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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Marshal Yanda’s retirement

Posted on 11 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda officially announcing his retirement after 13 seasons, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The 35-year-old stated his desire to walk away still playing at a high level and to be in a position where he’s still wanted. Yanda didn’t want to hold on and eventually become “like a liability.” That’s been a difficult call for even some of the franchise’s all-time greats.

2. Yanda knew 2019 would very likely be his final season, no matter how it went. The best evidence of that is the 45 pounds he’s lost since his final game. Not even the joy he experienced in a 14-2 season and the bitter playoff defeat prompted him to really waver.

3. Always showing great respect for opponents, Yanda admitting he felt there was “no doubt” the Ravens would find a way to beat Tennessee — “even if we played bad for three quarters” — speaks to lingering shock. However, he still prepared his family for that possibility and took photos after the game.

4. With Jonathan Ogden sidelined, Yanda lined up as the starting left tackle for the first padded practice of his career and was outclassed by Terrell Suggs, prompting the rookie to wonder if he “had what it took” for the NFL. It’s a story he frequently shared with younger players.

5. Still working his way back from a serious knee injury from the previous year, Yanda said he was never more nervous for a game than in Week 12 against Pittsburgh in 2009 when given the opportunity to permanently rejoin the starting lineup. He played well, and the rest was history.

6. Yanda was reluctant to discuss the possibility of the Hall of Fame, but, to no surprise, Eric DeCosta confirmed he’d go into the Ring of Honor in the “very near future.” The projected line is getting crowded with Haloti Ngata up next and some other slam dunks on the horizon.

7. In the process of thanking Brian Billick as his first NFL coach, Yanda said he kept his head down and didn’t say anything as a rookie. “That’s just the way I loved rookies — head down, quiet, do your job, and you’ll earn your respect.” Honest words from a throwback guy.

8. Joe Flacco was among the former Ravens teammates present, a classy move from the Super Bowl XLVII MVP who made the drive from New Jersey. The turnout for the press conference at a time of year when players tend to be all over the place reflected their admiration for Yanda.

9. The Ravens public relations staff did a great job collecting statements from many current and former teammates and coaches, but comments from some of Yanda’s peers around the league reinforced how much he’s respected as a player. Opposing defensive linemen certainly won’t miss him on Sundays.

10. Speaking after the press conference, Matt Skura said he saw meaningful growth from new right guard candidate Ben Powers last season, but what happens in free agency will better reflect the confidence level in the 2019 fourth-round pick. Adding a viable veteran to at least compete would be ideal.

11. Ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele has been mentioned as a free-agent possibility, but the 30-year-old has played only 14 games over the last two years and has remained at left guard since leaving after the 2015 season. That said, I could see a reunion at a reasonable price.

12. As tough as they come and cooperative with reporters throughout his career, Yanda lit up speaking about being able to spend more time with his wife and three children, who wore No. 73 Ravens jerseys with “Dad” on the nameplate. Congratulations to one of the best I’ve ever covered.

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Eight-time Pro Bowl guard Yanda retires as one of best, toughest Ravens ever

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

After famously encouraging teammates to “embrace the grind” early in what would be the 2012 Super Bowl season, Marshal Yanda is retiring as one of the best and toughest Ravens ever.

The news wasn’t shocking as the 35-year-old had pondered retirement these last couple years and was noticeably more reflective during the 2019 season, but his departure leaves a massive hole Baltimore won’t easily replace in terms of both his elite play and leadership by example.

Some stories about the eight-time Pro Bowl right guard and Iowa farm boy are the stuff of folk heroes — like willingly being tasered three times in the locker room for $600 as a rookie — but the day-to-day consistency of his 13-year career is what made Yanda special. Any offensive lineman would tell you anonymity is a desired trait as it means you’re getting the job done for the guys who touch the ball and star in the highlight shows, but the unassuming Yanda was too great for too long for even the most casual fan not to take some notice after a while.

“For most of your career, most people — including the media, believe it or not — don’t pay attention to those guys up front,” said head coach John Harbaugh last November. “They pay attention to all the other stuff. And the linemen, when they start getting talked about as Hall of Fame players, then all of a sudden, people start watching them. To me, I believe Marshal is doing that at the highest level. He’s playing some of his best football, if not his best football, right now.”

