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Skura trying to build on Week 1 with rest of Ravens offensive line

Posted on 17 September 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens center Matt Skura was excited to be back in action for the first time since sustaining a serious knee injury less than 10 months ago, but he and the offensive line expected more from themselves in the aftermath of a 38-6 win over Cleveland.

The final score surprisingly wasn’t indicative of an uneven performance up front as Baltimore ran for a rather ordinary 111 yards on 30 carries, its lowest single-game total since the 2018 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. And though Lamar Jackson had an all-world, MVP-caliber day with three touchdown passes, an 80-percent completion percentage, and a 152.1 passer rating, Cleveland pressured him on 30 percentage of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference.

Maintaining he’s “really close” to being 100 percent and that his surgically-repaired left knee “feels great,” Skura and the rest of the offensive line know they need to be better moving forward. It also reflects high expectations after last season when the Ravens ran for an NFL single-season record 3,296 yards and averaged a league-leading and franchise-record 33.2 points per game.

“Even though we didn’t have our best game as an offensive line and just me personally, it’s definitely good to just know that there’s so many more things that we can improve on,” Skura said. “And if we — including myself — clean up the little things, I think the game would’ve gone even further and we could’ve scored more points. That’s definitely encouraging.

“Just knowing that we can improve on those little technique things here and there, it was a good start. We didn’t have any preseason games to get those kinds of things out of the way.”

The Ravens next travel to Houston to take on a defense that gave up 166 rushing yards and nearly 5.0 yards per carry against a Kansas City rushing attack led by rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Week 1. The Texans are trying to fill the void left by the free-agent departure of standout defensive tackle D.J. Reader, making the interior an area the Ravens could try to exploit.

That’s also where the Ravens offensive line struggled the most in the opener with Skura and rookie right guard Tyre Phillips both having some difficulties.

“We have high standards, obviously,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “I thought [the running game] was very effective in getting done what we wanted to get done in certain areas, and then there are things we have to clean up. The next day, everybody was getting back to work on cleaning those things up, and it’s just something that we are going to try to get better and better at every week.”

Roman’s nightmare

Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt has missed the last two meetings between the Ravens and Texans due to injury, but Roman described him as falling into the “nightmare category.”

In fact, the Baltimore coordinator even compares the 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive end to Jackson with the way he manages to avoid high-impact contact.

“He just knows how to defeat blocks and he does it in a very unique way,” Roman said. “Some people that would try to do that would absolutely end disastrously, but he’s got the balance, the quickness to be able to set up the offensive lineman or the blocker and then show them one thing and give them something else, but still be productive on the play. He has really good instinct on when to take those chances and understands angles in real time.

“It’s hard to get a really, really crushing block on him because he’s a very slippery but powerful player — very unique combination.”

Of course, with the 31-year-old Watt having missed 32 games from 2016-19, it’s fair to wonder if that sterling reputation is more reality or nostalgia at this point.

Proche A-OK

Rookie wide receiver James Proche drew criticism for allowing the first punt sent his way to bounce at the 18 and roll all the way to his own 1 in the second quarter of the Browns win, but special teams coordinator Chris Horton had a different outlook.

“From the outside, we look at it as an error. From the inside, we look at it as we gave our offense the ball back,” Horton said. “Our offense got possession of the football. James understands also that we like to catch every ball we possibly can. But looking at that punt, him being the punt returner, it’s his first opportunity to catch one, [and] he didn’t like the way it was coming down. I thought he made a great decision.”

Speaking positively about a rookie is wise, but Horton may have been singing a different tune had the Ravens been stuffed for a safety or committed a turnover so deep in their own territory on the ensuing drive.

Proche returned two other punts for 26 yards in his first career game.

Thursday’s injury report

After missing Wednesday’s practice with respective hip ailments, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Jimmy Smith were limited participants.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger) and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) remained absent and appear very likely to miss their second straight game. Running back Justice Hill (thigh) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day after missing the season opener.

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury),
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Justice Hill (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (hip), OT Ronnie Stanley (hip)

HOUSTON
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (quad), OT Tytus Howard (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), ILB Peter Kalambayi (hamstring), DE J.J. Watt (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: FB Cullen Gillaspia (hamstring), OLB Jonathan Greenard (ankle)

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Stanley, Smith absent from Wednesday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 16 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley left the season opener with an ankle injury early in the second half, but it was another ailment that kept him sidelined for Wednesday’s practice.

