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Breaking down the 2018 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 01 September 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s important to remember Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will continue to explore additions and other changes to the roster with a move or two likely before the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo, but below is a breakdown of the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (3) — Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III, Lamar Jackson
Analysis: The skeptic would say the Ravens drafted a quarterback in the first round and don’t even trust him to be the backup, but a few players going on injured reserve in recent days made it easier to keep Griffin on the 53-man roster — at least for now. I still believe Jackson would be perfectly fine handling the No. 2 job, but I’m indifferent to backup quarterback conversation and the Ravens would be in trouble with either reserve at the helm if Flacco were to miss more than a game or two.

RUNNING BACKS (4) — Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: There were no surprises with this group other than perhaps Dixon not making a stronger push for touches behind Collins and Allen this summer. The 2016 fourth-round pick remains a wild card in this rushing attack, but health issues have continued to stunt his development. Ricard could find himself earning even more snaps on the defensive line than at fullback after the summer he had.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant
Analysis: Lasley and Grant were the last men standing in a very underwhelming competition among the young wide receivers and return specialists in camp. It would have been a bad look for the Ravens to cut a fifth-round pick with their draft history at the wide receiver position, and Grant cleanly beat out Tim White despite losing a fumble in the preseason. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens scan the waiver wire for another option in the return game.

TIGHT ENDS (4) — Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
Analysis: Hurst’s absence due to a foot injury made Williams’ blocking ability indispensable in Baltimore’s run-blocking schemes, but the Ravens need someone to emerge in the passing game until the first-round rookie returns. Andrews, a third-round rookie, finally had a strong showing against backups in the final preseason game, but he had an underwhelming summer beyond that.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Jermaine Eleumunor, Bradley Bozeman
Analysis: Head coach John Harbaugh should feel good about right tackle after the rookie Brown’s performance in the preseason, but center remains a concern with Skura looking shaky and the Ravens apparently preferring to keep Lewis at guard after giving him some center reps this summer. Hurst’s versatility is valuable, but Eluemunor and Bozeman didn’t inspire confidence with their preseason play. Adding a quality depth piece or two should be the top priority for Newsome in the coming days.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Chris Wormley, Zach Sieler, Willie Henry
Analysis: With Henry sidelined for a few weeks due to hernia surgery, I thought the Ravens might value Carl Davis’ versatility a little more, but there’s more than enough depth to feel good about this group as Ricard gives them a seventh defensive lineman. Wormley worked outside and inside this summer, so the Ravens hope he can add some quality versatility after a quiet rookie year. Is this the year Urban finally stays healthy and fulfills his potential?

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
Analysis: Albert McClellan’s release suggests the knee injury suffered by Young in the preseason finale isn’t too serious. Onwuasor figures to receive the veteran courtesy in what will be an early timeshare at the spot next to Mosley, but the fourth-round rookie Young looks too promising to keep off the field for long. Board is the latest rookie free-agent linebacker to make the Ravens roster, joining the likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Onwuasor over the years.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
Analysis: Williams looked like the most improved player on the roster this summer and should receive more pass-rushing snaps after an underwhelming rookie campaign. A groin injury cost Bowser valuable practice time, but he needs to take a step forward as the backup “Sam” linebacker to Judon. Suggs is still going strong entering his 16th season, but younger options showing improvement would allow the Ravens to keep the 35-year-old on more of a pitch count to keep him fresh late in the year.

CORNERBACKS (6) — Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett, Darious Williams
Analysis: This group isn’t as impressive at the top with Jimmy Smith serving a four-game suspension, but Young’s return from last year’s ACL injury and the 2018 fourth-round pick Averett’s strong summer make you feel better about the current depth. Williams’ inclusion on the roster was a surprise likely aided by Stanley Jean-Baptiste breaking his arm in the preseason finale. The key for the present and future will be Humphrey playing like a No. 1 corner, something he has the ability to do.

SAFETIES (4) — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
Analysis: This group may lack someone with a dynamic center-field presence, but Weddle’s mental prowess and the versatility of the other three give new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the ability to use various sub packages in passing situations. The Ravens appear committed to playing Jefferson closer to the line of scrimmage more consistently, but this is a big year for him to justify the big contract he received last year.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its seventh consecutive season together. You rarely find continuity like that in the NFL.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following fourth preseason win over Miami

Posted on 26 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens continuing their undefeated streak in a 27-10 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A Ravens defense playing without Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Brandon Carr, and Willie Henry held the Dolphins starters to a total of two yards in the first quarter. You can debate where the high-end talent ranks compared to other teams, but this defense is extremely deep.

