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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of 2019 season

Posted on 03 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 30 August 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sizing up 2019 Ravens roster after third preseason game

Posted on 26 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the third preseason game in the rear-view mirror, we take our latest look at the Ravens’ 53-man roster with final cuts less than a week away.

My current assessment suggests as many as 49 players would be considered safely on the 53-man roster if the deadline were to come now. Of the 90 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — I list 13 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar in talent nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of outside linebackers or offensive linemen isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the back end of the roster.

Bubble players who are underlined are the ones projected to make the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 26.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: The sixth-round rookie from Penn State turned in his best performance of the summer against Philadelphia, which should keep him on the right side of the bubble. Meanwhile, Harbaugh confirmed over the weekend Griffin (right thumb) is on track to be ready for the regular season.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Of the bubble trio, Dixon is the best back, Ervin the most impactful special-teams player, and Turner the most balanced, but none of them have built an overwhelming case to be kept as a fourth running back. Dixon could have some limited trade value while Turner could go to the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Seth Roberts, Michael Floyd
LONG SHOT: Antoine Wesley, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Catching a touchdown and serving as a gunner on the punt team last Thursday, Scott is appearing more likely to make the team. Roberts is an interesting call after missing two weeks of action, but he raises the floor of a young position group while Floyd’s push feels too little, too late.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: Scarff and Herdman continue to look like no more than practice-squad candidates, but Ricard is capable of lining up as a blocking tight end, leaving little need for a fourth tight end on the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: Patrick Mekari
LONG SHOT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: Bozeman’s solid play over the last couple weeks lands him comfortably on the roster while Mekari didn’t really take advantage of his first-team chances earlier this month. The latter could still make the team as a ninth offensive lineman, but an outside addition at guard remains quite possible.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler
LONG SHOT: Gerald Willis
Skinny: Sieler might be the only clear backup behind Wormley as a 5-technique defensive end, but he played only two defensive snaps against the Eagles and the Ravens are playing fewer and fewer “base” 3-4 defense snaps, making him vulnerable. Willis is currently hurt and could go on injured reserve.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Donald Payne, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka has had a good summer and is probably the best bet for Baltimore to continue its 15-year streak of keeping at least one rookie free agent on the initial roster. The signing of Paul Worrilow didn’t work out, but that could be an indication that DeCosta will try to add veteran depth here.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Shane Ray
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: I’m still concerned this group is more inventory than quality depth, but the pecking order has been defined for a while with Bowser and Williams firmly ahead of Ray. Perhaps a big showing in the preseason finale wins him a spot, but the former Denver Bronco just hasn’t shown much this summer.

CORNERBACKS (7)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: Trying to project this group remains extremely difficult with no final decision yet on Young’s status and the rookie Marshall having missed more than two weeks with a thigh injury. If both go to IR, keeping Canady appears more likely as the Ravens want to maintain deep depth at this position.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
BUBBLE: Brynden Trawick
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Trawick was a Pro Bowl special-teams player in 2017, but his limited positional value as a reserve dime back behind Levine and the younger Elliott makes it challenging to keep him on the roster compared to other special-teams contributors like Bethel and Jones, who are both cornerbacks.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek, Elliott Fry
Skinny: The three long shots should have a valuable opportunity to showcase their talents Thursday in hopes of catching on elsewhere. We’ve seen it happen before with former Ravens specialists.

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Sizing up 2019 Ravens roster after two preseason games

Posted on 18 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games in the books, it’s time to to ponder the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current assessment suggests as many as 48 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the depth at certain positions and overall talent level on the roster.

Of the 90 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — I list 15 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar in talent nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the back of the roster.

