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earlthomas

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Safeties

Posted on 16 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in just over a week 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.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends

We continue at safety, a position at which the organization has exhausted extensive resources since Ed Reed played his final game as a Raven in Super Bowl XLVII. After failed draft picks and several underwhelming value signings, Baltimore finally went all in at the position by giving out a free-agent contract totaling $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons. Those dollars have given the Ravens one of the best safety groups in the NFL

This position isn’t quite as deep as cornerback, but the philosophy is similar with versatile pieces capable of filling different roles within the defense. This offers defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the option to rotate if he wants to give someone a breather or offer a different look to an opponent.

Below is a look at the safeties who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Earl Thomas
Skinny: The six-time Pro Bowl selection who helped lead Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense to a Super Bowl championship and another appearance in the big game gives the Ravens their first true center fielder at free safety since Reed. The defense will miss Eric Weddle’s football intellect on the back end, but Thomas provides a clear play-making upgrade and shouldn’t have too much difficulty adjusting to Baltimore’s more complex system from the direct Cover 3 looks he ran with the Seahawks. A four-year, $55 million contract including $32 million guaranteed automatically makes you “the man” of this group.

Old Reliable — Tony Jefferson
Skinny: Considering Thomas hasn’t played as much as a preseason game in a Ravens uniform, Jefferson is the default choice here as he’s become one of the defensive leaders after the departures of Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley in the offseason. The 27-year-old is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage and has missed only three games in his six-year NFL career. Critics may knock his four-year, $34 million contract or his intermediate-to-deep pass coverage, but the Ravens very much value what Jefferson brings to the field and the locker room.

Under Fire — Thomas
Skinny: The lucrative financial commitment made to Thomas came after he broke his lower left leg for the second time in three seasons last September and played in just 29 games over the last three seasons. The 30-year-old was playing at an elite level in the opening month of 2018, but you have to at least wonder what long-term toll the latest injury might have on his speed and agility entering his 10th season. Much is riding on Thomas remaining a special talent after so many key departures on defense left plenty of question marks among the front seven.

Up-and-Comer — DeShon Elliott
Skinny: The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas missed his rookie year after breaking his forearm in the preseason, but he was arguably the biggest surprise of the spring, showing impressive range in pass coverage on a few highlight interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Elliott also stood out with some physical play early in last year’s training camp, so that coupled with coverage ability could make it difficult to keep the 22-year-old off the field if the same play-making ability flashes this summer.

Sleeper — Anthony Levine
Skinny: The 32-year-old really shouldn’t be a sleeper at this point, but he remains underappreciated — especially outside Baltimore — as one of the best dime backs in the NFL. After years of that sub package being an afterthought, Levine finally got his chance in the role a few years ago and has excelled. The longtime special-teams standout recorded pass breakups on two of the final four defensive plays in the win over Cleveland last December to clinch the AFC North title, just an example of how important he’s been to the Ravens’ defensive success over the last few years.

The Rest — Chuck Clark, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Clark has been a rock-solid contributor as a backup safety and special-teams player over his first two seasons, but the deep depth across the secondary may mean it’s no lock the 2017 sixth-round selection from Virgina Tech makes the roster. Despite never appearing in an NFL regular-season game after being drafted by the New York Giants out of Notre Dame in 2014, Jackson is still chasing the dream after spending the 2018 preseason and part of the regular season on Baltimore’s practice squad.

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens roster after mandatory minicamp

