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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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Fluker might just be stopgap Ravens need at right guard

Posted on 20 August 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens offensive lineman D.J. Fluker echoed what we’ve all known since eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda announced his retirement in March.

No individual player will truly fill that void.

“Yanda is a Hall of Famer. You can’t replace that guy,” Fluker said. “That’s a guy that has his own mentality in how he does things. He’s a good dude. I chatted with him on a little Zoom call. But other than that, I mean, shoot, those are big shoes to fill, but I’m just going to be myself, come in, and do what I do best — and that’s just play football.”

It isn’t the first time the Ravens have needed to replace a Canton-worthy player.

They were lucky to draft C.J. Mosley 15 months after middle linebacker Ray Lewis retired, but reliable veteran Daryl Smith was a rock-solid stopgap who helped offset the disappointment of failed second-round pick Arthur Brown. Baltimore endured no shortage of volatility at left tackle in the eight seasons between Jonathan Ogden’s retirement and the arrival of eventual All-Pro selection Ronnie Stanley. Replacing Ed Reed resulted in unsuccessful early draft picks and a ton of free-agent money spent with mixed results at best. And it’s too soon to know how the post-Terrell Suggs era will play out despite 2019 Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon easing the short-term transition.

Ideally, a young lineman such as Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips, or Ben Bredeson would step in at Yanda’s old right guard spot and never look back, but Fluker might just be an acceptable stopgap, especially considering the absence of the normal offseason program that’s so critical for the development of young offensive linemen. The 29-year-old Fluker has never lived up to his 2013 first-round billing, but he didn’t squander his time at home this spring and summer, estimating he’s lost 10 pounds and, more importantly, reduced his body fat from 44 percent to 22 percent since last year.

“This is a big guy, and it’s all muscle,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You saw the body [composition] stuff there that he put out. And he’s moving very well. I’m really impressed with him. He’s done a great job. His attitude has been excellent. His work ethic, we had heard it was good, and I would say it’s been better than good. It’s been an A, A-plus.”

Expectations should be realistic for someone who graded 51st among 83 qualified guards last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Fluker is now with his fourth NFL team and was released by Seattle after the Seahawks selected LSU’s Damien Lewis in the third round of April’s draft. The 6-foot-5, 342-pound veteran has made 88 starts in his NFL career, but his addition was more about raising an inexperienced position group’s floor than boosting its ceiling.

Fluker couldn’t ask for a better situation on a one-year, $1.075 million deal as he joins a Super Bowl contender and record-setting offense led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, whose generational athleticism alone makes the offensive line better. There are also University of Alabama ties in Baltimore from executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome to starting left guard Bradley Bozeman, who already had a small relationship with Fluker from attending Alabama football camps in high school years ago.

Perhaps the determining factor in Fluker’s performance will be offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who had a hand in drafting him as a member of the San Diego Chargers coaching staff seven years ago. D’Alessandris was Fluker’s offensive line coach over his first three NFL seasons and guided his transition from right tackle to right guard in his third year.

“We go back to San Diego days. It’s been fun. He hasn’t changed a bit,” said Fluker as he laughed. “Always on guys about working hard, playing their tails off, five equals one, guys going [in] there and playing physical. That’s been his mentality since Day 1 when he drafted me in San Diego.

“Being here, it’s the same way. Nothing changed. It’s been great.”

Bryant to Baltimore?

There’s little downside to the Ravens working out former Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant on Thursday as long as we keep the proper perspective.

The 31-year-old hasn’t played an NFL snap since Jackson was starring at Louisville and hasn’t recorded a 1,000-yard season since Haloti Ngata was still playing for the Ravens. The knock on Bryant even a couple years ago was his diminishing physical attributes, so what should one realistically expect after such a long layoff from the game?

Unlike the endorsements given to Antonio Brown this offseason, Jackson was more cautious with his words on Tuesday when asked about the possibility of the Ravens signing the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bryant.

“We have a lot of great receivers who are here right now, but it’s up to the front office,” Jackson said. “Obviously, Dez Bryant’s on Instagram and stuff like that running his routes and competing against cornerbacks, and he’s looking pretty good on social media. But if the front office likes him, we’ll have to see when he gets here.”

