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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

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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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marquisebrown

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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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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Safeties

Posted on 16 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in just over a week and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends

We continue at safety, a position at which the organization has exhausted extensive resources since Ed Reed played his final game as a Raven in Super Bowl XLVII. After failed draft picks and several underwhelming value signings, Baltimore finally went all in at the position by giving out a free-agent contract totaling $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons. Those dollars have given the Ravens one of the best safety groups in the NFL

This position isn’t quite as deep as cornerback, but the philosophy is similar with versatile pieces capable of filling different roles within the defense. This offers defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the option to rotate if he wants to give someone a breather or offer a different look to an opponent.

Below is a look at the safeties who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Earl Thomas
Skinny: The six-time Pro Bowl selection who helped lead Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense to a Super Bowl championship and another appearance in the big game gives the Ravens their first true center fielder at free safety since Reed. The defense will miss Eric Weddle’s football intellect on the back end, but Thomas provides a clear play-making upgrade and shouldn’t have too much difficulty adjusting to Baltimore’s more complex system from the direct Cover 3 looks he ran with the Seahawks. A four-year, $55 million contract including $32 million guaranteed automatically makes you “the man” of this group.

Old Reliable — Tony Jefferson
Skinny: Considering Thomas hasn’t played as much as a preseason game in a Ravens uniform, Jefferson is the default choice here as he’s become one of the defensive leaders after the departures of Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley in the offseason. The 27-year-old is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage and has missed only three games in his six-year NFL career. Critics may knock his four-year, $34 million contract or his intermediate-to-deep pass coverage, but the Ravens very much value what Jefferson brings to the field and the locker room.

Under Fire — Thomas
Skinny: The lucrative financial commitment made to Thomas came after he broke his lower left leg for the second time in three seasons last September and played in just 29 games over the last three seasons. The 30-year-old was playing at an elite level in the opening month of 2018, but you have to at least wonder what long-term toll the latest injury might have on his speed and agility entering his 10th season. Much is riding on Thomas remaining a special talent after so many key departures on defense left plenty of question marks among the front seven.

Up-and-Comer — DeShon Elliott
Skinny: The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas missed his rookie year after breaking his forearm in the preseason, but he was arguably the biggest surprise of the spring, showing impressive range in pass coverage on a few highlight interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Elliott also stood out with some physical play early in last year’s training camp, so that coupled with coverage ability could make it difficult to keep the 22-year-old off the field if the same play-making ability flashes this summer.

Sleeper — Anthony Levine
Skinny: The 32-year-old really shouldn’t be a sleeper at this point, but he remains underappreciated — especially outside Baltimore — as one of the best dime backs in the NFL. After years of that sub package being an afterthought, Levine finally got his chance in the role a few years ago and has excelled. The longtime special-teams standout recorded pass breakups on two of the final four defensive plays in the win over Cleveland last December to clinch the AFC North title, just an example of how important he’s been to the Ravens’ defensive success over the last few years.

The Rest — Chuck Clark, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Clark has been a rock-solid contributor as a backup safety and special-teams player over his first two seasons, but the deep depth across the secondary may mean it’s no lock the 2017 sixth-round selection from Virgina Tech makes the roster. Despite never appearing in an NFL regular-season game after being drafted by the New York Giants out of Notre Dame in 2014, Jackson is still chasing the dream after spending the 2018 preseason and part of the regular season on Baltimore’s practice squad.

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marquisebrown

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Ravens still waiting on first-round pick to make practice debut

Posted on 12 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense was always going to win the battle this spring.

Not only has the Baltimore offense been completely revamped under coordinator Greg Roman, but a run-first system isn’t going to operate with full effect in non-contact practices. As you’d expect, a passing attack with a quarterback entering his first full year as a starter and veteran wide receivers with limited ceilings hasn’t produced many big plays against arguably the best and deepest secondary in the NFL.

But the Ravens — and their fans — must maintain the proper perspective knowing some intriguing upside is on the way in addition to quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rest of the offense simply increasing their comfort level in the new system. General manager Eric DeCosta selected two wide receivers with his first three picks of April’s draft to address the very concern observers have witnessed this spring.

