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humphrey1

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 13 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding open training camp ahead of the second preseason game against Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marlon Humphrey was consistently the best player on the field these last three weeks, but his attention to detail also stood out. When he wasn’t taking reps, you’d frequently see the third-year corner reviewing plays on a tablet. He’s on track for a Pro Bowl season if he stays healthy.

2. His practice return brought relief Tuesday, but I believe more every day that expectations for Marquise Brown need to be tempered, especially early in the season. The effects of a foot injury for a speed-dependent player and limited practice time don’t exactly set the rookie up for immediate success.

3. Eric DeCosta deserves praise for fetching a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, who’s never played in an NFL regular-season game. It was wise not to get greedy knowing a couple misses Thursday could have made potential trade partners quickly reconsider interest. Baltimore’s kicker development is second to none.

4. We’ve spent much time talking about Lamar Jackson as a passer, but John Harbaugh described him as having “very high emotional IQ” to explain his natural leadership qualities and why teammates gravitate to him. There’s no way to quantify that, but it has to help at the quarterback position.

5. Along similar lines, defensive players seem to feed off Earl Thomas, who has picked his spots to show emotion and leads more by example. There’s been an adjustment for him playing in a more complex system than he did in with Seattle, but it’s going to be fun watching him.

6. Hayden Hurst had arguably his best practice of camp Tuesday, looking much more like the player we saw last summer before the foot injury. Besides health, a key for him is maintaining confidence and not letting a rough play linger in his mind, something Mark Andrews seems adept at doing.

7. With Iman Marshall missing three straight practices after appearing to have a thigh issue, many are assuming that could “stash” the rookie on injured reserve. That may prove true, but you hate seeing a young corner miss out on valuable reps with final cuts still more than two weeks away.

8. I wouldn’t have said Michael Floyd was even in the running for a roster spot prior to the preseason opener, but he’s turned in some of his best practices this last week. With Seth Roberts missing time and Brown’s status still spotty, Floyd has some daylight to make a push.

9. The Ravens are smart to play it safe with Marshal Yanda and a lingering foot issue, but I can’t help but think back to him acknowledging how big a factor health will be in determining how much longer he plays. This offensive line desperately needs him at his best.

10. With four cornerbacks missing practice and Maurice Canady only returning to the field Tuesday, how the Ravens line up in the secondary against the Packers could be interesting. It’s a reminder why Baltimore values depth at the position after being so shorthanded there several years ago.

11. I’ll never profess love for preseason football, but at least we’ll get to see Aaron Rodgers. Fans weren’t complaining, but it was a bummer not seeing him play when the Ravens went to Lambeau two years ago. The Packers will again play in Baltimore in the 2021 regular season.

12. If you already have an eye toward the season, 10 of the Ravens’ 16 games come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed last season. Yes, it’s a new year, but that’s reason for optimism, even if you’re not yet buying the Jackson hype.

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boykin

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Ravens-Jaguars preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 07 August 2019 by Luke Jones

After an offseason full of change, skepticism, and excitement, we’ll get our first live-game glimpse of the 2019 Ravens in the preseason opener against Jacksonville Thursday night.

All eyes will be on quarterback Lamar Jackson as he enters his first full year as the starter, but it remains to be seen how much we’ll see of the 22-year-old who helped rally the Ravens to their first AFC North championship since 2012 last year. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t reveal his plans regarding playing time after Tuesday’s practice, but at least a few veteran players have been held out of the first preseason game in most summers during his tenure.

“We haven’t dialed it in exactly. We have a meeting tonight on all of that where we’ll dial it in exactly,” Harbaugh said. “I have my ideas on it. I think I know, but we’ll talk about it as a staff and figure it out and get a plan together.”

There will be no shortage of familiarity with the Jaguars, who traveled to Owings Mills to practice with the Ravens for two days earlier this week. Full contact was minimal, but the Ravens offense held its own against a talented Jacksonville defense while the Baltimore defense surprisingly struggled against quarterback Nick Foles and the Jaguars offense Tuesday afternoon.

