Tag Archive | "Greg Roman"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to training camp

Posted on 13 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With the tentative start date for training camp only two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Matthew Judon and the Ravens have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to strike a long-term deal and avoid the outside linebacker playing for the $16.8 million franchise tag amount. Deadlines drive negotiations, but the economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic dims optimism. They’re not alone.

2. The dearth of lucrative extensions around the NFL this offseason didn’t stop Kansas City from signing Patrick Mahomes to the largest contract in league history. Upon seeing the news of the $450 million deal, I couldn’t help but ponder Lamar Jackson’s celebration sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

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3. It still hasn’t sunk in that we’ll see fewer than 14,000 fans per game at M&T Bank Stadium if spectators are even permitted to attend at all in 2020. The thrill of going to a game — and even the annoyances — won’t be taken for granted whenever normalcy returns.

4. Coaches will bristle at the reduced or canceled slate of preseason games, but I won’t shed any tears over the disappearance of shoddy exhibitions masquerading as premium entertainment. Good organizations will evaluate young players just fine. Incompetent ones probably weren’t getting it right anyway.

5. An above-average player from the moment he stepped on the field three years ago and developing into one of three Ravens cornerbacks ever to make a Pro Bowl, Marlon Humphrey just turned 24. With another top-shelf campaign at that age, why wouldn’t he expect to become the NFL’s highest-paid corner?

6. It’s easy — and fair — to point to Greg Roman’s run-first scheme creating so many open throws, but Jackson leading the NFL in expected points added on passes into tight windows throws cold water on any lingering doubts about the reigning MVP’s passing ceiling. Just enjoy the ride.

7. That doesn’t mean Jackson and the offense are destined to be better or as good as they were in 2019. Especially in the midst of a pandemic that’s disrupted much, the variance of a 16-game schedule could rear its head more than ever. Pro Football Focus explores that nicely HERE.

8. According to PFF, the Ravens enjoyed a lead for 644 offensive snaps last year, the league’s most by a margin of 57 over second-place New England. Regression toward the mean in this area wouldn’t be surprising, but that could provide Jackson the opportunity to show growth when playing from behind.

9. Kudos to the NFL for exploring a pragmatic answer to help make playing football more feasible this fall by working with Oakley to develop face shields for helmets. The question will be how many players find them comfortable enough to buy in.

10. Less credit to the rule prohibiting players from exchanging jerseys after games, which feels much more like security theater. If we’re testing players and deeming them safe enough to play for three hours, this shouldn’t be a concern. If it is, you can probably guess what I’d say next.

11. Recency bias hurt the fan-voted “All-Time 25 Team.” Jackson over Joe Flacco was wrong but forgivable, but Steve Smith over Derrick Mason, Torrey Smith, and Qadry Ismail was bad. This wasn’t about projecting the future or recognizing the best overall player who happened to once play here. Mason deserved better.

12. Speaking of the upcoming 25th season, I’ll offer a final mention of my series on the top 25 regular-season moments in franchise history. At a time with little taking place in sports, I enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. Let’s hope we have the opportunity to witness more this fall.

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Five takeaways from interview session with Ravens coordinators

Posted on 24 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and special teams coach Chris Horton available to local media for the first time since the end of the 2019 season, below are five takeaways from their video conference calls on Tuesday:

Establishing culture was king of the virtual offseason program.

We all know coaches and players were prohibited from gathering together in Owings Mills, but that doesn’t mean spring work was limited to individual training, film study, and X’s and O’s sessions via Zoom and other virtual programs.

In addition to extensive discussions on race and social justice reform following the killing of George Floyd and the powerful video released by the organization earlier this month, building and maintaining camaraderie and a strong team culture was a top priority for head coach John Harbaugh and his staff despite the inability to congregate in person. The “Chasing Greatness” series included whole-team sessions with Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as well as former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, but Martindale took that initiative further with his defensive meetings, seeking out prominent names from both the sports world and other walks of life.

“As an old high school teacher, I taught some boring subjects. I think you had to be creative,” Martindale said. “My challenge and our challenge as a defensive staff was I wanted to make it must-see Zoom meetings. … You do get Zoom fatigue, but I wanted to make it where [players] couldn’t wait to come to the defensive meetings. We wanted to make it an event.”

The list of guest speakers included former Ravens defensive standouts Eric Weddle and Tony Siragusa, former Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Basketball Hall of Famer Julius Erving, former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, former National League MVP Ryan Howard, former All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, former NFL defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Baltimore mayoral nominee Brandon Scott, ESPN anchor Sage Steele, and former Navy Seal Commander Mark McGinnis.

