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Ravens need youth movement for 2016 and beyond

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Your outlook on the Ravens this season likely depends on how you viewed a forgettable 2015 in which they finished 5-11.

If you point to more than 20 players suffering season-ending injuries — the most in the John Harbaugh era — and nine losses decided by one possession, a dramatic turnaround feels inevitable with any reasonable shift in luck.

Or, you remember the myriad of reasons that contributed to a 1-6 start long before the losses of Steve Smith, Joe Flacco, and Justin Forsett transformed a lost season into one more conveniently excused by injuries. From that perspective, those failures were less about bad fortune and more the culmination of a series of missteps over the previous few years.

No matter where your assessment of last season lies, the 2016 Ravens are relying on a slew of older players at key positions, which is a slippery slope. According to Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com, Baltimore had the sixth-oldest 53-man roster in the NFL on final cut-down day. That was before general manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed the 30-year-old Justin Forsett and added 33-year-old return specialist Devin Hester at the beginning of the week.

Fifteen players on the active roster are 30 or older. Of their 12 former Pro Bowl selections, only two — linebacker C.J. Mosley and kicker Justin Tucker — are currently in their 20s.

Their projected starting outside linebackers, wide receivers, safeties, and running back are all 30 or older. Experience is certainly valuable, but those are positions where you don’t want to be sparring too frequently with Father Time.

The Ravens have obvious exceptions to the rule — a few of them will eventually be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame — but this is largely a young man’s game.

And that brings us to the biggest key for the Ravens in 2016 and certainly beyond.

The youth movement needs to start now.

Seeing the likes of Smith and Terrell Suggs return from injuries to lead the Ravens back into postseason contention would be fun, but it would be in vain if several younger players don’t take significant steps forward. At 31, Flacco should have several more productive seasons ahead of him at quarterback, but this is an otherwise aging core of difference-makers, which was true even before pass rusher Elvis Dumervil suffered a setback from offseason foot surgery that will keep him sidelined for the start of the season.

It’s time for the next wave of great Ravens to emerge. In fact, it’s overdue, which is a significant reason why 2015 was such a disappointment.

Excluding players yet to take an NFL snap like rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who are the under-30 talents on this roster that other teams truly covet?

Brandon Williams might be the best run-stopping nose tackle in the league and Tucker is arguably the NFL’s top kicker, but who else?

Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith? Maybe in 2014, but not based on the way they performed a year ago.

Others have potential, but the Ravens thought the same about failed draft picks such as Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, and Terrence Brooks not long ago. The proof will be in the results on the field.

Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, or Kamalei Correa needs to become as a significant pass-rushing threat to complement Suggs and Dumervil. The defense will be even more dangerous if more than one can do it.

As their earliest first-round pick in 16 years, Stanley must make fans forget every left tackle the Ravens have had since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.

Perriman needs to stay healthy and show why he was the first receiver the organization drafted in the first round in a decade.

Jimmy Smith and Mosley have to look more like the players they were in 2014.

If others step up along the way, the Ravens will really be in business — not just for this season but for the future.

If young players fail to develop, they will once again be depending too heavily on aging talent trying to stay healthy enough to play at a high level for another year.

Baltimore can bounce back with the combination of veterans returning and young play-makers emerging.

But it’s difficult to imagine it happening to any meaningful degree without the latter.

The Ravens need their youth to take the baton and step to the forefront.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Detroit

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down the preseason with a 30-9 win over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Solid in his preseason debut, Joe Flacco got rid of the ball quickly, which did disrupt the timing on a few throws. Such a strategy was hardly surprising in his first game back from a major knee injury, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this going into the season.

2. In 10 plays, Terrell Suggs registered two tackles and the Baltimore defense just had a different look and feel with him on the field. I’m not sure if that says more about the 33-year-old linebacker or the rest of the defensive personnel at this point.

3. He may not be ready for an every-down role, but rookie Matt Judon reinforced why he’s deserving of being a situational pass rusher in sub packages. He did impressive work against starting right tackle Riley Reiff and collected a sack, five tackles, and a pass defense.