Those practice reps against another team will serve as another interesting variable in determining how much veterans ultimately play Thursday. After practicing two days with the Ravens last summer, the Los Angeles Rams didn’t play any of their starters in a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium. In fact, Rams coach Sean McVay held most of his starters out for the entire preseason before his team ultimately advanced to the Super Bowl, which will surely provide food for thought for other NFL coaches moving forward.

“We got a lot done. They got a lot done,” said Harbaugh of the two practices with Jacksonville. “Hats off to coach [Doug] Marrone and the whole Jaguar organization. I thought they were very classy. Everything was very professional on both sides. We got our work done. We respected one another. It was good.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Jacksonville will meet in the preseason with Baltimore winning 48-17 in 2012. However, the Jaguars lead the all-time regular-season series by a 12-9 margin.

The Ravens own a 33-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won 13 exhibition contests in a row a streak extending back to the opener of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

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

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

OUT: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Marquise Brown (foot), OL Randin Crecelius (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle)

Five players to watch Thursday night

RB Kenneth Dixon

Dixon is arguably the most fascinating player on the roster bubble. Injuries and two drug-related suspensions limited him to just 18 games over his first three seasons, but he averaged a robust 5.6 yards per carry last season and looks quicker and leaner this summer. No higher than third on the depth chart behind starter Mark Ingram and 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, Dixon doesn’t play special teams and is also competing with speedy rookie Justice Hill for snaps, additional factors not helping his case. No one doubts his talent, but is there enough trust to commit a spot to Dixon in the final year of his rookie deal? If not, you would think the Ravens will try to showcase him for a potential trade by summer’s end.

OLB Tim Williams

The 2017 third-round pick flashed in limited chances over his first two seasons, but nagging injuries and some questions about his dedication held Williams back when pass-rush rotation snaps were up for grabs. He has practiced more consistently this summer and is again flashing as a pass rusher, but his ability to set the edge is a significant question in his quest for extensive playing time. Williams appears to be second on the depth chart behind Pernell McPhee at rush linebacker, but he will need to prove himself in preseason games to not only force his way into a meaningful role but to lock up a roster spot. As defensive line coach Joe Cullen said this week, the clock ticking on Williams is “ready to explode.”

G Jermaine Eluemunor

After being waived last September and spending time on the practice squad, Eluemunor regained some roster footing with respectable fill-in play last season and took that momentum into the spring as he lined up as the starting left guard. However, Harbaugh has mentioned his need to get in better shape multiple times and Eluemunor failed the conditioning test at the start of training camp, leading to rookie Ben Powers taking most of the first-team reps over the first week. Eluemunor has since found his way back into the starting left guard spot, but his hold on the job is tenuous at best with Powers and James Hurst also in the mix. This is a massive opportunity Eluemunor can’t afford to squander any longer.

ILB Chris Board

Most anticipated Kenny Young stepping into the starting weak-side inside linebacker spot next to Patrick Onwuasor after four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley’s free-agent departure in March, but it was apparent in the spring that Board — a 2018 undrafted free agent from North Dakota State who led the Ravens in special-teams tackles last year — had moved ahead of Young in the competition and he’s only strengthened his hold on the base and nickel jobs since camp opened. The Ravens like Board’s speed and have cited how much he dropped into pass coverage in college as valuable experience for his transition to the NFL, but we’re still talking about someone who played all of 14 defensive snaps as a rookie.

WR Miles Boykin

We won’t see first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown Thursday since he’s only practiced on a very limited basis coming back from January foot surgery, but Boykin has looked like Baltimore’s best wide receiver at times this summer. The rookie third-round pick from Notre Dame always looked the part with a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the combine, but those impressive traits have carried over to the practice field as he has made plays against the talented Baltimore secondary and has caught the ball pretty consistently. The key will be maintaining that momentum in preseason games to grow his confidence and continue building chemistry with Jackson.

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Ravens holding out veteran guard Yanda with “little ankle, foot thing”

Posted on 03 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the midst of their healthiest start to training camp in recent memory, the Ravens are choosing to play it safe with one of their best players.

Seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda missed his second straight practice Saturday with what head coach John Harbaugh says is a minor ailment. It was originally believed Yanda was receiving his second veteran day off of the summer Friday before James Hurst was lining up as the starting right guard for the second consecutive workout.

