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Ravens defense aiming to finish job against Kansas City this time

Posted on 20 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The numbers are very good for the Ravens defense so far.

Through two games, Baltimore is second in total defense, first in rush defense, fourth in points allowed, fifth in third-down defense, and tied for ninth inside the red zone. You’ll gladly take that kind of defensive profile over the course of the season with few concerns.

But what have we truly learned about the Ravens defense watching games against what could be the worst team in modern NFL history (Miami) and a rebuilding team with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start (Arizona)? Appropriately praising Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense for setting franchise records in Week 1 is one thing, but how do you judge a defense that does about what you’d expect of any good unit against such competition?

The Baltimore defense was always going to be good, but it’s a matter of just how good, a relevant question when you’re traveling to Arrowhead Stadium for the best game of Week 3.

“Miami was Miami. They’re struggling this year,” said six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas about the unit’s performance through two games. “But last week [against Arizona], we kind of felt a little type of way because we didn’t dominate like we wanted to dominate. It was a lot of well-schemed-up plays. We got to watch the tape, and we learned from those mistakes.

“Hopefully, we get them corrected once we get out there against Kansas City because it’s a copycat league.”

Yes, the Ravens were without cornerback Jimmy Smith — and will be again Sunday — and were already dealing with the loss of nickel corner Tavon Young, but surrendering 349 passing yards, 6.5 yards per play, and seven pass plays of 20 or more yards to Kyler Murray and the Cardinals don’t look like harbingers for success against 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s difficult to expect the same results on third down and inside the red zone against an offense that scored just over 35 points per game last year and has averaged nearly as many (34.0) in two road wins to begin 2019.

Still, the Ravens were that close to knocking off the Chiefs in a 27-24 overtime loss last December, which should give them plenty of confident going into Sunday.

It’s a different year, of course, with the likes of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and Eric Weddle out of the picture, but the formula for success remains as the defense allowed just 24 points in regulation in that Week 14 clash, the Chiefs’ lowest output of the 2018 season. The Chiefs won’t have star wide receiver Tyreek Hill and starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but there’s still four-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and no shortage of speed at wide receiver.

Most importantly, they have Mahomes, whose sensational 48-yard completion to Hill on fourth-and-9 kept his team alive and allowed them to tie the game late in the fourth quarter last year.

“You have to handle the series of events,” defensive coordiantor Wink Martindale said. “He’s going to make plays. We know that going in. But what we can’t do is let him make too many plays, and then we have to play great red-zone defense.”

The Ravens did that for long stretches of last year’s game, holding Kansas City scoreless on four of five possessions in the third and fourth quarters and forcing field goals on two of five trips inside the red zone. With Jackson and the offense confident and playing at a higher level than last year, you’d love the Ravens’ chances to win with a comparable defensive performance. But if this one turns into a full-blown shootout, is the Ravens offense truly ready to go toe to toe with an proven heavyweight in a hostile environment for 60 minutes?

Keeping the Chiefs in the mid-20s on the scoreboard is easier said than done with their offense already completing 14 passes of 20 or more yards, two more than the explosive Ravens. That’s with the speedy Hill having played just 12 snaps before injuring his shoulder in the season opener, forcing the Chiefs to turn to veteran Sammy Watkins and younger options Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.

Thomas believes he’s just the guy to limit those offensive explosions, something the Ravens didn’t do on Mahomes’ game-saving play to Hill last season. It’s a big reason why general manager Eric DeCosta made the four-year, $55 million investment in the former Seattle Seahawk’s services.

“I think that comes down to personnel,” Thomas said. “Luckily, the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end. I plan on eliminating all the big plays.”

It isn’t just about the vertical passing game as Kelce can frustrate defenses in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field and Kansas City uses its running backs as receivers out of the backfield as effectively as anyone. That creates quite the challenge for strong safety Tony Jefferson and Ravens linebackers, who all experienced hiccups in pass coverage last week. As head coach John Harbaugh noted, the Ravens will throw enough coverage looks at Kelce to “try to keep the batting average down just a little bit,” understanding he’s going to make his share of plays.

