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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of offseason workout program

Posted on 15 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their offseason workout program in preparations for the 2019 season this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The faux enthusiasm for players running and lifting weights dissipates quickly, but the start of the “voluntary” offseason program is a welcome checkpoint on the way to a new season. We’re less than five months away from kickoff for Week 1.

2. We know Lamar Jackson was again working with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris and have seen some videos on social media, but I’m fascinated to hear him discuss his offseason and to see what he’s specifically focused on improving.

3. Until we see the terms of the one-year deal extension for Marshal Yanda, I’m not making too much out of it beyond the removal of any doubt about his status for 2019. The 34-year-old has to have many of the same questions we all do about a team in transition.

4. Yanda will have a compelling case for Canton, but I can’t help but remember the start of his career when he missed most of 2008 and moved between guard and tackle for four years. He didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until his fifth season, which won’t help his chances.

5. Count me among those believing Eric DeCosta would prefer trading back from 22nd overall to accumulate more picks, but you ultimately need to have a willing partner. If the draft’s value is truly on the second day and early in the third, other teams are aware of that as well.

6. Baltimore’s positional needs are clear, but don’t forget the 2015 draft if you’re more concerned about DeCosta checking those boxes than maximizing value. It looked great on paper to pick Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Carl Davis to “replace” Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Haloti Ngata. Reality was different.

7. I enjoy the team projections put out by ESPN’s Mike Clay to gain a universal picture of where the league stands at this point in the offseason. Ravens fans won’t like seeing 7.6 projected wins, but I couldn’t strongly argue a bigger number at this point, illustrating how critical this draft will be.

8. Michael Pierce has deservedly received high praise and appears on his way to a good payday at some point in the next calendar year, but he’s played 400 snaps only once in his three seasons. How does a bigger workload translate if you’re considering giving him lucrative money?

9. With much conversation about the offensive line, James Hurst feels like a forgotten man after a back injury limited him to 10 games last year. He carries the roster’s 10th-highest cap number, so the pressure is on Hurst to show he’s fully recovered.

10. The Seth Roberts signing was a typical Ravens move and carries little risk, but the last former Oakland Raider with issues catching the football didn’t work out so well here. Roberts has dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.

11. The regular-season schedule should be released this week with the Ravens set to play five playoff teams from a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how the league and its TV partners perceive Jackson and a run-heavy offense in terms of the number of scheduled prime-time games.

12. Strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders isn’t a household name, but countless players have praised his work over the last couple offseasons. Luck is a greater variable than we admit, but the Ravens had only seven players finish last season on injured reserve.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2018 season opener

Posted on 04 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens opening the 2018 season by hosting Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m more optimistic about the Ravens than I’ve been in a few years, but it has very little to do with the 5-0 preseason beyond staying pretty healthy. The Indianapolis game was the only time Baltimore played at full strength — or close to it — against another team at full strength.

2. Is it more surprising that Alex Collins, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead combined to touch the ball only eight times in the preseason or that no one is talking about that? To be clear, that’s not a criticism, but it speaks to the unknown still at work here.

3. Is anyone else tired of talking about the backup quarterback situation? A healthy Joe Flacco playing at a higher level is the key to this season — not whether Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III is backing him up. In a perfect world, Griffin doesn’t take a snap all season.

4. Bills coach Sean McDermott made the right call naming Nathan Peterman his starting quarterback and protecting first-round pick Josh Allen from playing on the road against a tough Baltimore defense that’s frequently eaten rookie quarterbacks alive over the years. That won’t save Peterman though.

5. Remember how the Ravens had $17 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2015, the year they finished 5-11? Fresh off their first playoff appearance of the millennium, the Bills are carrying an unthinkable $53.1 million in dead money on this year’s cap. You can’t win that way.

6. Willie Henry’s early absence could change things, but I like the decision to shift Brandon Williams back to nose tackle after he played more of the 3-technique spot with Michael Pierce at the nose last year. Williams is excellent against the run, so you want to maximize his biggest strength.

7. The practice-squad signings of Cyrus Jones and Tim White should signal to Janarion Grant not to get too comfortable as the return specialist. I’m not convinced the Ravens have found their answer in this department or if that individual is currently in the organization.