Is it possible Bryant could still be a decent red-zone target for a passing game waiting on the 6-foot-4 Miles Boykin to establish himself as an outside threat? Is the juice not worth the squeeze for a player who already appeared to be in decline a few years ago and — fair or unfair — didn’t always have the best reputation in Dallas?

We’ll soon find out.

Injury report

Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson remained absent from practice on Wednesday with an undisclosed injury that isn’t expected to keep him out for long, according to Harbaugh.

Wide receiver Antoine Wesley is also out with a shoulder injury that could keep the 2019 practice-squad member sidelined indefinitely.

“I believe he’s going to see a shoulder specialist on that,” Harbaugh said. “That could be a few weeks, and whether he’ll need surgery or something like that, I really don’t know. We’ll see where that goes.”

Undrafted rookie tight end Eli Wolf left the field Wednesday after a collision in the final minutes of the workout, but Harbaugh didn’t anticipate the injury being “a big, serious thing.” Wolf is competing with veteran Jerell Adams and 2019 practice-squad member Charles Scarff for the No. 3 tight end job behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle.

Veteran wide receiver Chris Moore continues to recover from a broken finger likely to keep him out for the remainder of training camp.

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Ravens center Skura passes physical, cleared for first padded practice

Posted on 16 August 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens center Matt Skura vowed to be ready to return to the field during training camp and is now set to fulfill that promise.

The 27-year-old has passed his physical and is expected to take part in Baltimore’s first full padded practice on Monday morning. It’s quite a feat after Skura tore the ACL, PCL, and MCL and dislocated the kneecap in his left knee in Week 12 of the 2019 season.

Head coach John Harbaugh had said Skura was “right on schedule” and would be practicing soon despite the Ravens placing him on the active physically unable to perform list at the start of camp.

“That was our plan and work him in as we go. We want to make sure that he’s moving the right way,” Harbaugh said earlier this month. “Then, you want to put him against some pressure where the knee has to react to certain movements with pressure. We want to do all that before we put him on the field. This is a really slow ramp-up period anyway this year, so we have time to do it and we’re going to bring him along.”

Having started 39 games over the last three seasons including 12 at right guard in 2017, a healthy Skura paints a more stable picture for an interior offensive line trying to replace retired eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda. Skura is expected to face competition at center from 2019 undrafted free agent Patrick Mekari, who played well in his place down the stretch last year. Pro Football Focus graded Skura 17th among qualified centers last season while Mekari surprisingly finished 14th.

The competition at right guard will be even busier with veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker, 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, and rookie draft choices Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips all in the mix to varying degrees. However, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have both acknowledged the possibility of shuffling linemen to different interior spots to find the best combination bookended by Pro Bowl offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. That could include moving even starting left guard Bradley Bozeman to another inside spot.

“Every [practice] rep is going to carry an added value to it when you consider no preseason games,” Roman said last week. “I definitely think that’s going to really be our platform to evaluate what gives us the best chance to be the best group we can be. Everybody is going to have an opportunity, and we are always constantly trying to develop every player to their utmost.”

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Examining Ravens position battles: Right guard

Posted on 06 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens ramping up their activity level before the start of full training camp practices later this month, we’ll take a look at some key position battles ahead of the 2020 season.

Below is a look at the competition for the right guard job:

Who will replace eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda? OK, there’s no “replacing” a future Hall of Famer, so who will assume the right guard position?

If Matt Skura doesn’t look like himself after last November’s knee injury, what happens at center?

How does the left guard spot look if Bradley Bozeman ends up sliding over to center?

Is veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker a favorite to start due to seven years of starting experience in the NFL, or will a younger option surprise coaches despite the absence of in-person workouts this spring?

So many questions have only been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the normal offseason program as well as preseason games. The only given here is that Yanda won’t be walking through the door after shedding more than 60 pounds since playing his final game in January.

Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris will have his hands full with the evaluation process this summer.