Perhaps more than anything, we’ll truly find out about the pass rush that was scrutinized throughout the spring and summer. Thanks to promising starts by Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens lead the league with 20 quarterback hits over the first two weeks, but Pro Football Focus ranked Arizona 30th and Miami 32nd in its offensive line rankings entering the season. It’s nothing for which to apologize, of course, but drawing conclusions against that level of competition would be premature.

The good news for the Ravens is that the Chiefs will be depending on former Cleveland first-round bust Cam Erving at left tackle to protect Mahomes’ blind side. If Martindale’s defense wants to approach the 15 quarterback hits registered in Kansas City last December, that matchup will be one to exploit.

Amid the hype for Mahomes-Jackson II, the Ravens have a great opportunity to avenge last December’s loss while proclaiming themselves legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a win. It’s the kind of game in which we used to ask if the offense would be able to do enough, but times are certainly changing and a younger defense is aiming to prove its standard remains high in matchups such as these.

If the defense can again keep Mahomes and the Chiefs from lighting up the scoreboard, there’s no reason to think Jackson and an improved offense won’t get the job done. And if it again come down to the ball being in Mahomes’ hands late, there’s experience from which to draw.

“You have to play to the whistle,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He’s a guy that can extend the play — smart guy, big arm, strong arm. You’ve got to lock in each and every down. They have a lot of different movements and gadgets and a lot of different things going on with their offense, so you have to have disciplined eye control, 100 percent communication, and just play as a unit for 60 minutes.”

Sixty minutes, indeed.

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marquisebrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 1 win over Miami

Posted on 10 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their season opener in a record-setting 59-10 final at Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith missing “multiple weeks” with a knee injury will test the diminishing depth at cornerback, but the silver lining is an extended audition for Anthony Averett, whom the Ravens have viewed as possible starter material. Averett can now prove it with Smith in the final year of his deal.

2. You can’t expect an 83-yard touchdown every week, but Lamar Jackson’s first scoring throw to Marquise Brown came on a simple run-pass option against an eight-man box. Those backside double slants will kill defenses if Jackson simply plays pitch and catch.

3. Jackson’s “not bad for a running back” quip received much attention, but the image below shows a third-and-three play in which the left edge was clear and Ronnie Stanley was signaling for him to run to easily move the chains. A moment later, Jackson threw the beautiful bomb to Brown.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

4. Speaking of the 2019 first-round pick, just 14 snaps produced four catches, 147 yards, and two touchdowns. Just imagine what he might do when fully acclimated to the offense. For those keeping track, he’s now one touchdown shy of Breshad Perriman’s career total with Baltimore.

5. The pass rush produced three sacks and 12 quarterback hits, but failing to create havoc against that overwhelmed Dolphins line would have been a red flag. Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser played pretty well, but pass rush remains a real question mark until we see it against a better opponent.

6. Bradley Bozeman received praise from John Harbaugh and earned another start at left guard for Week 2 at the very least. He helped set the tone for the day with a excellent pull block to spring Mark Ingram for 49 yards on the first play from scrimmage.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

7. Patrick Onwuasor is so aggressive that he occasionally takes himself out of the play and still has to show consistency in coverage, but he’s the fastest linebacker Baltimore has had since a young Ray Lewis. He was incredibly active and played all but one defensive snap.

8. After a quiet first half, Mark Andrews became the monster reporters watched all summer with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown after intermission. Deep-strike passes may not be there every week, but you should get used to hearing “Jackson to Andrews over the middle.”

9. Leading 35-0, the Ravens had every right to run a fake punt with plenty of ballgame left late in the second quarter. However, going for a fourth-and-goal at the 3 with a 52-10 lead and under 10 minutes to go seemed a bit much or “Belichickian,” if you will.

10. Despite Chris Board having a clear lead throughout the spring and summer competition, Kenny Young played eight more snaps at the weak-side inside linebacker position. A preseason concussion cost Board some time last month, but Young has apparently stepped it up in recent weeks.