8. I’m not sure how long rookie cornerback Darious Williams will be on the 53-man roster, but he began his Alabama-Birmingham career as a walk-on and stayed put through the football program’s temporary disbandment and two-year hiatus from playing games. That’s quite a journey to the NFL.

9. Four teams making waiver claims on Carl Davis and his release even after Henry’s injury should speak to the depth of the Baltimore defensive line. Seeing Cleveland grab the versatile Davis wasn’t remotely surprising.

10. The Ravens are starting their second decade of the John Harbaugh-Flacco era. Some would argue that isn’t a good thing, but that kind of continuity isn’t fully appreciated until it’s gone. Over the last decade, the Browns have had six head coaches and used 19 starting quarterbacks.

11. Questions remain about the circumstances that led to Kaare Vedvik being found with head and upper-body injuries early Saturday in East Baltimore. I feel for the 24-year-old as he had a good chance to be kicking in the NFL this year, but the outcome could have been much worse.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for naming Anquan Boldin their “Legend of the Game” for the opener. Does this reverse the “Boldin Curse” that’s resulted in four non-playoff seasons since he was traded for a sixth-round pick five weeks after Super Bowl XLVII?

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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2018 preseason

Posted on 31 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 preseason in the books, the Ravens turn their attention toward the season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 9.

First, it’s time to go on the record with the final projection of Baltimore’s 53-man roster ahead of the regular season with general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh making cuts by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Of course, this will only be the first 53-man squad as the Ravens will explore outside moves and additions over the next few days.

Though the coaching staff and the front office are aware of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily keeping a specific number of receivers or linebackers or defensive linemen isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. Ultimately, the organization wants to keep the best 53-player combination with positional preference serving more as a tiebreaker than as a hard rule that could potentially result in keeping an inferior player. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens always look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their offensive or defensive positions. They must also consider recent injuries to players who won’t be available for the first few games of the season and make sure they’re covered from a depth standpoint.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players they are projected to keep at that position.

QUARTERBACKS (2)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
OUT: Robert Griffin III, Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Even with Griffin sitting against Washington, I’ll stick with two quarterbacks, especially with the growth shown by Jackson over the last two games. I don’t think Harbaugh saying Griffin “looks like a starter” was by accident as the Ravens will try to find a trade partner in hopes of acquiring a modest depth piece such as an offensive lineman or someone with return experience. Of course, I won’t be shocked if Griffin stays, but it’s strange that a team that was content with Ryan Mallett backing up an ailing Flacco last year would suddenly change its backup standard so much with its first-round pick.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: I’d be surprised not to see at least one of these rookie free agents on the practice squad as they all had their moments this preseason, but this group appears set. Ricard may also find himself with a bigger role in the defensive line rotation after the way he played this summer.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley
OUT: Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman, Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
INJURED RESERVE: Jaleel Scott
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: Neither White nor Grant did enough this summer to warrant a roster spot as a return specialist, but the Ravens should be able to get one of them to the practice squad while searching for an outside addition. Moore did a good job returning kickoffs last year, and Snead could serve as a conservative punt returner mostly calling fair catches. Lasley had a disappointing preseason, but he showed enough potential during training camp to justify not giving up on him so quickly.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Maxx Williams, Darren Waller
OUT: Vince Mayle, Nick Keizer
Skinny: With the young wide receiver competition never materializing and Hurst out for at least the first couple games, Waller surprisingly sneaks onto the roster primarily as a special-teams player, and his size and athleticism make him a potential option in the red zone and as a bigger slot receiver. Andrews’ performance in the preseason finale was encouraging as the Ravens need someone from this group to be at least a moderate factor in the passing game until Hurst returns from the foot injury.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Jermaine Eluemunor
OUT:  Nico Siragusa, Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
INJURED RESERVE: Greg Senat
Skinny: Brown’s development at right tackle was one of the biggest positives of the summer, but the center position remains a concern and no one beyond the top six has inspired confidence as a depth piece. Newsome will likely be working the phones trying to add some veteran help for this group. Given his status as a former fourth-round pick, Siragusa making the roster wouldn’t be surprising, but he just doesn’t look 100 percent after last summer’s serious knee injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban, Zach Sieler, Carl Davis
OUT: Bronson Kaufusi, Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Before the news of Henry undergoing hernia surgery, I may have left Davis on the outside looking in, but his ability to play all three defensive line spots in the base defense makes him more attractive for the time being. Kaufusi had an excellent game against Washington, but he was way too quiet this summer and all last season to put too much stock into one performance.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board, Albert McClellan
OUT: Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: The Kamalei Correa trade and a potential knee injury for Young have changed the makeup of this position group. Board looks like the near-annual long shot the Ravens could keep and develop while he contributes on special teams. I had been predicting McClellan wouldn’t make it, but Correa and veteran departure Steven Johnson combined to play over 600 special-teams snaps last year. I’m not convinced Jerry Rosburg is just going to hand over that much responsibility to inexperienced players, and not playing McClellan on Thursday would be a tough way to send out the longtime Raven.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
OUT: none
Skinny: Tim Williams was the defensive star of the preseason and should receive more opportunities as a situational pass rusher, but Bowser missing so much of the summer with a groin injury has certainly tempered expectations of him taking a big leap in his second season.