2. Lamar Jackson had his best preseason performance, running for a touchdown and throwing for another. I was most impressed by his 33-yard completion to Tim White, a play in which he scrambled left and easily could have taken off. Seeing him keep his eyes down the field was a positive.

3. Between Jackson’s improved play and a new list of health concerns entering the season, Robert Griffin III can’t be liking his roster chances as much as he did a week ago. Whether it’s with the Ravens or elsewhere, the former first-round pick has proven he belongs on an NFL roster.

4. Tony Jefferson made his preseason debut, seeing 19 defensive snaps and making four tackles. After an underwhelming first season in Baltimore, Jefferson had to be itching to get out there as Chuck Clark played solid football and the now-injured rookie DeShon Elliott showed promise for the future.

5. Sixth-round pick Bradley Bozeman starting at right guard suggests he may have surpassed Jermaine Eluemunor for a roster spot, but it was more interesting seeing him flip positions with starting center Matt Skura later in the first half. Center remains a real concern after the free-agent departure of Ryan Jensen.

6. Stanley Jean-Baptiste is doing everything he can for a roster spot in the aftermath of Jimmy Smith’s suspension as he intercepted a pass in a second straight game. He and rookie Anthony Averett have played very well, which you don’t expect from corners so low on the depth chart.

7. With Hayden Hurst out to start the season, fellow rookie Mark Andrews now has a better chance to contribute immediately. His initial response to that opportunity was a drop on a Griffin pass thrown slightly behind him and a false start on a first-and-goal from the Miami 1. Not good.

8. The weak-side inside linebacker competition is trending upward after good performances from both Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor. My guess is we’ll continue to see a rotation early in the season, but Young will be tough to keep off the field as he gains more experience.

9. Greg Senat started at left tackle and had a chance to solidify a roster spot with a decent showing, albeit against Pro Bowl defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Instead, the rookie struggled early and left with a foot injury, leaving his status in question. Stay healthy, Ronnie Stanley.

10. De’Lance Turner showed breakaway speed on his 65-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but the seal delivered by Nico Siragusa and perfect trap block from Randin Crecelius were refreshing to see after uninspiring play from the reserve interior line for most of the preseason.

11. It was good seeing Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant, and White show a pulse in the receiver and returner competitions after the Indianapolis debacle. I’m not convinced Grant or White is on the verge of “winning” the return job, but I still believe the Ravens like Lasley’s potential despite his struggles.

12. I agreed with the decision to rest key starters, but Joe Flacco has played 10.4 percent of the time a Ravens quarterback has lined up this preseason. Terrell Suggs has taken 23 snaps in four games. There has to be a better way without gouging fans for a bad product.

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As Ravens wait on Yanda, offensive line continues experimenting

Posted on 29 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have used both Matt Skura and Alex Lewis as the starting center in the early days of training camp as they must fill the void of accomplished 2017 starter Ryan Jensen.

Asked how that battle is playing out in this early stage of summer, head coach John Harbaugh offered an interesting description of what’s currently happening with his offensive line.

“I’m not so sure I’d call it a competition right now,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just trying to find the best combination. Probably, that’s a better way of saying it. Matt is playing very well. Alex is playing very well. How do the pieces fit together? I think they’re both doing a good job.”

For what it’s worth, Skura has received more reps as the first-team center and is considered the early favorite to replace Jensen, but the Ravens won’t have their best look at the 2018 offensive line until longtime right guard Marshal Yanda returns to practice later in the summer. Having lost Jensen as well as moving on from starting right tackle Austin Howard in the offseason, Baltimore needs Yanda, the six-time Pro Bowl selection recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, healthy and poised to resume his dominant level of play if the offense is to make meaningful improvement in 2018.

The Ravens know Yanda will play right guard and 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley will once again man the left tackle position, but how the rest of the starting line will look in September remains to be seen. In the meantime, Lewis is receiving his first extended looks at center, a position he’s labeled as the “quarterback of the offensive line” for the responsibility of identifying the “Mike” linebacker and making protection calls.

“There’s that one word called ‘opportunity’ for many of them,” second-year offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said, “where you check and see if they can play that position, how they can handle that. Then, if you see they start handling it pretty good, you start giving them a little bit more reps. Some of them may not, and you maybe say, ‘OK let’s hold off and we’ll keep you at one position.'”