11. In his first game as general manager, Eric DeCosta watched his two big free-agent acquisitions — Ingram and Earl Thomas — immediately make splash plays and his first ever draft pick catch two touchdowns in the opening quarter. DeCosta couldn’t have written a better opening script.

12. Reports of Miami players wanting out after the embarrassing loss raise a real question. Tanking in basketball or baseball is one thing, but putting your body on the line with no chance of winning in a sport with greater safety concerns and non-guaranteed contracts? I don’t blame them at all.

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jimmysmith

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith exits Sunday’s win with knee injury

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The only damper on a spectacular record-setting performance by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in their 59-10 demolition of Miami Sunday was another injury to a secondary already testing its depth.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. The 31-year-old limped off the field and went to the locker room soon after inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor fell into Smith’s right knee on the sixth defensive snap of the game. Smith returned to the sideline in the second half wearing street clothes.

“It’s not a season-ending injury as far as we know right now,” head coach John Harbaugh. “It does not look like that at all. I’m sure he’ll get an MRI tomorrow. We’ll just see if it’s days or weeks or what. We’ll know tomorrow after we get the MRI.”

The Ravens were already dealing with the loss of standout slot cornerback Tavon Young, who sustained a season-ending neck injury last month. Rookie fourth-round cornerback Iman Marshall was also placed on injured reserve last week, but he remains eligible to return later in the season.

With Smith out, the Ravens turned to second-year cornerback Anthony Averett on the outside with veteran cornerback Brandon Carr now playing extensive snaps inside at the nickel in Young’s absence. Averett fell down in coverage on the Dolphins’ lone touchdown of the day to wide receiver Preston Williams late in the second quarter, but the 2018 fourth-round pick from Alabama finished with four tackles and a pass breakup.

“It’s always tough to see one of my boys go down,” said Carr, who played in his 177th consecutive regular-season game Sunday. “We put so much work into this game and we know it can be taken away at the blink of an eye, and that’s what happened to [Smith].

“Of course, the football game is the next-man-up mentality, and we had [Averett] that’s been champing at the bit to get out there and make some plays. He had his work cut out for him today, but he made some big plays for us and he had some fun.”

Injuries have been the story of the talented Smith’s career as he’s played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his first eight years. The 2011 first-round pick is in the final year of his contract and is making $9.5 million this season.

The Baltimore defense had two interceptions against the Dolphins with six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas picking off a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass on his first defensive series as a Raven and cornerback Marlon Humphrey intercepting Miami backup Josh Rosen on the first play of the fourth quarter.

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earlthomas

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Sunday marks the official beginning of a new era for the Ravens.

Of course, the soft opening of the Lamar Jackson era last year brought the first AFC North championship since 2012 and a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence, but the Ravens have since said farewell to future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, and 2018 team sacks leader Za’Darius Smith in addition to former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. The mass exodus from the NFL’s top-ranked defense leaves Baltimore without a former first-round pick at outside linebacker or in its entire front seven for the first time in franchise history, putting more pressure on a deep and talented secondary to account for concerns about the pass rush.

How quickly a younger defense adjusts and a rebuilt offense grows will determine how successful John Harbaugh’s team will be in 2019. The first test comes against Miami, a rebuilding team with no immediate direction beyond collecting assets for the future.

It’s time to go on the record as the Dolphins play the Ravens for the sixth time in the last seven seasons with the latter winning four of the previous five meetings. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series 7-6 despite a 3-5 record at what is now called Hard Rock Stadium. That doesn’t include the Ravens’ two postseason victories in Miami during the 2001 and 2008 campaigns.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will start fast with a touchdown pass and a run for a score. I’m really looking forward to watching Jackson in his first full year as a starter and expect the Ravens to be more aggressive passing the ball in the first half, especially on first downs when he completed just under 68 percent of his throws and produced a 100.6 passer rating on 56 attempts last year. That said, there isn’t much experience in that Miami front seven to expect the discipline to contain Jackson’s mobility on zone-read plays and run-pass options, which will lead to some rushing opportunities off the edge.