Martindale said he wants his defense and the Ravens to continue to build “a champion mindset,” noting the many accomplishments of the aforementioned speakers.

Experimenting further with last year’s “revolutionary” offense will be a balancing act. 

At this time a year ago, intrigue and mystery surrounded the new Ravens offense that Harbaugh dared to call “revolutionary” on more than one occasion.

What resulted was a historic MVP season from second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and a run-first attack that set league and franchise records. The Baltimore coaching staff prides itself in remaining a step or two ahead of the competition, but visions of revolutionizing the game again should probably be tempered when the 2020 offense has yet to even huddle up on the field, let alone to try out new plays and packages.

“We haven’t had the luxury of the [organized team activities] and whatnot to really kind of test-run certain things, so we have to be really judicious with how we use that time in training camp to experiment,” Roman said. “I think experimenting this year is going to be very selective. Yes, definitely we’ve tweaked, we’ve added, updated, but how much we experiment in training camp, we’re really going to have to be selective with that.”

Of course, the Ravens have a superb baseline from which to work, and the rest of the league — that’s facing the same challenges — rarely showed the ability to slow down Jackson and this offense last year.

Improving in the return game is a point of emphasis for special teams.

Baltimore’s special teams weren’t perceived as favorably in 2019 as in previous years, but Horton downplayed any coverage concerns while stating the goal of being more productive with returns.

The Ravens ranked 21st in the NFL in kick return efficiency and 14th in punt return efficiency last year, according to Football Outsiders.

“We did a lot of studying this offseason, and that’s one area that we feel like we can be better in,” Horton said. “Whether it’s how we’re coaching it [or] how our players are responding to that coaching.”

This offseason, the Ravens re-signed return specialist De’Anthony Thomas and drafted James Proche and Devin Duvernay, two wide receivers with return experience at the collegiate level.

Expectations are high for a healthy Marquise Brown in his second season.

Many have noted that the 2019 first-round pick has looked bigger and stronger in workout videos posted on social media, a sentiment shared by Ravens coaches.

Devoting most of his rookie offseason to working his way back from Lisfranc surgery and with his left foot never 100 percent, Brown still managed to catch 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games. The 170-pound wideout was also one of the few standout performers in the divisional-round loss to Tennessee with seven catches for 126 yards.

“Last year, all of us were saying, ‘Wow, once ‘Hollywood’ has an offseason — a real offseason — that’s going to be something,'” Roman said. “I think we are going to see that this year. He’s been working really hard. He’s not dealing with certain aspects that he had to deal with last year, and he did a great job of fighting through that and battling through it.”

Those high expectations for Brown haven’t made the Antonio Brown rumors and reports go away, but it’s clear the Ravens envision a significant jump from their talented 23-year-old receiver.

Even if the NFL can endure through the pandemic, much unknown remains.

We have no definitive idea when and if football will be played this year, but plenty of mystery remains even if the altered spring program proves to be the last of the major disruptions to the league calendar.

Veteran newcomers and first-year players alike haven’t had the opportunities to build on-field muscle memory in learning their new playbooks and systems. Trying to formulate a preliminary depth chart for training camp remains little more than guesswork at certain positions without the opportunity to evaluate during OTA sessions and mandatory minicamp.

And by this point, coaches have at least gained a working idea of what they have with their rookies, spotting deficiencies that may not have shown up in the pre-draft process and identifying later-round picks or undrafted talents as potential diamonds in the rough to watch this preseason.

“The rookie minicamps [in early May], it’s like Christmas Day for coaches,” Martindale said. “You can’t wait to see the new toys you have and what they can do and how much fun it would be to put them in the package. That’s just been pushed back.”

Of course, those unknowns don’t even include the exhaustive steps required to combat COVID-19 outbreaks. All parties continue to prepare and hope for the best-case scenario of a season that’s as close to normal as possible, but the potential alternatives are unsettling and not going away anytime soon.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards runs for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Edwards, Ravens’ historic ground game still aiming for “step forward” in 2020

Posted on 17 June 2020 by Luke Jones

The revolutionary Ravens offense rushed for an NFL-record 3,296 yards on the way to a 14-2 record last season.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson (1,206) and running backs Mark Ingram (1,018) and Gus Edwards (711) each ran for more than 700 yards. In contrast, seven NFL teams didn’t have a single 700-yard rusher in 2019.

Now adding the second-round selection of Ohio State star running back J.K. Dobbins to the mix, could the Baltimore ground game improve in 2020?

