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Twelve Ravens thoughts as virtual spring workouts continue

Posted on 27 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. After Gov. Larry Hogan gave permission, the organization entered “Phase I” for the opening of the Owings Mills facility, which permits returnees from the equipment crew, football video group, and the personnel department. Coaches and players still aren’t allowed in the building, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2. Those restrictions won’t prevent Baltimore players from working out together in South Florida as Lamar Jackson will hold informal sessions next week. The reigning MVP’s recent workouts with Marquise Brown highlighted on social media must have served as motivation for other teammates.

3. It’s been far from an ideal spring for players to keep in shape and prepare for the season, but the creativity has been fun to watch from afar such as the below example from Marlon Humphrey. I’ll be curious to see what technological and workout innovations stick beyond the pandemic.

4. Miles Boykin expressing confidence that he’ll “be able to play faster” in his second year reflects the steep challenge awaiting current rookies without a normal spring. Studying the playbook and virtual classroom work simply can’t replicate the challenging on-field application of concepts.

5. Ed Reed was the latest legend to speak with players virtually with Boykin describing his message as, “Take care of business — whatever it is.” The Hall of Famer discussed various topics, from finances and watching film to recovery and even locker room cleanliness. Reed remains one of a kind.

6. As Bill Belichick mentioned during the NFL 100 all-time team unveiling, Reed may have been the greatest punt blocker of all time, a cue rookies wanting to make a first-year impact should take. He was an absolute force on special teams before injuries eventually took him away from that realm.

7. Deep passing accuracy is still mentioned as a relative weakness for Jackson, but separate studies put him 16th (Pro Football Focus) and 12th (Football Outsiders) last season. With Brown and Boykin entering their second season, Jackson taking another step in the vertical game seems quite plausible.

8. Jamal Adams is a heck of a talent and drew trade interest from Baltimore last fall, but surrendering early draft picks and committing another market-setting contract to the secondary on top of the lucrative in-house extensions already on the horizon would make me take serious pause. You can’t pay everybody.

9. Speaking of safeties, this PFF piece on the three-safety defense in college is something to remember with the Ravens’ reputation for being ahead of the curve with innovations. Wink Martindale frequently used three safeties down the stretch last year, but not with the same principles as these college teams.

10. John Harbaugh was tied for 11th with 25-1 opening odds to win 2020 AP Coach of the Year, according to BetOnline. Dramatic improvement from the previous year usually prompts strong support for this award, so tangibly improving on a 14-2 regular season for him to repeat feels very unlikely.

11. As I get older, I more and more disagree with criticism for aging players who continue well past their prime. If they’re still competent enough in at least one team’s eyes, why walk away to appease anyone who isn’t their family? That goes for Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, or anyone.

12. There aren’t many stadiums where the Ravens haven’t won a game as they prepare for their 25th season in Baltimore, but they’ll have a chance to secure their first victories at Philadelphia and Indianapolis this fall. Of course, a road game could be quite different from what we’re used to.

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Five Ravens sleepers to watch for the 2020 season

Posted on 18 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now having a full 90-man roster after last month’s draft and a slew of undrafted free-agent signings, we have a better idea of what the 2020 team will look like.

Roles remain fluid, however, a point even more relevant in an unprecedented offseason limited to virtual meetings this spring. Understanding how that reality may hinder the ability of many rookies and newcomers to play a meaningful role right away, below is a look at five sleepers for the 2020 campaign:

1. OLB Tyus Bowser

An early draft pick who struggles to become a starter often finds his roster status vulnerable entering the final year of his rookie contract — Chris Wormley was the latest example of this — but the lack of an edge defender in Baltimore’s 2020 draft class was good news for Bowser. Surprisingly second on the 2019 team in sacks (five) and quarterback hits (10), the 2017 second-round pick played a career-high 401 snaps and was the top backup to Matthew Judon at strong-side outside linebacker, showing more ability to drop into coverage than other reserves on the roster. If Judon elects to skip some portion of training camp after receiving the franchise tag, Bowser could find more opportunities to solidify his roster spot and earn a larger role.