“The opportunity is there, and somebody has to grab the brass ring, so to speak, and go for it,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said in June. “Not just one, but multiple guys because you can never have enough really in that interior offensive line where things happen so quick. Continuity does matter because guys are working together with all that quickness down on the inside.

“It’s going to be a competition, a process, a day-to-day process, and I like where we’re at. Once we get out there, we’ll kind of see where it goes.”

The post-draft addition of Fluker, 29, appeared to raise the floor of an unproven group of starting candidates, but the 2013 first-round pick from Alabama graded an underwhelming 51st among qualified guards in 2019 and ranked no better than 45th in each of the last four seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. His familiarity with D’Alessandris dating back to their days with the San Diego Chargers should ease the transition to his new team, but Fluker is only now having the opportunity to get acclimated in person.

Patrick Mekari was one of the surprises of the 2019 season filling in for the injured Skura down the stretch, but the former undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley could also receive looks at guard in addition to competing with the incumbent at the center position. Starting the final five regular-season games and last January’s playoff loss gives him an experience edge over other young linemen, but so many coaches and veterans over the years have noted how important that first post-rookie offseason is for a young offensive lineman’s development.

That same challenge applies to 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, who played well in his only game action in the regular-season finale. The 6-foor-4, 310-pound guard may have the most upside of the young linemen, but his lack of playing time as a rookie still makes him a wildcard.

Rookies Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson were selected in the third and fourth rounds respectively in April’s draft, but counting on a mid-round rookie to start is a risky proposition even under normal circumstances. Head coach John Harbaugh suggested Phillips will also take reps at offensive tackle with Baltimore not having a clear backup for Pro Bowl selections Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. after the release of James Hurst in March and Andre Smith’s recent decision to opt out of the 2020 campaign.

But the uncertainty extends beyond right guard with Skura beginning training camp on the active physically unable to perform list. His hard work and progress recovering from a multi-ligament tear has been encouraging, but how his surgically-repaired knee responds to football activity remains to be seen. Team officials are open to the possibility of moving Bozeman to center — the position he played at Alabama — but that would leave the Ravens with different starters at all three interior line spots from a year ago.

To be clear, this is an offense that made opponents look foolish on the way to setting an NFL single-season record with 3,296 rushing yards last year. The presence of generational rushing quarterback and 2019 league MVP Lamar Jackson, two Pro Bowl offensive tackles, and Roman’s innovative run-first system should alleviate concerns about right guard, but that doesn’t mean replacing Yanda will be an easy task, especially if Skura’s health prompts further shuffling inside.

There’s no shortage of candidates who may prove to be up to the task, but the Ravens identifying the best starting five is their most important objective of the summer.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 5: “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle”

Posted on 19 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 6 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2012 Ravens were a tough team to figure out.

Long before they’d win Super Bowl XLVII or go through a brutal December, there were fair questions about a group that had won two games by over 30 points, lost one by 30 points, and barely squeaked by some of the worst teams in the league over the first three months of the season. The Ravens were certainly good, but were they as great as an 8-2 start often suggests?

For much of their Week 12 clash with San Diego, the answer appeared to be no. The Ravens offense sleepwalked through the first half at Qualcomm Stadium, managing no points and just 90 total yards as the Chargers led 10-0 at intermission.

A 54-yard completion from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith on the opening drive of the second half set up a Justin Tucker field goal, but the offense again went quiet until midway through the fourth quarter. Doing the heavy lifting throughout the day to keep the score close, the Baltimore defense surrendered a long drive resulting in a field goal to give San Diego a 13-3 lead with 7:51 remaining in regulation.

The time was now for Flacco and the offense to come alive if the Ravens wanted to win their fourth straight game. The fifth-year quarterback did exactly that, going 7-for-8 for 86 yards on a drive ending with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta to shrink the deficit to 13-10 with 4:19 to go.

Inspired by the reappearance of the offense, the Ravens defense forced a quick three-and-out and Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones returned the punt 23 yards to the Baltimore 40. After picking up one first down, however, the ensuing drive quickly began unraveling.

A rare Marshal Yanda holding penalty pushed the Ravens back into their own territory. And following back-to-back incompletions, Flacco was sacked and stripped by Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Barnes on third-and-20, setting up what seemed to be an impossible situation entering the two-minute warning.