Posted on 19 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players until the end of the preseason, but the conclusion of mandatory minicamp offer a much better idea of what the coaching staff has to work with in 2019.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance to the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is still based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than observations from a handful of non-contact practices this spring. For now, I estimate 44 players to be safely on the roster, leaving nine spots up for grabs. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand starting with the snap distribution when training camp begins next month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who is deemed a bubble player now as much will change between now and even the start of preseason action. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying so much talent that could fall victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. You always look 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 individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: McSorley showed growth over the course of the spring and should feel much better about his chances, but I’m not quite ready to say he’ll definitely be on the roster when you look at the logjam at some other positions. I’d still expect a fourth quarterback to be added to share the summer reps.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Little has changed with this position group, but Ervin’s return ability at least puts him on the radar to potentially steal a spot. Dixon took issue with how his absences from voluntary workouts were perceived, but he needs a strong and healthy preseason to stick in the final year of his rookie deal.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, Michael Floyd
LONG SHOT: Sean Modster, Antoine Wesley, Quincy Adeboyejo, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott, Modster, and Wesley flashed during workouts, but this group looked very ordinary overall, which wasn’t a big surprise as Brown and Boykin were sidelined. The numbers game will be interesting as you wonder how many receivers the run-heavy Ravens will even feel compelled to keep.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: Charles Scarff
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman
Skinny: Knowing how much offensive coordinator Greg Roman values this position, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fourth tight end with blocking ability stick with the 249-pound Scarff having the current edge. However, the Ravens could also use the versatile Patrick Ricard in that role.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Alex Lewis, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Eluemunor lining up as the starting left guard this spring was surprising, but Harbaugh saying his conditioning needs to improve keeps me from moving him to the “in” line just yet. Lewis missing the spring program while rehabbing his shoulder on his own leaves him with much to prove.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Sieler is probably safe because of the shortage of 5-technique options on the roster, but Willis is an interesting name to watch as a rookie free agent. Ricard’s ability to play on both sides of the ball always improves his roster chances, but he was a healthy scratch for the final six games last season.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: There is very little clarity in this group beyond the top three, but you would think the Ravens prefer keeping at least one more inside linebacker. Any lingering doubt about Board’s status was erased this spring as he arguably moved ahead of Young in the competition to start next to Onwuasor.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
IN: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Pernell McPhee, Shane Ray, Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Bowser’s ability to drop into pass coverage gives him an edge over the other outside linebackers vying for a roster spot, but McPhee being able to slide inside in sub packages really helps his chances. Ray flashed during the spring, but the proof will be when the pads come on.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Barring injuries, Baltimore is almost guaranteed to lose a quality player or two from this group. However, I’m not buying Bethel being on the bubble after the Ravens gave him a $1 million bonus and took a compensatory pick formula hit to sign him despite their established depth here.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: The standout play of Elliott was one of the highlights of the spring as he showed impressive range in coverage to go with the physicality he flashed as a rookie last summer. Clark is a rock-solid backup entering his third season, but could the roster crunch at other positions squeeze him out?

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: Vedvik really struggled with his kicking accuracy during spring practices open to reporters and will need to rebound in the preseason to build his potential trade value.

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marquisebrown

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Ravens still waiting on first-round pick to make practice debut

Posted on 12 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense was always going to win the battle this spring.

Not only has the Baltimore offense been completely revamped under coordinator Greg Roman, but a run-first system isn’t going to operate with full effect in non-contact practices. As you’d expect, a passing attack with a quarterback entering his first full year as a starter and veteran wide receivers with limited ceilings hasn’t produced many big plays against arguably the best and deepest secondary in the NFL.

But the Ravens — and their fans — must maintain the proper perspective knowing some intriguing upside is on the way in addition to quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rest of the offense simply increasing their comfort level in the new system. General manager Eric DeCosta selected two wide receivers with his first three picks of April’s draft to address the very concern observers have witnessed this spring.

Third-round rookie Miles Boykin missed a large portion of organized team activities with a hamstring injury and is still taking limited reps during this week’s minicamp, but first-round pick Marquise Brown has yet to make his practice debut for the Ravens. The speedy 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver has increased his activity level this week by doing agility work on a side field, catching passes from the Jugs machine, and even taking a couple reps in an individual position drill Wednesday, but the real show won’t begin until the start of training camp in late July. Brown was selected with the 25th overall pick to make an immediate play-making impact, but the Ravens knew they’d have to be patient after the Oklahoma standout underwent Lisfranc surgery on his foot in January.

“He gets a little extra meeting time because he doesn’t get to do the stuff on the field that some of the guys get to do,” wide receivers coach David Culley said. “He spends a little bit of extra time going over those kinds of things. For the most part, he gets extra film work in, just watching everything in practice. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to see himself to be able to correct things.”