2. OL Patrick Mekari

Labeling Mekari a sleeper after he started the final six games of 2019 is a bit of a stretch, but much of the discussion in the right guard discussion has been about other veterans and 2020 draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson. The likes of Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, and Ryan Jensen developed into solid starters working with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in recent years, but none found success as quickly as Mekari, who was thrown into the fire late in his rookie season. The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley graded 14th among 37 qualified centers by Pro Football Focus last year and could be a viable option to start at any of the three interior spots, which is impressive for a guy no one was talking about at this time last year.

3. S DeShon Elliott

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defensive back has been limited to just 40 defensive snaps in his first two years because of injuries, but he’s shown promise over the last two summers and the Ravens are in need of a No. 3 safety to back up starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark and play in certain sub packages. A 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas, Elliott will be competing with rookie seventh-round selection Geno Stone, but the former’s experience in the system should be an advantage, especially if he’s fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he sustained in Week 6 last year. With the relationship between Thomas and the Ravens seemingly rocky, Elliott or Stone showing meaningful development this year would be a positive sign for the future.

4. RB Justice Hill 

The second-round selection of Ohio State star J.K. Dobbins wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Hill having a bigger role in 2020, but he flashed in December and impressed in his first preseason, showing the ability to break tackles despite his 200-pound frame. Hill isn’t going to become the feature back, but the 2019 fourth-round pick lined up in the slot and out wide on more snaps than either Mark Ingram or Gus Edwards last season despite playing a fraction of the time, which offers a glimpse of his potential to create matchup problems in the passing game. If the Ravens find themselves needing to play off-schedule more often in 2020, Hill finding a bigger role as a third-down back remains plausible even with Dobbins being added to the mix.

5. ILB Otaro Alaka

Last month’s selections of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison made Alaka — a 2019 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M — an afterthought, but it was interesting to hear general manager Eric DeCosta go out of his way to mention the 6-foot-3, 239-pound linebacker in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. After making the initial 53-man roster at the end of last preseason, Alaka appeared on his way to earning an opportunity to play on defense before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve in late September. Playing for an organization that’s produced the undrafted likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Patrick Onwuasor at inside linebacker, Alaka remains a name to watch this summer.

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin catches a pass in front of Los Angeles Rams cornerback Troy Hill during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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Five Ravens players potentially impacted most by 2020 draft

Posted on 16 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL draft just a week away, the Ravens will welcome a new batch of young talent that will impact their fortunes for 2020 and beyond.

However, many of those additions will have an adverse effect on players already on the roster, ranging from stiffer competition and fewer opportunities to a diminished role or eventual unemployment. It’s a reason why observers often say the NFL could stand for “Not For Long” with the high turnover rate of rosters every year.

The following young players wouldn’t seem to find themselves in any short-term roster jeopardy, but the outcome of this year’s draft could substantially impact their standing for the coming season and beyond:

WR Miles Boykin

Many anticipate general manager Eric DeCosta adding at least one wide receiver in the draft, but how early that selection comes could be the difference in projecting Boykin to be a starter or more of a No. 3 or No. 4 option. The 2019 third-round pick from Notre Dame flashed some big-play ability with four receptions of 18 or more yards as a rookie, but he registered just 13 catches while playing 425 offensive snaps in the regular season. At worst, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound wideout with good straight-line speed remains an attractive deep-ball option, but Baltimore using a first- or second-round pick in such a deep receiver class would likely indicate less confidence in Boykin taking a big step forward this season.