A byproduct of Yanda’s absence has been the shift of versatile veteran James Hurst to right guard, which has allowed 2018 third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. to take extensive snaps as the starting right tackle. Brown and Hurst are competing for the right tackle job with the rookie expected to eventually be the long-term starter.

Flexible pieces such as Lewis and Hurst are valuable commodities on game days when teams usually have only seven active offensive linemen available.

“It helps tremendously,” Harbaugh said. “You have Alex, who could probably play either guard, learning how to play center, and [he] played tackle in college. He has played tackle for us here already. James Hurst is another one that has amazing versatility. We’re teaching Nico Siragusa how to play center as well, and [Maurquice Shakir] is in there practicing at center.

“This early part of training camp is going to be a big part of that. Probably, [when] we get to the Rams and then to the Colts [preseason games], for sure, we’ll start honing in on what we’re going to do.”

Breeland rationale

Harbaugh didn’t have much to say Friday when asked about reports of free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland visiting the Ravens.

“I have no idea. Not really thinking about it right now,” Harbaugh said. “I like our guys, and we’re coaching our guys.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome always says you can never have too many corners, but the Ravens seemingly have their best depth at the position in years and wouldn’t appear to be the best spot for a fifth-year player with 57 career starts already under his belt to re-establish his market value for next offseason. Breeland had agreed to join Carolina on a three-year, $24 million deal in March before his physical revealed an infection from a cut on his foot, voiding the deal.

The former Washington cornerback ranked 21st among outside cornerbacks in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings last season while current Ravens cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Brandon Carr ranked second, 17th, and 22nd, respectively. Short of something unforeseen like a pending suspension that hasn’t been reported or a preseason decision to move on from Carr and his $7 million cap number for 2018, adding Breeland to an already-crowded group doesn’t seem to make much sense with other positions of greater need currently on the roster.

Injury report

The Ravens gave a number of players the day off on Saturday, a list that included linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and safety Anthony Levine.

Running back Kenneth Dixon, linebacker Tyus Bowser, tight end Mark Andrews, offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius, and cornerback Bennett Jackson remained sidelined with unspecified injuries. Four players remain on the active physically unable to perform list: Yanda (shoulder/ankle), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).

Baltimore returns to the practice field Monday morning.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on opening of training camp

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first full-squad workout on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much has been made about the risks of a longer training camp, but John Harbaugh believes it provides the opportunity to extend the normal three-day acclimation period to try to curtail early-camp injuries. We’ll see how it works out, but easing key veterans into action certainly makes sense.

2. With Joe Flacco conducting off-site passing sessions with his receivers last week, when do the playoff tickets go on sale? In seriousness, there’s no downside to doing it and the optics are favorable, but I’ve always filed this over-discussed topic more into the eyewash department than anything moving the meter.

3. You could have made good money if you’d wagered last December that Jimmy Smith would be taking part in 11-on-11 drills on the first day of training camp. The oft-injured cornerback turns 30 next week and enters a critical season as he carries a $16.175 million cap figure in 2019.

4. Harbaugh wouldn’t confirm ESPN’s report that the organization will pay Breshad Perriman his $649,485 roster bonus, but the 2015 first-round pick practiced Thursday and drew groans from fans when he dropped a routine pass during an individual drill. As I wrote recently, the Ravens hate giving up on early picks.

5. Inside linebacker depth behind C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor is a concern with Albert McClellan coming off an ACL injury and Bam Bradley’s return from his own ACL tear not imminent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore explore a veteran addition, especially if Kenny Young is slow to develop.

6. It appears Matt Skura will get the first chance to nail down the starting center job. His 12 starts at right guard last year provided valuable experience, but he must prove he can be physical enough and won’t lose ground as a pass blocker up the middle.

7. Tony Jefferson labeled last year a learning experience and believes new defensive coordinator Don Martindale will effectively use his strength of playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Dean Pees didn’t always use Jefferson correctly, but the high-priced safety still needs to show much more this year.

8. Maxx Williams made a nice sideline catch off a Jefferson tip during an 11-on-11 session on Thursday. With rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the picture and Nick Boyle a better blocker, the 2015 second-round pick needs a strong and healthy summer to maintain his roster spot.

