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Stanley, Smith absent from Wednesday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 16 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley left the season opener with an ankle injury early in the second half, but it was another ailment that kept him sidelined for Wednesday’s practice.

The 2019 Pro Bowl selection was listed as having a hip issue on the official injury report while Baltimore ramped up preparation for its Week 2 trip to Houston. On Monday, head coach John Harbaugh had anticipated Stanley being on the field for the first practice of the week, but that was when his ankle was believed to be his only health concern.

“I haven’t been told anything serious,” said Harbaugh about Stanley’s left ankle injury that occurred on the opening drive of the second half of the 38-6 win over Cleveland. “They’re working on him down in the training room. I’d say Wednesday we’ll have a pretty good idea. But I expect him to be out there practicing Wednesday. That’s my expectation at this point.”

With Stanley sidelined, the Ravens turned to veteran D.J. Fluker at left tackle for the final 24 offensive snaps of the Browns game.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was also absent from Wednesday’s practice with what was listed as a hip injury. Though he ultimately played 24 snaps in Week 1, the 32-year-old defensive back was a Sunday morning addition to the injury report and given a questionable designation because of back spasms.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee), and defensive end Calais Campbell (veteran day) were also missing from the workout, but running back Justice Hill (thigh) returned to practice as a limited participant after missing the season opener.

Having placed rookie inside linebacker Kristian Welch on practice squad injured reserve, the Ravens signed veteran tight end Xavier Grimble to their 16-man practice squad. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Grimble was released by Indianapolis earlier this month after spending the previous four seasons with Pittsburgh. In 47 career games with the Steelers, the 27-year-old made 23 receptions for 239 yards and three touchdowns.

Benefiting from some extra rest since their season-opening loss to Kansas City last Thursday, the Texans had their entire 53-man roster on the practice field, but five-time Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt (hip), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (quadriceps), right tackle Tytus Howard (ankle), and running back Duke Johnson (ankle) were all limited participants. Watt did not play in last November’s meeting between these teams, a 41-7 blowout win for Baltimore.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Calais Campbell (non-injury), DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), CB Jimmy Smith (hip), OT Ronnie Stanley (hip)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (quad), OT Tytus Howard (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), DE J.J. Watt (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: FB Cullen Gillaspia (hamstring), OLB Jonathan Greenard (ankle)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 1 win over Cleveland

Posted on 15 September 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth straight season opener in a 38-6 blowout final over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Calais Campbell made his presence felt on the opening drive, batting down a pass and then dropping into coverage to deflect another throw into the arms of Marlon Humphrey. The 6-foot-8 Campbell pounded his fist on the ground over not catching it, but he was terrific in his Baltimore debut.

2. Campbell and fellow newcomer Derek Wolfe will be effective chess pieces for Wink Martindale, but Week 1 indicated the Ravens will again need to rely on blitzing and numbers for a pass rush. You’d love to get home with a four-man rush, but a strong secondary makes up for it.

3. According to Next Gen Stats, Lamar Jackson was 11-for-13 on passes traveling at least 10 yards downfield and his 47-yard throw to Marquise Brown outside the numbers was gorgeous, but reaction to his performance surprised me a bit. He didn’t lead the NFL in touchdown passes by accident last year.

4. Jackson’s downfield pitch to Mark Ingram reminded of Willie Mays Hayes making the basket catch and being greeted in the dugout by manager Lou Brown in “Major League.” “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever [expletive] do it again.” It was also clearly illegally forward, but Ed Reed had to be smiling.

5. Two touchdowns overshadowed J.K. Dobbins gaining a modest 22 yards on seven carries, but the rookie starting the second half over Mark Ingram felt notable and reflects there not being much of a gap in the hierarchy so early in the season. It isn’t great news for Gus Edwards either.

6. Jaylon Ferguson registered a tackle and a quarterback hit and had a fourth-quarter sack wiped away by a penalty, but he played the fewest snaps (22) of the five outside linebackers. This came on the heels of a quiet summer for the second-year outside linebacker. Baltimore needs a step forward.

7. All focus has been on the young receivers, but Willie Snead’s 64 receiving yards marked his highest single-game total since 2016. After dropping some weight and having a good training camp, Snead doesn’t appear ready to surrender playing time just yet.

8. The element of surprise can always be used as a defense, but Greg Roman choosing a third-and-1 from the Cleveland 7 to give Patrick Ricard his first career carry felt a little too cute. You wonder how long Ricard will wait for his next carry after the fumble.

9. John Harbaugh is correct that few NFL coaches pull their quarterbacks particularly early when leading big, but acknowledging the Ravens did that with Jackson a couple times last year made his argument less convincing, especially as D.J. Fluker was filling in for an injured Ronnie Stanley.

