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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of 2019 season

Posted on 03 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens hold out Marquise Brown two days after ramping up practice activity

Posted on 12 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just as the Ravens finally ramped up wide receiver Marquise Brown’s practice activity, the rookie first-round pick was nowhere to be found Monday.

The 25th overall pick in April’s draft wasn’t on the field for the morning workout after taking his first full-team reps Saturday and Sunday. Recovering from January surgery that repaired a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, Brown had missed spring workouts and the first five full-squad practices of training camp before making his summer debut on July 31. The Oklahoma product took part only in individual position work in his first six practices and didn’t play in the preseason opener before finally participating in 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven drills over the weekend.

Brown saw roughly a dozen snaps split between the first- and second-team offenses Saturday, making five catches and dropping one pass in an encouraging showing. However, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver appeared to take fewer reps the next day, making his full absence just three days before the second preseason game at least a little more concerning. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer much clarity when asked about Brown’s absence after practice.

“He’s recovering. All those kinds of things are just part of training camp,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to get into every single guy or why he’s here or why he’s not. We don’t have any serious injuries. It’s just part of our process.”

Brown was one of 11 players not suited up for the start of Monday’s workout, joining safety Earl Thomas, right guard Marshal Yanda, outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Mike Onuoha (wrist), wide receiver Seth Roberts, offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius, and cornerbacks Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, and Iman Marshall. Thomas and Yanda have received occasional veteran days off over the first 2 1/2 weeks of camp, but such treatment would be unlikely with the remaining absentees.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith left the field roughly 20 minutes into practice with “nothing serious,” according to Harbaugh. The 31-year-old veteran was not being accompanied by a trainer as he exited.

Linebacker Nicholas Grigsby practiced for the first time since missing the first preseason game.

New candidate at left guard

Much has been made about an underwhelming start to the competition for the starting left guard spot, but a new candidate has apparently entered the picture.

Rookie Patrick Mekari shared first-team reps with Jermaine Eluemunor Monday and has been regarded by members of the organization as an undrafted free agent to watch. Mekari, a 6-foot-4, 308-pound lineman from Cal-Berkeley, was slowed by a back injury in the spring and was briefly on the physically unable to perform list to begin training camp before being activated.

“We have kind of been working him up to this,” Harbaugh said. “He played well in the game. He had a good practice [Sunday]. Let’s see what he can do. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what training camp is for.”

Eluemunor was considered a slight favorite to win the job entering camp, but Harbaugh has been critical of his conditioning and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris labeled him a “work in progress” Sunday. The 6-foot-4, 335-pound lineman failed his conditioning test at the start of camp, which led to rookie Ben Powers taking most of the starter reps early on. Eluemunor has also drawn a number of pre-snap penalties in practices, drawing the ire of the coaching staff.

The 2017 fifth-round pick from Texas A&M appeared in 17 games and made three starts over his first two seasons, seeing his most extensive action as an injury replacement at right guard and left tackle.

“It’s going well,” said Eluemunor about his play early in camp and in the preseason opener. “It’s just little technique things I want to work on like dropping my pads, changing up my stance, really coming off the ball and hitting the defender, working on my hands better, and just getting a better feel for it. But it was a good start.”

Credit to go around for Vedvik

Harbaugh offered praise to former special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, special teams coach Chris Horton, and special teams assistant and kicking guru Randy Brown for their work in identifying and developing kicker Kaare Vedvik, who was traded to Minnesota for a 2020 fifth-round pick Sunday.

“It’s good to see it pay off, especially for Kaare,” Harbaugh said. “He was in here every single day, every day, the whole year. Everybody would go home. He would be in here working out and kicking. It’s good to see it pay off for him.”

Harbaugh also thanked owner Steve Bisciotti for keeping Vedvik “on the payroll” after the undrafted rookie was assaulted in East Baltimore at the end of last year’s preseason and spent the entire regular season on the non-football injury list.

The Ravens expect to add another kicker to share practice and preseason reps with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch.

Defense shines

The Ravens defense got the best of their offensive counterparts Monday as dime back Anthony Levine intercepted and returned a Lamar Jackson pass for a touchdown during an 11-on-11 drill and cornerback Marlon Humphrey picked off a Trace McSorley pass that deflected off Jaleel Scott’s hands in seven-on-seven work. The offense struggled to complete passes against tight coverage during a few stretches of the workout.