9. One of Thursday’s highlight defensive plays was Chuck Clark intercepting a Lamar Jackson pass that either went off Hurst’s hands or was tipped by Tavon Young in tight coverage. Clark could push Anthony Levine for dime snaps, especially with the latter missing much of the offseason with a foot injury.

10. Alex Collins being a veteran excused from practice early a year after he was cut by Seattle was surprising, but it speaks to the need to keep the undersized back fresh. After playing at 200 pounds last year, he’s carrying five extra pounds to see how his body responds.

11. The other quarterbacks in camp receive all the attention, but Josh Woodrum threw a beautiful deep touchdown to DeVier Posey in an 11-on-11 drill. I’ll set the over-under on my remaining mentions of Woodrum this summer at 3.5.

12. Speaking of quarterbacks, seeing Flacco, Jackson, and even Robert Griffin III throw the football reminds me how painful it was to watch Ryan Mallett with Flacco sidelined all last summer. It’s no wonder the passing game was an utter disaster over the first half of the 2017 season.

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Yanda begins training camp on PUP list after offseason shoulder surgery

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda was expected to be brought along slowly this summer, but it won’t be because of the broken ankle that cost him most of the 2017 season.

As anticipated, Yanda began training camp on the active physically unable to perform list, but head coach John Harbaugh revealed the 33-year-old underwent shoulder surgery early in the offseason, which has delayed his return to action. Harbaugh said there is “no issue anymore” from the ankle injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve last September.

It’s unclear which shoulder was repaired, but he underwent left shoulder surgery after the 2016 season and had a procedure performed on his right shoulder in 2013.

“I think if we were playing a game [now], he probably could play — as tough as he is,” Harbaugh said. “We’re probably going to be very cautious of that and just kind of do what’s best to get him ready for September. There really is not a timetable. I would say no hurry at this point.”

Yanda’s status for the start of the regular season may not be in doubt, but his absence in the meantime could hinder the progress of an offensive line already needing to replace two starters. Matt Skura enters the preseason as the favorite to start at center while veteran James Hurst and rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. will battled for the starting right tackle job.

Four other players began training camp on the active PUP list: tight end Vince Mayle (ankle), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg). Players on active PUP are eligible to begin practicing at any point as the list is used as a precursor to the reserve PUP list where a player is not eligible to play for the first six weeks of the regular season and does not count against the 53-man roster limit.

The Ravens held rookie third-round tight end Mark Andrews out of Thursday’s full-squad practice with what was described as a “muscle tissue issue” by Harbaugh. The head coach also said rookie sixth-round offensive tackle Greg Senat would miss one to three weeks with an unspecified injury.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith took some snaps in 11-on-11 team drills on the first day of camp after only participating in a few individual drills during last month’s mandatory minicamp.

A handful of veteran players were excused from the field after the first hour of practice as Harbaugh is managing their workload at the start of a longer-than-usual training camp. That group included linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and running back Alex Collins.

Undrafted rookie center Alex Thompson remains on the reserve-did not report list and has elected not to continue his playing career.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to start of training camp

Posted on 12 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning full-squad training camp workouts in less than a week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alex Collins was no fluke in 2017, but he hit the 20-carry mark in just two games and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry over the second half of last season. His slighter 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame still suggests a need for an impactful complementary back like Kenneth Dixon to emerge.

2. I believe Michael Crabtree offers the highest floor and John Brown the highest ceiling of the wide receiver newcomers, but Willie Snead is my sneaky choice to stand out the most. Joe Flacco has been at his best when he’s had reliable slot options like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

3. For those inclined to blame Flacco for all of the offense’s problems, Pro Football Focus recently noted the 2017 wide receiver group generated the lowest rate of positively-graded plays and the highest rate of negatively-graded plays in the league last year. Yuck.

4. Speaking of 2017, I’m interested to see how Mike Wallace fares in Philadelphia after somewhat rebooting his career in Baltimore. Many say Flacco doesn’t elevate the play of his receivers, but wouldn’t these guys go elsewhere and at least do as well? Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken, anyone?

5. Given the untapped youth and long-term questions at both inside and outside linebacker, John Harbaugh is showing great faith in new linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. Veterans Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley will be huge assets for the 31-year-old assistant, who was hired by the Ravens in 2014.

6. I’m curious to see who plays center on the first day of full-squad workouts next Thursday. Ryan Jensen topped the depth chart on the first day last year — even as John Urschel surprisingly retired — and never relinquished the spot. Will it be Matt Skura or Alex Lewis?