2. A communication breakdown will lead to a Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown to Albert Wilson. We all know the story with Fitzpatrick, who is capable of getting into a groove in which he torches opponents and then reverts to looking like one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Meanwhile, Wink Martindale has said the biggest challenge in replacing the veterans on his defense has been communication with the pre-snap adjustments and disguise the Ravens use. Even against a below-average offense, a hiccup won’t be surprising considering how little starters played in the preseason.

3. Tight coverage will contribute to four sacks and an Earl Thomas pick in his Ravens debut. I’m admittedly not a believer in the pass rush going into 2019, but that won’t be a problem Sunday with the Dolphins replacing both of their starting offensive tackles and coming off a season in which they surrendered 52 sacks. Strong pass coverage will again help create sacks for the Ravens this season, but Thomas reminded this week he was brought to Baltimore to help create more turnovers. He’ll get one against an overly-aggressive and desperate Fitzpatrick in the second half.

4. Mark Ingram will headline a 215-yard effort from the Baltimore ground game. We’ll see more offensive balance from the Ravens this season, but not when they have a lead in the second half as they will Sunday. The Dolphins ranked 31st in run defense and 26th in yards per carry allowed at 4.8 last year, and there’s little reason to think that will markedly improve under new head coach Brian Flores. Ingram will carry the workload in the first half, but Greg Roman will mix in more carries to Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill after intermission to shorten the game.

5. The Ravens do what they’re supposed to do in a 30-10 win over a bad football team. You gladly take this kind of road game on your schedule, but there’s little upside from an eyeball test perspective with the Dolphins front office tanking in 2019. The Ravens simply need to play a clean football game in which they take care of the ball, minimize penalties, and take what Miami gives them. It’s in Martindale’s nature to be aggressive on defense, but Fitzpatrick is the kind of quarterback who will eventually give you the game the longer you remain disciplined. We know anything can happen in the NFL and Miami still has some talented football players on both sides of the ball, but there’s little excuse for Harbaugh’s team to leave South Florida without a season-opening win.

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carr

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Ravens healthy, excited for season opener in Miami

Posted on 04 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens may not have escaped the preseason without a significant injury, but they can’t complain about the health of their active roster going into Sunday’s opener in Miami.

All 53 players practiced Wednesday with only veteran cornerback Brandon Carr limited with what was listed as a hip injury. Of course, slot cornerback Tavon Young was lost for the season with a neck injury sustained last month, but he is the only one of the six Ravens players on injured reserve who was a definitive part of their 2019 plans.

“We are excited. We’re healthy,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We already lost Tavon, which is tough. We’re disappointed with that, and he’ll be back next year stronger than ever. But our guys are ready to go. We just want to go play football and see where we’re at and go from there.”

Despite so much attention on second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and a rebuilt offense, free safety Earl Thomas is set to make his Ravens debut after signing a lucrative four-year, $55 million contract in March. The former Seattle Seahawk will be playing in his first regular-season game since breaking his lower left leg for the second time in three years last Sept. 30, but there have been no apparent concerns or setbacks from the rod that was inserted in his leg following the injury.

Thomas, 30, appeared in two preseason games this summer, playing 27 snaps and making two tackles. The six-time Pro Bowl safety is healthy going into the opener and has received favorable reviews from Jackson, who said Thomas is “everywhere back there” during practices.

“I have no complaints at this point,” said Thomas, who received occasional veteran days off from practice over the course of training camp. “I’m running. I feel good. I want to watch my weight a little bit, and on Sundays, just fly around.”

The rebuilding Dolphins have made more headlines about the players they’ve traded away recently, but reserve linebacker Trent Harris (foot) was the only Miami player to miss Wednesday’s practice. Starting wide receiver Albert Wilson was limited with a hip injury.