Taking nothing away from complementary veteran wide receivers such as Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and Chris Moore who will receive their share of opportunities, the Ravens are counting on Brown to be a difference maker, something they’ve rarely had at the wide receiver position over their history. The combination of speed and athleticism with which Brown consistently burned Big 12 defenses is exactly what Jackson needs to help fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback.

The wait is almost over to see Brown in action, but he’ll have plenty of catching up to do after missing valuable spring reps.

“When I think about what I saw when we drafted him from Oklahoma, I get really excited about it,” Culley said. “Hopefully, he can do some of those same things that he did. He was a big-play guy for them, and one of the reasons why we got him where we got him was because of his big-play ability. We’re looking forward to him bringing that to us.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and return specialist Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari did not participate in Wednesday’s minicamp practice. Safety Tony Jefferson increased his activity level in only his second practice since having ankle surgery in January.

Elliott shines again

Second-year safety DeShon Elliott continues to be a surprising standout performer this spring as he snatched another interception during Thursday’s practice, victimizing backup quarterback Robert Griffin III during a 7-on-7 period.

The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas showed physicality in his first training camp before being lost for the season with a broken forearm last August, but his range in pass coverage has turned plenty of heads with a diving interception last week being the highlight play of the spring. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Elliott has the size to be used in different capacities even if he’s stuck behind six-time Pro Bowl selection Earl Thomas and established veteran Tony Jefferson on the depth chart.

“He’s just picked up where he left off right before he got hurt, and it’s just going to be another fun piece,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We play a bunch of different personnel and everything else. I know we have two really good safeties right now, but we’ll find spots for the good football players. Obviously, specials teams play a big part in that.”

Elliott’s development could impact snaps for reserve safeties Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark, who both saw plenty of action in sub packages last season.

Rough day for quarterbacks

Even with some inconsistency and the overall shortage of big plays in the passing game, Jackson had done a commendable job avoiding turnovers this spring with only one interception over the first four practices open to media, but that changed Wednesday.

The 22-year-old quarterback was picked off by reserve defensive back Bennett Jackson in a 7-on-7 period and was later intercepted twice by rookie cornerback Terrell Bonds in the red zone, an area of the field in which the offense has struggled. Griffin also threw two interceptions during the morning practice.

Jackson also threw a touchdown to tight end Mark Andrews as the two continue to build on the encouraging chemistry they showed down the stretch last season.

“I’m not looking to win the practices. I’m looking to get ready for the training camp and get ready for the season,” Roman said. “Every opportunity, whether a good result or a bad result, on a play this time of year is a great thing because it gives us an opportunity to grow from it.”

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens’ 90-man roster following rookie camp

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 2:30 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for nearly four more months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a much better idea of what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to work with for the 2019 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any given player. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities later this month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player now as much will change before the Ravens even get to training camp in July. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens always look 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 individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Jalan McClendon
Skinny: How the coaching staff uses McSorley and how he develops will determine whether Baltimore carries three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for a second straight year and only the second time in the last decade. Comparisons to New Orleans’ Taysom Hill — who is much bigger — will continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala, Tyler Ervin
Skinny: Suggesting someone who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year could be on the bubble speaks to the great backfield depth. Dixon could also be a trade chip entering the final year of his contract, but a history of injuries and suspensions could prompt a tough decision. Don’t sleep on Turner either.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley
LONG SHOT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: With Baltimore expected to again use multiple tight ends and run the ball so frequently, the brass won’t feel compelled to keep more than four or five receivers unless others prove deserving of a spot. This is a critical preseason for Scott and Lasley, who played zero snaps as rookies last year.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may prefer having another blocking tight end in the mix to replace Maxx Williams, but it’s premature to handicap the chances of these candidates. Keizer spent much of last year with the organization, giving him a slight experience edge over the two rookies.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Bozeman’s ability to play center makes him a safe bet while Hurst’s $4.75 million cap number and injury-riddled 2018 leave his status in at least some question until he proves his back problems are behind him. Time could be running out for Lewis, who just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: Kalil Morris
Skinny: This is a tough group to handicap after the duo of Williams and Pierce, but Henry is the best interior rusher on the roster despite missing most of 2018. Sieler is a good bet to make it as a 5-technique end, but the talented Willis could be the wild card after surprisingly going undrafted.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Alvin Jones, Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Board leading the team in special-teams tackles as a rookie leaves him safe at this point. The competition for a potential roster spot behind him is wide open, however, with Thomas, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, headlining a group lacking experience. They’re listed as bubble players by default.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Matt Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Contributions on special teams and the shortage of strong-side or “Sam” backers give Bowser a clear edge over Williams, who appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was a healthy scratch by season’s end. There should be opportunities for the long shots to try to put themselves on the radar.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper group of corners in the NFL, leaving the Ravens with a good problem trying to decide which ones to keep. Jones returning kickoffs in addition to punts would cement his spot — he only did the latter last year — while the oft-injured Canady is in the final year of his rookie deal.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott is the one to watch in this group as he showed promise before breaking his forearm in the preseason last year and could potentially push Clark for some playing time in sub packages. Levine’s positional versatility remains an invaluable part of Wink Martindale’s defense.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: The Ravens will hope Vedvik kicks the football like he did last summer to improve his trade value at the end of the preseason. Beyond that, there’s little to see here.