“Yanda is not a serious injury. He had a little ankle, foot thing,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to practice, and I’m like, ‘Eh. How about we just take it easy for today?'” 

It’s unclear whether the issue is with the same ankle Yanda broke in the second game of the 2017 season, an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. The 34-year-old was still part of the group of Ravens players, coaches, and personnel who flew to Canton, Ohio after Saturday afternoon’s practice for Ed Reed’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Other veterans not practicing Saturday included safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram, who were both given the practice off by Harbaugh. Defensive back Anthony Levine and offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Randin Crecelius were also absent.

It’s been only one week since backup quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a hairline fracture in his right thumb, but he continues to practice on a limited basis and even did some light throwing of the football. His dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed even though Griffin isn’t expected to be cleared for live action before the start of the regular season.

“‘RG3’ comes out here in full pads, and he goes through every read, every play — the mechanics of it,” Harbaugh said. “He’s probably getting more work in than if he were playing in lot of ways. I give him a lot of credit for that. He’s a pro, and he’s doing a great job.”

The Ravens will enjoy their second day off of training camp Sunday in preparation for a pair of joint practices with Jacksonville. The Jaguars and Ravens will practice together Monday and Tuesday before kicking off the preseason schedule at M&T Bank Stadium Thursday night.

This marks the third time in six summers the Ravens will have hosted another team for joint workouts at their Owings Mills training facility after practicing with San Francisco in 2014 and welcoming the Los Angeles Rams last August. Baltimore will travel to Philadelphia later this month to practice with the Eagles for two days ahead of the third preseason game.

“The next step in the evaluation — put on a little more pressure,” said Harbaugh after nine days of his players practicing against only each other. “Now we have another team in front of us, and that poses problems. New schemes, different players, how do you handle that? I’m looking forward to seeing how the guys handle it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at start of training camp

Posted on 25 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 24th training camp in Baltimore, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Brandon Williams carried on the tradition of driving Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart onto the field, but it was very different not seeing or hearing Terrell Suggs on the first day of practice. His trash talk and carrying on largely represented the soundtrack of training camp. Practice was much quieter.

2. Michael Pierce deserves credit for his candor discussing his weight and conditioning problems and the work he’s put in. He took a scale on his pre-planned trip to Italy and ate only seafood and lighter fare. He’s a better man than I would have been for laying off the pasta.

3. The start of practice was pretty ugly for Lamar Jackson, but he knocked off rust to throw the ball much better in the latter half. He was picked by Chuck Clark while rolling to his right, but Jackson made some strong intermediate and deep passes and showed more accuracy.

4. John Harbaugh said the offense “looked like it was the first day” as the line struggled to protect and the unit committed way too many pre-snap penalties. That’s typical for this time of year, but a run-first attack will need do the little things well to stay on schedule.

5. Patrick Onwuasor seems to be taking to a leadership role as he is now playing “Mike” linebacker and even offered an opening statement at the podium Thursday, a rarity for a player interview. He says he listened and learned plenty in his first three years to prepare for this opportunity.

6. Marquise Brown not being cleared for the first day was disappointing, but it’s wise not to push with the soreness he still feels when cutting. The sense is he should at least be a limited participant by next week, but concern will grow if that doesn’t happen. He needs reps.

7. After a hamstring injury limited him this spring, Miles Boykin showed good speed in his snaps with the first-team offense. He dropped a pretty deep ball from Jackson, but he rebounded to haul in a contested catch for a touchdown against Earl Thomas in coverage and made some other plays.

8. Despite failing his conditioning test and sitting out the first day, Shane Ray has a real opportunity to revitalize his career and carve out a big role if healthy. I’m not sure whether that says more about his spring work or the lack of confidence in the younger options.

9. Fellow veteran Pernell McPhee lined up as the starting rush linebacker opposite Matthew Judon on the first day. I’m interested to see how the 30-year-old’s reps are managed with his injury history in mind, but I still anticipate him being more of a situational inside rusher than anything else.