4. Considered a threat to win the starting job entering the summer, Buck Allen was the last of the Ravens’ top four running backs to receive action and ran for just 15 yards on eight carries. Averaging only 1.9 yards per carry this preseason, he hasn’t impressed running between the tackles.

5. Injuries at safety gave Terrence Brooks the chance to go the distance on Saturday, but he dropped an easy interception and missed a couple tackles leading to big gains. He still hasn’t been able to put it all together despite looking the part on paper.

6. We’re now three games into the preseason and there are no signs that rookie Ronnie Stanley can’t handle protecting Flacco’s blindside after he more than held his own against Pro Bowl defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. It wasn’t a sexy pick, but Stanley is already looking like a gem.

7. A year ago at this time, Carl Davis looked like the early star of the 2015 draft class, but he continues to have a quiet preseason and failed to register a statistic in 18 snaps. His performance is especially concerning after he hit the rookie wall last year.

8. With the season-ending injury to Benjamin Watson, the coaching staff has to be watching Darren Waller and wishing he hadn’t drawn himself a four-game suspension. Other than a drop that led to an interception in the preseason opener, he’s flashed appealing upside at his new position.

9. Remembering his special-teams prowess, I never thought Anthony Levine was in real danger of not making the roster, but he added an interception and a sack on Saturday to go along with his late-game heroics in Indianapolis. Seeing him work as a dime back will be interesting.

10. The Ravens were wise not to risk playing Lardarius Webb due to back tightness since he’s had his healthiest summer in a few years. If he’s right physically, his tackling ability cannot be overlooked at the safety position and the Ravens can move him around a bit.

11. You couldn’t ask for more from Jeremy Butler in his quest to earn a roster spot, but it was interesting to note that he only participated in two plays on special teams. If he’s going to be active on game days, he’ll need to be a part of those units.

12. It was hardly surprising, but seeing Haloti Ngata recognized in the second half of Saturday’s game was still a special moment. Despite an unceremonious departure after nine years in Baltimore, the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and future Ring of Honor member deserved a big ovation.

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Depth being tested for Ravens before season even begins

Posted on 28 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The returns of Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs and a 30-9 win over Detroit should have made Saturday a great night for the Ravens.

Instead, they were left with the familiar sting from the injury bug that bit them too many times in 2015.

Nothing really compares to the losses of a franchise quarterback and one of the top defensive players in franchise history — who both looked good in their first live-game action since last season — but injuries to veteran tight end Benjamin Watson and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon soiled what should have been a good feeling for the Ravens in the final real tuneup before the start of the 2016 season. Fortunately, the injuries come at positions where Baltimore has good depth, but you hate to lose play-making depth and potential before the season even kicks off, especially when coming off a 5-11 season in which there was a shortage of difference-makers on either side of the ball.

Watson suffered the more catastrophic injury as he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon on the first offensive play of the night, ending his first season with the Ravens before it even began. No one realistically expected him to duplicate his career season from a year ago in which he caught 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns, but the Ravens thought Watson would bring veteran leadership and dependability to the position after he had missed a total of four games in his last seven seasons.

“He’s been a great teammate and was really developing into a weapon for us,” said Flacco, who’s often leaned on tight ends in the passing game throughout his career. “I was really excited about getting to play with him this year. That’s going to be really tough on us.”

Without Watson, a once-deep tight end group looks more uncertain with Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta all having struggled to stay on the field to varying degrees and second-year options Darren Waller and Nick Boyle facing suspensions to begin the regular season. With Williams and Pitta currently sidelined, you wonder if converted wide receiver and former practice-squad member Daniel Brown will now find his way onto the 53-man roster to begin the year.

Fortunately, head coach John Harbaugh said Dixon’s left knee injury does not look “overly serious,” but that doesn’t mean the 2016 fourth-round pick won’t miss some valuable time. It certainly didn’t look good when ex-Raven and Detroit defensive tackle Haloti Ngata buckled Dixon’s left knee making a tackle at the 1-yard line late in the first half, but a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Sunday will hopefully confirm the optimism expressed by the Ravens after the game.

