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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2019 season

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Instead of going through the exercise of making league-wide predictions, the following focus on the Ravens and their goal to win back-to-back AFC North division titles for just the second time in team history:

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.

Make no mistake, the 22-year-old will continue to run more than any quarterback in the NFL, but general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t invest meaningful resources at running back and the Ravens didn’t practice their passing game so exhaustively this summer for Jackson to again average 17 carries per game like he did as a starter last season. There won’t be a rigid cap on how much he runs, but this offense will use more play action and run-pass options to create higher-percentage, short-to-intermediate throws with occasional deep shots. He’ll still have accuracy lapses, but his mechanics were steadier and he threw the ball more consistently all summer. The biggest question is how much he’s improved his ball security, an area more difficult to gauge in controlled practice environments without the threat of contact.

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

Baltimore was tied for 11th with 43 sacks last year, but its pressure rate (33.4 percent) ranked eighth in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Wink Martindale isn’t panicking with one of the best secondaries in the NFL backing up his well-designed blitzes, but there’s so much uncertainty beyond Matthew Judon. Pernell McPhee should provide some help if his snaps are managed properly, but Willie Henry and Shane Ray, two players thought to be potential answers, were jettisoned at the end of the summer. Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs weren’t elite last year, but expecting the trio of Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, and rookie Jaylon Ferguson to just step in without drop-off and growing pains is asking a lot. The good news is Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens first in their DVOA defensive metric when failing to pressure, again illustrating the secondary’s value. They’ll lean on that more heavily this year.

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

Frank Gore averaged 268 carries per season in Greg Roman’s four-year run in San Francisco and LeSean McCoy was on a similar workload pace in an injury-abbreviated 2015 season in Buffalo, dispelling the myth that the new Ravens offensive coordinator prefers a timeshare at the running back position. That’s not to say 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill won’t have roles, but the Ravens gave Ingram $6.5 million guaranteed for a reason after they had already averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the final seven regular-season games last year. Ingram’s career-high 230 carries two years ago seems like a reasonable mark for him to approach or even surpass.

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

It’s easy envisioning Andrews as Baltimore’s leading receiver with Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle and the wide receivers being so inexperienced. Volume remains a question, but seeing the 2018 third-round pick produce 2002-03 Todd Heap-like numbers wouldn’t be shocking. We’ve spent so much time discussing the pass rush this summer that we forget Onwuasor will be replacing four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mostly and only played 41.9 percent of defensive snaps last year. The Ravens wanted Mosley back before offers from the New York Jets became too lucrative, but Onwuasor will be steady enough to ease concerns about the position, even if inside linebacker won’t be viewed as a strength.

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

Edwards won’t go by the wayside like recent season leading rushers like Alex Collins, Terrance West, and Forsett, but he’ll have a reduced role and could even lose backup touches to the speedy Hill as the year progresses. The 2018 rookie free agent averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry last season, but his best bet might be short-yardage situations and a bigger fourth-quarter share of carries when the Ravens lead. Entering the final year of his contract, Smith is now 31 and has plenty of wear on the tires after a number of injuries over the years. The veteran cornerback had an uneven training camp, but he has much incentive to prove his value, whether in Baltimore or elsewhere on the free-agent market.

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

The late-summer signs pointed to Bradley Bozeman beginning the season as the starting left guard, but we won’t know for sure until Sunday and this position remains a week-to-week evaluation anyway. Ideally, Powers, a fourth-round rookie from Oklahoma, would be ready to take over in the way Orlando Brown Jr. did at right tackle last October, but he struggled with first-team reps early this summer.

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

The month of October has frequently been the bane of John Harbaugh’s existence in the past, but the November pain won’t be because of New England’s Sunday night trip to Baltimore. The Ravens will take full advantage of their Week 8 bye to knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots, but three straight losses will follow as they play at Cincinnati and host Houston with both teams coming off their byes, a tricky scheduling quirk not to be overlooked. The month concludes with a long trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams on a Monday night, another defeat that will have the Ravens’ playoff hopes looking bleak.