Bubble players who are underlined are the ones projected to make the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 18.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: McSorley’s summer play has been predictably inconsistent, but the Ravens would prefer not to lose the sixth-round pick after the strides he’s made since spring. The health of Griffin’s thumb will play a big part in determining whether DeCosta attempts to sneak McSorley through waivers and to the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon received early action Thursday, but the absence of any special-teams contributions make it difficult to put him on the roster, especially with his injury history and Dixon being in the last year of his contract. Special teams give Turner and Ervin a better chance, but both are a little too far down the depth chart.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Seth Roberts, Antoine Wesley
LONG SHOT: Michael Floyd, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Roberts appeared safely on the roster 10 days ago, but Moore has looked good in the preseason and has practiced well behind Snead in the slot, leaving the injured Roberts vulnerable. Scott must contribute on special teams, but the Ravens may now value his upside over Roberts’ higher floor.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: With the way offensive coordinator Greg Roman values tight ends, Scarff and Herdman could both be viable candidates for the practice squad. Ricard’s positional flexibility gives Baltimore a fourth option as a blocking tight end behind the top three on the depth chart.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor
BUBBLE: Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
LONG SHOT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: Eluemunor’s strong showing against the Packers probably removed any doubts about his roster status since he might be the best backup left tackle on the roster. Meanwhile, Mekari didn’t stand out after his strong week of practice, and Senat’s current absence has really hurt his roster chances.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Ricard needs be included in the overview of this group as he’s playing like someone who could see some snaps in the game-day rotation. Sieler has had an underwhelming summer, but he’s the only true 5-technique end behind Wormley on roster and Willis hasn’t stood out in practices or games.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Donald Payne, Nicholas Grigsby, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka may have the best chance among the rookie free agents to crack the 53-man roster, but the frequency with which the Ravens use the dime package makes keeping a fourth inside linebacker less critical. Board’s recovery from a concussion could alter the thinking on Alaka, however.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Shane Ray
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: The group behind Judon and McPhee — whose durability is a question — remains concerning, but Ray hasn’t impressed considering his experience level relative to Ferguson, Williams, and Bowser and the competition he’s faced in preseason games. A post-summer acquisition here still feels possible.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: The serious neck injury to Young takes Jones off the bubble and pushes Canady on the right side of the bubble since he can play outside and at the nickel. Sidelined since last weekend, the rookie Marshall could also end up on IR, which would open an extra spot at another position of need.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
BUBBLE: Brynden Trawick
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Trawick’s special-teams ability shouldn’t be overlooked, but he’s too far down the depth chart at the safety position and there are already too many cornerbacks to try to add another defensive back to the mix. Jackson has done everything he possibly can to earn a real opportunity elsewhere.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek
Skinny: The only question here is whether special teams coaches Chris Horton and Randy Brown will miraculously transform Nizialek or any other kicker potentially added in the final two weeks of the preseason into another late-round pick in a trade. No one develops specialists better than the Ravens.

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Ravens-Packers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 14 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The second preseason game should provide a step up for the Ravens as they host Green Bay Thursday night.

Head coach John Harbaugh says quarterback Lamar Jackson will have “about the same” workload as the 16 snaps he played in the 29-0 win over Jacksonville last week, but the Jaguars held out all but one listed defensive starter on their depth chart. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur says he plans to play his starters “a quarter or so,” which should provide a better test for Jackson and a revamped offense.

“Another win, keep striving trying to be the best,” said Jackson about what he wants to accomplish. “Completions, score a touchdown, [and] hopefully get out of the game early. It’s preseason, so I’m trying to get out of the game early.”

The Ravens concluded open training camp Tuesday and will soon have the chance to change their surroundings after the monotony of the last few weeks. Not only will they transition into a practice format more closely resembling the regular season in the coming days, but the Ravens will follow their game against the Packers with a trip to Philadelphia to practice against the Eagles early next week before their first road preseason contest.

The season opener in Miami is just 3 1/2 weeks away.

“They’re getting sick of each other,” said Harbaugh as he laughed Tuesday. “It’s about time. They get out of the hotel this week. They’ve seen enough of each other.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Green Bay will meet in the preseason with the Packers winning 17-15 at old Memorial Stadium back in 1996. Green Bay leads the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

The Ravens own a 34-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won a remarkable 14 exhibition contests in a row, a streak extending back to the start of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Thursday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of several will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Seth Roberts, LB Mike Onuoha (wrist), OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: WR Marquise Brown (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle), CB Jimmy Smith, LB Matthew Judon, CB Tavon Young, CB Anthony Averett, CB Iman Marshall, OT Greg Senat, CB Maurice Canady

Five players to watch Thursday night

G Patrick Mekari

You may have no idea whom the rookie free agent from Cal-Berkeley even is, but Harbaugh first mentioned Mekari’s name in the left guard competition back in June when he was still sidelined with a back issue. Following a very strong performance in the preseason opener in which he saw time at center and right guard, Mekari was splitting first-team reps with Jermaine Eluemunor at left guard in practices this week. The 6-foot-4, 308-pound Mekari being in this spot says more about an underwhelming competition than anything else, but some first-team run could say plenty for his roster chances.

