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Twelve Ravens thoughts with virtual offseason program underway

Posted on 05 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens and the NFL now in the early stages of the virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Don Shula was the winningest coach in NFL history and won two Super Bowls, but he’s remembered in Baltimore for 1964 NFL championship game and Super Bowl III losses in which the Colts were heavy favorites. There’s probably a lesson in there not to judge early postseason failures too harshly.

2. In a statement released on Shula, John Harbaugh shared the memory of being able to work with the legendary Miami coach when he served as a mentor coach with the Philadelphia staff for a week in the early 2000s. What an experience that had to be for an aspiring coach.

3. I’d rather watch paint dry than keep tabs on Antonio Brown, but his Photoshopped post of him wearing a Ravens uniform created more buzz. I take Steve Bisciotti at his word on his domestic abuse stance, but the longer Eric DeCosta gives non-answers on Brown, the longer unnecessary speculation persists.

4. The NFL releasing the 2020 schedule will be fun, but this feels premature with the uncertainty of the pandemic. With the draft, we know those players will definitely be playing football at some point. In this case, waiting another month or so would provide a better picture of reality.

5. Am I the only one who wonders if the value of a full 90-man offseason roster outweighs the challenge of trying to keep an even larger group of players and coaches coronavirus-free during an eventual training camp? Of course, we’re still at least 2 1/2 months away from that.

6. Rookie fourth-round guard Ben Bredeson said he sees “a lot of glaring similarities” between the Harbaugh brothers. We’ll see if Bredeson, a four-year starter for the Wolverines, works out better than other recent Michigan draft picks Willie Henry and Chris Wormley.

7. The list of notable seventh-round picks for the Ravens is a short one with DeAngelo Tyson, Ralph Staten, and Michael Campanaro, and Anthony Allen being the best ones. The field vision and pedigree of Iowa safety Geno Stone make him more interesting than the usual seventh-rounder.

8. Both Bredeson and Stone expressed excitement and relief that J.K. Dobbins, a former Big Ten rival, is now on their side after giving both of their schools problems. You don’t have to sell them on what the Ravens are getting with the standout running back.

9. Sixth-round wide receiver James Proche says he’s learning the Ravens playbook by adopting some helpful study habits from his mother, who’s currently in nursing school. That’s just another example of the unique circumstances created by this pandemic.

10. Proche admitted he was tracking how many catches Devin Duvernay made last season. Proche tied for first in the nation with LSU’s Justin Jefferson at 111 while Duvernay was third at 106. I suspect the competition between the two will carry over to training camp.

11. The signing of veteran Jake Ryan became official Tuesday, but the landscape of the inside linebacker position sure changed with the selections of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. Ryan still has a chance to stick if he can shine on special teams.

12. The idea of getting to be Lamar Jackson in a virtual reality game sounded like a blast until I began wondering what that might mean for the well-being of my ACLs.

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Ravens add former Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe

Posted on 28 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens thought they had a deal with Michael Brockers, pursued five-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh, and concluded their turbulent week of defensive line activity by landing Derek Wolfe.

The former Denver Bronco could prove to be a strong consolation prize after agreeing to a one-year deal worth a maximum of $6 million and $3 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports out of Denver. Wolfe, 30, is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he registered a career-high seven sacks before missing the final four games with an elbow injury. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive lineman has started every game in which he’s played in his eight-year career, but he’s played all 16 contests just once in the last five seasons with injuries taking a toll.

Wolfe has been widely regarded as one of the better run-stopping defensive linemen in the NFL for years, but he should also serve as an upgrade in the pass-rush department with 33 career sacks and four seasons with five or more sacks in his career. Pro Football Focus graded the 2012 second-round pick from Cincinnati as the 46th-best interior lineman in the NFL last season, but he finished 28th among qualified interior linemen in pass-rush grading, registering 22 quarterback pressures.

Much like the Ravens envisioned with Brockers before their three-year, $30 million agreement fell apart due to concerns over the health of his ankle, Wolfe’s arrival should allow defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to move Brandon Williams back to nose tackle. Wolfe would likely handle 3-techinique duties with five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell manning the 5-technique spot in the base 3-4 defense, but those two would serve as legitimate interior rushers in passing situations, something the Ravens lacked last season.