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Ravens release Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle

Posted on 05 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have moved on from one of the veteran leaders of their top-ranked defense.

Six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was released on Tuesday, ending his three-year run in Baltimore. The 34-year-old was entering the final season of a four-year, $26 million contract, but his departure will now save $7.5 million on the 2019 salary cap while also leaving a void at the safety position. Weddle was scheduled to carry a $9.25 million cap figure for 2019.

Multiple coaches and teammates credited Weddle’s football intellect as a major reason for an increasingly-deceptive defense finishing first in total yards allowed, second in points allowed, and fifth in passing yards allowed last season. However, he registered a career-low three pass breakups and no interceptions after collecting a combined 21 pass breakups and 10 interceptions in his first two seasons with the Ravens. That left a difficult decision for general manager Eric DeCosta weighing Weddle’s intangibles against his advancing age, physical decline, and high price tag.

Acknowledging an uncertain future the day after the season-ending playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Weddle originally said he didn’t plan on playing for another team if the Ravens released him, but he backed off that proclamation later that month at the Pro Bowl, an early indication the sides disagreed on his value for the upcoming season. The former San Diego Charger becomes the second cap casualty of the offseason for the Ravens after wide receiver Michael Crabtree was cut late last month.

How the Ravens plan to address safety remains to be seen with starter Tony Jefferson, veteran dime back Anthony Levine, and former sixth-round picks Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott the only players at the position currently on the roster. The open market is rich with options ranging from Tyrann Mathieu and Earl Thomas to Landon Collins and Adrian Amos, but there’s always the possibility — even if unlikely — of a reunion with Weddle at a lower rate, something the Ravens did with Lardarius Webb two years ago.

Upon signing with Baltimore in 2016, Weddle brought stability to a safety position that had been a revolving door since the departure of Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Early-round draft picks Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks were busts while veteran free agents such as Michael Huff, Darian Stewart, Kendrick Lewis, and Will Hill didn’t work out in the three years following Super Bowl XLVII, often leaving the Ravens with communication problems in the secondary. After finishing 30th in the NFL in takeaways in 2015, Baltimore finished tied for fourth in 2016 and first in 2017 with Weddle bringing stability to the back end of the defense. Weddle was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons with the Ravens.

Widely praised for his leadership and even affectionately called “coach” by teammates, Weddle may not be the only key defensive veteran to depart this offseason as linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs remain unsigned a week before the start of free agency. Versatile pass rusher Za’Darius Smith and defensive end Brent Urban are other significant defensive players who are unrestricted free agents.

NFL Network first reported the Ravens’ decision to release Weddle.

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

Posted on 26 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 safeties ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers

Eric Weddle
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 1,016
PFF ranking: 10th among safeties
Skinny: The 34-year-old Pro Bowl safety was the on-field mastermind for a top-ranked unit, but he recorded just three pass breakups and no interceptions after a combined 21 breakups and 10 picks in his previous two seasons. That statistical decline coincides with a $9.25 million cap number for 2019.