Terrance West has received much of the attention for his improvement this summer, but the rookie Dixon looks like the running back most capable of hitting a home run whenever he touches the ball, a trait the Ravens have consistently lacked in the backfield since Ray Rice was in his prime. Dixon was the first young back to see action behind veteran starter Justin Forsett on Saturday, gaining 41 yards on six carries and catching one pass for nine yards before leaving the game just before halftime.

Dixon leads all Ravens running backs with 107 yards on 22 carries in the preseason and has displayed a different level of explosiveness from West, Forsett, or Buck Allen and shows surprising physicality for a 5-foot-10, 212-pound back, making his injury all the more disappointing for a team needing to get off to a fast start in 2016.

“It hurts seeing him go down because he’s in our room every day,” said West, who also had a good night with 43 rushing yards on seven carries against the Lions. “Everybody wants to play, but at the same time we care about each other. To see him go down, it hurts all of us.”

To be clear, these injuries won’t ruin the season as there are other options at each position to help pick up the slack.

But on a night when the Ravens were celebrating the much-anticipated returns of Flacco and Suggs, things just got more difficult again.

And, deep down, Harbaugh probably couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.”

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Ravens lose veteran tight end Watson for season

Posted on 27 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same night the Ravens officially welcomed back Terrell Suggs from an Achilles tear suffered almost a year ago, they lost another veteran to the same injury.

Tight end Benjamin Watson sustained a torn right Achilles tendon on the first offensive play of Saturday’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions and will miss the rest of the season. The 35-year-old went down immediately as the passing play began and had to be helped off the field and to the locker room.

The Ravens lost both Suggs and wide receiver Steve Smith to Achilles injuries last season.

“It’s a horrible feeling,” said Suggs, who saw his first live-game action since tearing his left Achilles on Sept. 13, 2015. “When you work hard all offseason and you prepare to have a really good year, to lose it on an injury — especially an injury like that — it’s heartbreaking. But it’s not the end of the world, and you just start with the next day.”

Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract in March, Watson was expected to be Baltimore’s starting tight end after a career year with New Orleans in 2015. He has caught 434 passes for 4,963 yards and 38 touchdowns in his 13-year career.

Tight end was expected to be a position of strength for the Ravens this season, but veteran Dennis Pitta and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams have missed extensive time with injuries this preseason and Darren Waller and Nick Boyle are both suspended to begin the regular season. Watson’s injury moves third-year tight end Crockett Gillmore to the top of the current depth chart, but injuries have hampered him at various times in his brief career.

Converted wide receiver Daniel Brown will now become more of a player of interest with final cuts only a week away and Pitta and Williams missing Saturday’s game due to injury.

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Ravens-Lions preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 26 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Our longest look at Ravens starters in the preseason will be our only look at some in Saturday’s game against Detroit on Saturday night.

The much-awaited return of starting quarterback Joe Flacco will be the dominating story in the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, but head coach John Harbaugh would like to see a good showing from his starting units that likely will still be without the likes of Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Elvis Dumervil. For a team that did more minor tweaking than overhauling after a 5-11 season, many questions remains.

“Either we’re going to be good or we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “It’s what we do, not what we say. We can talk about it all we want. I have reasons for optimism, and I have reasons for pessimism. It’s just going to matter how well we coach, how well we play.

“You have to do your part. Your part is to get better. Your part is not to stay the same. If you stay the same, you’re getting worse. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. You never stay the same. Your goal has to be to come out here and get better, and it’s hard to do.”

Most starters are expected to play the entire first half before giving way to younger players and fringe veterans fighting for roster spots. It will be a good opportunity for Flacco to get his first live-game reps with veteran newcomers Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace, who have played very little in the preseason and have yet to register as much as a catch between them.

