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Ravens defense begins OTAs sporting different look

Posted on 23 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ first open organized team activity didn’t offer a great look at a defense that’s undergone substantial change this offseason.

As if the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban weren’t enough, six other notable defensive players weren’t participating in Thursday’s voluntary workout, leaving only a few established veterans, role players, and unproven young talents on the practice field. The list of absentees was headlined by six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, the blockbuster free-agent acquisition handpicked to help fill voids in leadership and play-making ability. Other defensive players not taking part were cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Tony Jefferson, who is still working his way back to full strength from offseason ankle surgery and was a sideline observer.

Though led by one of the NFL’s best and deepest secondaries, the Ravens defense faces major questions at the inside and outside linebacker positions ahead of the 2019 season

“There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces and I see a lot of new opportunities,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my [2017] draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves and to become those household names.”

As expected, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were lining up as the starting inside linebackers after sharing time at the weak-side inside backer spot next to Mosley last year, but trying to project the starting outside linebacker opposite Judon is anyone’s guess after Suggs manned the spot for the last 15 years. The Ravens hope some combination of third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will emerge, but the low-risk signings of Pernell McPhee, 30, and Shane Ray, 26 last week delivered the message that young players won’t be handed snaps without first earning them.

McPhee, who played for the Ravens from 2011-14, and Ray combined for only one sack with their former teams last season, but they rank first and third, respectively, among current Baltimore players in career sacks, illustrating the lack of established edge rushers on the roster.

“That certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come. You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come and not everybody does a good job of that. They did a good job of that. They were out there today. You saw them competing, so they looked good.”

Absences on the offensive side of the ball were more related to health as rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) only observed and guard Alex Lewis continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Right guard Marshal Yanda was not present, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has skipped voluntary OTAs in the past.

The most interesting absence Thursday was running back Kenneth Dixon, who likely stands fourth in his position’s hierarchy behind free-agent addition and two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram, 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill. Despite averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry upon returning from a knee injury late last season, Dixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a variable that often leaves a player’s job security vulnerable when competing at a deep position. His history of injuries and drug-related suspensions also works against him.

“He was here the last few days,” Harbaugh said. “Where was he today? I don’t know. They don’t have to tell us. There’s no rule.”

Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive tackle Gerald Willis were also absent, but Willis did sustain an apparent leg injury during rookie camp earlier this month.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of annual league meetings

Posted on 22 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With NFL teams convening in Phoenix next week for the annual league meetings, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta has roughly $16 million in salary cap space with the draft a little over a month away. That leaves the flexibility to make another moderate signing or two while leaving the necessary space for the rookie draft class and in-season moves.

2. The Ravens were certainly interested in Justin Houston, but the two-year, $24 million deal he received from Indianapolis would have been difficult to absorb without restructuring deals or cutting another player, actions the organization prefers to avoid.

3. I still believe a $9.5 million salary and $15.85 million cap number are risky for someone who’s played more than 12 games in a season only twice in his career, but it’s clear Jimmy Smith is still valued. He remains a trade chip if they can address another need, however.

4. Robert Griffin III always seemed among the most likely of the free agents to re-sign. He hit it off with Lamar Jackson and had a nice preseason, but we’re talking about someone who was out of the league entirely in 2017. A deal made too much sense for both sides.

5. No one expected Brent Urban to sign in the opening hours of free agency, but I’m surprised there hasn’t been more interest in the 5-technique end. I figured he’d be looking at a contract similar to the four-year deal New England gave Lawrence Guy two offseasons ago.

6. With so much reported outside interest in Nick Boyle before he re-signed with the Ravens, teams wanting to add a blocking tight end should sign Maxx Williams, who would be a fraction of the price and interestingly received better blocking grades from Pro Football Focus in fewer snaps last year.