The 2019 Pro Bowl selection was listed as having a hip issue on the official injury report while Baltimore ramped up preparation for its Week 2 trip to Houston. On Monday, head coach John Harbaugh had anticipated Stanley being on the field for the first practice of the week, but that was when his ankle was believed to be his only health concern.

“I haven’t been told anything serious,” said Harbaugh about Stanley’s left ankle injury that occurred on the opening drive of the second half of the 38-6 win over Cleveland. “They’re working on him down in the training room. I’d say Wednesday we’ll have a pretty good idea. But I expect him to be out there practicing Wednesday. That’s my expectation at this point.”

With Stanley sidelined, the Ravens turned to veteran D.J. Fluker at left tackle for the final 24 offensive snaps of the Browns game.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was also absent from Wednesday’s practice with what was listed as a hip injury. Though he ultimately played 24 snaps in Week 1, the 32-year-old defensive back was a Sunday morning addition to the injury report and given a questionable designation because of back spasms.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee), and defensive end Calais Campbell (veteran day) were also missing from the workout, but running back Justice Hill (thigh) returned to practice as a limited participant after missing the season opener.

Having placed rookie inside linebacker Kristian Welch on practice squad injured reserve, the Ravens signed veteran tight end Xavier Grimble to their 16-man practice squad. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Grimble was released by Indianapolis earlier this month after spending the previous four seasons with Pittsburgh. In 47 career games with the Steelers, the 27-year-old made 23 receptions for 239 yards and three touchdowns.

Benefiting from some extra rest since their season-opening loss to Kansas City last Thursday, the Texans had their entire 53-man roster on the practice field, but five-time Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt (hip), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (quadriceps), right tackle Tytus Howard (ankle), and running back Duke Johnson (ankle) were all limited participants. Watt did not play in last November’s meeting between these teams, a 41-7 blowout win for Baltimore.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Calais Campbell (non-injury), DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), CB Jimmy Smith (hip), OT Ronnie Stanley (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Justice Hill (thigh)

HOUSTON
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (quad), OT Tytus Howard (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), DE J.J. Watt (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: FB Cullen Gillaspia (hamstring), OLB Jonathan Greenard (ankle)

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 13 September 2020 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A new season brought an all-too-familiar concern for the Ravens as veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith was added to the injury report with back spasms on Sunday morning.

However, the 32-year-old Smith was still activated to play against Cleveland after coming out of the locker room two hours prior to kickoff to stretch, go through agility work, and engage in a brief discussion with defensive coaches. Transitioning to a hybrid defensive role in sub packages this season, Smith is expected to play a big part in helping slow down tight ends Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant in the Browns’ revamped offense under new head coach Kevin Stefanski.

As anticipated after logging a full practice on Friday, rookie Tyre Phillips (ankle) is active and will start at right guard to replace the retired Marshal Yanda, a daunting task for the third-round pick out of Mississippi State. After not even being on the injury report this week, veteran Matt Skura will indeed start at center less than 10 months after sustaining a serious knee injury in Week 12 of the 2019 season, an admirable accomplishment for the fourth-year lineman.

After being elevated from the practice squad, veteran safety Jordan Richards is active and expected to be a regular on special teams. He doesn’t count against the 53-man roster and can be returned to the practice squad on Monday.

Baltimore ruled out wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), running back Justice Hill (thigh), and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) on Friday, and there were no other surprises among the remaining inactives.

After ruling out cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson and outside linebacker Mack Wilson on Friday, the Browns will have the services of starting center JC Tretter, who only returned to practice this week after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in August.

Sunday’s referee is Ronald Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching 80 degrees with calm winds and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with purple pants while Cleveland dons brown tops with white pants for the season opener.

Sunday marks the 43rd all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with the Ravens enjoying a major 31-11 advantage. Baltimore is 20-4 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era, but the teams have split the season series in each of the last two seasons.