Baltimore has undergone much change on its defensive line since the end of the 2019 season with the free-agent departure of nose tackle Michael Pierce and the trade of defensive end Chris Wormley, but the combination of Campbell and Wolfe should serve as a substantial upgrade as the Ravens try to boost a pedestrian run defense that ranked only 21st in the NFL at 4.4 yards per carry allowed. Interior defensive linemen were also responsible for just four of Baltimore’s 37 sacks last season, but the two veteran newcomers have combined for 121 sacks over 20 combined NFL seasons.

Signing Wolfe at a cheaper price eases the disappointment of missing out on Brockers, but the Ravens will likely still be in search of more defensive line depth in next month’s draft as each of their top four current options — Wolfe, Campbell, Williams, and reserve Justin Ellis — is 29 or older. The Ravens are projected to have roughly $12 million in salary cap space once Wolfe’s deal is officially signed.

Highly respected in Denver, Wolfe confirmed his departure from the Broncos and expressed his excitement joining his new team in a post on his verified Instagram account.

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Deal between Ravens, defensive end Brockers falls through

Posted on 27 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ offseason has hit a significant snag after their original agreement with free-agent defensive lineman Michael Brockers fell through on Friday.

After agreeing to a three-year, $30 million contract including $21 million guaranteed early last week, the sides were unable to strike a modified deal after concerns rose over the high ankle sprain sustained by Brockers in the 2019 season finale. The 29-year-old will instead return to the Los Angeles Rams on a three-year contract worth a maximum of $31.5 million, according to NFL Network.

Brockers’ agent, Scott Casterline, told NFL Network Wednesday that he was “very confident” a deal would be announced this week, but the Ravens’ reported interest in free agent Ndamukong Suh — who elected to re-sign with Tampa Bay — made it clear there was concern since an announcement hadn’t been made more than a week after the opening of free agency. In a tweet posted early Friday morning, the Ravens said they would not sign Brockers “after being unable to come to an agreement on terms of a contract.” 

It’s no secret the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the start of the new league year as training facilities have been closed and teams have been prohibited from meeting with free agents and completing their own physicals, instead relying on outside exams to be conducted. That reality didn’t prevent general manager Eric DeCosta from completing a trade for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, but the 33-year-old defender described a more complicated process from the time he received word from Jacksonville until the swap was officially announced a few days later.

Those challenges make it easy to see how a concern over a physical exam could sink an agreement.

“I was in Arizona when the trade went through, and I had to go to get a physical at the Mayo Clinic, which is independent,” Campbell said in a conference call on Thursday. “The process of getting the medical records to them, doing all the paperwork, it was just a little bit trickier than it normally would be. That process was very unique.”

The Brockers news comes after former Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce signed with Minnesota and the Ravens dealt fourth-year defensive end Chris Wormley and a 2021 seventh-round pick to Pittsburgh for a fifth-round selection in next year’s draft. Now dangerously thin behind Campbell and Brandon Williams on the defensive line, Baltimore could turn to another veteran on the open market such as Derek Wolfe or Shelby Harris or simply put a higher priority on strengthening the defensive line in next month’s draft.

It’s quite a turn of events after the Ravens had clearly prioritized beefing up their run defense with the trade for Campbell and the expected signing of Brockers as the two are among the best run-stopping linemen in the league. According to the NFL Players Association, the Ravens have just over $16 million in salary cap space, which gives DeCosta the flexibility to make another substantial move — for the defensive line or at another position — if the right opportunity presents itself.

Brockers confirmed his return to the Rams in a post from his verified Instagram account on Friday.

This marks the second time in three years in which the Ravens have had a free-agent agreement fall apart due to a problem with the physical exam. Baltimore agreed to a four-year, $29 million contract with $14.5 million guaranteed for veteran wide receiver Ryan Grant in 2018 before backing out due to an ankle injury that prompted a failed physical. That situation sparked scrutiny with some even accusing the organization of negotiating in bad faith due to buyer’s remorse, but Brockers was an early target in free agency and it seems unlikely the Ravens would have dealt Wormley if they didn’t have every intention of executing their deal with a standout defensive lineman who’s missed a total of five games over his eight seasons.