The Ravens will see a number of old friends across the field on Saturday night. Not only will five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata be making his return to M&T Bank Stadium, but fellow Super Bowl XLVII champions Anquan Boldin and Josh Bynes and former assistant coaches Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin will be on the opposing side.

Flacco was asked whether he’d ask the 345-pound Ngata before the game to take care of him should the two meet in the pocket during Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think so,” said the 31-year-old quarterback as he laughed. “It will be interesting to see him. I’m used to seeing him over there [on defense during practices], but it will be interesting seeing him in some other colors for sure.”

Saturday marks the fourth time that these teams have met in the preseason with the Ravens holding a 2-1 edge to go with their 3-1 advantage in all-time regular-season meetings. Baltimore has built a 22-12 record in preseason games during the Harbaugh era.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

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 consider any veteran players who could 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: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), S Matt Elam (knee), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (ankle), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed), G John Urschel (contusion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), DT Brandon Williams (undisclosed), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Maurice Canady (hamstring), TE Darren Waller (jaw), CB Jerraud Powers (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Saturday night

LB Matt Judon

With other edge defenders expected to be sidelined against the Lions, the rookie fifth-round pick has a great opportunity to etch out a role as a rotational pass rusher if he can build on what he’s done in the first two preseason games against tougher competition on Saturday. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have spoken highly of Judon’s combination of size and quickness, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against first-team blockers. The Ravens need someone to emerge as an impact pass rusher behind Suggs and Dumervil, and Judon has propelled himself into that conversation.

RB Buck Allen

The second-year back had a 19-yard touchdown reception in the preseason opener, but he’s carried the ball 10 times for only 20 yards and has no other receiving yards beyond that score. Allen has clear ability as a receiver out of the backfield, but you’d like to see him show more as a runner between the tackles after he averaged an unspectacular 3.8 yards per carry as a rookie. With Terrance West showing improvement as a rusher and rookie Kenneth Dixon looking like a potential change-of-pace back, the 2015 fourth-round pick is still waiting to make a statement of his own this summer.

CB Will Davis

While Shareece Wright and Jerraud Powers have struggled in the preseason, Davis is trending upward as he has looked healthier and quicker since struggling early in camp. The Ravens knew he had the ability to play on the outside, but he held up surprisingly well playing some slot cornerback against Indianapolis, which is something worth monitoring moving forward. The organization obviously thought enough of Davis to send a seventh-round pick to Miami last year, so it will be interesting to see if the 2013 third-round pick will climb the depth chart as he moves further away from knee surgery.

G Vlad Ducasse

The seventh-year veteran isn’t a lock to make the team, but the other options in the competition at left guard lack experience while he’s started 22 games over his career. His performance against the Colts wasn’t quite as stellar as it was against Carolina, but Ducasse figures to improve his chances with a strong showing against the Lions while third-year guard John Urschel is expected to be sidelined again. The Ravens don’t have great depth at tackle, but Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis have the ability to play outside, meaning a guard like Ducasse could receive the nod over a reserve tackle like De’Ondre Wesley.

CB Tavon Young

A hamstring injury sustained in the preseason opener slowed a fast start to his first training camp, but Young figures to have a chance to show what he can do at the nickel spot while veterans such as Powers and Kyle Arrington are likely to be sidelined against the Lions. Despite only being 5-foot-9, Young has shown a nose for the football and impressive confidence for a rookie cornerback. At the very least, the Ravens are looking for him to be a major contributor on kickoff and punt coverage units and potentially as a kick returner, which remains an unsettled position on this current roster.

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Za’Darius Smith, Steve Smith not expected to play for Ravens on Saturday

Posted on 25 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Quarterback Joe Flacco will make his much-anticipated return to the field against Detroit on Saturday, but the Ravens are expecting to be without several key figures for the “dress rehearsal” before the start of the 2016 season.

Veterans recently returning from injury such as wide receiver Steve Smith and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were never considered sure bets to play against Detroit, but second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was absent from Thursday’s walk-through with a sprained ankle.

