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Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) reacts while holding a smartphone after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Examining Ravens’ 2020 class of free agents

Posted on 15 January 2020 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is just under two months away with the Ravens entering the offseason sooner than anticipated after a franchise-record 14-2 regular season that ended with shocking disappointment in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2020 salary cap commitment of just over $166 million to 41 players (not including pending free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future contracts), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2020 salary cap has not been officially set, but it’s projected to rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to an estimated $200 million.

General manager Eric DeCosta seems likely to create additional cap space by extending, renegotiating, or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. That list could include the likes of safety Tony Jefferson, offensive lineman James Hurst, and defensive back Brandon Carr, who all have 2020 cap numbers that may exceed how the Ravens value their services at this point. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is a logical candidate for a long-term contract extension as he’s set to carry a $12.866 million cap figure in his fifth-year option season.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2020 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to extend any of the following unrestricted free agents before they may officially sign with any team beginning March 18 at 4 p.m.

LB Josh Bynes The 30-year-old was one of Baltimore’s best in-season signings in recent memory and graded sixth among linebackers by Pro Football Focus, but long-term solutions will be explored.

DT Justin Ellis The 350-pound run-stopping lineman was a healthy scratch in three of the last four regular-season games, but the status of other defensive linemen may help his chances for a return.

OL Hroniss Grasu His second stint with Baltimore led to him being a game-day reserve late in the season, but you’d expect the Ravens to aim to improve their interior offensive line depth.

OLB Matthew Judon The Pro Bowl selection will be paid lucratively by someone, but does the lack of depth at this position force Baltimore to step outside its financial comfort zone to keep him?

DB Anthony Levine – Though still a special-teams standout, the 32-year-old played in just 17 percent of defensive snaps as his particular role in the dime package diminished in 2019.

OLB Pernell McPhee A torn triceps ended what had been a productive start to his ninth NFL campaign, so McPhee returning in a situational role at a cheap price seems plausible.

WR Chris Moore – The 2016 fourth-round pick hasn’t developed into the deep-threat wide receiver some hoped he would be, but he’s been one of Baltimore’s best special-teams players since his arrival.

ILB Patrick Onwuasor Considered an ascending player poised for a 2019 breakout, Onwuasor struggled at the “Mike” and saw his role diminish as the year progressed, leaving his future in doubt.

DT Domata Peko The 35-year-old left open the possibility of playing a 15th NFL season, but Baltimore would probably prefer more youth and long-term upside for this position group.

DT Michael Pierce Pierce worked his way back into shape after well-documented weight problems in the spring and is in line for a substantial payday despite not having a standout contract year.

DB Jordan Richards Until being deemed a healthy scratch in the playoff loss to the Titans, Richards was a regular on special teams and only turns 27 later this month.

WR Seth Roberts He ranked third among Baltimore wide receivers in snaps and blocks well, but his costly drop in the first half of the playoff loss reinforces the need for more play-making ability here.

OT Andre Smith Signed as a depth piece last week, the former Cincinnati Bengal and 2009 first-round pick has 98 career starts under his belt and probably isn’t in the organization’s long-term plans.

CB Jimmy Smith In an ideal world, Smith would re-sign as part of an outside trio including Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, but his likely asking price and injury history are deterrents.

WR/RS De’Anthony Thomas – He showed little as a returner and was flagged for blocking after calling a fair catch in the playoff loss, a costly penalty he committed more than once this season.

S Brynden Trawick An elbow injury limited him to just six games, but the 30-year-old is a good special-teams player, which always leaves the door open for a return to Baltimore.

DE/OLB Jihad Ward Coaches and teammates spoke highly of the 25-year-old edge defender this season, making his return to be part of the rotation quite possible at a reasonable price.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has the right to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2020 salary cap is finalized — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.407 million in 2019) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($3.095 million in 2019) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($2.205 million in 2019) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo a tender and will attempt to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

OL Parker Ehinger (fourth) – The 27-year-old was active in four of the last five regular-season games, but signing him to anything more than a league-minimum deal would be surprising.

C Matt Skura (undrafted) – The second-round tender seemed likely for the starter before a serious knee injury in late November, but the Ravens gambling with the low tender isn’t impossible now.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the idea that there’s nothing promised beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

OL Randin Crecelius After spending 2018 on the practice squad, the former rookie free agent sustained a concussion early in training camp and was placed on IR at the end of the preseason.