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Brandon Carr (hip)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Trent Harris (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Johnson Bademosi (hip), G Danny Isidora (hamstring), DT John Jenkins (illness), S Bobby McCain (shoulder), LB Andrew Van Ginkel (foot), WR Albert Wilson (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Charles Harris (wrist)

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humphrey1

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 13 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding open training camp ahead of the second preseason game against Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marlon Humphrey was consistently the best player on the field these last three weeks, but his attention to detail also stood out. When he wasn’t taking reps, you’d frequently see the third-year corner reviewing plays on a tablet. He’s on track for a Pro Bowl season if he stays healthy.

2. His practice return brought relief Tuesday, but I believe more every day that expectations for Marquise Brown need to be tempered, especially early in the season. The effects of a foot injury for a speed-dependent player and limited practice time don’t exactly set the rookie up for immediate success.

3. Eric DeCosta deserves praise for fetching a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, who’s never played in an NFL regular-season game. It was wise not to get greedy knowing a couple misses Thursday could have made potential trade partners quickly reconsider interest. Baltimore’s kicker development is second to none.

4. We’ve spent much time talking about Lamar Jackson as a passer, but John Harbaugh described him as having “very high emotional IQ” to explain his natural leadership qualities and why teammates gravitate to him. There’s no way to quantify that, but it has to help at the quarterback position.

5. Along similar lines, defensive players seem to feed off Earl Thomas, who has picked his spots to show emotion and leads more by example. There’s been an adjustment for him playing in a more complex system than he did in with Seattle, but it’s going to be fun watching him.

6. Hayden Hurst had arguably his best practice of camp Tuesday, looking much more like the player we saw last summer before the foot injury. Besides health, a key for him is maintaining confidence and not letting a rough play linger in his mind, something Mark Andrews seems adept at doing.

7. With Iman Marshall missing three straight practices after appearing to have a thigh issue, many are assuming that could “stash” the rookie on injured reserve. That may prove true, but you hate seeing a young corner miss out on valuable reps with final cuts still more than two weeks away.

8. I wouldn’t have said Michael Floyd was even in the running for a roster spot prior to the preseason opener, but he’s turned in some of his best practices this last week. With Seth Roberts missing time and Brown’s status still spotty, Floyd has some daylight to make a push.

9. The Ravens are smart to play it safe with Marshal Yanda and a lingering foot issue, but I can’t help but think back to him acknowledging how big a factor health will be in determining how much longer he plays. This offensive line desperately needs him at his best.

10. With four cornerbacks missing practice and Maurice Canady only returning to the field Tuesday, how the Ravens line up in the secondary against the Packers could be interesting. It’s a reminder why Baltimore values depth at the position after being so shorthanded there several years ago.

11. I’ll never profess love for preseason football, but at least we’ll get to see Aaron Rodgers. Fans weren’t complaining, but it was a bummer not seeing him play when the Ravens went to Lambeau two years ago. The Packers will again play in Baltimore in the 2021 regular season.

12. If you already have an eye toward the season, 10 of the Ravens’ 16 games come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed last season. Yes, it’s a new year, but that’s reason for optimism, even if you’re not yet buying the Jackson hype.

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yanda

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Ravens holding out veteran guard Yanda with “little ankle, foot thing”

Posted on 03 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the midst of their healthiest start to training camp in recent memory, the Ravens are choosing to play it safe with one of their best players.

Seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda missed his second straight practice Saturday with what head coach John Harbaugh says is a minor ailment. It was originally believed Yanda was receiving his second veteran day off of the summer Friday before James Hurst was lining up as the starting right guard for the second consecutive workout.

“Yanda is not a serious injury. He had a little ankle, foot thing,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to practice, and I’m like, ‘Eh. How about we just take it easy for today?'” 

It’s unclear whether the issue is with the same ankle Yanda broke in the second game of the 2017 season, an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. The 34-year-old was still part of the group of Ravens players, coaches, and personnel who flew to Canton, Ohio after Saturday afternoon’s practice for Ed Reed’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Other veterans not practicing Saturday included safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram, who were both given the practice off by Harbaugh. Defensive back Anthony Levine and offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Randin Crecelius were also absent.