S DeShon Elliott

The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas flashed range and physicality over his first two offseasons, but injuries have limited him to just six career games as he suffered a season-ending knee injury last October and sat out his rookie year with a broken forearm. Starting safeties Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark are under contract for the next few years, but Baltimore employed extensive three-safety packages in the second half of 2019 with ex-Raven Brandon Carr entering on the back end and Clark moving to the box. That doesn’t mean defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will do the same in 2020, but the Ravens spending a draft pick at safety over the first half of the draft wouldn’t be the best sign for Elliott.

OLB Jaylon Ferguson

A 2019 third-round pick from Louisiana Tech thrown into a starting role after the season-ending injury to Pernell McPhee, Ferguson showed growth setting the edge down the stretch and should maintain a significant role. However, the Ravens covet another edge defender to bring more juice to the pass rush opposite Matthew Judon, and Ferguson needs to diversify his technique beyond the bull rush on which he relied heavily in college. There’s a drop-off after Ohio State’s Chase Young in this draft, but there are other pass-rushing options in the early rounds who could help. Ferguson is a player who could really benefit from a normal offseason in Owings Mills, but that’s not happening with the current pandemic.

RB Justice Hill

I wrote extensively about the running back position on Wednesday, but it would be naive to assume DeCosta would pass on adding more talent and depth to the group with the ground attack being the lifeblood of Greg Roman’s offense. Hill’s 66 touches as a rookie were more a product of there being only one football to go around, but he flashed over the final couple games after the calf injury to Pro Bowl veteran Mark Ingram and could be in line for an increased share of carries in 2020. His 200-pound build doesn’t suggest his surprising ability to break tackles, but the Ravens refraining from adding a late Day 2 or early Day 3 running back would bode well for Hill’s status for the next year or two.

G Ben Powers

Replacing potential Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda is a daunting task, but the Ravens have refrained from adding a veteran so far and released reserve James Hurst last month, putting more spotlight on Powers and the draft. The 2019 fourth-round pick from Oklahoma was inactive for the first 15 games before playing an effective 30 snaps in the Week 17 finale against Pittsburgh, which isn’t a sample on which to make a confident decision. The Ravens could target an offensive tackle to move inside or Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz in the first round or look to Day 2 for an option like Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson or Temple’s Matt Hennessy, but the longer they wait would be a greater endorsement for Powers’ starting chances.

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Veteran safety Tony Jefferson officially released by Ravens

Posted on 14 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The inevitable became official Friday as the Ravens announced the release of safety Tony Jefferson, a move that saves the organization $7 million in cash and salary cap space for the 2020 season.

Jefferson, 28, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 last season and was replaced by third-year safety Chuck Clark, who played at a high level and relayed the calls in the defensive huddle for the remainder of the season. Clark signed a three-year extension through 2023 that included $15.3 million in new money earlier this week, which all but sealed Jefferson’s future with Baltimore. Jefferson’s $11.647 million cap figure was scheduled to be the fifth highest on the team next season while Clark has a cap number of just over $3.4 million for 2020.

Signed to a four-year, $34 million deal with $19 million guaranteed at the start of free agency in 2017, Jefferson was a popular figure in the locker room and very active in the community, but his play struggled to meet that lofty financial standard. In 35 career games with the Ravens, the 5-foot-11, 211-pound safety finished with 174 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups, 3 1/2 sacks, and two forced fumbles. More effective playing closer to the line of scrimmage and defending the run, Jefferson wasn’t as strong against the pass as he surrendered a 91.6 passer rating in coverage in 2018 and a 141.4 mark last season, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Jefferson continues to work his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee, which could delay his quest to join another team this offseason.

“This is the worst part of this business,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement released by the organization. “Tony is the consummate teammate and someone who is respected by everyone for his leadership, determination, humility and toughness. He’s a friend to all and a true Raven.

“We know he’s going to beat this injury, and we will be cheering for him all along the way. We wish the very best to Tony and his family.”

Undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2013, Jefferson developed into a starting-caliber talent over his first four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

With Jefferson no longer in the picture, the Ravens will likely aim to add a young safety in April’s draft to develop behind Clark and seven-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who will turn 31 in May. Third-year safety DeShon Elliott remains an intriguing talent, but injuries have limited the 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas to just six career games. Baltimore also owns a 2020 option worth $6 million for veteran Brandon Carr, who moved from cornerback to a dime safety role in the second half of last season.

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) tries to throw a pass from his team's end zone as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) grabs him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. Hodges was penalized for an intentional grounding penalty and the Ravens were given two points on a the safety. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens must weigh dime options for their evolving defense

Posted on 13 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The three-year extension awarded to safety Chuck Clark ensured the Ravens would have their top five defensive backs under team control through at least the 2021 season.

But that doesn’t mean general manager Eric DeCosta can turn all attention toward the defensive line and linebacker groups in need of significant revamping. The numbers suggest Baltimore has at least one more substantial decision to make in its secondary beyond the annual task of adding depth.

A year after using the dime package on 26 percent of defensive snaps, the Ravens had six defensive backs play at least 45 percent of their snaps in each of the eight games following the bye week when Marcus Peters was in the fold and Jimmy Smith was finally back from injury. In other words, the popularity of the dime package only increased while the defense would sometimes go entire games without lining up in a traditional “base” 3-4 alignment. The game is changing with defensive packages and personnel continuing to reflect that.

The Ravens certainly need to address their pass rush and talent level at linebacker, but the overwhelming strength of the defense will remain on the back end, making pending decisions on Smith and Brandon Carr that much more interesting to watch. Though not a dime option himself, Smith is scheduled to become a free agent for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, Carr is scheduled to make $6 million if the Ravens exercise a team option for the 2020 season. Anthony Levine, the man Carr replaced in the dime package midway through the season, is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.

The only other in-house option for the dime package would appear to be third-year safety DeShon Elliott, who has been limited to just six career games due to injuries despite showing some promise in spring and summer practices.

Baltimore’s preference is maintaining their veteran depth, however.

“We want both those guys back,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Smith and Carr last month. “We’re not going to try to weaken ourselves in the secondary, but we can focus on the front seven. That’s the thing, and we know with our scheme and the way that we get attacked, we know the kind of player that we want.”

Wanting to keep both and actually doing it are different concepts, of course, with other areas to address on both sides of the ball. At face value, many would argue Smith is the better player since he’s two years younger and brings more value as an outside corner whereas Carr is now better suited for the dime safety role he played down the stretch last year. But it’s more complicated than that since we’re no longer talking about an every-down role for either veteran.

Smith will be an unrestricted free agent and is projected by OverTheCap.com to receive a two-year, $16 million deal with $8.5 million guaranteed. That’s substantial money when the Ravens have already awarded Peters and returning slot cornerback Tavon Young with big extensions over the last 12 months and will need to spend lucrative cash to extend No. 1 cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the not-too-distant future. Giving real money to a 32-year-old Smith who’s played all 16 contests just twice in his nine seasons — Carr has never missed a game in his 12-year career — doesn’t sound like the best investment, especially when Smith would be third in the outside corner pecking order and hasn’t shown the positional versatility of Carr over the last couple seasons.

That said, the 2020 price tag for a 34-year-old you’d prefer not to play at outside corner anymore — even in the event of injury — is also expensive. Carr did a respectable job filling in as a nickel corner in parts of the last two seasons, but he found a new fit at safety when the Ravens would slide Clark down to the box in the dime package.

All things equal, Carr could have a more defined role in the dime package while Smith’s real value would come in the event of an injury to one of the top three corners as he could step in for Humphrey or Peters and Humphrey could move to the nickel spot in the event of an injury to Young like we saw last season. Carr’s injury replacement value would likely be limited to safety or the nickel corner position. The Ravens have prioritized secondary depth over the last couple years, but at what cost?