OLB Tyus Bowser

The 2017 second-round pick remains in good shape from a roster standpoint since he’s the only backup behind Matthew Judon at the strong-side outside linebacker spot really capable of dropping into coverage, but his momentum has slowed a bit since a good start to camp. He did some good things in the first preseason game with a half-sack and another tackle in 26 defensive snaps and could be in line to start Thursday after Judon missed the last two open practices, so this could be a golden opportunity to state his case as an impact member of the rotation at outside linebacker.

WR Jaleel Scott

The 2018 fourth-round pick was in danger of being cut last summer before a hamstring injured landed him on injured reserve, but team officials began noticing his improved speed and fitness during the spring as Scott remains in the running for a roster spot. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound wideout from New Mexico State made a 25-yard reception in the fourth quarter on his only target last week, but his besst path to a roster spot is contributing on special teams, an area in which he’s still developing. There may — or may not — be one receiver spot up for grabs among Scott, rookie Antoine Wesley, and Michael Floyd.

DL Zach Sieler

Many anticipated Sieler pushing third-year defensive end Chris Wormley for the 5-technique spot in the base defense, but it’s been a quiet summer for the 2018 seventh-round pick who didn’t make the stat sheet in 18 snaps last week. It’s not that Sieler has practiced poorly, but the Ravens kept him on the 53-man roster all last season — he was active only twice — because they saw upside as he came out of Division II Ferris State. The 6-foot-6, 301-pound lineman remains on decent footing since Baltimore doesn’t have any other 5-technique types on the roster, but Sieler still has work to do to cement his job.

RB Tyler Ervin

We’ve discussed the uncertain roster status of Kenneth Dixon ad nauseam and have typically mentioned De’Lance Turner as the most likely to beat him out for a roster spot behind Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill, but Ervin remains a sleeper after registering an impressive 24-yard punt return in the preseason opener. The former Houston Texan has good speed and has even received some looks with the first-team offense in recent practices, which is something few would have anticipated at the start of training camp. Ervin remains Cyrus Jones’ primary competition for the punt returner job.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Thursday’s preseason opener

Posted on 06 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing for Thursday’s preseason opener against Jacksonville, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Yes, it’s still just practice, but Lamar Jackson checked another box with two steady-to-strong showings against a talented Jacksonville defense. He isn’t suddenly a Marino-Vick hybrid, but he’s making good and on-time decisions with better accuracy. Within the reasonable range of expectations, the Ravens have to be pleased — and excited.

2. Jackson presents a preseason catch-22 John Harbaugh has rarely faced. The 22-year-old with eight career starts will surely benefit from game reps, but how much potential injury risk are you willing to take? I certainly expect him to play more than the 31 snaps Joe Flacco took all last preseason.

3. The timing of the Alex Lewis trade was a little surprising considering the current left guard picture, but his decision to handle his own shoulder rehab made it apparent the sides weren’t on the same page. It’s good news for Greg Senat and Patrick Mekari, two bubble linemen to watch.

4. Asked if the clock’s ticking on Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, defensive line coach Joe Cullen said, “The clock has ticked, and it’s ready to explode.” Both flashed more this past week, but these preseason games are massive for them and the other outside linebackers not named Matthew Judon.

5. All eyes are on the pass rush, but setting the edge is another question mark with Terrell Suggs gone. Cullen said Pernell McPhee is the best in that department opposite Judon, but you really prefer him being more situational rusher than starter in the base defense. That’s worrisome.

6. You’ve probably noticed the lack of Marquise Brown observations this past week, but the rookie first-round pick just isn’t doing much beyond individual position work. He obviously won’t play Thursday, but you’d certainly expect the Ravens to increase his activity level after that.

7. Veterans always deserve the benefit of the doubt this time of year, but it’s been a pretty slow start to camp for Jimmy Smith, who gave up two long touchdowns to Jacksonville receivers Tuesday and was visibly frustrated. The good news is it’s early August and the 31-year-old is healthy.

8. Besides Brown and Miles Boykin, two young wide receivers I’m looking forward to watching in the preseason are 2018 fourth-round pick Jaleel Scott and rookie free agent Antoine Wesley. Both are tall and have consistently made plays this summer, leaving them in the conversation for a roster spot.

