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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates a 61-yard touchdown play with Marshal Yanda during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/John Munson)

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Ravens have much work to do to replace the “irreplaceable”

Posted on 07 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Four weeks after eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda announced his retirement, the Ravens have yet to address the right guard position.

That’s hardly surprising with few appealing options hitting the free-agent market last month, but that’s not to suggest the Ravens are nonchalant about filling the void left behind by one of the best players in franchise history. There’s no easy fix.

“It’s going to be really hard. I think he’s irreplaceable, bottom line,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t say that you’re going to plug in another Marshal Yanda. Probably the same thing applied to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. To me, he’s in that category.”

Unlike those Hall of Famers at the end of their brilliant careers, however, Yanda was still playing very close to his peak level as he was a second-team AP All-Pro selection and Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL’s fourth-best guard last season. After Super Bowl XLVII, it was pretty clearly time for Lewis to walk away and the Ravens were content watching Houston pay big money for the player Reed no longer was by 2013.

The best in-house comparison might be Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was still playing at an elite level and had been named to his 11th straight Pro Bowl in 2007 before retiring because of a chronic toe issue. It also serves as a reminder that the sky isn’t falling as the Ravens rebounded from a 5-11 campaign in Ogden’s final season to advance to the AFC Championship in 2008 with the unheralded Jared Gaither manning left tackle. Led by league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, a Baltimore offense that set numerous team and league records last year isn’t going to collapse without Yanda.

Ultimately, it’s a team sport with few non-quarterbacks providing make-or-break individual value, but Yanda’s elite play, institutional knowledge, and understated leadership will be missed on an offense that’s still very young.

“Taking Marshal out of that equation is not just a one-guy deal,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a force multiplier. He exponentially makes the offensive line better because he makes all the players around him so much better, including the quarterback and the rest of the offensive line. We’re going to have to really do a great job there. That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s probably job one or two. We’ve got to make sure that we do a great job of making sure the interior offensive line is all set.”

With the proper perspective, replacing a Hall of Fame talent doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In the wake of Lewis’ retirement in 2013, the Ravens did strike out with second-round pick Arthur Brown, but the June signing of veteran Daryl Smith brought short-term stability at inside linebacker and first-round pick C.J. Mosley arrived a year later to make four Pro Bowls in five seasons with Baltimore.

Replacing Reed at safety proved more problematic with the Ravens burning through failed draft picks and underwhelming value signings over a three-year period before finally inking Eric Weddle to calm the back end of the secondary in 2016. With Jackson still playing on a rookie contract, the Ravens don’t want to compromise their Super Bowl aspirations by failing to solve the right guard spot to a satisfactory level.

This year’s draft class isn’t littered with first-round-caliber guards, but general manager Eric DeCosta says he sees no shortage of starting-caliber potential, including some offensive tackles who would be good fits to move inside in Baltimore’s system.

“I think we’ve shown in the past that we can find guys in the second, third, fourth, fifth rounds, offensive linemen who can come in and play,” DeCosta said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve got a great [offensive line] coach in Joe [D’Alessandris], who can develop younger players. We’ve seen that over and over and over again. We’re excited about that, and we’ll find some guys for sure.”

There isn’t a perfect answer, of course, as second-year guard Ben Powers, an early 2020 draft pick, or even a potential value signing like former Raven Kelechi Osemele cannot be expected to play anywhere near Yanda’s level. The Ravens would be happy with solid and steady.

The cupboard is far from bare along the rest of the offensive line with All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley playing at an elite level last year and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Center Matt Skura was playing the best football of his career prior to sustaining a serious knee injury in late November while left guard Bradley Bozeman and backup center Patrick Mekari both looked the part of starting-caliber NFL linemen in 2018.

They’ll all need to play a part in filling Yanda’s massive shoes.

“We’ll see what we can do to try to get as close as we can, and the other part of it is that the rest of the guys have to step up,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, every player on offense has to be better without Marshal, especially every player on the offensive line coming back has to be that much better just [for the group] to be the same.

“It’s really going to be on all our shoulders to make that happen. Not just be the same, we’ve got to try to improve. We’ve got a lot of work to do with that.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Marshal Yanda’s retirement

Posted on 11 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda officially announcing his retirement after 13 seasons, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The 35-year-old stated his desire to walk away still playing at a high level and to be in a position where he’s still wanted. Yanda didn’t want to hold on and eventually become “like a liability.” That’s been a difficult call for even some of the franchise’s all-time greats.