It’s been only one week since backup quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a hairline fracture in his right thumb, but he continues to practice on a limited basis and even did some light throwing of the football. His dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed even though Griffin isn’t expected to be cleared for live action before the start of the regular season.

“‘RG3’ comes out here in full pads, and he goes through every read, every play — the mechanics of it,” Harbaugh said. “He’s probably getting more work in than if he were playing in lot of ways. I give him a lot of credit for that. He’s a pro, and he’s doing a great job.”

The Ravens will enjoy their second day off of training camp Sunday in preparation for a pair of joint practices with Jacksonville. The Jaguars and Ravens will practice together Monday and Tuesday before kicking off the preseason schedule at M&T Bank Stadium Thursday night.

This marks the third time in six summers the Ravens will have hosted another team for joint workouts at their Owings Mills training facility after practicing with San Francisco in 2014 and welcoming the Los Angeles Rams last August. Baltimore will travel to Philadelphia later this month to practice with the Eagles for two days ahead of the third preseason game.

“The next step in the evaluation — put on a little more pressure,” said Harbaugh after nine days of his players practicing against only each other. “Now we have another team in front of us, and that poses problems. New schemes, different players, how do you handle that? I’m looking forward to seeing how the guys handle it.”

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earlthomas

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Earl Thomas provides first big practice highlight with Ravens

Posted on 31 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Early practices had mostly looked like a feeling out process for new Ravens safety Earl Thomas.

In addition to returning from a fractured lower left leg suffered last fall, Thomas has acknowledged a learning curve with Wink Martindale’s complex defensive system after nearly a decade of running mostly Cover 3 looks with Seattle. That’s not to say there was any reason for concern this early in training camp, but the six-time Pro Bowl safety had yet to really make a splash play to remind why the Ravens gave him a four-year, $55 million contract that included $32 million guaranteed in March.

That changed Wednesday morning with Thomas breaking in a flash on a Lamar Jackson pass intended for slot receiver Willie Snead over the middle and returning the interception for a long touchdown. Thomas played to the crowd in celebration after his return and flashed the same play-making ability that made him the NFL’s best safety since former Raven Ed Reed, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

“He caught it so in stride [that] I thought he was a receiver at first,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “But I think that’s going to be the story this year — Earl making plays, the whole secondary just flying to the ball. That got me going. I said on Twitter the other day, the energy he brings, I can just already tell. I cannot wait to be on the field with him.”

Already sporting one of the league’s deepest and best secondaries last season, the Ravens identified Thomas as a way to take the group to another level after parting with former Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle. Viewed as a clear upgrade from the 34-year-old Weddle from a physical standpoint, Thomas, 30, is looking more and more comfortable in his new surroundings after a quiet spring.

That was evident when Thomas broke in front of Snead for the highlight pick.

“I think the communication has been smoother and better,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Hey, he’s in this defense for the first time. These are new calls for him, but they’re also football. They’re football calls and he understands football, so he’s picking it up really quickly and doing a great job.”

Roster shuffling

Quarterback Joe Callahan made his Ravens practice debut in the wake of the thumb injury sustained by backup Robert Griffin III last weekend.

Callahan, 26, was coached by offensive coordinator Greg Roman at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J. 11 years ago and will share the reps behind Jackson with sixth-round rookie Trace McSorley. The journeyman quarterback has spent time with Green Bay, New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay since going undrafted from Division III Wesley in 2016 and has appeared in just one regular-season game in his NFL career.

“Greg takes full credit for his career by the way,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “Not really. He moved him from safety to quarterback. He said, ‘This kid can really throw. Let’s give him a shot.’ They won the state championship that year in New Jersey, so that was a good one.”

The Ravens also signed linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who spent part of the 2017 season on their practice squad and has appeared in 23 games with the Los Angeles Rams, New England, and Detroit, mostly in a special-teams capacity. Grigsby took the roster spot of wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who was waived just a year after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.

Wednesday’s attendance report

Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown’s practice debut drew the attention, but nickel cornerback Tavon Young and guard Jermaine Eluemunor returned to the field after missing two straight practices with minor muscle issues.