10. Ben Powers reaped the benefits of getting to play left guard with Alex Lewis and Jermaine Eluemunor not practicing and James Hurst filling in for Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle on the first day. This competition is wide open, but the rookie fourth-round pick is definitely in the mix.

11. We’ve spotlighted the early-round draft misses in recent years, but the 2016 rookie class that included second- and third-round busts Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi also produced Judon, a fifth-round pick, as well as Onwuasor and Pierce, two undrafted free agents. Talk about terrific value.

12. One of the biggest surprises to begin camp was seeing a beard-free Marshal Yanda, a sight I couldn’t remember in my time on the beat. The seven-time Pro Bowl right guard appears to be in good shape entering his 13th season.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 17 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in just over a week and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties

We continue on the offensive line, a group that was truly a tale of two halves last season as the Ravens ranked 31st in yards per carry over the first nine weeks and were the NFL’s best rushing team over the final seven games of 2018. Lamar Jackson taking over at quarterback played a colossal part in that improvement, of course, but Pro Football Focus ranked Baltimore as its 10th-best offensive line by the end of the season — and 11th in its 2019 preseason rankings — and Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens eighth in pass protection.

The Ravens have an offensive line that isn’t unique from most in the league in that they have three undisputed starters, another they’d probably like to upgrade in a perfect world, and a significant question mark at the fifth starting spot. That profile fits most teams — including plenty of playoff contenders — as overall offensive line play has suffered in recent years, but the Ravens have continuity on their side as all eight linemen to play 94 or more offensive snaps last season are returning, an advantage offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris will certainly enjoy going into the summer.

Below is a look at the offensive linemen who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Marshal Yanda
Skinny: The Ravens sorely missed the 34-year-old after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury early in 2017, but it didn’t take Yanda long to shake off the rust last year as he graded as PFF’s fourth-best guard in the NFL and made his seventh Pro Bowl in the last eight seasons. The 2007 third-round pick from Iowa is another Pro Bowl or two away from really having an excellent case for induction in Canton one day, but the Ravens are happy to have him back continuing to lead a young offensive line.

Old Reliable — Yanda
Skinny: Despite signing a one-year extension through 2020, Yanda is playing on a year-by-year basis at this point with his health being a major factor determining how much longer he will suit up. His understated leadership will be even more important this year with key veterans such as Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle no longer on the roster.

Under Fire — Alex Lewis
Skinny: All things equal, the 27-year-old may still be the best option at left guard, but his career has been marred by injuries and he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract. Recovering from offseason shoulder surgery is a challenge by itself, but the 2016 fourth-round pick’s decision to rehab away from the team facility probably doesn’t help him in any tiebreaker situation for a roster spot in the eyes of decision makers. It’s now or never for Lewis to stay healthy and realize his potential.

Up-and-Comer — Orlando Brown Jr.
Skinny: The 2018 third-round pick wasn’t dominant as a rookie, but he was solid in his first 10 starts and graded as PFF’s 47th-best offensive tackle. Brown may not be a great athlete — his combine numbers spelled that out — but what he lacks from a measurable standpoint is made up for with intellect and an advanced understanding of angles, which is such a critical part of line play. The Ravens are right to have high expectations for Brown entering his first full year as a starter.

Sleeper — Greg Senat
Skinny: The former college basketball player from Wagner missed his rookie season with a foot injury, but the Ravens could use a backup left tackle — and have a starter entering the penultimate year of his rookie contract — and clearly liked Senat’s upside when drafting him in the sixth round last year. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound lineman largely remains an unknown, but the Ravens don’t have as many options at offensive tackle as they do for the interior spots, making his roster chances better than you think.

The Rest — Ronnie Stanley, Matt Skura, Jermaine Eluemunor, James Hurst, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Patrick Mekari, Patrick Vahe, Darrell Williams
Skinny: This season could determine whether Stanley will remain in the solid-to-above-average tier of left tackles or put the Ravens on notice that they’ll need to make him one of the highest-paid left tackles in the game in the not-too-distant future. … Skura is maligned by fans and media and is far from an All-Pro center, but the Ravens have a higher opinion of the former practice-squad member than most of the outside world. He was graded as the NFL’s 23rd-best center by PFF. … Eluemunor was the surprising choice to line up as the first-team left guard this spring, but John Harbaugh wasn’t impressed with his conditioning and downplayed any notion of him being the favorite to start in the fall. … Hurst’s $4.75 million salary cap number is on the high side if he doesn’t win the starting left guard job, but the Ravens have always valued his versatility across the offensive line. … Bozeman will get practice reps at center and the guard spots, but spring workouts offered no indication of him being in serious contention for Skura’s starting job as some predicted early in the offseason.