10. Beyond James Proche not catching a punt that rolled to the 1, special teams were solid with L.J. Fort’s hit on Cleveland’s fake punt standing out. Still, the kickoff team settling for touchbacks all seven times after doing that only 53.8 percent of the time last year is worth monitoring.

11. Which best reflected Cleveland’s ineptitude: that ill-advised fake punt, the disinterest of Odell Beckham Jr., or third-and-41? The benefit of the doubt is appropriate for teams that went through significant changes this offseason, but “the Browns gonna Brown.” At least they fixed their uniforms, which do look sharp.

12. We laugh about Justin Tucker and Sam Koch not having as much work in this new era of Ravens offense, but there were 19 missed field goals and five missed extra points across the league. The continuity provided by the “Wolfpack” is more important than ever with the pandemic restrictions.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 September 2020 by Luke Jones

A Week 1 that felt uncertain and at times unlikely over the offseason is finally upon as the Ravens host the Cleveland Browns to kick off their 25th season in Baltimore.

The popular perception is Super Bowl or bust for John Harbaugh’s team after last season’s 14-2 record and early playoff exit, but the unknown applies more than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the in-person offseason workout program as well as the preseason schedule. That poses an early-season challenge to even the most stable organizations, let alone teams like the Browns with new coaching staffs.

We’re about to find out what that looks like.

“There’s definitely more uncertainty. It’s self-evident I think that there’s more uncertainty from a football standpoint,” said Harbaugh, who believes the ramp-up period in early August eases injury concerns. “Just going to have to go out there and play. I want to get out there and play and see where we’re at. That’s going to be an unknown until we start playing. Until we start kicking and throwing and punting and passing and tackling, we’re not going to know for sure.”

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 43rd time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a massive 31-11 advantage and a 20-4 mark in the Harbaugh era. The teams have split the season series in each of the last two years.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will pass for two touchdowns and run for another against a banged-up Cleveland defense. Expecting a perfect passer rating and five touchdown passes like in the 2019 opener would be a bit much, but the Browns will be without two of their top three cornerbacks — Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson — and outside linebacker Mack Wilson after already losing rookie safety Grant Delpit last month. When you combine that with no preseason games, slowing down the dual-threat Jackson won’t be easy, even if he needs a little time to knock off the live-game rust.

2. The Ravens will hold Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt under 100 rushing yards total. Baltimore is in the same boat as Cleveland in terms of trying to slow a potent rushing attack, but Baker Mayfield poses little threat to run compared to Jackson. The quality of tackling for both teams figures to be tested early and often, but one of the primary objectives of the offseason for general manager Eric DeCosta was revamping the front seven to better stop the run. The Ravens will reap the rewards of those efforts before the Browns fall behind and largely abandon the run in the second half.

3. Jarvis Landry will continue his recent success against Baltimore with a touchdown and 75 receiving yards. The slot receiver had a combined 15 catches for 241 yards in the two games against the Ravens last year, making him a big challenge for returning cornerback Tavon Young. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is a big proponent of play-action passing, which should make Landry and new tight end Austin Hooper — a big test for rookie inside linebacker Patrick Queen — prominent targets over the middle of the field for Mayfield when he isn’t looking for Odell Beckham Jr.

4. Calais Campbell will register a sack and bat down a pass in his Ravens debut. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive end just turned 34, but he’s aged like a fine wine, playing the best football of his career with 31 1/2 sacks over the last three years with Jacksonville. Baltimore hasn’t had a 5-technique quite like Campbell since Trevor Pryce, who registered 13 sacks in his first year with the Ravens in 2006. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell may not do that, but he’ll have a strong Week 1 showing lining up outside and inside against a Browns offensive line less than 100 percent on Sunday.

5. The Ravens will handle their business with a 31-14 win in an unprecedented season opener. Week 1 is always unpredictable and Baltimore needs to come out of the gate focused playing in an empty M&T Bank Stadium, but this isn’t one to overthink as the better team with the same coaching staff from a year ago has a clear advantage against an outfit with a new staff that had very little time to establish its culture and way of doing things on the field this summer. The Browns showed in Week 4 last year that they certainly have the talent to win in Baltimore, but that one remains fresh in the minds of the Ravens, who will build a comfortable lead by the third quarter and win their fifth straight season-opening game.

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2020 season

Posted on 12 September 2020 by Luke Jones

Instead of going through the exercise of making league-wide predictions, the following focus on the Ravens and the quest to win their third Super Bowl in the 25-year history of the franchise:

1. The offense will score at least 10 fewer touchdowns than a year ago.

Yes, Greg Roman is back, J.K. Dobbins joins a strong backfield, and a very young group has another year of experience under its belt, all reasons to argue the record-setting offense scoring 58 touchdowns a year ago could be even better. But reality suggests otherwise from a statistical standpoint as 30 of the 34 teams to score at least 50 offensive touchdowns in a season since 2007 saw their total drop the following year and 20 of those saw a double-digit decrease. For perspective, even Super Bowl champion Kansas City scored 20 fewer offensive touchdowns last year than in 2018. None of this is to suggest the offense will be anything but terrific again or that opponents will have “solved” it, but it’s a tribute to how remarkable and efficient the 2019 offense really was and an indication that opponents are likely to adopt more best practices to keep the Ravens from scoring 40 or more as often.

