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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

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Early observations from 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 27 July 2014 by Luke Jones

With 2014 training camp officially underway and the Ravens attempting to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era, there are a number of early (too early?) takeaways from the practice field in Owings Mills.

1. Steve Smith has looked like an elite player.

It’s fair to express doubts over a 35-year-old wide receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three consecutive years, but Smith has been as good as advertised going back to organized team activities in the spring, catching everything in sight and regularly beating cornerbacks during practices. On Saturday, he made an excellent catch on a deep ball defended by Chykie Brown and later made an impressive adjustment on a pass thrown behind him on a slant pattern. Of course, it’s important not to get carried away with how anyone performs in July, but if Smith can be that reliable target to help move the chains and provide a safety net for quarterback Joe Flacco, the investment in the 14th-year receiver will be well worth it.

2. The No. 3 cornerback for the 2014 Ravens may not yet be on the roster.

The organization spent plenty of time this offseason talking up the potential of Brown and Asa Jackson, but it’s difficult to find anyone on the field in which defensive coordinator Dean Pees would have confidence using in the nickel package along with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Brown has bit on play-action fakes and has struggled to find the ball when he is in position while Jackson — who is an inside defender in the nickel package — has also been beaten deep on a couple occasions. To make matters worse, Dominique Franks still hasn’t passed his conditioning test after fellow veteran newcomer Aaron Ross tore his Achilles tendon taking the same test. The Ravens would prefer to use Webb inside in the nickel, but there have been no signs of anyone currently on the roster being capable of handling duties as the third cornerback.

3. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is moving well and is the biggest key for the offensive line.

The third-year lineman has moved well early in camp and will be the key in determining how effective the interior offensive line can be in 2014 after it was undersized and ineffective last season. It’s still too early to gauge whether his surgically-repaired back will be in issue, but Osemele delivered an impressive block 10 yards downfield that sent safety Darian Stewart to the ground on Saturday afternoon, a telling example of the improved mobility he simply didn’t have early last year. If the Ravens can be strong inside with Osemele and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda flanking new center Jeremy Zuttah, it will alleviate much of the pressure on Rick Wagner or whoever mans the right tackle position.

4. Veteran newcomer Darian Stewart has impressed and is the early favorite to start at free safety.

His unfortunate encounter with Osemele aside, Stewart has displayed good athleticism at the safety position and looks to be the favorite to line up next to Matt Elam in the starting defense. The former St. Louis Rams safety is versatile with the ability to line up closer to the line of scrimmage or to play the more traditional free position, and Pees has said on a number of occasions that he’s looking to mirror his safeties more than just having a traditional strong and free one. Rookie Terrence Brooks will need to make significant strides between now and the start of the season as he appears to be thinking too much when lined up on the field and has worked primarily with the third-string defense to this early point. Secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo is familiar with Stewart going back to their days in St. Louis, so the Ravens hope they’ve found another value signing like they did with Corey Graham a couple years ago.

5. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to move his skill players around in formations.

The Ravens are sure to experience growing pains implementing their new offensive system, but Kubiak has experimented plenty with his skill players to find strengths and weakness as well as potentially exploit vulnerabilities in a defense in a given matchup. His creative use of tight ends is a well-documented characteristic of his West Coast system, but it will be fun to watch how he uses fullback Kyle Juszczyk and big wide receiver Marlon Brown in addition to Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels this season. Ultimately, offensive success in the NFL comes down to winning 1-on-1 matchups no matter how clever your schemes might be, but pre-snap movement has been a regular feature of what we’ve seen so far in Owings Mills.

6. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw looks too heavy for the third straight preseason.

Coach John Harbaugh was more complimentary of Upshaw’s conditioning in the spring, but the third-year linebacker looks bigger at the start of training camp than he did during OTAs, continuing a theme of the 2012 second-round pick not taking the best care of his body. In fairness to Upshaw, he hasn’t noticeably labored during his first few practices, but temperatures have also been favorable thus far. He has been solid in his first couple seasons and has flashed potential to be better than that, but it’s just difficult to project a player to improve when he spends too much time playing catchup with his weight every summer. The early expectation is that Upshaw will once again split time with Elvis Dumervil at the strongside outside linebacker position.

7. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has a rare combination of strength and quickness that’s fun to watch.