What could the Ravens do on fourth-and-29 from their own 37-yard line? Take a deep shot to Smith or Jones in hopes of at least drawing a pass interference flag? Throw a strike down the seam to Anquan Boldin and see if the tough-as-nails receiver breaks a tackle or two?

With time to throw and looking downfield, Flacco checked down with a short pass to the right flat just beyond the line of scrimmage.

Really?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Seriously?

“It was really kind of a Hail Mary situation,” Flacco said after the game. “We were running down the field and I was hoping because they were playing so soft, sometimes you can kind of get in behind one of those guys and catch them flat-footed and maybe find a soft spot and rip a ball real quick into somebody. I didn’t really see anything like that. I didn’t want to just throw a Hail Mary.

“I wanted to give somebody a chance.”

Ray Rice, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who often carried the Ravens offense in those years, got that opportunity.

With an effort one could hardly believe, Rice eluded a few tacklers, cut all the way across the field to the left, and got a crushing Boldin block on Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle before lunging for the first down. A replay review moved back the initial spot of the miraculous play, but a measurement still gave the Ravens a first down, keeping the drive alive.

A 38-yard Tucker field goal moments later tied the game and the Ravens won with another Tucker 38-yarder late in overtime, but all that transpired the rest of the way couldn’t come close to matching Rice’s extraordinary effort. What we didn’t know was how critical the victory would be at a time when many were pondering the 9-2 Ravens chasing a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

The win over the Chargers would be the Ravens’ last for a month as they’d lose their next three games and fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would be replaced by Jim Caldwell. It’s impossible to know how losing to San Diego might have impacted the remaining five games on the schedule — the Ravens rested multiple starters in their Week 17 loss at Cincinnati, for example — but finishing 10-6 compared to 9-7 was the difference between winning the AFC North and being the No. 6 seed.

The significance in the big picture only added to the mystique and real-time insanity of “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle” as the fifth-year running back nicknamed the play.

“It was just total will,” Rice said after the 16-13 overtime win. “Once I made the first guy miss when I cut back across the grain, I actually saw the defense had to flip their hip and I kept eyeing the first down. I looked and said, ‘Should I keep running to the sideline or should I just keep trying to get up field?’ And that’s what I did. I just kept getting upfield.”

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson keeps the ball for a touchdown on a fourth-down play against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 20: “Hell yeah, coach, let’s go for it!”

Posted on 15 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 21 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

By Week 7 of the 2019 season, many were still trying to figure out just how real the Ravens and Lamar Jackson’s MVP candidacy were.

Baltimore certainly looked the part of a playoff-caliber team, but its four wins had come against teams with a combined 4-19-1 record through the first six weeks of the season. And while Jackson had amazed the football world by throwing seven touchdown passes in the first two games — topping his total from his entire rookie season — the 22-year-old quarterback had thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions over the last four contests, quieting some of the early MVP hype from September.

A daunting cross-country trip to Seattle to take on Russell Wilson, the early MVP favorite, and the 5-1 Seahawks would be a great litmus test going into the bye week. A win would combat doubts about the Ravens being legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and Jackson shining in a showdown with one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks would command more respect from his skeptics.

Defensive touchdowns scored by cornerbacks Marcus Peters — acquired from the Los Angeles Rams only days earlier — and Marlon Humphrey and 116 yards rushing from Jackson were the difference in Baltimore’s 30-16 win, but what transpired late in the third quarter would have a far greater reach than any highlight-reel play or the victory itself.

The moment defined the 2019 season and could define the Ravens in the years to come.

With the game tied 13-13, the Ravens had moved the ball inside the red zone before seemingly self-destructing with two uncharacteristic drops from tight end Mark Andrews and a delay-of-game penalty leading to a third-and-15 from the Seattle 21. A terrific 13-yard run by Jackson set up fourth-and-2 from the 8-yard line, but head coach John Harbaugh wanted to at least come away with the go-ahead field goal in the rainy conditions at CenturyLink Field.

His quarterback wasn’t happy coming to the sideline after the Ravens had already twice settled for field goals inside the red zone in the first half.