RB Gus Edwards The second-year backup to Mark Ingram averaged 5.3 yards per carry and would start for plenty of teams around the league, making him a great value to the organization.

DB Fish Smithson The 25-year-old Baltimore native was signed late in the preseason and ended up on IR just a few days later.

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) tries to throw a pass from his team's end zone as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) grabs him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. Hodges was penalized for an intentional grounding penalty and the Ravens were given two points on a the safety. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts during playoff bye week

Posted on 01 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying the bye week after a franchise-best 14-2 record and securing the AFC’s top seed for the first time in their 24-year history, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eliminating Pittsburgh and extending the franchise-record winning streak to 12 games were fun accomplishments, but escaping Week 17 without any major injuries was the real win. The Ravens haven’t stayed as healthy as last year when they had the fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL, but they’re close.

2. If you’ve wondered how much credit Greg Roman deserves for this offense, look to Sunday when the Ravens rushed for 223 yards against one of the league’s best run defenses without arguably the best rushing quarterback ever, a Pro Bowl running back, and two Pro Bowl offensive linemen. Case closed.

3. Finding the appropriate words to describe a historic season for Lamar Jackson isn’t easy, but I keep coming back to him leading the NFL in touchdown passes despite 25 quarterbacks attempting more passes and ranking sixth in rushing despite 22 players having more carries. Electrifying efficiency.

4. The Ravens failed to have a single 700-yard rusher in 2013 and 2015 and just barely had one last year, but they became just the second team in NFL history to produce three 700-yard rushers in one season, joining Carolina in 2011. Seven teams didn’t have one this season.

5. Despite making a career-low 28 field goals because of the record-setting offense, Justin Tucker scored exactly 141 points for the fourth consecutive season. His 57 extra points were 15 more than he’d ever made in a campaign. Surprising math to get to the same endpoint for the Pro Bowl kicker.

6. Brandon Carr is entering the final option year of his contract, but his move to safety could extend his career for another season or two. The 33-year-old remains solid in coverage and came close to three sacks as a blitzer last Sunday. His versatility and durability continue to be valuable.

7. The Ravens and Robert Griffin III weren’t thrilled with Pittsburgh repeatedly hitting the quarterback on read-option hand-offs, but you’d have to anticipate more of that against Jackson in the postseason. I can’t blame opponents for doing it as long as the hits don’t blatantly cross the line.

8. A day after signing a contract extension, Marcus Peters was the one who nixed John Harbaugh receiving a Gatorade shower, citing how the Ravens had more to accomplish. It’s still remarkable how little Eric DeCosta traded for Peters compared to what the Los Angeles Rams paid for Jalen Ramsey.

9. Mark Ingram’s status will continue to be monitored, but Gus Edwards besting him in yards per carry for the season (5.3 to 5.0) is a reminder that he’s a starting-caliber back. If Ingram isn’t quite ready for the divisional round, the Ravens should be fine with Edwards and Justice Hill.

10. Anthony Levine saw his season average fall from 60.0 yards per rush to 31.0 after a successful fake punt that netted two yards Sunday. The Ravens ran fakes to Levine with a 35-3 lead in Week 1 and in the fourth quarter of Week 17 with no playoff implications.

11. The Ravens finished the regular season with a plus-249 point differential, the NFL’s highest since undefeated New England in 2007 at plus-315. They’re also the seventh team in the 16-game season era to score 500 points and allow fewer than 300. Five of those first six made the Super Bowl.

12. I wasn’t surprised by Ravens fans’ cheers upon learning New England had fallen to Miami, but Kansas City becomes a bigger threat to Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations with a week off and playing at home in the divisional round. Jackson facing the Chiefs is the way it should be anyway.

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Ravens-Jets: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 12 December 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens can take the next step in their path to the postseason by clinching their second straight AFC North division title with a win over the New York Jets on Thursday night.

However, they’ll have to do it without left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was officially deactivated after suffering a concussion in last Sunday’s win at Buffalo. Stanley didn’t practice all week and was listed as doubtful on the final injury report, leaving veteran swing tackle James Hurst to fill his all-important position protecting quarterback Lamar Jackson’s blindside. With Stanley out and Hurst moving into the starting lineup, Baltimore activated Hroniss Grasu and Parker Ehinger as its two reserve offensive linemen while rookie fourth-round guard Ben Powers was once again a healthy scratch.