More attention has been paid to first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley, but Jernigan is becoming an early favorite of Pees as he’s been very active and has shown plenty of power in the trenches early in camp. Brandon Williams is the favorite to line up as the starting nose tackle, but there’s no reason Jernigan won’t be a regular member in the rotation, and his play could be a deciding factor in how the Ravens handle the final year of Haloti Ngata’s contract after the season. Pees quipped on Saturday that Jernigan doesn’t always follow his assignment, but he’ll make a big play anyway, which is pretty high praise for a rookie defensive lineman just a few days into his first training camp.

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Ravens ink third-round safety Brooks to complete 2014 draft class signings

Posted on 30 May 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Baltimore Ravens have signed third-round draft pick S Terrence Books, general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome announced Friday afternoon. All nine of the Ravens’ 2014 draft choices are now under contract.

Selected 79th overall from Florida State, Brooks was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection by the league’s coaches during his 2013 senior campaign. The 5-11, 200-pounder helped lead a Seminoles’ unit that boasted the nation’s top-ranked pass defense (156.6 ypg), en route to FSU winning the BCS National Championship last season.

During his four-year collegiate career, Brooks totaled 127 tackles (89 solo), one sack (-13 yards), 15 passes defensed, five interceptions (28 return yards), three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He saw action in 48 career games at Florida State, producing 13 starts at strong safety in 2013 and 14 starts at free safety in 2012.

The Ravens also announced Friday that they waived first-year QB Nick Stephens and signed rookie free agent OLB D.J. Roberts. Roberts is a 6-1, 252-pounder from Tennessee-Martin who played in 45 career games, posting 174 tackles (90 solo), including 39.5 stops for loss, 12.5 sacks (-65 yards) and two forced fumbles.

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Ravens Rookie S Brooks wants to make own legacy with organization

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Ravens Rookie S Brooks wants to make own legacy with organization

Posted on 13 May 2014 by WNST Audio

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Ravens’ 2014 draft may prove strong, but immediate questions remain

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Ravens’ 2014 draft may prove strong, but immediate questions remain

Posted on 11 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Assessing the Ravens’ 2014 draft now is akin to judging a gift based solely on its wrapping paper.

Only time will tell how many of their nine selections will pay dividends in 2014 and beyond. Even assistant general manager Eric DeCosta acknowledged recently that the evaluation process is as much art as it is science — and luck — with a number of variables ranging from talent and intelligence to health and work ethic determining how successful a player will be.

But the initial reaction to what the Ravens accomplished over the weekend and how it specifically relates to the 2014 season? Underwhelming and redundant.

It has little to do with questioning the quality of players they selected as much as it felt like a repeat of the 2013 draft with an overwhelming emphasis on defense — at the same positions — for a second consecutive year. After selecting a safety (Matt Elam), an inside linebacker (Arthur Brown), and a defensive tackle (Brandon Williams) with their first three picks last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome grabbed an inside linebacker (C.J. Mosley), a defensive tackle (Timmy Jernigan), and another safety (Terrence Brooks) with his first three selections over the weekend.

“You never know what kind of shape the draft is going to take,” DeCosta said Saturday evening. “We go into it blind, and this just ended up being really a draft about substance. We got guys that we think are going to be here for a long time and are going to help us win games. They’re guys in the fourth quarter that should be big-time players for us over time.”

It would be unfair to strongly doubt the talents of Mosley or Jernigan — two players viewed as top 20 talents by more than a few draft pundits — or the potential of Brooks to become defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ starting free safety as early as this coming season. But it is reasonable to question what the selections of Mosley and Jernigan mean for Brown and Williams, two players many expected to step into starting roles this season.

Of course, the Ravens would privately tell you they’ve found the eventual successors for veterans Daryl Smith, Haloti Ngata, and even Chris Canty after grabbing 5-technique defensive end Brent Urban with their first choice on Day 3 of the draft. But that doesn’t sound like dramatic improvement for this season as the Ravens try to bounce back from an 8-8 record and the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

While no one would confuse the league’s 12th-ranked defense with the 2000 Ravens a year ago, it was the offense that was the biggest culprit that needed major reconstructive surgery this offseason.

It’s true that the Ravens have already worked to address the league’s 29th-ranked offense with the hiring of new coordinator Gary Kubiak, the free-agent additions of 35-year-old receiver Steve Smith and 31-year-old tight end Owen Daniels, and the trade for Tampa Bay center Jeremy Zuttah, but the need for a right tackle and the desire for another impact pass-catcher virtually went untouched this weekend. Yes, the Ravens will always take the best talent available, but the fact that they’ve taken only one offensive player in the first three rounds in the last two years — out of a total of seven choices — is concerning for that side of the football.