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Ravens conclude spring workouts with few injury concerns

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The best news for the Ravens at the end of spring workouts was the avoidance of any serious injuries with the start of the 2019 campaign still almost three months away.

Few developments are more deflating than losing a key player or two for the season as Baltimore did two springs ago when cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta suffered serious injuries on back-to-back days.

All but five players on the offseason roster participated in all three days of mandatory minicamp this week, but one of the non-participants was 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown, who has not yet been cleared to practice despite taking a couple reps in a position drill Wednesday that created some out-of-market media buzz. General manager Eric DeCosta said during the NFL draft that the organization “conservatively” projected Brown to be ready to practice by training camp after undergoing surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in January.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the speedy 22-year-old is not yet running at full speed on flat ground despite the agility work he began doing earlier this month, but he remains “hopeful” Brown will be ready to go when players report back to Owings Mills in late July. The Ravens drafted the former Oklahoma star to make an immediate play-making impact in an offense needing more speed.

“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari (back) missed all of this week’s three-day minicamp.

Lewis’ status remains unclear as he recovers from January shoulder surgery and wasn’t in the building for the voluntary offseason training program. It was a questionable decision for someone who has missed 28 games in his first three seasons and is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

The 2016 fourth-round pick has started 18 of his 20 career games and showed much promise in the past, but Harbaugh made it clear the competition for the starting left guard job is wide open this summer.

“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”

Pierce hasn’t been made available to reporters since being pulled off the field by Harbaugh Tuesday because of concerns about his weight and conditioning, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and safety Tony Jefferson were among those offering their support to the fourth-year defensive tackle in the midst of much disappointment this week.

“What I said to him and I said it in front of the whole defense, ‘Life is about choices. Just don’t make that choice make your life,’” Martindale said Wednesday. “He’s a dominant player, and he has a challenge to get from here until training camp to hit a certain stage. That’s [up] to the trainers and Eric and ‘Harbs’ on where they want him to be, and I know he’ll be there. I know he will.”

Safety Earl Thomas wasn’t making many splash plays in his first practices since fracturing his lower left leg for the second time in three years last September, but he showed his new team he’s recovered and ready to resume a brilliant career that’s featured six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship as part of Seattle’s dominant “Legion of Boom” defense. His challenge now is getting used to the complexity of Martindale’s system that puts responsibility on the players to make and communicate pre-snap adjustments.

The 30-year-old said he’s “in the right spot” physically and offered praise to Baltimore’s training staff for helping him get back into football shape.

“I have my days. But, for the most part, like today, you never want to get off the field when you’re feeling good,” said Thomas, who’s missed 19 regular-seasons games over the last three years. “I didn’t want to come out. Usually, I’ll take three reps a period, four reps, but I didn’t want to come out today. I felt really good. I’m just taking it day by day.”

The sight of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda taking part in mandatory minicamp has been a rarity in recent years because of a variety of injuries and offseason surgeries, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection said he never doubted he’d return for 2019 upon finishing last season healthy. Yanda, 34, signed a one-year contract extension through 2020 earlier this offseason, but he isn’t changing his mindset from last year when he acknowledged he was now viewing his career on a season-by-season basis.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling really good about playing this fall, and I don’t look any further down the road,” Yanda said. “I’m worried about playing this fall and playing good football. The best thing is that I didn’t have to recover from an offseason surgery, so I didn’t have to rehab this offseason. I could lift and I could do some shoulder maintenance, but I didn’t have to get any range of motion back.”

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Pierce begins contract year with Ravens in dubious fashion

Posted on 11 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ two most notable players entering the final year of their rookie contracts had strikingly different starts to mandatory minicamp.