As expected, Jackson is active and will start despite being limited with a minor quad injury sustained early in the second half of the 24-17 win over the Bills. The MVP favorite deemed himself ready to go in Tuesday’s media session.

Tight end Mark Andrews (knee) is also active and will play after going through his usual warmup routine with the other Baltimore tight ends. He missed much of last Sunday’s game, but the 2018 third-round pick was able to log limited practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and appeared to be moving well prior to Thursday’s game.

Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) and defensive end Jihad Ward (elbow) are also active after being limited in practices this week.

The Jets are in much worse shape from an injury standpoint after deactivating Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams (ankle), starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee), first-round rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (neck), and starting right tackle Chuma Edoga (knee). New York also placed starting tight end Ryan Griffin (ankle) on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the day.

Thursday night’s referee is John Hussey.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures falling to the low 30s with winds light and variable and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their black jerseys with black pants while New York dons white tops and green pants for Week 15.

Thursday marks the 11th all-time meeting between these teams in the regular season with the Ravens enjoying an 8-2 advantage and a 5-0 record at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore is aiming to extend its regular-season franchise-record winning streak to 10 games.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OT Ronnie Stanley
LB Chris Board
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Anthony Averett
DT Justin Ellis
G Ben Powers

NEW YORK
S Jamal Adams
DT Quinnen Williams
OT Chuma Edoga
RB Bilal Powell
CB Brian Poole
WR Demaryius Thomas
CB Arthur Maulet

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass under pressure by Buffalo Bills defensive end Trent Murphy (93) during the second half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The Ravens won 24-17. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

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Lamar Jackson “day-to-day” with quad issue as Ravens turn toward Jets

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Needing to quickly turn their sights toward a Thursday meeting with the New York Jets, the Ravens are dealing with injuries to three of their most important offensive players.

Star quarterback and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson was listed as a limited participant for Monday’s walk-through with a quad issue and only arrived on the field at the conclusion of the media viewing portion of practice. Jackson appeared to be walking with a slight limp and is believed to have sustained the injury on the low hit from Buffalo defensive end Trent Murphy that drew a roughing the passer penalty early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 win. The 22-year-old finished the game without any noticeable effects, throwing a short touchdown pass to Willie Snead to end the same drive and rushing twice for four yards before his final two kneel-downs to end the game.

Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III handled the starter reps during the open portion of the walk-through, but Tuesday and Wednesday should provide a better idea of Jackson’s status for Week 15.

“We’ll see. It’s less than 24 hours after the game — just about — so it’s hard to say,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday evening. “It’s not a serious injury in that sense, but this is day-to-day and we play Thursday night. We’ll see where we’re at.”

Complicating matters is the health of standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is in the concussion protocol despite playing all 60 offensive snaps against the Bills. His potential absence would be significant for even a fully healthy Jackson and the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense as Pro Football Focus has graded Stanley as the top left tackle in the league in 2019.

With such a quick turnaround doing the Ravens no favors this week, it’s unclear whether Stanley or tight end and top receiver Mark Andrews (knee) — who exited in the first half of Sunday’s game — will be able to play against the Jets.

“I’m not going to get into injuries. We just got done playing the game 24 hours ago,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to play a game Thursday night. The guys that are ready to play will play, the guys that aren’t won’t, so just look at the injury report and take it from there.”

Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) and linebacker Chris Board (concussion) also missed practice after exiting Sunday’s game early.

A win over the Jets would clinch the AFC North division title for the 11-2 Ravens, but they can also clinch a first-round bye with a win and a loss by either New England or Kansas City in Week 15. The Ravens need only two wins in their final three games to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs without any other help.

The Jets listed 14 players as non-participants or limited during Monday’s practice. That list includes Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams (ankle), who didn’t practice and missed Sunday’s game against Miami. Running back Le’Veon Bell was a full participant after sitting out Week 14 with an illness.

There are no shortage of former Ravens on the New York roster with guard Alex Lewis, safety Bennett Jackson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and running back Ty Montgomery among them. However, one familiar face Baltimore won’t see Thursday is four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was placed on injured reserve last week.

Mosley is in the first season of a five-year, $85 million contract signed in March, but a serious groin injury could have negative ramifications for the Ravens, who were expecting to net a third-round compensatory pick in next year’s draft for the departure of their star inside linebacker. With Mosley playing in just two games this season, that draft choice could end up being only a fourth-round choice.