It didn’t come easy, however, for one of only 13 guards in NFL history to be named to eight Pro Bowls.

Unlike other Baltimore greats such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs who were drafted in the first round with some hope of greatness from Day 1, Yanda wasn’t selected until the third round in 2007 after beginning his collegiate career at North Iowa Area Community College and working to eventually become a second-team All-Big Ten selection at the University of Iowa. He wasn’t even the first guard drafted by the Ravens that year as then-general manager Ozzie Newsome took Auburn’s Ben Grubbs in the first round, but the organization knew it had added a gamer based on endorsements from longtime Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz, who had previously spent three years as a Ravens assistant.

An early-season injury to Ogden and the subsequent offensive line shuffling threw Yanda into the lineup for 12 starts at right tackle as a rookie. He tore multiple knee ligaments just five games into 2008, a season-ending injury that would also impact his playing time early the following season as veteran Chris Chester fared well at right guard and Yanda was working his way back to full strength. In 2010, offensive line uncertainty again moved him out to right tackle where he’d start all 16 games for the first time in his career.

That stellar play and versatility prompted the Ravens to re-sign Yanda to a five-year, $32 million contract prior to the 2011 season when he could finally call right guard his full-time home and people began taking notice. From there, he’d become the NFL’s best at his position for the better part of a decade, making the Pro Bowl every year other than 2017 when a broken ankle ended his season in Week 2.

The examples of toughness go beyond the “easy money” he made for that locker-room stunt as a rookie and working his way back from the serious knee injury sustained in his second year. Despite undergoing emergency surgery for compartment syndrome in his lower leg in Week 16 of the 2011 campaign, Yanda — also dealing with a painful rib injury — was back on the field the following Sunday to help the Ravens win their first AFC North title in five years and clinch a first-round bye. Instead of succumbing to a season-ending left shoulder injury in 2016, he came up with the idea of moving to left guard, which eased the stress on that arm and allowed him to finish another Pro Bowl campaign. Even upon breaking his ankle in 2017, Yanda walked off the field under his own power.

Aside from overcoming those physical challenges, trying to identify Yanda’s signature play or moment isn’t as easy as with those regularly touching the football or pursuing it every play. An offensive line coach would cite hundreds of examples over the years in which Yanda displayed his masterful technique, but his grit and determination to play through the whistle showed up at a key moment in one of the greatest games in team history.

Tied 35-35 in the 2012 divisional round (see below), the underdog Ravens were trying to move into field goal range and faced a second-and-10 from the Denver 45 on the final play of the first overtime. Ray Rice took a hand-off and ran nine yards before being stood up by two defenders, seemingly leaving Baltimore with an uncertain third-and-1 against a Broncos defense that had mostly bottled up Rice late in the game. However, it never came to that as Yanda, nearing the end of a night in which he played 86 total snaps in single-digit wind chills, ran forward from the second level and plowed Rice and the would-be tacklers an additional two yards for the first down. It was the last meaningful offensive play of the game as Justin Tucker kicked the game-winning field goal moments later and the Ravens would go on to win their second Super Bowl a few weeks later.

Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones owned the night with the “Mile High Miracle,” of course, but Yanda’s late push helped ensure that would be a winning memory and was just one example of his unrelenting will to win.

His Pro Football Hall of Fame fate remains to be seen after playing a position many view as underrepresented in Canton. Former Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca is still waiting for the call after a 13-year career that included nine straight Pro Bowls from 2001-09, but game-film enthusiasts and football analytics sites have sung Yanda’s praises for years, making him more of a household name than the top interior linemen of previous eras and increasing the likelihood of him receiving a much deserved gold jacket one day. When news broke of his retirement, Pro Football Focus was quick to note how he allowed just one sack in the last 2,331 pass-blocking snaps of his career and just 20 career sacks, a total many guards allow in just two or three seasons.

Yanda could have made his Hall of Fame case more elementary with another Pro Bowl season or two and maybe a second Super Bowl ring as the Ravens come off a 14-2 season led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, a thrilling young player the grizzled veteran enthusiastically embraced after having a close relationship with Flacco. Yes, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman easily could have held on for a few more years, but he never played for individual accolades, making the decision admirable as he still ranks as one of the game’s best at his position in his mid-30s. That’s a claim some of the absolute best players in Ravens history can’t make.

