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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce cleared from non-football injury list

Posted on 21 July 2019 by Luke Jones

Two days after being placed on the non-football injury list, Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce has apparently been cleared to begin practicing.

The fourth-year defensive lineman was listed on Sunday’s league transaction sheet as having passed his physical, meaning he has been removed from the NFI list and is eligible to practice this week. The Ravens haven’t commented on Pierce’s status since last month’s mandatory minicamp when head coach John Harbaugh pulled him from the field due to weight and conditioning concerns. It’s unclear exactly where Pierce is physically compared to his 2018 listed playing weight of 340 pounds or whether he has additional work to do from a conditioning standpoint, but the removal of his NFI designation is obviously good news for both him and the Baltimore defense.

Scheduled to make $3.095 million this season after receiving a second-round tender as a restricted free agent, Pierce is entering a contract year and has become one of the NFL’s best run-stopping nose tackles over his first three seasons. He finished with 32 tackles, a fumble recovery, four tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, and a pass defensed in 14 regular-season games last year and graded as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in the league.

“Don’t forget what a great football player he is, and he’ll get back there [physically],” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the day after Pierce was pulled from minicamp in mid-June. “I can’t tell you when, but he’ll get back there. He’ll get back to that.”

Pierce wasn’t the only Raven to be cleared Sunday as rookie third-round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and rookie fifth-round defensive tackle Daylon Mack were also removed from the NFI list. Both players presumably failed the conditioning test upon reporting to Owings Mills last week, but each can now begin practicing.

With Pierce, Ferguson, and Mack all passing their physicals, rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown is the only Baltimore player currently on the NFI list while guards Alex Lewis (shoulder surgery) and Patrick Mekari remain on the physically unable to perform list. Those three are eligible to begin practicing at any point upon being cleared by the team.

Remaining veteran players will report to the team facility Wednesday with the first full-squad workout of training camp taking place Thursday morning.

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Ravens put Pierce on non-football injury list, Lewis on PUP list

Posted on 20 July 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t conduct their first full-squad training camp practice until Thursday, but questions remain whether standout defensive tackle Michael Pierce will be ready to take the field.

Pierce was placed on the non-football injury list Friday as injured veterans and quarterbacks were required to report to the team facility in Owings Mills. The organization hasn’t commented on his status, but it’s assumed the designation is tied to the weight and conditioning concerns that prompted head coach John Harbaugh to pull Pierce from the field on the first day of mandatory minicamp in June. A restricted free agent who received a $3.095 million second-round tender in March, Pierce is entering a contract year and chose to skip the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program in the spring.

The former undrafted free agent from Samford looked noticeably heavier than the 340 pounds at which he was listed during the 2018 season. Harbaugh didn’t shy away from that perception five weeks ago when telling reporters they “can probably tell” he wasn’t in shape.

“He’s not ready to practice just from a safety standpoint — for his own health and safety,” Harbaugh said on June 11. “We recognized that, and we pulled him off for that reason. … It’s a problem, absolutely. We want guys practicing. We want them ready to practice, physically able to practice. That’s very important.”

It’s unclear whether Pierce was even permitted to take the Ravens’ rigorous conditioning test, which he’ll need to pass to be cleared to take the field in training camp.

Baltimore also placed veteran left guard Alex Lewis on the active physically unable to perform list as he continues recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Scheduled to make $2.025 million in base salary, Lewis is not only competing for a starting job, but his roster spot is in jeopardy as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and faces plenty of young competition. Injuries have limited the 2016 fourth-round pick to just 20 games in his first three seasons.

Lewis rehabbed his shoulder away from the team facility, a curious decision for a player whose roster status is far from secure. Harbaugh had little clarity on the offensive lineman’s status during last month’s minicamp in which Lewis didn’t participate.

“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”

Both Pierce and Lewis are eligible to begin practicing at any point and still count against the 90-man preseason roster. Pierce joins wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot), outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and defensive tackle Daylon Mack on the NFI list while Lewis joins guard Patrick Mekari (back) on the PUP list.

Rookie wide receiver Jaylen Smith was removed from the NFI list Friday, an indication that he passed his conditioning test.

