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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of 2019 season

Posted on 03 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens counting down to Sunday’s kickoff of the 2019 regular season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson heard the criticism all offseason and put in the work to improve his passing by all accounts. How big a step forward he takes remains to be seen, but he was in command of the offense and threw more consistently all summer. I can’t wait to watch him.

2. The 22-year-old will be surrounded by plenty of youth as 14 of Baltimore’s 24 offensive players (not including hybrid defensive tackle/fullback Patrick Ricard) are in their first or second season. That could make for an uncomfortable downside, but the ceiling is exciting, especially at the skill positions.

3. The Wink Martindale effect eases some concern with the pass rush, but you still need individuals to win 1-on-1 matchups. Beyond Matthew Judon, I’m not confident the defensive front has the rushers to consistently do this, which is going to put more pressure on their secondary than the opposing quarterback.

4. Willie Henry went from looking like he could start and be a major part of the interior pass rush to being waived and going unclaimed by the other 31 teams. Dropping 20 pounds from his listed 2017 playing weight (308 pounds) clearly didn’t pay off for a once-promising player.

5. Chris Wormley being the only true 5-technique defensive end on the roster says much about the evolution of NFL defenses. You’ll still hear “front seven” in conversation, but the league used base personnel only 25 percent of the time last year, creating less need to carry so many interior linemen.

6. It was a tough summer for Baltimore’s heralded 2016 fourth round. Henry and Alex Lewis are gone, Tavon Young and Kenneth Dixon are on injured reserve, and only Chris Moore remains on the active roster. The group was very promising, but even the above-average Young has missed two whole seasons.

7. All eyes are on left guard, but did anyone else find it strange that Orlando Brown Jr. played 18 snaps in the preseason finale while the likes of Chris Moore, James Hurst, and even rookies Miles Boykin and Justice Hill were held out? Brown didn’t play in last summer’s finale.

8. I’m surprised how many questioned whether three-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Bethel would make the roster despite the Ravens — who were already deep at cornerback — giving him $1 million guaranteed in the opening week of free agency. This is the 12th year of the John Harbaugh era. Special teams matter.

9. Jaleel Scott was in danger of not making the team as a fourth-round rookie last year if not for a hamstring injury that landed him on IR. A team official noted this spring how much he’d improved, and Scott carried that over with a strong preseason. Good for him.

10. Members of the practice squad serve varying functions, but De’Lance Turner and Maurice Canady are solid insurance policies should a need arise at running back or cornerback. Re-signing them was a plus for organizational depth.

11. Perhaps a deal is being completed as we speak, but I was a little surprised Eric DeCosta didn’t make a trade for a veteran offensive lineman or a pass rusher with so much activity throughout the league over the weekend. Of course, he had already pulled off three August trades.

12. The Kaare Vedvik saga reinforces how desperate contenders can be for a kicker and how blessed the Ravens have been — one nightmare aside. Baltimore got a fifth-rounder, the New York Jets wound up with a kicker they’d previously attempted to acquire for nothing, and Minnesota has egg on its face.

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Ravens mulling roster decisions ahead of final preseason tuneup

Posted on 27 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will rest most starters in Thursday’s preseason finale against Washington while hoping to gain clarity on several important decisions.

One of the most pressing is determining a starter at left guard with training camp and the first three preseason games doing little to narrow down the choices. Third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor remains atop the official depth chart and has long been considered the slight favorite since working with the first team during spring workouts, but conditioning concerns, inconsistent play, and a minor injury that kept him out of the third preseason game have kept the door open for other competitors.

Eluemunor has easily taken the largest share of the snaps, but rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari and second-year interior lineman Bradley Bozeman have all seen first-team reps at left guard at various times this summer with no one really distinguishing himself. Head coach John Harbaugh has also mentioned James Hurst’s ability to play the position at which he’s started multiple games in the past, but the versatile veteran hasn’t received any meaningful time at left guard in preseason games or practices open to the media.