2. Yanda knew 2019 would very likely be his final season, no matter how it went. The best evidence of that is the 45 pounds he’s lost since his final game. Not even the joy he experienced in a 14-2 season and the bitter playoff defeat prompted him to really waver.

3. Always showing great respect for opponents, Yanda admitting he felt there was “no doubt” the Ravens would find a way to beat Tennessee — “even if we played bad for three quarters” — speaks to lingering shock. However, he still prepared his family for that possibility and took photos after the game.

4. With Jonathan Ogden sidelined, Yanda lined up as the starting left tackle for the first padded practice of his career and was outclassed by Terrell Suggs, prompting the rookie to wonder if he “had what it took” for the NFL. It’s a story he frequently shared with younger players.

5. Still working his way back from a serious knee injury from the previous year, Yanda said he was never more nervous for a game than in Week 12 against Pittsburgh in 2009 when given the opportunity to permanently rejoin the starting lineup. He played well, and the rest was history.

6. Yanda was reluctant to discuss the possibility of the Hall of Fame, but, to no surprise, Eric DeCosta confirmed he’d go into the Ring of Honor in the “very near future.” The projected line is getting crowded with Haloti Ngata up next and some other slam dunks on the horizon.

7. In the process of thanking Brian Billick as his first NFL coach, Yanda said he kept his head down and didn’t say anything as a rookie. “That’s just the way I loved rookies — head down, quiet, do your job, and you’ll earn your respect.” Honest words from a throwback guy.

8. Joe Flacco was among the former Ravens teammates present, a classy move from the Super Bowl XLVII MVP who made the drive from New Jersey. The turnout for the press conference at a time of year when players tend to be all over the place reflected their admiration for Yanda.

9. The Ravens public relations staff did a great job collecting statements from many current and former teammates and coaches, but comments from some of Yanda’s peers around the league reinforced how much he’s respected as a player. Opposing defensive linemen certainly won’t miss him on Sundays.

10. Speaking after the press conference, Matt Skura said he saw meaningful growth from new right guard candidate Ben Powers last season, but what happens in free agency will better reflect the confidence level in the 2019 fourth-round pick. Adding a viable veteran to at least compete would be ideal.

11. Ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele has been mentioned as a free-agent possibility, but the 30-year-old has played only 14 games over the last two years and has remained at left guard since leaving after the 2015 season. That said, I could see a reunion at a reasonable price.

12. As tough as they come and cooperative with reporters throughout his career, Yanda lit up speaking about being able to spend more time with his wife and three children, who wore No. 73 Ravens jerseys with “Dad” on the nameplate. Congratulations to one of the best I’ve ever covered.

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How did Ravens offensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 27 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — 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 closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens offensive linemen ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Inside linebackers

Ronnie Stanley
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,036
PFF ranking: fourth among offensive tackles
Skinny: PFF’s highest-graded left tackle and top-graded overall pass blocker for 2019, Stanley, 25, had the best season of his career as he was named to his first Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro selection. The 2016 first-round pick also ranked 10th in run blocking among qualified tackles as the Ravens may need to make him the highest-paid left tackle in NFL history to extend his contract beyond 2020.

Marshal Yanda
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,068
PFF ranking: fourth among guards
Skinny: The 35-year-old continued to strengthen his case for Canton by making his eighth Pro Bowl in nine years and again ranking among the league’s best guards in his 13th season. Yanda led all guards in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric and remained the anchor for an offensive line that blocked for a ground game that set a new NFL record for rushing yards in a season.

Orlando Brown Jr.
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,204
PFF ranking: 25th among offensive tackles
Skinny: After starting 10 games as a rookie, the 2018 third-round pick from Oklahoma firmly established himself as a quality NFL starter as he started every game and played in his first Pro Bowl after initially being named an alternate. His historically poor combine testing two years ago feels like a distant memory as Brown has been everything the Ravens could have reasonably wanted at right tackle.

Bradley Bozeman
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,204
PFF ranking: 32nd among guards
Skinny: Left guard was a concerning position battle last summer as others failed to take the reins before the Ravens turned to the 2018 sixth-round pick from Alabama in the final days of the summer. Many wondered if Bozeman would be a liability at the position, but his play was solid throughout the season as he played every offensive snap and was rarely a topic of conversation, a good sign for a young lineman.

Matt Skura
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 717
PFF ranking: 17th among centers
Skinny: The former practice-squad lineman solidified his place as a starting-caliber NFL center before sustaining ACL, PCL, and MCL tears as well as a dislocated left kneecap in late November. The 27-year-old is still expected to be tendered as a restricted free agent, but it remains unclear whether Skura’s surgically-repaired knee will be ready for the start of training camp.

