Tag Archive | "Eric Decosta"

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Ravens reach one-year extension with wide receiver Willie Snead

Posted on 28 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have agreed to a one-year extension with veteran wide receiver Willie Snead through the 2020 season.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth a guaranteed $6 million. With Baltimore entering Monday with only $1.807 million in salary cap space, the timing of the agreement leads one to assume general manager Eric DeCosta is creating some flexibility for a potential move by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. Snead was carrying a $7.2 million cap number for this season that included a $3 million base salary and $2.2 million in potential incentives, but the structure of the extension and the actual space cleared remains to be seen.

Through the first seven games of the season, the 27-year-old Snead has registered just 15 receptions for 223 yards and two touchdowns while rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown and second-year tight end Mark Andrews have become Lamar Jackson’s primary targets in the passing game. Snead is regarded as a good blocker and has played more snaps than any other Baltimore wide receiver, but Pro Football Focus has graded the 5-foot-11, 200-pound slot man 84th among qualified wide receivers.

Snead caught 62 passes for 651 yards and a touchdown in his first season with Baltimore last year after spending his first three seasons with New Orleans where he caught 149 passes for 1,971 yards and seven touchdowns.

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Revisiting 2019 Ravens predictions coming out of bye week

Posted on 28 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Looking back at preseason predictions can be an amusing or embarrassing exercise, but that’s what makes it fun, right?

If we truly knew how the Ravens’ 2019 season would play out, I’d spend less time writing about it and more time pondering my retirement plans at the nearest sportsbook. As it relates to the present, I originally envisioned Baltimore being 4-3 at the bye with the result of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh games flipped and a loss at Seattle in Week 7. I certainly didn’t anticipate the rest of the AFC North being a combined 4-17 entering Monday, which bodes very well for the Ravens the rest of the way.

Let’s review how my 10 Ravens predictions for 2019 are holding up through the bye week and adjust where necessary:

1. Lamar Jackson won’t break Michael Vick’s season rushing record for a quarterback, but his 3,000 passing yards and 60-percent completion percentage will be positive steps in his development.

Remember Week 1 when Lamar Jackson ran the ball only three times, one of those being an end-of-half kneel? The 22-year-old quarterback has registered double-digit carries in four of the last six games, leads the NFL in yards per carry (6.9), and is 10th overall in rushing. He’s not only going to shatter Vick’s record (1,039 yards in 2006), but Jackson will finish with just over 3,400 passing yards and a completion percentage over 60 percent. We’re watching a special talent who has shown marked improvement from his rookie year and is firmly in the MVP discussion halfway through the season.

2. The defense will register 37 sacks and see its pressure rate fall to the bottom half of the league.

I was too generous in the sack department as Baltimore is currently on pace to finish with 27 quarterback takedowns, but there is at least some evidence suggesting the pass rush is better than the sack total indicates if you look at quarterback hits and ESPN Analytics’ pass rush win rate. Of course, Pernell McPhee’s season-ending injury complicates that argument and puts more pressure on Eric DeCosta to land a pass rusher by Tuesday’s trade deadline. The biggest factor helping the pass rush could be the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the return of Jimmy Smith, who should provide better coverage in the secondary. Put me down for 30 sacks by season’s end.

3. Mark Ingram will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

The former New Orleans Saint has been as advertised with a 4.7 yards per carry average and is on pace to gain 1,074 rushing yards. However, it’s fair to note that opposing defenses have been more successful slowing the Baltimore ground game between the tackles in recent weeks as Ingram has averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt over the last three contests. Opponents must make a conscious choice between accounting for runs between the tackles and trying to prevent Jackson from killing them off the edge. With that push-pull dilemma, Jackson and Ingram will become the first teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams for Carolina in 2009.

4. Mark Andrews and Patrick Onwuasor will take a step forward.

If there was one prediction I was confident about prior to the season, it was Andrews breaking out as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Even with some nagging injuries and a nightmare Week 7 showing against the Seahawks, Andrews is on pace to become the first tight end in team history to go over 1,000 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Onwuasor has taken a step back after struggling at the “Mike” linebacker position and missing the last two games with a high ankle sprain. How that impacts his value going into free agency will be interesting, but his return to the weak-side spot should be a plus for him and the pass rush when considering Onwuasor’s ability to blitz and the 5 1/2 sacks he collected last year.