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

First-round pick Marquise Brown missing Friday’s practice was a reminder that early expectations should be tempered after he missed so much valuable practice time in the spring and summer and is still managing his surgically-repaired foot to some degree. Meanwhile, Boykin was impressive during the summer and presents a 6-foot-4, 220-pound target with speed for a quarterback whose accuracy issues aren’t a big secret. Boykin, a third-round pick from Notre Dame, won’t put up monster numbers overall, but he will offer a nice boost inside the red zone, an area where the Ravens’ revamped offense struggled down the stretch last year. He’ll tie the record shared by Torrey Smith (2011) and Marlon Brown (2013).

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

After being voted Ravens MVP by the local media last year and receiving more praise for his play this offseason, Humphrey appears primed to become Baltimore’s first Pro Bowl cornerback since Chris McAlister in 2006. Meanwhile, Yanda will continue to add to a resume that will receive strong Hall of Fame consideration with his eighth trip to the Pro Bowl in the last nine years. Some intrigue remains over just how close Thomas will be to his old self after his second broken left leg in a three-season period, but he’ll extend the Ravens’ streak of sending a safety to the Pro Bowl to four straight years. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Andrews will be named Pro Bowl alternates.

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

A 5-6 record and plenty of outside doubts entering the final month won’t stop the Ravens from getting hot and reeling off three straight wins to put themselves back in wild-card position. A last-minute defeat at Cleveland in Week 16 will look like the death knell, but the Browns will “Brown” their playoff spot away in a season-ending loss at Cincinnati while the Ravens will regroup to beat the AFC North champion Steelers, who will only be playing for playoff seeding in Week 17. Baltimore will follow that up with a road playoff win over the Texans before bowing out in the divisional round, ending a promising year for a young team with plenty of salary cap space and draft capital going into 2020.

Bonus Super Bowl pick no one asked for: Kansas City 30, Philadelphia 24

I just can’t stomach predicting another championship for New England, so I’ll go with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid finally getting over the hump against the team he coached for 14 seasons.

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After much offseason talk, Ravens offense finally to be on display

Posted on 04 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked what he hoped fans would be saying about the Ravens offense after Sunday’s opener in Miami, Lamar Jackson paused briefly and smiled.

“Hopefully that it’s the best offense they’ve ever seen,” the 22-year-old quarterback said. “That’s what I’m going for.”

That statement wasn’t made with bravado as much as excitement. After an offseason of discussion, hype, speculation, and probably even some fibbing about the rebuilt system under new coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens offense will finally be on display against the Dolphins.

So, what exactly can we expect?

Head coach John Harbaugh has alluded to the offense being “revolutionary” while we’ve heard conflicting suggestions even within the organization about how frequently Jackson will run after setting a single-season record for rushing attempts by a quarterback as a rookie. The Ravens will again walk the fine line between keeping Jackson out of harm’s way and not stifling what truly makes him special as a quarterback.

A multiple-look running game, pre-snap movement, and explosive play-action passing were staples for Roman in San Francisco and Buffalo where his offenses averaged close to a 50-50 split of runs and passes and ranked in the top seven in yards per pass attempt in three out of five full seasons. It’s no secret his fingerprints were all over the revamped offense we saw down the stretch last season when Jackson took over for an injured Joe Flacco, but Roman’s history suggests we won’t see the Ravens running at a near 2-to-1 clip like they did over the final seven weeks of 2018. That said, 10 of Baltimore’s 16 games this season come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed.

The Ravens consulted with college coaches this offseason such as Paul Johnson, who famously ran the triple option offense at Navy and then Georgia Tech. They streamlined the language within the offense to better align with the way players are taught at the collegiate level, which makes sense with more than half of the offensive players on the current roster in their first or second season.

In a recent national radio interview, Jackson estimated he would throw “probably 30 passes a game,” a number he didn’t reach once in his eight starts as a rookie. The amount of time devoted to the passing game during training camp seems to support that prediction, but effectively practicing the running game can also be difficult in the absence of to-the-ground contact, probably making it unwise to draw strong conclusions from practice structure.

Adding speed was a clear priority in the draft with the selections of wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin and running back Justice Hill, but the most substantial free-agent acquisition on offense was two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram to pair with Gus Edwards, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie last season.

Carrying the ball just four times in the preseason, Ingram said those exhibition games offered only “a little gist” of what the Ravens will show. Jackson attempted only 16 passes and ran the ball just twice, not counting his spectacular 18-yard touchdown against Green Bay that was negated by a penalty. The preseason offense was vanilla and basic like most teams around the league.