Patrick Mekari
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 530
PFF ranking: 14th among centers
Skinny: The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley had a strong preseason to earn a 53-man roster spot and was active as a reserve every week until Skura’s knee injury threw him into the starting lineup. Baltimore didn’t skip a beat over the final five regular-season games before the 22-year-old Mekari was one of many Ravens players to have a bad night against Tennessee in the playoff loss.

James Hurst
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 194
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The versatile veteran set a career low for snaps, but he filled in effectively at left tackle for the injured Stanley in Week 15. The Ravens value Hurst’s ability to play four different positions, but his four-game suspension to start 2020 could compromise his roster standing as he’s scheduled to make a steep $4 million in base salary as a backup and Baltimore signed veteran Andre Smith to a one-year deal.

Parker Ehinger
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 54
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former fourth-round pick signed with Baltimore’s practice squad in September and was promoted to the active roster in late November, faring pretty well in limited snaps. Ehinger will be a restricted free agent and could return to compete for a 53-man roster spot.

Ben Powers
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 30
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fourth-round pick from Oklahoma graded quite well in his lone action of the season at right guard in Week 17, but Powers being inactive for every other game as a rookie leaves plenty of questions regarding his ability. Regardless of what happens with Yanda or others, the spring and summer will be critical for Powers’ development as an NFL-caliber guard.

Hroniss Grasu
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Claimed off waivers in early December for his second stint with the Ravens, the 28-year-old served as an active reserve for the final few games and is unlikely to return on anything but a league-minimum deal with a chance to compete for a roster spot in the preseason.

2020 positional outlook

The current state of the offensive line begins with the status of Yanda, who still hasn’t informed the Ravens whether he plans to return for a 14th season and chase another Super Bowl ring. Yanda retiring would create a major void at right guard — and from a leadership standpoint — that the Ravens won’t easily replace. The interior offensive line is further complicated by the uncertain health of Skura, making it ideal for general manager Eric DeCosta to add a starting-caliber option to the inside mix. On the bright side, the Ravens boast one of the best offensive tackle duos in the NFL with two Pro Bowl selections under age 27. Signing Stanley to a contract extension beyond 2020 should be one of the top priorities of the offseason as the Ravens searched nearly a decade for a franchise left tackle after the retirement of Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden. Even if Yanda decides his football days are over, the mere presence of dual-threat MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson puts so much pressure on defensive fronts that the offensive line remains at a clear advantage.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Jackson, eight other Ravens players absent from Tuesday’s practice

Posted on 31 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With an open week to work on fundamentals before learning their opponent for the divisional round, the Ravens hit the practice field without the expected NFL MVP on Tuesday.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of a few players dealing with the flu, according to John Harbaugh. The 12th-year head coach had thought Jackson would practice on Tuesday, but the Ravens are wise to play it safe with no game this weekend and players already scheduled to be off on New Year’s Day before returning to work Thursday. Jackson has been dealing with the illness since at least the weekend.

Head athletic trainer Ron Medlin often sends players home when they’re under the weather in an effort to avoid the spreading of germs, but the locker room wasn’t open to the media on Tuesday, leaving it unclear if Jackson was at the team facility.

“We should be fine. He was on the sideline [Sunday]. I don’t think he felt great, but he was down there,” Harbaugh said Monday. “And I made a point to give him an elbow bump. There were no handshakes.”

Eight other Baltimore players were absent from Tuesday’s practice, a list including running back Mark Ingram (calf), tight ends Mark Andrews (ankle) and Hayden Hurst, offensive linemen James Hurst (arm) and Ben Powers, defensive backs Brandon Carr and Jordan Richards, and defensive lineman Chris Wormley.

On Monday, Harbaugh said Ingram remained “on schedule” to return for next week’s divisional round after completing a running workout while Andrews continues to be slowed by a minor ankle injury sustained in Week 16. The Pro Bowl tight end was a limited participant in last Friday’s practice and didn’t complete his usual pre-game warmup with the other Ravens tight ends prior to being deactivated for Sunday’s win against Pittsburgh.

“There was a chance he was going to go in the game,” Harbaugh said. “He was a game-time decision and didn’t feel good, didn’t feel right before the game. That’s why he was inactive.”

Baltimore isn’t required to release an injury report this week.

