certainly help his cause.

RB Mark Thompson

With third-year running back Kenneth Dixon sidelined with what’s believed to be a hamstring issue, the Ravens will be taking an even closer look at their trio of undrafted rookie running backs: Thompson, Gus Edwards, and De’Lance Turner. Thompson’s 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame immediately stands out, but the Florida product has shown some ability as a receiver out of the backfield to go with his physicality.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first week of training camp

Posted on 26 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the first full week of training camp in the books and the Hall of Fame Game right around the corner, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Brown had a fine spring and flashed from time to time, but Thursday was the first time he consistently wowed observers with several big plays shown below. The talent he showed in a 1,000-yard season in Arizona three years ago is still there if he can just stay healthy.

2. Marlon Humphrey was victimized by Brown on a few occasions and didn’t have a good practice, but it’s evident he’s in line to start over Brandon Carr based with the way first-team reps have been distributed so far in camp. The 22-year-old is too talented to keep off the field.

3. Joe Flacco has carried a strong spring into the summer, showing improved footwork and more accuracy than he has in a long time. I have covered every training camp since 2009 and don’t recall the strong-armed quarterback ever showing so much touch on deep throws in particular.

4. The Ravens aren’t broadcasting how they’ve tweaked their defensive system, but the best way to describe it is how customized it is at every level. Rather than bunching certain fronts, blitzes, and coverages together in a standardized way, every option at every level could be in play. Sounds less predicable.

5. The Tim White hype borders on being out of control based on such a small sample size, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver and return man shows good hands and is very smooth in his movements. I’m looking forward to watching him play in the preseason.

6. No Raven has transformed his body more than Willie Henry, who is listed 17 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. He’s added muscle and should provide more of a pass-rush threat for the base front, allowing Brandon Williams to play more at nose tackle in the process.

7. Orlando Brown Jr. is still developing and needs to improve his technique, but he’s handled the conditioning aspect of camp well for someone who faced questions about his weight in high school and college. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him raise his performance in a live-game setting.

8. Martindale mentioned Kenny Young as being in competition with Patrick Onwuasor for the starting weak-side inside linebacker job, which was surprising since he was responding to a question that made no mention of the rookie. Young hasn’t necessarily stood out, but this competition is one to watch.

9. The health of the rookie tight ends has been an early topic of discussion, but Hayden Hurst shows soft hands and an ability to make plays over the middle when he’s on the field. So many missed practices aren’t helping Mark Andrews’ chances for early playing time.

10. I’m rooting for Nico Siragusa to make a full recovery from the serious knee injury he sustained last summer, but it’s apparent he’s still knocking off rust and isn’t moving around particularly well. He’s taking a few more reps lately, but I’m interested to see how the team handles him.

11. Kenneth Dixon drew praise from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg during a kickoff drill Thursday before walking gingerly to the locker room with a member of the training staff a few minutes later. It had been the most explosive he’d looked over the first week of camp.

12. With Ray Lewis officially being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week, Ed Reed deserving to follow next year, and Terrell Suggs still in the process of putting an exclamation point on his strong case, Ravens fans might as well become quite familiar with Canton, Ohio.

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harbaugh

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With Ravens rookie tight ends sidelined, Harbaugh takes dig at college practice

Posted on 23 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A simple question about the absence of Ravens rookie tight end Hayden Hurst from recent practices prompted a spirited commentary from John Harbaugh on Monday.

The 11th-year head coach spoke about the scaled-back nature of collegiate practices in recent years and how they might negatively impact players’ transition to the NFL. Hurst hasn’t practiced since Thursday while dealing with a “soft-tissue” injury while fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews has battled a hamstring issue since the end of spring and missed his second practice of training camp on Monday.

“Guys coming out of college aren’t as callused up as they used to be,” Harbaugh said. “We used to practice twice a day in full pads [in college]. … It’s not even close to the same thing. There’s a certain type of ‘in shape,’ certain type of football fitness, certain type of callousness — muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments that kind of toughen up. They callus up a little bit, and you can practice all day and run all day.

“Our guys coming in right now, most of them don’t have that. So, [they] practice for half a practice, and all of a sudden things start tweaking on them.”

Harbaugh cited veteran tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams taking extra reps in the rookies’ absence and not missing a beat since they’re “callused up” and “know how to practice” at this level. The head coach went out of his way to make sure his comments weren’t viewed as a direct shot at Hurst or Andrews, but it was an interesting rant less than a full week into summer workouts.

The Ravens are expecting big things from Hurst in particular this season as the first-round pick has received extensive reps with the starting offense for much of the spring and summer. Boyle and Maxx Williams combined for just 43 catches for 289 yards and one touchdown last year, leaving a clear need for Hurst — and perhaps Andrews — to contribute immediately.

“It’s a big effect. You have to be out here practicing,” said Harbaugh of Hurst. “You can’t be in the training room and expect to be your best. It’s not his fault; it’s nobody’s fault. He’s in there doing everything he can to get back, but it’s part of the deal.”