5. Gus Edwards and Jimmy Smith will take a step back.

Since averaging an underwhelming 3.35 yards per carry in the first two games, Edwards has been very productive at 5.2 yards per carry over the last five contests. The problem continues to be few chances when you’re behind arguably the most dynamic running quarterback in NFL history and a two-time Pro Bowl back in the pecking order. Edwards could see a few more carries here and there, but there’s only one football to go around. Smith’s knee injury on the sixth defensive snap of the season was unfortunate in a contract year, but it’s the story of his career as he’s now missed at least four games in seven of his nine seasons. The 31-year-old does have time to rebuild some value and give the Ravens a boost the rest of the way, but we’ll always wonder how much better Smith might have been with good health.

6. Ben Powers will be starting at left guard by the bye week.

Based on comments made by offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris last week, there’s little reason to believe Bradley Bozeman won’t be starting at left guard against New England. The second-year lineman hasn’t been great every week, but Pro Football Focus has graded him 42nd among qualified guards, a reminder that there just isn’t as much quality around the league as fans and some media want to believe when scrutinizing individual teams. Powers has been a healthy scratch every week and received a lengthy look at left guard early in training camp before falling out of the starting race, factors leading one to believe the 2019 fourth-round pick isn’t beating down the door for a starting gig at this point. If anything, fellow rookie Patrick Mekari would seem to be the first in line to replace Bozeman.

7. A rough November will cost the Ravens their chance at winning the AFC North.

This month’s schedule remains challenging with three of the four opponents sporting no worse than a 5-3 record and even lowly Cincinnati coming off its bye to host the Ravens in Week 10, but John Harbaugh’s team clearly has some room for error with the rest of the AFC North under .500. Even a disastrous November coupled with Pittsburgh or Cleveland reeling off a perfect month would leave the Ravens in the thick of the division race entering December. More importantly, the convincing road win over the Seahawks provided much confidence that the Ravens can at least hold their own with five of the next six games coming against teams owning winning records.

8. Miles Boykin will tie the franchise rookie record for touchdown receptions with seven.

If you’d told me at the start of the season that one of Baltimore’s two rookie wide receivers would have 21 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns at the bye, I would have picked Boykin after Marquise Brown missed the entire spring and a large portion of the summer recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Boykin does have two touchdowns and has recorded his two longest catches over the last two games, but he has much work ahead to match the record shared by Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. If fully healthy — a fair question after a two-game absence — Marquise Brown has the better chance to break it.

9. Marlon Humphrey, Marshal Yanda, and Earl Thomas will be named to the Pro Bowl.

Despite being a little less consistent than last season, Humphrey has made enough splash plays to keep himself in position for his first Pro Bowl invitation with a strong finish to the season. The 35-year-old Yanda is no longer the best guard in football, but he continues to play at a high level to presumably receive the nod for the eighth time in his career. Thomas hasn’t been spectacular, but he has played well and benefits from a strong reputation around the league in the same way Eric Weddle did. I’ll add Jackson and Andrews to my list of Pro Bowl picks with Ronnie Stanley being a first alternate.

10. A December rally will lead to a 9-7 finish and another trip to the playoffs.

With the current state of the AFC North and the Ravens off to a 5-2 start, anything less than a division championship and a home playoff game would be a big disappointment, but the final month of the season does look more difficult than it did several weeks ago with San Francisco still undefeated and playoff-hopeful Buffalo likely having much to play for in Week 14. I thought throughout the offseason that the Ravens had a higher ceiling — and a lower floor — than in recent years because of their youth, but Jackson’s development was always going to be the biggest factor determining their fate. With the second-year quarterback playing like a legitimate MVP candidate, I see the Ravens going 11-5 and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. A deeper postseason run no longer feels farfetched if they can stay healthy the rest of the way.

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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 beef up injury-depleted secondary with Peters addition

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Having watched the Ravens secondary be ravaged by injuries since the start of training camp, general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t wait around until the Oct. 29 trade deadline to act.

Sending disappointing second-year inside linebacker Kenny Young and a reported 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to boost a pass defense ranking a disappointing 25th in the NFL. Peters should immediately step into the starting lineup opposite standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey and help stabilize a secondary that’s gone from one of the league’s deepest to a question mark in only weeks.

A 2015 first-round pick out of Washington, Peters has led the NFL with 24 interceptions over the last five years and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons with Kansas City. Traded to the Rams after the 2017 campaign, the 26-year-old shook off a rough start with his new team last year to help Los Angeles advance to Super Bowl LIII.