Ultimately, the futures of Smith and Carr will come down to money with the first one to blink having a better chance to return in 2020, but DeCosta will need to add more youth to the secondary in any case. Both veterans have expressed a desire to continue playing for the Ravens, but Smith will probably need to accept a team-friendly deal and Carr might have to take a pay cut to make it happen.

The allure of chasing a Super Bowl could help the Ravens’ efforts with Smith, Carr, or any other veteran option out there.

“I hope my body of work thus far has proven that I can play this game still at a high level, play safety,” Carr said last month. “And I’m still learning. I think I still have some potential left in that position. But I just love to play the game of football, whether it’s safety, nickel, corner, special teams, whatever the case is.

“At this point, I just want to win. It’s been 12 years. I’m just trying to get a ring.”

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earlthomas

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

Posted on 12 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 do respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is hardly 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 safeties ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the position outlook going into 2020:

Earl Thomas
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 947
PFF ranking: 16th among safeties
Skinny: Thomas was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and played well in his first year with Baltimore, but there was a definite adjustment with the 30-year-old being asked to be more multiple than he was in Seattle’s Cover 3 looks. For what it’s worth, Thomas registered his lowest PFF season grade since 2012, which is something to keep in mind as he enters the second year of a lucrative $55 million contract.

Chuck Clark
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 803
PFF ranking: 36th among safeties
Skinny: Clark entering the starting lineup and taking over the play-calling responsibilities in the huddle helped spark a turnaround after the season’s opening month as he led the Ravens in tackles. His contract extension signals he’ll be the starter next to Thomas moving forward, but it will be interesting to see if he keeps the green-dot helmet and continues to play “Mike” linebacker in select defensive packages.

Tony Jefferson
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 281
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A serious knee injury cut Jefferson’s season short in Week 5, but his PFF grade was the lowest of his career and would have landed him among the worst qualified safeties in the league for the full season. His health and Clark’s emergence make it very likely that the Ravens will move on from Jefferson this offseason since he’s scheduled to make $7 million in base salary in the final year of a $34 million deal.

Anthony Levine
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 167
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Regarded as one of the better dime backs in the league in previous seasons, Levine saw his defensive role diminish after the bye week as veteran cornerback Brandon Carr shifted to a safety role in the dime package. Still a strong special-teams player, Levine registered his lowest defensive snap count since 2016 and lowest PFF grade since 2014, trends that weren’t great for him going into free agency.

DeShon Elliott
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 40
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2018 sixth-round pick has flashed potential in the spring and summer, but injuries have limited him to just six games in his first two seasons, making it difficult to know what the Ravens really have with the Texas product. With other veteran backups scheduled to hit free agency, an opportunity should be there for Elliott to carve out a meaningful role in sub packages if he can finally stay healthy.

Brynden Trawick
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 11
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A former Pro Bowl special-teams player with Tennessee a few years ago, the 30-year-old was limited to six regular-season games with an elbow injury and is scheduled to become a free agent.  With the Ravens facing the possibility of some substantial roster turnover on special teams, Trawick returning for a salary near the veteran minimum would be a possibility.

Jordan Richards
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 1
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former Patriot joined the Ravens in October in what was essentially a swap as special-teams standout Justin Bethel wound up in New England, but Richards was a healthy scratch for the playoff loss to Tennessee, which doesn’t say much for how Baltimore valued him as a special-teams player.

2020 positional outlook

The Ravens have been at or near the top in spending and exhausting resources at the safety position for years now, but the results have been a mixed bag with some unsuccessful early draft picks and disappointing returns on free-agent contracts besides the Eric Weddle deal. Time will tell on the Thomas contract, of course, but wondering whether he’s a $14 million-per-year safety at this stage of his career is a reasonable question. Clark may not be spectacular, but he brings a high floor and long-term stability to the position at an affordable cost, the latter part being something that’s eluded the organization for quite a while. Considering how often the Ravens used three-safety alignments — and occasionally four safeties — this past season, it will be interesting to see if they elect to keep Carr for a hybrid role, roll the dice on Elliott finally staying healthy, or aim to draft a young safety to develop. Thomas and Clark are set as starters for the upcoming season, but more safety depth will be needed if the Ravens indeed move on from Jefferson and Carr while letting Levine, Trawick, and Richards depart in free agency.