With the Ravens facing the lowest surviving seed of Houston, Buffalo, and Tennessee in the divisional round on Jan. 11, offensive coordinator Greg Roman acknowledged Ravens coaches are spending more time on the Titans this week since Baltimore played both the Texans and Bills in the second half of the regular season. The coaching staff will still revisit the latter two teams in their preliminary preparation before ultimately learning which one they’ll play by the conclusion of Saturday’s Bills-Texans and Titans-New England wild-card games.

Roman wouldn’t disclose when he would interview for Cleveland’s head coach opening, reiterating that his focus remains on preparing the Ravens offense for a long playoff run. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale confirmed the New York Giants have requested to interview him for their open head coach job, but he didn’t discuss any other specifics, repeating what he said last week that it would take a “dream” scenario for him to leave the Ravens.

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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce doubtful to play against Rams on Monday

Posted on 23 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to be without nose tackle Michael Pierce for the second straight game as they travel to Los Angeles to meet the Rams for Monday Night Football.

Pierce was officially listed as doubtful on the final injury report after logging only one limited practice on Thursday. The fourth-year defensive lineman missed his second straight workout on Saturday, a clear sign that his right ankle isn’t quite ready for a return to action.

With Pierce unlikely to play in Week 12, the Ravens will again lean more heavily on veteran newcomers Domata Peko and Justin Ellis next to starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Peko and Ellis combined to play 43 defensive snaps and make five tackles in the 41-7 win over Houston last Sunday.

“That’s what gives us an opportunity not to push Michael out there unless he’s really ready to go because those guys played so well and they practiced well and they’re ready to go,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who added that Pierce didn’t suffer a setback. “Maybe he could go if we really, really had to have him go, but we have those guys available. Let’s go with those healthy guys probably.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), reserve guard Ben Powers (thumb), and wide receiver and special-teams standout Chris Moore (thumb) were listed as questionable, but all three practiced fully on Friday. Moore has missed the last two games with a broken left thumb, but his upgrade in participation suggests an improved chance for him to play against the Rams.

Los Angeles ruled out starting right tackle Rob Havenstein (knee) and former Ravens cornerback Darious Williams (ankle) for Monday night’s game. Havenstein, a Mount Airy native, will miss his second straight game.

Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks was removed from the final injury report after practicing fully all week and will make his return from a concussion that sidelined him for the last two games.

The Ravens will be making their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which hasn’t hosted a Baltimore NFL team since the Colts lost to the Rams there back in 1975. Harbaugh has never been there, but it was the site of a very special football memory for his brother.

“I’ve never been there, yes. The Coliseum, John Robinson, Student Body Right, you grew up with that,” Harbaugh said. “But the biggest game to me in the Coliseum that I remember watching on TV was the greatest upset in the history of college football: Stanford-USC [in 2007]. Jim Harbaugh taking down Pete Carroll’s No. 1-ranked Trojans when they were [41]-point favorites. That was big, right?”

According to Weather.com, the Monday night forecast in Los Angeles calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s with calm winds and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: DT Michael Pierce (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Chris Moore (thumb), G Ben Powers (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle)

LOS ANGELES
OUT: OT Rob Havenstein (knee), CB Darious Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Natrez Patrick (illness)

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Revisiting 2019 Ravens predictions coming out of bye week

Posted on 28 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Looking back at preseason predictions can be an amusing or embarrassing exercise, but that’s what makes it fun, right?

If we truly knew how the Ravens’ 2019 season would play out, I’d spend less time writing about it and more time pondering my retirement plans at the nearest sportsbook. As it relates to the present, I originally envisioned Baltimore being 4-3 at the bye with the result of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh games flipped and a loss at Seattle in Week 7. I certainly didn’t anticipate the rest of the AFC North being a combined 4-17 entering Monday, which bodes very well for the Ravens the rest of the way.

Let’s review how my 10 Ravens predictions for 2019 are holding up through the bye week and adjust where necessary:

1. Lamar Jackson won’t break Michael Vick’s season rushing record for a quarterback, but his 3,000 passing yards and 60-percent completion percentage will be positive steps in his development.

Remember Week 1 when Lamar Jackson ran the ball only three times, one of those being an end-of-half kneel? The 22-year-old quarterback has registered double-digit carries in four of the last six games, leads the NFL in yards per carry (6.9), and is 10th overall in rushing. He’s not only going to shatter Vick’s record (1,039 yards in 2006), but Jackson will finish with just over 3,400 passing yards and a completion percentage over 60 percent. We’re watching a special talent who has shown marked improvement from his rookie year and is firmly in the MVP discussion halfway through the season.