With the season opener less than two weeks away, the Ravens appear likely to evaluate the position on a week-by-week basis, at least early in the season. There’s always the possibility of general manager Eric DeCosta acquiring an upgrade in the coming days, but quality offensive linemen remain in high demand in today’s NFL, making that task easier said than done.

“I’m very open right now. It will probably, in all honesty, remain a competition until somebody establishes themselves as the established starter,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a difference between being a starter and an established starter. That person is going to have to continue to earn that by how they play into the regular season, and I’m quite sure a certain one or more guys will step up.”

Cornerback remains one of the deepest positions on the roster, but the Ravens face tough decisions with nickel back Tavon Young and rookie Iman Marshall, who both remain out with injuries. Despite the team’s medical staff initially recommending season-ending surgery for a neck injury sustained at the beginning of the month, Young has yet to make a final decision and could still be a candidate to return later in the season. Harbaugh confirmed Marshall won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, making it possible he’s placed on season-ending injured reserve this weekend. That outcome would likely improve the chances of Baltimore keeping an additional cornerback such as Maurice Canady.

Any injured player a team wants to keep eligible for one of its two designations to return from IR must be on the initial 53-man roster set Saturday afternoon. That means the Ravens would have to risk losing another player they’d prefer to keep on the active roster to keep Young in consideration for an eventual 2019 return.

“That’s going to be something that we’ll have to figure out,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we talked about with the balls in the air. Those are all the different balls that are in the air right now, and I don’t know what we’ll do with all of that.”

Of course, the Ravens will also be evaluating a number of players on the roster bubble Thursday while long shots will be auditioning for a spot on the practice squad or an opportunity elsewhere.

“Go out there and make some plays,” third-year defensive end Chris Wormley said. “If the Ravens aren’t going to keep you, then put tape out there that 31 other teams are going to want to say, ‘Hey, let’s take this guy and take a chance on him.'”

Forgotten man?

Still listed as a starter on the latest depth chart released by the team’s public relations staff, wide receiver Seth Roberts is one of the more interesting names on the roster with final cuts looming.

Roberts worked regularly with the starting offense before sustaining an unspecified injury in the preseason opener, but he returned to practice over the weekend and could see some action against Washington.

“Some of it has to do with how healthy he is,” Harbaugh said. “He practiced the last couple of days and looked good. He was playing really well — a veteran guy, an experienced player. He brought that to the table, and he looked great. There is a possibility that he could play on Thursday with some other guys.”

The 28-year-old signed a one-year, $2 million contract — $1 million guaranteed — in April and averaged just under 40 catches and 456.5 receiving yards in his first four seasons with Oakland. He appeared to be safely on the roster early in camp to help raise the floor of an inexperienced group that will include at least two rookies, but the Ravens may now view his presence as more of a luxury with first-round pick Marquise Brown and third-round selection Miles Boykin expected to play substantial roles and slot receiver Willie Snead and fourth-year wideout Chris Moore still very much in the passing-game mix.

Roberts is regarded as a good blocker, but he’s played only 13 snaps on special teams in his career.

Tuesday’s attendance report

Four players were absent from Tuesday’s workout, a list including Young, Marshall, fellow cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and offensive lineman Randin Crecelius.

Brown, cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackle Gerald Willis, and outside linebackers Jaylon Ferguson and Tim Williams returned to the practice field. According to Harbaugh, Ferguson was cleared from the concussion protocol and is expected to play against Washington after missing last week’s game against Philadelphia.

Having returned to practice over the weekend, starting inside linebacker Chris Board was also cleared after sustaining a concussion in the second preseason game against Green Bay.