The Ravens are trying to win their fifth consecutive Week 1 game and are 9-3 in season openers under Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Chris Moore
S Geno Stone
RB Justice Hill
G Ben Bredeson
DT Justin Madubuike

CLEVELAND
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
CB Greedy Williams
CB Kevin Johnson
LB Mack Wilson
OT Chris Hubbard
DE Joe Jackson

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justicehill

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Ravens rule out three, list Phillips as questionable for 2020 opener

Posted on 11 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have ruled out three players and listed a potential rookie starter as questionable for the 2020 season opener against Cleveland on Sunday.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), running back Justice Hill (thigh), and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) won’t play in Week 1 after missing the entire week of practice with injuries sustained during training camp. One of Baltimore’s better special teams contributors, Moore hasn’t practiced since breaking a finger the week before the start of full-team workouts in mid-August. Hill, listed as the top kick returner on the unofficial depth chart, has had two different injury stints since the start of open training camp.

“Chris is a very experienced special teams player, but he hasn’t been with us for a couple weeks,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We knew we were going to have to adapt to him not being there this week, and we’ll see for next week. But it does open the door for some younger guys. The same thing with Justice.”

With Moore and Hill both out, the Ravens could elevate veteran safety Jordan Richards from the practice squad to help out on special teams for Sunday. Teams are now permitted to elevate up to two players from the practice squad to play in games without having to place them on the 53-man roster.

Friday brought good news for rookie offensive lineman Tyre Phillips, who was a full practice participant after sitting out Thursday with an ankle injury. The third-round pick from Mississippi State is officially listed as questionable for Week 1 and is believed to be the favorite to start at right guard, the position previously held by the retired Marshal Yanda. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound Phillips had a strong finish to training camp after veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker entered the summer as the favorite at right guard.

Meanwhile, the Browns are in worse shape from an injury standpoint as two of their top three cornerbacks — Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson — and starting outside linebacker Mack Wilson were officially declared out on Friday. Cleveland listed starting center JC Tretter as questionable after he practiced all week on a limited basis in his return from August knee surgery.

Asked about Sunday’s national anthem in the wake of how Houston and Kansas City handled the pre-game on Thursday, Harbaugh said his team will be on the field for the anthem with players electing whether to be “standing or kneeling or clasping or whatever guys choose to do.” The organization collaborated to come to that consensus, and owner Steve Bisciotti recently met with the player leadership committee to share plans for the organization’s social justice and racial equality initiatives.

“We’re just choosing to let everyone do what they choose to do,” said safety Chuck Clark about players’ plans for the anthem. “We all come from different backgrounds. A lot of us have different experiences. Some of us, we can’t relate to what others have been through, so we’re letting every guy do what they choose to do on their own. And we all respect that and understand that. Just as a family, we respect what everyone does, so we’re allowing guys to do what they choose to do and we’re not making anyone do anything they don’t want to do.”

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 80s with a 20 percent chance of a thunderstorm and winds five to 10 miles per hour.

The Ravens also put together this wonderful tribute to the late Mo Gaba, the 14-year-old Baltimore superfan who died of cancer in late July:

Below is the final injury report for Week 1:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Justice Hill (thigh), DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger),
QUESTIONABLE: G Tyre Phillips (ankle)

CLEVELAND
OUT: OT Chris Hubbard (ankle), CB Kevin Johnson (liver), CB Greedy Williams (shoulder), LB Mack Wilson (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB M.J. Stewart Jr. (hamstring), C JC Tretter (knee)

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New injury adds another wrinkle to Ravens’ right guard situation

Posted on 10 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A new injury added another wrinkle to the Ravens’ right guard competition just days before Sunday’s season opener against Cleveland.

Rookie third-round pick Tyre Phillips was absent with what was listed as an ankle injury on Thursday. The Mississippi State product emerged as the potential favorite to start at right guard late in training camp, but his addition to the injury report further clouds the decision as to who might assume Marshal Yanda’s old spot on the offensive line.

Veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker began the summer as the favorite at right guard, but Baltimore may also consider a younger option such as Patrick Mekari, who worked extensively at center during camp as Matt Skura continued to work his way back to full strength from a serious knee injury. Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week he wouldn’t announce his starting offensive line for Week 1 prior to Sunday’s game.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), running back Justice Hill (thigh), and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) remained absent from practice, further decreasing the likelihood of their availability against the Browns.