Third-round rookie Miles Boykin missed a large portion of organized team activities with a hamstring injury and is still taking limited reps during this week’s minicamp, but first-round pick Marquise Brown has yet to make his practice debut for the Ravens. The speedy 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver has increased his activity level this week by doing agility work on a side field, catching passes from the Jugs machine, and even taking a couple reps in an individual position drill Wednesday, but the real show won’t begin until the start of training camp in late July. Brown was selected with the 25th overall pick to make an immediate play-making impact, but the Ravens knew they’d have to be patient after the Oklahoma standout underwent Lisfranc surgery on his foot in January.

“He gets a little extra meeting time because he doesn’t get to do the stuff on the field that some of the guys get to do,” wide receivers coach David Culley said. “He spends a little bit of extra time going over those kinds of things. For the most part, he gets extra film work in, just watching everything in practice. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to see himself to be able to correct things.”

Taking nothing away from complementary veteran wide receivers such as Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and Chris Moore who will receive their share of opportunities, the Ravens are counting on Brown to be a difference maker, something they’ve rarely had at the wide receiver position over their history. The combination of speed and athleticism with which Brown consistently burned Big 12 defenses is exactly what Jackson needs to help fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback.

The wait is almost over to see Brown in action, but he’ll have plenty of catching up to do after missing valuable spring reps.

“When I think about what I saw when we drafted him from Oklahoma, I get really excited about it,” Culley said. “Hopefully, he can do some of those same things that he did. He was a big-play guy for them, and one of the reasons why we got him where we got him was because of his big-play ability. We’re looking forward to him bringing that to us.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and return specialist Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari did not participate in Wednesday’s minicamp practice. Safety Tony Jefferson increased his activity level in only his second practice since having ankle surgery in January.

Elliott shines again

Second-year safety DeShon Elliott continues to be a surprising standout performer this spring as he snatched another interception during Thursday’s practice, victimizing backup quarterback Robert Griffin III during a 7-on-7 period.

The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas showed physicality in his first training camp before being lost for the season with a broken forearm last August, but his range in pass coverage has turned plenty of heads with a diving interception last week being the highlight play of the spring. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Elliott has the size to be used in different capacities even if he’s stuck behind six-time Pro Bowl selection Earl Thomas and established veteran Tony Jefferson on the depth chart.

“He’s just picked up where he left off right before he got hurt, and it’s just going to be another fun piece,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We play a bunch of different personnel and everything else. I know we have two really good safeties right now, but we’ll find spots for the good football players. Obviously, specials teams play a big part in that.”

Elliott’s development could impact snaps for reserve safeties Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark, who both saw plenty of action in sub packages last season.

Rough day for quarterbacks

Even with some inconsistency and the overall shortage of big plays in the passing game, Jackson had done a commendable job avoiding turnovers this spring with only one interception over the first four practices open to media, but that changed Wednesday.

The 22-year-old quarterback was picked off by reserve defensive back Bennett Jackson in a 7-on-7 period and was later intercepted twice by rookie cornerback Terrell Bonds in the red zone, an area of the field in which the offense has struggled. Griffin also threw two interceptions during the morning practice.

Jackson also threw a touchdown to tight end Mark Andrews as the two continue to build on the encouraging chemistry they showed down the stretch last season.

“I’m not looking to win the practices. I’m looking to get ready for the training camp and get ready for the season,” Roman said. “Every opportunity, whether a good result or a bad result, on a play this time of year is a great thing because it gives us an opportunity to grow from it.”

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens’ 90-man roster following rookie camp