2. The defense will register 37 sacks and see its pressure rate fall to the bottom half of the league.

I was too generous in the sack department as Baltimore is currently on pace to finish with 27 quarterback takedowns, but there is at least some evidence suggesting the pass rush is better than the sack total indicates if you look at quarterback hits and ESPN Analytics’ pass rush win rate. Of course, Pernell McPhee’s season-ending injury complicates that argument and puts more pressure on Eric DeCosta to land a pass rusher by Tuesday’s trade deadline. The biggest factor helping the pass rush could be the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the return of Jimmy Smith, who should provide better coverage in the secondary. Put me down for 30 sacks by season’s end.

3. Mark Ingram will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

The former New Orleans Saint has been as advertised with a 4.7 yards per carry average and is on pace to gain 1,074 rushing yards. However, it’s fair to note that opposing defenses have been more successful slowing the Baltimore ground game between the tackles in recent weeks as Ingram has averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt over the last three contests. Opponents must make a conscious choice between accounting for runs between the tackles and trying to prevent Jackson from killing them off the edge. With that push-pull dilemma, Jackson and Ingram will become the first teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams for Carolina in 2009.

4. Mark Andrews and Patrick Onwuasor will take a step forward.

If there was one prediction I was confident about prior to the season, it was Andrews breaking out as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Even with some nagging injuries and a nightmare Week 7 showing against the Seahawks, Andrews is on pace to become the first tight end in team history to go over 1,000 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Onwuasor has taken a step back after struggling at the “Mike” linebacker position and missing the last two games with a high ankle sprain. How that impacts his value going into free agency will be interesting, but his return to the weak-side spot should be a plus for him and the pass rush when considering Onwuasor’s ability to blitz and the 5 1/2 sacks he collected last year.

5. Gus Edwards and Jimmy Smith will take a step back.

Since averaging an underwhelming 3.35 yards per carry in the first two games, Edwards has been very productive at 5.2 yards per carry over the last five contests. The problem continues to be few chances when you’re behind arguably the most dynamic running quarterback in NFL history and a two-time Pro Bowl back in the pecking order. Edwards could see a few more carries here and there, but there’s only one football to go around. Smith’s knee injury on the sixth defensive snap of the season was unfortunate in a contract year, but it’s the story of his career as he’s now missed at least four games in seven of his nine seasons. The 31-year-old does have time to rebuild some value and give the Ravens a boost the rest of the way, but we’ll always wonder how much better Smith might have been with good health.

6. Ben Powers will be starting at left guard by the bye week.

Based on comments made by offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris last week, there’s little reason to believe Bradley Bozeman won’t be starting at left guard against New England. The second-year lineman hasn’t been great every week, but Pro Football Focus has graded him 42nd among qualified guards, a reminder that there just isn’t as much quality around the league as fans and some media want to believe when scrutinizing individual teams. Powers has been a healthy scratch every week and received a lengthy look at left guard early in training camp before falling out of the starting race, factors leading one to believe the 2019 fourth-round pick isn’t beating down the door for a starting gig at this point. If anything, fellow rookie Patrick Mekari would seem to be the first in line to replace Bozeman.

7. A rough November will cost the Ravens their chance at winning the AFC North.

This month’s schedule remains challenging with three of the four opponents sporting no worse than a 5-3 record and even lowly Cincinnati coming off its bye to host the Ravens in Week 10, but John Harbaugh’s team clearly has some room for error with the rest of the AFC North under .500. Even a disastrous November coupled with Pittsburgh or Cleveland reeling off a perfect month would leave the Ravens in the thick of the division race entering December. More importantly, the convincing road win over the Seahawks provided much confidence that the Ravens can at least hold their own with five of the next six games coming against teams owning winning records.

8. Miles Boykin will tie the franchise rookie record for touchdown receptions with seven.

If you’d told me at the start of the season that one of Baltimore’s two rookie wide receivers would have 21 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns at the bye, I would have picked Boykin after Marquise Brown missed the entire spring and a large portion of the summer recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Boykin does have two touchdowns and has recorded his two longest catches over the last two games, but he has much work ahead to match the record shared by Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. If fully healthy — a fair question after a two-game absence — Marquise Brown has the better chance to break it.