There were no changes to Cleveland’s injury report from Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Justice Hill (thigh), DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), G Tyre Phillips (ankle)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Chris Hubbard (ankle), CB Kevin Johnson (liver), CB Greedy Williams (shoulder), LB Mack Wilson (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB M.J. Stewart Jr. (hamstring), C JC Tretter (knee)

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Three players not practicing as Ravens prepare for season opener

Posted on 09 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are largely healthy for Sunday’s season opener against Cleveland with only three reserve players missing Wednesday’s practice.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee), and running back Justice Hill (knee) were absent and may not be available to play against the Browns in Week 1. Moore, one of Baltimore’s best special teams players, missed all of full-squad training camp after sustaining a broken finger in August while Madubuike, a third-round rookie out of Texas A&M, hasn’t practiced since suffering a knee injury in the Aug. 29 scrimmage at M&T Bank Stadium. This is Hill’s second extended absence due to injury since the start of open summer workouts, leaving his status in doubt since he’s already considered to be fourth in the pecking order at the crowded running back position.

Starting right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was missing from the field for a portion of Wednesday’s practice open to the media, but he wasn’t listed on the official injury report.

The Ravens protected outside linebacker Aaron Adeoye, offensive linemen Trystan Colon-Castillo and Will Holden, and long snapper Nick Moore on their practice squad this week, a new feature preventing them from being signed to another team’s 53-man roster through Sunday’s game. The decision to protect Moore, a 27-year-old signed in March after previously playing in the XFL, raised a few eyebrows on Tuesday, but longtime long snapper Morgan Cox was practicing as usual on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Cleveland was without starting cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder), starting outside, Mack Wilson (knee), and nickel back Kevin Johnson (liver) for Wednesday’s workout. Starting center JC Tretter was a limited participant and hopes to play after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August and missing all of full-squad training camp.

New Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski still won’t reveal whether he or offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the offensive plays against the Ravens on Sunday, acknowledging some gamesmanship with an AFC North rival. Baltimore is 20-4 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era, but the teams have split the season series in each of the last two years.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Justice Hill (thigh), DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Chris Hubbard (ankle), CB Kevin Johnson (liver), CB Greedy Williams (shoulder), LB Mack Wilson (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB M.J. Stewart Jr. (hamstring), C JC Tretter (knee)

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass the ball in the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Breaking down the 2020 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 05 September 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta will continue to explore other tweaks to the roster with a move or two certainly plausible before the Sept. 13 opener against Cleveland, but below is a breakdown of the initial 53-man roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3) — Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
Analysis: Despite an uneven summer performance, McSorley held off promising rookie free agent Tyler Huntley for the No. 3 job with a year of experience in Greg Roman’s offense likely playing a big part in the decision. The 2019 sixth-round pick was also less likely to pass through waivers to make it to the practice squad compared to an undrafted rookie without any preseason tape for other teams to evaluate, the same reality likely contributing to the Ravens not keeping a single rookie free agent on their initial roster. Barring a move in the coming days, this will mark the first time since 2003 that Baltimore will not have an undrafted rookie on its Week 1 roster.

RUNNING BACKS (4) — Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
Analysis: How the carries will be distributed in this group will be fascinating to watch, but all four making the roster was a foregone conclusion. After battling injuries, Hill appears to be a distant fourth in the pecking order for offensive touches, but he remains in the mix to be the kick returner if he’s healthy. Dobbins remains the biggest wild card here after impressing throughout his first camp.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Chris Moore
Analysis: Many wondered if Moore might be on the bubble after missing training camp with a broken finger, but head coach John Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Chris Horton are big fans of his ability on special teams, leading you to believe his spot was never in real danger. The Ravens are expecting a breakout year from Brown and growth from Boykin in their second season, but how long Snead is able to hold off the rookies Duvernay and Proche for playing time will be interesting.