The Ravens signed defensive back Fish Smithson to fill the final spot on their preseason roster. The 25-year-old Baltimore native has now spent time with five different teams since going undrafted out of Kansas in 2017. He appeared in two games with Washington during the 2017 season.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Defensive line

Posted on 11 July 2019 by Luke Jones

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

July 9 — Cornerbacks
July 10 — Running backs

We continue on the defensive line, a group that includes one of the best run-stopping duos in the NFL and only two players over age 25. However, with the free-agent departures of Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Brent Urban, the Ravens are looking for viable pass-rushing options both off the edge and inside. Smith and Urban frequently lined up as interior rushers last season, so defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will need at least a couple interior linemen to create pressure in the pocket. Returning veteran Pernell McPhee also has a chance to be part of that equation as someone moving to an interior spot in sub packages, but he’s officially listed as an outside linebacker.

It’s worth noting usage of the defensive line is certainly evolving in today’s game as the Ravens ran their “base” 3-4 defense just 16 percent of the time last season, according to Football Outsiders. With at least five defensive backs on the field an overwhelming majority of the time, there are fewer and fewer instances of the nose tackle, 3-techinique tackle, and 5-technique end all being on the field at the same time. Defensive linemen capable of both rushing the passer and stopping the run have always been valuable, of course, but one-dimensional run stoppers are finding fewer snaps with the ever-increasing emphasis on the passing game.

Below is a look at several defensive linemen who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Brandon Williams
Skinny: One could certainly argue the 30-year-old hasn’t played up to the five-year, $52.5 million deal signed in 2017, but he remains one of the better run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL and anchored a defense that allowed only 3.7 yards per carry in 2018. Williams played in every game for the fourth time in the last five years while his 517 defensive snaps led all returning Baltimore defensive linemen.

Old Reliable — Williams
Skinny: With the second-oldest defensive lineman on the current roster just 26 years old, there’s no choice here other than the 2013 third-round pick, who was named to the 2018 Pro Bowl as an alternate.

Under Fire — Michael Pierce
Skinny: Before showing up with weight and conditioning concerns that prompted John Harbaugh to pull him off the practice field last month, the run-wrecking Pierce had a strong argument as “The Man” of this position group. Instead, he’s under the microscope in a contract year despite grading as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in the NFL in 2018. Assuming the 26-year-old gets into ideal shape, his next step will be further improving his pass-rush ability to enhance his market value.

Up-and-Comer — Chris Wormley
Skinny: Urban didn’t sign with Tennessee until after the draft and received only a small one-year commitment, making it clear the Ravens had more than enough confidence in Wormley stepping into a bigger role at the 5-technique spot after injuries prompted him to be more of a 3-technique option in his second season. PFF graded the 2017 third-round pick as the NFL’s 67th-best interior defender last year, but he should receive plenty of opportunities as an inside rusher.

Sleeper — Zach Sieler
Skinny: The 2018 seventh-round pick from Ferris State was Ozzie Newsome’s final draft selection as general manager and played only 17 snaps as a rookie, but the Ravens love his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame and didn’t keep him on the 53-man roster all last season without having bigger plans in mind. If Wormley doesn’t take a step forward, Sieler could easily push for some of his snaps. 

The Rest — Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard, Daylon Mack, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Hernia surgery and then a season-ending back injury limited Henry to just three games and 82 snaps in 2018, but he appeared on the verge of securing a starting spot last summer and was coming off an impressive 2017 campaign in which he collected 3 1/2 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and five batted passes. Baltimore is counting on him to be healthy enough to serve as one of its primary interior rushers in the final year of his rookie deal. … Ricard’s versatility as a two-way player makes him more valuable, but he’s yet to stand out in limited defensive opportunities over his first two seasons. … Willis is a rookie free agent to watch after a turbulent college career that included multiple problems off the field and a 2018 campaign in which he recorded 18 tackles for a loss and four sacks to earn second-team All-America honors at Miami.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at conclusion of voluntary OTAs

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens wrapping up their third and final week of voluntary organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. DeShon Elliott made the play of OTAs with a diving interception of a deep Robert Griffin III pass. He showed impressive range sprinting from hash to sideline to make the pick. Elliott’s stuck behind Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson, of course, but I want to watch more of that athleticism.