“It’s going to be difficult to do better than what we did last year with breaking the rushing record, but I think it’s a step forward,” Edwards said in a Wednesday conference call. “It’s a definite step towards that because he’s a great back and all. He’s going to make the competition that much better in the running back room.”

Consider the Ravens ran for nearly 1,000 more yards than second-place San Francisco and over 2,000 more yards than the New York Jets and Miami in 2019. Only one other team — the Michael Vick-led 2006 Atlanta Falcons — has sniffed 3,000 rushing yards in the 21st century and just 12 other teams have even eclipsed the 2,500-yard mark in a season since the beginning of the John Harbaugh era in 2008.

In other words, improving upon — or even matching — those raw numbers and efficiency will be a very tall order, especially in a sport where the passing game has been proven as the more efficient way to move the ball and score points in the long run. The record-setting pace was certainly aided by the Ravens rarely trailing last season, allowing them to lean even more heavily on the run in the second half of games. One can’t assume those multi-score leads will come quite as easily in the new season as we saw what happened when Baltimore fell behind multiple scores in the playoff loss to Tennessee.

There’s also the question about the number of carries to go around.

Even without Dobbins in the picture last season, Edwards and his shiny 5.3 yards per attempt average received just 133 carries — many in short-yardage situations — behind Ingram and Jackson in the pecking order while 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill only saw 58. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s long-held stance that you can never have too many running backs could be put to the test, especially if the Ravens have designs of Jackson and the offense taking another step forward through the air.

“Coach Roman is just committed to it. It seems like coach Harbaugh is committed to it,” said Edwards about the competition for carries. “Everybody is just throwing around a ‘four-headed monster.’ I think everybody is committed to it and really wants to do it. That’s the first step and we’ll see where it goes. I’m excited.

“It’s a chance to make history.”

It’s a great problem to have on paper, of course, but reality could prove more challenging.

Cutting down on the number of times Jackson carries the ball may make sense in the big picture, but arbitrarily redistributing some of his attempts to running backs is highly unlikely to produce the same NFL-best 6.9 yards per carry the league MVP averaged a year ago. Dobbins is an intriguing talent, but his addition doesn’t change the reality of Jackson being the transcendent force in this running game or the simple math of there being only one football.

There’s also the business side with many viewing Dobbins as the running back of the future and a signal that the 30-year-old Ingram could be a salary cap casualty next winter despite his 1,000-yard season that resulted in a trip to the Pro Bowl last year. That’s not to suggest Ingram or any other Ravens back will be anything but a team player, but the earning potential at the position is as tenuous as ever, making touches and statistics that much more important.

Entering his third season, Edwards will be a restricted free agent next year and is certainly aiming to continue making his mark after exploding on the scene as an undrafted free agent from Rutgers in the second half of 2018.

“I think that’s how I want myself to be remembered as somebody that works hard,” said Edwards, who’s averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry in his brief career. “That’s what the team thinks of me. I’m going to be in a great position with a great team, a team that wants to run the ball. Everything is in front of me. I just have [to take] another step forward.”

The ground game is certainly deeper and should easily remain the NFL’s best by a significant margin, but making history once again could prove difficult in more ways than one.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on training camp preparations and other topics

Posted on 10 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens coaches returning to the Owings Mills headquarters this week and the NFL releasing protocols for training facilities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The July 28 report date for training camp is seven weeks away, but much work remains regarding COVID-19 protocols. The recent expansion and renovations of the team facility helps, but spacing lockers six feet apart for a 90-man roster will be quite a challenge by itself.

2. NFL Network’s report on the possibility of the preseason schedule being shortened was hardly a surprise since there was growing support for that long before the pandemic. The bigger question might be whether that sparks permanent change to the exhibition schedule.

3. Pittsburgh moving its camp to Heinz Field raises a fair question for teams that already struggled to find space for 90 players before even factoring in social distancing. A shorter preseason makes you wonder if that high number is absolutely necessary if you want to minimize health risks. Difficult questions.

4. Patrick Queen, Devin Duvernay, and Malik Harrison are the only 2020 Ravens draft picks yet to sign, but we’re approaching the time when you’d expect those rookie deals to get done. Of course, the pandemic could always complicate that timing.

5. Social media hardly provides a complete picture of the work so many players are putting in right now, but James Proche has logged recent workouts with Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, and Trace McSorley. Good for the sixth-round rookie wide receiver getting acquainted with Baltimore quarterbacks.