CORNERBACKS (5)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
OUT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter, Robertson Daniel
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
INJURED RESERVE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Skinny: You have to feel for Jean-Baptiste, who looked like he was on his way to grabbing a roster spot before suffering what’s believed to be a broken arm in the preseason finale. Assuming Canady is ready to go for Week 1, the Ravens should be fine with only five cornerbacks since Anthony Levine is capable of playing some nickel in a game-day pinch. Regardless of the number of corners the Ravens keep, not having Smith for the first four games will be a challenge.

SAFETIES (4)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
OUT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
INJURED RESERVE: DeShon Elliott
Skinny: With the long-term injuries suffered by Elliott and Jean-Baptiste in consecutive weeks, Nacua may have an outside shot to stick on the roster as a special-teams player, but four safeties should be fine.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: After watching him hit a 56-yard field goal to cap a very impressive summer, I get the feeling another team is going to be happy to have Vedvik in the not-too-distant future. A team with a lesser kicking battery would be thinking long and hard about making a change.

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Ravens-Redskins preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 29 August 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens conclude their longer-than-usual preseason schedule against Washington on Thursday night as final decisions loom to formulate their first 53-man roster of the 2018 season.

The next few days mark one of the most difficult times of the year for teams saying goodbye to players who’ve spent months — even years — proving their worth both on and off the field. Teams must trim their rosters from 90 to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Saturday.

“I would say that we care about our guys, [and] our guys matter to us,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We love our players. … Yet as far as the decisions that are made, no, there’s no sentimentality. It’s all about what gives you the best football team that you can have.”

Very few starters will play in the preseason finale with the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo less than two weeks away, but the Ravens presumably still have a few roster spots up for grabs. One of the biggest remaining questions is how general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh will fill out their depth along the offensive line behind the top six of Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, and rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr.

Brown has impressed in the competition with Hurst for the starting right tackle job, but the depth behind those established players remains unproven with second-year linemen Jermaine Eluemunor and Nico Siragusa and rookies Bradly Bozeman and Greg Senat vying for roster spots. Senat being sidelined with a case of turf toe could make him a candidate for injured reserve, but the Ravens surely would like to see one or two of these candidates step up on Thursday to make the decisions easier.

“I feel like it’s developing. I think we have some guys,” said Harbaugh of the offensive line depth. “Orlando has really probably proven himself as a viable guy. Then after that, I think those guys are in the process of developing into viable guys. But we have candidates. In that, I mean they haven’t probably done it consistently as well as the other guys, but they’ve done it enough to make you feel like they can do it and they just have to keep stacking [good days].”

Of course, Newsome could still look for outside help to shore up the offensive line between now and the start of the season, but that’s a task many executives prioritize this time of year. The Ravens acquired guards Luke Bowanko and Tony Bergstrom in the days leading up to last year’s opener.

Thursday marks the 11th time the Ravens and Washington will face off in the preseason with Baltimore owning a 7-3 advantage. The all-time regular-season series is tied 3-3 with the Redskins winning the last two meetings in 2012 and 2016.

The Ravens own a 32-12 record in the preseason in the Harbaugh era and have won an improbable 12 straight exhibition contests.

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 the many veterans expected to be held out of action as is typically done in the final preseason affair.