Third-round tight end Crockett Gillmore has encouraging upside, but many consider him more of a developmental prospect than someone ready to contribute this year behind Dennis Pitta and Daniels. And while the organization thinks fourth-round running back Lorenzo Taliaferro could be one of the steals of the entire draft, the 230-pound back will need to prove his accomplishments at FCS school Coastal Carolina will translate to the next level.

Are those additions enough to not just improve but dramatically improve what was an abysmal offense a year ago?

“We’re all laughing because the whole board was stacked toward the offense,” said Newsome at the conclusion of the third round. “But Eric has made the comment several times that we’re being contrary — everybody else in this league is drafting offensive players and we’ve been drafting defensive players. But it was stacked more toward the offensive side, but the way it fell for us, it’s been the defensive players.”

Truth be told, the Ravens are higher on second-year linemen Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen than most assume as the former is currently projected to be the starting right tackle with the season just under four months away. But considering the albatross that was the offensive line for a franchise-worst running game a year ago, Penn State guard John Urschel being the lone lineman selected by Newsome — in the fifth round — understandably raises eyebrows.

And even after their other defensive additions, the Ravens’ decision not to draft a cornerback after the free-agent departure of Corey Graham will also put more pressure on Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson as they compete for the No. 3 corner spot.

That’s plenty of dependence on former late-round draft picks who’ve made little impact in their time with the Ravens.

“We need to give these young guys a chance,” Newsome said. “I think guys should fail on the field, so we’re going to give these guys the opportunity to fail on the field. That way we know whether they can [play] or not. But we feel real good about them. And the other aspect of that, bringing in a new set of coaches, and they’re getting a chance to put their eyes on them, and they feel good about the young guys that we drafted last year.”

That message sounds contradictory to how some now view the 2013 selections of Brown and Williams after Mosley and Jernigan were picked in this year’s draft. There’s no shame in acknowledging Mosley and Jernigan as superior prospects on their board, but it’s only natural to wonder if the Ravens feel they whiffed on last year’s class more than they lead on.

Make no mistake, the draft should always be about the long run, but that doesn’t prohibit a team from immediately improving its prospects for this season, which leaves this weekend with questions still unanswered.

The truth is the Ravens won a Super Bowl based largely on offense two years ago but have been more committed to improving the defensive side of the ball ever since. And though the defensive-minded Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens’ tireless dedication to defense doesn’t appear to mesh with what the league has become as DeCosta even pointed out over the weekend.

“We’ve added a nice influx of young defensive talent,” DeCosta said. “We’ve always been known as a team that has prided itself on defense. This is a blue-collar community, and I think they’re going to enjoy watching these guys play.”

Maybe so, but fans will also continue to hold their breath about the offense until the Ravens prove otherwise.

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Florida State safety Brooks chosen by Ravens in third round

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Florida State safety Brooks chosen by Ravens in third round

Posted on 09 May 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Desperately needing to address the safety position, the Ravens did exactly that with the selection of Florida State safety Terrence Brooks in the third round of the 2014 draft.

A former cornerback and two-year starter for the Seminoles, Brooks was considered one of the leaders of a dominating defense and was a major part of a national championship team in his senior season. Considered solid in run support, Brooks has the athleticism and range to play center field and will likely be a fit as the free safety in the Baltimore defense, allowing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam to move to strong safety and play closer to the line of scrimmage.

“I feel like my game is pretty fast,” Brooks said in a conference call. “When I make a decision, it’s right away, and I get there pretty fast. I feel like my acceleration is one of my strong points, and that’s great [for] breaking on the ball. I’m a versatile player. I’m physical; I’m not scared to stick my nose in there. I’ll go play in the box. Wherever I’m need, that’s what I’ll do.”

Brooks was a first team all-ACC selection in 2013 as he colleted 56 tackles, eight stops for a loss, one sack, and two interceptions. He accumulated 126 tackles and five interceptions over his four seasons with the Seminoles.

In addition to being the third straight defensive player selected by the Ravens in the 2014 draft, Brooks became the second player Baltimore took from Florida State as defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was tabbed with the 48th overall pick earlier Friday evening.

“It’s kind of crazy, because the whole time I was like, ‘If I could take one guy with me, it would be Timmy,’” Brooks said. “I just know we do damage together. We did it at Florida State; we can do it anywhere. I’m just really happy to have him with me.”

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive back clocked the fastest 40-yard dash time for all safeties at the 2014 NFL scouting combine with a mark of 4.42 seconds. He is also a standout special-teams player who should be able to contribute in that area immediately in addition to competing for the starting free safety job.