2. Lamar Jackson will once again lead the Ravens in rushing by going over 1,000 yards for the second straight year.

I fully expect Dobbins to cut into the workload of both Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, which will keep Ingram from going over the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. But the arrival of the former Ohio State star doesn’t change the fact that Jackson has the ball in his hands for the start of every one of those read-option plays, meaning the reigning NFL MVP isn’t going to suddenly see a sizable decrease in his number of carries over the course of the season. Make no mistake, Jackson can and will win plenty of games with his arm and Baltimore has very talented running backs, but the third-year quarterbacks’ athleticism remains the truly transcendent component of this one-of-a-kind offense, evident by his league-best 6.9 yards per carry average last year. That isn’t changing for now.

3. Jackson will improve his yards per attempt despite throwing fewer touchdowns than a year ago.

I expect Jackson to throw more passes than last year’s 401, but throwing a touchdown on 9.0 percent of his attempts again is highly unlikely. For context, Tom Brady has never recorded a single-season percentage that high while Patrick Mahomes (5.4 percent) and Russell Wilson (6.0 percent) were well below that mark last season. Where I do anticipate growth is Jackson pushing the ball down the field more often and making more throws outside the numbers, points of emphasis for him this offseason. Jackson’s 7.8 yards per attempt ranked 13th in the NFL last year, but landing in the top 10 in that category will be a sign of the passing game having a better ability to play off schedule and from behind. He won’t be quite as touchdown efficient, but adding more explosiveness will go a long way.

4. Mark Andrews will go over 1,100 receiving yards to lead all Baltimore pass catchers.

Improved health, a bigger frame, and no shortage of workout videos on social media have made Marquise Brown the popular choice for a breakout season. I definitely expect a sizable jump for the 2019 first-round pick who collected 584 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but Andrews made the Pro Bowl and set team highs with 852 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns catches despite playing just 41 percent of the offensive snaps and dealing with a nagging ankle injury for a good chunk of the season. With Hayden Hurst in Atlanta and the Ravens carrying just two tight ends on the 53-man roster, Andrews’ increased snap count alone suggests more targets and production in his third season.

5. The run defense will rank in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed and efficiency.

Finishing an underwhelming 21st in the NFL in both departments last year, the Ravens added veteran defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe as well as rookie inside linebacker Patrick Queen to boost a run defense that proved too vulnerable in key matchups, none more obvious than the heartbreaking playoff loss to Tennessee. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will still need to rely heavily on the blitz to pressure quarterbacks, but these additions along with moving Brandon Williams back to his natural nose tackle spot should result in less handwringing about an inability to stop the run, especially if edge defenders show more consistency setting the edge against stretch zone rushes.

6. Marlon Humphrey will grab a career-high five interceptions to be named a first-team All-Pro again.

There is no shortage of talent in the secondary, but Humphrey is the most complete player after showing off his versatility last season by frequently moving inside after excelling as an outside corner in his first two seasons. With nickel corner Tavon Young returning from last year’s neck injury, Humphrey will again be able to thrive on the outside and strengthen his case as one of the very best at his position in the league. The 24-year-old tackles like a linebacker, covers at an elite level, and will solidify his status as the best player on this defense. Another All-Pro season will have him knocking on the door for a contract extension not far off from what the Los Angeles Rams just gave Jalen Ramsey.

7. A shaky November will cost the Ravens the top seed in the AFC.

Trying to anticipate what teams will look like from a health standpoint — which takes on a different meaning in the midst of the pandemic — in November is anyone’s guess, but a post-bye trip to play a talented Indianapolis team, a road game at New England the next week, and a Thanksgiving night trek to Pittsburgh four days after hosting the Titans? That’s easily the most challenging four-game stretch on the schedule and the biggest roadblock on paper to securing the No. 1 seed for a second straight year. Going 2-2 over that stretch would hardly be disastrous, but it may not be good enough.

8. Six Ravens players will be named to the Pro Bowl.

Jackson, Humphrey, Andrews, Campbell, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and kicker Justin Tucker will receive the nod, but the Ravens will hope not to be participating in that shoddy exhibition again.

9. A 12-4 record will give the Ravens their third straight AFC North championship.

No AFC North team has ever won the division in three straight seasons as you’d have to go back to the old AFC Central days when Pittsburgh won four consecutive division titles from 1994-97. The Ravens remain a clear favorite, but strong arguments can be made for all three division foes being better than a year ago. If Ben Roethlisberger looks anywhere close to his pre-injury self, the Steelers will be a formidable playoff team. The Browns should win more than six games and have a chance of sneaking in as a wild card with the AFC postseason field now expanded to seven teams. And Cincinnati should improve as the year progresses after handing the keys to first overall pick Joe Burrow. The Ravens won’t run away with this division by six games like last year, but they still own the AFC North.