“He came off, and I could just see it in his face,” Harbaugh said. “I asked him, ‘Do you want to go for it?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I want to go for it; let’s get it.’ I was told that Marshal [Yanda] said, ‘If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it.’ I felt the same way. If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it too.

“I went down and called timeout, and it was just a great play.”

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman called “quarterback power,” a play that included six offensive linemen, three tight ends, and a fullback on a designed inside run by Jackson, a tactic the Ravens tried to avoid as much as possible to keep their quarterback out of harm’s way. Patrick Ricard motioned to the play side and left guard Bozeman pulled to the right as Jackson plowed his way to the end zone for the touchdown and a lead the Ravens wouldn’t relinquish over the final 16:20 of the game.

The execution was impressive and the touchdown run important, but the conviction and confidence exuded by Jackson in the moment had prompted a Super Bowl-winning head coach in his 12th year and the perennial Pro Bowl right guard in his 13th season to follow his lead. Jackson’s performance that day moved him into the top tier of an MVP race he would win by unanimous vote and Baltimore made its statement as a legitimate contender on the way to a franchise-best 14-2 season, but the story was bigger than that, extending beyond the remainder of the 2019 season.

The Ravens were officially Jackson’s team now.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 schedule release

Posted on 11 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL unveiling the 2020 regular-season schedule late last week, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What we know about the alarming incident between Earl Thomas and his wife doesn’t — and shouldn’t — provide any grounds to jeopardize his employment, but the Ravens’ terse statement made clear their disenchantment about being left in the dark. Practically speaking, a public figure’s right to privacy only goes so far.

2. The schedule release highlighted what we already knew about Baltimore being in tremendous shape from a travel standpoint with the longest trip of the season being to Houston in Week 2. Already dominant on the road last season, the Ravens should be able to continue such away success.

3. Even if one argues the Ravens are better from a talent standpoint and have a favorable schedule on paper, ESPN’s Mike Clay presented some data that should make you take pause before boldly predicting another 14-2 or better finish. What they did offensively last season just isn’t easy to duplicate.

4. With five prime-time games, four in a five-week period from November into early December, and the reigning NFL MVP, the Ravens have never carried a brighter national profile than they do right now, which is saying plenty for an organization with two Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years.

5. Asked about the center spot in a call with season-ticket holders, Eric DeCosta mentioning Bradley Bozeman was interesting, especially since left guard was seemingly the only stable interior line spot entering 2020 after Bozeman started every game there last year. Will we see three different starters inside?

6. When an elite player retires at the top of his game, speculation can persist about a comeback, but Marshal Yanda left no doubt by losing 45 pounds in two months after his final game and looking even thinner on “The Pat McAfee Show.” He looked lighter than the ex-Indianapolis punter.

7. No matter how you felt about the second-round selection of J.K. Dobbins, I don’t get the rush some have to trade Gus Edwards or Justice Hill for what would likely be an inconsequential draft pick. If more depth at running back was important, hastily diminishing the group makes little sense.

8. DeCosta acknowledged the Ravens having limited avenues to clear meaningful salary cap space without striking a long-term deal for Matthew Judon or Ronnie Stanley, who carry two of their five largest cap numbers for 2020. These negotiations and decisions won’t get any easier.

9. First-round pick Patrick Queen bought his mother a new Range Rover over the weekend. Seeing a young player fulfill his NFL dream after years of hard work and finally be able to gift a token of appreciation to a parent never gets old.

10. Asked once again — this time by a season-ticket holder and not the media — whether the Ravens were interested in signing Antonio Brown, DeCosta provided a “filibuster” non-answer that would make Dan Duquette smile.

11. With Joe Flacco undergoing neck surgery and reportedly not expected to be cleared to play until late August, you wonder if the 35-year-old has played his final snap. However, Jets general manager and ex-Ravens scout Joe Douglas “discovered” Flacco and does need a backup to Sam Darnold.