7. The lack of movement on Urban and Williams is likely complicating DeCosta’s free-agent strategy as the Ravens are currently slated to receive only one 2020 compensatory pick. There’s not a remaining unrestricted free agent who’s worth forfeiting a third-round pick to sign.

8. Much focus has been on the need for edge rushers, but Za’Darius Smith and Urban were vital parts of the inside pass rush. A healthy Willie Henry would help, but interior pressure is more important than ever with quick throws so prevalent today to try to neutralize edge defenders.

9. Jerry Rosburg’s retirement is a significant loss as his units have finished in the top five in Rick Gosselin’s revered special teams report and have ranked sixth or better in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA in seven straight seasons. The pressure is on successor Chris Horton.

10. With Terrell Suggs and Joe Flacco officially gone, only six players remain who were with the organization during Super Bowl XLVII and Anthony Levine was on injured reserve at the time. Only eight remain under contract from the Ravens’ last playoff win over Pittsburgh in January 2015.

11. As Mark Ingram noted after news of Griffin’s deal surfaced, the Ravens now have three Heisman Trophy winners on their current roster. That’s definitely a rare occurrence, but the late 1980s Los Angeles Raiders quickly came to mind with Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, and Bo Jackson.

12. Congratulations to former Ravens coaching intern Lori Locust for earning a full-time NFL coaching position with Tampa Bay. This interesting story describes her journey to now work for Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, who has advocated for more diversity in coaching in recent years.

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

Posted on 12 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 defensive linemen ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends

Brandon Williams
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 517
PFF ranking: 33rd among interior defenders
Skinny: Williams ranked 22nd among interior defenders against the run, but opinions have varied on his value since before he signed his $52.5 million contract two years ago. The nose tackle played a major part in Baltimore ranking third in yards per carry allowed, but he played just 50 percent of defensive snaps.

Brent Urban
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 522
PFF ranking: 49th among interior defenders
Skinny: Urban played all 16 games in a season for just the second time in his career and did the dirty work at the 5-techniqe end spot, but he made few splash plays with only a half-sack and two tipped passes. The Ravens would likely be interested in re-signing Urban again to a short-term deal.

Chris Wormley
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 401
PFF ranking: 67th among interior defenders
Skinny: The 2017 third-round pick made six starts prior to the bye week and established himself as a regular member of the game-day rotation, but his playing time declined after the bye as he made less of an impact. Wormley could find himself playing more 5-techinique if Urban departs via free agency.

Michael Pierce
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 389
PFF ranking: fifth among interior defenders
Skinny: Despite being slowed by a foot injury early in the year, Pierce thrived in his third season, providing more ammunition for critics of the Williams contract. The former undrafted free agent is positioning himself for a strong payday after 2019, especially if he can offer a little more as a pass rusher.

Willie Henry
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 82
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Henry was on his way to becoming the starting 3-techinique defensive tackle before August hernia surgery cost him the first four games of the year and an October back injury ended his season. The Ravens missed his inside pass-rushing ability, something he’ll hope to reestablish in a contract year.

Patrick Ricard
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 47
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The versatile Ricard also took snaps as a blocking fullback, but he wasn’t active after Week 12 and the surfacing of past racist and homophobic tweets didn’t help his perception. His ability to play on either side of the ball helps his roster standing, but he’s far from a lock to make the team in 2019.

Zach Sieler
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 17
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Ozzie Newsome’s final draft pick last April, Sieler spent most of the year as a game-day inactive, but the Ferris State product flashed enough last summer to warrant the organization keeping him on the roster. Sieler could move into a more significant role in 2019, especially if Urban signs elsewhere.