Jackson’s prettiest play came in a seven-on-seven red-zone period in which he connected with rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin on a tight-window throw in the front corner of the end zone. Veteran wide receiver Michael Floyd also continued his recent practice surge with a few impressive plays, including the one below:

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 29-0 preseason win over Jacksonville

Posted on 09 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens blowing out Jacksonville in a 29-0 win to begin the preseason, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson was solid operating in the kind of conservative offense you’d expect in the first exhibition game. His best pass was a back-hip 18-yard completion to Chris Moore after the timing of Nick Boyle’s out route was out of whack. Jackson’s showing reinforced what we’ve watched in camp.

2. The 30-yard bootleg completion to a wide-open Moore is the kind of big play offensive coordinator Greg Roman hopes to generate with motion, play fakes, and Jackson’s mobility. The young quarterback simply needs to deliver a catchable ball in those instances, which he did perfectly there.

3. The ground game struggled to get going beyond an isolated run or two, but Jackson acknowledged the game plan was “not close at all” to what we’ll see in September. He then smiled and said, “It’s going to be fun to watch though.” Revolutionary or not, it’ll be very interesting.

4. I couldn’t help but ponder how many members of the second-team Ravens secondary would play meaningful roles for other NFL teams. Anthony Averett had some hiccups Thursday, but the depth in the defensive backfield on this roster is remarkable.

5. Miles Boykin had two drops and is still developing, but it’s clear how much both Jackson and Trace McSorley like throwing to him. His final three catches to end the half — the last being a pretty McSorley touchdown pass negated by a hold — flashed the go-to potential he could have.

6. It was good seeing Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser apply some pressure and collect a half-sack apiece, but both standing their ground on the edge for Chris Wormley’s third-and-1 stuff early in the second quarter was another good sign. They’re clearly ahead of Shane Ray at this point.

7. There wasn’t much running room for Justice Hill, but his 14-yard catch-and-run illustrated the need for the Ravens to find ways to get the rookie the ball in open space. He’ll definitely make defenders miss.

8. On just 14 defensive snaps, Patrick Ricard had two sacks, batted down a pass, and recorded another stuff at the line of scrimmage. That’s what you call making the most of opportunities when battling for a roster spot. He also played seven offensive snaps.

9. We didn’t see rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson until the second half, but he was very active late in the third quarter, registering a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit. No, the competition wasn’t exactly stiff, but that should serve as a confidence boost as he continues learning.

10. The numbers say it all for Kaare Vedvik, who connected on all four field goals — one from 55 yards — and recorded two punts for 58 and 53 yards. After what he experienced last year, you have to feel good for him. He’ll be kicking somewhere in the NFL this season.

11. Special teams coach Chris Horton couldn’t have liked his kickoff team giving up a 102-yard return for a touchdown that was nullified by a holding penalty, but Justin Tucker abstaining from trying to make a tackle definitely brought a sigh of relief. He’s been overzealous at times in past preseasons.

12. As John Harbaugh said, you “like to win” preseason games, but the Jaguars sat 32 players compared to Baltimore’s 14 and played only three listed starters from their depth chart (see below). The domination surely reflects the Ravens’ depth, but we’ll now turn the page to overreacting to next week.

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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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Five Ravens players whose stock fell during spring workouts

Posted on 20 June 2019 by Luke Jones

After taking a look at which Ravens players appeared to be on the rise at the conclusion of mandatory minicamp, it’s time to determine which ones didn’t help their cause this spring for various reasons.

You never want to make too much out of spring workouts, whether it’s chastising someone for being a little out of shape or trying to bury a player who was out of sync in one or two of only a handful of workouts open to media. It’s particularly difficult judging offensive and defensive linemen without pads, which leads to even more scrutiny on players at the skill positions.

Acknowledging those limitations, below are five players who didn’t help their stock this spring:

DT Michael Pierce

It’s important to be sensitive to the various circumstances that could lead to an individual’s weight gain and conditioning concerns, but Pierce’s decision to skip the entire voluntary workout program preceded his abrupt dismissal from the practice field on the first day of minicamp, an embarrassing headline for a good player entering a contract year. How Pierce — and those advising him — didn’t make sure a trainer and nutritionist were keeping on top of his livelihood was a major blunder. The talented nose tackle has plenty of time to get in shape and still have a strong season, but if this episode scares away even one team from making a lucrative offer next March, he’ll have likely cost himself some money.