12. A personal thanks to director of player personnel Joe Hortiz for taking extensive time to conduct a virtual film session on the Ravens’ 2020 draft class and answering questions from local reporters. Such a forum offers transparency and better educates media to hopefully improve our coverage for fans.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 draft

Posted on 29 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 NFL draft in the books and the Ravens shifting attention toward an unprecedented virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore’s draft haul has been widely praised as it is, but Eric DeCosta also used 2020 fifth-round picks to acquire Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Calais Campbell. We know many draft choices don’t pan out, of course, but the Ravens sure took advantage of value.

2. Marlon Humphrey’s fifth-year option being exercised was elementary as he’s projected to make $10.244 million in 2021, but he’s already been a team MVP and a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection prior to turning 24. He’s one more big year away from commanding top-of-the-market money at cornerback.

3. The career of D.J. Fluker has been pedestrian compared to first-round expectations, but his signing is a reminder of keeping expectations in check for rookies, especially without normal offseason workouts. Ideally, a young guy with a higher ceiling seizes the right guard job, but Fluker raises the position’s floor.

4. Whenever anticipating a position battle, I remember how much angst there was about the Ravens making no meaningful addition to replace right tackle Michael Oher in 2014. Rick Wagner, who had barely played as a fifth-round rookie, stepped in as an immediate upgrade for the next three seasons.

5. Speaking of competition, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser had to be pleased to see no edge defenders taken in this draft class. Ferguson will compete to start and was in no roster danger, of course, but players like Bowser in the final year of their contract are always vulnerable.

6. J.K. Dobbins will try to break this post-Super Bowl XLVII run of second-round picks: Bowser (2017), Kamalei Correa (2016), Maxx Williams (2015), Timmy Jernigan (2014), and Arthur Brown (2013). Talk about “meh,” but I suppose the Ravens did OK trading their 2018 and 2019 second-rounders.

7. How the ground game shakes out with four running backs and the greatest single-season rushing quarterback in NFL history will be interesting — there’s only one football — but there’s no shortage of motivation. Mark Ingram was essentially put on notice and Gus Edwards and Justice Hill dropped down the pecking order.

8. Devin Duvernay will be an interesting wild card with good hands and an uncanny ability to gain yards after the catch. Considering how many screens he ran at Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised to occasionally see him lining up in the backfield and also motioning into jet sweeps.

9. After drafting exactly one wide receiver (Breshad Perriman) in the first three rounds from 2012-2018, the Ravens have selected three (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Duvernay) in the last two drafts. Somewhere, Joe Flacco shrugs his shoulders.

10. Not only is Mike Tomlin getting inside information from Maryland wide receiver Dino Tomlin, but former Terps interim head coach Matt Canada became Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks coach in January. Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks landing with the Steelers was hardly a shock.

11. The gap is sizable between the Ravens and the rest of the AFC North on paper right now, but Cincinnati and Cleveland had strong drafts and Pittsburgh appeared to do OK despite trading its first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick last fall. Much talent was added to the division.

12. I’m not going to pretend to have any great insights into the Ravens’ reported (and unofficial) class of rookie free-agent signings, but I just hope the addition of Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner means his uncle shows up in Owings Mills at some point.

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Ravens reportedly agree to deal with veteran guard D.J. Fluker

Posted on 28 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Needing to replace one of the best players in franchise history, the Ravens have added an experienced veteran to the competition to replace eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens have agreed to terms on a deal with former Seattle guard D.J. Fluker, pending a physical. The Seahawks released the 29-year-old after drafting LSU guard Damien Lewis in the third round of this weekend’s draft. Fluker started 14 games in the regular season and two playoff contests at right guard this past year, but he missed the Week 7 meeting with the Ravens due to a hamstring injury.

Pro Football Focus graded Fluker 48th among 81 qualified guards last season.

The 11th overall pick of the 2013 draft out of Alabama, Fluker began his career with San Diego and spent three seasons with current Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who held the same job with the Chargers from 2013-15. The 6-foot-5, 342-pound Fluker began his career at right tackle before moving to right guard in 2015.

Fluker played four seasons with the Chargers before spending 2017 with the New York Giants and playing for the Seahawks the last two seasons. He’s started 88 of his 92 games played over seven seasons.