10. The Ravens will defeat New Orleans 33-24 to win Super Bowl LV in Tampa.

After using much of this space to say the Ravens won’t be as dominant as last year, I’m picking John Harbaugh’s team to break through and win the third Super Bowl in franchise history. As memorable as the best regular-season team in Ravens history was, the winter was as cold as ever after the loss to Tennessee. The best record in the league and the No. 1 seed, an abundance of broken records and individual accolades, and, yes, plenty of national media love and respect — all things coveted by Baltimore fans for years — proved not as fulfilling as seeing the Ravens raise the Lombardi Trophy at the end of 2000 and 2012, two seasons with far more adversity. With Jackson taking a cue from Mahomes in winning the MVP award in his second season, why not continue the trend with a Super Bowl victory in his third year? The Ravens won’t find the 2020 regular season as easy or fruitful in terms of records and awards, but they’ll finally take down the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Championship. The electrifying Jackson will then get the best of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, fulfilling that promise he made the night he was drafted with the 32nd overall pick less than three years ago. Baltimore will be picking there again next spring because of him.

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After longest offseason, Ravens finally begin road to January redemption

Posted on 09 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This was always going to be the longest offseason for the Ravens after “the hard truth” of their crushing playoff loss to Tennessee last January.

Shaking off that kind of defeat is easier said than done when you were the consensus best team in the NFL with a 14-2 record, a record-setting offense, and transcendent league MVP Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The stars had seemingly aligned with good health and a 12-game winning streak to clinch the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage through the postseason, but three months of domination vanished in three hours against the Titans, leaving the Ravens to ponder what had happened.

Second-year wide receiver and close friend Marquise Brown recalls talking with Jackson that night about what they “could have done or what should have happened” for a different outcome.

“We knew that the next thing we needed to do was focus on next year and what we could do to improve to be 1-0 each week,” Brown said. “That’s been his mindset. It’s like, we have to win each week — each week — and that goes into the playoffs. You can’t look over anybody [or] look over a game. You have to take each week seriously and win each week.”

Of course, one day and one week at a time took on a much different meaning for the Ravens and the rest of the world with the coronavirus pandemic, which closed the Owings Mills training facility for months and limited the spring workout program to Zoom meetings and remote work. Baltimore players itching to get back to work and put the end of last season behind them couldn’t begin congregating until late July, instead working out individually in various parts of the country.

With COVID-19 testing and protocols ongoing, the Ravens finally take the field Sunday to begin their 25th season in Baltimore without any fans gathered at M&T Bank Stadium, another wrinkle in this unprecedented season.

“This year is definitely so unique,” said veteran newcomer Calais Campbell, noting how long it’s felt since last playing a game after no preseason action. “All the preparation to get to this point — you’re not even sure if it’s going to happen. Here we are, and we’re just trying to lock in and find a way to get off to a fast start.”

The Ravens will have officially had eight months and two days to move on from that 28-12 loss to the Titans, knowing expectations are only greater this time around. Perhaps they should look no further than defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City for inspiration.

After falling short as the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the conference championship game a year earlier, the Chiefs found 2019 to be a bumpy road. Andy Reid’s team dealt with more health concerns, including a knee injury that sidelined 2018 league MVP Patrick Mahomes for nearly three full games. Kansas City scored 20 fewer offensive touchdowns than the year before when the offense was otherworldly. And despite facing double-digit deficits in all three postseason games, the Chiefs still found a way to win their first Super Bowl in 50 years.

History suggests Baltimore won’t match its 58 offensive touchdowns from last year, let alone break the single-season rushing record again. The Ravens probably aren’t going 14-2 again, but a deep and talented roster remains perfectly positioned to win a Super Bowl, even if Jackson doesn’t lead the league in touchdown passes or become the fifth man to win back-to-back NFL MVP awards.

Asked Wednesday about the previous two MVPs — Tom Brady in 2017 and Mahomes in 2018 — winning the Super Bowl the following year, Jackson simply replied, “Hopefully, the third one will be me.” Losses in each of his first two career playoff games provide ammunition for his lingering critics, but doubting Jackson after the dramatic improvement shown in his first full season as a starter still feels unwise.

“He’s going to continue to get better,” running back Mark Ingram said. “He’s going to continue to be more confident in his abilities within the offense — knowing the offense, knowing the ins and outs, the adjustments within the offense. He’s just continuing to grow. It’s special to be able to see it because I feel like he’s a million times ahead of where he was at this point last year.”