This was the second NFL free-agent agreement to fall apart in the last 24 hours after veteran cornerback Darqueze Dennard’s reported deal with Jacksonville fell through on Thursday.

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Looking at updated 2020 slate of draft picks for Ravens

Posted on 24 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has been busy at the start of the new league year with three trades executed in the last week in addition to a handful of signings.

Baltimore traded tight end Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for a second-round pick and a fifth-round selection, sent that same fifth-round choice to Jacksonville for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, and finally swapped defensive end Chris Wormley and a 2021 seventh-round pick for a 2021 fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh.

With the draft only a month away, the Ravens are scheduled to have nine picks overall and seven in the top 150 spots. This could mark the sixth time in the last seven years Baltimore makes at least six picks in the top 150 selections. With lucrative contracts on the horizon for the likes of MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, DeCosta must continue to inject young and cheap talent into organization.

The following are the picks the Ravens currently own in the 2020 draft:

Round 1: 28th overall
Round 2: 55th overall
Round 2: 60th overall
Round 3: 92nd overall
Round 3: 106th overall (compensatory)
Round 4: 129th
Round 4: 143rd overall (compensatory)
Round 5: 170th overall
Round 7: 225th overall

Just for fun, below is a look at past players selected by the Ravens at each of those spots (or as close as possible) over the years:

28th overall: G Ben Grubbs (29th), 2007
Skinny: The first round will probably be too early for the Ravens to draft an interior lineman in the wake of Marshal Yanda’s retirement, but Grubbs was a five-year starter and made a Pro Bowl before moving on in free agency, the kind of result with which you’re perfectly content with a late first-round pick.

55th overall: CB DeRon Jenkins, 1996; RB Ray Rice, 2008; TE Maxx Williams, 2015
Skinny: This slot has produced quite a range of outcomes with Rice being one of the better players in team history and Jenkins and Williams not living up to expectations. Two second-rounders were dealt to move up for Lamar Jackson, but recent Ravens players picked in this round have been underwhelming.

60th overall: G/OT Kelechi Osmele, 2012
Skinny: Seeing action at three different positions, Osemele started every game he played in his four years with the Ravens before breaking the bank with a big-money deal in Oakland. Finding an offensive lineman of this quality in this part of the draft would be a major success.

92nd overall: C Casey Rabach, 2001
Skinny: Rabach didn’t step into a full-time role until his last season with the Ravens after being stuck behind veteran center Mike Flynn, but he would go on to be a six-year starter for Washington. That makes him a pretty decent pick in the big picture.

106th overall: WR Marcus Smith, 2008
Skinny: Smith appeared in just 21 games over three seasons with Baltimore and is one of the many Day 3 wide receivers selected by the organization not to work out over the years. Considering the hype surrounding this year’s batch of receivers, the Ravens could take a swing at the position here.

129th overall: G Edwin Mulitalo, 1999; OLB John Simon, 2013
Skinny: One of the best fourth-round picks in team history, Mulitalo was a starter for parts of eight seasons and formed a dominant left side of the line with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Despite lasting just one year in Baltimore, Simon has played seven NFL seasons and has 19 career sacks..

143rd overall: DT Aubrayo Franklin (146th), 2003; S Dawan Landry (146th), 2006; OLB Matthew Judon (146th), 2016
Skinny: Franklin would play 11 seasons in the NFL despite a nondescript four-year run with the Ravens, but Landry and Judon are two of the organization’s great late-round stories. Finding multiyear starters this late in the draft is far from the norm, but the value is terrific when a team hits.

170th overall: TE Nick Boyle (171st), 2015
Skinny: Few would have believed Boyle would still be going strong as a critical cog in the offense after twice being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs in his first year in the NFL. Boyle has outlasted Crockett Gillmore, Williams, and Hurst, who were all drafted much earlier than the Delaware product.

225th overall: RB Anthony Allen, 2011
Skinny: Many seventh-round picks don’t even make it out of their first training camp, but Allen played 21 games over two years with the Ravens and was a decent special-teams contributor for the Super Bowl XLVII team. You’re not likely to do much better at this late stage of the draft.