2019 positional outlook

Even with Urban being an unrestricted free agent and Pierce a restricted free agent, this remains one of the better positional groups on the roster going into next season. The Ravens would benefit from Wormley and Sieler taking a step forward to become bigger factors as 5-technique players, but they’ll again be strong inside with Williams, Pierce, and a returning Henry. It’s worth mentioning how frequently linebacker Za’Darius Smith moved to the interior line to rush the quarterback in obvious passing situations this past season, so Baltimore will have its eyes peeled for an interior lineman who can pressure the pocket. It will be fascinating to see how Pierce and Williams play in 2019 and how that might impact the organization’s plans for 2020 and beyond. Pierce is 3 1/2 years younger and will be an unrestricted free agent while the Ravens could conceivably move on from Williams’ deal next offseason.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2019 class of free agents

Posted on 09 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens enter their most interesting offseason in recent memory after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson helped lead them to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2019 salary cap commitment of roughly $163 million to 45 players (not including free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future deals), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2019 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

New general manager Eric DeCosta is likely to clear additional cap space by renegotiating or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. Of course, that list will be headlined by former starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be traded or released after 11 seasons in Baltimore. A trade or pre-June 1 release will save $10.5 million in cap space while leaving $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap, but Jackson’s $2.1 million cap number for next season makes that dead money easier to endure.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are other potential candidates to be cap casualties. Those decisions will depend on how drastically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year replacing Ozzie Newsome.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2019 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any team beginning on March 13 at 4 p.m.

RB Buck Allen The former fourth-rounder went from leading Ravens backs in snaps in some early games to being a healthy scratch late in the season, but his special-teams ability helps his value.

TE Nick Boyle He doesn’t offer too much as a receiver, but Boyle’s blocking ability was a critical part of Greg Roman’s run-game schemes, making his return a bigger priority than you might think.

WR John Brown The speedy wideout says he’s open to returning, but he caught only 10 passes for 128 yards in Jackson’s eight starts, which certainly didn’t do any favors for his market value.

QB Robert Griffin III The former first-round pick was a helpful mentor to Jackson and is open to returning as his primary backup unless he receives an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere.

RB Ty Montgomery – Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery is good in pass protection and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited duty, but the Ravens may want to look elsewhere.

LB C.J. Mosley – The Ravens would certainly love to keep the four-time Pro Bowl selection, but they may need to make him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker to do it, making this a tougher call.

LB Za’Darius Smith The versatile pass rusher isn’t the type of player Baltimore has typically re-signed to a big contract in the past, but other in-house options haven’t exactly stepped up.

LB Terrell Suggs The 36-year-old plans to return for a 17th NFL season and wants it to be with the Ravens, but his quiet second half of the season and asking price will be factors to consider.

DE Brent Urban The oft-injured lineman played in all 16 games and didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but a return on another cheap deal doesn’t appear out of the question.

TE Maxx Williams Though he never lived up to his second-round draft standing and makes minimal impact as a receiver, Williams developed into a useful blocker over the last two seasons.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

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

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2019 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.149 million in 2018) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.914 million in 2018) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.907 million in 2018) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

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

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

RB Alex Collins (fifth) – Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2017, Collins once seemed like a good bet to receive a second-round tender, but a foot injury and disappointing production leave his future uncertain.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second) – The 6-foot-3 defensive back had a chance to make the team before breaking his arm late in the summer, but he could be back to compete for a spot on a cheap deal.

LB Patrick Onwuasor (undrafted) – A strong second half could prompt the Ravens to use a second-round tender on him to deter teams from pursuing him and to serve as insurance for Mosley.

DT Michael Pierce (undrafted) – Baltimore’s best defensive lineman this season, Pierce will likely receive the second-round tender and could be in line for a substantial payday after the 2019 campaign.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

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

WR Quincy Adeboyejo After missing the entire 2018 season, the 6-foot-3 wideout will compete for a roster spot after flashing from time to time in his first training camp in 2017.

RB Gus Edwards One of the great stories of 2018, the 238-pound back will go into his second season trying to maintain the starting job in a run-heavy offensive attack.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor The 2017 fifth-round pick spent a few weeks on the practice squad early in the season and will again be competing for a job on the 53-man roster

C Matt Skura The former practice-squad member started all 16 games at center, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens seek an upgrade at this important position along the offensive line.