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marquisebrown

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Ravens place Marquise Brown on non-football injury list

Posted on 18 July 2019 by Luke Jones

Training camp has begun for the Ravens rookies, but a handful of players weren’t yet ready to practice as of Thursday afternoon.

According to the NFL’s daily transaction sheet, Baltimore placed wide receivers Marquise Brown and Jaylen Smith, outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and defensive tackle Daylon Mack on the non-football injury list and guard Patrick Mekari on the physically unable to perform list. Though the Ravens haven’t commented on the reasons for any of these designations, these lists are used for players who had a preexisting ailment or did not pass the infamous conditioning test that’s victimized many veterans and rookies in previous summers.

Each player still counts against the 90-man preseason roster limit and is eligible to return to practice at any point. Baltimore’s first full-squad workout is next Thursday, a day after veteran players must report to the team facility in Owings Mills.

Brown, the 25th overall pick of April’s draft, being on the list isn’t a major surprise as he continues working his way back to full strength from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot in January. On the first night of the draft, general manager Eric DeCosta said he “conservatively” expected the speedy receiver to be back on the field for training camp, but head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged in mid-June that Brown wasn’t yet running full speed on flat ground.

“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” said Harbaugh during mandatory minicamp last month. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”

Brown originally injured his foot playing for Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game last Dec. 1 and returned a month later to play in the College Football Playoff semifinal game a month later, but his injury is classified as “non-football” since it occurred outside of the Ravens’ football activities. In contrast, Mekari was placed on the active PUP list after his back flared up during spring workouts in Owings Mills.

Since Ferguson, Mack, and Smith all took part in organized team activities and mandatory minicamp without any reported injuries, their placement on the NFI list could be the result of not passing the conditioning test. Harbaugh’s training camps have long been known for this challenging obstacle at the outset as several former Ravens players noted on social media Thursday evening. In most cases, failing the conditioning test is much more of a short-term blip than a red flag that sticks with a player.

Ferguson, a third-round pick from Louisiana Tech, is expected to compete for playing time in a pass-rush rotation in desperate need of contributors opposite veteran Matthew Judon. A fifth-round selection from Texas A&M, Mack will be competing for reserve snaps on the defensive line.

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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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Ravens sign four draft picks, announce rookie free-agent signings

Posted on 03 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With their rookies hitting the practice field for the first time this weekend, the Ravens wasted little time signing half of their 2019 draft class to four-year contracts.

On Friday, general manager Eric DeCosta signed fourth-round picks Justice Hill, Ben Powers, and Iman Marshall as well as fifth-round selection Daylon Mack, leaving only wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and quarterback Trace McSorley unsigned. Contracts are slotted based on the salary cap and rookie compensation pool, eliminating virtually all of the common holdouts that would occur prior to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

Baltimore also announced the signing of its rookie free agents, a list headlined by Miami defensive tackle Gerald Willis and Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith. Despite racking up 18 tackles for a loss during his senior season and being viewed by some as a potential Day 2 pick, Willis went undrafted largely because of off-field concerns, which included a reported fight with the son of former Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg that contributed to his dismissal from the University of Florida. Smith, a four-year starter for the Cardinals, had a disappointing senior year after catching a combined 13 touchdowns in his previous two years playing with current Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, but the pair worked out together in Florida this offseason, making the 6-foot-2 wideout a logical addition.

Of the 17 undrafted players signed, three are inside linebackers — Otaro Alaka of Texas A&M, E.J. Ejiya of North Texas, and Silas Stewart of Incarnate Word — after the Ravens did not draft a player at that position of need last weekend. At least one undrafted rookie has made Baltimore’s 53-man roster for 15 straight seasons, making the Ravens an attractive destination for many talents believing they were overlooked during the draft.