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Ravens find surprising trade partner for defensive end Chris Wormley

Posted on 20 March 2020 by Luke Jones

As if the world weren’t strange enough these days, the Ravens have made a trade with their biggest rival.

Defensive end Chris Wormley has been traded along with a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round selection in next year’s draft. It marks only the second time these AFC North rivals have executed a trade and the first since Baltimore acquired offensive lineman Bernard Dafney for a seventh-round pick in 1997.

The deal is pending a physical.

Despite making seven starts and playing 448 snaps last season, Wormley, 26, was likely to see a diminished role with general manager Eric DeCosta acquiring standout defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers this week. The 2017 third-round pick from Michigan was entering the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.133 million in base salary, an amount that will now be credited to Baltimore’s salary cap.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Wormley recorded 33 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, and two pass breakups last season and collected 54 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, and seven pass breakups in 39 games over his first three seasons.

The Ravens have done extensive work improving their defensive line over the opening week of free agency, but the new starting trio of Campbell, Brockers, and nose tackle Brandon Williams as well as reserve Justin Ellis are all 29 or older. Baltimore also has fullback and defensive line hybrid Patrick Ricard and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack in the mix, but adding another defensive lineman or two for both depth and long-term development purposes figures to be an objective in next month’s draft.

Wormley wasted no time playfully showing his new allegiance after Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon responded to Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward’s Twitter welcome.

With Wormley’s departure, just three players remain from the Ravens’ 2017 draft class: Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey, reserve outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, and starting safety Chuck Clark.

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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

Posted on 19 February 2020 by Luke Jones

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

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

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

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

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

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers

Brandon Williams
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 572
PFF ranking: 66th among interior defenders
Skinny: I’ve mostly agreed with PFF’s past grading of Williams — viewing him as solid but unspectacular since signing his 2017 extension — but he played his best football in a few years in 2019, especially after his Week 4 absence and reported spat with Earl Thomas. His $9.25 million salary and $14.17 million cap number for 2020 are steep for someone who doesn’t pressure passers, but he anchors Baltimore’s front.

Michael Pierce
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 521
PFF ranking: 45th among interior defenders
Skinny: While his spring weight problems were largely forgotten by the start of the season, Pierce didn’t have the contract year he envisioned, finishing 2019 with the lowest PFF grade of his career and not being as impactful. There still figures to be a good market for his services, but the Ravens are already paying premium money for a defensive tackle that doesn’t get after the quarterback.

Chris Wormley
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 484
PFF ranking: 62nd among interior defenders
Skinny: The 5-technique defensive end saw the biggest workload of his three-year career and was solid playing the run, but he registered just 1 1/2 sacks, six quarterback hits, and the lowest PFF pass-rushing grade among all Ravens defensive linemen. The 2017 third-round pick is a reliable member of the rotation, but he’ll need a big contract year to make an extension any kind of a priority for Baltimore.

Domata Peko
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 158
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed in mid-November, the 14th-year defensive tackle served as a capable run stopper in place of an injured Pierce and settled into a rotational role down the stretch. Peko left the door open to playing another season after last month’s playoff loss, but the 35-year-old should serve as more of a backup plan than a priority re-signing at this stage of his career.

Justin Ellis
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 71
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed along with Peko, the 350-pound defensive tackle played sparingly in four regular-season games and the playoff loss. Ellis, 29, is another run-stopping option who graded well in limited opportunities, but he doesn’t offer much versatility and isn’t a pass-rushing threat.

Daylon Mack
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 9
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fifth-round rookie from Texas A&M saw his only action of the season in Week 4 before eventually being placed on injured reserve in November. With so many free agents along the defensive line, the Ravens need Mack to step into a rotational role at the very least.

2020 positional outlook

Other than Williams and Wormley, the cupboard is bare in terms of proven rotation options under contract, making this position group a greater priority than some are acknowledging. Finding a more balanced defensive lineman via the draft or free agency would be a major boon since the Ravens haven’t had a viable pass-rushing defensive tackle across multiple seasons since Timmy Jernigan, instead relying on versatile edge players like Za’Darius Smith and Pernell McPhee to move inside in passing situations. It will be interesting to see whether the Ravens rely on the draft, take another stab at signing a veteran like Gerald McCoy, or dip their toes into more lucrative free-agent waters to sign someone like Pittsbugh’s Javon Hargrave, who registered 10 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons and graded as PFF’s eighth-best interior defender last season. Regardless of the avenue, the Ravens really need to address an interior defensive line that could lose Pierce and finished with a bottom five pass-rushing grade in 2019, according to PFF.