“It’s never been about me. I feel fortunate to be a part of this organization, to be drafted here, and the type of success we’ve had in all the games that I’ve been able to be a part of,” Yanda said in early January. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. The most important thing is our next opponent.”

In Yanda’s mind, it was time to walk away if he weren’t fully committed to “embrace the grind” for a 14th season. That journey will now go on without him, but the lessons instilled won’t be forgotten in the same way a 23-year-old Yanda learned what it meant to be a professional from Ogden in the last season of his Hall of Fame career.

For a player many barely noticed in the best possible way week after week and season after season, Yanda sure will be missed.

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Ravens to host Tennessee in divisional round next Saturday night

Posted on 05 January 2020 by Luke Jones

An old AFC Central rivalry will be renewed as the Ravens host Tennessee in the divisional round next Saturday night.

The No. 6 seed Titans upset Tom Brady and New England in a 20-13 win in Saturday’s wild-card round and will now travel to Baltimore for the fourth ever postseason meeting between the teams. Ravens coaches focused more on the Titans in their preliminary preparations during the bye week since Baltimore was already familiar with Houston and Buffalo after playing them in the second half of the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh and his staff will resume preparations for Tennessee on Sunday with players returning to the training facility in Owings Mills on Monday.

The teams last met in Nashville in Week 6 of the 2018 season, but much has changed since that 21-0 win for the Ravens that included a franchise-record 11 sacks and just two snaps played by Lamar Jackson. That day marked the final victory of Joe Flacco’s 11-year run as Baltimore’s starting quarterback with Jackson taking the reins a month later and never looking back as he’s become the NFL MVP favorite in his second season.

The Titans have also replaced their starting quarterback since then as former second overall pick Marcus Mariota was benched earlier this year in favor of veteran Ryan Tannehill, who surprisingly led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating in the regular season. Titans running back Derrick Henry led the league with 1,540 rushing yards this season and thrives on cutbacks off edge runs, a style that gave the Baltimore defense some problems this season.

Tennessee has emerged as the Cinderella team in the AFC after winning five of its last seven to qualify for the postseason and handing the Patriots their first loss in the wild-card round since the Ravens beat them in Foxborough in the 2009 postseason. However, former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have the unenviable task of preparing his Tennessee unit for its first look at a Jackson-led offense that broke the NFL’s single-season rushing record and became the first team to average 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in the same year.

The teams are tied 10-10 in the all-time regular-season series, but Baltimore holds a 2-1 edge in playoff meetings taking place in 2000, 2003, and 2008. Those were all postseason classics with the road team prevailing each time, but this will be the first in which the Ravens will be the overwhelming favorite after a 14-2 regular season that included 12 consecutive wins to give them the top seed in the AFC for the first time in their 24-year history.

The Ravens-Titans rivalry was fleeting due to divisional realignment in 2002, but it was every bit as bitter as what Ravens-Steelers would become, which should add more flavor to what already figured to be a very exciting week in Baltimore.

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I think………

Posted on 21 December 2019 by Dennis Koulatsos

I think……….