6. You won’t find a more respected person in the organization than tight ends coach Bobby Engram, who was nominated for the PFWA’s George Halas Award for overcoming adversity to succeed. I recommend this piece from The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec if you’re unfamiliar with the Engram family’s story.

7. The value of the return specialist isn’t what it used to be due to rule changes in the game, but I can’t recall the last time we weren’t talking about that spot being a question mark around this time of year. The days of Jacoby Jones?

8. In contrast, Sam Koch is the only player to have any punts for the Ravens since 2006 and Justin Tucker is the only one to make a field goal since 2012. That continuity is just remarkable compared to most teams. Tennessee had four different kickers last season alone.

9. We’ve talked so much about inside linebacker the last couple years that I couldn’t help but notice Ravens coaching analyst and former player Zach Orr celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. He thankfully escaped football without serious injury, but you wonder how much better he might have become.

10. Dick Cass, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Calais Campbell, and Queen were among the current and former Ravens joining over 1,400 sports figures in signing a letter to Congress requesting an end to qualified immunity. I applaud them for making their voices heard.

11. Have you ever imagined what might have happened if Baltimore signed Colin Kaepernick? Does he replace a Joe Flacco who had a bad back in 2017? Reunited with Greg Roman, does Kaepernick thrive and keep the starting job? Does Lamar Jackson then wind up elsewhere? Quite the potential butterfly effect.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for putting out the following video for high school and college graduates. We all had different school experiences, but I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy those final weeks or to celebrate these accomplishments with friends and family.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts in early part of June

Posted on 04 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving into the final weeks of virtual workouts and coaches on the verge of returning to the team facility in Owings Mills, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Steve Bisciotti’s latest of many donations in a difficult year was $1 million for a group of former and current Ravens to distribute to social justice reform efforts. Some have fairly noted the organization not signing Colin Kaepernick three years ago, but actions accompanying team-released statements are what’s needed now.

2. As they did with Terrell Suggs in 2008, the Ravens working out a compromise with Matthew Judon for his franchise tag tender always made sense. What doesn’t make sense is the NFL still using generic position labels like “linebacker” and “offensive lineman” in this system.

3. Ronnie Stanley made no reference to becoming the league’s highest-paid left tackle, but he wants “to get paid my value and what I’m worth” and expressed happiness for Laremy Tunsil’s record contract. Why wouldn’t he expect at least as much as what Houston is paying another 2016 draftee?

4. With uncertainty surrounding the season and how that could hurt the salary cap in the next year or two if fans can’t attend games or the schedule is condensed, teams are seemingly in no rush to do extensions right now. Tagging Stanley next March would be a no-brainer anyway.

5. I’ve always believed way too much is made of player-organized offseason workouts, but seeing clips of Lamar Jackson throw to some teammates in South Florida is another step toward some sports normalcy. I’m all for that.

6. The NFL requiring teams to stay at home facilities for training camp was hardly surprising, but you now wonder if we’ve seen the last of off-site camps, which were already disappearing rapidly. The 2011 lockout was the dagger for the Ravens training in Westminster.

7. New Carolina coach Matt Rhule revealed Wednesday that the Panthers were set to have joint practices with the Ravens in Owings Mills before the third preseason game until the pandemic erased those plans. More of these sessions still feel like the future for summer preparations.

8. Bradley Bozeman went from being perceived by many as the weak link who needed to be replaced early last season to someone already counted as a 2020 starter at either guard or center by his head coach. Of course, some continuity inside is critical with Marshal Yanda now retired.

9. In revealing Chuck Clark would likely continue to relay the calls in the defensive huddle and wear the “green-dot” helmet, John Harbaugh said, “He’s bold, he’s brilliant, and he’s brief.” Few Ravens have been praised for their football intellect like Clark in recent years.

10. I certainly would have endorsed the Ravens adding an elite talent like DeAndre Hopkins, but there’s something to be said for continuity at wide receiver while adding rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche to the mix. A revolving door of veterans makes it difficult for a passing game to grow.

11. In handling great expectations for the upcoming season, Harbaugh said, “We’re going to be everyone’s most important game.” I can’t wait to see what Greg Roman comes up with to counter 2020 opponents who’ve been brainstorming all offseason to try to slow Jackson and this offense.

12. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my top 25 Ravens regular-season moments countdown as much as I’ve liked putting it together. It’s been a fun trip down memory lane at a time when many of us need that, and we still have quite a few to go.

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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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Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram (21) scores on a touchdown run as Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) tries to stop him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ingram not scared of competition if Ravens draft running back next week

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens running back Mark Ingram is already an outlier, but he has no plans of slowing down.