The competition at right guard also includes 2019 undrafted free agent Patrick Mekari, 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, and 2020 draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson, but the two rookies could be at a significant disadvantage with on-site spring workouts wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. None will fully replace the Hall of Fame-caliber play of Yanda, of course, but Fluker’s experience edge could prove the difference amidst the uncertainty of the summer and the 2020 season as a whole.

Much of the offseason responsibility will fall on players to keep themselves in shape between now and whenever they’re allowed back at practice facilities.

“The other advantage is them knowing the playbook inside and out, not just starting when they come back,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the challenge of rookies being limited to remote work with coaches. “We’re teachers; our coaches want to coach. We’ve been developing all these applications remotely, teaching tools and interactive-type teaching tools and games and things like that. We’re going to get those guys plugged into that stuff right away just like we are with the veterans.”

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Lamar Jackson trying to stay ready in such unusual times

Posted on 21 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Under normal circumstances, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens would have been back in Owings Mills this week for the start of the offseason workout program.

We would have heard about the work he’s been doing with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris, a partnership that resulted in a historic MVP campaign last season. His recent passing sessions with top wide receiver Marquise Brown — we’ll get to Antonio Brown’s presence in a moment — would have been praised rather than criticized for violating social distancing guidelines, measures unthinkable to us all before the coronavirus pandemic.

News of him being on the cover of the upcoming edition of Madden would have brought the same harmless debate about the video game’s alleged curse without the very real uncertainty of what the 2020 season might look like — or whether it will happen at all.

Instead, Jackson remains in South Florida, doing Pilates and working out by himself as we wait out a “new normal” that isn’t normal at all.

“I’m all business when it comes to football,” Jackson said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “Everything else, I’m laid back. I don’t really do too much. I like to chill, so the quarantine is not really bothering me at all when it comes to just staying inside.”

The 23-year-old quarterback working out with the controversial Antonio Brown sparked much debate with general manager Eric DeCosta declining to comment earlier this month. While lamenting the timing and optics of conducting the workout in the midst of the pandemic, Jackson said it was the first time he’d met the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and cousin of Marquise Brown who’s been out of football since being released by New England last September.

Jackson downplayed the encounter beyond it being an opportunity to work on his craft, but he was asked about the possibility of the former Pittsburgh Steeler joining the Ravens.

“I’d be happy if they signed him,” Jackson said. “He’s a great player. He showed it each and every year when he was with the Steelers in the past, but it’s not my decision.”

With the draft set to begin on Thursday night and many clamoring for the Ravens to add more weapons to make a record-setting offense that much more dangerous in 2020, Jackson shared only one request that doesn’t come as a surprise after he gifted each of his offensive linemen a Rolex watch last Christmas.

He knows replacing eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda won’t be easy and is a greater priority than drafting another wide receiver, tight end, or running back. Jackson also wasn’t about to slight incumbent teammates who were part of the first offense in NFL history to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in a single season.

“Get the guys we need. We need a replacement for Marshal,” said Jackson about his draft wish list. “Marshal was that guy — first-ballot Hall of Famer. We need a guy for him. And whoever else we need, come in and help get us a championship.”

After piling up numerous team and league records in a franchise-best 14-2 season and becoming the second-youngest player in league history to win MVP, Jackson understands January success is the next step for both him and the Ravens, who have lost home playoff games in consecutive seasons. The disappointing defeat to Tennessee three months ago didn’t invalidate a fun and unforgettable year, but it left a cold truth for 2020.

It’s Super Bowl or bust.

“I need to win a playoff game before anything because I’m tired of that already,” said Jackson of the postseason criticism. “Once I get tired of something, I have to make it happen.”

Last year certainly showed how unwise it is to doubt Jackson, but that goal feels far away right now, much like so many other aspects of our lives.

In the meantime, the NFL’s most electrifying player is doing his best to stay ready in a sports world that’s been shut down indefinitely. And he’s trying not to dwell on the unknown.

“The world needs football,” said Jackson, even struggling with the possibility of playing games without fans in attendance this fall. “I think we’ll be playing football this year, so I’m not going to put that in my mind.”

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