“We love him and appreciate everything he did for us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a tough break with the groin, but he’ll bounce back. He’s a great player, a hard worker and a good guy, but I haven’t really thought that much about it.”

Below is Monday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Mark Andrews (knee), LB Chris Board (concussion), S Anthony Levine (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Lamar Jackson (quad), DE Jihad Ward (elbow)

NEW YORK
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Jamal Adams (ankle), OL Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle/illness), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee), DL Quinnen Williams (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Henry Anderson (shoulder), OL Kelvin Beachum (ankles), DL Steve McLendon (knee/hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot/hip), DL Nathan Sheperd (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Le’Veon Bell (illness), CB Maurice Canady (shoulder), OL Tom Compton (ankle), QB Sam Darnold (knee/left thumb), QB David Fales (right elbow), LB Paul Worrilow (quad)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win at Cincinnati

Posted on 12 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth consecutive game in a 49-13 final at Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After posting a 158.3 passer rating 30 miles from his hometown in Week 1, Lamar Jackson had another perfect day 100 miles from where he won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville. Playing like that in front of so many who watched him on his path to NFL stardom is special.

2. Being traded in the middle of a contract year can be a challenging transition, but Marcus Peters has now returned two interceptions for touchdowns over his first three games as a Raven. A cornerback with a boom-or-bust reputation is putting himself in position for a huge payday.

3. Marquise Brown has caught seven of eight targets for 128 yards and a touchdown since returning from an ankle sprain. The rookie performing like this at less than 100 percent continues to be impressive and encouraging for his future if he can stay healthy.

4. The Ravens haven’t posted a winning road record in the regular season since 2010, but they’re 4-1 in away games this season and 6-2 on the road since Jackson became the starter last year. Road success in the regular season is what allows teams to play at home in January.

5. Brandon Williams has played some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, which included a season-best seven tackles in 59 defensive snaps with Michael Pierce exiting Sunday’s game early. Williams’ Week 4 spat with Earl Thomas feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

6. Nick Boyle had four catches for a career-high 78 yards and has now set a new single-season high in receiving yards nine games into 2019. Mark Andrews headlines, but all three Baltimore tight ends have been superb, combining to catch 71.6 percent of targets for 949 yards and seven touchdowns.

7. In a combined 30 snaps between offense and defense, Patrick Ricard had a big block on Mark Ingram’s touchdown run, recorded a tackle for no gain, logged a strip-sack returned by Tyus Bowser for a touchdown, and had another tackle for a minimal gain. That’s quite a splash.

8. The “Heisman Package” resulted in a 12-yard gain as Jackson pitched to Robert Griffin III on the option. As John Harbaugh said, “Guys like to have fun,” but I’m now expecting Vinny Testaverde, Ricky Williams, and Troy Smith to come back if they’re serious about this Heisman thing.

9. With the return of Jimmy Smith, the arrival of Peters, and the shift of Brandon Carr to safety and Chuck Clark to the box in the dime, Anthony Levine has played only 11 defensive snaps since the bye. Levine is a good player, but it speaks to improved secondary depth.

10. Sam Koch didn’t have to punt until the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter in Cincinnati. His career low for punts in a season is 60, but the longtime Raven is currently on pace to punt only 37 times in 2019. Things sure have changed here in Baltimore.

11. Jackson did the heavy lifting, but CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan’s call of the electric 47-yard touchdown run was a lot of fun. Harlan is one of the more underrated broadcasters in the business. “He is Houdini!” will be remembered by Ravens fans for a long time.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one who thought of Tony Siragusa late in the Ravens’ 2000 playoff win over Tennessee when Jackson was shown wearing sunglasses on the sideline. Siragusa gets bonus points for taking those shades from Brian Billick and that being a more important game, however.

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Elliott goes down with latest season-ending injury in Ravens secondary

Posted on 14 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The injury hits to the Ravens secondary keep on coming.

A week after starting safety Tony Jefferson suffered a torn ACL, reserve safety DeShon Elliott sustained a knee injury against Cincinnati that’s expected to sideline him for the rest of the season. The second-year defensive back hurt his left knee in a collision with teammate Justin Bethel on a deep pass intended for Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s just way worse than we thought it was going to be — that the doctors thought after the game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s preliminary, but it sounded like they were pretty confident that it wasn’t good. We’ll go with that until further notice, and that’s where we’re at. We’ll have to find a replacement there and move forward.”