“Za’Darius has a little ankle issue that he had yesterday in practice,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s not a major thing. I doubt he’ll play. There’s no sense putting him out there with a sprained ankle.”

Harbaugh said Suggs was “fine” despite not being present for Thursday’s light practice, but his absence leads one to believe his status could be in doubt for the third preseason game. The 33-year-old rush linebacker returned to the practice field on Aug. 15 after an 11-month absence due to a torn left Achilles tendon and expressed interest last week in getting some live-game reps in the preseason.

Dumervil and Steve Smith were both present for Thursday’s walk-through, but they only returned to the practice field in the last few days.

“He’s not playing in this game, at least that I know of,” said Harbaugh about the 37-year-old Smith, who tore his right Achilles tendon less than 10 months ago. “We’ll see. Maybe he’ll decide [he wants to play] tomorrow.”

The potential absences of Za’Darius Smith, Suggs, and Dumervil would open the door for rookie edge defender Matt Judon to receive action against Detroit’s first-team offense. Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees said this week that they’d like to evaluate the fifth-round pick against tougher competition after he collected two sacks and nine tackles over the first two preseason games against second- and third-team offenses.

Harbaugh wouldn’t officially rule out second-year receiver Breshad Perriman from Saturday’s game, but he’s all but guaranteed to sit out against Detroit after only returning to practice on Tuesday.

“We’ll see. It’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll let me know. We’ll meet on that this afternoon — docs and trainers — and see where he’s at with that. He hasn’t gone full speed in practice, as you know, but today’s not a full-speed practice for anybody, so we’ll just have to see.”

Others unlikely to play on Saturday after extended absences from practice include nose tackle Brandon Williams (undisclosed), guard John Urschel (contusion), tight ends Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed), cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Jerraud Powers (undisclosed), and safety Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed).

Players definitely out for Saturday’s game include running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), safety Matt Elam (knee), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle). Taliaferro remains on the physically unable to perform list while Elam and Kaufusi are candidates to be placed on injured reserve at the end of the summer.

Tight end Darren Waller (jaw) and cornerback Maurice Canady (hamstring) both returned to the field to participate in Thursday’s walk-through after exiting the second preseason game early with injuries.

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Ravens-Colts preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 19 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are moving closer to looking like a complete team.

Saturday’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts probably won’t reflect that, but both Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith returned to the practice field this week and are on track to be ready for the season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 11.

After resting a number of healthy veterans against Carolina, head coach John Harbaugh isn’t sharing his plans for playing time on Saturday night. In the past, Harbaugh had played most of his starters into the second quarter of the second preseason game, but the Ravens are merely following a league-wide trend of trying to keep veteran players out of harm’s way as much as possible while maximizing the opportunity to evaluate unknown commodities.

“You want to see the young guys play in game situations when the tackling is live,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged the artificial surface at Lucas Oil Stadium being one of many factors to consider in determining which veterans will play. “There’s not quite as much practice as there was before — certainly not even close to as much as it was way before. We practice really well, and we see a lot from our guys in practice. The game is a confirmation. Or, sometimes, guys that don’t practice as well play well in games. Sometimes guys practice great and don’t show up in games. That’s something you really need to know.”

Joe Flacco continues to practice every day while only experiencing mild soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee, but Harbaugh may rest his franchise quarterback for a second straight game and wait until next week’s “dress rehearsal” for his first preseason action. Such a timetable would be concerning if not for the fact that Flacco has yet to miss a single rep during training camp.

The 31-year-old hasn’t been in a live pocket since last November, but he sees no need to play extensively in the preseason ahead of his ninth NFL season.

“I’m not worried about it; I’ve played plenty of games,” Flacco said. “I think the biggest reason to get back out there is to get back in live action and see what it feels like again. But it doesn’t really take too long to do that, so whatever we do is going to be for a reason. Whatever happens, happens, and I’m going to be comfortable either way.”

Thursday marks the first time these AFC teams have met in the preseason, but Indianapolis holds an 8-3 edge in regular-season matchups and a 2-1 lead in the postseason. Baltimore has compiled a 21-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.