9. Coaches have mentioned Jaylon Ferguson still adjusting to the speed of the game, but you hope being able to let loose in preseason action will get him going. How much he does — or doesn’t do — on special teams may dictate how he’s handled on game days early in the regular season.

10. Patrick Ricard and Cyrus Jones are two bubble players with which I’ve been impressed. Ricard has delivered crushing blocks as a fullback and extra tight end and provides game-day versatility as a defensive lineman. Strictly a punt returner last year, Jones has played with an edge as a nickel corner.

11. How Kaare Vedvik kicks in preseason games will determine whether the Ravens are able to fetch anything in a trade. I can’t imagine more than a conditional seventh-rounder, but he’ll need to show more accuracy than he has this spring and summer. The leg strength is definitely there.

12. Thirty minutes into Monday’s practice, Jacksonville’s James Onwualu was carted off the field with a season-ending knee injury. In the first 11 camp practices, not a single Raven was carted off and only a few even left the field with a health concern. I’ll now wait for the jinx accusations.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Wide receivers

Posted on 22 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning Thursday and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line
Inside linebackers

We continue at wide receiver, the position that’s been a problem spot over much of the Ravens’ existence. In his first offseason as general manager, Eric DeCosta appeared determined to find second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson more pass-catching targets with which to grow by taking two wide receivers in the first three rounds of the draft, equaling the number selected in the first three rounds over Baltimore’s previous 11 drafts combined. That focus comes after two tight ends were selected in the first three rounds a year ago, leaving Jackson no shortage of young receiving candidates.

How quickly and effectively the youth at this position develops will go a long way in setting the overall ceiling of the passing game as just four of the 13 wide receivers on the preseason roster — two of which weren’t on the team last year — have registered a catch in the NFL. Those four veterans help raise the floor of this group, but none provide much upside, objectively leaving this wide receiver group as one of the weakest in the league on paper entering the preseason. Unlike past years, however, there is more raw talent and athleticism for new wide receivers coach and longtime NFL assistant David Culley to cultivate.

Below is a look at the wide receivers who stand out for various reasons:

The ManPending
Skinny: With the revamped system under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman expected to use the ground game as its foundation, expecting any wide receiver to be “the man” in a conventional sense of catching 80 or more passes or registering 1,000 yards would be unrealistic. However, Willie Snead is the clear candidate if we’re picking from the pool of veteran options while first-round pick Marquise Brown was drafted with visions of fitting this exact description in the coming years.

Old Reliable — Willie Snead
Skinny: John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Snead all saw their production crater when Jackson took over after the bye week last year, but the slot receiver and lone holdover from the trio did have three games with at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards with the young quarterback, a sign that some chemistry was developing. Snead was at his best running slant routes in 2018 and works the middle of the field, the area where Jackson looks most comfortable passing at this stage of his development. The 26-year-old is unlikely to post big numbers, but he has the highest floor of any Ravens wide receiver.

Under Fire — Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley
Skinny: Neither Scott nor Lasley was expected to do much as rookies after the Ravens had already signed three veteran free agents, but DeCosta drafting two more receivers early this spring didn’t say much for the 2018 fourth- and fifth-round picks. Scott turned some heads with his work in the spring and has unique size while Lasley had substantial college production and worked out with Jackson in the offseason, but both are firmly on the roster bubble and need to produce in the preseason.

Up-and-Comer — Marquise Brown
Skinny: After registering 2,400 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons at Oklahoma, Brown became the fourth wide receiver drafted in the first round by the Ravens in their 24-year history. Even at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Brown has the unique speed and athleticism to be a difference-maker, but he must first show he’s fully recovered from undergoing left foot surgery in January. The organization did its homework and was comfortable with his prognosis, but the effects of a Lisfranc injury sometimes linger and Brown was placed on the non-football injury list upon reporting for training camp. You’d have to think he needs to begin practicing soon if he’s realistically going to make a big impact as a rookie.