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

OUT: TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DT Willie Henry (hernia surgery), CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), OT Greg Senat (toe), S DeShon Elliott (forearm), LB Alvin Jones, LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: S Bennett Jackson
QUESTIONABLE: LB Patrick Onwuasor, RB Gus Edwards (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), OL James Hurst, G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Robert Griffin III

The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has been one of the feel-good stories of the summer, returning from a one-year league hiatus to make a strong impression to put himself in the running for a roster spot. There’s little debating Griffin being the better quarterback than rookie Lamar Jackson in the present, but the Ravens haven’t kept three quarterbacks to begin a regular season since 2009 and have other roster considerations, especially with the recent injuries to tight end Hayden Hurst and defensive tackle Willie Henry. This decision is more about the current confidence level in Jackson to step in for Flacco in the event of an injury, but watching Griffin against his old team will be fun either way.

DT Carl Davis

Despite starting nine games last year, the 2015 third-round pick could land on the wrong side of the roster bubble as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, but Henry being sidelined opens up a spot in the defensive line rotation. Davis’ ability to play multiple positions in the trenches make him a more attractive piece, but a strong Thursday performance would serve him well before final decisions are made. The Ravens have also done everything they can to hoard defensive linemen in recent years.

OL Bradley Bozeman

The sixth-round rookie played extensively at center last Saturday and brings impressive collegiate experience as a multi-year starter at Alabama, but his lack of strength and slow feet have frequently been exposed. Harbaugh said he’s better suited for center than guard, but he’s not in the running to challenge projected starter Matt Skura, leaving something to be desired in terms of his versatility. In a perfect world, his development would continue on the practice squad, but the Ravens may not have that luxury.

LB Chris Board

Many had predicted one spot coming down to veteran Albert McClellan or 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa, but the latter being traded could prompt the Ravens to take a longer look at a young inside linebacker like Board, who has flashed this preseason. The North Dakota State product is hardly a household name and entered training camp as a long shot, but so did the likes of Zach Orr and Patrick Onwuasor in past summers. His usage on special teams Thursday could say much about his chances.

WR Breshad Perriman

It would be surprising if Thursday isn’t the final time Perriman suits up for the Ravens as he’s failed to impress as a receiver or special-teams player despite this being the first healthy summer of his career. Perhaps his time in Baltimore would have been different had he not gotten injured as a rookie, but a clean break is best for both sides. Perriman works hard and is well liked in the building, but he’ll have an easier time elsewhere where he’ll be viewed as a reclamation candidate and not as a first-round bust.

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster entering fourth preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games remaining, it’s time to to once again examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster as we move closer to final cuts being made next weekend.