9. Marlon Humphrey, Marshal Yanda, and Earl Thomas will be named to the Pro Bowl.

Despite being a little less consistent than last season, Humphrey has made enough splash plays to keep himself in position for his first Pro Bowl invitation with a strong finish to the season. The 35-year-old Yanda is no longer the best guard in football, but he continues to play at a high level to presumably receive the nod for the eighth time in his career. Thomas hasn’t been spectacular, but he has played well and benefits from a strong reputation around the league in the same way Eric Weddle did. I’ll add Jackson and Andrews to my list of Pro Bowl picks with Ronnie Stanley being a first alternate.

10. A December rally will lead to a 9-7 finish and another trip to the playoffs.

With the current state of the AFC North and the Ravens off to a 5-2 start, anything less than a division championship and a home playoff game would be a big disappointment, but the final month of the season does look more difficult than it did several weeks ago with San Francisco still undefeated and playoff-hopeful Buffalo likely having much to play for in Week 14. I thought throughout the offseason that the Ravens had a higher ceiling — and a lower floor — than in recent years because of their youth, but Jackson’s development was always going to be the biggest factor determining their fate. With the second-year quarterback playing like a legitimate MVP candidate, I see the Ravens going 11-5 and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. A deeper postseason run no longer feels farfetched if they can stay healthy the rest of the way.

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Ravens-Cardinals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 15 September 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Old meets new as Terrell Suggs returns to M&T Bank Stadium as a member of the Arizona Cardinals against a young Ravens team with a new face of the franchise.

After a record-setting performance in the 59-10 win over Miami to open the 2019 season, the Baltimore offense will be introduced with 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson scheduled to be the last one out of the tunnel. Against the Dolphins, Jackson tied a team record with five touchdown passes and recorded the only perfect passer rating in Ravens history, a historic Week 1 performance that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Suggs embraced former Raven and close friend Haloti Ngata with a big hug on the sideline during warmups, but he didn’t interact with any Ravens coaches or players on the field. The movie buff posted a video on Instagram Saturday quoting “The Dark Knight” character Harvey Dent: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

As expected, tight end Mark Andrews (foot), wide receiver Marquise Brown (hip), and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (back) are all active despite missing practice time this week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. With Jimmy Smith out with a right knee injury, the Ravens elevated Maurice Canady to the 53-man roster Saturday to add more depth at cornerback against rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and a Cardinals offense that used four-wide sets more than the rest of the NFL combined in Week 1.

Smith took the place of recently-waived offensive tackle Greg Senat, but the remaining six players on the inactive list were unchanged from Week 1 with third-round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and fourth-round guard Ben Powers both deactivated for the second straight week.

Arizona received a scare Sunday morning with starting left guard Justin Pugh coming down with an illness, but the seventh-year veteran is active.

Former Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree is active and will make his Cardinals debut. Former Ravens tight end Maxx Williams is also now with Arizona and caught up with several teammates prior to warmups.

Sunday’s referee is Ronald Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly skies and temperatures reaching the mid-80s with calm winds five to 10 miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys and purple pants for their home opener while Arizona dons red jerseys and white pants.

Sunday marks the seventh time the Ravens and Cardinals have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 4-2 advantage in the all-time regular-season series. The Ravens are 2-1 against Arizona at home with the only defeat coming at Memorial Stadium in 1997.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
CB Jimmy Smith
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

ARIZONA
OL Lamont Gaillard
OL Joshua Miles
OL Jeremy Vujnovich
OL Brett Toth
WR Andy Isabella
DL Jonathan Bullard
DL Michael Dogbe

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens begin their 2019 season where they dream it will culminate five months from now.

Miami will host Super Bowl LIV in early February, but the rebuilding Dolphins first stand in the way of a 1-0 start Sunday. The opener is a homecoming for second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both grew up less than 30 miles away from Hard Rock Stadium. The Ravens hope Sunday will be the start of a special connection between the first-round talents in the years to come, but the two did not play together in any preseason games.

After helping lead the Ravens to a 6-1 finish and their first AFC North championship since 2012 as a rookie, Jackson will become the first quarterback not named Joe Flacco to start an opener for Baltimore since the late Steve McNair in 2007. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest quarterback to make a season-opening start for the Ravens with only Kyle Boller being younger back in 2003.

As expected, Brown is active and will make his NFL debut after spending much of the offseason recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed the Oklahoma product “full-go” physically at the beginning of the week, but Brown was added to the injury report Thursday and missed Friday’s practice, a reminder that the condition of his foot remains a factor.

Despite not playing in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb, Robert Griffin III is active and will serve as the backup quarterback a day after his wife gave birth to their daughter. Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley is inactive.