Yes, much mystery remains — even for the Ravens.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t know how certain things are going to look or how guys are going to respond. We might have confidence. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it. But that’s the beauty of it. That’s what’s exciting. That’s the drama.

“We’re going to go out there and find out a lot on the first Sunday.”

Of course, all eyes will be on Jackson, who looked in command of the offense and showed more consistency as a passer throughout the summer. The Ravens are optimistic the improved footwork and mechanics — and subsequent tighter spirals and better accuracy — he displayed during training camp will carry over to the regular season, but it remains to be seen whether his progression is more a giant leap or a modest step forward when the bright lights come on. After all, there’s a lot of previous muscle memory to overcome in the highly competitive environment of games that count.

Baltimore would be wise to continue to play to Jackson’s passing strength over the middle of the field while picking spots to test secondaries outside the numbers, the area where the young passer still isn’t as proficient. That’s why second-year tight end Mark Andrews is the popular pick to have a breakout season after he and Jackson consistently made plays over the middle in summer practices and showed a promising rapport last season.

As a rookie, Jackson was at his best on first down, completing just under 68 percent of his passes, averaging 9.0 yards per attempt, and posting a 100.6 passer rating on 56 throws. The football analytics world implores teams to pass more on first down and to be more aggressive on first and second downs to not just set up manageable third-down situations but to avoid them altogether. Those numbers alone lead you to believe the Ravens will be more aggressive passing on first downs this season.

Still, there are questions and concerns that can’t be overlooked, ranging from Jackson’s league-high 15 fumbles last season to a still-uncertain left guard situation that contributed to Baltimore’s demise in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Three of the six wide receivers on the current roster have never caught an NFL pass and only Willie Snead has registered more than 45 receptions in a season, leaving a very low floor to go along with an intriguing ceiling at the position.

The Ravens must find a way to improve inside the red zone, an area in which the offense really struggled with Jackson at the helm. They scored touchdowns on just 11 of 26 trips inside the 20 after Week 9 last year, a percentage that would’ve ranked 31st in the NFL over the full season. A top-ranked Ravens defense helped cover up that deficiency a year ago, but settling for too many field goals inside the red zone will cost you sooner than later.

No, there are no guarantees. This offense could be a revolution or an eventual flop, but you have to respect the Ravens’ willingness to zig while everyone else zags in today’s game. They’ve embraced having a mobile quarterback and have tried to build an offense to suit his unique strengths and account for his weaknesses. If nothing else, Jackson and this offense will be fun to watch while continuing to give opposing defenses headaches with an unconventional brand of football.

Just how different it looks remains anyone’s guess, but Jackson is focused on the end result, which worked out pretty well for the Ravens during his rookie season.

“I’m just looking to win. That’s the goal: win games,” Jackson said. “Win every game you’re in, and it starts with Miami. That’s the goal. I don’t really care what the critics say. They’re going to always be there.”

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edwards

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Running backs

Posted on 10 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

July 9 — Cornerbacks

We continue at running back, a position that already appeared to be in good shape as the Ravens ran the ball better than any team in the NFL over the final seven weeks of the 2018 season. First-year general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t rest on those laurels, however, as Baltimore signed a two-time Pro Bowl selection to a three-year, $15 million contract in March and drafted a speedy running back in the fourth round.

Any running back carrying the ball — not to mention the offensive line — will continue to benefit from the threat of Lamar Jackson, the most explosive rushing quarterback in the NFL. It’s no secret the running game took off when Jackson replaced an injured Joe Flacco in Week 11, and that doesn’t figure to change with new coordinator Greg Roman’s past offensive systems in San Francisco and Buffalo being built around an explosive ground attack.

Offenses are all about the passing game today, so the rush-minded Ravens are certainly going against the grain with many critics skeptical about the offense’s sustainability. But they’re doing it with a unique athlete at the quarterback position and a diverse collection of running backs hoping to create matchup problems for opposing defenses otherwise built to stop the pass in the modern game.

Below is a look at several running backs who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Mark Ingram
Skinny: Taking nothing away from Gus Edwards and his 5.2 yards per carry average last year, the Ravens didn’t sign the former New Orleans Saint to that deal to play second fiddle to anyone. That’s not to say Ingram will carry the ball 300 times or be a lock to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with other capable runners on the roster, but the 30-year-old is an underrated receiver and averaged a career-best 3.2 yards after contact per attempt in the shadow of Alvin Kamara last season. Baltimore is expecting big things.