A 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas, Elliott had just stepped into a larger role as the top backup behind starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, playing a career-high 27 defensive snaps and finishing with one tackle and a pass breakup in the 23-17 win. The 22-year-old missed his entire rookie season with a fractured forearm and turned heads with his play during spring and summer practices.

With the Ravens revamping the inside linebacker position over the last two weeks and playing without starter Patrick Onwuasor against Cincinnati, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale frequently used sub packages that didn’t include any traditional inside linebackers as Elliott entered at safety and Clark played in the box. Elliott’s injury leaves Baltimore with only one healthy reserve safety — dime back Anthony Levine — behind Thomas and Clark, making an outside addition likely. Safety A.J. Howard was signed to the practice squad last week, but the Appalachian State product hasn’t appeared in an NFL game after going undrafted last year.

The Ravens began the regular season with six safeties on the 53-man roster before losing veteran reserve Brynden Trawick (elbow), Jefferson, and now Elliott. Cornerback Maurice Canady also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring issue, which forced Bethel — almost exclusively a special-teams player — into fourth-quarter action against the Bengals.

“I don’t know to what degree,” said Harbaugh about Canady’s hamstring injury. “I’d say he’s probably day-to-day. We’ll see how he does Wednesday, Thursday.”

It remains unclear when cornerback Jimmy Smith will return to practice after missing his fifth straight game with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee. The Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury and rookie corner Iman Marshall to a toe injury in August, but the latter remains eligible to return later this season.

Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 7 availability of Onwuasor and top wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both missed Sunday’s game with right ankle injuries suffered against Pittsburgh. The two remain “day-to-day” after missing practices all last week.

“If we see them practicing as the week goes on, we’ll be confident that they can play,” Harbaugh said. “If we don’t, then we won’t. They both have ankles that they’re dealing with, and those things just kind of heal when they heal.

“They had a chance [to play Sunday]; I was told that they had a chance for the game. After Friday, it didn’t look as good. They just didn’t feel that they were there, and they weren’t.”

After this Sunday’s game at Seattle, the Ravens will welcome their Week 8 bye to try to get healthy for a challenging second-half schedule.

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Ravens-Redskins preseason primer: Five bubble players to watch

Posted on 28 August 2019 by Luke Jones

One preseason game remains before the Ravens turn all attention toward Miami and the start of the 2019 regular season, but the stakes remain high for some against Washington.

Despite what the preseason finale may lack in entertainment value, Thursday represents the final chance for those players on the bubble and even the longest of long shots at the bottom of the roster to make a strong enough impression to earn a job or at least keep their NFL dream alive somewhere else. That reality isn’t lost on the coaching staff even as Week 1 preparations for the Dolphins ramped up this week.

Most spots on the 53-man roster will have already been determined before Thursday’s kickoff, but there’s room for a surprise every now and then.

“They’re fighting for their livelihoods,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “Anybody that plays on Thursday is fighting for their livelihood. Let’s not forget Michael Pierce, his rookie year, made the team after the fourth game of the preseason against New Orleans because he wrecked that game. Things like that happen.”

Head coach John Harbaugh will be watching Chris Horton’s special-teams units closely as contributions in that phase often serve as a tiebreaker among reserves bringing comparable value at their individual positions. It’s long been the path to a roster spot for late-round draft picks, undrafted free agents, or castoffs from other teams who can even work their way into more meaningful roles over time.

Embracing that mindset is critical.

“When the guys come in, I tell them, ‘The way you’re going to make it is special teams,'” veteran defensive back Anthony Levine said. “And when you first come in the league, you’re not trying to hear that. When I first came in the league, I wasn’t trying to hear that. ‘Special teams? I wasn’t playing that in college. What are you talking about?’

“But I got around guys who were special teams guys, and they showed me the way.”

Thursday marks the 12th time the Ravens and Washington will meet in the preseason with Baltimore enjoying an 8-3 edge. The all-time regular-season series is tied at 3-3.

The Ravens own a 36-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won an amazing 16 in a row, a streak going back to the beginning of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

Players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of several will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the many veteran starters expected to be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference in the exhibition finale.