Pro Football Focus has graded the 6-foot, 195-pound Peters as the 14th-best cornerback in the NFL this season, the final year of his rookie contract paying him $9.069 million. His uncertain contract status was believed to be the driving force behind the Rams’ decision to part with Peters despite having just placed other starting cornerback Aqib Talib on injured reserve this week.

(Updated 8 p.m. — The Rams acquired cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville in exchange for two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick Tuesday evening.)

In six games this season, Peters has registered two interceptions, 14 tackles, and four pass breakups.

The Ravens have been decimated by injuries at the cornerback position after losing above-average nickel back Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury in August and veteran starter Jimmy Smith to a Week 1 knee injury that’s sidelined him for the last five games. Making matters worse have been the recent season-ending knee injuries sustained by veteran starter Tony Jefferson and second-year reserve DeShon Elliott at the safety position. In Smith’s absence, Baltimore had been relying on unproven cornerbacks such as Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett, who had both been picked on in coverage at various points since Week 2.

With Smith believed to be nearing a return, it will be interesting to see how the secondary shakes out as the Ravens now have three high-profile cornerbacks who’ve mostly played on the outside in their careers. It’s worth noting, however, that Humphrey has lined up in the slot some when traveling with opponents’ No. 1 receivers in recent weeks.

Veteran Brandon Carr has served as the primary nickel in Tavon Young’s absence this season, but he did practice a good bit at safety in the spring and summer, giving defensive coordinator Wink Martindale another potential wrinkle. In response to their problems at inside linebacker, the Ravens played quite a few snaps in a dime package against Cincinnati in Week 6 that featured strong safety Chuck Clark moving to the “Mike” linebacker spot and Elliott playing on the back end next to free safety Earl Thomas.

After reportedly showing interest in Ramsey last month, DeCosta was still able to address an immediate concern without the same long-term risk by trading a young player who had fallen out of favor and a Day 3 pick. Should the Ravens choose not to re-sign Peters to a lucrative extension in the offseason, they would likely receive an attractive compensatory pick in the 2021 draft.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether DeCosta will be able to address a pass rush that’s been perceived as a greater concern than the depleted secondary since the start of the season. Having lost outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, Baltimore is tied for 24th in the league with just 11 sacks in six games.

With a two-game lead in the AFC North and about to face six teams with a .500 or better record over their next seven games, the Ravens clearly signaled their strong intentions to contend in the AFC with Tuesday’s trade.

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Ravens add Brandon Williams to injury report, place Otaro Alaka on IR

Posted on 28 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens added defensive tackle Brandon Williams to their injury report Saturday, a potentially significant development ahead of their Week 4 meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Williams was designated as questionable to play with a knee issue. He hadn’t been on the injury report all week, but his potential absence Sunday would be a tough blow for a Baltimore defense that allowed 140 rushing yards in last week’s 33-28 loss in Kansas City.

It’s unknown how Williams hurt his knee, but the Ravens have rarely added a player to their injury report the day before a game in the past. Rookie fifth-round pick Daylon Mack would likely make his NFL debut as part of the defensive line rotation if the seventh-year defensive tackle can’t play.

Rookie inside linebacker Otaro Alaka was placed on injured reserve Saturday, but general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t make a corresponding move by the 4 p.m. deadline, meaning the Ravens have only 52 players on the roster going into Sunday. After suffering a hamstring injury during Wednesday’s practice, Alaka had already been ruled out for Week 4 against the Browns and was inactive for each of the first three contests of the regular season.

Below is the updated injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (hip), DT Brandon Williams (knee)

CLEVELAND
OUT: OT Kendall Lamm (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: S Morgan Burnett (quad), WR Rashard Higgins (knee), OT Chris Hubbard (foot), S Sheldrick Redwine (hamstring), CB Denzel Ward (hamstring), CB Greedy Williams (hamstring)

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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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Let the great Lamar Jackson experiment begin in Miami

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

It has been said that the pioneers take the arrows and settlers take the land.

Make no mistake about it, Eric DeCosta and the Baltimore Ravens franchise has staked its claim to the new territory and against all odds – and perhaps the few analytics a football fan would think they understand about quarterbacks running into linebackers on purpose – plan to run to the Super Bowl in Miami, as opposed to flying.

And where it starts this Sunday amidst aquamarine fish chaos in South Florida is exactly where head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens want this to end in early February – on the turf at the Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIII.