RB De’Lance Turner It’s easy to forget Turner received a practice-squad promotion before Edwards, but he’ll be fighting for a spot after spending most of the season on injured reserve.

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday isn’t just an enticing showdown between the top scoring offense and best scoring defense in the NFL, but it serves as a measuring stick for both the Ravens and New Orleans.

Allowing a minuscule 12.8 points per game and ranking at or near the top in virtually every notable category, the Baltimore defense has faced the fourth-easiest slate of offenses so far this season, according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, the Saints are scoring a whopping 36.0 points per game against the second-easiest schedule of defenses to this point.

Regardless of the competition, each group’s body of work is very impressive, but this matchup offers the opportunity to prove just how great they truly are.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for just the seventh time with the Ravens holding a 5-1 advantage and a 3-1 record in Baltimore. As has been mentioned throughout the week, Drew Brees is 0-4 in his career against the Ravens, the only NFL team the future Hall of Fame quarterback hasn’t defeated over his 18 seasons.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Brees will throw his 500th and 501st career touchdowns as well as his first two interceptions of the year. The 39-year-old is off to a brilliant start with a 122.3 passer rating through five games, but he’s yet to face a defense quite like the Ravens, who are allowing just 6.0 yards per passing attempt. Marlon Humphrey’s status could be pivotal, but Jimmy Smith should be ready for a bigger workload with two games under his belt if the former can’t go. How nickel corner Tavon Young holds up defending Cameron Meredith or even Michael Thomas in the slot will be critical, but the Ravens will mix their coverages enough to force Brees into making a few more mistakes than usual.

2. Willie Snead will lead the Ravens in receptions and catch a touchdown against his former team. The slot receiver downplayed the significance of this one, but you know it would mean plenty to show well after his nightmare 2017 that followed 141 catches and 1,879 yards in the previous two seasons. Twenty of Snead’s 30 receptions — tied with Michael Crabtree for the team lead — have gone for first downs this season as he’s been exactly what Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh envisioned. The Saints have had significant problems at the slot cornerback position since the injury to Patrick Robinson, setting up Snead to gain some payback with his second score of the year.

3. Saints running back Alvin Kamara will score the first second-half touchdown of 2018 against Baltimore. Much was made about Kamara receiving only nine touches in Mark Ingram’s return to action two weeks ago, but the former is averaging 9.2 yards per reception, which is prime Ray Rice territory out of the backfield. The Ravens have covered running backs well so far this season, but Kamara presents a different kind of challenge who will offset the efforts of the pass rush at times and test tackling ability. Baltimore is bound to give up a post-halftime touchdown at some point, and Kamara will get loose for a score to put that impressive streak to an end.

4. Za’Darius Smith will collect another sack for one of three total for the Ravens. The key to slowing Brees and the New Orleans offense is disguise and deception, which is what Wink Martindale has so masterfully used to this point in his early tenure as defensive coordinator. Because Brees gets the ball away so quickly, you cannot count on edge rushers to get to him and need your interior linemen to hit him or at least make him move his feet to throw off his timing. Saints left guard Andrus Peat is out and right guard Larry Warford is questionable, which should make things easier for Smith, Brent Urban, and Willie Henry. The inside rushers will do just enough to make life difficult for Brees.

5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will be the difference in a 27-23 Ravens victory. The sexy story all week has understandably been about the Baltimore defense trying to slow the Saints offense, but New Orleans ranks 30th in the league in pass defense and the Ravens have been a top 10 passing attack so far this season. Talented Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore may contain one side of the field, but Flacco should be able to make plays against the rest of the New Orleans secondary for a productive day. Brees and Saints head coach Sean Payton having the bye week to try to crack the code that’s been the Ravens defense does make you take pause, but home-field advantage and a more balanced roster will make the difference in a game that has the potential to be a regular-season classic.