The reality is Jackson and the Ravens will now be judged solely by what happens in January, but there’s much work to be done over the next 17 weeks just to have that opportunity, which is why Cleveland is an appropriate Week 1 opponent. The Browns don’t offer the same revenge quotient as the Titans or Chiefs, but their Week 4 beatdown of the Ravens in Baltimore last season serves as a reminder for John Harbaugh’s team not to look ahead or take any opponent lightly.

That sentiment has been conveyed by the 34-year-old Campbell, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end who went to a Super Bowl as a rookie with Arizona in 2008 and hasn’t been back since. He accepted a trade this offseason to play for a revamped Ravens defense because of the perceived chance to win a championship.

“The biggest thing is staying in the moment. You can’t win the Super Bowl today,” Campbell said last month. “I don’t care how good you are in August. You’ve got to go through the process. You can’t even win the first game today.”

The road to January redemption remains long with no guarantee of a regular-season ride as smooth as last year, but the Ravens are glad to finally reach that first game.

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Harbaugh talks Madubuike’s absence, Dobbins’ role, No. 3 quarterback

Posted on 01 September 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens improved their defensive line more than any other position group on paper this offseason by adding five-time Pro Bowl selection Calais Campbell and former Super Bowl champion Derek Wolfe.

But it appears they’ll be without an important depth piece to begin the 2020 season as rookie defensive tackle Justin Madubuike remains sidelined with an injury suffered in last Saturday’s scrimmage at M&T Bank Stadium. His absence will further test a unit already leaning heavily on Campbell, Wolfe, and nose tackle Brandon Williams, who are all on the wrong side of age 30.

Head coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose specifics of Madubuike’s ailment or exactly when the third-round rookie from Texas A&M is expected to return, but his availability for the season opener against Cleveland is in clear doubt.

“It’ll be a little bit, but it won’t be [anything] close to season-ending,” Harbaugh said. “It won’t even be multiple weeks during the season. He got caught up in a little pile. He’s kind of I would say a little more than day-to-day — maybe week-to-week here for a couple weeks. We’ll just see where he’s at, but he’ll be OK.”

Madubuike’s absence should immediately improve the roster standing of veteran nose tackle Justin Ellis, whom some had projected to be on the bubble this summer. It may also press fifth-round rookie Broderick Washington into active duty on game days, especially against a run-oriented opponent like the Browns in Week 1.

Of course, the Ravens have rarely worked out of their “base” 3-4 defense in recent seasons and can also turn to hybrid rushers like Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward to provide some situational snaps, but there are high hopes for Madubuike, who has flashed some skill as an interior pass rusher this summer.

How even a short-term absence might impact a first-year player already trying to overcome an abbreviated training camp remains to be seen, but early reviews about his approach have been favorable.

“The kid can play. He’s going to be a good football player. He’s a great rookie,” said Wolfe about Madubuike last week. “He’s strong, he’s tough, physical. He wants to be good. He listens, he writes down everything. That’s all you can ask for. He’s always asking questions, always trying to get better.”

Fitting Dobbins into crowded backfield

There’s been no shortage of camp hype for rookie running back J.K. Dobbins, whom Harbaugh said is “definitely going to have probably a significant role” in a backfield already including Pro Bowl veteran Mark Ingram, short-yardage bruiser Gus Edwards, and 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill.

Despite only so many carries available in a run-first rushing attack led by record-setting rushing quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson, Dobbins should be in the mix immediately as a rusher or as a receiver out of the backfield, an area in which he’s especially shined during camp.

“He’s looked really good in practice. He works really hard. He’s just the most coachable guy,” Harbaugh said. “He has a lot of talent, and he’s very coachable. He wants to be good; he wants to play. He’s confident. Confidence plus coachability plus talent — it’s a pretty good combination, and he has all of that.”

It’s difficult to predict whose workload might suffer the most due to Dobbins’ presence considering the 30-year-old Ingram ranked seventh in the NFL at 0.5 yards per carry above expected, according to Next Gen Stats. That metric indicates Ingram’s 5.04 yards per carry and 1,018 rushing yards weren’t simply a product of Greg Roman’s scheme and Jackson’s dynamic presence putting pressure on opposing fronts.

It’s reasonable to anticipate Dobbins taking a modest number of carries from Ingram and Jackson, but many have predicted the bulk of his touches coming at the expense of Edwards, who’s merely averaged 5.3 yards per carry over his first two seasons. Harbaugh doesn’t think anyone should be overlooking the 238-pound Edwards, however.

“He’s respected by defenses, and they know that he’s a must-stop player in terms of the way he runs the football,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to have a big role. He’s better than he was last year. When you watch him in training camp, he really has worked on the things that he could to improve. I think he’s going to be even better than he was last year, so I’m looking forward to seeing him play this year.”

But again, there’s only one football to go around.

No. 3 quarterback competition

The third-string quarterback job has been one of training camp’s more interesting competitions between 2019 sixth-round pick Trace McSorley and undrafted rookie Tyler Huntley.