Old Reliable — Ingram
Skinny: Edwards’ inside rushing style should still provide a high floor with the threat of Jackson keeping the ball at the mesh point and taking off on the edge, but Ingram has more than four times as many career rushing yards (6,007) as the rest of the current running back group combined. His reputation as a strong leader in the New Orleans locker room was another selling point after the Ravens watched so many key veterans depart in the offseason.

Under Fire — Kenneth Dixon
Skinny: Dixon reminded everyone of his ability by averaging 5.6 yards per carry in six games last season, but he has played in only 19 of a possible 49 games in his career, has served two drug suspensions, and is entering the final year of his rookie deal. If that weren’t enough, the offseason additions at the position made it clear the Ravens aren’t depending on him to be a big factor. This summer will be crucial for Dixon to force his way into a major role or put himself in position for a better opportunity elsewhere.

Up-and-Comer — Justice Hill
Skinny: It’s difficult to predict just how involved Hill will be as a rookie, but the Oklahoma State product recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time among running backs at the NFL combine and could serve as a change-of-pace back to complement the more physical styles of Ingram and Edwards. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Hill doesn’t have the size to project as a clear-cut every-down back, but he could be an explosive weapon for the Ravens offense, especially if he develops as a receiver out of the backfield.

Sleeper — De’Lance Turner
Skinny: The undrafted free agent from Alcorn State was active for just four games as a rookie before suffering a hamstring injury, but the Ravens promoted him over Edwards to the active roster last September, a sign of what they thought of him before the latter’s surprising late-season emergence. Depending on what happens with Dixon, Turner could push his way onto the roster as a fourth running back, especially if he shows the home-run ability he flashed last preseason on a 65-yard touchdown run.

The Rest — Gus Edwards, Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dismissing Edwards would be a mistake as he appeared to be in great shape this spring and should have no shortage of motivation. It’s worth noting the Ravens have had a different leading rusher four straight seasons and the previous three all moved on by the end of the following year, showing how fleeting success can be for running backs. … Ervin, a 2016 fourth-round pick from San Jose State, had some ball-security concerns in three seasons with Houston, but his experience returning punts and kickoffs will help in his uphill battle for a roster spot.

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edwards

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at conclusion of voluntary OTAs

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens wrapping up their third and final week of voluntary organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. DeShon Elliott made the play of OTAs with a diving interception of a deep Robert Griffin III pass. He showed impressive range sprinting from hash to sideline to make the pick. Elliott’s stuck behind Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson, of course, but I want to watch more of that athleticism.

2. You’re never going to get the full effect of a run-based unit in non-contact practices, but the Ravens offense just didn’t make many plays in OTAs open to media and going against a defense consistently missing several veterans. Minicamp should be interesting with the full defense on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson hasn’t been as consistent as he’d like, but he threw only one interception in the three open voluntary workouts, which came on a pass to Brandon Carr that was a clear miscommunication. Learning a new system has been challenging for the entire offense, but he’s protecting the football.

4. The offense was particularly rough in red-zone drills, which reminds that Baltimore went 11-for-26 in that area with Jackson starting. Greg Roman will use plenty of play-action calls to scheme open targets between the 20s, but Jackson will need to make throws in tight windows in the red zone.

5. It’s been a quiet spring for Jaylon Ferguson, which isn’t all that surprising since his patented bull rush doesn’t really play in non-contact workouts. He’s been out of position from time to time playing the run, but we’ll better know where he is when the pads come on.

6. I’ve seen some snarky remarks about the run-heavy Ravens inviting former Navy coach and triple-option aficionado Paul Johnson to Owings Mills, but I commend a coaching staff seeking new ideas and innovation as we see the influence of the college game continue to make its way into the NFL.

7. Asked about the arrivals of Mark Ingram and Justice Hill, Gus Edwards said “nothing has really changed” and he’s still getting reps with the starters. I do expect him to continue playing an important role, but Edwards averaging 17.4 carries per game like he did from Weeks 11-17 seems unlikely.

8. Iman Marshall faces a steep climb to any defensive playing time as a rookie, but the fourth-round cornerback was impressive with a few pass breakups Thursday. Guys like Marshall, Anthony Averett, and Maurice Canady would be much higher on virtually any other corner depth chart in the league.