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Hall of Fame Game behind them, the Ravens have turned their attention to what is normally the first preseason contest of the summer.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed he will treat Thursday’s contest with the Los Angeles Rams like the typical preseason opener with veterans starters unlikely to play more than a couple series after most sat out entirely against Chicago last week. Of course, this game brings extra interest after the teams practiced together twice in Owings Mills this week, a move that provided the Ravens a useful litmus test.

“That’s a good team. Obviously, they have a very good defense, and I think they have a very good offense,” said Harbaugh about the defending NFC West champions. “It’s excellent to practice against a team like this. That’s why we were excited when Sean [McVay] said they wanted to come in and practice. It was very positive for us.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to play in just his second preseason game since 2015, creating more intrigue as he comes off one of the most difficult seasons of his career.

Drawing strong conclusions from preseason performance is unwise, but Flacco would like to continue building chemistry with three veteran newcomers at the wide receiver position as well as two rookie tight ends. The Ravens have emphasized the need to start fast in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and would like to build some good mojo on the offensive side of the ball before the season opener on Sept. 9.

“You want to go out there, and you want to play well,” said Flacco, who missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury. “It’s obviously not at the point where it really, really counts, but I think it does a lot for the confidence of the team and the confidence of an offense to go out there and perform well.”

Thursday marks the fifth time the Ravens and the Rams will meet in the preseason with then-St. Louis winning the four previous meetings. However, Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

The Ravens own a 29-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won nine exhibition contests in a row.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: S Tony Jefferson, G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: WR Tim White, OL Randin Crecelius, OL Maurquice Shakir
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), TE Mark Andrews (hamstring), OT Greg Senat, RB Kenneth Dixon, LB Tyus Bowser, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson

Five players to watch Thursday night

DE Brent Urban

The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Urban played nine uneventful snaps against the Bears last week, a positive step in his return from last season’s Lisfranc foot injury. The Baltimore defense would love to see him become an impact interior rusher in sub packages, but Urban needs to prove he’s healthy and will stay that way. A heavier workload and a couple disruptive plays would be positive developments on Thursday.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.

The rookie was the bright spot on a forgettable night in Canton for other young offensive linemen as he played 60 snaps. With Marshal Yanda back at practice this week, the expectation was that Brown would compete with James Hurst for a starting spot, but the Ravens kept Brown at right tackle when Yanda took limited reps on Tuesday. Another strong performance might make him the favorite over Hurst.

CB Tavon Young

The talented slot corner played 15 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, but he should see more playing time this week against the Rams’ talented trio of Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods. Perhaps the biggest sign of the Ravens’ confidence in Young coming back from last year’s ACL injury was the decision to move Maurice Canady, last year’s primary nickel, to a reserve outside cornerback spot.

WR/RS Janarion Grant

Tim White was considered the favorite to win the return specialist job — if the Ravens keep someone solely to do that job — but he’s been sidelined since the first preseason game, opening the door for Grant. The Rutgers product flashes ability and made a spectacular cut on a punt return against the Rams on Tuesday, but he also drew a taunting penalty — and the ire of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

OLB Tim Williams

On the heels of recording six pressures and a quarterback hit against the Bears, Williams was praised this week by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who stated his belief that the 2017 third-round pick will become a “premier” pass rusher in the NFL. Of course, Williams carrying over last week’s performance against better competition would go a long way in growing his confidence.

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With Ravens rookie tight ends sidelined, Harbaugh takes dig at college practice

Posted on 23 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A simple question about the absence of Ravens rookie tight end Hayden Hurst from recent practices prompted a spirited commentary from John Harbaugh on Monday.

The 11th-year head coach spoke about the scaled-back nature of collegiate practices in recent years and how they might negatively impact players’ transition to the NFL. Hurst hasn’t practiced since Thursday while dealing with a “soft-tissue” injury while fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews has battled a hamstring issue since the end of spring and missed his second practice of training camp on Monday.