Many assumed Huntley would have a difficult time without a normal spring or preseason to learn the offense, but Harbaugh acknowledged it will be “real tough” to decide on the third quarterback behind Jackson and veteran backup Robert Griffin III. Huntley has performed better overall in practices open to media, but gauging his grasp of the offense compared to McSorley’s edge in experience leaves some unknown, especially without being able to watch either play in preseason games this summer.

“We’ll see. They’re all doing well. I like what they’re doing,” Harbaugh said. “They’re in different stages of their careers. It plays out every day, but we like them both. We like all four of our guys. They’re all doing a good job, but they’re all in different places right now in their development.”

Regardless of which way the decision goes, the odd man out would figure to remain a candidate for the expanded 16-man practice squad.

Stadium practice

The Ravens will conduct a closed practice at the stadium on Wednesday afternoon before returning to Owings Mills for three more practices leading up to Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to trim the roster to 53 players.

“We have a script that we’re going to use. It’s not going to be a contact practice. It’s going to be an execution, operation practice,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of situational work, a lot of technique-type work. But it will be a competitive scrimmage like we had on Saturday night.”

Injury report

In addition to Madubuike, McPhee, cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Josh Nurse, wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), running back Kenjon Barner (leg), and tight end Eli Wolf weren’t participating in the portion of Tuesday’s practice open to media.

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Baltimore Ravens defensive back Chuck Clark, left, brings down Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Clark, Ravens “moving forward” from Thomas saga; Jackson back at practice

Posted on 24 August 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Chuck Clark is a man of few words in the Ravens locker room, so asking him to reflect on his involvement in the final chapter of the Earl Thomas saga brought a predictable response on Monday.

The starting safety wasn’t interested in rehashing the Friday altercation that proved to be the final straw in the decision to terminate Thomas’ contract “for personal conduct that has adversely affected” the Ravens. Having signed a three-year extension this offseason, Clark is preparing to lead the Baltimore secondary in his first full year as a starter and isn’t dwelling on the fight that resulted in Thomas taking a swing at the 2017 sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech.

“Right now, as a team and as an organization, we’re just moving forward and putting that situation in the rear view,” Clark said. “We’re just trying to get through training camp healthy and get to the first game.”

With Thomas out of the picture, Clark is now being paired with DeShon Elliott, a promising 6-foot-1, 210-pound safety who’s been limited to just six career games in his first two seasons due to injuries. The Ravens hope Elliott will represent another sixth-round success story at a position that’s been a mixed bag since the departure of Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed in 2013.

Elliott has the support of Clark and many other teammates believing in his abilities.

“He has a high motor, a lot of energy, [and] a lot of aggression out there on the field,” Clark said. “When we’re out there paired together, we just gel together smooth. It’s been like that in the past. We’ve been out there running with the [second team] before we stepped into our roles as starters. We know how each other plays.”

A University of Texas product like Thomas, the 23-year-old Elliott chose his words respectfully about the former Raven while sharing a similar sentiment.

“Earl is a Hall of Famer, no doubt,” Elliott said. “We have the same agent (David Mulugheta). Of course, I respect Earl and his game, but I’m not worried about Earl. I’m worried about me and what I can bring to this team for my teammates.”

Jackson back at practice

Quarterback Lamar Jackson was back on the field after missing back-to-back practices over the weekend for an ailment that wasn’t exactly clear.

On Saturday, assistant head coach David Culley indicated Jackson received the practice off to rest a tired throwing arm, but head coach John Harbaugh said the reigning NFL MVP was one of a few players dealing with “soft-tissue things” on Sunday. After Harbaugh refused to expand on that description and whether it was Jackson’s shoulder, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Jackson was dealing with a minor groin strain and would return to practice on Monday.

“He was back. He looked good. He had a good practice,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’re moving forward.”

Jackson appeared to be moving well throughout the workout, but he didn’t leave the pocket as much as usual, perhaps a deliberate attempt to keep him healthy. The 23-year-old was off to a terrific start in camp before the weekend hiatus, but there doesn’t appear to be any real concern about his health.

Meanwhile, teammates are again envisioning special things after his historic 2019 campaign.

“He’s the man. If he doesn’t win MVP two times in a row, I’ll be shocked,” Elliott said. “That boy is like that. And being able to play against him, it just helps us build as a defense because we’ll never play against anybody like him ever, no matter what game it is.”

Practice highlights

Monday’s shells-and-shorts workout was fairly uneventful, but rookie quarterback Tyler Huntley and second-year wide receiver Marquise Brown combined to deliver the play of the day. Huntley, an undrafted free agent from Utah, uncorked a 55-yard touchdown pass that the 2019 first-round pick adjusted to in midair to make a terrific over-the-shoulder catch for the score.

Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins made a standout touchdown catch in the back of the end zone for a second straight day, this time victimizing former Ohio State teammate Malik Harrison in coverage during a 7-on-7 drill.