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 Saturday night’s game against Indianapolis.

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 consider any veteran players — like Flacco — who could 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: WR Steve Smith (Achilles), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), DE Bronson Kaufusi (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), WR Chris Matthews (soft tissue injury), CB Kyle Arrington (head), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G John Urschel (contusion), WR Chris Moore (foot), CB Tavon Young (hamstring), TE Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), WR Michael Campanaro (unspecified strains), CB Maurice Canady (undisclosed), TE Daniel Brown (undisclosed), CB Sheldon Price (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: QB Joe Flacco (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Justin Forsett

The performance of Terrance West, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon this summer certainly should have the attention of Forsett, who didn’t play in the preseason opener. I’m not buying any sentiment that the 30-year-old is in danger of being pushed off the roster, but he’ll certainly want to present himself well in what game action he sees between now and the start of the season. He’s still the best pass-blocking tailback on the roster and breaks more tackles than you’d expect with a 5-foot-8, 195-pound frame. The young backs might be closing the gap, but Forsett’s experience is still invaluable to the backfield.

CB Jimmy Smith

It was clear that the No. 1 cornerback wasn’t 100 percent last year coming off foot surgery, but the Ravens need much more from the man in which they invested a huge contract. Smith got off to a quiet start in camp after having the surgical screws removed from his right foot this spring, but he’s looked much better in recent practices. If the Baltimore defense is to return to a high level, the 28-year-old needs to be a Pro Bowl-caliber kind of cornerback as he looked to be before suffering the Lisfranc injury. Seeing him stack some quality live-game reps would be encouraging going into the regular season.

OT Ronnie Stanley

The rookie left tackle played 22 snaps and graded out well against Carolina despite having suffered a minor injury less than a week earlier. The Ravens just want to see him continue that in more extensive action against the Indianapolis front. The best compliment you can pay an offensive lineman is that you don’t notice him that much, a description that fits the first-round pick in his first training camp. The Ravens were impressed with his pedigree coming out of Notre Dame, and he’s done everything so far to make you think he can handle a very demanding position in his first NFL season.

LB Albert McClellan

Not many would have predicted McClellan to be atop the depth chart at the strong-side outside linebacker position, but the Ravens need a replacement for Courtney Upshaw and McClellan is more consistent setting the edge on run plays than second-year linebacker Za’Darius Smith at this point. It’s critical that someone — McClellan, Smith, or even rookie Kamalei Correa — emerges to handle the “Sam” spot in order to allow Elvis Dumervil to return to more of a situational role in 2016. A special-teams standout for a number of years, McClellan has more trust with the coaching staff than many would think.

WR Chris Moore

With Breshad Perriman’s status for the start of the regular season looking in doubt, more attention will fall on the rookie fourth-round pick to be a decent complement to veteran Mike Wallace in the vertical passing game. Moore was arguably the biggest star over the first couple days of camp before a foot injury sidelined him until this week. The Ravens have had other receivers in and out of practice, but Moore has received plenty of second-team reps as well as some work with the first team. It’s not a guarantee that Moore will play so soon after a two-week absence, but his explosiveness is worth watching.

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Suggs, Ravens defense dominate in Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Leaping high in the air to snatch a Joe Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage, Terrell Suggs returned the ball the other way before heaving it into a crowd of Ravens fans on Wednesday.

It was one of the highlight plays in all of training camp in what was only the third day of practice for the 33-year-old linebacker. In good shape and increasing his activity level from the first two days of limited work, Suggs looked a lot like the high-impact force he’s been for well over a decade in Baltimore.

“I saw Anthony Levine and said, ‘I guess he’s back,'” said head coach John Harbaugh about the impressive interception. “We heard him before that. It was good to see him make a play like that though.”

Suggs wasn’t the only one to shine on Wednesday as the defense dominated the offense in a fully-padded practice ahead of Saturday’s preseason contest in Indianapolis.