G Alex Lewis

Lewis was never expected to take part in spring practices as he recovers from January shoulder surgery, but head coach John Harbaugh revealing the organization hadn’t seen him until mandatory minicamp week was a red flag. It was the 2016 fourth-round pick’s right to handle his own rehabilitation, of course, but that’s a questionable strategy when you are entering the final year of your rookie contract, have played in just 20 games in three seasons, and will face plenty of competition for the left guard job. Lewis looked like one of the steals of his draft class over the first half of his rookie season, but his inability to stay healthy coupled with his spring absence will leave him with much to prove this summer.

WR Michael Floyd

The former first-round pick owns as many career touchdown receptions (25) as the rest of Baltimore’s wide receivers combined, but he did little to stand out in a pedestrian group that didn’t have 2019 draft picks Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin on the field for much of the spring. Floyd’s statistical decline since being cut by Arizona in 2016 has been dramatic, but the Ravens’ shortage of outside receivers and Boykin’s hamstring injury seemed like an ideal scenario for him to make a strong statement. The 29-year-old wasn’t awful by any means as he made some plays, but there were also too many drops for a veteran battling a number of younger options and recent draft picks for a roster spot.

K Kaare Vedvik

Some of the hype surrounding Vedvik was always overblown — it’s not like an unproven kicker is going to fetch anything but a late Day 3 draft pick anyway — but there was no question the Ravens had designs of trading him before he was assaulted in Baltimore late last summer and spent the entire 2018 campaign on the non-football injury list. Vedvik made a full recovery and still shows off a very strong leg, but he was inaccurate throughout the spring, missing kicks of various distances in various ways. Assistant special teams coach Randy Brown still has plenty of time to straighten out Vedvik enough to have a chance to shine in the preseason, but his spring wasn’t very pretty.

CB/PR Cyrus Jones

The timing of the Gilman product’s undisclosed health issue was unfortunate as he’s part of an incredibly deep group of cornerbacks and only handled punt returns for the Ravens last year, circumstances that make him far from a lock to be on the 53-man roster. Jones provided a spark and some stability after Baltimore cycled through other punt returners in the first half of 2018, but he’ll need a strong and healthy summer to solidify his roster standing. The good news is Harbaugh said he’s expected to be ready for the start of training camp, but he will still need to be cleared to practice. Jones being able to handle both punts and kickoffs would go a long way toward securing himself a roster spot.

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens roster after mandatory minicamp

Posted on 19 June 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at conclusion of voluntary OTAs

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens’ 90-man roster following rookie camp

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 2:30 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for nearly four more months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a much better idea of what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to work with for the 2019 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any given player. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities later this month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player now as much will change before the Ravens even get to training camp in July. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

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

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

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Jalan McClendon
Skinny: How the coaching staff uses McSorley and how he develops will determine whether Baltimore carries three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for a second straight year and only the second time in the last decade. Comparisons to New Orleans’ Taysom Hill — who is much bigger — will continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala, Tyler Ervin
Skinny: Suggesting someone who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year could be on the bubble speaks to the great backfield depth. Dixon could also be a trade chip entering the final year of his contract, but a history of injuries and suspensions could prompt a tough decision. Don’t sleep on Turner either.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley
LONG SHOT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: With Baltimore expected to again use multiple tight ends and run the ball so frequently, the brass won’t feel compelled to keep more than four or five receivers unless others prove deserving of a spot. This is a critical preseason for Scott and Lasley, who played zero snaps as rookies last year.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may prefer having another blocking tight end in the mix to replace Maxx Williams, but it’s premature to handicap the chances of these candidates. Keizer spent much of last year with the organization, giving him a slight experience edge over the two rookies.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Bozeman’s ability to play center makes him a safe bet while Hurst’s $4.75 million cap number and injury-riddled 2018 leave his status in at least some question until he proves his back problems are behind him. Time could be running out for Lewis, who just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: Kalil Morris
Skinny: This is a tough group to handicap after the duo of Williams and Pierce, but Henry is the best interior rusher on the roster despite missing most of 2018. Sieler is a good bet to make it as a 5-technique end, but the talented Willis could be the wild card after surprisingly going undrafted.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Alvin Jones, Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Board leading the team in special-teams tackles as a rookie leaves him safe at this point. The competition for a potential roster spot behind him is wide open, however, with Thomas, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, headlining a group lacking experience. They’re listed as bubble players by default.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Matt Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Contributions on special teams and the shortage of strong-side or “Sam” backers give Bowser a clear edge over Williams, who appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was a healthy scratch by season’s end. There should be opportunities for the long shots to try to put themselves on the radar.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper group of corners in the NFL, leaving the Ravens with a good problem trying to decide which ones to keep. Jones returning kickoffs in addition to punts would cement his spot — he only did the latter last year — while the oft-injured Canady is in the final year of his rookie deal.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott is the one to watch in this group as he showed promise before breaking his forearm in the preseason last year and could potentially push Clark for some playing time in sub packages. Levine’s positional versatility remains an invaluable part of Wink Martindale’s defense.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: The Ravens will hope Vedvik kicks the football like he did last summer to improve his trade value at the end of the preseason. Beyond that, there’s little to see here.