The oldest player in the NFL to rush for 1,000 yards last season — Houston’s Carlos Hyde was the only other over age 25 — the 30-year-old Ingram is entering the second season of a three-year, $15.5 million contract and averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry for just the second time in his career. The 2019 Pro Bowl selection isn’t ready for a diminished role after eclipsing 200 carries for just the fourth time in his nine seasons, but that moderate workload is a likely reason why he’s still going strong at a position with a short shelf life.

“I’m with a great team that takes care of me, and I feel like I can play this game at a high level – at the highest level – for at least another four or five years,” Ingram said. “I feel like that. I honestly do. My body feels good. I’m moving good. I have nothing really lagging. If I do, I’ll be working on it, rehabbing it, strengthening it up so all my weaknesses are turning into my strengths.

“I just want to be the best, man. I want to be one of the best. When you talk about running backs who had long, prestigious careers, I want to be in that discussion.”

But that ambition after a strong first season in Baltimore comes as many suggest the organization shouldn’t maintain the status quo at the position, especially after a calf injury slowed the veteran in the shocking playoff loss to Tennessee. The Ravens rushed for an NFL-record 3,296 yards, averaged 0.5 yards per carry more than any other team, and had nearly 100 more carries than second-place San Francisco last year, but you still hear the various ideas.

More or fewer carries for Ingram, who finished just 20th in the NFL in rushing attempts.

More carries for Gus Edwards, who averaged 5.3 yards per rush last year.

More touches for Justice Hill, who flashed late in his rookie season.

Fewer rushes for Lamar Jackson despite him leading the league in yards per carry by an extraordinary margin last year and his generational athleticism being what truly makes this offense special.

Some have gone a step beyond those predictable talking points to even suggest that the Ravens take a running back like D’Andre Swift of Georgia late in the first round.

This is when we remind ourselves there’s only one football to go around, especially if you want to see the passing game continue to grow. That’s not to say the Ravens shouldn’t be open to adding young talent at a position so important to Greg Roman’s offense, but any thought of devoting an early pick to an already deep position falls into the category of trying to fix something that isn’t broken, especially with other needs on both sides of the ball.

Ingram says he wouldn’t be surprised to see general manager Eric DeCosta add a running back in next week’s draft. Perhaps even someone like Maryland’s Anthony McFarland on the final day would make sense.

“I don’t think I’ve been in the league a year where a running back hadn’t been drafted or acquired,” said Ingram, who saw New Orleans draft immediate Pro Bowl back Alvin Kamara in the third round of the 2017 draft. “Running back is always a position you try to have depth and quality. If that did happen, that’s just what it is. We’re going to welcome that young running back and try to make him better, try to make the team better. That’s just the gist of it.

“There’s always going to be somebody younger trying to come in. They’re always looking for new talent, new people at every position. Competition is a part of it. You can’t be scared of competition; it breeds excellence. Whatever we do, I’m sure it would be good.”

We know the Ravens offense is unique and conceivably values the running back position more than the more conventional team — though one could argue it’s really Jackson’s presence that makes any back that much better — but the debate centers around the importance of the position relative to the rest of the roster. Earlier this week, Carolina made 2019 Pro Bowl selection and former first-round pick Christian McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in league history after he eclipsed the 1,000-yard marks in both rush and receiving last year.

Showing support for the running back fraternity, Ingram offered his strong endorsement of the deal.

“Why should a running back be treated less than another position? All these other positions get high numbers,” Ingram said. “Why is it that the running back is subject to that? Why does the running back have to be the red-headed stepchild? I think [McCaffrey] deserves that number. His value on the team, his value across the league, his leadership, everything. I think he deserves that, and I think other running backs deserve bigger contracts as well.”

The overwhelming evidence in recent years suggests lucrative contracts for running backs are poor investments, but the Panthers — coming off a 5-11 season — are the latest team to insist their guy will be the exception. In Baltimore, we tend to forget three-time Pro Bowl selection Ray Rice was already in the midst of a sharp decline just two seasons into a five-year, $35 million contract signed in 2012 before the domestic violence incident that ended his NFL career.

Perhaps the best way to avoid the eventual big contract pitfall is having the discipline to avoid drafting a running back so early in the first place, another behavior analytics fail to support. It’s not that running backs don’t matter as much as understanding there will be more than enough value in less heralded options who can thrive in the right scheme and with a good offensive line, which are the biggest keys to the success of a ground attack.