“Guys coming out of college aren’t as callused up as they used to be,” Harbaugh said. “We used to practice twice a day in full pads [in college]. … It’s not even close to the same thing. There’s a certain type of ‘in shape,’ certain type of football fitness, certain type of callousness — muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments that kind of toughen up. They callus up a little bit, and you can practice all day and run all day.

“Our guys coming in right now, most of them don’t have that. So, [they] practice for half a practice, and all of a sudden things start tweaking on them.”

Harbaugh cited veteran tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams taking extra reps in the rookies’ absence and not missing a beat since they’re “callused up” and “know how to practice” at this level. The head coach went out of his way to make sure his comments weren’t viewed as a direct shot at Hurst or Andrews, but it was an interesting rant less than a full week into summer workouts.

The Ravens are expecting big things from Hurst in particular this season as the first-round pick has received extensive reps with the starting offense for much of the spring and summer. Boyle and Maxx Williams combined for just 43 catches for 289 yards and one touchdown last year, leaving a clear need for Hurst — and perhaps Andrews — to contribute immediately.

“It’s a big effect. You have to be out here practicing,” said Harbaugh of Hurst. “You can’t be in the training room and expect to be your best. It’s not his fault; it’s nobody’s fault. He’s in there doing everything he can to get back, but it’s part of the deal.”

On the positive side, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive end Brent Urban, and inside linebacker Kenny Young returned to the practice field after missing Sunday’s session.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and Maurice Canady (knee) were given the day off, according to Harbaugh. Offensive lineman Greg Senat and cornerback Bennett Jackson remained sidelined along with the four players on the active physically unable to perform list: guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

The Ravens appeared to dodge a bullet when left guard Alex Lewis had his left ankle rolled into by another player late in Monday’s practice. He appeared to be in pain and was helped to the sideline, but the 2016 fourth-round pick returned to action and completed practice without incident.

Crabtree shines in red zone

Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s ability to make plays in the red zone was a major draw for the Ravens signing him after he caught a combined 25 touchdowns in his three seasons with Oakland.

That skill was on display Monday during a 7-on-7 red-zone drill as the 30-year-old made a great adjustment on a back-shoulder throw from quarterback Joe Flacco that was off the mark. They simply didn’t have a pass-catching target last year to turn that kind of an errant throw into a touchdown catch.

“It looks like it’s a bad pass, but for Crabtree, that’s a good pass to him,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said last week. “Joe can throw the ball, I feel like, a little more accurately with a guy like [him].”

Threat to Tucker?

Rookie Kaare Vedvik certainly isn’t pushing for two-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker’s job, but that hasn’t stopped the Marshall product from impressing as he booted a 67-yard field goal on Monday

“He had a little wind at his back,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “But he just kicks them straight. He’s a very talented guy. I’m expecting he either beats Tucker out or someone trades us a draft pick for him. What do you think? Which one do you think it could be?”

A strong summer could put Vedvik on the radar in the same way Wil Lutz did two years ago when he was signed by New Orleans after kicking for Baltimore in the 2016 preseason.

Odds & ends

It remains unclear whether the Ravens will reschedule Saturday’s free and open practice at M&T Bank Stadium that was canceled due to heavy rain. “I know they’re looking hard to find a day,” Harbaugh said. “As far as players and coaches, we’re great. We like being over there. Hey, send us down. We’ll go do it. It’s just right now, I don’t know if we can find a day or not. If we can, we’ll load the buses up and head down.” … Terrell Suggs said Friday was the first time he’d ever been caught stealing Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart on the way out to the practice field, a regular prank pulled by the 16th-year outside linebacker. Upon realizing the owner was sitting nearby as he drove his way onto the practice field, Suggs made a quick U-turn and gave Bisciotti a ride. “I turned just like a kid with hands stuck in the cookie jar.” … Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi has received some reps at the rush outside linebacker position early in camp. The 2016 third-round pick from Brigham Young has played little in his first two NFL seasons and is on the roster bubble this summer.