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Even with three quarterbacks, Ravens shouldn’t overthink game-day plans

Posted on 06 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After months of discussing and practicing ways to incorporate explosive rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in the flow of the offense, the Ravens are suddenly tight-lipped.

It’s hardly surprising since this is what NFL coaches do the week of a game that actually counts, but the decision to keep Robert Griffin III — giving Baltimore three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster to begin a season for the first time since 2009 — has led many to wonder what the game-day plan will be at the position behind starter Joe Flacco. Teams may activate only 46 players for each game.

“We’ll see,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We’ll see how that goes.”

Carrying three quarterbacks is far from a novel approach despite the Ravens’ near-decade-long trend of keeping just two, but teams rarely activate all three for games as each active spot is valuable when accounting for the many reserves and special-teams players who contribute to winning games. For one example, Pittsburgh kept three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster all last season, but only two were active for each game.

There were only two instances last season in which the Ravens activated a player and didn’t use him other than sole backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, speaking to how extensively they use backups and special-teams players. In Week 11, offensive tackle Andrew Donnal was active as left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed the game with a concussion, but he was only going to play in an emergency after being claimed off waivers just days earlier. In Week 16, running back Terrance West was activated after a long layoff due to injury, but he was only an insurance policy after starter Alex Collins was banged up in the previous week’s game.

The Ravens leaving themselves vulnerable in another area to devote a third game-day spot to a quarterback unlikely to play would be surprising.

So, if only two quarterbacks are active, do they go with Jackson or Griffin behind Flacco?

The organization certainly values Griffin’s presence to step in should something happen to Flacco that would force him out of action for a few games, but the immediate appeal of drafting Jackson was to utilize his unique skills in creative ways, adding a play-making element to this offense that’s sorely needed. Deactivating Jackson in favor of Griffin might put the Ravens in a slightly better position in the event of an in-game injury to Flacco, but it would also stunt the offense’s potential upside and strip the rookie of experience. We don’t know whether Jackson will become a successful franchise quarterback in the future, but there’s no doubting his ability to contribute in certain situations right away.

The truth is backups receive very few practice reps with the starting offense over the course of the week, inevitably throwing any team into some degree of panic when the starter goes down in the middle of a game. Should that happen to the Ravens with Jackson as the only backup, they should just embrace that chaos by breaking out gadget plays, relying on their rushing attack, and leaning on their stout defense to get them through the game. Of course, if Flacco were to miss the following week’s game as well, Baltimore would turn to Griffin as the starter with Jackson remaining in his same game-day backup and hybrid role. Such an arrangement would seem to be the logical balance between optimizing the use of game-day roster spots and taking advantage of Jackson’s explosive athleticism.

“We’ll do whatever is best for our team,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Any given Sunday, we’ll have the 46 guys up that give us the best chance to be successful, and we’ll just see what that is every week.”

Starting right tackle decided — for now

Mornhinweg confirmed veteran James Hurst will begin the season as the starting right tackle after the summer competition with rookie Orlando Brown.

It looked like the third-round pick might win the job as Hurst worked exclusively at right guard filling in for Marshal Yanda over the first few weeks of training camp and in preseason games, but Hurst began practicing at right tackle with the first-team line upon Yanda’s return to practice in August. Hurst has started 32 games in his career, but previous stints were all the result of injuries including left guard Alex Lewis’ season-ending shoulder injury last summer that led to Hurst starting all 16 games in 2017.

“Last year was kind of an injury circumstance with Alex,” Hurst said. “That was a goal. All preseason, I knew that I wanted to be a starter; I wanted to earn that starting spot and have that faith from the coaches. It’s very exciting for me, but it’s a stepping stone. You’ve got to build off that.”