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 2:30 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for nearly four more months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a much better idea of what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to work with for the 2019 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any given player. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities later this month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player now as much will change before the Ravens even get to training camp in July. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens always look for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Jalan McClendon
Skinny: How the coaching staff uses McSorley and how he develops will determine whether Baltimore carries three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for a second straight year and only the second time in the last decade. Comparisons to New Orleans’ Taysom Hill — who is much bigger — will continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala, Tyler Ervin
Skinny: Suggesting someone who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year could be on the bubble speaks to the great backfield depth. Dixon could also be a trade chip entering the final year of his contract, but a history of injuries and suspensions could prompt a tough decision. Don’t sleep on Turner either.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley
LONG SHOT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: With Baltimore expected to again use multiple tight ends and run the ball so frequently, the brass won’t feel compelled to keep more than four or five receivers unless others prove deserving of a spot. This is a critical preseason for Scott and Lasley, who played zero snaps as rookies last year.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may prefer having another blocking tight end in the mix to replace Maxx Williams, but it’s premature to handicap the chances of these candidates. Keizer spent much of last year with the organization, giving him a slight experience edge over the two rookies.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Bozeman’s ability to play center makes him a safe bet while Hurst’s $4.75 million cap number and injury-riddled 2018 leave his status in at least some question until he proves his back problems are behind him. Time could be running out for Lewis, who just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: Kalil Morris
Skinny: This is a tough group to handicap after the duo of Williams and Pierce, but Henry is the best interior rusher on the roster despite missing most of 2018. Sieler is a good bet to make it as a 5-technique end, but the talented Willis could be the wild card after surprisingly going undrafted.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Alvin Jones, Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Board leading the team in special-teams tackles as a rookie leaves him safe at this point. The competition for a potential roster spot behind him is wide open, however, with Thomas, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, headlining a group lacking experience. They’re listed as bubble players by default.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Matt Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Contributions on special teams and the shortage of strong-side or “Sam” backers give Bowser a clear edge over Williams, who appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was a healthy scratch by season’s end. There should be opportunities for the long shots to try to put themselves on the radar.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper group of corners in the NFL, leaving the Ravens with a good problem trying to decide which ones to keep. Jones returning kickoffs in addition to punts would cement his spot — he only did the latter last year — while the oft-injured Canady is in the final year of his rookie deal.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott is the one to watch in this group as he showed promise before breaking his forearm in the preseason last year and could potentially push Clark for some playing time in sub packages. Levine’s positional versatility remains an invaluable part of Wink Martindale’s defense.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: The Ravens will hope Vedvik kicks the football like he did last summer to improve his trade value at the end of the preseason. Beyond that, there’s little to see here.

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How did Ravens safeties stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 26 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens safeties ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers

Eric Weddle
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 1,016
PFF ranking: 10th among safeties
Skinny: The 34-year-old Pro Bowl safety was the on-field mastermind for a top-ranked unit, but he recorded just three pass breakups and no interceptions after a combined 21 breakups and 10 picks in his previous two seasons. That statistical decline coincides with a $9.25 million cap number for 2019.

Tony Jefferson
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 863
PFF ranking: 35th among safeties
Skinny: Jefferson rebounded from an underwhelming first year in Baltimore as defensive coordinator Wink Martindale more consistently played him closer to the line of scrimmage, playing to his strengths. The 27-year-old still doesn’t excel in coverage despite one of the highest cap figures on the 2019 roster.

Anthony Levine
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 280
PFF ranking: 71st among safeties
Skinny: Levine isn’t a true safety, cornerback, or linebacker, but his versatility brings more value in today’s game with defenses trying to account for pass-happy opponents while not becoming too vulnerable against the run. His presence in the dime package makes the defense more unpredictable.

Chuck Clark
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 252
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The second-year reserve filled in capably for an injured Jefferson, making two starts and registering an interception in the Week 14 loss at Kansas City. Clark also occasionally served as a bigger nickel and dime option in addition to his dependable special-teams contributions.

2019 positional outlook

This past season marked the first time since 2012 that the Ravens started the same two safeties from the previous year, but an abundance of resources were exhausted to get to that point after a number of failed draft picks and free-agent signings since Super Bowl XLVII. General manager Eric DeCosta must determine whether Weddle’s cerebral presence makes up for his physical decline enough to warrant a $6.5 million base salary for the final season of his four-year deal. Contract restructures the last two years have also made Jefferson’s $12.657 million cap number for 2019 problematic, but cutting him would leave more than $9 million in dead money, making it likely he stays put for another year. After suffering a season-ending broken arm last summer, 2018 sixth-round safety DeShon Elliott carries potential, but it would be ambitious to view him as an immediate starting option if Weddle were to be released. Even if the veteran starting duo remains intact for 2019, the Ravens should be targeting a play-making safety with range in April’s draft such as Delaware’s Nasir Adderley.

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