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Ravens light along offensive line in first padded practice of summer

Posted on 22 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Conducting their first padded practice of the summer, the Ravens were without their two best offensive linemen on Sunday.

As six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda continues working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery on the physically unable to perform list, third-year left tackle Ronnie Stanley was also absent from Sunday’s workout, leaving an undermanned offensive line to struggle against Baltimore’s defensive front for much of the day. It’s unclear why Stanley was not practicing as 2017 fifth-round pick and reserve guard Jermaine Eluemunor moved outside to fill in at left tackle.

“He’s got the skill certainly and the ability and the skill set to play tackle,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. “He’s certainly a big, thick man, so that’s unusual because he has the feet to play tackle. I think he will be a very good guard as well. We’re trying to utilize him at different positions.”

Tight end Hayden Hurst (soft-tissue injury), defensive end Brent Urban (foot), linebacker Kenny Young (undisclosed), cornerback Bennett Jackson (undisclosed), and offensive lineman Greg Senat (undisclosed) were also absent from Sunday’s workout. Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg) remain with Yanda on the active PUP list.

Head coach John Harbaugh continued to slow-play the participation level of a number of key veterans, but starting quarterback Joe Flacco took part in his first full practice of camp and took extensive reps during 11-on-11 periods of practice. Flacco had been excused from the field early with other veterans on Thursday and Friday, leaving rookie Lamar Jackson and veteran newcomer Robert Griffin III to take more reps with the first-team offensive line over the first two days of workouts.

“It looks like he’s moving and grooving better than he has in several years,” said Mornhinweg about Flacco, “and I suppose that’s because he’s healthy. He looks pretty good that way.”

The veteran trio of Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead were once again held out of full-team periods of practice, leaving Chris Moore and Tim White to stand out among a younger group of wide receivers. Moore made a couple of leaping catches, including one he corralled with one hand and ultimately secured while going to the ground.

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Five questions for Ravens defense entering organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2018 by Luke Jones

Contrary to what you might conclude from this offseason, the Ravens do have another side of the ball.

While spending most attention and resources on revamping the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing game, general manager Ozzie Newsome parted ways with only one player — defensive back Lardarius Webb — who played defensive snaps in 2017. That’s a remarkable level of continuity in this era, but will it pay off?

The Ravens defense was exceptional at times in 2017, leading the league in takeaways and pitching three shutouts. The group ranked in the top 10 in most significant statistical categories until late in the season and still finished fifth overall in Football Outsiders’ weighted defense rankings.

But the defense struggled down the stretch, blowing a late lead in Pittsburgh for the second year in a row and suffering one of the bigger collapses in team history when Cincinnati scored on a fourth-and-12 play from the Baltimore 49 with under a minute left in Week 17 to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs. No matter what the numbers said, the defense came up small in some of the biggest moments of the season.

Below are five pressing questions for the Ravens defense as organized team activities are now underway:

1. How much will change under new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale?

Players have provided glowing endorsements of Martindale and anticipate more flexible and aggressive schemes than those employed by Dean Pees. Criticisms of the former defensive coordinator are fair — leaving Brandon Carr on an island with Antonio Brown late in the Week 14 loss to the Steelers was just one example — but these types of sentiments about new coaches are commonplace whenever teams fall short the previous season. It’s easy to subtly point fingers at individuals no longer in the picture, but Martindale’s roots with the Ryan family are definitely intriguing from a schematic standpoint. On the flip side, the former linebackers coach must prove his failed stint in Denver eight years ago was mostly due to the Broncos’ lack of talent since this defense has the talent to be a good-to-great unit.