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Ravens lose McPhee for season, cut Bethel to recoup compensatory pick

Posted on 21 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Coming off their best performance of the season in which two takeaways were returned for touchdowns, the Ravens still can’t catch a break on defense.

After leaving the game early in the second quarter of Sunday’s 30-16 win over Seattle, veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee is expected to miss the remainder of the season with what’s believed to be a torn triceps, according to head coach John Harbaugh. It’s a major blow to a pass rush that has recorded just 12 sacks over the first seven games of the season and has struggled to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks.

The 30-year-old had collected three sacks and started all seven games after signing a one-year, $1.03 million contract in May to return to Baltimore to help fill the void left by free-agent departures Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith and rejuvenate a career plagued by injuries in recent years. Expected to be more of a situational rusher before younger edge defenders struggled in the preseason, McPhee was averaging a career-high 42.5 defensive snaps per game through the first six weeks, serving both as an edge defender and as an interior rusher in obvious passing situations.

“He wanted to prove himself. He wanted to get back on track and demonstrate that he still could play,” Harbaugh said. “And to do it here, to be the leader that he was, he’s been instrumental. He’s been instrumental with the young guys. He’s been a very good player for us.

“I see no reason why he can’t recover from a triceps injury and be back next year stronger than ever.”

McPhee’s injury creates even more urgency for general manager Eric DeCosta to add pass-rushing help by the Oct. 29 trade deadline, but the Ravens started Monday with just $1.933 million in 2019 salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. With McPhee playing only 12 defensive snaps against Seattle, rookie Jaylon Ferguson played 46 defensive snaps, third-year outside linebacker Tyus Bowser played 22, and situational rusher Jihad Ward saw 39.

With limited resources available and not knowing how much other teams might ask for an impact pass rusher in a potential trade, the Ravens’ best bet for meaningful improvement might be the continued development of Ferguson, who was drafted in the third round out of Louisiana Tech in April and holds the NCAA Division I career sacks record previously set by Suggs. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Ferguson finished with three tackles (one for a loss) and a quarterback hit against the Seahawks.

“He played his best game, a very physical game and against a couple of really big, grabby tackles to say the least,” Harbaugh said. “He was strong at the point of attack and applied pressure, ran to the ball. He played really well.”

Sunday marked the third straight game in which a Baltimore defensive player was lost to a season-ending injury after starting strong safety Tony Jefferson sustained a torn ACL in Week 5 and reserve safety DeShon Elliott hurt his knee in Week 6.

Business decision with Bethel

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the opening week of free agency was always surprising because of the negative impact on the compensatory pick formula, but it spoke to how they valued the three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player.

Their hand was forced over the weekend, however, when Tennessee released former Baltimore defensive end Brent Urban, a move that would have stripped the Ravens of a projected 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick had Bethel remained on the roster through Week 10. Despite the 29-year-old leading Baltimore with four special-teams tackles this season, DeCosta simply couldn’t justify passing on an early Day 3 draft pick to keep someone who’s played only 16 defensive snaps this season.

Bethel was released Monday, giving the coaching staff time over the bye week to account for his departure.

“That’s tough for us because he’s playing [so well],” Harbaugh said. “I told him I think he’s the best special-teams player in the NFL, and he’s playing that way. That’s going to be a blow, and we’re going to have to find a way to overcome that.”

Full strength after bye week?

Despite the McPhee injury, Harbaugh expressed optimism about his team’s health coming out of the Week 8 bye with an exciting Nov. 3 showdown with New England looming.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle) have missed the last two games while cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) has been out since the season opener, but all are on track to return against the Patriots, according to Harbaugh. Reserve cornerback Maurice Canady also missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury suffered against Cincinnati in Week 6.