9. Their pursuit of Gerald McCoy made it clear the Ravens aren’t perfectly content with their interior pass rush, but Chris Wormley has been active with batted passes and pressures this spring. He will be competing with Zach Sieler to step into the old Brent Urban role.

10. Trade candidate Kaare Vedvik missed field goals from 35 and 48 yards before connecting from 58 after Sam Koch impressively handled a bad snap from rookie Matthew Orzech. I expect Vedvik to receive plenty of preseason opportunities to showcase his strong kicking leg, but consistency is key.

11. Plenty of young receivers flash this time of year before disappearing when the pads come on, but the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Sean Modster made several plays with the reserve units Thursday and was even singled out with praise from slot cornerback Tavon Young.

12. Asked about McCoy, John Harbaugh endorsed his defensive line before challenging critics to “wring their hands” and write how bad his team is. It’s fair to envision the Ravens taking a step back after such roster turnover, but I’ve seen few credible opinions suggesting they’ll be “bad.” Coaches love motivation.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following first week of OTAs

Posted on 24 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ first week of organized team activities in the books, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Making any bold proclamations after one spring practice is irresponsible, but Lamar Jackson showed more oomph with his intermediate passes, especially early in the session. His consistency waned over the final 45 minutes, however, with a few too many inaccurate and wobbly throws. Remember he’s also learning a revamped offense.

2. Being cautious with Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) is the obvious right call, but they can’t have too many reps with Jackson if they’re to make a meaningful impact as rookies. As we saw with Breshad Perriman, injuries can quickly torpedo expectations for a young wide receiver.

3. The competition at outside linebacker will receive more attention, but the likes of Willie Henry, Zach Sieler, and Pernell McPhee serving as viable interior rushers will be nearly as critical. Sieler is one to watch after he stuck on the 53-man roster all last season despite being active only twice.

4. Many seemed ready to write off Tyus Bowser or suggest he move to inside linebacker after the McPhee and Shane Ray signings, but the shortage of “Sam” outside linebackers capable of dropping into coverage keeps him in good position from a roster standpoint. The pressure is still on, of course.

5. While Kenneth Dixon skipped Thursday’s OTA, Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner appeared to be in great shape as both looked leaner. It’s been mentioned before, but Turner was promoted to the 53-man roster a full month before Edwards was elevated last year.

6. Several defensive veterans exercised their right to not attend the voluntary workout, but Brandon Carr was present and working just days after his 33rd birthday. Father Time will eventually catch up, but his rock-solid play and understated leadership have made his 2017 signing a very good one.

7. New wide receivers coach and passing coordinator David Culley has immediately become one of John Harbaugh’s most vocal assistants as you hear him offering praise or blunt criticism for Ravens wide receivers. It’s quite a contrast from the quieter Bobby Engram, who is now coaching the tight ends.

8. Asked about his 2019 goals, Marlon Humphrey said he’s interested in “anything that ends with a ‘Bowl.’ It might be a stretch to envision this team in transition winning the Super Bowl this year, but I’m expecting Humphrey to make his first Pro Bowl as long as he stays healthy.

9. Jaylen Smith and Joe Horn Jr. have received attention as undrafted rookie receivers for obvious reasons, but 6-foot-4 Texas Tech product Antoine Wesley flashed multiple times Thursday, including when he caught a long bomb from Robert Griffin III. He lacks great speed, but you like the height.

10. That praise aside, please spare me the narrative of there being so much competition at wide receiver for one year, especially with an offense that so highly values the running game and tight ends. I’ve heard it — and sometimes fallen for it — too many times in the past.

11. Reports have linked six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to the Ravens, but it’s tough seeing a financial fit if he’s receiving offers as high as $11 million per year from interested teams. The 31-year-old has collected five or more sacks in seven straight seasons, however.

12. I don’t want to make too much out of it, but Jackson saying he came into the spring not knowing the Ravens would have “a totally different offense” was odd after rebuilding the system “from the ground up” was such a strong talking point this offseason.

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DeCosta, Ravens take swings to get up to speed in today’s NFL

Posted on 29 April 2019 by Luke Jones

First-year general manager Eric DeCosta followed through after stating more than once over the last calendar year that the Ravens needed to take more swings at the wide receiver position in the NFL draft.