The NFL has had a few variations of this RPO offense in spurts over the years with running quarterbacks but this would be unprecedented in the modern era – keeping a running quarterback healthy long enough in a ferociously violent game to establish a program and win a championship 20 weeks later.

The boldness of this rather quick transition from a wannabe aerial team under Joe Flacco, with a minor in “balance” and “long field goals” that never made the grade after 2013, to a ground and pound and dazzle (on occasion) does not come without a lingering trail of limited success. Last season, when Lamar Jackson took over a seemingly forever scuffling offense and made magic happen with his feet for two months as the air chilled, it made the exit of Flacco and his exorbitant contract an easy decision for this transition period of Ravens football.

And while most of the football world thought John Harbaugh was a dead-coach-walking last November, he has re-signed on for the new youth movement and “offensive revolution” while also bringing the stability you’d want for a team with a lot to prove on both sides of the ball.

The January reality thud of the Chargers perfecting a defensive game plan (on the road, no less) to impair the Ravens and neophyte Jackson is now “to be continued” but the organization and its football cognoscenti have now built the entire operation around No. 8. The plan is to run the NFL and its defensive coordinators ragged week to week with preparing to play left-handed against a supercharged, speed offense with a quarterback who plays with the fearlessness of a kid who won the Heisman Trophy when he was 19 years old.

The Dolphins have already endured two storms this week – Hurricane Dorian went up the coast but the turmoil of the selloff of Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and the general awfulness of everything about the team of Stephen Ross is expected to settle onto the South Florida turf at 1 p.m. on Sunday. This mess of a franchise in absolute disarray should provide an interesting backdrop for the homecoming of Lamar Jackson, who played his high school ball 45 minutes up the road and might have more friends in the stands than the Dolphins will have fans. Meanwhile, first round draft pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown could walk this Sunday to the former Joe Robbie Stadium from his bright lights, beachy hometown just across I-95 and University.

While so much emphasis and attention will be rightly focused on the offensive concepts that Greg Roman will employ around Jackson and a plethora of speedy weapons, it’ll be a Ravens defense that many will similarly need a scorecard to identify early this Sunday.

Earl Thomas is the new Hall of Fame bully in town. Marlon Humphrey has changed his uniform number and will be moving into a new role as a team leader in a secondary that is stacked yet still depleted with the loss of Tavon Young early in training cap.

Who will rush the passer? Who will set the edge? Who picks up the slack for losing C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith in their prime and the wisdom of Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs pre-snap? Will Matt Judon step into a budding role as a franchise-type that the Ravens will want to pay at the end of this walk season? Can Jimmy Smith still be a difference maker in the secondary?

The preseason showed nothing – on purpose, according to Harbaugh and virtually everyone in the locker room this week in Owings Mills.

These first two weeks of real football – visiting hapless Miami and having the scuffling Arizona Cardinals as a homecoming feast next week – might not allow the Ravens to prove much beyond what should be easy wins if this team is going to be a contender this winter. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been very confident in his unit but the questions will certainly linger until later in the month when the Ravens see Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Ben Roethlisberger as the leaves begin to brown.

But will the Cleveland football franchise “brown” as well as the AFC North darling and favorite?

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers overcome the losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to prosper with addition by subtraction?

The mystery is what makes this league so much fun and why I’ll be on a plane to South Beach this weekend.

Eric DeCosta is building a bold, different kind of program in Baltimore in his first effort after two decades of “In Ozzie We Trust.”

It has been called “an experiment” – trying a college offense in a pro game of adjustments and speed.

I like Lamar Jackson.

I am on the record: I have never thought it was a good idea to have a quarterback who

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of 2019 season

Posted on 03 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens counting down to Sunday’s kickoff of the 2019 regular season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson heard the criticism all offseason and put in the work to improve his passing by all accounts. How big a step forward he takes remains to be seen, but he was in command of the offense and threw more consistently all summer. I can’t wait to watch him.

2. The 22-year-old will be surrounded by plenty of youth as 14 of Baltimore’s 24 offensive players (not including hybrid defensive tackle/fullback Patrick Ricard) are in their first or second season. That could make for an uncomfortable downside, but the ceiling is exciting, especially at the skill positions.

3. The Wink Martindale effect eases some concern with the pass rush, but you still need individuals to win 1-on-1 matchups. Beyond Matthew Judon, I’m not confident the defensive front has the rushers to consistently do this, which is going to put more pressure on their secondary than the opposing quarterback.