My current assessment suggests as many as 44 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar — or even marginally better — in talent who’s nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 24. You can check out last week’s projection HERE.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Harbaugh said the decision whether to keep Griffin will “go right to the wire” next week, but I continue to see too many other useful players at other positions for the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009. This decision has always been much more about Jackson than Griffin, so seeing the rookie make strides over the last two preseason games would ease concerns.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon showed Monday exactly what the organization needed to see to eliminate any notion of him being on the bubble, but durability continues to be a concern with the 2016 fourth-round pick. Edwards is closer to being a practice-squad candidate than to having much of a chance to making the team, but it was interesting to see him line up as a fullback in a short-yardage situation on Monday.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The young wide receivers are the most disappointing position group of the summer as Lasley has regressed and Scott appears in great danger of becoming the first fourth-round pick in franchise history to be cut as a rookie. Returner candidates White and Grant each fumbled against the Colts and haven’t done enough to warrant a spot while Perriman still hasn’t played a single special-teams play.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx WilliamsDarren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: The foot injury to Hurst improves the chances of Williams sticking to start the year since the Ravens use tight ends prominently in their run-blocking schemes. And with young wide receivers like Scott disappointing this summer and taking into account his special-teams skills, Waller could land on the roster as a red-zone and slot option while assuming Mayle’s special-teams role from last year.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE:  Nico Siragusa, Bradley Bozeman, Greg Senat, Jermaine Eluemunor
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: Siragusa and Eleumunor have gone in opposite directions with the former improving from the start of camp and the latter not playing like the most experienced member of this bubble group. You can probably flip a coin between Bozeman and Senat as the uncertainty at center and the lack of quality backup options behind Stanley help their roster chances, making it possible they both stick.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Zach SielerCarl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Momentum continues for Sieler to make the roster while the veteran Davis hasn’t done as much to enhance his chances, prompting me to flip those two in the group’s overall hierarchy. Kaufusi’s standing as a former third-round pick is probably the only factor keeping him in any serious roster discussion, but he’s likely on the outside looking in with the versatile Ricard factoring into this group.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Chris Board, Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: McClellan remains a very tough call and still shouldn’t be dismissed as his experience, special-teams ability, and versatility are valuable traits. Young had a strong performance against Indianapolis and appears to be closing the gap with Onwuasor for the starting job next to Mosley, but the weak-side inside spot remains a fair concern going into the regular season.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: There was much buzz about Correa’s great performance in the Hall of Fame Game, but he’s been quiet in the last two preseason contests and is still depending on his special-teams play and versatility to be the difference in earning a spot. Williams has looked like the most improved player on the roster and is also playing the run better than he did as a rookie last year.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LONG SHOT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: Smith’s suspension and Canady being in and out of practice with nagging physical issues could prompt the Ravens to keep Jean-Baptiste, who has had a good summer and has impressive 6-foot-3 size on the outside. The argument against keeping him is be the versatility of players such as Canady, Young, Anthony Levine, and Chuck Clark, who can line up in multiple places in the secondary.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Between Clark last year and Elliott this spring, the organization has found good value at the safety position in the sixth round, which is important considering how many cap resources are devoted to Weddle and Jefferson. This hasn’t been discussed much, but you would have liked to have seen Jefferson play more in the preseason after he didn’t have the most impressive debut year in Baltimore.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: Koch labeled Vedvik “one of the most impressive guys” he’s seen among the many camp bodies to come through Owings Mills and Westminster over so many summers. That’s high praise from a straight shooter like Koch as Vedvik definitely has the talent to catch on elsewhere.

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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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How did Ravens defensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 25 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

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

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens defensive linemen ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs

Brandon Williams
2017 defensive snap count: 475
NFL1000 ranking: 23rd among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among interior defenders
Skinny: Those who were reluctant to see the Ravens give Williams a monster contract saw the defense give up the most rushing yards in the NFL during his four-game absence in September and October. The 28-year-old isn’t a pass rusher, but PFF ranked him fifth among interior linemen against the run.

Michael Pierce
2017 defensive snap count: 595
NFL1000 ranking: 20th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 22nd among interior defenders
Skinny: The second-year nose tackle built on his successful rookie season with plenty of success as a starter, finishing with 49 tackles and one sack while playing all 16 games. Like Williams, Pierce doesn’t offer much rushing the passer, but he’s been a heck of a find as a former undrafted free agent.

Willie Henry
2017 defensive snap count: 598
NFL1000 ranking: 50th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 45th among interior defenders
Skinny: After not playing a snap as a rookie and being a healthy scratch for the first two weeks of 2017, Henry rapidly emerged as Baltimore’s best pass-rushing defensive lineman, finishing with 3 1/2 sacks and five batted passes. His improvement was critical as others dealt with injuries at various points.

Carl Davis
2017 defensive snap count: 302
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: 78th among interior defenders
Skinny: The 2015 third-round pick’s career hasn’t gone as planned thus far, but Davis helped solidify the 5-technique spot after Brent Urban was lost for the season and younger options Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi weren’t up to the task. He finished with 17 tackles, one-half sack, and one batted pass.

Brent Urban
2017 defensive snap count: 123
NFL1000 ranking: 27th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 6-foot-7 free agent looked poised for a strong 2017 after an impressive preseason, but the injury bug bit him again as he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 3. Re-signing Urban on the cheap isn’t out of the question, but he’s missed 39 games in his four seasons.

Chris Wormley
2017 defensive snap count: 120
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens would’ve liked to see the third-round rookie from Michigan make more of an impact after Urban went down early in the season, but it’s not unusual to see a 5-technique defensive end need more seasoning. This will be a critical offseason for Wormley to show he’s ready for a bigger role.

Bronson Kaufusi
2017 defensive snap count: 33
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Kaufusi had the chance to be the next man up when he received a Week 4 start, but he was ineffective and then inactive for 10 of the final 12 games. The clock’s ticking for the 2016 third-round pick to prove he’s not a bust, but the circumstances were there for him to get on the field this past season.