Having lost five notable members of his top-ranked defense this offseason, DeCosta could have made the safe play by loading up on defensive players early while waiting until Day 3 to pluck a wide receiver or two off the board. It was the playbook often used by predecessor Ozzie Newsome — winner of two Super Bowls, mind you — to an almost maddening degree in recent years and for much of the history of the franchise.

DeCosta was quick to state it wasn’t deliberate, but the Ravens drafted two wide receivers — Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown and Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin — in the first three rounds, equaling the total selected in the opening three rounds by Newsome in the previous 11 drafts combined. Even if it was “just kind of how the board fell” as DeCosta put it, the Ravens were the first team to draft a wide receiver in the first round — one regarded as the fastest in the draft — and then traded up nine spots in the third round to take a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wideout who ran a surprising 4.42-second 40-yard dash.

The Ravens weren’t just drafting any wide receivers to aid in second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson’s development, but there was a specific trait in mind, which became even more evident when DeCosta selected Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill with his first pick on Saturday.

“One of the main common denominators is speed. It makes it tough on a defense,” said DeCosta, citing the best opposing offenses he’s watched from the press box in recent seasons. “As good as our defense has been, it’s a challenge for a team to face speed when you have multiple guys on the field at the same time who can run and make explosive plays. It’s challenging. We got a chance to see what Lamar can do this past year, and I think our collective vision for the offense is to add more guys like that to make it really challenging on the defense.”

These picks do carry substantial risk as the history of wide receivers taken with the final 10 picks of the first round in recent years hasn’t been pretty. Brown’s potential speaks for itself if you’ve watched any of his video game-like highlight videos, but we’re still talking about a 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver currently recovering from a Lisfranc injury. Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith has acknowledged that same injury still giving him problems years later, but the difference is how much more reliant an undersized receiver like Brown will be on that unique speed.

Boykin could carry more upside than any wide receiver the Ravens have ever drafted — admittedly a low bar — but he registered only 18 receptions before his senior season at Notre Dame, which is often a predictor of underwhelming production at the next level. Still, his physical traits and good catch rate last year were too enticing for the Ravens to overlook.

History says Brown and Boykin are more likely to both be busts than both be draft successes, but having too great a risk-averse mindset leaves one standing on the sideline wondering why the Ravens never get better at the position. Without a top-five pick — and even that isn’t always foolproof — you have to roll the dice from time to time to find dynamic play-making ability, especially if you want to maximize your investment in a first-round quarterback. And that needed to be a priority in this draft.

“Those two guys have [play-making ability] many times over,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You have a big, fast guy (Boykin), who’s a powerful guy, who can catch and get upfield with the ball with his stride length and his stiff arm, and he goes up and makes catches. He’s a developing player. He’s kind of a younger, developing player. He’s only really had one year in the offense.

“Then, you have the smaller, faster guy (Brown) with quick feet that can make people miss in a short area, in a tight area. He can catch and run in crossing routes. But the bottom line is, these are two really fast guys that make plays, and that’s what we were looking for.”

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman couldn’t have been happier this weekend as he now has some speedy toys to use on the perimeter to complement his dynamic running game and collection of tight ends to make plays over the middle. In addition to what Brown and Boykin bring, Hill posted the fastest 40 time of all running backs at this year’s scouting combine, making him an intriguing change-of-pace option to starter Mark Ingram and the physical Gus Edwards in the backfield.

No, the draft didn’t bring some seismic shift in philosophy as the offense’s foundation will continue to be the ground game, but DeCosta’s early picks made clear the Ravens’ intentions to expand their approach beyond simply running the ball 50 times per game and minimizing Jackson’s passing opportunities. Baltimore addressed its need to get faster, something that had become more apparent watching some of the best offenses in the league in recent years.

There’s no guarantee this will all work to perfection as so much will hinge on Jackson’s development as a passer, but credit DeCosta and the Ravens for taking some risks to improve his chances of succeeding. If nothing else, it should be fun watching opponents try to combat an unconventional offensive attack.

“The idea of adding speed with Lamar is just an exciting thing to think about teams having to defend,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “I know Greg is excited about it and John is excited about it. It’s a chance to really put fear into opposing defenses. I think it really gets you excited.”

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Ravens waive running back Alex Collins after arrest on gun, marijuana charges

Posted on 01 March 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Saturday 10:30 a.m.)