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

OUT: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), CB Tavon Young (neck), CB Iman Marshall (thigh), OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Seth Roberts, OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (foot), G Jermaine Eluemunor, OT Greg Senat, DT Gerald Willis, OLB Tim Williams

Five bubble players to watch Thursday night

QB Trace McSorley

Harbaugh said the rookie from Penn State “definitely earned the right” to be part of their plans, but he stopped short of confirming McSorley would be on the 53-man roster. The Ravens have carried three quarterbacks going into a season just once in the last nine years, but Lamar Jackson’s playing style and the nature of this offense make it easy to argue for keeping an additional quarterback. Despite practicing on special teams, McSorley would likely be a game-day inactive if he does make the team, but the preseason flashes he’s shown might make it difficult to get him through waivers and onto the practice squad. If you believe he can at least develop into a legitimate backup, enough value is there to keep him.

ILB Otaro Alaka

Alaka appears to be the most likely choice to extend the Ravens’ impressive streak of keeping at least one rookie free agent on the 53-man roster to a 16th consecutive year, but this is hardly a lock. Baltimore must decide if a fourth inside linebacker is necessary behind starters Patrick Onwuasor and Chris Board and top reserve Kenny Young, but the lack of experience in that position group might make keeping Alaka more appealing, especially with Onwuasor hitting free agency next winter. Alaka started 45 games at Texas A&M and has physical tools that should translate at the next level, but he can put an exclamation point on his case with a good performance on defense and on special teams Thursday.

WR Seth Roberts

We may not even see Roberts play against Washington, but that decision could tell us where he stands on the 53-man roster. There appeared to be little doubt about his place on the team early in camp as he took extensive snaps with the starting offense and consistently made catches, but an injury in the preseason opener, the summer emergence of Miles Boykin and Chris Moore, and the much-awaited debut of Marquise Brown have complicated Roberts’ status. His blocking ability and production in Oakland would raise the floor of a wide receiver group lacking experience, but the Ravens’ desire to play their rookies could leave few snaps for a veteran like Roberts, who’s played little on special teams in his career.

S Brynden Trawick

Despite ranking as one of the league’s best special-teams units again last year, the Ravens weren’t thrilled with their personnel, a reason why they signed cornerback and three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player Justin Bethel early in free agency. Trawick would also fit into that special-teams department after being named to the 2017 Pro Bowl as a member of the Tennessee Titans, but the Ravens are already committed to carrying a large number of defensive backs and he wouldn’t project as more than a reserve dime back on the defense. How the Ravens proceed with injured cornerbacks Tavon Young and Iman Marshall and bubble corner Maurice Canady could ultimately decide Trawick’s fate.

WR Michael Floyd

The former first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals was no more than a long shot for the 53-man roster earlier this month, but a string of strong practices and a good performance in the preseason win over Philadelphia last week have at least moved Floyd back into the conversation. The 29-year-old has looked more explosive recently, but he is far removed from his productive seasons with the Cardinals and hasn’t done enough to make you think he’s even surpassed Roberts, let alone anyone else to secure a place on the roster. Floyd is more realistically playing for an opportunity elsewhere than for a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, but that makes Thursday no less important for him.

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Ravens hold out Marquise Brown two days after ramping up practice activity

Posted on 12 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just as the Ravens finally ramped up wide receiver Marquise Brown’s practice activity, the rookie first-round pick was nowhere to be found Monday.

The 25th overall pick in April’s draft wasn’t on the field for the morning workout after taking his first full-team reps Saturday and Sunday. Recovering from January surgery that repaired a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, Brown had missed spring workouts and the first five full-squad practices of training camp before making his summer debut on July 31. The Oklahoma product took part only in individual position work in his first six practices and didn’t play in the preseason opener before finally participating in 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven drills over the weekend.

Brown saw roughly a dozen snaps split between the first- and second-team offenses Saturday, making five catches and dropping one pass in an encouraging showing. However, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver appeared to take fewer reps the next day, making his full absence just three days before the second preseason game at least a little more concerning. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer much clarity when asked about Brown’s absence after practice.

“He’s recovering. All those kinds of things are just part of training camp,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to get into every single guy or why he’s here or why he’s not. We don’t have any serious injuries. It’s just part of our process.”