Both Eluemunor and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. took some snaps with the first-team offense after being relegated to the second string for failing the conditioning test at the start of training camp. Eluemunor split reps with rookie Ben Powers at left guard while Brown shared time with veteran James Hurst.

Harbaugh said veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith was excused from practice to take care of “a family-business situation” Wednesday. Offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Randin Crecelius also remained absent from practice.

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callahan

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With Griffin sidelined, Ravens sign quarterback Joe Callahan

Posted on 29 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With Robert Griffin III expected to miss the preseason with a thumb injury, the Ravens have added another healthy quarterback to their 90-man roster with the signing of journeyman Joe Callahan.

According to NFL Network, Baltimore had offered veteran quarterback Josh Johnson a contract, but the 33-year-old declined with the Ravens optimistic that Griffin will be ready for the regular-season opener on Sept. 8. Johnson spent the 2016 preseason with the Ravens and starter three games for Washington last season.

Coached by Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J. in 2008, Callahan, 26, has attempted only seven NFL passes and has spent time with five other teams in his career. His lone regular-season game came with Green Bay in 2017 when he went 5-for-7 for 11 yards, but the Ravens needed a healthy quarterback to share practice reps and preseason snaps with starter Lamar Jackson and rookie sixth-round pick Trace McSorley.

The 2016 undrafted free agent from Division III Wesley has also spent time with New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Tampa Bay.

The Ravens waived outside linebacker Markus Jones to make room for Callahan on the 90-man roster.

Practicing for a fifth straight day before Tuesday’s respite, the Ravens were again without slot cornerback Tavon Young and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, who both appeared to be laboring during Saturday’s stadium practice and have missed back-to-back workouts.

“They’re just minor. It’s muscle issues that they have to get right,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I kind of expect them both back after the day off, but we’ll see.”

Safety Earl Thomas and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee appeared to receive a veteran day while offensive lineman Randin Crecelius missed his second straight practice Monday. Wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot) remains on the non-football injury list, and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is still on the physically unable to perform list.

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Jackson looking comfortable, consistent in early days of Ravens camp

Posted on 28 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Whether forcefully directing a teammate where to line up or offering a few words to the second-team offensive line after a rash of pre-snap penalties, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson looks in charge over the early days of training camp.

After leading Baltimore to a 6-1 finish and its first AFC North championship since 2012 last season, the 22-year-old isn’t deferring to anyone in his first full year as a starter. Despite a personality devoid of bravado or focus on individual accolades, this is his team now after last season’s soft opening that resulted in Jackson becoming the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game.

“I wouldn’t say he didn’t know what he was doing, but it was his first couple of games in the NFL. Everything was just coming at him full speed,” wide receiver Willie Snead said. “A year later, he’s comfortable. He’s comfortable with the guys around him. He has command of the huddle, and we believe in him. I think that’s all that matters at this point. We just have to continue to grow with each other.”

Of course, the bulk of the attention will continue to be on the speedy Jackson’s development as a passer, the biggest key to his long-term success as a professional quarterback. Learning offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s new system built around his unique skill set this spring, Jackson’s passing was a mixed bag in the handful of practices open to reporters with periods of success offset by head-scratching inaccuracy on even the most basic throws. That pattern carried over to the first full-squad workout last Thursday with an ugly first 90 minutes followed by a more respectable finish to the day.

But after knocking off that rust — it was his first full-team practice in six weeks after all — Jackson has looked as steady as we’ve seen him throw the ball over the last three days. That’s not to say you’d confuse him with a 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown passer, but growth is evident while reminding ourselves it’s still July, a time of year that can serve as a great fooler around the league.

Practicing against arguably the best secondary in the league, Jackson hasn’t thrown an interception since the first practice when an errant throw on a rollout was picked off by reserve safety Chuck Clark. To suggest he’s picked apart the Ravens defense would be hyperbole, but he’s taking what’s there and giving his receivers chances to make plays, which is exactly what the coaching staff wants to see from its young quarterback.