When an undrafted back like Edwards has averaged 5.3 yards per carry over his two seasons in this offense, do you really expect to get the bang for your buck with a first-round running back?

To borrow a phrase from owner Steve Bisciotti, the Ravens should have bigger fish to fry than drafting a running back early next week. Some competition for Ingram and the other incumbents can come later in the weekend.

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) beats out San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) to make a touchdown catch in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Andrews aiming to “take the next step” after Ravens trade Hurst

Posted on 01 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens tight end Mark Andrews admitted he was surprised and disappointed when teammate and close friend Hayden Hurst was traded to Atlanta last month.

Along with veteran Nick Boyle, the 2018 draft picks formed the best tight end group in the NFL last season as the trio combined for 125 receptions, 1,522 yards, and 14 touchdowns. However, Hurst — selected seven spots before reigning MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round two years ago — sought a larger role and was third in the pecking order with Andrews shining as a 2019 Pro Bowl selection and Boyle being the top blocker in Baltimore’s run-first attack.

That contributed to general manager Eric DeCosta trading the 26-year-old Hurst and a fourth-round selection to Atlanta for a second-round pick and a fifth-round choice in this month’s draft.

“I’m excited for him to get more of an opportunity with Atlanta,” said Andrews, whose 10 touchdown receptions led all tight ends and tied for second in the NFL last season. “I know that he’s going to thrive there. He’s a great player. I love him to death, but it’s exciting for him as well. But, firstly, I’m sad. I know Nick is sad.

“The three-headed monster kind of got broken up a little bit, but again, we’re going to be just fine. Nick and I, we’ll do our jobs. Obviously, we’re going to find someone else to help us out.”

The Ravens still have fullback Patrick Ricard to use as a situational blocking tight end and will continue to evaluate 2019 practice-squad member Charles Scarff and any other options they add this offseason, but Hurst wasn’t your typical third-string option either. He played the same number of offensive snaps as Andrews last season as the Ravens used at least two tight ends on 42 percent of their plays and three tight ends just under 7.5 percent of the time, according to SharpFootballStats.com. And while Andrews has missed only one game over his first two seasons, he played through an ankle injury last year that limited his effectiveness at times, a notable point when weakening depth at a critical position.

Is Andrews capable of hitting another level of production? The numbers suggest yes as the 24-year-old was graded second among all tight ends by Pro Football Focus in the process of leading the Ravens in catches, receiving yards, touchdowns, and average yards per catch (minimum 15 receptions) last season. And he did it without the typical playing time of an elite tight end.

Of the six tight ends to finish with at least 750 receiving yards last season, Andrews finished a very distant last in snaps (457) and played 267 fewer than Austin Hooper, who was fifth in that group. That reflects the remarkable efficiency of the Baltimore passing game and indicates there could be some more meat on the bone as the Ravens offense evolves in 2020.

With Boyle already leading Baltimore tight ends with 769 regular-season snaps last season, the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Andrews is the one you’d expect to assume a larger share of snaps, receiving more opportunities in the passing game in the process. That may not result in the former third-round pick from Oklahoma reaching the same level of Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz in targets as we’re still talking about a unique offense anchored by the run, but Andrews eclipsing 80 catches and 1,000 yards next season would hardly seem out of the question.

Of course, the Ravens are expected to target another impact wide receiver in the draft and offensive coordinator Greg Roman may not lean quite as heavily on the tight end position with the talented Hurst no longer in the picture, but Andrews was on the receiving end of just under a quarter of Baltimore’s targets last year. His chemistry with Jackson was evident in their rookie season and only figures to continue to grow in their third year together.

“I’ve always been someone to want to take the next step and be great each and every year and get better each and every year,” Andrews said. “I think I had a good year last year. It’s all about improving on that. I don’t feel extra pressure because Hayden is gone. Obviously, Hayden helped that group out a ton, but I feel like with the pieces that we have and everything that we’re going to do moving forward, the coaches put me in great situations.”

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Ravens must walk fine line between evolving, fixing what isn’t broken

Posted on 04 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Free agency officially begins in two weeks and the 2020 draft is only 50 days away for the Ravens.

The sting of the best regular season in franchise history ending with an upset divisional-round loss lingers less than two months later. The mental challenge of moving on and trying to exorcise those playoff demons will persist long after general manager Eric DeCosta plays his offseason hand and head coach John Harbaugh has a better idea of what his team will look like in the coming weeks.

Yes, we’ve reached the point in the offseason when it feels as though every team — even Super Bowl champion Kansas City — has more questions than answers with no shortage of free-agent projections, mock drafts, and lists of needs to mull over.