2. Who will man the inside linebacker position next to C.J. Mosley?

This is likely a multi-pronged answer since former rookie free agent Patrick Onwuasor started 13 games at the weak-side spot and the dime package was frequently used in passing situations with an extra safety playing in the box last season. The Ravens should continue to be creative with sub packages, but they need more consistency at this position in the base defense, whether it’s Onwuasor taking the next step in his development or fourth-round rookie Kenny Young seizing the opportunity to get on the field. You’d expect Martindale to continue to use the likes of Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark in the dime package when appropriate, but Baltimore identifying another inside linebacker who can hold up in pass coverage will be vital to the overall success and flexibility of the defense.

3. Will the Ravens get more out of safety Tony Jefferson?

The prize free-agent acquisition of 2017 was ordinary in his first year with the Ravens, providing ammunition for critics who wondered why Newsome invested a four-year $34 million contract in a box safety when there were clear needs on the other side of the ball a year ago. Many point to Pees too frequently using Jefferson away from the line of scrimmage — a valid claim, especially in the first half of the 2017 season — but there were also examples of him being beaten in coverage by tight ends and not being as strong against the run as advertised. Martindale should continue using Jefferson in the box as much as possible, but Eric Weddle will need to be able to hold up in back-end coverage. Even after a restructure, Jefferson has the team’s ninth-highest cap number and must bring more to the table.

4. What will the 5-technique defensive end spot look like?

The season-ending loss of Brent Urban in Week 3 last season was unfortunate after the 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman appeared on his way to becoming an impact player, and the Ravens struggled to fill this position for much of the season, another factor that hurt their run defense in addition to the four-game absence of Brandon Williams. Re-signing Urban to a cheap one-year deal was a prudent move, but counting on a player who’s missed 39 games in a four-year career is problematic at best. Carl Davis shifted outside to do a respectable job in the second half of last season, but he’s also entering the final year of his contract, making it critical for either 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley or 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi to step up to become a real contributor at this spot.

5. How will a deep group of cornerbacks be handled?

On paper, this is one of the deepest cornerback groups the Ravens have ever had with young talents still pursuing their ceiling. Jimmy Smith’s health is the major question as he recovers from last December’s torn Achilles tendon, but Marlon Humphrey looked the part of a future shutdown corner as a rookie and the solid veteran Carr was retained as a pricey insurance policy. Beyond that, Tavon Young is back in the fold after serving as a strong slot defender as a rookie two years ago, and Maurice Canady will try to build on his late success at the nickel last season. Those numbers don’t even take into account fourth-round rookie Anthony Averett or Jaylen Hill, who showed potential last summer before being stricken with injuries. If all are healthy — a major if — Martindale will have a good problem on his hands.

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Ravens re-sign defensive end Urban to one-year deal

Posted on 06 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have re-signed defensive end Brent Urban to a one-year contract.

The 2014 fourth-round pick was set to become an unrestricted free agent next week, but Baltimore will instead retain its only defensive starter from last season who had been scheduled to hit the open market. After missing 26 games due to injuries over his first three seasons, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Urban had finally moved into a starting role in 2017 before suffering a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury in Week 3.

The Ravens struggled to replace Urban at the 5-technique defensive end spot, eventually deciding on Carl Davis midway through the season. However, with Davis undergoing offseason shoulder surgery and recent third-round picks Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley not developing as rapidly as the organization had hoped, retaining Urban became a distinct possibility with general manager Ozzie Newsome mentioning it in Indianapolis last week.

“Beyond thankful to be given the opportunity to do what I love with the organization that gave me my start,” Urban posted on his Twitter account shortly after the deal was announced. “2018 is going to be so real.”

After also dealing with injuries at the University of Virginia that hurt his draft stock, Urban missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL early in training camp and then missed 10 games in 2015 with a torn biceps sustained that summer. The organization has always been high on his size and ability and were excited about his potential as an interior pass rusher last year before he went down in the blowout loss to Jacksonville.

In 25 career games with Baltimore, Urban has collected 25 tackles, three sacks, and three batted passes.

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