“We feel very confident we should have all those guys back barring a setback, so to speak, and I can’t even imagine what that would be right now,” Harbaugh said. “Very optimistic that we’ll be full strength coming out of the bye.”

Smith worked out on a limited basis last week before missing his sixth straight game, but neither Brown nor Onwuasor have seen the practice field since being injured in the Week 5 win at Pittsburgh.

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Ravens-Seahawks: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 20 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will be without their top wide receiver for a second straight game.

After missing the entire week of practice, rookie Marquise Brown will not play against Seattle as he continues to recover from a right ankle injury sustained two weeks ago in Pittsburgh. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t want to rule Brown out after Friday’s workout, but it was apparent he was very unlikely to play after missing two whole weeks of practice.

Brown’s absence is bad news for a passing game struggling to make big plays in recent weeks. After completing 16 passes for 20 or more yards over the first three games of the season, the Ravens have a total of just six over their last three games.

Inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle) was also deactivated after not practicing the entire week and will miss his second straight game. Veteran L.J. Fort is expected to again start at the weak-side inside linebacker spot next to “Mike” linebacker Josh Bynes with Chris Board serving as the primary backup.

Cornerback Marcus Peters will indeed make his Ravens debut after being acquired from the Los Angeles Rams Tuesday and logging only two practices with his new team. That’s good news for a Baltimore secondary that will be without veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) for the sixth straight game and cornerback Maurice Canady, who hurt his hamstring in last week’s win over Cincinnati. Second-year cornerback Anthony Averett is active despite missing the final two practices of the week with an ankle injury.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is active and will start despite being slowed by a knee injury this week. He had been listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he practiced fully Friday to ease any lingering concerns about his availability against the Seahawks.

Safety Bennett Jackson is active and will finally appear in his first NFL game five years after being selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. The Ravens signed Jackson off the New York Jets practice squad this week after he’d spent parts of the last two years with the organization. He’s expected to play on special teams and could be a part of some defensive sub packages after second-year safety DeShon Elliott was lost for the season due to a knee injury last week.

The Seahawks are dealing with some notable injuries of their own as they deactivated starting left tackle Duane Brown (biceps) and starting defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle) for Sunday’s game. Starting safety Bradley McDougald is also out with a back injury.

Seattle right guard D.J. Fluker is active after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury.

Prior to Saturday’s 4 p.m. roster deadline, the Seahawks activated defensive tackle Jarran Reed and placed tight end Will Dissly (Achilles tendon) on injured reserve. Reed just served a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, but he’s coming off a 2018 campaign in which he collected a career-high 10 1/2 sacks, making him a potential problem for Baltimore’s interior offensive line.

The Ravens and Seahawks will be meeting for the sixth time ever in the regular season with Seattle having won each of the last three meetings and holding a 3-2 advantage. Baltimore is winless in its two previous trips to CenturyLink Field and hasn’t beaten the Seahawks since a 44-41 thriller at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 23, 2003.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Seattle calls for cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the low 50s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a 25-percent chance of some rain showers.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Brad Allen.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with purple pants while Seattle dons its blue tops with blue pants for Week 7.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Marquise Brown
CB Jimmy Smith
CB Maurice Canady
LB Patrick Onwuasor
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

SEATTLE
DE Ziggy Ansah
OT Duane Brown
WR Gary Jennings
S Bradley McDougald
G Jordan Roos
WR John Ursua
S Lano Hill

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Ravens sign safety Bennett Jackson, place DeShon Elliott on IR

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have brought back a familiar preseason face in the wake of their latest injury at the safety position.