  • it’s great that the Ravens are currently navigating uncharted waters in franchise history, in full control of their destiny to secure the #1 seed in the playoffs
  • that Eric DeCosta is hands down NFL Executive of the Year. He struck gold once again in this year’s NFL draft and retooled the roster on the defensive side of the ball which elevated week’s four #26th ranked defense in the league to their current position at #6
  • Matt Judon has grown a lot on me this year. Prior to the start of the regular season I wasn’t sold on him, but his performance has been outstanding. He plays like a Raven, he’s never missed a game, and his best football is ahead of him. Sign the man!
  • I had an inkling that Mark Ingram was going to be great in the running backs room and a leader, but my goodness. He has exceeded all expectations on and off the field. He’s a veteran who plays with the enthusiasm of a rookie. What a combo!
  • Of all of the John Harbaugh haters – where ya at now? I’ve knocked the front office since 2013 for failing to draft play makers, and I’ve knocked the coach when I felt he mad bad decisions. But overall I’ve thought of him as a top 5 coach in this league, and I never felt that the Ravens should have moved away from him. Now that he has some talent to work with, it is clear just how talented he is
  • that the Ravens will be selecting the 32nd pick in the 2020 NFL draft. They are hands down the best team in the league and I would be surprised if they weren’t in Miami on February 2nd and don’t come away with the organization’s 3rd Super Bowl ring.
  • Lamar Jackson is a generational talent. He has the charisma of Muhammad Ali and the tenacity of Michael Jordan. They’re my 2 all-time favorite athletes and in his early stages of development he looks to me very much like a combination of both
  • I’m torn on Marcus Peters. He sat out his junior year of college because he got in a fight with the coaching staff at the University of Washington. Then he got traded by the Chiefs to the Rams and then to the Ravens. His talent is obvious but one can’t ignore the flags. Will the Ravens trust him enough to offer him a long term deal? Stay tuned…
  • Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey are cornerstone players, and the Ravens will be well served to extend their contracts sooner than later
  • The Ravens still need a WR1. How about AJ Green in a Ravens uniform next year? My gut says that will happen. AJ will want a ring or two or three to cap of a Hall of Fame career
  • Marshal Yanda is a first ballot Hall of Fame player. I can picture him in a gold jacket at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton. He’s been the most dominant offensive lineman over space and time about as far back as I can remember
  • Don’t think Michael Pierce will be wearing a Ravens uniform next year. He’ll ring the proverbial bell in the free agent market, and 5th round draft pick out of Texas A&M Daylon Mack should be ready to step into that same run stop role that Pierce will have vacated
  • that Tayvon Young will hopefully come back at full strength from the neck injury that ended his season to make the NFL’s stingiest secondary that much better. He’ll easily be the best cover slot DB on the team
  • the Ravens are a year ahead of schedule. I had their ceiling at 11 wins and their floor at 8, figuring they’d need a year to fully mature and develop, particularly as #8 figured things out. His MVP level play has obviously made the THE YEAR and the Ravens know they’ll need to take full advantage of it as many things can happen to close their window. But with that said, you’d have to like the amount of draft picks and available cap space for the 2020 season.
  • With the 32nd pick of the 2020 NFL draft the Ravens will draft the best player available. They’ve usually done that although at times it has looked that they’ve stretched into drafting for need. They can certainly take an interior offensive lineman, a rush end, a linebacker, a wide receiver or even a running back. They’ll identify 16 – 18 red star players and hope one of those is available at 32.
  • Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alassandris has been a difference maker. This line is virtually the same one that couldn’t keep Joe Flacco upright, but a year later looks like one of the best in the NFL. Matt Skura goes down with a season ending injury and Patrick Mekari steps in there without skipping a beat. A lot of that has to do with coaching folks
  • Ravens Nation will cheer if the Browns bring back Freddie Kitchens for another year. They should have kept him in his lane as offensive coordinator. Whatever “it” factor a head coach has, clearly he doesn’t have “it”
  • Mike Tomlin has done a good job but in no way should be coach of the year. The Steelers have feasted on a slew of poor teams, and they don’t have a quarterback. Credit GM Kevin Colbert for getting Minkah Fitzpatrick. But…the Steelers don’t have a 1st round draft pick in 2020. Don’t know who wins coach of the year at this point, but I have John Harbaugh ahead of Tomlin. Way ahead
  • don’t care if the Bengals draft Joe Burroughs. They’re one of the worst organizations in all of sports. Marvin Lewis kept them competitive for years with smoke, mirrors and a slew of red flag players. They’ll flash once in a while only due to the collection of high draft picks, but they’ll never be a consistent winner. Same with the Browns, who have only one playoff appearance in 25 years. Of course it was a loss

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New chapter upon us in old Ravens-Steelers rivalry

Posted on 04 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson wasn’t even born yet when the Ravens played the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time, reminding how long this rivalry has now existed.

It transformed from early Pittsburgh dominance to hostile nastiness to begrudging respect in quite possibly the NFL’s best rivalry over the last two decades. The annual meetings have become downright civil compared to the days of Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Hines Ward, Joey Porter, and so many others exchanging barbs off the field and violent hits on it.