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Want or need? Assessing Ravens position groups entering offseason

Posted on 21 January 2020 by Luke Jones

Need is a relative term when assessing the Ravens roster after a franchise-best 14-2 regular season that set all kinds of franchise and NFL records.

The sting of their divisional-round loss to Tennessee will linger for a long time, but perspective is critical when sizing up a roster that included the best offense in the league and one of the top defenses by season’s end. That’s not to say improvements aren’t in order and change isn’t inevitable with 17 Baltimore players set to become unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens would easily remain a playoff-caliber team on paper after even a ho-hum offseason of free-agent departures and only pedestrian additions. Having an MVP quarterback, an innovative offense with no unrestricted free agents of real consequence, and a great secondary will go a long way in covering up any deficiencies elsewhere.

Yes, the early playoff exit was a bitter disappointment and a missed opportunity as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but this isn’t a roster in need of major surgery as much as some fine-tuning after having a bad game at the wrong time. It’s an enviable place when you have close to $30 million in salary cap space and a fresh batch of draft picks in April. But as John Harbaugh often likes to recite the quote attributed to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, “Every day you either get better or you get worse; you never stay the same.”

Below is a look at what positions the Ravens absolutely need to address or simply would like to upgrade between now and the start of the 2020 season:

Edge defender/outside linebacker — NEED

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made it work after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, but this position group remains a major concern with 2019 Pro Bowl selection Matthew Judon and depth pieces Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward set to become free agents. Tyus Bowser took a step forward with five sacks in his third season and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson showed growth as the year progressed, but viewing either as a definite 2020 starter would be too optimistic based on the body of work. Even if Baltimore gives Judon a blank check or the franchise tag to keep him, finding an additional impact outside linebacker is a clear objective. The Ravens blitzed more than any team in the NFL to create pressure in 2019, but more impactful four-man rushes would make this defense even more dangerous. Setting the edge against the run was also an inconsistency that was often masked by Baltimore holding so many big leads that forced opponents to abandon the ground game.

Wide receiver — WANT

I have been a broken record about Baltimore’s deficiency at wide receiver for years and noted during the Tennessee loss that another impact option would be really useful, but classifying wide receiver as a want goes back to keeping the proper perspective. You wouldn’t expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to move away from featuring the tight ends with the success Lamar Jackson has passing to that trio between the numbers, and rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown showed unique ability despite being hampered by foot and ankle issues. When you add the presence of veteran Willie Snead and the potential of 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, the requisite floor and upside are there — even if barely — to think the Ravens can win a Super Bowl. Still, adding a dynamic wide receiver to make plays when Baltimore trails and to have a presence outside the numbers would take Jackson and the NFL’s leading scoring offense to another level, a frightening thought for opponents.

Interior offensive line — WANT*

The asterisk is connected to eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and his decision whether to return for a 14th season. If Yanda comes back, the Ravens remain in good short-term shape on the offensive line as undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in respectably at center for Matt Skura, whose major knee injury makes him a question mark until at least training camp. However, Yanda’s retirement would make this a significant need with 2019 fourth-round guard Ben Powers not exactly making an impact as a rookie and the Ravens losing a Hall of Fame talent in a position group not sporting a ton of experience. You feel more confident about Skura or Mekari at center, Bradley Bozeman at left guard, and Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle because of Yanda’s presence and elite play. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley may help fill the leadership void, but you just don’t replace a special player like Yanda.