Brown was one of 11 players not suited up for the start of Monday’s workout, joining safety Earl Thomas, right guard Marshal Yanda, outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Mike Onuoha (wrist), wide receiver Seth Roberts, offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius, and cornerbacks Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, and Iman Marshall. Thomas and Yanda have received occasional veteran days off over the first 2 1/2 weeks of camp, but such treatment would be unlikely with the remaining absentees.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith left the field roughly 20 minutes into practice with “nothing serious,” according to Harbaugh. The 31-year-old veteran was not being accompanied by a trainer as he exited.

Linebacker Nicholas Grigsby practiced for the first time since missing the first preseason game.

New candidate at left guard

Much has been made about an underwhelming start to the competition for the starting left guard spot, but a new candidate has apparently entered the picture.

Rookie Patrick Mekari shared first-team reps with Jermaine Eluemunor Monday and has been regarded by members of the organization as an undrafted free agent to watch. Mekari, a 6-foot-4, 308-pound lineman from Cal-Berkeley, was slowed by a back injury in the spring and was briefly on the physically unable to perform list to begin training camp before being activated.

“We have kind of been working him up to this,” Harbaugh said. “He played well in the game. He had a good practice [Sunday]. Let’s see what he can do. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what training camp is for.”

Eluemunor was considered a slight favorite to win the job entering camp, but Harbaugh has been critical of his conditioning and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris labeled him a “work in progress” Sunday. The 6-foot-4, 335-pound lineman failed his conditioning test at the start of camp, which led to rookie Ben Powers taking most of the starter reps early on. Eluemunor has also drawn a number of pre-snap penalties in practices, drawing the ire of the coaching staff.

The 2017 fifth-round pick from Texas A&M appeared in 17 games and made three starts over his first two seasons, seeing his most extensive action as an injury replacement at right guard and left tackle.

“It’s going well,” said Eluemunor about his play early in camp and in the preseason opener. “It’s just little technique things I want to work on like dropping my pads, changing up my stance, really coming off the ball and hitting the defender, working on my hands better, and just getting a better feel for it. But it was a good start.”

Credit to go around for Vedvik

Harbaugh offered praise to former special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, special teams coach Chris Horton, and special teams assistant and kicking guru Randy Brown for their work in identifying and developing kicker Kaare Vedvik, who was traded to Minnesota for a 2020 fifth-round pick Sunday.

“It’s good to see it pay off, especially for Kaare,” Harbaugh said. “He was in here every single day, every day, the whole year. Everybody would go home. He would be in here working out and kicking. It’s good to see it pay off for him.”

Harbaugh also thanked owner Steve Bisciotti for keeping Vedvik “on the payroll” after the undrafted rookie was assaulted in East Baltimore at the end of last year’s preseason and spent the entire regular season on the non-football injury list.

The Ravens expect to add another kicker to share practice and preseason reps with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch.

Defense shines

The Ravens defense got the best of their offensive counterparts Monday as dime back Anthony Levine intercepted and returned a Lamar Jackson pass for a touchdown during an 11-on-11 drill and cornerback Marlon Humphrey picked off a Trace McSorley pass that deflected off Jaleel Scott’s hands in seven-on-seven work. The offense struggled to complete passes against tight coverage during a few stretches of the workout.

Jackson’s prettiest play came in a seven-on-seven red-zone period in which he connected with rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin on a tight-window throw in the front corner of the end zone. Veteran wide receiver Michael Floyd also continued his recent practice surge with a few impressive plays, including the one below:

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Ravens holding out veteran guard Yanda with “little ankle, foot thing”

Posted on 03 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the midst of their healthiest start to training camp in recent memory, the Ravens are choosing to play it safe with one of their best players.

Seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda missed his second straight practice Saturday with what head coach John Harbaugh says is a minor ailment. It was originally believed Yanda was receiving his second veteran day off of the summer Friday before James Hurst was lining up as the starting right guard for the second consecutive workout.

“Yanda is not a serious injury. He had a little ankle, foot thing,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to practice, and I’m like, ‘Eh. How about we just take it easy for today?'” 

It’s unclear whether the issue is with the same ankle Yanda broke in the second game of the 2017 season, an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. The 34-year-old was still part of the group of Ravens players, coaches, and personnel who flew to Canton, Ohio after Saturday afternoon’s practice for Ed Reed’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Other veterans not practicing Saturday included safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram, who were both given the practice off by Harbaugh. Defensive back Anthony Levine and offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Randin Crecelius were also absent.