Below is the full list of rookie free-agent signings as well as the jersey numbers assigned to the Ravens’ eight draft picks:

ILB Otaro Alaka, Texas A&M — No. 50
OT Marcus Applefield, Virginia — No. 62
ILB E.J. Ejiya, North Texas — No. 57
TE Cole Herdman, Purdue — No. 88
OLB Markus Jones, Angelo State — No. 96
G Patrick Mekari, Cal-Berkeley — No. 65
WR Sean Modster, Boise State — No. 14
DT Kalil Morris, Kent State — No. 91
OLB Mike Onuoha, Texas A&M Commerce — No. 90
LS Matthew Orzech, Azusa Pacific — No. 59
TE Charles Scarff, Delaware — No. 85
WR Jaylen Smith, Louisville — No. 16
ILB Silas Stewart, Incarnate Word — No. 59
C C.J. Toogood, Elon — No. 61
WR Antoine Wesley, Texas Tech — No. 84
DT Gerald Willis, Miami — No. 92
S Evan Worthington, Colorado — No. 30

WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma — No. 15
OLB Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech — No. 45
WR Miles Boykin, Notre Dame — No. 80
RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State — No. 43
G Ben Powers, Oklahoma — No. 70
CB Iman Marshall, USC — No. 37
DT Daylon Mack, Texas A&M — No. 94
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State — No. 7

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 30 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2019 NFL draft now in the rear-view mirror, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After undergoing their biggest roster turnover on defense since the offseason after Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens still went offense with four of their first five picks. That’s quite a change from the 2013 draft when their first four selections were defensive players. I approve for Lamar Jackson’s benefit.

2. Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were winners of the weekend with none of Baltimore’s eight picks being used on an inside linebacker. With Eric DeCosta having just over $15 million in salary cap space, however, a veteran addition could still be in the cards at some point.

3. Another winner was Matt Skura despite many predicting the Ravens would come away with an early-round center. There’s certainly room for improvement and Bradley Bozeman could push him with a strong offseason, but I don’t get the sense the organization is as down on Skura as some outsiders.

4. DeCosta said the visit with edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah was “great,” but a potential signing likely won’t come until after May 7 when unrestricted free agents no longer impact the compensatory pick formula. Ansah visiting Seattle Monday should dismiss any idea of a handshake agreement being in place.

5. Fifth-round defensive tackle Daylon Mack was considered a disappointment entering his senior year at Texas A&M as a five-star recruit who hadn’t yet become a starter, but 5 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for a loss changed that perception. That “sneaky” inside rush ability could be a nice addition.

6. Orlando Brown Jr. attending the draft party for fourth-round guard Ben Powers had to be a cool moment for the reunited Oklahoma teammates and speaks to their close friendship. You’d assume the Ravens had a great scouting report on Powers, who is expected to compete at left guard initially.

7. I’ll be curious to see how the Ravens handle Marquise Brown as he recovers from a Lisfranc injury that could keep him off the practice field until training camp. You don’t want to rush what can be a tricky foot ailment, but developing on-field chemistry with Jackson will be crucial.

8. The Ravens haven’t yet made their undrafted rookie signings official, but the addition of Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith made too much sense, especially after he worked with Jackson this offseason. At the very least, it’s a nod to your starting quarterback giving his college teammate a look.

9. Jaleel Scott was a forgotten man after a disappointing summer that ended with him on injured reserve, but the 2018 fourth-round pick has turned some heads this spring with improved speed and fitness. The 6-foot-5 wideout from New Mexico State needs a big preseason to secure a roster spot.

10. Joe Flacco has more important things to worry about after Denver selected Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round, but it’s crazy the Ravens drafted as many wide receivers for Jackson in the first three rounds this weekend as they did over Flacco’s entire 11-year run.

11. Watching the inspiring Miles Taylor and Mo Gaba announce draft picks this weekend was a reminder of how superb the Ravens’ community outreach continues to be. The efforts of so many in the organization really make a lasting impact, including plenty of examples that aren’t publicized.

12. Despite Steve Bisciotti ceremoniously switching the seats of DeCosta and Ozzie Newsome at the conclusion of last year’s draft, the two kept their old spots. I hear Newsome enjoyed himself while DeCosta didn’t let the pressure of running his first draft stop him from playing a practical joke or two.