Third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson headlines the list of remaining inactives for Week 1. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was complimentary of Ferguson’s late-summer improvement earlier this week, but he is fifth in the pecking order at the edge rusher position and has yet to carve out a role on special teams, making his deactivation less surprising.

The Ravens also deactivated rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack, leaving them lighter in the trenches despite the Miami heat. That will be a real factor to watch over the course of the afternoon with just four true defensive linemen — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and part-time fullback Patrick Ricard — active.

With Bradley Bozeman expected to start at left guard after working with the starters throughout the week and in the latter stages of the preseason, rookie guard Ben Powers and second-year offensive tackle Greg Senat were healthy scratches. Baltimore will go into Week 1 with veteran James Hurst and rookie Patrick Mekari as backups who’ve shown more versatility.

Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (hip) and safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) are active despite being limited in practices throughout the week.

Sunday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Miami calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 90 degrees at kickoff with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. However, it will feel like it’s over 100 degrees on the field Sunday afternoon, a factor to watch over the course of the game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Miami dons white jerseys and white pants at home for Week 1.

Sunday marks the sixth time in the last seven years that the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-6 lead in the all-time regular-season series. Including the postseason, Harbaugh is 7-1 against Miami.

The Ravens are aiming for their fourth straight season-opening win and are 8-3 in openers under Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
OT Greg Senat
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

MIAMI
CB Ken Webster
Rb Myles Gaskin
RB Patrick Laird
G Shaq Calhoun
OL Chris Reed
OT Isaiah Prince
LB Trent Harris

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Ravens not tipping hand at left guard entering Week 1

Posted on 02 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have apparently decided on their starting left guard for Sunday’s season opener, but mystery will remain until pre-game warmups in Miami.

After trading initial preseason Jermaine Eluemunor to New England last week, Baltimore has chosen from the group of veteran James Hurst, second-year lineman Bradley Bozeman, and rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari. Reasonable arguments could be made for any of the first three receiving the nod — Mekari struggled in a brief opportunity with the first-team line midway through the preseason — but none could be labeled an “established” starter based on track record or preseason performance, an uneasy proposition for a team with high expectations entering 2019.

Hurst was labeled the fallback option entering training camp, but the sixth-year swing lineman didn’t take any reps at left guard even in late-summer practices open to reporters. Powers, a fourth-round pick from Oklahoma, started at left guard in the preseason finale while the veteran linemen — Hurst included — rested, but most of the rookie’s summer reps came elsewhere after the opening week of camp in which he split first-team reps with Eluemunor. Bozeman took most of the first-team snap at left guard in the final open practices of the summer and started there in the third preseason game against Philadelphia, but he played right guard and center in the preseason finale.

Trying to read the tea leaves leaves the left guard competition clear as mud, which is perfectly fine with 12th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

“We’ve decided. We have our starting lineup all set up, but we’re not going to share that information,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Why would we? What would be the advantage for us to do that?”

The Ravens haven’t entered a season with such uncertainty at left guard since 2012, a campaign that culminated with a Super Bowl championship. That’s not to suggest it’s ideal or a harbinger of success, but even the most serious contenders can survive a major question mark at a given position.

Harbaugh and the coaching staff surprised everyone in that 2012 opener by starting Ramon Harewood, who hadn’t played a single snap in the NFL over his first two seasons. That decision was part of the fallout of shifting Michael Oher to left tackle, rookie Kelechi Osemele to right tackle, and Bryant McKinnie to the bench, but Harewood lasted only five weeks at left guard before Baltimore turned to veteran Bobbie Williams from Weeks 6-10 and Jah Reid over the final seven games of the regular season. Of course, the Ravens inserted McKinnie back at left tackle, shifted Oher to right tackle, and moved Osemele inside to left guard for the postseason, and the rest was history.

In other words, the Week 1 starter at left guard isn’t guaranteed to even be there for the home opener, let alone the entire season. That was true last year when four different players started at left guard and Hurst and Bozeman split time at the position in the final games of the season. It was their combined struggles in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that led to an offseason full of handwringing about the position.

Days from kickoff, the only constant has been that concern.

Griffin, M. Brown “full-go” for opener

The Ravens will release their first injury report of the season Wednesday, but 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III are expected to be “full-go” against the Dolphins.

After missing spring workouts and the start of training camp while working his surgically-repaired foot back to full strength, Brown made his debut in the third preseason game, catching three passes for 17 yards in 19 snaps against the Eagles. His work in the preseason finale was limited to two punt returns, both of them muffs.