On the positive side, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive end Brent Urban, and inside linebacker Kenny Young returned to the practice field after missing Sunday’s session.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and Maurice Canady (knee) were given the day off, according to Harbaugh. Offensive lineman Greg Senat and cornerback Bennett Jackson remained sidelined along with the four players on the active physically unable to perform list: guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

The Ravens appeared to dodge a bullet when left guard Alex Lewis had his left ankle rolled into by another player late in Monday’s practice. He appeared to be in pain and was helped to the sideline, but the 2016 fourth-round pick returned to action and completed practice without incident.

Crabtree shines in red zone

Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s ability to make plays in the red zone was a major draw for the Ravens signing him after he caught a combined 25 touchdowns in his three seasons with Oakland.

That skill was on display Monday during a 7-on-7 red-zone drill as the 30-year-old made a great adjustment on a back-shoulder throw from quarterback Joe Flacco that was off the mark. They simply didn’t have a pass-catching target last year to turn that kind of an errant throw into a touchdown catch.

“It looks like it’s a bad pass, but for Crabtree, that’s a good pass to him,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said last week. “Joe can throw the ball, I feel like, a little more accurately with a guy like [him].”

Threat to Tucker?

Rookie Kaare Vedvik certainly isn’t pushing for two-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker’s job, but that hasn’t stopped the Marshall product from impressing as he booted a 67-yard field goal on Monday

“He had a little wind at his back,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “But he just kicks them straight. He’s a very talented guy. I’m expecting he either beats Tucker out or someone trades us a draft pick for him. What do you think? Which one do you think it could be?”

A strong summer could put Vedvik on the radar in the same way Wil Lutz did two years ago when he was signed by New Orleans after kicking for Baltimore in the 2016 preseason.

Odds & ends

It remains unclear whether the Ravens will reschedule Saturday’s free and open practice at M&T Bank Stadium that was canceled due to heavy rain. “I know they’re looking hard to find a day,” Harbaugh said. “As far as players and coaches, we’re great. We like being over there. Hey, send us down. We’ll go do it. It’s just right now, I don’t know if we can find a day or not. If we can, we’ll load the buses up and head down.” … Terrell Suggs said Friday was the first time he’d ever been caught stealing Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart on the way out to the practice field, a regular prank pulled by the 16th-year outside linebacker. Upon realizing the owner was sitting nearby as he drove his way onto the practice field, Suggs made a quick U-turn and gave Bisciotti a ride. “I turned just like a kid with hands stuck in the cookie jar.” … Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi has received some reps at the rush outside linebacker position early in camp. The 2016 third-round pick from Brigham Young has played little in his first two NFL seasons and is on the roster bubble this summer.

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snead

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to start of training camp

Posted on 12 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning full-squad training camp workouts in less than a week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alex Collins was no fluke in 2017, but he hit the 20-carry mark in just two games and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry over the second half of last season. His slighter 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame still suggests a need for an impactful complementary back like Kenneth Dixon to emerge.

2. I believe Michael Crabtree offers the highest floor and John Brown the highest ceiling of the wide receiver newcomers, but Willie Snead is my sneaky choice to stand out the most. Joe Flacco has been at his best when he’s had reliable slot options like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

3. For those inclined to blame Flacco for all of the offense’s problems, Pro Football Focus recently noted the 2017 wide receiver group generated the lowest rate of positively-graded plays and the highest rate of negatively-graded plays in the league last year. Yuck.

4. Speaking of 2017, I’m interested to see how Mike Wallace fares in Philadelphia after somewhat rebooting his career in Baltimore. Many say Flacco doesn’t elevate the play of his receivers, but wouldn’t these guys go elsewhere and at least do as well? Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken, anyone?

5. Given the untapped youth and long-term questions at both inside and outside linebacker, John Harbaugh is showing great faith in new linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. Veterans Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley will be huge assets for the 31-year-old assistant, who was hired by the Ravens in 2014.

6. I’m curious to see who plays center on the first day of full-squad workouts next Thursday. Ryan Jensen topped the depth chart on the first day last year — even as John Urschel surprisingly retired — and never relinquished the spot. Will it be Matt Skura or Alex Lewis?

7. The Ravens ranked 24th in PFF’s preseason offensive line rankings. Whether you agree or not, the publication is spot on saying the group’s upside rests on Marshal Yanda. Is it realistic to expect him to be the same elite player coming off a major injury and being another year older?

8. I’m frequently asked about Lamar Jackson possibly starting over Flacco this year, but I only see it if the Ravens enter December with a 4-7 record and are out of the playoff race. Assuming Flacco and the offense haven’t played well under that scenario, Jackson playing would be a no-brainer.

9. I won’t hide from my criticism of the Ravens drafting a first-round quarterback this year, but that won’t temper my excitement to watch Jackson play this summer. I rarely look forward to “fake” football, but this is easily the most anticipated preseason for this organization in a long time.

10. It’s easy and fair to label Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, and Bronson Kaufusi as potential cuts, but the Ravens rarely give up on former early picks until they absolutely have to. The disappointing Terrence Cody was even re-signed for another year. Just keep that in mind.

11. Close to 2,000 fans being able to attend training camp daily will be a plus for an organization needing to reconnect more strongly with its fans. The fallout of leaving Westminster was always going to be felt more at a time when the Ravens weren’t winning as frequently.

12. I get the rationale and advantages of the new digital ticket system, but the collector in me is bummed to see traditional game tickets go away. Hopefully the complimentary programs will continue to be distributed for years to come to appease those still desiring a physical souvenir from the game.

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