Sleeper — Chris Moore
Skinny: The raw numbers didn’t suggest a significant step forward from Moore in 2018 as he caught only one more pass and registered 52 fewer receiving yards than the previous year, but he caught 19 of his 25 targets and saw more snaps as an effective blocker in the run-first offense down the stretch. The 2016 fourth-round pick is a strong special-teams contributor and has occasionally flashed some big-play ability, so the time is now for Moore to shine as a receiver if it’s ever going to happen. Brown’s uncertain status to begin training camp only increases the likelihood of Moore getting more playing time.

The Rest — Seth Roberts, Michael Floyd, Miles Boykin, Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Roberts gives the Ravens another veteran option in the slot and has 158 receptions and 13 touchdowns in his career, but he also dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes over his first four seasons, per Pro Football Focus. … Floyd is the only receiver on the roster with a 1,000-yard season in the NFL, but he’s registered only 20 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown in 24 games over the last two seasons. … A 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and above-average speed made Boykin an enticing third-round pick in April’s draft and a strong candidate to be an immediate red-zone target. … Smith caught a total of 13 touchdowns playing in his sophomore and junior seasons with Jackson at Louisville, but he didn’t do much to stand out during spring workouts.

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens roster after mandatory minicamp

Posted on 19 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players until the end of the preseason, but the conclusion of mandatory minicamp offers a much better idea of what the coaching staff has to work with in 2019.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance to the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is still based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than observations from a handful of non-contact practices this spring. For now, I estimate 44 players to be safely on the roster, leaving nine spots up for grabs. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand starting with the snap distribution when training camp begins next month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who is deemed a bubble player now as much will change between now and even the start of preseason action. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying so much talent that could fall victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. You always look for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: McSorley showed growth over the course of the spring and should feel much better about his chances, but I’m not quite ready to say he’ll definitely be on the roster when you look at the logjam at some other positions. I’d still expect a fourth quarterback to be added to share the summer reps.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Little has changed with this position group, but Ervin’s return ability at least puts him on the radar to potentially steal a spot. Dixon took issue with how his absences from voluntary workouts were perceived, but he needs a strong and healthy preseason to stick in the final year of his rookie deal.

WIDE RECEIVERS (13)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, Michael Floyd
LONG SHOT: Sean Modster, Antoine Wesley, Quincy Adeboyejo, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott, Modster, and Wesley flashed during workouts, but this group looked very ordinary overall, which wasn’t a big surprise as Brown and Boykin were sidelined. The numbers game will be interesting as you wonder how many receivers the run-heavy Ravens will even feel compelled to keep.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: Charles Scarff
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman
Skinny: Knowing how much offensive coordinator Greg Roman values this position, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fourth tight end with blocking ability stick with the 249-pound Scarff having the current edge. However, the Ravens could also use the versatile Patrick Ricard in that role.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: Jermaine Eluemunor, Alex Lewis, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Eluemunor lining up as the starting left guard this spring was surprising, but Harbaugh saying his conditioning needs to improve keeps me from moving him to the “in” line just yet. Lewis missing the spring program while rehabbing his shoulder on his own leaves him with much to prove.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Sieler is probably safe because of the shortage of 5-technique options on the roster, but Willis is an interesting name to watch as a rookie free agent. Ricard’s ability to play on both sides of the ball always improves his roster chances, but he was a healthy scratch for the final six games last season.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: There is very little clarity in this group beyond the top three, but you would think the Ravens prefer keeping at least one more inside linebacker. Any lingering doubt about Board’s status was erased this spring as he arguably moved ahead of Young in the competition to start next to Onwuasor.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
IN: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Pernell McPhee, Shane Ray, Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Bowser’s ability to drop into pass coverage gives him an edge over the other outside linebackers vying for a roster spot, but McPhee being able to slide inside in sub packages really helps his chances. Ray flashed during the spring, but the proof will be when the pads come on.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Barring injuries, Baltimore is almost guaranteed to lose a quality player or two from this group. However, I’m not buying Bethel being on the bubble after the Ravens gave him a $1 million bonus and took a compensatory pick formula hit to sign him despite their established depth here.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Chuck Clark
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: The standout play of Elliott was one of the highlights of the spring as he showed impressive range in coverage to go with the physicality he flashed as a rookie last summer. Clark is a rock-solid backup entering his third season, but could the roster crunch at other positions squeeze him out?