General manager Eric DeCosta signed veteran safety Bennett Jackson off the New York Jets practice squad after placing DeShon Elliott (knee) on injured reserve Tuesday morning. Jackson, 28, spent the last two offseasons with the organization and knows Baltimore’s defensive system, but he’d been a victim of the numbers game in a once-deep secondary that’s now lost three safeties — Elliott, Tony Jefferson, and Brynden Trawick — to injuries over the last month.

Jackson played well this past preseason, finishing with nine tackles, one interception, and a pass breakup. That performance resulted in the Jets claiming him off waivers after final roster cuts, but he spent only one week on their 53-man roster before being cut and re-signed to their practice squad.

“He’s been around a long time. He’s worked hard,” said head coach John Harbaugh in August. “He’s faced a lot of adversity with the injuries and different things. It’s good to see him play well, and he’s definitely good enough play in the National Football League.”

The 2014 sixth-round pick of the New York Giants battled injuries early in his career and has never played in a regular-season game, making him an impressive example of perseverance more than five years after being drafted out of Notre Dame. Jackson will likely fill a special-teams role for the Ravens and could factor into certain sub packages if defensive coordinator Wink Martindale wants to continue using some of the four-safety looks we saw in the Week 6 win over Cincinnati.

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Elliott goes down with latest season-ending injury in Ravens secondary

Posted on 14 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The injury hits to the Ravens secondary keep on coming.

A week after starting safety Tony Jefferson suffered a torn ACL, reserve safety DeShon Elliott sustained a knee injury against Cincinnati that’s expected to sideline him for the rest of the season. The second-year defensive back hurt his left knee in a collision with teammate Justin Bethel on a deep pass intended for Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s just way worse than we thought it was going to be — that the doctors thought after the game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s preliminary, but it sounded like they were pretty confident that it wasn’t good. We’ll go with that until further notice, and that’s where we’re at. We’ll have to find a replacement there and move forward.”

A 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas, Elliott had just stepped into a larger role as the top backup behind starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, playing a career-high 27 defensive snaps and finishing with one tackle and a pass breakup in the 23-17 win. The 22-year-old missed his entire rookie season with a fractured forearm and turned heads with his play during spring and summer practices.

With the Ravens revamping the inside linebacker position over the last two weeks and playing without starter Patrick Onwuasor against Cincinnati, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale frequently used sub packages that didn’t include any traditional inside linebackers as Elliott entered at safety and Clark played in the box. Elliott’s injury leaves Baltimore with only one healthy reserve safety — dime back Anthony Levine — behind Thomas and Clark, making an outside addition likely. Safety A.J. Howard was signed to the practice squad last week, but the Appalachian State product hasn’t appeared in an NFL game after going undrafted last year.

The Ravens began the regular season with six safeties on the 53-man roster before losing veteran reserve Brynden Trawick (elbow), Jefferson, and now Elliott. Cornerback Maurice Canady also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring issue, which forced Bethel — almost exclusively a special-teams player — into fourth-quarter action against the Bengals.

“I don’t know to what degree,” said Harbaugh about Canady’s hamstring injury. “I’d say he’s probably day-to-day. We’ll see how he does Wednesday, Thursday.”

It remains unclear when cornerback Jimmy Smith will return to practice after missing his fifth straight game with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee. The Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury and rookie corner Iman Marshall to a toe injury in August, but the latter remains eligible to return later this season.

Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 7 availability of Onwuasor and top wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both missed Sunday’s game with right ankle injuries suffered against Pittsburgh. The two remain “day-to-day” after missing practices all last week.

“If we see them practicing as the week goes on, we’ll be confident that they can play,” Harbaugh said. “If we don’t, then we won’t. They both have ankles that they’re dealing with, and those things just kind of heal when they heal.

“They had a chance [to play Sunday]; I was told that they had a chance for the game. After Friday, it didn’t look as good. They just didn’t feel that they were there, and they weren’t.”

After this Sunday’s game at Seattle, the Ravens will welcome their Week 8 bye to try to get healthy for a challenging second-half schedule.

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