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Seven players to watch in Senior Bowl from the Ravens’ perspective

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Seven players to watch in Senior Bowl from the Ravens’ perspective

Posted on 24 January 2014 by Luke Jones

Though many have considered this year’s Senior Bowl to be fielding its worst batch of NFL talent in recent memory, that didn’t stop the Ravens’ brass from flocking to Mobile, Ala. this week to continue preparations for the 2014 draft to be held in early May.

After 73 underclassmen entered last year’s draft and nearly 30 prospects declined this year’s invitation because of injury or personal preference, it’s understandable not to find a bumper crop of first-round talent, but that doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz haven’t identified players who could be of interest to Baltimore.

Having needs all over the offensive line as well as at wide receiver, free safety, and tight end, the Ravens could be in the hunt for the proverbial “best player available” more than ever with few positions on either side of the ball overflowing with talent. Baltimore could also be looking to improve its depth at running back and along the defensive line once you move past the more pressing needs.

Much of the best talent in this year’s draft can be found among the record 98 underclassmen declaring early, but the Senior Bowl (Saturday 4 p.m. on NFL Network) will contain prospects projected to go from the second half of the first round all the way through the seventh and final round in May.

With each number representing a loose — and very early — projection of the round in which the prospect could be drafted, here are seven players of varying degrees of talent to watch in the 2014 Senior Bowl who could be of interest to the Ravens:

1. OL Zack Martin (Notre Dame)
6-foot-4, 305 pounds
Skinny: A four-year starter for the Fighting Irish, Martin’s performance at practices in Mobile turned plenty of heads to solidify his standing as a likely first-round pick. He doesn’t have the length you’d like to see in an offensive tackle, but draft experts think he has the technique and quickness to be a Pro Bowl guard at worst. His versatility makes him an attractive option for the Ravens, who aren’t set at any position on next year’s offensive line other than right guard. 

2. WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)
6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Skinny: Underclassmen such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Marqise Lee dominate the top of the wide receiver rankings, which could make Matthews a very attractive pick in the second round. Very productive in his collegiate career and considered to be good after the catch, Matthews is a cousin to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and is a smart player with a good feel for the game. With the Ravens on the hunt for a receiver, Matthews would be a fine choice if they go in a different direction in the first round.

3. FS Terrence Brooks (Florida State)
5-foot-11, 200 pounds
Skinny: Brooks played cornerback early in his collegiate career before switching to safety and excelling for the Seminoles. A standout performer in the national championship game earlier this month, he is strong against the run but has the range to play in the back end of the defense. With 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam expected to shift to strong safety this coming season, Brooks could be an intriguing Day 2 pick to be a factor at the free safety spot. 

4. OT Seantrel Henderson (Miami)
6-foot-7, 331 pounds
Skinny: The massive right tackle never realized his full potential with the Hurricanes, but his combination of size and quickness makes him an intriguing pick for any team willing to take the risk. With the Ravens’ stated desire to be much bigger across the offensive line, Henderson would be an interesting mid-round selection to take the place of free agent Michael Oher at right tackle. However, his history of suspensions due to violating team rules at Miami brings his maturity into serious question.

5. RB James White (Wisconsin)
5-foot-10, 195 pounds
Skinny: After living in the shadow of Montee Ball in previous years, White rushed for more than 1,400 yards in his senior season and was praised for his ability in pass protection during Senior Bowl practices this week. Though not an impressive physical specimen, White runs with toughness and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. With Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both coming off poor seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens take a look at a running back in the later rounds. 

6. WR Kevin Norwood (Alabama)
6-foot-2, 195 pounds
Skinny: Besides the obvious Alabama connection that Newsome will like, Norwood could be an intriguing late-round option at wideout and has a reputation as a target who can effectively move the chains. Blessed with good size, Norwood is sound fundamentally and has a championship pedigree playing for the Crimson Tide. Speed is the biggest question mark for Norwood, which will likely make him a late-round pick, but he could be an intriguing developmental player working out of the slot.

7. P Kirby Van Der Kamp (Iowa State)
6-foot-4, 202 pounds
Skinny: It’s no secret that Sam Koch’s $2.8 million cap number for 2014 makes him a prime candidate to be cut, and Van Der Kamp is viewed by some to be the best punter in this year’s draft class. Whether the Ravens choose the late rounds or simply elect to go the undrafted free agent route, there’s a reasonable chance someone other than Koch will be punting for Baltimore in 2014. Van Der Kamp wouldn’t appear to be a bad choice in this batch of rookies. 

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