If we’re being honest, the rivalry has aged in recent years with the 2016 Christmas Day game — a painful memory for Baltimore — being the most notable encounter. That’s not to say the games are any less competitive — 11 of the last 16 overall meetings have been decided by one score — but this year marks the first time since 2006 that neither Baltimore-Pittsburgh affair was scheduled for prime time if we’re including that nationally-televised Christmas meeting three years ago. Sunday’s encounter is the first time since 2013 these teams will meet in Pittsburgh for a run-of-the-mill afternoon game.

This AFC North rivalry inevitably cooled with the retirements of legends such as Lewis, Ward, Ed Reed, and Troy Polamalu, but this offseason brought the departures of Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell from their respective teams. Sunday will mark the first Ravens-Steelers game not including any of Suggs, Flacco, or Ben Roethlisberger — who’s out for the year with an elbow injury — since the final game of the 2002 season when Jeff Blake and Tommy Maddox were the quarterbacks and Todd Heap and Amos Zereoue were the standout performers of the day.

Only nine current Ravens were with the organization the last time these teams met in the playoffs five years ago, but one of them — outside linebacker Pernell McPhee in his second stint with Baltimore — offered what felt like a relic this week compared to the tame, respect-filled talk we’ve heard from both sides in recent years.

“We hate each other. I know for sure we hate them. We hate them,” said McPhee, who last played in a Ravens-Steelers game in the 2014 playoffs. “We respect them as men, but we really hate them.

“That’s just how it is. That’s the blood between the teams. It’s like God versus the Devil.”

Those words brought back plenty of fond memories, but the rivalry is now in need of a spark and a new chapter as much as each team could use a win with the Steelers trying to regroup from an 0-3 start and the Ravens aiming to snap their two-game losing streak. We’ve made mention of the “Bizarro” Ravens with a top-shelf offense and a bottom-10 defense so far, but the once-elite Steelers offense is suddenly counting on second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph to lead a group short on play-making ability with Bell now a New York Jet and Brown somewhere in his own little world.

This is when we come back to Jackson, who played a combined 22 snaps as a rookie in last season’s split against the Steelers. He’s rapidly become the face of the franchise since the last time Baltimore played Pittsburgh last November, Flacco’s final start as a Raven. Jackson’s comments on the rivalry and his first start at Heinz Field this week were both refreshing and a reminder of how much things have changed with the influx of youth on both sides.

“They play that little song (“Renegade”), and they wave their little flags and stuff with the little towels around,” Jackson said. “It was pretty dope. I enjoyed it. I did, I really did.”

Off to a terrific start to 2019 with 10 touchdown passes, a 109.4 passer rating, and a combined 1,348 yards through the air and on the ground, Jackson has his first real chance to make his mark against the Steelers after playing little more than a cameo role last season. With their defense reeling after giving up 73 points and 1,033 yards over the last two games, the Ravens need their 22-year-old quarterback to lead the way and give the Steelers fits for the first of what they hope will be many times in the coming years.

There’s no better candidate on either side to become the next star in Ravens-Steelers lore. Baltimore has the overwhelming advantage at the most important position on the field, but we’ve seen the likes of Charlie Batch and Ryan Mallett win games against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in this rivalry.

Nothing is guaranteed and you throw out the numbers for this one, but the Ravens need a win to get that “throw-up taste” out of their mouths from last week as McPhee described it. They can drop the Steelers to 1-4 and strengthen the notion of the AFC North being a two-team race with Cleveland. However, a Pittsburgh win gives Mike Tomlin’s team even more life and leaves us wondering if the Ravens are all that good at all.

Even if the rivalry isn’t what it used to be — at least for now — it’s time for Jackson and so many others stepping into larger roles on both sides of the ball to find out what Ravens-Steelers is all about.

“They’re becoming Ravens,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “One of the things that was said in the meeting [Wednesday] is, ‘You’re not a Raven until you beat the Steelers.’ Well, we have some young guys that still need to beat the Steelers.”

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens begin their 2019 season where they dream it will culminate five months from now.

Miami will host Super Bowl LIV in early February, but the rebuilding Dolphins first stand in the way of a 1-0 start Sunday. The opener is a homecoming for second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both grew up less than 30 miles away from Hard Rock Stadium. The Ravens hope Sunday will be the start of a special connection between the first-round talents in the years to come, but the two did not play together in any preseason games.