TIGHT ENDS/FULLBACKS (3) — Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: The competition to replace Hayden Hurst never materialized due to injuries and uninspiring performance, leaving just two true tight ends on the current roster. Even if the Ravens use tight ends less often than the 42 percent of plays at least two were deployed last year (SharpFootballStats.com), you’d expect a third option to join the mix at some point. Ricard can share in some of the blocking responsibilities, but a fullback just shy of 300 pounds just isn’t going to do what Hurst did in last year’s offense. A healthy Andrews is expected to assume a sizable portion of Hurst’s 457 snaps.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9) — Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, Patrick Mekari, D.J. Fluker, Tyre Phillips, Ben Bredeson, Ben Powers
Analysis: The battle for Marshal Yanda’s old right guard job appears to be down to the veteran Fluker and the third-round rookie Phillips, who really came on late in training camp. The absence of another swing tackle on the roster could mean Fluker will fill that role with Phillips starting. Many predicted Powers, a 2019 fourth-round selection who appeared in only one game as a rookie, would be on the outside looking in after a disappointing summer, but the Ravens rarely give up on mid-round picks quickly and the Oklahoma product would have likely been a popular waiver claim.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6) — Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington
Analysis: The 29-year-old Ellis ended any discussion about him being on the bubble with a strong camp, a reality only confirmed when Madubuike suffered a knee injury last weekend that puts his status for the start of the season in question. Washington, a fifth-round rookie from Texas Tech, was quiet in his first camp, but he may need to step up in the rotation for the short term. The three starters — Campbell, Williams, and Wolfe — are all on the wrong side of 30, but the Ravens haven’t had a starting defensive line of this potential for quite a long time.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Patrick Queen, L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, Otaro Alaka
Analysis: Keeping five inside linebackers for a defense that used at least six defensive backs 41 percent of the time last season (Football Outsiders) seems unusual, but it speaks to the potential of a young group and how much they’re expected to be used on special teams. Expectations are high for Queen as a first-round pick and instant starter, but Fort and Board made strong claims for defensive roles while Harrison gets better acclimated in his rookie season. Alaka figures to be more of a factor on special teams if active on Sundays, but DeCosta and Harbaugh both spoke of his potential this offseason.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Jihad Ward
Analysis: Speculation about Jadeveon Clowney won’t go away until the three-time Pro Bowl selection signs somewhere, but there were no surprises with this group. Expectations and motivation are high for Judon after he received the franchise tag, but the Ravens need to see growth from Ferguson since he’s the only one of the group under contract beyond 2020. Each of these players has his strengths and weaknesses, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale figures to again rely heavily on the blitz to pressure quarterbacks, which you can do with a dynamite secondary.

CORNERBACKS (5) — Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett
Analysis: An improved Averett was never seriously challenged for the No. 5 corner job, but what stands out about this position group beyond its obvious talent is the versatility with Humphrey showing the ability to thrive inside at the nickel spot last year and Smith cross-training as a safety and a nickel this summer. This is a critical campaign for Young after missing two full seasons in the last three years because of injuries, but his toughness at the nickel could help this group reach an even higher level, which is a scary thought for opposing offenses.

SAFETIES (4) — Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine, Geno Stone
Analysis: The ugly dismissal of seven-time Pro Bowl selection Earl Thomas last month drastically changed the dynamics of this group, but the Ravens appear very confident in Elliott stepping into a starting role and Smith remains an in-house option as well. A seventh-round rookie from Iowa, Stone was challenged by undrafted rookie Nigel Warrior for a roster spot, but the draft pick ultimately prevailed in that competition. Jordan Richards was the most notable incumbent Raven to be released on cut-down day, but his special-teams ability could easily lead him back to the roster.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its ninth consecutive season together, a remarkable and rare example of continuity that could be more important than ever in the midst of this unprecedented season.

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jimmysmith

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at end of 2020 training camp

Posted on 04 September 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making moves to shape their initial 53-man roster by 4 p.m. on Saturday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s a bittersweet weekend as lifelong NFL dreams are fulfilled while others see their football journeys end abruptly. Once an undrafted rookie himself in 2017, Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard empathized with the rookie free agents in these “incredibly difficult” pandemic circumstances limiting their opportunities to really impress.

2. When the most discussed roster decisions are the third-string quarterback and a No. 3 tight end, it’s safe to say the championship-hopeful Ravens are loaded. The 16-man practice squad was introduced due to the pandemic, but Eric DeCosta will now be able to retain additional intriguing talents.

3. Lamar Jackson says he’s 100 percent from his recent groin injury and is ready for the season, adding that he’s “really tired of going against our guys.” Cleveland has seen Jackson before, of course, but facing him without having even a tuneup preseason game this summer? To quote Lucius Fox:

4. On the flip side, John Harbaugh acknowledges “a guessing game” trying to anticipate what the Browns will do under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. The preseason is bland from a play-calling standpoint, but you at least get a sense of system structure and how personnel might be used.