2018 positional outlook

The interior defensive line remains in very good shape with Williams and Pierce serving as strong anchors, but the 5-technique defensive end spot remains an uncertain position, especially with the recent news of Davis undergoing shoulder surgery. Using third-round picks on Kaufusi and Wormley the last two years should have more than taken care of that position, but the former may not be a sure thing to even make the 53-man roster after being a total non-factor in his second season and the jury is still out on Wormley after a quiet rookie campaign. Questions about these two could prompt the Ravens to have more interest in re-signing Urban, but he’s not dependable — even at a cheap price. The departure of Lawrence Guy last March turned out to be a bigger loss than anticipated, so it’s possible general manager Ozzie Newsome could be on the hunt for a veteran bargain to stabilize the depth at defensive end.

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Maclin listed as doubtful to play against Indianapolis

Posted on 21 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to be without one of their starting receivers against Indianapolis on Saturday as Jeremy Maclin has been designated as doubtful to play.

The veteran missed practices all week after suffering a left knee injury in the first quarter of last Sunday’s win at Cleveland. Maclin underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam earlier this week, but there have been few details about the injury or his progress beyond head coach John Harbaugh saying Monday that he hadn’t sustained a season-ending injury.

“I think he’s doing OK. I don’t know,” said Harbaugh hours before the final injury report was released. “We’ll just have to talk to him and talk to [head athletic trainer Mark Smith]. That’s kind of day to day at this point in time right up until the game, really. It could be even a game-time decision.

“I’ll know more probably by the end of this afternoon through his rehab today — whether he’s been able to run and things like that.”

Harbaugh left open the possibility of the Ravens promoting a wide receiver from the practice squad with rookie Quincy Adeboyejo being the most logical candidate. Baltimore would need to make a roster decision by 4 p.m. on Friday, however.

Defensive end Carl Davis (shoulder), cornerback Maurice Canady (knee), and defensive back Anthony Levine (thigh) are all listed as questionable, but each practiced all week on at least a limited basis, leaving little doubt about their availability against the Colts. Davis and Canady were upgraded to full participation for Friday’s practice while Levine remained limited.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is officially listed as questionable for Week 16 after missing Friday’s practice with an illness, a day after outside linebacker Matthew Judon was limited due to being under the weather. The 2016 first-round pick’s status is not expected to be in any jeopardy, however.

Harbaugh said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was also sick Friday, but he was still on the practice field. The head coach was asked if the quirky assistant would be listed as a limited participant on the injury report.

“He is normally limited in different ways,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughter from reporters. “I’ll mention that to Ronnie though. Marty sucked it up and got out there.”

The Colts officially ruled out four players for Saturday’s game, a list that includes starting wide receiver Donte Moncrief (ankle), starting right tackle Denzelle Good (knee), and former Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hand).

According to Weather.com, the Saturday forecast calls for light rain and temperatures in the high 50s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 70-percent chance of precipitation.

On Friday, tight end Benjamin Watson was named the Ravens’ recipient of the 2017 Ed Block Courage Award. The 37-year-old leads the team with 49 receptions and is third in receiving yards after missing the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon sustained in the preseason.

“It’s one of the top awards in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said. “Overcoming adversity, dealing with the injury part of it and those kinds of things. He’s obviously done a tremendous job with the Achilles [recovery]. The way he’s playing right now, I think it speaks volumes. The fact that your peers — the players — vote for that award is quite a telling thing. Congratulations to Ben on that.”

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Maurice Canady (knee), DT Carl Davis (shoulder), DB Anthony Levine (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (illness)

INDIANAPOLIS
OUT: RT Denzelle Good (knee), CB Rashaan Melvin (hand), WR Donte Moncrief (ankle), TE Jason Vander Laan (concussion), TE Brandon Williams (concussion)

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Maclin remains only Ravens player absent from practice

Posted on 20 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Jeremy Maclin’s status remains in doubt as the Ravens move closer to their Week 16 meeting with Indianapolis.

The veteran wide receiver missed his second straight practice as Baltimore worked outside without pads on Wednesday afternoon. Maclin injured his left knee in the first quarter of last Sunday’s win in Cleveland and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam earlier this week. On Monday, head coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal about Maclin’s status against the Colts, saying only that his injury was not of the season-ending variety.