Third-year safety Terrence Brooks intercepted an overthrown Flacco pass during a seven-on-seven period of practice. Ryan Mallett was also victimized by the secondary as cornerback Jerraud Powers picked him off and later broke up another pass from the backup quarterback.

It’s likely no coincidence that the defense has picked up its intensity this week with Suggs back on the field for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon in Denver just over 11 months ago. Younger players also value his underrated mental preparation and the knowledge he shares when stepping on the field.

“He brings a special kind of energy with him,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “He’s definitely one of those guys that’s almost like having another coach on the field with you. When we’re out there together and he sees something, sometimes he’s telling me, ‘The play’s coming to you.’ Before the ball is snapped, it’s easier to make pre-snap reads and things like that with a guy like Suggs beside you.

“He hasn’t told me anything wrong in three years. Every time he has been beside me and said, ‘This is what is about to happen,’ it has happened.”

The Ravens are still dealing with a long list of absences just a few days before their second preseason contest, but Harbaugh confirmed that running back Justin Forsett, offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Jeremy Zuttah, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro were just given Wednesday’s practice off.

Tight ends Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams, and Daniel Brown, wide receiver Chris Matthews, guard John Urschel, defensive backs Kendrick Lewis, Kyle Arrington, Sheldon Price, and Sam Brown, and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi were all missing due to various ailments. Wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro remain on the physically unable to perform list and did not participate.

However, the Ravens confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Smith has passed his physical and will return to the practice field in the near future, putting him on track to be ready for the start of the season.

Rookie cornerback Tavon Young returned to practice after missing three days of practice with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason opener.

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Sixteen Ravens players remain sidelined for Tuesday’s practice

Posted on 16 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Moving closer to their second preseason game against Indianapolis on Saturday, the Ravens continue to be without an extensive list of players in practice.

Sixteen players were absent from the field on Tuesday morning, a list that included wide receiver Chris Matthews (soft tissue), tight ends Dennis Pitta (finger), Daniel Brown, and Maxx Williams, offensive linemen John Urschel and Rick Wagner, defensive backs Kendrick Lewis, Kyle Arrington (head), Sheldon Price, Sam Brown, and Tavon Young (hamstring), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle). Wide receivers Steve Smith (Achilles tendon) and Breshad Perriman (knee), linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) remain on the active physically unable to perform list.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, Urschel is dealing with a contusion and hasn’t participated in practice since starting at left guard in the preseason opener, but the injury is not a long-term concern. Wagner participated in Monday’s practice without incident, making it likely that he was receiving a veteran day off.

Veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs was present and participating for the second straight day in his return to the field after an 11-month absence from of a torn Achilles tendon.

“A lot of the plan is based on how he feels about it,” Harbaugh said. “Here’s a guy that has played 13 years in the National Football League. He knows what he needs. He did more than he did yesterday, and he’ll do more tomorrow than he did today.”

Wide receiver Chris Moore (foot) was practicing for the first time since July 29. His return is good news after the rookie had turned heads with his play-making ability over the first couple days of training camp.

With Perriman still recovering from a partially-torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, a healthy Moore becomes a more intriguing deep threat to complement veteran Mike Wallace.

“He’s made some plays down the field, but he’s also shown route-running ability and shown willingness to block,” Harbaugh said. “We have to get him back on track. Now we have to get him back out there. He was in individual [drills] today. We have to build on that. He is a rookie. He has a lot of work to do to be ready to do that, but he has potential.”

There were several special visitors at Tuesday’s practice, ranging from former Ravens Rob Burnett and Matt Stover to former New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. Former Pro Bowl kicker David Akers was also present and will work with the Baltimore kickers for a few days, according to Harbaugh.

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Suggs is back, but what does he have left for the Ravens?

Posted on 15 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs’ comeback from a torn Achilles tendon is much different this time around.