The Ravens waived running back Alex Collins hours after he was arrested on marijuana and gun charges at the scene of a vehicle crash in Owings Mills on Friday morning, according to Baltimore County police.

Collins, 24, was granted $7,500 bail just after midnight Saturday on three charges: possession of marijuana exceeding 10 grams, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a handgun in a vehicle. According to a press release, a probable cause search for a suspected odor of marijuana inside the vehicle revealed a large glass jar containing approximately five ounces of marijuana and a handgun recovered from the front driver side floorboard.

Police responded to a call for an accident on the 10000 block of Dolfield Road at approximately 6:48 a.m., according to Baltimore County police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach. Collins indicated he was not injured in the crash but had fallen asleep waiting for a towing service to respond while his passenger in the disabled black Chevrolet Corvette had elected to walk the rest of the way home. Collins said he lost control of his vehicle on the snow-covered road, sliding off the pavement and into a tree at approximately 4:30 a.m.

After indicating to police there were additional firearms and marijuana in his home, Collins remained in custody while officers obtained a search warrant for the home and recovered two additional rifles, ammunition, and less than 10 grams of marijuana.

Collins and his passenger gave conflicting stories as to whom the marijuana belongs, according to police. Tykheem Jaquon Deundrea Dunaway, 28, was also charged with possession with intent to distribute and possession of marijuana in excess of 10 grams and was released on a $5,000 posted bond.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 29.


(Baltimore County police photo)

Collins was scheduled to become a restricted free agent following a disappointing 2018 season in which he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury in Week 13. The Arkansas product was a feel-good story of the 2017 campaign as he went from the practice squad to leading Baltimore in rushing with 973 yards and a 4.6 yards per carry average.

Considering the late-season rise of running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon in Baltimore’s revamped rushing attack, it had been unclear whether general manager Eric DeCosta would even tender the 2016 fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Head coach John Harbaugh indicated at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this week that Edwards would remain the No. 1 running back, but the Ravens planned to add more competition to the backfield mix this offseason.

The Baltimore Sun first reported Collins’ arrest.

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How did Ravens running backs stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 14 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens running backs ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen

Gus Edwards
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 286
PFF ranking: 15th among running backs
Skinny: Despite being on the practice squad until mid-October, Edwards seized the starting job and led the Ravens in rushing, a remarkable feat for an undrafted free agent. A physical, straight-ahead style and the threat of Lamar Jackson gave Edwards the lowest rate of attempts tackled for a loss in the league.

Alex Collins
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 311
PFF ranking: 56th among running backs
Skinny: Collins ran effectively out of “11” personnel, but he was unable to duplicate his 2017 success and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry overall. Edwards’ emergence coupled with a nagging foot injury eventually landed Collins on injured reserve, leaving the restricted free agent’s future up in the air.

Kenneth Dixon
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 152
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A knee injury limited Dixon to just six regular-season games, but he showed explosiveness upon returning in December and averaged a team-best 5.6 yards per carry. Ball security was a concern as he lost critical fumbles in Week 16 and in the playoff loss, and durability remains a major question.

Buck Allen
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 310
PFF ranking: 53rd among running backs
Skinny: Allen began the year as the short-yardage and third-down back, but his role diminished down the stretch as he was a healthy scratch for the last two regular-season games. The 2015 fourth-round pick will be an unrestricted free agent and averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per catch.

Ty Montgomery
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 114
PFF ranking: 42nd among running backs
Skinny: Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery had his moments despite being used sparingly as he rushed for 83 yards on 15 carries and caught 10 passes for 65 yards. His pass protection was strong, but he didn’t really stand out as a pass catcher out of the backfield as Baltimore had hoped.

Patrick Ricard
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 96
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Ricard saw more time as a fullback than in the defensive line rotation, but he was inactive over the season’s final month. The free-agent status of both Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams could open more blocking opportunities, but there are only so many snaps to go around, leaving Ricard on the bubble.

De’Lance Turner
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 9
PFF ranking: 15th among running backs
Skinny: The rookie free agent appeared in only four games and received three touches before going to IR with a hamstring injury, but he was promoted to the active roster before Edwards, a sign of the potential the Ravens see. The explosiveness he displayed last preseason is something on which to keep an eye.