Both outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Michael Pierce chose to skip Baltimore’s voluntary offseason training program this spring, a common practice of notable players in contract years. However, while Judon looked as though he hadn’t missed a beat during Tuesday’s practice, Pierce didn’t even make it out of the opening warmup period.

Noticeably bigger than his listed 340-pound frame from last season, Pierce left the field and didn’t return after a brief conversation with head coach John Harbaugh just minutes into the morning workout.

“He’s not ready to practice, just from a safety standpoint, for his own healthy and safety,” Harbaugh said. “We recognized that, and we pulled him off for that reason.

“He’s not ready for that practice yet. You can probably tell.”

It was an embarrassing development for the former undrafted free agent, who graded as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in 2018 and is seeking a lucrative contract next offseason. Any player has the right not to partake in voluntary workouts, of course, but such a decision comes with the expectation of being ready to practice upon reporting to the team facility for mandatory activities.

While the organization’s primary focus remains on what Pierce will contribute this season and there’s plenty of time for the 26-year-old to get himself in shape before the start of training camp in late July, the unintended message he delivered Tuesday was one of caution to the Ravens or any other team potentially interested in signing him to a long-term deal.

“It’s a problem, absolutely,” Harbaugh said. “We want guys practicing. We want them ready to practice, physically able to practice. That’s very important.”

Meanwhile, Judon worked at his usual strong-side outside linebacker position and moved well playing the run, rushing the passer, and occasionally dropping back into pass coverage. He’s the only returning outside linebacker to have played extensive snaps in last year’s defense after the free-agent departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.

Judon, 26, is seeking his third consecutive season with seven or more sacks, which would put him in position for a major contract.

“He looked like he was in shape,” Harbaugh said. “He played fast and worked hard, knew what he was doing. He looked good.”

Left guard surprise

The competition at left guard is expected to be one of the more intriguing position battles this summer, but few would have predicted third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor earning the first opportunity.

With Alex Lewis still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and James Hurst working with the second-string offensive line, Eluemunor practiced as the first-team left guard Tuesday and manned the spot during voluntary organized team activities. The 2017 fifth-round pick made two starts at right guard and appeared in eight games as a rookie, but he was waived last September and spent a month on the practice squad before making his way back to the active roster. The 24-year-old appeared in nine games and made one start in place of an injured Ronnie Stanley at left tackle last season.

“I think each year, each practice, he’s had some good growth,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. “He played as a rookie. That’s tough. We put him in a very difficult situation, but he responded well. Last year, he played again at tackle. He can play left tackle. This guy is athletic. He’s another big guy that can move and that’s very athletic.

“I just saw continued growth, and I said, ‘Give him a chance.’ So, I put him back in at [left] guard, and he’s doing a real nice job there. We’ll see how it all pans out.”

In addition to Eluemunor, Lewis, and Hurst, second-year interior lineman Bradley Bozeman and fourth-round rookie Ben Powers are also expected to be in the mix at left guard, which is exactly the way D’Alessandris prefers it. Lewis began last season as the starter before neck and shoulder injuries limited him to 10 games, opening the door for Hurst, Bozeman, and former Raven Hroniss Grasu to start games at left guard.

With Lewis entering the final year of his rookie deal and having played in just 20 games in his first three seasons because of injuries, left guard appears to be wide open.

“I think that’s how football should be. I think give everyone the chance,” D’Alessandris said. “Between now and our opener, we don’t know what’s going to happen per player. Let’s let each day take its course, and let’s see how each player plays. Usually, the cream surfaces to the top at the very end.”

Attendance

In addition to Pierce and Lewis, three others were not participating in Tuesday’s workout. That included first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones, and rookie guard Patrick Mekari.

Harbaugh confirmed Jones is dealing with a non-football health issue, even going as far as revealing the former Gilman star had “an episode” a few months ago. The Ravens have not disclosed the condition, and neither Jones nor head athletic trainer Ron Medlin have been made available to reporters.

“He’s not cleared to practice at this time because of that,” Harbaugh said. “We do expect him back for training camp as far as I’ve been told, but I think there are tests and things like that that he has to pass.”

For the second straight week, Brown was working off to the side as he moves closer to his expected return for the start of training camp.