5. Jimmy Smith is embracing his new role as a Swiss army knife who could play inside or outside at cornerback or safety, adding that his new responsibilities require “not really that much of a learning curve.” His return after hitting a pandemic-stunted open market was welcomed.

6. The reporter’s question never mentioned Earl Thomas by name, but Smith offered this when asked what jettisoning a troubled player said about the team’s culture: “If you’re not part of us, we don’t really need you.” That pretty clearly shows where Thomas stood with his former teammates at the end.

7. Justice Hill showing up as absent for Friday’s practice after missing a week of practice to end August is a potentially concerning development. Given how crowded the backfield is with J.K. Dobbins’ arrival, I’m assuming training camp couldn’t have been more frustrating for Hill.

8. Whether it’s D.J. Fluker or ascending rookie Tyre Phillips, the winner of the competition will become the first Raven not named Marshal Yanda to start an opener at right guard since Chris Chester in 2010 — when Yanda played right tackle. Phillips was only 10 when Yanda was drafted in 2007.

9. Friday brought an interesting blast from the past as the Ravens worked out 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore. He last played in 2017 and added a bunch of weight that offseason to convert from tight end to the offensive line, but injuries derailed his career. He’s still only 28.

10. Asked Thursday if he would beat speedy rookie receiver Devin Duvernay in a race, Marquise Brown simply replied, “I don’t race for free.” That’s a young man who understands his worth.

11. Justin Tucker tried to downplay the lack of organic crowd noise for games, but he admitted it could be “uncomfortable in a sense” attempting a game-winning field goal in a usually raucous road environment like Heinz Field. For reference, the Ravens play at Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.

12. Given the reduced capacities at which a handful of teams are hosting fans, we should put to rest silly complaints about any competitive disadvantage. Several thousands fans spaced out in a massive stadium seem unlikely to eclipse the pre-recorded crowd noise set at 70 decibels for empty venues.

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decostaharbaugh

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Predicting the initial 53-man roster for the 2020 Ravens

Posted on 03 September 2020 by Luke Jones

Only two weeks of open training camp practices and the absence of preseason games make the exercise of predicting the Ravens’ initial 53-man roster more challenging than ever despite so much continuity from last season.

With no shortage of unknowns that coaches and team officials aren’t exactly eager to discuss and the COVID-19 pandemic looming over the 2020 season, Saturday’s 4 p.m. cut-down deadline could bring a surprise move or two as well as an altered roster-building strategy with virus testing results threatening to disrupt the season at any point. The practice squad has expanded to 16 players with six spots open to veterans of all experience levels, meaning teams could be more strategic than ever trying to keep familiar players in the fold. On the flip side, organizations may be more reluctant to claim unproven players off waivers without as much as a single 2020 preseason snap to evaluate.

“Being on the practice squad this year, in my mind, is like making the team,” head coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week. “I think most teams are going to really want to hold on to their guys for their practice squad because they know the system. They’re kind of schooled up now on the offense and defense. You have to assume that there’s a possibility that those guys will be playing any given week.”

It’s also worth noting that teams may protect four players from their practice squad for a portion of every game week and are permitted to promote up to two players from the practice squad the day before a game to essentially create a temporary 55-man roster. Beginning this year, teams may have up to 48 players active for games — the previous limit was 46 — as long as at least eight are offensive linemen.

These dynamics could lead to Eric DeCosta and other general managers retaining more draft picks and veteran role players with higher profiles around the league and cutting more undrafted rookies — including even the ones they like most — in hopes of passing them through waivers and re-signing them to the practice squad. Such a strategy would be notable with the Ravens having kept at least one rookie free agent on their Week 1 roster for 16 consecutive years.