It’s been only one week since backup quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a hairline fracture in his right thumb, but he continues to practice on a limited basis and even did some light throwing of the football. His dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed even though Griffin isn’t expected to be cleared for live action before the start of the regular season.

“‘RG3’ comes out here in full pads, and he goes through every read, every play — the mechanics of it,” Harbaugh said. “He’s probably getting more work in than if he were playing in lot of ways. I give him a lot of credit for that. He’s a pro, and he’s doing a great job.”

The Ravens will enjoy their second day off of training camp Sunday in preparation for a pair of joint practices with Jacksonville. The Jaguars and Ravens will practice together Monday and Tuesday before kicking off the preseason schedule at M&T Bank Stadium Thursday night.

This marks the third time in six summers the Ravens will have hosted another team for joint workouts at their Owings Mills training facility after practicing with San Francisco in 2014 and welcoming the Los Angeles Rams last August. Baltimore will travel to Philadelphia later this month to practice with the Eagles for two days ahead of the third preseason game.

“The next step in the evaluation — put on a little more pressure,” said Harbaugh after nine days of his players practicing against only each other. “Now we have another team in front of us, and that poses problems. New schemes, different players, how do you handle that? I’m looking forward to seeing how the guys handle it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first five camp practices

Posted on 30 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying their first day off from training camp and still more than a week away from the preseason opener, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I wrote about Lamar Jackson the other day, but one topic I didn’t address was ball security after he led the NFL in fumbles last season. Correcting that is critical, but his fumbling problems really only showed up in games, making it difficult to gauge progress there thus far.

2. Brandon Carr played some nickel filling in for Tavon Young at times last year, but he’s received plenty of reps at safety in camp. The 33-year-old admits his “head spins sometimes” playing multiple positions, but that versatility will be valuable to this secondary and for him extending his career.

3. There’s been no shortage of praise for Miles Boykin, who’s made plays against the starting defense and was even compared to a young Michael Thomas by Willie Snead. He’s looked good, but pumping the brakes on the hype until the first couple preseason games would be wise. It’s still early.

4. I remain more bullish on Mark Andrews, who has been the best pass catcher on the field and is playing with some attitude and swagger. Given the structure of this offense and Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle, Andrews could really take off after a promising rookie year.

5. Wink Martindale praised Pernell McPhee for his early play and bringing “that old Raven rough, tough mentality” to the outside linebackers, but this position remains a concern. Tim Williams has flashed a little — he’s done that in previous summers — but the rest of the group has been quiet.

6. After starting the final 10 games last season and serving as the starting right tackle all spring, Orlando Brown Jr. has worked with the second team since missing the first full-squad workout with a failed conditioning test. I understand sending a message, but four practices seems sufficient.

7. Jermaine Eluemunor missed the first practice after failing the conditioning test, which came after John Harbaugh wanted him to be in better shape in the spring. Perceived as a quiet favorite to play left guard, Eluemunor has also missed two practices with a muscle issue. He’s squandering early opportunities.

8. We expected a competition between Chris Board and Kenny Young at inside linebacker, but Board has taken virtually all first-team reps next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base and nickel packages. Young isn’t practicing poorly, but he’s clearly third behind Board and Anthony Levine when considering Baltimore’s frequent dime usage.

9. Two early concerns continue to be frequent pre-snap penalties and bad snaps from the centers. The precision required to run such a unique offense can’t be overstated — even in July. As Greg Roman described the many false starts, “It’s hard to turn that lemon into lemonade when you jump.”

10. With the Ravens enjoying the deepest secondary in the NFL, it’s easy to forget about guys further down the depth chart, but Chuck Clark and Maurice Canady have practiced well. DeShon Elliott received much hype for his spring play, but Clark has been steadier early in camp.

11. Seth Roberts has quietly had a solid start to camp, showing some chemistry with Jackson on shorter passes. He’s not spectacular and had a history of drops in Oakland, but he’d go into my top three wide receivers with Willie Snead and Boykin instead of Chris Moore so far.

12. The Robert Griffin III injury isn’t ideal, but Trace McSorley should continue receiving more reps behind Jackson, especially with Josh Johnson declining an offer and journeyman Joe Callahan signing instead. McSorley has a huge opportunity to prove he’s deserving of a 53-man roster spot. He’s held up OK so far.

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