Tight end Charles Scarff made a nice back-shoulder catch on a Huntley throw and made a few other receptions before dropping a throw delivered by Robert Griffin III. A 2019 practice-squad member, Scarff is in the running for the No. 3 tight end job behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle.

Monday’s injury report

Jackson wasn’t the only notable player to return to practice as Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters was back in action after a two-day absence.

Running back Justice Hill, wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), return specialist Kenjon Barner (leg), tight end Eli Wolf, and cornerback Josh Nurse were absent from Monday’s practice, but Harbaugh doesn’t expect any of those players to be out much longer.

“Everything is a couple days or no more than a week,” Harbaugh said. “If it’s more than that, I’ll try to keep you informed on that of any serious-type injuries that come up. The rest of it really is just training camp stuff.”

Defensive end Calais Campbell received a veteran day off.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Day 6 of open training camp

Posted on 23 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens leaving Owings Mills to conduct the first of three scheduled summer practices at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson missed a second straight practice with what was described as “soft-tissue thing” by John Harbaugh, who wouldn’t expand when asked if it was related to the tired throwing arm mentioned by David Culley Saturday. A few hours later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Jackson would return Monday. Alrighty then.

2. Without Jackson on the field, the defense easily won the day and didn’t show any hangover from the news of Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas being released, playing with energy and even chirping with offensive players on the opposite sideline during 11-on-11 work. I’m sure that was only coincidence.

3. DeShon Elliott looked comfortable and communicated frequently in his new spot as a starting safety next to Chuck Clark. Showing no shortage of athleticism and swagger, Elliott forced an incompletion with good coverage on Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews in an 11-on-11 drill.

4. Marcus Peters has also missed back-to-back practices with a “soft-tissue” injury, but the Pro Bowl cornerback observed on the field and even assisted with defensive back drills. He didn’t look like someone who would be out for long.

5. It remains to be seen how J.K. Dobbins will factor into the carry distribution, but the rookie running back made a terrific jump-ball catch over rookie linebacker Kristian Welch in a 1-on-1 passing drill. He definitely impressed over the first week of open practice.

6. Dobbins also broke off a 20-plus-yard run in a period of live tackling that included rookies and backup players at the end of the practice. Rookie quarterback Tyler Huntley threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jerell Adams to cap off the brief scrimmage.

7. Anthony Averett continued his strong start to camp by breaking up a pass intended for Marquise Brown in a 7-on-7 rep and batting away a Trace McSorley throw intended for Jaleel Scott in an 11-on-11 period. With Jimmy Smith playing a little more safety these days, Averett’s development is important.

8. One of the more interesting drills from Sunday’s practice was watching the defensive backs practice blitzing off the edges, a reflection of how aggressive and unpredictable Wink Martindale loves to be with his pressure packages.

9. Nigel Warrior came away with the first interception in a 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drill out of six open practices, picking off McSorley on a pass intended for Brown. Defensive players responded with an pronounced celebration around the undrafted rookie safety.

10. A sleeper I’m watching is outside linebacker Aaron Adeoye, who spent last year on the practice squad. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Southeast Missouri State product batted down a pass and later blew past Parker Ehinger to pressure McSorley into falling in the pocket. He’s an impressive athlete.

11. I’m used to hearing artificial crowd noise covering baseball from the press box at an empty Camden Yards, but the Ravens using it at the stadium still felt weird. Of course, that sort of thing is nothing out of the ordinary for the Atlanta Falcons.

12. Calais Campbell is no stranger to an NFL stadium entering his 13th season, but I caught the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end doing a little version of the Ray Lewis dance as he walked out of the tunnel for the first time as a Raven. That was a fun scene.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Day 2 of full-team practice

Posted on 18 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their second day of full-team practice on Tuesday morning, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson made several beautiful sideline throws, including a toe-tap grab from Willie Snead during an 11-on-11 period. The third-year quarterback chalks it up to simple “repetition,” but his offseason focus on out-breaking routes outside the numbers seems evident early on.

2. Much of the offseason talk about Jackson centered around playoff performance and his ability — as well as this offense’s — to play from behind. Those are fair questions, but Marlon Humphrey said it best about what’s next: “To put a ceiling on him, I don’t think there is one.”

3. A day after news of Dez Bryant coming to town to work out for Baltimore, Miles Boykin turned in a strong practice headlined by a high-point catch with Humphrey in tight coverage along the sideline. Coincidence or not, it was good to see from a 6-foot-4, 220-pound target with potential.

4. Jimmy Smith is in good shape and has been smooth in coverage against both wide receivers and tight ends. I still expect him to primarily line up at corner when on the field, but cross-training at safety as Brandon Carr did in previous years makes perfect sense.