After helping lead the Ravens to a 6-1 finish and their first AFC North championship since 2012 as a rookie, Jackson will become the first quarterback not named Joe Flacco to start an opener for Baltimore since the late Steve McNair in 2007. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest quarterback to make a season-opening start for the Ravens with only Kyle Boller being younger back in 2003.

As expected, Brown is active and will make his NFL debut after spending much of the offseason recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed the Oklahoma product “full-go” physically at the beginning of the week, but Brown was added to the injury report Thursday and missed Friday’s practice, a reminder that the condition of his foot remains a factor.

Despite not playing in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb, Robert Griffin III is active and will serve as the backup quarterback a day after his wife gave birth to their daughter. Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley is inactive.

Third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson headlines the list of remaining inactives for Week 1. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was complimentary of Ferguson’s late-summer improvement earlier this week, but he is fifth in the pecking order at the edge rusher position and has yet to carve out a role on special teams, making his deactivation less surprising.

The Ravens also deactivated rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack, leaving them lighter in the trenches despite the Miami heat. That will be a real factor to watch over the course of the afternoon with just four true defensive linemen — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and part-time fullback Patrick Ricard — active.

With Bradley Bozeman expected to start at left guard after working with the starters throughout the week and in the latter stages of the preseason, rookie guard Ben Powers and second-year offensive tackle Greg Senat were healthy scratches. Baltimore will go into Week 1 with veteran James Hurst and rookie Patrick Mekari as backups who’ve shown more versatility.

Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (hip) and safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) are active despite being limited in practices throughout the week.

Sunday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Miami calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 90 degrees at kickoff with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. However, it will feel like it’s over 100 degrees on the field Sunday afternoon, a factor to watch over the course of the game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Miami dons white jerseys and white pants at home for Week 1.

Sunday marks the sixth time in the last seven years that the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-6 lead in the all-time regular-season series. Including the postseason, Harbaugh is 7-1 against Miami.

The Ravens are aiming for their fourth straight season-opening win and are 8-3 in openers under Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
OT Greg Senat
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

MIAMI
CB Ken Webster
Rb Myles Gaskin
RB Patrick Laird
G Shaq Calhoun
OL Chris Reed
OT Isaiah Prince
LB Trent Harris

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Let the great Lamar Jackson experiment begin in Miami

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like Lamar Jackson.

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts 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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Jackson looking comfortable, consistent in early days of Ravens camp

Posted on 28 July 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens quarterback Griffin out indefinitely with thumb injury

Posted on 27 July 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens suffered their first notable injury of training camp when backup quarterback Robert Griffin III hurt his right thumb in the final minutes of Saturday’s practice.

The 29-year-old hit his hand on outside linebacker Tim Williams’ helmet after throwing a pass and went to the locker room before the conclusion of the workout at M&T Bank Stadium. Griffin would not disclose the nature of the thumb injury after undergoing an X-ray, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported he could miss four to eight weeks with a hairline fracture, leaving his availability for the Sept. 8 season opener in Miami in question.

Griffin appeared distraught upon returning to the field after practice, but he was able to sign a few autographs for fans before talking to reporters.

“I can’t tell you guys anything. It’s not my job. I’ve got to let the team tell you,” said Griffin, whose once-promising career with Washington was derailed by injuries. “I was having a great camp, feel good, so I’m real excited about what we’re going to be able to do this year.”

The injury likely leaves the Ravens needing to sign another quarterback as rookie sixth-round pick Trace McSorley is the only healthy option behind starter Lamar Jackson on the 90-man roster. Griffin signed a two-year, $4 million contract in March to remain with the Ravens after revitalizing his NFL career as a reserve last season. He attempted only six passes in limited action after sitting out the entire 2017 season, but the 2012 first-round pick served as Jackson’s backup for four games when former Ravens starter Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury in early November.

With Flacco being traded to Denver in March, the Ravens prioritized keeping Griffin as the backup and mentor to the 22-year-old Jackson, who expressed concern for his veteran teammate after practice.

“We’ll see what happened with that. Everybody say a prayer,” head coach John Harbaugh said after practice. “I don’t think it’s bad, but say a prayer on that one.”

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