Tony Jefferson
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 863
PFF ranking: 35th among safeties
Skinny: Jefferson rebounded from an underwhelming first year in Baltimore as defensive coordinator Wink Martindale more consistently played him closer to the line of scrimmage, playing to his strengths. The 27-year-old still doesn’t excel in coverage despite one of the highest cap figures on the 2019 roster.

Anthony Levine
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 280
PFF ranking: 71st among safeties
Skinny: Levine isn’t a true safety, cornerback, or linebacker, but his versatility brings more value in today’s game with defenses trying to account for pass-happy opponents while not becoming too vulnerable against the run. His presence in the dime package makes the defense more unpredictable.

Chuck Clark
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 252
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The second-year reserve filled in capably for an injured Jefferson, making two starts and registering an interception in the Week 14 loss at Kansas City. Clark also occasionally served as a bigger nickel and dime option in addition to his dependable special-teams contributions.

2019 positional outlook

This past season marked the first time since 2012 that the Ravens started the same two safeties from the previous year, but an abundance of resources were exhausted to get to that point after a number of failed draft picks and free-agent signings since Super Bowl XLVII. General manager Eric DeCosta must determine whether Weddle’s cerebral presence makes up for his physical decline enough to warrant a $6.5 million base salary for the final season of his four-year deal. Contract restructures the last two years have also made Jefferson’s $12.657 million cap number for 2019 problematic, but cutting him would leave more than $9 million in dead money, making it likely he stays put for another year. After suffering a season-ending broken arm last summer, 2018 sixth-round safety DeShon Elliott carries potential, but it would be ambitious to view him as an immediate starting option if Weddle were to be released. Even if the veteran starting duo remains intact for 2019, the Ravens should be targeting a play-making safety with range in April’s draft such as Delaware’s Nasir Adderley.

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FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, file photo, Baltimore Ravens defensive back Marlon Humphrey (29) celebrates his interception with teammate Tony Jefferson in the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Baltimore. As a member of the Alabama football, Marlon Humphrey knew what to expect against non-league foes such as Mercer and Kent State. Now a rookie starting cornerback with the Ravens, he finds himself in a similar situation entering Sunday’s game against the winless Cleveland Browns. (AP Photo/Gail Burton, File)

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Ravens without Humphrey, T. Young for Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 12 December 2018 by Luke Jones

While fully healthy at the quarterback position for the first time since early November, the Ravens are dealing with several injury concerns in the secondary ahead of their Week 15 meeting with Tampa Bay.

Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (groin) and Tavon Young (groin) and safeties Tony Jefferson (ankle) and Anthony Levine (ankle) all missed practice on Wednesday as Baltimore prepares for an offense ranking first in the NFL in passing yards per game. Humphrey and Young both exited last Sunday’s loss at Kansas City with lingering groin injuries while Jefferson is trying to avoid missing his third straight contest.

“He’s close,” said head coach John Harbaugh of Jefferson’s status. “He tells me he’s going to play, and [the training staff] says we need to see him run full speed, so we’ll be looking for that this week. He told me he was going to play last week. He told me he was going to play the week before that, so that’s Tony. But I have my fingers crossed.”

Offensive lineman Alex Lewis (shoulder) returned to practice after missing last week’s game, but it remains to be seen whether he or veteran James Hurst will receive the starting nod at left guard. Hurst returned to action after a six-game absence to start in place of Lewis against the Chiefs. Harbaugh confirmed rookie Orlando Brown would remain the starting right tackle, the position Hurst held over the first six games of the season before being sidelined with a back injury.

Quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (ankle) and Joe Flacco (hip) were full participants in practice after Harbaugh announced Jackson will remain Baltimore’s starter moving forward. Jackson confirmed his ankle was “100 percent” after exiting late in the overtime loss to the Chiefs.

The Buccaneers were without veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) and starting safety Justin Evans (toe) for Wednesday’s workout. Both have missed recent games with their respective injuries.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury), CB Tavon Young (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), QB Lamar Jackson (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)

TAMPA BAY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Justin Evans (toe), WR DeSean Jackson (thumb), S Isaiah Johnson (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Carlton Davis (knee), OT Demar Dotson (knee), DT Gerald McCoy (shoulder), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee/hip)

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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Despite initial reports to the contrary, Joe Flacco is inactive for the fourth straight week as the Ravens attempt to upset Kansas City on Sunday.