Inside linebacker — NEED

This year marked only the seventh time in 24 seasons in which the Ravens didn’t receive a Pro Bowl invitation at this position, speaking to the impossible standard created by Ray Lewis and the commendable run from C.J. Mosley before his free-agent departure last March. General manager Eric DeCosta deserves credit for the in-season additions of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort to stabilize the position, but that came after the organization underestimated the problems Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Chris Board would have stepping into larger roles. Martindale effectively mixed and matched Bynes, Fort, and Onwuasor while often dropping safety Chuck Clark into the box in sub packages, but finding a complete three-down linebacker would decrease the likelihood of the defense getting caught with a second level that’s either too light against the run or too slow in coverage. Re-signing Bynes would certainly be on the table, but a younger every-down option would be preferable. Baltimore doesn’t need an All-Pro inside linebacker to have a great defense, but substituting so frequently was less than ideal.

Interior defensive line — NEED

Giving a big contract to Michael Pierce wouldn’t appear to be in the plans with Brandon Williams still having two years remaining on his deal and Pierce not making a strong argument for the Ravens to commit to him after weight concerns in the offseason and a solid but unspectacular 2019 campaign. Baltimore’s pursuit of six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy last spring highlighted a desire to find an interior pass rusher, but Chris Wormley and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack are the only other defensive linemen under contract for the 2020 campaign beyond the soon-to-be 31-year-old Williams. In other words, the Ravens have much work to do here to fortify their depth against the run while trying to find an inside option or two who can also get after the quarterback.

Cornerback — WANT

No one would classify cornerback as a need with 2019 Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both under contract and slot cornerback Tavon Young expected to be ready for the offseason program after a season-ending neck injury suffered in August. However, you can never have enough depth at this critical spot with Jimmy Smith set to become an unrestricted free agent and Brandon Carr carrying a $6 million price tag for his 2020 option and transitioning to more of a safety role this past season. A modest short-term extension could make sense for Smith, but committing substantial money to someone who will be 32 in July and has played in more than 12 games in a season only twice in nine years doesn’t sound appealing. Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall bring some upside as recent fourth-round selections, but relying on either as the first wave of depth would be risky.

Special teams — WANT

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the first week of free agency last March reinforced their commitment to this phase of the game that goes beyond specialists Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox. With that in mind, Anthony Levine, Chris Moore, Brynden Trawick, Jordan Richards, and De’Anthony Thomas will all be unrestricted free agents after playing at least 120 special-teams snaps apiece for Baltimore this season. Whether re-signing a few members of that group or using resources to sign a veteran or two on the open market, the Ravens seem likely to address special teams after being underwhelming in that department — at least by their lofty standards — down the stretch.

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

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

Posted on 31 December 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) is surrounded by teammates after kicking the winning field goal against the San Francisco 49ers in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. Ravens won 20-17. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 13 win over San Francisco

Posted on 03 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their eighth in a row in a 20-17 final over San Francisco, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’ll gladly take a rematch of this one for Super Bowl LIV in Miami. The 49ers held the Baltimore offense to 4.6 yards per play, its second-lowest mark of 2019. Weather was a factor, but the San Francisco defense proved its might in its first look against this unique offense.

2. Despite covering only 34 yards, the final scoring drive lasted 12 plays and took the final 6:28 off the clock. The Ravens certainly didn’t want to be in a fourth-and-1 situation at their own 44, but their ability to monopolize the clock has to be so deflating to the opposition.

3. San Francisco’s preference to crash inside and invite Lamar Jackson to run was interesting. Coincidence or not, Jackson’s four 100-yard rushing games have come in Baltimore’s four lowest offensive scoring outputs this season. Is your best hope to take away everything else, keep hitting him, and go for a strip?

4. I’ve repeatedly mentioned his improved ball security, but Jackson not losing his first fumble of 2019 until early December is a testament to how far he’s come from his rookie season when he fumbled at least once in every start. San Francisco safety Marcell Harris simply made a great play.

5. The run defense entering Week 13 ranked third in yards per game is why we shouldn’t rely on volume stats while it ranked 19th in yards per carry allowed. It matters little when owning sizable leads, but the run defense hasn’t been particularly good this year, especially on the edges.

6. You had to remember Raheem Mostert actually being a Raven in order to call this a revenge game, but he’s carved out a nice place in San Francisco and was averaging just under 5.4 yards per carry even before his 146-yard outburst. That’s a talented running game the 49ers have.

7. A week after erasing Aaron Donald, the offensive line held likely Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa to a single tackle. The talented Jackson makes everyone’s job easier, but this group continues to get better and is playing outstanding football.