How do the Ravens proceed if eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda indeed retires?

What will be the resolution with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and how will that impact a pass rush already desiring more juice?

Are there enough cap dollars and draft picks available to effectively retool a free-agent-laden front seven that already had its deficiencies last year?

What about — for the “I lost count”-th year in a row — wide receiver?

But this is when the Ravens — and their fans — need perspective more than a linebacker, guard, or defensive tackle. Going an NFL-best 14-2 with the best point differential in the league in more than a decade — with some of the aforementioned concerns, mind you — shouldn’t be an invitation for complacency, but there is a fine line between evolving and trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Baltimore surely took lessons from the Tennessee loss — needing to be able to play more effectively off schedule, for example — but a bad day at the office at the wrong time didn’t mean there was some fatal flaw in need of upheaval.

Having the most efficient running and passing games in the league and a top-tier defense isn’t an identity from which to stray too far despite how tempting it can be to be bold addressing weaknesses. That’s where you trust an analytics-minded front office and coaching staff to understand themselves and the entire body of 2019 work rather than to overreact to one heartbreaking loss or a couple failed fourth-and-1 plays. Of course, there’s work to do.

“We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball by every single team in the league very thoroughly.” Harbaugh said in January. “We’ll be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas — expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward.”

Losing Yanda would definitely be a big blow to a record-setting offense, but the 2017 Ravens were a last-second Week 17 collapse away from making the playoffs without him or reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who was spending his last days at Louisville. Jackson’s unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position will continue to make life easier for the offensive line and whoever might need to replace Yanda.

Few would argue that the Ravens would benefit from another wide receiver to make more plays outside the numbers, but the strength of the passing game remains the middle of the field with Jackson heavily targeting his tight ends, something unlikely to change as defenses across the NFL struggle to account for big, athletic tight ends. DeCosta and Harbaugh have expressed optimism about receivers being more open to playing in this unique run-first offense, but the right fit is more critical than adding “a true No. 1” who might grow unhappy with a fraction of the targets he’s used to seeing in a typical offense.

Speculation about trading tight end Hayden Hurst and mock drafts projecting the Ravens to take a running back in the first round would fall under the category of trying too hard to fix something that isn’t broken. The Yanda decision aside, this offense simply doesn’t need a ton of work beyond adding another pass-catching option at some point and implementing whatever system tweaks offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the staff cook up between now and September.

The defense is a different story with the front seven having multiple free agents, a list including Judon, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, and situational rushers Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward. However, nearly half of those players were added during the 2019 season, a testament to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and the front office to at least identify viable placeholders and account for less-than-ideal conditions.

An edge defender or two, a three-down inside linebacker, and a defensive tackle with pass-rushing ability would all be welcome additions, but that’s an ambitious list for one offseason. There’s no guarantee the right pass rusher or inside linebacker will be on the board when Baltimore selects 28th overall in next month’s draft, and there are red flags everywhere with free-agent edge rushers — Judon included.

Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, the Ravens will continue to lean on an elite secondary, a defensive strength endorsed by analytics, and the frequent blitzing that made a rebuilt defense one of the league’s best over the second half of 2019. The identity is in place, which is more than many defensive units can say at this point. Last season proved the personnel doesn’t need to be perfect.

“I think we want to have really good players at all those positions,” DeCosta said in Indianapolis last week. “I’d love to have some elite pass rushers. I’d love to have some elite corners. I think Wink Martindale does an unbelievable job taking players, finding out what they can do, putting them in position to succeed, and they did that this year. What we were able to do on defense under Wink’s guidance with our coaches and our players — bringing in all those guys that we did — I thought that was masterful.”

The Ravens are bound to face some roster turbulence over the next few weeks. A year ago at this time, DeCosta didn’t know he’d be losing perennial Pro Bowl defenders C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and desperate teams frequently overpay players coming from winning organizations. Baltimore has never been in the business of “winning” the offseason, and that’s unlikely to change simply because of a little more salary cap space than usual this year. Long-term planning is too critical, especially with the elite talents up for contract extensions over the next couple years such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and Jackson.

The truth is I’d take this team essentially as it is — meaning all but sitting out free agency and having only an ordinary draft class — up against any conference opponent not named the Chiefs next fall. Even with the disappointment of January being so slow to dissipate, that is rare territory and speaks to the tremendous opportunity Baltimore has to improve this offseason.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Ravens are going 14-2 again — only three teams have ever done that in back-to-back years — as unforeseen challenges await next season. They can’t count on the schedule to fall the right way or for their remarkably good health over the last two seasons to continue, but those are realities every team faces. That’s why the Ravens know they must continue to evolve without drastically altering what they do best.