The Ravens have frequently deferred to veterans in position battles in the past, but that doesn’t mean Brown won’t be able to unseat Hurst in the near future, especially if the veteran struggles on the outside as he did in past stints at both tackle spots.

“Orlando is coming. Orlando had just an outstanding preseason and training camp,” Mornhinweg said. “Orlando is ready to go. Now, that preparation is going to be key for him. James is a heck of a player, and Orlando’s on the come up.”

McClellan departs

The decision to release longtime reserve linebacker Albert McClellan may have been the Ravens’ most difficult last weekend.

Harbaugh has acknowledged the possibility of McClellan returning at some point, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg expressed his gratitude for the veteran’s contributions over the years.

“Albert made the meeting easy; he was amazing like you might expect him to be I guess,” Rosburg said. “Hopefully, I heard it mentioned that perhaps this is not over. I hope that’s the case, but we’ll see what goes on down the road. I know I owe a great deal to him personally. He’s been a big part of my life, and I know our club has been better for him being here, both as a player and a person.”

One of McClellan’s final acts was helping out the rookie who took his place on the 53-man roster. Chris Board, an undrafted free agent from North Dakota State, is expected to serve as a special-teams contributor and backup inside linebacker.

“He definitely taught me a lot, especially as far as special teams,” Board said. “He was kind of my mentor throughout this whole process [with] me being a rookie not knowing what to expect. I definitely have some really big shoes to fill.”

Thursday’s injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kenny Young (knee)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), WR Ray-Ray McCloud (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Julian Stanford (nose)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2018 season opener

Posted on 04 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens opening the 2018 season by hosting Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m more optimistic about the Ravens than I’ve been in a few years, but it has very little to do with the 5-0 preseason beyond staying pretty healthy. The Indianapolis game was the only time Baltimore played at full strength — or close to it — against another team at full strength.

2. Is it more surprising that Alex Collins, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead combined to touch the ball only eight times in the preseason or that no one is talking about that? To be clear, that’s not a criticism, but it speaks to the unknown still at work here.

3. Is anyone else tired of talking about the backup quarterback situation? A healthy Joe Flacco playing at a higher level is the key to this season — not whether Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III is backing him up. In a perfect world, Griffin doesn’t take a snap all season.

4. Bills coach Sean McDermott made the right call naming Nathan Peterman his starting quarterback and protecting first-round pick Josh Allen from playing on the road against a tough Baltimore defense that’s frequently eaten rookie quarterbacks alive over the years. That won’t save Peterman though.

5. Remember how the Ravens had $17 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2015, the year they finished 5-11? Fresh off their first playoff appearance of the millennium, the Bills are carrying an unthinkable $53.1 million in dead money on this year’s cap. You can’t win that way.

6. Willie Henry’s early absence could change things, but I like the decision to shift Brandon Williams back to nose tackle after he played more of the 3-technique spot with Michael Pierce at the nose last year. Williams is excellent against the run, so you want to maximize his biggest strength.

7. The practice-squad signings of Cyrus Jones and Tim White should signal to Janarion Grant not to get too comfortable as the return specialist. I’m not convinced the Ravens have found their answer in this department or if that individual is currently in the organization.

8. I’m not sure how long rookie cornerback Darious Williams will be on the 53-man roster, but he began his Alabama-Birmingham career as a walk-on and stayed put through the football program’s temporary disbandment and two-year hiatus from playing games. That’s quite a journey to the NFL.

9. Four teams making waiver claims on Carl Davis and his release even after Henry’s injury should speak to the depth of the Baltimore defensive line. Seeing Cleveland grab the versatile Davis wasn’t remotely surprising.

10. The Ravens are starting their second decade of the John Harbaugh-Flacco era. Some would argue that isn’t a good thing, but that kind of continuity isn’t fully appreciated until it’s gone. Over the last decade, the Browns have had six head coaches and used 19 starting quarterbacks.

11. Questions remain about the circumstances that led to Kaare Vedvik being found with head and upper-body injuries early Saturday in East Baltimore. I feel for the 24-year-old as he had a good chance to be kicking in the NFL this year, but the outcome could have been much worse.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for naming Anquan Boldin their “Legend of the Game” for the opener. Does this reverse the “Boldin Curse” that’s resulted in four non-playoff seasons since he was traded for a sixth-round pick five weeks after Super Bowl XLVII?

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