7. The Ravens ranked 24th in PFF’s preseason offensive line rankings. Whether you agree or not, the publication is spot on saying the group’s upside rests on Marshal Yanda. Is it realistic to expect him to be the same elite player coming off a major injury and being another year older?

8. I’m frequently asked about Lamar Jackson possibly starting over Flacco this year, but I only see it if the Ravens enter December with a 4-7 record and are out of the playoff race. Assuming Flacco and the offense haven’t played well under that scenario, Jackson playing would be a no-brainer.

9. I won’t hide from my criticism of the Ravens drafting a first-round quarterback this year, but that won’t temper my excitement to watch Jackson play this summer. I rarely look forward to “fake” football, but this is easily the most anticipated preseason for this organization in a long time.

10. It’s easy and fair to label Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, and Bronson Kaufusi as potential cuts, but the Ravens rarely give up on former early picks until they absolutely have to. The disappointing Terrence Cody was even re-signed for another year. Just keep that in mind.

11. Close to 2,000 fans being able to attend training camp daily will be a plus for an organization needing to reconnect more strongly with its fans. The fallout of leaving Westminster was always going to be felt more at a time when the Ravens weren’t winning as frequently.

12. I get the rationale and advantages of the new digital ticket system, but the collector in me is bummed to see traditional game tickets go away. Hopefully the complimentary programs will continue to be distributed for years to come to appease those still desiring a physical souvenir from the game.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from second open OTA workout

Posted on 02 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The accuracy of Joe Flacco’s strong throwing arm has left something to be desired in recent seasons, but that hasn’t been the case this spring as he’s thrown countless deep strikes, including a few that receivers haven’t caught. Pushing the ball down the field more effectively is an absolute must.

2. Chris Moore made the plays of Thursday’s session with a deep one-handed sideline catch against Brandon Carr and a leaping touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. His continued development isn’t as critical after the offseason additions, but he showed some growth late last season.

3. On the flip side, Breshad Perriman hasn’t flashed in the same way he would in past springs, dropping passes and not having good awareness along the sidelines and in the end zone. A fresh start for him elsewhere might be what’s best for both parties at this point.

4. C.J. Mosley’s attendance at OTAs really speaks to his level of commitment to the organization. I wouldn’t have blamed him for skipping voluntary workouts since he’s still without a long-term contract extension, but his presence is a plus for new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

5. John Brown has shown the impressive speed employed in his 1,000-yard season for Arizona in 2015, but his 5-foot-11 listing looks generous. It will be critical for a red-zone target beyond Michael Crabtree to emerge with rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews being obvious candidates.

6. Lamar Jackson worked extensively with other rookies on a separate field from the first-team offense. Improving his footwork remains a priority as he still has a tendency to make flat-footed throws that sail and lack accuracy. It’s a process.

7. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Willie Henry take on a starting role this season with Brandon Williams shifting from the starting 3-technique spot back to the nose and Michael Pierce moving to a rotational role. This says much more about Henry’s improvement than any disenchantment with Pierce.

8. With Anthony Levine still sidelined from offseason foot surgery, second-year safety Chuck Clark has an opportunity to state a case for more involvement in the dime package. He dropped what could have been a pick-6 on a Flacco pass intended for Hurst on Thursday.

9. You wouldn’t know Tavon Young was only a year removed from his ACL injury by watching him practice. He’s the favorite to handle the nickel, a spot where he excels. Maurice Canady currently being hindered by a knee issue is allowing Young to take even more first-team reps.

10. Much was made about Alex Lewis getting his first look at center, but the offensive line alignment used during mandatory minicamp in two weeks will provide more meaningful insight on what the Ravens are thinking at the center position. Matt Skura is still very much in the conversation.

11. Uncertainty exists at every spot beyond left tackle and right guard, but Ronnie Stanley said how confident incumbents are in their second year with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and assistant head coach Greg Roman, who did admirable work with a patchwork unit last year.

12. Yes, the wide receiver group had some drops on Thursday, but I caution about drawing too many conclusions — good or bad — from a limited sample this time of year, especially with rookie players. This becomes a bigger concern, of course, if it’s still occurring regularly in training camp.

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Alex Lewis gets look at center during Ravens OTA

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens using various offensive line combinations this time of year isn’t surprising, especially with six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda sidelined until training camp.