5. Earl Thomas looks leaner than he did last year and is “ready to roll” in John Harbaugh’s words. With the 31-year-old acknowledging a learning curve transitioning to his new defense last season, I’m interested to see how Thomas fares in the second year of his $55 million deal.

6. While rookie third-round pick Tyre Phillips has been mentioned as the potential swing tackle, keep an eye on the 6-foot-7, 312-pound Will Holden, who is 26 and with his seventh organization since being selected by Arizona in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. Someone needs to fill that job.

7. You’d expect some rust from Tavon Young after the slot corner missed all of 2019 with a neck injury, but he impressively broke up a pass intended for Snead on a short double move in a 1-on-1 drill. That’s hardly a setting conducive to seeing tight coverage from the defender.

8. Evaluating kick and punt returners without the benefit of preseason games will be unsettling, but rookie sixth-round pick James Proche looks natural catching punts so far. Still, it will be difficult not to hold your breath considering the volatility at the Ravens’ returner spots for years.

9. Chris Moore being sidelined with a broken finger opens the door for someone like Jaleel Scott to stand out as a gunner on the punt team, something the third-year receiver did during a Tuesday drill. Scott’s roster hopes depend on becoming a legitimate special-teams contributor.

10. Tyler Huntley doesn’t have the most consistent mechanics, but the rookie has made some good throws over the first two days of open practice, including a perfect deep ball to Marquise Brown. It’s a shame he didn’t get a normal spring to work with quarterbacks coach James Urban.

11. Contact and 11-on-11 drills attract more attention for obvious reasons, but the Ravens spent quite a bit of time early in Tuesday’s session working on alignment and technique. The rookies and young players need as much of that work as possible after missing so much on-field time.

12. Brandon Williams — who was back at practice after missing Monday — and the rest of the defensive line are having fun with veteran free-agent arrivals Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell. Wolfe received wolf howls from his teammates while Campbell has heard both playful teasing and praise.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following first full-team padded practice

Posted on 17 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their first full-team padded practice of 2020 training camp on Monday morning, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Seeing coaches and team staffers wearing masks was certainly weird, but the rest of the 90-minute workout felt like normal football, from the sound of offensive linemen hitting the blocking sled to teammates talking trash with one another. Let’s hope the NFL’s encouraging testing numbers continue.

2. Veteran reporters warn not to take too much away from the first few camp practices even under normal conditions, but one word came to mind watching Wink Martindale’s defense — fast. The speed, versatility, and aggressive tactics should put incredible stress on the opposition.

3. The throw of the day was a Lamar Jackson strike down the seam to Marquise Brown between DeShon Elliott and Anthony Levine in coverage. Yes, Brown looks bigger and stronger than a year ago and still looked like the fastest player on the field by a clear margin.

4. You’d hope to see less scrutiny for every throw Jackson makes in training camp after his historic MVP season, but his loudest critics will still point to what happened to Baltimore in the postseason. Unfortunately, his chance to silence that particular talk is at least 4 1/2 months away.

5. John Harbaugh wouldn’t comment on NFL Network’s report of Dez Bryant traveling to Owings Mills to work out for the team. Taking a look at the former Dallas Cowboy is fine, but what can you really expect from someone who hasn’t played an NFL snap since Jackson starred at Louisville?

6. First-round pick Patrick Queen surged through the line of scrimmage to make the first “tackle” — the Ravens were going thud contact — of the first 11-on-11 period. That seemed fitting for the 21-year-old inside linebacker who should have little trouble proving he belongs on the field Week 1.

7. Matthew Judon handled himself well when asked about being forced to play on the franchise tag. “I can’t do anything about it, but I’m glad I’m still a Raven.” A former fifth-round pick making $16.8 million and still having a bite at the apple next March isn’t a bad deal.

8. Now established and paid as a starting safety, Chuck Clark was active with a couple stiff hits during early 11-on-11 periods and a breakup of a pass intended for Willie Snead during a 7-on-7 drill. His football intellect and presence are invaluable for a defense built from the backside forward.

9. Despite rookie free agents being in a tough spot with no preseason games to showcase their talents, the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Eli Wolf moves well and made a couple good grabs. Someone must emerge as the No. 3 tight end, but Wolf made only 21 career receptions at Tennessee and Georgia.

10. Iman Marshall was firmly on the bubble before suffering a season-ending knee injury, but his absence makes it more important for the talented Anthony Averett to rebound from a disappointing 2019. A defense that sometimes deploys four corners at once needs a viable fifth option for depth.

11. We’re used to seeing Orlando Brown Jr. tower over teammates on the field, so seeing him stand with Calais Campbell (also 6-foot-8) at one point Monday reiterated how massive the latter is. What a piece to add to this defense on and off the field. He’s already making an impression.

12. Justin Tucker ended Monday’s practice with a 58-yard field goal before the horn sounded and Harbaugh huddled his team together. The world has changed so much in 2020, but that particular sight was old hat.

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