Below is my final projection of the initial 53-man roster ahead of the 2020 regular season:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Tyler Huntley
OUT: Trace McSorley
Skinny: Going solely off the eyeball test from practices open to reporters, Huntley has outplayed McSorley and deserves the No. 3 job. However, the Ravens didn’t want to expose McSorley as a sixth-round rookie to waivers last summer and presumably want to keep both in the organization. Is another quarterback-light team more likely to claim McSorley — who flashed in preseason games last year — or an undrafted free agent without a single snap of preseason tape?  There’s also the question of their respective understandings of Greg Roman’s offense with McSorley having the extra year under his belt. Earlier this week, Harbaugh noted the four quarterbacks are “all in different places right now in their development.” With that in mind, my prediction could change here by Saturday afternoon.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
OUT: Kenjon Barner, Ty’Son Williams
Skinny: Missing a portion of summer workouts with an undisclosed injury, Hill is currently a distant fourth in the pecking order, which is a precarious place to be in the event of injuries and roster needs at other positions. However, the 2019 fourth-round pick could be in the kick return mix and is valuable depth for a team that runs the ball more than anyone. In the same way Dobbins was drafted in the second round with an eye toward the future, Hill may have a more prominent role in 2021 and beyond, but he’ll need to be a special-teams contributor to be active on game days. Signed only last week, Williams flashed in last weekend’s scrimmage and could land on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Chris Moore
OUT: Jaleel Scott, Jaylon Moore
Skinny: Even after missing all of open training camp with a broken finger, Chris Moore is one of Baltimore’s best special-teams players and still figures to have a roster spot for the regular season. Scott, a 2018 fourth-round pick, just hasn’t shown enough growth in his third summer to make the 53-man roster, but Jaylon Moore, a rookie free agent from Tennessee-Martin, could be a solid developmental addition to the practice squad after making some tough catches in practices.

TIGHT ENDS & FULLBACKS (3)
IN: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Jerell Adams, Eli Wolf, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Ricard is a Pro Bowl fullback and not a permanent answer behind Andrews and Boyle, but the No. 3 tight end competition never really materialized this summer. Adams has the most experience of the three projected to be on the outside looking in and could be re-signed at any point, but there’s little incentive keeping an underwhelming third option if you can retain another player at a different position for the time being while exploring outside alternatives. Wolf showed some skill in the little bit of time he was on the practice field, but availability has been an issue for the undrafted rookie, making the practice squad a logical place for him.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, Patrick Mekari, D.J. Fluker, Tyre Phillips, Ben Bredeson, Ben Powers
OUT: Will Holden, Parker Ehinger, Trystan Colon-Castillo
Skinny: Skura’s health could determine whether the Ravens keep him on the roster or place him on injured reserve with a designation to return requiring only a three-game absence this year. Powers, a 2019 fourth-round pick from Oklahoma, has been a popular choice to be cut after an underwhelming summer, but the Ravens prefer not to give up on draft picks too quickly and he’s much more likely to be snatched up by another team than the three linemen left out here. Phillips, a third-round rookie from Mississippi State, has built late momentum to start at right guard, which could leave the veteran Fluker as a versatile inside-outside backup. Ideally, you’d like to have a swing tackle to back up both Stanley and Brown, but neither Holden nor Ehinger showed enough to devote a roster spot there as the Ravens will instead lean on the versatility of their interior linemen.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
IN: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington
OUT: Aaron Crawford
Skinny: The week-to-week knee injury to Madubuike — another conceivable IR return candidate — eliminates any perceived doubt about Ellis, who has had a good summer and is the primary backup to Williams at nose tackle. The additions of Campbell and Wolfe dramatically upgraded the starting defensive line, but there isn’t a ton of depth here with the rookie fifth-round pick Washington having a quiet camp. The good news is that the Ravens spend very little time in their traditional 3-4 base defense, so there isn’t the need for as many traditional defensive linemen active for games.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
IN: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort, Chris Board
OUT: Otaro Alaka, Kristian Welch
Skinny: No one in this group improved his roster standing as much as Board, who went from the roster bubble to potentially being in the defensive mix in sub packages. Alaka still shows potential, but trying to keep five inside linebackers is difficult when acknowledging how much dime package defensive coordinator Wink Martindale likes to play. Both Alaka and Welch, an undrafted rookie from Iowa who’s had a solid camp, figure to be good candidates for the practice squad, giving the Ravens additional developmental depth at a position that’s undergone great change since last year.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, Tyus Bowser
OUT: Aaron Adeoye, Chauncey Rivers, Marcus Willoughby
Skinny: Despite the never-ending discussion about the Baltimore pass rush, there’s little to say here from a roster standpoint with the top five seemingly set. McPhee and Ward both have the ability to move inside in certain sub packages, which should quell some of the short-term depth concerns on the defensive line. Keeping an edge rusher or two on the practice squad is a good bet with Judon, McPhee, Ward, and Bowser all scheduled to become free agents after this season.