But Thursday’s first-team alignment included third-year lineman Alex Lewis at center, an idea discussed in each of the last two offseasons after the 2016 fourth-round pick started games at left guard and left tackle as a rookie.

“This is the time to kind of experiment,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re going to need your guards to play backup center anyway, so we need to get Alex that work anyway. But if it evolves into something bigger than that, then that’s great. That’s what you just kind of see how it goes and see what your best combinations are.”

Fully recovered after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August, Lewis worked at left guard during the first week of organized team activities with Matt Skura handling the first-team reps at center and Jermaine Eluemunor playing right guard. On Thursday, Skura was practicing at right guard with James Hurst shifting from right tackle to left guard and rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. receiving first-team looks at right tackle.

That kind of spring shuffling has been commonplace for the Ravens when trying to fill vacancies on the offensive line in the past. Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Skura each spent a week of last year’s OTA sessions as the starting center before Jensen ultimately won the job in training camp.

Those opposed to moving Lewis to center have pointed to questions about his durability — he’s missed 22 games over his first two seasons — as well as his 6-foot-6 frame being unconventional for a position dependent on having a low center of gravity. Skura is listed at 6-foot-3 and was considered the favorite to start at center entering offseason workouts.

“If a player can bend, that’s really the bottom line — bend and get leverage,” said Harbaugh, noting that Matt Birk being 6-foot-4 wasn’t a problem over his long and successful career. “Alex is a big man. We typically would like to see our centers be bigger guys, especially in terms of the run game that we have. Matt [Skura] is 315 pounds, so he’s a big guy, too, so that’s where we go with it.”

Young “almost at 100 percent”

While countless players around the NFL are still working their way back to full strength after suffering ACL injuries last season, third-year cornerback Tavon Young says he’s “almost at 100 percent.”

Working at the nickel position without any limitations this spring, Young is hoping to reestablish himself as a rising young player. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple intercepted two passes and started 11 games as a rookie and was in line for a big role last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury during OTAs. The silver lining for Young was having a longer recovery time compared to other players with in-season ACL injuries who then have preparations for the following season impacted by the lengthy rehab process.

“That was one of the things that kind of cheered me up,” Young said. “After I got hurt, I realized I had a lot of time to get healthy. I didn’t have to rush back into it or come back midway through the season. I came back at comfort, and now I just let loose.”

Levine recovering from foot surgery

Ten Ravens players didn’t take part in Thursday’s workout, a group that included Yanda (ankle), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, inside linebackers Albert McClellan (knee) and Bam Bradley (knee), wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg), and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), Maurice Canady (knee), and Jaylen Hill (knee).

Harbaugh revealed defensive back Anthony Levine underwent offseason foot surgery and is still working his way back to full strength. Levine suffered the injury in the Week 17 loss to Cincinnati and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp if he doesn’t take part in the mid-June mandatory minicamp.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (ankle) was present and working after missing last Thursday’s workout that was open to media. Some had wondered whether Mosley would attend voluntary workouts this spring since he is still seeking a long-term extension and is only under contract through the 2018 season.

Tight end Nick Boyle was excused to deal with a family matter, according to Harbaugh.

Cookout with coach 

Harbaugh invited rookies to his home for a post-Memorial Day cookout on Wednesday with the group posing for a picture in front of his swimming pool.

“They did not throw me in the pool. When we have the veteran party, I have a feeling that’ll be a possibility,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “But we had a great time. It’s a good group, and they get a chance to bond a little bit and relax and see the coaches in a different setting, too.”

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Harbaugh says Ravens offensive line in better shape than last offseason

Posted on 27 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens lost two 2017 starters from their offensive line this month, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.

Of course, they’ll welcome back six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda this year as well as third-year lineman Alex Lewis, who started eight games as a rookie and was considered an ascending talent before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August. But Baltimore didn’t pick up its 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard and lost free-agent center Ryan Jensen to Tampa Bay, who made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at the position.

This marks the second straight year the Ravens will need to replace the previous season’s starters at those positions.

“You compare it to last year, I think we are in better shape than we were a year ago at this time really,” Harbaugh said. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago, and it turned out pretty well for us. I thought [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys obviously. Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job, and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league.

“We’ve got some prospects there. I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens have substantial plans for James Hurst, who signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension that included a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. Making 15 of his 16 starts at left guard in place of the injured Lewis last season, Hurst is now expected to move to right tackle.