4. Willie Henry went from looking like he could start and be a major part of the interior pass rush to being waived and going unclaimed by the other 31 teams. Dropping 20 pounds from his listed 2017 playing weight (308 pounds) clearly didn’t pay off for a once-promising player.

5. Chris Wormley being the only true 5-technique defensive end on the roster says much about the evolution of NFL defenses. You’ll still hear “front seven” in conversation, but the league used base personnel only 25 percent of the time last year, creating less need to carry so many interior linemen.

6. It was a tough summer for Baltimore’s heralded 2016 fourth round. Henry and Alex Lewis are gone, Tavon Young and Kenneth Dixon are on injured reserve, and only Chris Moore remains on the active roster. The group was very promising, but even the above-average Young has missed two whole seasons.

7. All eyes are on left guard, but did anyone else find it strange that Orlando Brown Jr. played 18 snaps in the preseason finale while the likes of Chris Moore, James Hurst, and even rookies Miles Boykin and Justice Hill were held out? Brown didn’t play in last summer’s finale.

8. I’m surprised how many questioned whether three-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Bethel would make the roster despite the Ravens — who were already deep at cornerback — giving him $1 million guaranteed in the opening week of free agency. This is the 12th year of the John Harbaugh era. Special teams matter.

9. Jaleel Scott was in danger of not making the team as a fourth-round rookie last year if not for a hamstring injury that landed him on IR. A team official noted this spring how much he’d improved, and Scott carried that over with a strong preseason. Good for him.

10. Members of the practice squad serve varying functions, but De’Lance Turner and Maurice Canady are solid insurance policies should a need arise at running back or cornerback. Re-signing them was a plus for organizational depth.

11. Perhaps a deal is being completed as we speak, but I was a little surprised Eric DeCosta didn’t make a trade for a veteran offensive lineman or a pass rusher with so much activity throughout the league over the weekend. Of course, he had already pulled off three August trades.

12. The Kaare Vedvik saga reinforces how desperate contenders can be for a kicker and how blessed the Ravens have been — one nightmare aside. Baltimore got a fifth-rounder, the New York Jets wound up with a kicker they’d previously attempted to acquire for nothing, and Minnesota has egg on its face.

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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2019 preseason

Posted on 30 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding another undefeated preseason Thursday night, let’s not stand on ceremony with the opener just over a week away.

Below is my final projection of the initial 53-man roster for the 2019 regular season:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
OUT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: McSorley is worth keeping, but John Harbaugh used the word “strategy” in discussing his roster chances Thursday. Eric DeCosta must weigh protecting an intriguing developmental quarterback against trying to pass him through waivers and onto the practice squad to clear an extra roster spot elsewhere. That’s a tricky proposition with how much the rookie flashed this preseason.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: The Ravens know exactly what they have in Dixon — good and bad — so why else would you give an injury-prone back 13 carries and play him well into the second half of the final preseason game if that weren’t a showcase for a trade? Turner finished with 94 yards on 22 touches Thursday and plays special teams, but he looks more like a quality insurance policy to stash on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott
OUT: Michael Floyd, Antoine Wesley, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott did everything he could to make the team and has shown marked improvement, making him worth keeping despite being low on the depth chart. Floyd joining Roberts as a healthy scratch Thursday was curious, but the Ravens did the same with Albert McClellan in last year’s preseason finale before cutting him two days later, meaning you shouldn’t read too much into that with a veteran.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
OUT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: There’s less intrigue here than with any other offensive or defensive position group, but Scarff appears to be a likely target to sign to the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
OUT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: This group is the most likely to see an outside addition between now and the opener, especially if an upgrade at left guard or a serviceable swing tackle becomes available. The trade of Jermaine Eluemunor opened the door for Senat to possibly steal a spot as a reserve tackle, but he committed two holding penalties in the opening quarter Thursday and Mekari took some snaps at left tackle in addition to playing right guard and center, the kind of versatility that really helps his roster chances.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack, Willie Henry
OUT: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Henry didn’t show much in the preseason and played deep into the fourth quarter Thursday, which would raise a bigger red flag if Sieler or Willis had shown more over the course of the summer. If you’re looking for a candidate to be an out-of-nowhere cut, Henry might fit that description since he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, but the need for interior pass rushers is too great to give up on someone who showed such promise in that area two years ago.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
OUT: Otaro Alaka, Donald Payne, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka still gets caught out of position and needs to improve his awareness, but he has a heck of a motor and made his share of plays this summer, making it tough to leave him off the initial 53-man roster. The increasing use of the dime package diminishes the need for a fourth inside linebacker, however, and the Ravens will want to protect their secondary depth for now, making Alaka a practice-squad target as Onwuasor was after being waived at the conclusion of his rookie preseason.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
OUT: Shane Ray, Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: Ray was a perfectly fine low-risk, moderate-reward signing in mid-May, but the promise he showed early in his career with Denver was nowhere to be found this summer. This position group still doesn’t inspire much confidence going into the season, making an outside addition possible if the right opportunity comes along for DeCosta.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Tavon Young
OUT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Iman Marshall
Skinny: If the Ravens want to keep Young eligible for a potential designation to return from injured reserve later this season, he must be on the initial 53-man roster, complicating the overall decision-making process. Canady is the shakiest call beyond that, but Bethel and Jones are primarily special-teams contributors, which somewhat inflates the overall number here.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
OUT: Brynden Trawick, Bennett Jackson, Fish Smithson
Skinny: Trawick’s special-teams acumen improves his roster chances substantially, but his status as a vested veteran makes him a candidate to be re-signed when Young is placed on IR or even after Week 1 when his contract will no longer be guaranteed for the full season. Jackson would have had a better chance to stick if this weren’t such a deep group.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek, Elliott Fry
Skinny: There’s nothing to see here, but the struggles of Kaare Vedvik in Minnesota have made any complaints about DeCosta trading him for a fifth-round pick that much sillier. Perhaps the Vikings would have benefited from a Google search on Vedvik’s spring performance before so eagerly pulling the trigger after the first preseason game, but the Ravens certainly won’t lose sleep over that.