After registering his first full practice since early November on Friday, the veteran was considered to serve as the backup quarterback before the Ravens ultimately activated Robert Griffin III again. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his fourth straight start after leading the Ravens to three straight wins to move into the No. 6 spot in the AFC. Flacco was listed as questionable on the final injury report after making substantial progress this week in his return from a right hip injury.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is active and will play despite missing practice time this week with a groin injury. His presence will be critical as Baltimore attempts to slow Kansas City’s top-ranked scoring offense. As expected, safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) will miss his second straight game, meaning Chuck Clark will once again start in his place.

Offensive lineman James Hurst is active for the first time since Week 6, making his return from a back injury that sidelined him for the last six games. With Alex Lewis out with a lingering shoulder issue after missing practices all week, Hurst or rookie Bradley Bozeman will start at left guard with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. continuing to man the right tackle spot.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) was deactivated for the fifth straight game.

After being listed as questionable on the final injury report, Chiefs safety Eric Berry (heel) will need to wait another week to make his 2018 season debut. Berry and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) were officially deactivated on Sunday morning. Newly-signed wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is also inactive.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Tony Corrente.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the mid-30s with light and variable winds and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with purple pants while the Chiefs don red jerseys with white pants for Week 14.

Sunday marks the eighth all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Kansas City holding the 4-3 advantage. However, Baltimore is undefeated in three trips to Arrowhead Stadium, which includes a 2010 wild-card playoff victory.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
WR Jordan Lasley
OLB Tim Williams
S Tony Jefferson
G Alex Lewis
DL/FB Patrick Ricard
DL Zach Sieler

KANSAS CITY
S Eric Berry
OL Kahlil McKenzie
WR Kelvin Benjamin
WR Sammy Watkins
RB Charcandrick West
OL Jimmy Murray
TE Deon Yelder

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 01 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens holding a 6-5 record going into December is very familiar territory.

For the third straight year, John Harbaugh’s team is a game above .500 and occupying a playoff spot going into the final month of the season. But we know how that turned out the last two seasons, and the Ravens now begin a daunting stretch of three road games over the next four weeks.

Atlanta has dropped to 4-7 after a three-game losing streak, but Baltimore’s only December road victory over the last three seasons came against winless Cleveland last year. In other words, the Ravens have no reason to feel overconfident against a team circling the drain in the NFC playoff race.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for just the sixth time in the all-time regular-season series. The Ravens hold a 3-2 advantage, but they were 1-2 at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons’ former home before Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened last year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Gus Edwards will rush for over 100 yards for the third consecutive game. Alex Collins going to injured reserve reinforces what we already knew: Edwards is the No. 1 guy. Much was made about the poor Cincinnati and Oakland defenses the last two weeks, but Edwards will now face a Falcons defense ranking 25th in rushing yards allowed and 30th in yards per carry allowed (5.1). Atlanta will sell out to limit Lamar Jackson’s rushing opportunities, which will allow Edwards to become the first Ravens running back since Justin Forsett in 2014 to eclipse the century mark in three consecutive contests.

2. Julio Jones will catch a touchdown despite being held under 100 yards for the first time since Week 5. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Ravens approach Jones and whether Marlon Humphrey or Jimmy Smith travels with him — likely with some safety help. You don’t stop a generational talent like Jones, who has registered at least six catches and 100 yards in six straight games, but the goal is preventing him from wrecking the game. The problem will be accounting for Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu in the process. Jones will find the end zone for only the fourth time this season.

3. Two turnovers will overshadow an otherwise solid day for Jackson in his first road start. There is much to like about the rookie, but a road game provides new challenges for a young quarterback that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Ravens will again lean heavily on the run, but a better opposing offense will force Jackson into more passing spots late. Protecting the football is even more critical on the road, but Jackson has tossed three interceptions and experienced a couple hiccups at the mesh point of zone-read handoffs. Similar miscues will be costly and offset some impressive moments.