8. I wonder if John Harbaugh grows tired of questions about going for it on fourth down so frequently. Then again, he and a few others will lose that edge once other coaches decide to stop drowning in the shallow waters of risk aversion and such thinking becomes more commonplace.

9. Kyle Shanahan was smart to be aggressive against Baltimore, but his clock management at the end of the first half was poor and the fourth-and-1 pass play from the shotgun on his team’s final drive was questionable at best. He’s still done a heck of a job with the 49ers.

10. Speaking of that fourth-down play, Chris Wormley batted down the Jimmy Garoppolo pass and had a strong day as the Ravens played more 3-4 base defense than they had all season due to San Francisco’s use of heavier personnel. Wormley also registered four tackles and a half-sack.

11. Baltimore hasn’t needed to rely on special teams very often this year, but Marlon Humphrey’s blocked field goal, Sam Koch’s punt downed at the 1 by Chris Moore, and Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal were reminders of how important that phase can still be, especially as January approaches.

12. There’s a long way to go, but the thought of the Ravens now controlling their path to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs less than 13 months after handing the reins to Jackson is something else. Baltimore last hosted an AFC Championship at Memorial Stadium on Jan. 3, 1971.

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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce “day-to-day” with ankle injury

Posted on 11 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Little went wrong in the Ravens’ blowout win over Cincinnati, but an ankle injury to defensive tackle Michael Pierce could loom large with AFC South-leading Houston coming to town Sunday.

The run-stopping lineman hurt his right ankle on the first defensive play against the Bengals and tried to return on the following drive before exiting the game for good after only two more snaps. Sunday’s X-ray was negative, but Pierce could miss some time, which would be significant for a run defense currently ranking eighth in yards per game allowed but only 18th in yards per carry surrendered.

“I would say he’s day-to-day right now. Nothing serious,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It won’t be a long-term injury, which is good news based on the MRI today. There’s a chance he’ll play on Sunday. We’ll just have to see how he does.”

With Pierce missing all but three defensive snaps on Sunday, the Ravens struggled to stop the Cincinnati run game, allowing 102 yards and 5.7 yards per carry in the first half before settling in to give up just 55 yards on 22 carries over the final two quarters. Baltimore allowed a season-worst 6.7 yards per carry in the Week 4 loss to Cleveland in which Brandon Williams sat out with a knee injury, making it clear the run defense isn’t the same without the two hulking defensive tackles in the middle.

With Pierce out, Williams made a season-high seven tackles and played 59 defensive snaps, the fifth-highest total of his career. Second-year defensive lineman Zach Sieler played a career-high 24 defensive snaps while third-year defensive end Chris Wormley picked up a sack and played 47 defensive snaps, the second-highest total of his career.

“Zach fought in there and got better as the game went on. He played well in the second half,” Harbaugh said. “‘Worm’ fought through there and had a lot of good plays. And like anything, probably plays he’d want to have back too and improve upon.

“But Brandon was a force. Brandon kind of took it upon himself to get that run stopped, especially in the second half. He played a lot of plays, played super hard, very physical in there. We needed him to, and he did a great job with it.”

Fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard was impressive in just 12 defensive snaps with a strip-sack and three other tackles, but his role on offense will make it challenging to manage his workload if Pierce can’t play against the Texans in Week 11.

Harbaugh confirmed rookie cornerback Iman Marshall could be activated from injured reserve as soon as this week. The fourth-round pick from USC has been sidelined with toe and hamstring injuries since early in the preseason, but he was designated to return from IR on Oct. 28, which triggered a 21-day window in which he can practice and the coaching staff can evaluate him. The Ravens would need to make a decision by early next week whether to active him to the 53-man roster or to leave him on IR for the remainder of the season.

Given the depth of the secondary, Marshall’s path to a game-day role would be on special teams, an area that’s taken some significant hits in recent weeks.

“We plan on bringing him up,” Harbaugh said. “Whether he’s active or not just kind of depends on how the roster shakes out. He has practiced well. He looks healthy, and hopefully he can contribute to us. … That’s an area that could use some bolstering, personnel-wise, so that’s one option for us.”

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