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marquisebrown4

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What to expect from Ravens’ 2019 draft picks

Posted on 28 April 2019 by Luke Jones

The picks are in for the 2019 draft, so what can we now expect from the Ravens’ eight selections?

Below is the early look at how each rookie fits now and in the future:

WR Marquise Brown
Drafted: First round (25th overall) from Oklahoma
2019 projected role: We may not see “Hollywood” on the practice field until training camp as he recovers from a foot injury, but the explosive and shifty receiver will immediately compete for a starting role.
Long-term view: His small 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame and the Lisfranc injury raise concerns — ask Jimmy Smith about the latter — but Brown looks the part of the home-run hitter this offense has lacked for years. If he becomes the next DeSean Jackson, the Baltimore pass game could be very fun to watch.

OLB Jaylon Ferguson
Drafted: Third round round (85th overall) from Louisiana Tech
2019 projected role: With the exits of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Ferguson will compete for the rush linebacker job and extensive snaps in the pass-rush rotation.
Long-term view: You love the college production as Ferguson broke Suggs’ Division I record for career sacks, but he’ll need to expand on his pass-rushing technique as his bull rush won’t overwhelm opposing linemen as frequently at the next level. Ferguson has the traits to be a productive starting edge defender.

WR Miles Boykin
Drafted: Third round (93rd overall) from Notre Dame
2019 projected role: Given the Ravens’ lack of outside receivers, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boykin will have the chance to compete for meaningful playing time right off the bat, especially if he blocks well.
Long-term view: The combination of size and athleticism makes you think Boykin is just scratching the surface of his potential after his breakout senior year at Notre Dame, but improving his route running and finding more consistency will be keys. Few Ravens wide receivers have ever had as much upside.

RB Justice Hill
Drafted: Fourth round (113th overall) from Oklahoma State
2019 projected role: Hill joins a backfield that includes Mark Ingram and two others — Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon — who averaged over 5.0 yards per carry last year, meaning touches could be scarce early.
Long-term view: A 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame doesn’t scream every-down back, but Hill had the fastest 40-yard dash of any back at the combine and showed big-play ability in college. His development as a receiver out of the backfield will likely be an X factor in determining his ultimate role at the NFL level.

G Ben Powers
Drafted: Fourth round (123rd overall) from Oklahoma
2019 projected role: A three-year starter for the Sooners, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Powers will compete for the starting left guard spot with the likes of James Hurst, Alex Lewis, and Bradley Bozeman.
Long-term view: Powers earned attention for his WWE-like proclamation of “taking a grown man’s dreams and crushing it,” but his physicality and pedigree coming from a major program is what excites Baltimore. Like close friend Orlando Brown Jr., Powers has the chance to become a starter very quickly.

CB Iman Marshall
Drafted: Fourth round (127th overall) from USC
2019 projected role: Joining the deepest position group on the roster, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Marshall’s only realistic hope of seeing the field this season — injuries aside — is as a special-teams contributor.
Long-term view: With Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith both over 30, the Ravens taking a Day 3 corner made sense and Marshall’s size and physicality make him an interesting prospect at corner or safety. Penalties were an issue at USC and he isn’t the fastest, but Marshall could be a sleeper in this class.

DT Daylon Mack
Drafted: Fifth round (160th overall) from Texas A&M
2019 projected role: The 340-pound defensive lineman’s best chance of cracking a deep rotation early will be showing off the pass-rush ability that resulted in his 5 1/2 sacks during his senior season.
Long-term view: With Baltimore possibly needing to choose between keeping Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce next offseason, this pick makes sense, especially if Mack builds on a strong 2018 that followed an ordinary first three years with the Aggies. The Ravens know how to find defensive tackles.

QB Trace McSorley
Drafted: Sixth round (197th overall) from Penn State
2019 projected role: The undersized and developmental quarterback will very likely need to contribute in other ways — think of Taysom Hill with New Orleans — to stick on the 53-man roster.
Long-term view: McSorley has the athleticism to play in Baltimore’s run-based offense and showed passing ability two years ago to make you believe he could be an NFL backup before a rough senior year. This is an interesting low-risk flier on a “tough-ass competitor” as John Harbaugh labeled him.

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