4. The Baltimore defense will surrender a late touchdown pass to Falcons tight end Austin Hooper. An opposing tight end has caught a touchdown against the Ravens in four of the last five games, and Hooper is capable enough of causing some problems as the secondary tries to slow such a talented wide receiver trio. How Ravens safeties and linebackers handle Hooper and running back Tevin Coleman as a receiver out of the backfield will be a substantial key. Chuck Clark filling in for the injured Tony Jefferson doesn’t bring a major drop-off at safety, but Matt Ryan will find Hooper in a critical spot.

5. The recent history of December struggles will continue as the Ravens fall 27-20 to Atlanta. In case you were wondering, I’d still be picking the Falcons if a healthy Joe Flacco was under center this week. I don’t expect the environment to be too big for Jackson, but lost in the hype of a revamped running game is the fact that the Ravens scored four offensive touchdowns at home against two dreadful defenses, which isn’t particularly impressive. Perhaps the Falcons have quit after three straight losses, but their offense is too talented on paper to continue to underperform, especially with extra rest after a Thanksgiving night game. On the flip side, the Baltimore defense has a total of two takeaways and six sacks over its last five games and just doesn’t make enough dynamic plays despite its impressive statistical profile. The Ravens offense is an underwhelming 4-for-8 inside the red zone the last two weeks, and Baltimore ranks 22nd in red-zone defense entering Week 13. That area of the field will be the difference in a tight game.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Hall of Fame Game victory

Posted on 03 August 2018 by Luke Jones

CANTON, Ohio — With the Ravens kicking off the 2018 preseason with a 17-16 win over the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Kamalei Correa was a star at both outside and inside linebacker and collected three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, two pass breakups, and six tackles. He needs to build on that after a quiet start to the summer, but seeing that performance from the former second-round pick was encouraging.

2. Hayden Hurst looked the part of a first-round pick with the ability to contribute as a rookie as he caught three passes, one for a touchdown in the third quarter. He had recently had some struggles in training camp, but the South Carolina product moved very well over the middle.

3. The Ravens defense coming away with an interception on the opening drive seemed fitting after leading the NFL in takeaways a year ago. I continue to like what I see from Chuck Clark as part of a deep and versatile secondary.

4. Lamar Jackson’s play reflected what we’ve seen throughout the spring and summer as he has a long way to go to be an NFL starting quarterback, but that’s fine. My biggest concern was seeing him take so many hits in the open field rather than running out of bounds or sliding.

5. The idea of waiting to play Jackson until the second half to alleviate some of the pressure had merit, but the offensive line surrendering five sacks even before intermission had to have John Harbaugh reconsidering that plan. The rookie quarterback didn’t exactly have much time in the pocket.

6. Thursday didn’t reflect well on the offensive line depth, but Orlando Brown Jr. was a bright spot as he allowed just one pressure on 48 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Even if James Hurst begins the season as the right tackle, the extensive reps for Brown are valuable.

7. It took under five minutes of play before the new helmet rule came into effect as Patrick Onwuasor was penalized and we saw a few more flags. Ravens players were recently advised by league officials to tackle as though they’re not wearing helmets. Yes, it’s likely to be a mess.

8. Breshad Perriman needs a big summer to make the team, so a Robert Griffin III slant pass going right through his hands for an interception was as bad a preseason start as he could have. The 2015 first-round pick not taking a single special-team rep wasn’t a great sign either.

9. Tim Williams didn’t fill up the stat sheet like Correa did, but PFF credited the 2017 third-round pick with six hurries to go along with a quarterback hit in 41 pass-rushing opportunities. He needs to show more of that against better competition as the preseason progresses.

10. With the top three running backs sitting, rookie Gus Edwards started and finished with 58 yards on 11 touches while displaying decent field vision. Fellow rookie Mark Thompson didn’t help his cause with a fumble. Kenneth Dixon’s inability to stay healthy could create the opportunity for a roster spot here.

11. Media predictably weren’t pleased to see Jackson’s debut delayed until the third quarter, but NBC had to be thrilled for the extra hook to keep the viewing audience engaged. The play in the second half was pretty ugly all the way around.

12. The best news from Thursday’s win was the Ravens escaping Canton without any notable injuries, according to Harbaugh. Cross your fingers and toes while knocking on wood, but the football gods have been kind to Baltimore in the health department so far.

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