His potential absence would likely mean second-year wideout Chris Moore would start opposite Mike Wallace in the base offense. The Ravens could also give more opportunities to Michael Campanaro and Breshad Perriman and could even go a step further by promoting rookie wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo from the practice squad if they so choose.

“I’m hoping with Jeremy, [it’s] day-to-day,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “Chris Moore has done a fine job, and we have talked about him before. He did a good job the other day, and we can do even more. We left stuff out there, too. We can do even better. It is the same with some of the young players, and [Campanaro] has done a good job all season long as well. We feel comfortable that they can do the job at a high level.”

Defensive end Carl Davis (shoulder), cornerback Maurice Canady (knee), and defensive back Anthony Levine (thigh) were limited participants for the second straight day. There was uncertainty regarding Davis’ status after he underwent an MRI earlier in the week, but his participation is an encouraging sign for his availability for Saturday’s game.

Outside linebacker Matthew Judon (illness) was added to Wednesday’s injury report as limited.

The Colts sat out five players during their workout.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (knee), DT Carl Davis (shoulder), LB Matt Judon (illness), DB Anthony Levine (thigh)

INDIANAPOLIS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OL Denzelle Good (knee), RB Frank Gore (rest), DT Johnathan Hankins (shoulder), WR Donte Moncrief (ankle), TE Brandon Williams (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Rashaan Melvin (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Darrell Daniels (hamstring), CB Nate Hairston (concussion), LB Jeremiah George (neck)

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Maclin’s status unclear as Ravens prepare for Indianapolis

Posted on 18 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says wide receiver Jeremy Maclin’s left knee injury is “nothing serious” that would sideline him for the rest of the season.

When the veteran will return is another story, however, as Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 16 availability of both Maclin and defensive end Carl Davis, who also left Sunday’s game in Cleveland with a leg injury. They each underwent magnetic resonance imaging exams on Monday.

The 10th-year coach seemed to imply that Maclin and Davis would be unlikely to play against Indianapolis without ruling out either player for Saturday’s game.

“It kind of depends on how they come along the next couple of days and how they progress,” Harbaugh said. “Anywhere from maybe more likely that it wouldn’t be this week and maybe the week after, but you never know. It could be this week with both those guys or either one of those guys. We’ll just see how they progress.

“They wouldn’t have to practice to play in the game at this stage, but they’ll go to work and they’ll do everything they can to be ready for Sunday, I’m sure.”

Maclin injured his left knee on the opening drive of Sunday’s game after making a 22-yard catch and being hit hard by Browns rookie safety Jabrill Peppers. He briefly returned for two snaps late in the first quarter, but he was officially ruled out to begin the second half.

Davis left the game in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury and didn’t return.

It’s been a disappointing season for Maclin, who signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Ravens in mid-June to be the replacement for the retired Steve Smith. He missed two games with a shoulder injury in October and has dealt with other nagging injuries while making only 40 receptions for 440 yards and three touchdowns in 12 contests.

Since making eight catches for 98 yards — both season highs — against Tennessee on Nov. 5, the 29-year-old has just 13 receptions for 130 yards on 30 targets in five games. He and quarterback Joe Flacco haven’t appeared to be on the same page in recent weeks, something that would have been more understandable in the first half of the season after Flacco missed all of training camp with a back issue.

“That’s a little bit cyclic sometimes,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg last week about Maclin’s recent struggles. “There’s never really one thing; it’s usually a combination of things. When you’re in that spot, get the hard work in, make sure you get prepared, let’s make sure we have great focus, and then good things tend to end up happening through all of that. It’s not uncommon to see something like that.”

Davis has made eight starts in 13 games this season and eventually stabilized the 5-technique defensive end spot after the season-ending foot injury suffered by Brent Urban in Week 3. The 2015 third-round pick’s potential absence could spell some trouble as the Ravens haven’t shown much confidence in young defensive ends Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi this season.

Harbaugh was also asked whether running back Alex Collins made it through Sunday’s game OK after he appeared to be laboring on a few occasions and received only four touches in the second half.

“Mhhmm,” said the coach, nodding his head and elaborating no further.

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