We’re unlikely to see Brown returning punts again anytime soon, but how extensive his involvement in the offense will be remains to be seen after missing so much practice time this spring and summer, a critical time for a rookie receiver’s development.

“He’s a rookie. He hasn’t had a lot of reps,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to have to get up to speed quickly. We’ll have to be vigilant in what we ask him to do — things that he can do well.

“It’ll be a challenge for [opponents], too, to cover him. He’s really fast. He has great hands. That’s the challenge the other way.”

After sustaining a fracture in his right thumb on July 27, Griffin has been cleared for Week 1, according to Harbaugh’s “understanding right now.” The 29-year-old backup to starter Lamar Jackson didn’t play in the preseason, but he continued to practice on a limited basis throughout training camp.

Injured Dixon “moving on” 

The decision to place Kenneth Dixon on injured reserve raised questions from fans after the fourth-year running back rushed 13 times for a game-high 66 yards in the preseason finale and appeared to be OK after the 20-7 win over Washington.

The oft-injured Dixon missed some practice time during training camp and sat out the third preseason game with a sore knee, but many pundits had already predicted him to be on the outside looking in as he stood fourth on the depth chart at running back and was entering the final year of his rookie contract. That’s why many wondered if there was more to the story, even if Dixon did appear a little hobbled at a couple points against the Redskins.

“He’s hurt. He has a knee [injury],” Harbaugh said. “It’s actually a bone bruise that is a fracture, so he’s got a fractured knee. That’s not to say he would have necessarily made the team. It would have been based on how he played. He’s on IR; he’ll be [waived]-injured. Kenny will be moving on.”

Waiving Dixon with an injury designation would require the sides to reach an injury settlement unless he remains on IR until fully healthy. The 2016 fourth-round pick averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry as a Raven, but he played in just 18 games in three seasons with another injury putting an official end to his time in Baltimore.

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DeCosta, Ravens add future asset even with current concern

Posted on 29 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens still don’t have an answer at left guard while Jermaine Eluemunor might still develop into a starting-caliber NFL lineman.

That’s why general manager Eric DeCosta sending Eluemunor to New England didn’t quite add up with many assuming the return being only a throwaway late-round draft pick. Even with coaches’ frustration over the 2017 fifth-round pick’s conditioning and inconsistent play that prompted others to receive fleeting first-team reps, the Ravens continued giving him the bulk of the starter snaps throughout the spring and summer, making it evident they still preferred the 6-foot-4, 335-pound lineman over their other in-house options.

That seemingly reached a breaking point, however, when Eluemunor left the field in a cart when the Ravens were practicing against Philadelphia early last week. He missed the Eagles game — Bradley Bozeman started at left guard — and hadn’t returned to first-team duties in the portion of practices open to reporters earlier this week.

Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots surrendering a 2020 fourth-round pick in exchange for Eluemunor and a 2020 sixth-round pick said plenty about both the embattled 24-year-old and DeCosta’s eye toward the future on the cusp of the 2019 campaign. Like the Ravens, New England clearly likes something in Eluemunor, which will make it interesting to see if renowned offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can get the light bulb to come on for him. Even if that happens, the Ravens were compensated well for two potential seasons of Eluemunor and a sixth-round pick, making this trade quite different than sending the oft-injured Alex Lewis and his expiring rookie contract to the New York Jets for a conditional seventh-round pick carrying little value.

Of course, if the same issues follow Eluemunor to New England, the Ravens will have pulled off a steal.

Optimism remains high for 2019 as the Ravens plunge headfirst into the Lamar Jackson era, but DeCosta is positioned to be very active next offseason when Baltimore will be fully out from under the Joe Flacco contract from a salary-cap standpoint and is now projected to have nine picks in the first five rounds of the 2020 draft. That cap space and draft capital should be more than enough to meaningfully address any weaknesses — left guard, the pass rush, or anything else — that might not bring answers this fall. With Jackson’s fifth-year option taking his rookie contract through 2022, DeCosta recognizes the Ravens’ advantageous roster-building window remains open for quite some time.

Make no mistake, left guard remains a real concern with the season opener just 10 days away, but it’s not as though the Ravens were close to trusting Eluemunor even if he was the best blend of short- and long-term consideration. Perhaps Bozeman, James Hurst, 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, or some other lineman not currently on the roster will eventually stabilize the position, but the Patriots are now the ones tasked with trying to cultivate Eluemunor’s frustrating potential.

If the former Raven blossoms, DeCosta has a solid chance of recouping that value down the line anyway.

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