Unlike four years ago when he made a Herculean return in less than six months to help the Ravens win the AFC North and Super Bowl XLVII, the severe injury to his left heel suffered 11 months ago allowed no chance for a return in 2015. The 33-year-old took his time to rehab, disappearing from the public eye aside from a surprise sideline appearance to watch the Ravens beat Pittsburgh last December and the news of a traffic-related arrest in early March.

Having spoken to the media just once since tearing his left Achilles tendon in the 2015 opener, Suggs took the practice field Monday with little ceremony or warning beyond head coach John Harbaugh acknowledging last week that he had been holding the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker back from returning. He didn’t speak to reporters after the workout, instead issuing a statement through the team declaring that “Darth Sizzle” was back.

Appearing to be in good shape and moving well, Suggs participated sparingly in Monday’s practice and was quieter than usual on the sideline as veteran defensive end Lawrence Guy jokingly introduced himself to the “new” player at one point. Suggs did loosen up as the session went on, shimmying to the music blaring through the on-field speakers and later telling defensive teammates that backup quarterback Ryan Mallett was about to throw them an interception.

Taunting a quarterback in the middle of practice? Suggs was officially back.

What his return truly means for the Ravens’ chances in 2016, however, remains to be seen. We just don’t know what kind of player he will be as he enters his 14th season in Baltimore and comes back from his second Achilles injury — this one to the opposite leg — in a four-year period. Even when he returned from the first injury at age 30, Suggs wasn’t really himself again until the following year as he collected only two sacks in eight regular-season games in 2012.

At the conclusion of a nightmare 2015 season in which Suggs was one of 20 players to finish the year on injured reserve, the Ravens’ brass made it clear how much the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year was missed. Already entering the season trying to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee, the Ravens were forced to use both Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw in every-down capacities after they had essentially platooned in previous years. Za’Darius Smith was also forced to step into a bigger-than-expected role as a fourth-round rookie.

Baltimore finished tied for 17th in the NFL with 37 sacks after collecting 49 the year before. Without Suggs’ exceptional ability against the run, the defense allowed 4.0 yards per carry for just the second time in franchise history.

“Once we lost [Suggs], it was different in the second half of the season than it was the first half,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We really totally adapted the scheme the second half of the season because we knew we didn’t have him anymore. Meanwhile, we had already committed to the first half and we tried to adapt, but it wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be.

“Having him in there for a full season would be a great thing.”

Besides Suggs’ obvious football talents, the Ravens missed his energy and leadership as the face of the defense in the post-Ray Lewis era. The talent level and coaching primarily came under fire in a 5-11 season, but the unit sorely lacked the swagger that’s been part of its DNA for the better part of two decades in Baltimore.

The arrival of veteran newcomer Eric Weddle this offseason has brought needed leadership in the secondary, but the Ravens still hadn’t been nearly as boisterous during summer practices without Suggs.

“It is different, especially without ‘Sizz’ keeping everybody with a smile on their face with his sayings and his character coming through,” sixth-year linebacker Albert McClellan said over the weekend. “It is a little different. We haven’t found anybody to act like that.”

The Ravens know what Suggs brings in terms of intangibles and experience, but what kind of production will they get from him in 2016?

Expecting him to be the player that he was in 2014 isn’t a given as Father Time eventually catches up to everyone — even those not coming off serious injuries. Young options such as Smith and 2016 draft picks Kamalei Correa and Matt Judon have flashed promise, but expecting any passing-of-the-torch scenario would be premature at best.

Is Suggs capable of playing just under 80 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps at a high level like he did in his last full season? Or, will he be better suited for a situational role as this late stage of his career?

“I think it’s going to depend on the team and what kind of scheme they run, whether it’s a running team, passing team, or if they’re a wide-open team,” Pees said. “The good thing is I think we have some guys that can play and can spell guys. I don’t know if anyone would have to play a 70- or 80-play game. I’m hoping we don’t have to play 80-play games on defense. Time will tell.”

Based on their deficiencies from last year and where younger options are in their development, the Ravens need the “old” Suggs — not an old one — to surface if they’re to be a serious contender in the AFC in 2016.

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