2. You’re never going to get the full effect of a run-based unit in non-contact practices, but the Ravens offense just didn’t make many plays in OTAs open to media and going against a defense consistently missing several veterans. Minicamp should be interesting with the full defense on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson hasn’t been as consistent as he’d like, but he threw only one interception in the three open voluntary workouts, which came on a pass to Brandon Carr that was a clear miscommunication. Learning a new system has been challenging for the entire offense, but he’s protecting the football.

4. The offense was particularly rough in red-zone drills, which reminds that Baltimore went 11-for-26 in that area with Jackson starting. Greg Roman will use plenty of play-action calls to scheme open targets between the 20s, but Jackson will need to make throws in tight windows in the red zone.

5. It’s been a quiet spring for Jaylon Ferguson, which isn’t all that surprising since his patented bull rush doesn’t really play in non-contact workouts. He’s been out of position from time to time playing the run, but we’ll better know where he is when the pads come on.

6. I’ve seen some snarky remarks about the run-heavy Ravens inviting former Navy coach and triple-option aficionado Paul Johnson to Owings Mills, but I commend a coaching staff seeking new ideas and innovation as we see the influence of the college game continue to make its way into the NFL.

7. Asked about the arrivals of Mark Ingram and Justice Hill, Gus Edwards said “nothing has really changed” and he’s still getting reps with the starters. I do expect him to continue playing an important role, but Edwards averaging 17.4 carries per game like he did from Weeks 11-17 seems unlikely.

8. Iman Marshall faces a steep climb to any defensive playing time as a rookie, but the fourth-round cornerback was impressive with a few pass breakups Thursday. Guys like Marshall, Anthony Averett, and Maurice Canady would be much higher on virtually any other corner depth chart in the league.

9. Their pursuit of Gerald McCoy made it clear the Ravens aren’t perfectly content with their interior pass rush, but Chris Wormley has been active with batted passes and pressures this spring. He will be competing with Zach Sieler to step into the old Brent Urban role.

10. Trade candidate Kaare Vedvik missed field goals from 35 and 48 yards before connecting from 58 after Sam Koch impressively handled a bad snap from rookie Matthew Orzech. I expect Vedvik to receive plenty of preseason opportunities to showcase his strong kicking leg, but consistency is key.

11. Plenty of young receivers flash this time of year before disappearing when the pads come on, but the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Sean Modster made several plays with the reserve units Thursday and was even singled out with praise from slot cornerback Tavon Young.

12. Asked about McCoy, John Harbaugh endorsed his defensive line before challenging critics to “wring their hands” and write how bad his team is. It’s fair to envision the Ravens taking a step back after such roster turnover, but I’ve seen few credible opinions suggesting they’ll be “bad.” Coaches love motivation.

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

Posted on 12 February 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 positional outlook

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-14 win over Denver

Posted on 25 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-1 in their 27-14 win over Denver, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco is on pace for 4,741 yards and 32 touchdowns, which would set career highs. His 6.89 yards per attempt could still tick up more and he now needs to play well on the road, but Flacco ranks ninth in Total QBR, a metric usually unkind to him.

2. If we’re going to praise Flacco after he dealt with the lack of pass-catching talent in recent years, Marty Mornhinweg also deserves credit for the strong offensive start. He put together a superb game plan to help neutralize the Denver pass rush and the offensive line excelled in pass protection.

3. The running game ranks 31st at 3.1 yards per attempt. It’s still early, but the comments citing the need to just break a long run are reminding me of 2013 when the Ravens ranked last in yards per carry (3.1). Offensive success won’t continue without better production on the ground.

4. After registering a sack, four quarterback hits, and seven total pressures, Za’Darius Smith now ranks ninth among edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing productivity this season. His improvement and ability to pressure from the inside have made for a strong start to a contract year.