“We’re not going to be sitting on our hands schematically,” Harbaugh said. “We are not going to be saying, ‘OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.'”

But they are good. Very good.

That makes this year’s offseason uncertainty easier than usual to handle, regardless of how it all plays out.

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Extending Stanley should be one of Ravens’ top offseason priorities

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens tried to get the left tackle position right for a long time after Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden’s retirement more than a decade ago.

University of Maryland product Jared Gaither flashed some early promise before fizzling out due to injuries and work ethic concerns. Michael Oher was a versatile gamer, but he was better at right tackle, which wasn’t what the Ravens envisioned for their 2009 first-round pick. Veteran Bryant McKinnie played well in 2011 and had a terrific 2012 postseason run, but the 30-something was never a long-term solution. The lucrative contract awarded to former Jacksonville first-round pick Eugene Monroe after a half-season of good play in Baltimore was a disaster.

But the Ravens finally nailed it with the sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft, selecting Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame. It wasn’t a flashy choice as future Pro Bowl selections Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jalen Ramsey had just come off the board with the previous three picks and Baltimore had given Monroe a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $17.5 million guaranteed only two years earlier, but the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Stanley was rock solid from Day 1 and has only gotten better.

That was obvious in 2019 as Stanley took his above-average game to another level, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl — he was a second alternate in 2018 — and being a first-team All-Pro selection in his fourth professional season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best left tackle in the NFL, first among all offensive tackles in pass blocking, and 10th among all offensive tackles in run blocking. Stanley’s overall PFF grade steadily improved over his first three seasons before rising to an elite level, the kind of bump many had wanted to see as he moved a year closer to free agency.

“He has improved in everything he does,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman after Stanley was named to the Pro Bowl in December. “I think a big part of that is improving every aspect of his preparation. The knowledge he’s accrued over the last couple of years, he’s a very intelligent young man. He’s really putting it to use. His consistency this year has been outstanding, which makes him deserving of that honor.

“He’s a constant work in progress, but run, pass, communication, assignment, technique, everything, he’s just really pushing the envelope every day on. It’s really showing on the field, and he’s a very important, key contributor to what we do.”

The focus of any offseason is understandably on new additions and a team’s own free agents scheduled to hit the open market, but that doesn’t mean extending Stanley, who remains under contract through 2020, isn’t a top priority by the time the Ravens kick off their 25th campaign in Baltimore this fall. Even if eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda returns for a 14th season, Stanley’s superb play and leadership shouldn’t be taken for granted with the rest of the starting offensive line all 26 year old or younger. And despite dealing with some nagging injuries at different points, Stanley has missed just three games due to injury — two because of concussions — over the last three seasons combined.

But he won’t come cheap. It’s difficult to quantify just how much MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson helps his offensive line by putting dual-threat stress on defensive fronts, but Stanley surrendered only six pressures all year and had a pass-blocking win rate of 98.7 percent, according to PFF. Those numbers trumped his peers by such a margin that dismissing his elite play solely because of Jackson’s presence would be patently unfair.

In other words, Stanley’s representation has every right to ask that he become the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL, especially since he won’t even turn 26 until next month. If you’re looking for a negotiating starting point, Tennessee and Taylor Lewan agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract that included $34 million fully guaranteed in the summer of 2018 when the left tackle was also entering his fifth-year option season, had two Pro Bowls under his belt, and was a year older than Stanley is now.

With the salary cap having risen more than $20 million since 2018 and the NFL entering the final year of its current collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens allowing Stanley to hit the open market next offseason could yield a similar result to last March when the New York Jets turned the market on its head by giving ex-Raven C.J. Mosley an $85 million contract with a $17 million average annual value, numbers that demolished the previous bests at the inside linebacker position. Stanley is set to make $12.866 million this season after general manager Eric DeCosta exercised his fifth-year option last spring.

Of course, it takes two sides to make a deal, but the Ravens doing everything they can to lock up a franchise left tackle to continue protecting their MVP quarterback in the midst of his rookie contract sounds like a no-brainer. It will be expensive, but Baltimore can’t afford to risk losing such a key piece to its record-setting offense, especially with Yanda walking away sooner than later.

Stanley isn’t Ogden — no one playing today is — but he’s the closest the Ravens have come at left tackle since the Hall of Famer hung up his cleats more than a decade ago. That’s just not the kind of player you let go after searching for him for so long.

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