CORNERBACKS (5)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett
OUT: Terrell Bonds, Khalil Dorsey, Josh Nurse
Skinny: The three young corners may not have seriously challenged an improved Averett for the No. 5 spot, but their quality of play was impressive compared to past summers when the Ravens would struggle to identify a couple passable depth options out of a group of veteran retreads and camp bodies. Some combination of Bonds, Dorsey, and Nurse should be on the practice squad.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards, Nigel Warrior
OUT: Geno Stone
Skinny: The Earl Thomas saga allows the Ravens to keep Richards, a veteran special-teams player who won’t offer much on defense. The interesting decision could come down to retaining Stone or Warrior. Stone, a seventh-round rookie from Iowa, had a fairly quiet camp while Warrior, a rookie free agent from Tennessee, has turned some heads with his nose for the football. That said, both young safeties would probably pass through waivers and make it to the practice squad, so there’s no guarantee that either makes the roster, especially with Smith looking good cross-training as a safety this summer.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Johnny Townsend, Nick Moore
Skinny: As usual, there’s nothing to see here with the continuity provided by this trio being more valuable than ever in such an unusual 2020 campaign.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to final roster cuts

Posted on 31 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens needing to trim their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Saturday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The preseason opener usually comes two weeks after the first full-squad practice, but we’re instead days away from final cuts and less than two weeks from Week 1 against Cleveland. Continuity gives the Ravens a major advantage over much of the league, but the timing remains so weird.

2. The practice squad is usually all about developmental talent, but the NFL extending the capacity to 16 players with six spots having no limit for accrued seasons means we could see more fringe veterans to account for potential COVID-19 outbreaks. I’m curious to see Eric DeCosta’s approach.

3. Greg Roman said coaches have begun pondering the impact of diminished crowd noise on in-game communication such as huddling or audibles at the line. My guess is it won’t be dramatic due to the plan for artificial ambient crowd noise, but it’s strange thinking about home-field advantage being neutralized.

4. Wink Martindale made clear he wants DeShon Elliott to play to his responsibilities and not try to do too much at safety. Something to watch will be his angles to the football, which has been a point of emphasis for a talented youngster with limited NFL playing experience.

5. We’ve talked much about Jimmy Smith, but his play feels like a big key in the secondary being special as opposed to merely really good. In addition to backing up Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, his ability to move around in sub packages could create headaches for opponents.

6. Without an established swing tackle, the offensive line may elect to shuffle multiple spots if there’s an injury to Ronnie Stanley or Orlando Brown Jr. The Ravens have made that strategy work before with guys like Michael Oher, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda, but you’d rather not do that.

7. An early injury has led to a quiet camp for Jaylon Ferguson, but Martindale said it’s a matter of “getting him greased back up.” Like Smith, the 2019 third-round pick seems to be another determining factor in the defense’s ability to hit an elite level.

8. The number of times Lamar Jackson will run remains a popular question, so Roman offered this: “That’s just something that we can have available every week. Do a little bit more of it this week, a little less of it the next week.” It’s the straw that stirs the drink.

9. Chris Moore has missed all of open training camp with a broken finger, but special teams coordinator Chris Horton says he doesn’t “have any reservations about where Chris is when the time is right and he’s ready to play.” That’s a strong endorsement even if Moore isn’t a roster lock.

10. Justice Hill returned to practice Monday and remains a candidate to return kicks, but he feels like a distant fourth behind Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards. Even in this offense, being the No. 4 running back is a tenuous spot if injuries mount elsewhere early in the season.

11. I’m sure continuing a streak of 16 straight years with at least one rookie free agent making the 53-man roster is important to the organization, but keeping as much game-ready depth as possible should be prioritized with the pandemic. Quarterback Tyler Huntley may be the strongest bet right now.

12. After making three trades in August last year, DeCosta has yet to pull off a swap this summer. Seeing one between now and Sept. 13 wouldn’t surprise me, especially if the Ravens can add offensive tackle depth, another tight end, or an edge rusher at a reasonable cost.

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