5. Kenny Young continues to impress after recording a team-high 10 tackles. The rookie makes his share of mistakes, but you don’t notice because of the speed and aggressiveness with which he plays. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’ll do with more experience and knowledge of the defense.

6. It was a dubious beginning for Ronnie Stanley as he was beaten by rookie Bradley Chubb for a sack on the second play from scrimmage, but he was strong after that, finishing with PFF’s second-highest grade for a Baltimore offensive player behind Flacco. The Ravens need more of that.

7. I’ve been in favor of giving Tyus Bowser more defensive snaps, but it was his whiff on a block that led to Sam Koch’s punt being blocked and an early 7-0 deficit. That’s not going to garner more favor with the coaching staff.

8. Chris Wormley is only 12 defensive snaps shy of matching his rookie season total. His play hasn’t jumped off the page, but he’s been solid filling in at the 3-technique spot for Willie Henry and is stronger and more versatile than he was a year ago.

9. Three of the five field goals made by Justin Tucker have been from 52 yards or longer. Dating back to last year, he’s made eight straight from 50 or more. Remember when Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell made the Pro Bowl instead of him?

10. Regression to the mean is inevitable with the Ravens going 12-for-12 in the red zone to begin the season — Philadelphia ranked first last year at 65.45 percent — but you have to be encouraged by the offensive diversity with seven different players already scoring touchdowns.

11. Mark Andrews is one of the biggest surprises of the young season. Seeing him make plays down the seam makes it that much more enticing to think about what the intermediate passing game could look like when Hayden Hurst returns in the not-too-distant future.

12. Buck Allen leads the Ravens with four touchdowns. He has to be on John Harbaugh’s fantasy team, right?

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Ravens waiting on injured players to return, add offensive lineman

Posted on 24 September 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Tuesday 11:30 a.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Turning their attention toward their annual trip to western Pennsylvania, the Ravens hope to welcome at least a couple key players back to the field against Pittsburgh in Week 4.

Starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and top reserve defensive lineman Michael Pierce missed Sunday’s game against Denver, but head coach John Harbaugh said both were “really close” to being able to play in the 27-14 win over the Broncos. Mosley sustained a bone bruise in his left knee in the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati while Pierce missed the first game of his career with a foot injury.

“They just didn’t make it this week,” Harbaugh said. “Still, you have to say it’s ‘day-to-day’ because you don’t know. But I’m really hopeful.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst and third-year defensive tackle Willie Henry have been sidelined since last month, but their return to the practice field could be just around the corner. Hurst had a screw inserted in his foot on Aug. 24 to help heal a stress fracture while Henry underwent surgery for an umbilical hernia around the same time.

The Ravens would certainly like to add Hurst, their first-round pick, to an improved aerial attack that entered Monday ranked ninth in the NFL in passing yards per game. Henry appeared on the verge of securing a starting role along the defensive line during the preseason.

“We’ll see. I don’t know yet,” said Harbaugh about the possibility of the two practicing this week. “There’s probably a better chance for Hayden. Willie is going to see a doctor here this week. It’s a little different with Willie because it’s not an orthopedic deal. The doctor — internist — has to clear him on that kind of stuff.”

After working out a number of free-agent offensive linemen two weeks ago, the Ravens signed former Chicago center Hroniss Grasu to their 53-man roster on Monday. A 2015 third-round pick out of Oregon, Grasu made four starts and appeared in six games for the Bears last season and has started 12 games in his career. He was waived by Chicago at the end of the preseason and gives Baltimore a third reserve offensive linemen again after 2017 fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor was waived over the weekend.

To make room on the active roster, the Ravens waived defensive back Robertson Daniel, who had just been promoted as an extra healthy body after rookie cornerback Anthony Averett suffered a hamstring injury late last week.

Harbaugh labeled new return specialist Tim White’s debut as “very solid” despite the rainy conditions, complimenting his ball security and decision-making with the Ravens holding a second-half lead. Baltimore waived returner Janarion Grant on Saturday after the rookie had fumbled a punt in each of the first two games.