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: Vedvik really struggled with his kicking accuracy during spring practices open to reporters and will need to rebound in the preseason to build his potential trade value.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on second week of OTAs

Posted on 31 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Following an underwhelming practice from the offense consisting of mostly underneath passing and few highlights, John Harbaugh fairly noted the defense should be ahead of the offense right now with the latter installing a new system. Patience is warranted, but skepticism is understandable with such a young group.

2. Earl Thomas wasn’t tested much, but he definitely has a presence on the practice field that reminds a little of Ed Reed. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he impacts a defense that already played plenty of single-high safety looks using an older Eric Weddle last year.

3. Patrick Onwuasor received endorsements from Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti this week and has been more vocal in C.J. Mosley’s old role. The fourth-year linebacker said he continues to stay in touch with his former teammate, which is a valuable resource to have.

4. Most assume Kenny Young will receive the starting nod next to Onwuasor, but don’t sleep on Chris Board. The former rookie free agent has gotten a share of first-team reps this spring as well. We’ve seen similar stories before at this position, and that’s not to discredit Young’s ability.

5. Hayden Hurst is a bit of a forgotten man, but his foot injury forced him to rest for an additional month at season’s end last January. Now healthy and having added 20 pounds, he caught a deep post throw from Jackson Thursday and says he’s “on a mission” this year.

6. The spring always brings at least a couple interesting stories about players’ offseason workout regimens as Mark Andrews aimed to improve his blocking by practicing on his older brother. That had to make for some interesting family gatherings.

7. It’s tough to really gauge line play in non-contact settings, but Willie Henry batted down a Jackson pass during an 11-on-11 drill. He’s just one of a few defensive linemen whose playing time would be impacted by a potential Gerald McCoy signing.

8. Jaleel Scott received praise for his offseason work earlier this spring, and he flashed Thursday with a long touchdown catch from Robert Griffin III and another contested catch for a score in a red-zone drill. The 6-foot-5 wideout will need more of that to secure a roster spot.

9. With James Hurst never inspiring confidence as the backup left tackle, 2018 sixth-round pick Greg Senat is someone to monitor after an essential redshirt year on injured reserve. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound former college basketball player carries some intrigue despite being green.

10. It was interesting to see Jackson under center a decent bit after the Ravens were in the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 93 percent of the time from the time he became the starter in Week 11 last year. He also mostly worked from the shotgun or pistol at Louisville.

11. Speaking to season-ticket holders, Bisciotti reiterated Jackson won’t be running the ball 20 times per game, which reflects the Ravens sharing the desire of many to keep the young quarterback healthy. Eight to 10 carries per contest feels like a general sweet spot in an evolved, more balanced offense.

12. At a time of year with little restraint for optimism, I appreciated Bisciotti’s honesty in admitting he has no idea what to expect from rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, citing how first-year injuries impacted Travis Taylor and Breshad Perriman. He also labeled Chris Moore a “breakout candidate.”

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Veteran receiver Michael Floyd signs one-year deal with Ravens

Posted on 17 May 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens added youth at the wide receiver position during the draft, but another veteran has joined a growing competition for roster spots.

Former first-round pick Michael Floyd signed a one-year deal Friday to become just the fourth wide receiver on the offseason roster to have caught an NFL pass, joining Willie Snead, Chris Moore, and Seth Roberts. The 29-year-old tried out for the Ravens last spring before ultimately catching 10 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in 13 games for Washington last season.

The 13th overall pick of the 2012 draft, Floyd caught 242 passes for 3,739 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first five seasons with Arizona, but alcohol problems have contributed heavily to his decline. An extreme DUI arrest in 2016 led to his release from the Cardinals, jail time and house arrest, and a four-game suspension. Floyd was also suspended for a DUI at Notre Dame prior to his senior season and has had other alcohol-related incidents in the last decade.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver will try to offer quarterback Lamar Jackson another big target on the outside, but Floyd will be competing with another Fighting Irish product — third-round rookie Miles Boykin — sporting a similar profile. Floyd’s best season came in 2013 when he caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns, but he has registered just 24 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns in 26 games since being released by the Cardinals late in the 2016 season. He has since spent time with New England, Minnesota, New Orleans, and Washington.

In other words, Floyd is far from a safe bet to make the roster as the Ravens would prefer younger options such as Boykin and first-round rookie Marquise Brown to prove themselves to be ready to contribute at the next level. Floyd figures to be competing with Roberts and young receivers like Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott for an undetermined number of jobs this summer.

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