Safety Tony Jefferson participated for roughly 75 minutes Tuesday in what was his first practice since his January ankle surgery.

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Looking at Ravens’ non-participants at voluntary OTAs

Posted on 10 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will conduct their three-day mandatory minicamp this week, meaning we’ll witness the 2019 on-field debut of a handful of players who’ve yet to take part in workouts in Owings Mills this spring.

Organized team activities are voluntary, of course, but the seven players who didn’t participate in any of the three sessions open to media had different reasons, ranging from injuries and simple veteran preference to contract status.

Below is a look at each of the seven players who didn’t participate in any of the three OTA days open to reporters on May 23, May 30, and June 6:

S Tony Jefferson

A regular observer on the sideline during voluntary workouts, Jefferson was held out following ankle surgery in January, but there’s no concern regarding his status for training camp and he could even see some practice time this week. The 27-year-old is being counted on to help pick up the leadership slack after the offseason departures of defensive veterans Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley, so his presence at the training facility while working his way back to full strength hasn’t gone unnoticed.

G Marshal Yanda

Entering his 13th year after some speculation about his football future this offseason, Yanda skipping voluntary workouts to prepare on his own is hardly a new development as the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has earned that right more than any other player on the current roster. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in years, the 34-year-old Yanda knows how to get himself ready for the regular season and the Ravens will naturally be careful with his workload in the summer.

OLB Matthew Judon

Baltimore’s only established outside linebacker remaining from last season and entering the final year of his contract, Judon skipping voluntary OTAs wasn’t surprising as countless players across the NFL make similar business decisions. The Ravens would like to reach a long-term extension with the 2016 fifth-round pick who’s appeared in all 32 games and collected 15 sacks over the last two seasons, but the always-increasing price of edge rushers will make it challenging to keep Judon from hitting the market.

DT Michael Pierce

Pierce is in the same position as Judon as he enters the final season of his rookie deal and has received praise from publications such as Pro Football Focus despite playing 400 or more snaps only once in his first three years. Pierce should have opportunities to grow his free-agent value if he can step up as a pass rusher this coming year, but how the defensive tackle situation shakes out next offseason will be interesting as Brandon Williams will be entering the fourth year of his $52.5 million contract.

WR Marquise Brown

The Ravens said all along the 2019 first-round pick wasn’t expected to be on the practice field until training camp after undergoing Lisfranc surgery, but he was working off to the side during last week’s open OTA and has been in the building. Still, at least some uneasiness about the 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver’s foot will linger until we see him showing that tremendous speed against the Baltimore secondary. The 22-year-old will need as many reps as he can get with Lamar Jackson this summer.

CB/PR Cyrus Jones

The former Gilman star’s status remains fuzzy as he’s reportedly been dealing with an unspecified illness this spring, but the Ravens’ remarkable depth at the cornerback position makes it important for Jones to get back on the practice field to reaffirm his defensive value in addition to what he brings as a return specialist. The 25-year-old would strengthen his grip on a roster spot by emerging as the primary kick returner in addition to handling punts.

G Alex Lewis

The 2016 fourth-round pick looked like a draft steal early in his rookie season, but multiple injuries have limited Lewis to just 20 games in his first three years and he’s currently recovering from shoulder surgery. A healthy Lewis is perfectly capable of winning the left guard competition, but the 27-year-old is entering the last year of his rookie deal while the likes of James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, and rookie fourth-round selection Ben Powers remain under contract beyond 2019, which works against Lewis.

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New Ravens safety Thomas “in the right spots” at this week’s OTAs

Posted on 30 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens safety Earl Thomas returned to an NFL practice field this week for the first time since a fractured lower left leg abruptly ended his nine-year run with Seattle last September.

The six-time Pro Bowl selection has taken part in this week’s voluntary organized team activities and has already made a strong impression with head coach John Harbaugh. Thomas, 30, will not only patrol center field for what could be the NFL’s best and deepest secondary, but his leadership will be needed to help fill the void of departed defensive veterans Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley.