“We’re very hopeful that we’ll get him back on the practice squad,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “I really think those guys were a tossup anyway. Janarion did a good job, a couple balls on the ground. That’s part of it probably, and he knows that. No way do I think he’s not going to be a really good player. He’s going to play certainly this year.

“But Tim was doing such a good job in practice. He’s been around, he’s more of a veteran guy, and we just felt that he should get a chance.”

Both Grant and Eluemunor cleared waivers and were re-signed to the practice squad on Tuesday morning.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 47-3 win over Buffalo

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the season with an emphatic 47-3 win over Buffalo, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the first time in franchise history a Baltimore defense did not surrender a first down in the first half. The Bills had 33 yards compared to the Ravens’ 26 points at intermission. J. Peterman would have had a better chance than Nathan Peterman, who was awful.

2. Wink Martindale added some defensive wrinkles, including swapping out a linebacker for an extra defensive lineman in some nickel looks. My favorite was Za’Darius Smith’s quarterback sack when he also sent Terrell Suggs, Tim Williams, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, and C.J. Mosley after rookie Josh Allen. Yes, six linebackers.

3. Marlon Humphrey was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Ravens player as he finished with four pass breakups and two tackles. He’ll have bigger challenges over the next few weeks, but the 2017 first-round pick was excellent against the Bills.

4. How many people looking out their windows Sunday morning would have predicted Joe Flacco throwing 32 passes in the first half? He had no issues throwing a wet football and was Baltimore’s highest-graded offensive player, according to PFF.

5. It’s easy to forget how the offense sputtered in the second quarter as the Ravens gained only eight yards on 15 plays before the final touchdown drive when Michael Crabtree caught the 12-yard score. A pretty throw and even prettier footwork. That was an example of why they signed him.

6. Tavon Young wouldn’t have been my guess to exploit a porous Buffalo line, but he became the first Baltimore defensive back since Bennie Thompson in 1996 to collect two sacks in a game and was strong against the run. Martindale calls the 5-foot-9 nickel a “pit bull” for good reason.

7. Not much was made of Alex Collins receiving only three preseason carries, but he found little room and lost a fumble. You do wonder if a few more live-game touches would have been beneficial for a player who’s had some past fumbling concerns. Of course, suspect blocking wasn’t his fault.

8. Janarion Grant offered good and bad with a 51-yard punt return and a fumble that fortunately rolled out of bounds in the first half. It’s easy to blame the rain, but Grant appeared to take his eyes off the ball with a defender bearing down. That can’t happen.

9. None had a negative impact, but the Ravens didn’t get much of a return on the five offensive snaps Lamar Jackson played before then relieving Joe Flacco in the second half. It’s something for which opponents must prepare, but you sometimes worry about upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense.

10. Mark Andrews didn’t stand out often over the summer, but the Ravens have to be pleased with his three catches for 31 yards in the first half. PFF gave him the second-best grade among offensive players.

11. Being able to rest key veterans in the second half bodes well for a quick turnaround at Cincinnati on Thursday, but young players receiving extensive regular-season action could pay off down the line. Inside linebacker Kenny Young and cornerback Anthony Averett stood out in particular.

12. At an ordinary 218 pounds, Buck Allen doesn’t look the part of a short-yardage back, but he has a knack for getting to the desired mark. He lined up as the fullback on his 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter and showed off a respectable Ray Lewis dance to boot.

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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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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2018

Posted on 16 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Urgency is at an all-time high in the John Harbaugh era with the Ravens falling short of the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in five seasons.

Most offseason attention has naturally fallen on free agency and the draft, but a less-than-ideal salary cap situation and picks falling in the middle of each round are challenges to making significant improvements to last year’s team. Those realities make it critical for the Ravens to see improvement from within as they did from Matthew Judon and Willie Henry in 2017.