“It’s consistency. Not just with production, but also with fundamentals, techniques, footwork, release,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the evaluation process. “I want to see a good release. Fewer and fewer of the not good releases — we all know what they look like — and more of the solid releases. We’re really seeing that.”

Asked Friday to describe how he’s evolved the most as a quarterback since his rookie season, Jackson was reluctant to delve into too many specifics, recognizing he has a long way to go. He did, however, acknowledge hearing his many critics this offseason and expressed the desire to “make them eat their words” by winning games and continuing to improve.

“Play-calling, timing,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to get better right now. I don’t want to talk too much.”

His early practices have done the talking as his chemistry with Mark Andrews continues to grow with the second-year tight end making plays down the middle and easily looking like Baltimore’s best pass catcher. With first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown still not practicing, fellow rookie Miles Boykin has shown good speed and reliable hands while making plays — even some long ones — against starting members of the Ravens secondary. Jackson’s passing strength remains the middle of the field, but he’s even showing some improvement outside the numbers with much more work to be done there.

Yes, it’s very early, but the early success is better than the alternative for Jackson and his developing weapons.

Even his spiral — or lack thereof as doubters would scoff — looks better early on. Though he’s unlikely to ever spin the ball as seamlessly as Joe Flacco in his prime, the “ducks” — Jackson’s own description of his “horrible” passing last year — have been fewer and farther between. His passing remains a work in progress, of course, but the key is there being growth while understanding development isn’t always linear.

“We work on [his spiral] a lot, and it has improved dramatically,” quarterbacks coach James Urban said. “Some of it was adjusting to an NFL ball. Some of it was footwork and getting the body all connected, and that’s a continual process. I think that’s a continual process for many young quarterbacks.

“We would like the nice, tight, pretty spiral, but I don’t get overly concerned as long as it’s on time and in rhythm and an accurate throw. That’s way more important than how it looks.”

In a controlled practice setting where no one is allowed to touch the quarterback, you almost forget about Jackson’s special athleticism until he suddenly takes off and even a speed linebacker like Patrick Onwuasor can only shake his head and give the quarterback a fist bump after he effortlessly turns the corner to move the chains. That scrambling ability could easily become a crutch that could hinder his development if Jackson didn’t appear so focused on improving his throwing.

But that’s where we approach the fine line the Ravens and Jackson must navigate between trying to become a better passer — protecting himself in the process — and not shying away too much from what makes him special as a quarterback. Even owner Steve Bisciotti said this spring that Jackson would no longer be running 20 times per game, but Baltimore is sensibly going to do what it takes to win without any self-imposed quota of rushing attempts.

Ultimately, Jackson needs to be himself for the Ravens to thrive.

“My thing for him is I just don’t want him to get caught up in, ‘You have to be a pocket passer. You have to do this,'” said six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who noted that Jackson has been “dropping dimes” early in camp. “You be who you are. You be special. If you have to take off, take off. Make the defense work. When you make a defense tired like that, then the game opens up, play-action opens up, the run game opens up. Everything opens up.”

This is when we once again remind ourselves that it’s early. Roman describes the first nine days of training camp as “a big period of pouring concrete” with the offense still being installed. There are sure to be setbacks with Jackson only a series of inaccurate “ducks” or a few interceptions away from his critics saying, “I told you so,” but that’s the crucible of the NFL, especially for anyone breaking the norm.

Opinions are widespread about his ability and overall ceiling, but the prevailing sense within the organization is that Jackson will become as good as he’s capable of being. From his work ethic to his on-field maturity, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is described as wanting to be great by countless people inside the building.

That drive and his vivacious personality are what have made teammates — and coaches — gravitate to him so quickly.

“I look back at being 22 years old and could only have hoped to have Lamar Jackson’s poise and balance, sense of proportion,” Harbaugh said. “He just is who he is, and he doesn’t get flustered, doesn’t get fazed. It’s never too big for him. He keeps it about what’s important.

“I’m kind of blown away by that part of it with him.”

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