2019 positional outlook

The promotion of Greg Roman to offensive coordinator makes Baltimore’s commitment to the running game clear, so it will be fascinating to see how the system evolves with Jackson entering his first full year as the starting quarterback. The combination of Edwards and Dixon was effective late in the season, but the Ravens could really use an impactful receiver out of the backfield, something they’ve sorely missed in their offense since the Ray Rice years. Some have speculated about the potential pursuit of three-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell in free agency, but such a strategy would deviate from how the organization has traditionally operated and Bell’s contract demands make you wonder if enough value will be there, especially after what Edwards brought to the table as an undrafted free agent. It will be interesting to see if Baltimore chooses to tender Collins, who didn’t appear to be a good fit in the revamped rushing attack after the bye week.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2019 class of free agents

Posted on 09 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens enter their most interesting offseason in recent memory after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson helped lead them to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2019 salary cap commitment of roughly $163 million to 45 players (not including free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future deals), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2019 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

New general manager Eric DeCosta is likely to clear additional cap space by renegotiating or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. Of course, that list will be headlined by former starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be traded or released after 11 seasons in Baltimore. A trade or pre-June 1 release will save $10.5 million in cap space while leaving $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap, but Jackson’s $2.1 million cap number for next season makes that dead money easier to endure.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are other potential candidates to be cap casualties. Those decisions will depend on how drastically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year replacing Ozzie Newsome.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2019 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any team beginning on March 13 at 4 p.m.

RB Buck Allen The former fourth-rounder went from leading Ravens backs in snaps in some early games to being a healthy scratch late in the season, but his special-teams ability helps his value.

TE Nick Boyle He doesn’t offer too much as a receiver, but Boyle’s blocking ability was a critical part of Greg Roman’s run-game schemes, making his return a bigger priority than you might think.

WR John Brown The speedy wideout says he’s open to returning, but he caught only 10 passes for 128 yards in Jackson’s eight starts, which certainly didn’t do any favors for his market value.

QB Robert Griffin III The former first-round pick was a helpful mentor to Jackson and is open to returning as his primary backup unless he receives an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere.

RB Ty Montgomery – Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery is good in pass protection and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited duty, but the Ravens may want to look elsewhere.

LB C.J. Mosley – The Ravens would certainly love to keep the four-time Pro Bowl selection, but they may need to make him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker to do it, making this a tougher call.

LB Za’Darius Smith The versatile pass rusher isn’t the type of player Baltimore has typically re-signed to a big contract in the past, but other in-house options haven’t exactly stepped up.

LB Terrell Suggs The 36-year-old plans to return for a 17th NFL season and wants it to be with the Ravens, but his quiet second half of the season and asking price will be factors to consider.

DE Brent Urban The oft-injured lineman played in all 16 games and didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but a return on another cheap deal doesn’t appear out of the question.

TE Maxx Williams Though he never lived up to his second-round draft standing and makes minimal impact as a receiver, Williams developed into a useful blocker over the last two seasons.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has five days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2019 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.149 million in 2018) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.914 million in 2018) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.907 million in 2018) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens frequently elect to forgo a tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

RB Alex Collins (fifth) – Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2017, Collins once seemed like a good bet to receive a second-round tender, but a foot injury and disappointing production leave his future uncertain.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second) – The 6-foot-3 defensive back had a chance to make the team before breaking his arm late in the summer, but he could be back to compete for a spot on a cheap deal.

LB Patrick Onwuasor (undrafted) – A strong second half could prompt the Ravens to use a second-round tender on him to deter teams from pursuing him and to serve as insurance for Mosley.

DT Michael Pierce (undrafted) – Baltimore’s best defensive lineman this season, Pierce will likely receive the second-round tender and could be in line for a substantial payday after the 2019 campaign.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo After missing the entire 2018 season, the 6-foot-3 wideout will compete for a roster spot after flashing from time to time in his first training camp in 2017.

RB Gus Edwards One of the great stories of 2018, the 238-pound back will go into his second season trying to maintain the starting job in a run-heavy offensive attack.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor The 2017 fifth-round pick spent a few weeks on the practice squad early in the season and will again be competing for a job on the 53-man roster

C Matt Skura The former practice-squad member started all 16 games at center, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens seek an upgrade at this important position along the offensive line.

RB De’Lance Turner It’s easy to forget Turner received a practice-squad promotion before Edwards, but he’ll be fighting for a spot after spending most of the season on injured reserve.

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