It’s no secret that a number of underwhelming Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks in recent years have stunted the upside of rosters and have even forced general manager Ozzie Newsome to dump further resources into certain positions. Safety is one example as failed draft picks Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks and a number of underwhelming free-agent additions preceded the expensive contracts awarded to Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson in the last two offseasons.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2018 to improve their chances of making it back to the postseason:

2017 list
2016 list
2015 list
2014 list

1. LB Tyus Bowser

The 2017 second-round pick from Houston looked poised to become a standout rookie when he recorded a sack and an interception against Cleveland in Week 2, but a rough performance in London the following week led to him playing more than 10 defensive snaps in only three more contests the rest of the way. With Terrell Suggs turning 36 in October and entering the final year of his contract and backup Za’Darius Smith also a free agent after 2018, Bowser needs to look like a player ready to step into a starting role in 2019 if needed. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale shouldn’t hesitate to utilize Bowser’s athleticism and versatility in creative ways like Rex Ryan did with Bart Scott years ago.

2. DE Chris Wormley

Wormley became the latest 5-technique defensive end drafted by Baltimore to make little impact in his rookie year, but it’s a position requiring strength and discipline, making it less than shocking that the third-round pick from Michigan played only 120 defensive snaps. This is a critical offseason for him with the oft-injured Brent Urban being a free agent, 2017 starter Carl Davis recovering from shoulder surgery, and 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi rapidly approaching bust territory. There’s a golden opportunity for Wormley to seize the starting job and become a meaningful contributor as an inside pass rusher in sub packages, another need for the Baltimore defense.

3. LB Tim Williams

Are you noticing a trend here? The Ravens went all in on defense in the 2017 draft and received very little from their trio of Day 2 picks as Williams was inactive for eight games and played only 125 defensive snaps. It was hardly a shock to see the Alabama product struggle to set the edge and establish a role on special teams, but he’ll need to improve in these areas to put himself in better position for meaningful playing time. That said, Williams being a rush specialist in college was hardly a secret and the coaching staff needs to find ways to get him on the field to take advantage of that valuable dimension. As previously mentioned with Bowser, more snaps should be there if Williams is ready to capitalize.

4. G Alex Lewis

Of course, Lewis sat out the entire 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in training camp, but this came after he missed eight starts due to injury as a rookie, making his durability a legitimate concern. The 2016 fourth-round pick showed promise at left guard as a rookie and even filled in at an acceptable level at left tackle when Ronnie Stanley was injured, but the time is now for Lewis to firmly entrench himself as a dependable starter, especially with starting center Ryan Jensen a free agent and questionable to return. With there being so many questions at wide receiver and tight end, the Ravens need their offensive line to be as strong as possible and Lewis is a major key to that happening.

5. WR Chris Moore

The special-teams standout’s mention on this list is a product of circumstance as he is the only sure bet among the incumbent wide receivers to be on next year’s roster. Moore received praise for his play down the stretch and recorded half of his season receptions and two of his three touchdowns in December, but that excitement was more a response to the terrible play of Breshad Perriman than anything else. The second-year wideout only reined in 18 of 38 targets and needs to be more consistent to be considered as much as a No.3 option. Make no mistake, Moore has met expectations as a fourth-round pick with his play on special teams alone, but the Ravens need as much help as possible at wide receiver.

Others considered: WR Breshad Perriman, LB Kamalei Correa, DE Bronson Kaufusi, G Nico Siragusa, RB Kenneth Dixon

Perriman, Correa, and Kaufusi landed on the wrong side of this list after being non-factors at positions that had major opportunities for playing time in 2017. There’s always the chance of any of these former early draft picks being late bloomers, but that sentiment now falls more into the category of wishful thinking rather than there being serious expectations. We’ve heard little about Siragusa’s recovery from a serious knee injury, but the Ravens had high hopes for him as a 2017 fourth-round pick and could have an opening at center. Dixon is a wild card after suffering a season-ending knee injury in July and serving two drug-related bans. The talent is there, but is he healthy and truly committed to playing in the NFL?

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