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DeCosta, Ravens add future asset even with current concern

Posted on 29 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens still don’t have an answer at left guard while Jermaine Eluemunor might still develop into a starting-caliber NFL lineman.

That’s why general manager Eric DeCosta sending Eluemunor to New England didn’t quite add up with many assuming the return being only a throwaway late-round draft pick. Even with coaches’ frustration over the 2017 fifth-round pick’s conditioning and inconsistent play that prompted others to receive fleeting first-team reps, the Ravens continued giving him the bulk of the starter snaps throughout the spring and summer, making it evident they still preferred the 6-foot-4, 335-pound lineman over their other in-house options.

That seemingly reached a breaking point, however, when Eluemunor left the field in a cart when the Ravens were practicing against Philadelphia early last week. He missed the Eagles game — Bradley Bozeman started at left guard — and hadn’t returned to first-team duties in the portion of practices open to reporters earlier this week.

Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots surrendering a 2020 fourth-round pick in exchange for Eluemunor and a 2020 sixth-round pick said plenty about both the embattled 24-year-old and DeCosta’s eye toward the future on the cusp of the 2019 campaign. Like the Ravens, New England clearly likes something in Eluemunor, which will make it interesting to see if renowned offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can get the light bulb to come on for him. Even if that happens, the Ravens were compensated well for two potential seasons of Eluemunor and a sixth-round pick, making this trade quite different than sending the oft-injured Alex Lewis and his expiring rookie contract to the New York Jets for a conditional seventh-round pick carrying little value.

Of course, if the same issues follow Eluemunor to New England, the Ravens will have pulled off a steal.

Optimism remains high for 2019 as the Ravens plunge headfirst into the Lamar Jackson era, but DeCosta is positioned to be very active next offseason when Baltimore will be fully out from under the Joe Flacco contract from a salary-cap standpoint and is now projected to have nine picks in the first five rounds of the 2020 draft. That cap space and draft capital should be more than enough to meaningfully address any weaknesses — left guard, the pass rush, or anything else — that might not bring answers this fall. With Jackson’s fifth-year option taking his rookie contract through 2022, DeCosta recognizes the Ravens’ advantageous roster-building window remains open for quite some time.

Make no mistake, left guard remains a real concern with the season opener just 10 days away, but it’s not as though the Ravens were close to trusting Eluemunor even if he was the best blend of short- and long-term consideration. Perhaps Bozeman, James Hurst, 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, or some other lineman not currently on the roster will eventually stabilize the position, but the Patriots are now the ones tasked with trying to cultivate Eluemunor’s frustrating potential.

If the former Raven blossoms, DeCosta has a solid chance of recouping that value down the line anyway.

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