It’s a position where he’s made only two career starts, but the 6-foot-5, 317-pound lineman practiced there last spring and summer and received sparkling reviews from a notable teammate.

“Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner. He’s going to set the record this year,’” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s performance at right tackle last summer. “That’s how he felt going against him in training camp. I remember him saying that. Then, we had the injury to Alex and we moved him inside. That shows you how versatile he is. That’s how we’ll start off, but it could change.”

The 11th-year head coach also said former practice-squad member Matt Skura — who started 12 games at right guard last year — will receive the first crack at securing the starting center job as many anticipated. Nico Siragusa will also be in the mix if the 2017 fourth-round pick is fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury sustained last summer.

With Hurst moving outside, Lewis is in line to reclaim the left guard spot, but the 2016 fourth-round pick must prove he can stay on the field after missing 22 games in his first two seasons. In assistant head coach Greg Roman’s run schemes, guards are frequently required to pull, making the agile Lewis an ideal fit.

He also remains a consideration at center if Skura is not up to the challenge.

“We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of the thing that Greg and Marty put in last year. We run a lot of different schemes — gap schemes and pull schemes and lead schemes — where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”

Of course, Harbaugh was only speaking about offensive linemen currently on the roster as you’d expect the Ravens to be looking to add competition and depth in the draft since Hurst and Skura lack extensive NFL experience at their projected positions.

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Jensen leaves Ravens to become NFL’s highest-paid center

Posted on 17 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Who could have imagined Ryan Jensen’s first full season as a Ravens starter would be so profitable?

The 2013 sixth-round pick from Division II Colorado State-Pueblo has become the highest-paid center in the NFL after agreeing to a four-year, $42 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that includes $22 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It’s quite a difference from a year ago when some wondered why the Ravens even tendered Jensen as a restricted free agent since he’d been a healthy scratch for the final nine games of the 2016 season and had seemingly fallen out of favor.

Winning the starting center job in training camp last summer, Jensen would start all 16 games and ranked ninth among qualified players at the position in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. He was the ideal fit at center in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes, providing a strong anchor inside with both guards frequently pulling to open lanes in the running game. And he did it after projected starting left guard Alex Lewis underwent season-ending shoulder injury in training camp and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was lost for the year due to a broken ankle in Week 2.

Friday’s lucrative contract was the culmination of an unlikely journey for Jensen, who didn’t play a snap as a rookie after breaking his foot in training camp. He was then cut at the end of the 2014 preseason and spent most of that regular season on the practice squad, only playing a few snaps on special teams at the end of that season. Jensen would finally became a contributor as a reserve offensive lineman over the next two seasons and made a total of nine starts between the two guard positions, but he still hadn’t established himself as a starting-caliber player.

The 6-foot-4, 319-pound lineman entered the spring of 2017 in a competition with the now-retired John Urschel for the starting center job after incumbent Jeremy Zuttah had been released. Putting on some bulk and responding well to new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, Jensen would emerge as a leader on an offensive line that dealt with much adversity because of injuries.

Though no one can fault the Ravens for letting Jensen go at such an extravagant rate after just one full year as a starter, this marks the third straight offseason in which they’ve watched an above-average offensive lineman leave for a lucrative contract elsewhere after Kelchi Osemele did it in 2016 and Rick Wagner departed last year. Jensen’s exit also opens an all-too-familiar hole at center, a position at which the Ravens have struggled since the post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement of Matt Birk. It remains unknown what the organization’s plans are at the position, but Matt Skura would seem to be the top in-house candidate unless the Ravens were to do more radical line shuffling.

The offense will also miss Jensen’s attitude as he wasn’t afraid to play through the whistle — and sometimes after it — and provided toughness for a unit with a number of quieter personalities. The 26-year-old garnered praise from Ravens fans in Week 8 after he went after Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso for his penalized blow to the head of concussed quarterback Joe Flacco. Once describing himself as an “annoying little mosquito” on the field, Jensen would also ruffle the feathers of his defensive teammates from time to time in practice.

“He gets a little feisty; he’ll throw a helmet here and there,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s a great competitor, and you want that kind of play with all your players, especially on the o-line. He’s not going to let anyone [bully] him. He’s always going to get the better end of it. Playing against him in practice, that keeps you aware.

“Even though you think he’s being a butthole, he’s actually making you better because you’re protecting yourself.”

Jensen is the second 2017 starter on the Baltimore offensive line to depart after right tackle Austin Howard was let go before the start of free agency.

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