The former Seahawk showed aggressiveness during his full-team reps, nearly colliding with slot receiver Willie Snead on one play in a non-contact session. Thomas is practicing with a compression sleeve on his left leg, which had a rod placed in it last October after his tibia was fractured for the second time in three seasons. That injury didn’t stop the Ravens from signing Thomas to a four-year, $55 million contract in March.

“He’s had a great week. He’s looked really good,” Harbaugh said. “Great anticipation, and then great ability to cover ground. He shows up in the right spots on a regular basis, so to me, that’s what great safeties do, and he’s doing a great job.”

Thomas wasn’t the only veteran present for Thursday’s voluntary workout after not taking part in last week’s practice open to reporters as cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Williams were also participating. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle), cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Cyrus Jones (illness), outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Gerald Willis, and inside linebackers Alvin Jones and Otaro Alaka were not taking part.

Rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) remain sidelined for health-related reasons while guard Marshal Yanda, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, and running back Kenneth Dixon were other offensive players absent from the practice field Thursday.

Slot receiver Willie Snead was practicing with a red non-contact vest over his practice jersey, a precautionary measure stemming from finger surgery earlier this offseason. His activity level was ramped up Thursday after he participated in only the first half of last week’s workout open to reporters. Harbaugh quipped that the red jersey was the compromise from needing to lock Snead in the locker room to keep him off the field for what are still only voluntary sessions.

The youthfulness of the wide receiver group — and the offense as a whole — has made Snead’s presence on the field more important, according to the 26-year-old who’s only in his fifth season himself.

“I feel like my role on this team has grown a little bit more — not as a No. 1 receiver, but as a leader on the team,” said Snead, who also lost 10 pounds this offseason to try to improve his speed. “I definitely just wanted to be here with the guys and grow with the guys and learn the offense as they learned it. Just still be around the guys, bring that energy, bring that life, and just continue to get better.”

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Ravens defense begins OTAs sporting different look

Posted on 23 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ first open organized team activity didn’t offer a great look at a defense that’s undergone substantial change this offseason.

As if the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban weren’t enough, six other notable defensive players weren’t participating in Thursday’s voluntary workout, leaving only a few established veterans, role players, and unproven young talents on the practice field. The list of absentees was headlined by six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, the blockbuster free-agent acquisition handpicked to help fill voids in leadership and play-making ability. Other defensive players not taking part were cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Tony Jefferson, who is still working his way back to full strength from offseason ankle surgery and was a sideline observer.

Though led by one of the NFL’s best and deepest secondaries, the Ravens defense faces major questions at the inside and outside linebacker positions ahead of the 2019 season

“There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces and I see a lot of new opportunities,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my [2017] draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves and to become those household names.”

As expected, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were lining up as the starting inside linebackers after sharing time at the weak-side inside backer spot next to Mosley last year, but trying to project the starting outside linebacker opposite Judon is anyone’s guess after Suggs manned the spot for the last 15 years. The Ravens hope some combination of third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will emerge, but the low-risk signings of Pernell McPhee, 30, and Shane Ray, 26 last week delivered the message that young players won’t be handed snaps without first earning them.

McPhee, who played for the Ravens from 2011-14, and Ray combined for only one sack with their former teams last season, but they rank first and third, respectively, among current Baltimore players in career sacks, illustrating the lack of established edge rushers on the roster.

“That certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come. You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come and not everybody does a good job of that. They did a good job of that. They were out there today. You saw them competing, so they looked good.”

Absences on the offensive side of the ball were more related to health as rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) only observed and guard Alex Lewis continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Right guard Marshal Yanda was not present, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has skipped voluntary OTAs in the past.

The most interesting absence Thursday was running back Kenneth Dixon, who likely stands fourth in his position’s hierarchy behind free-agent addition and two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram, 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill. Despite averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry upon returning from a knee injury late last season, Dixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a variable that often leaves a player’s job security vulnerable when competing at a deep position. His history of injuries and drug-related suspensions also works against him.

“He was here the last few days,” Harbaugh said. “Where was he today? I don’t know. They don’t have to tell us. There’s no rule.”

Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive tackle Gerald Willis were also absent, but Willis did sustain an apparent leg injury during rookie camp earlier this month.

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