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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-13 preseason win over Green Bay

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Green Bay in a 26-13 final for their 15th straight preseason win, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Established veterans often coast through the early weeks of the preseason, but Matthew Judon reminded everyone he’s playing for a contract with two back-side pursuit plays resulting in a sack and a third-down stop on a screen pass. The closing speed he showed was very impressive.

2. Tavon Young’s neck injury brings much attention to the nickel corner position, but neither Cyrus Jones nor Anthony Averett impressed in that spot Thursday. I’m confident defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will make it work, but the Ravens will miss Young’s talents in that important role.

3. Jermaine Eluemunor’s strong performance is why coaches have been patient with him despite the well-documented growing pains. He rebounded from last week’s struggles in a major way, even if he still needs to block through the whistle more consistently. Eluemunor also held up pretty well as the backup left tackle.

4. The lack of separation at outside linebacker behind Judon was telling as Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Jaylon Ferguson, and Shane Ray all saw action into the fourth quarter. Ferguson seeing action much earlier than last week speaks to his stock rising while Ray still hasn’t distinguished himself.

5. We knew about the speed with his 40-yard dash time, but Justice Hill continues to show physicality not indicative of a 200-pound running back with so many broken tackles. Hill, Lamar Jackson, and a healthy Marquise Brown all on the field together could be an unsettling sight for defensive coordinators.

6. Coverage is his primary focus, but Marlon Humphrey shedding a block from veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga to make a tackle for a loss is another reason why he’s becoming one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. His dominant play on the outside is even more critical now after the Young injury.

7. I wasn’t positive Chris Moore was a lock to make the roster after his quiet start to camp and Seth Roberts’ early performance, but Moore likely removed any lingering doubt Thursday. Meanwhile, Roberts isn’t helping his case being sidelined with an injury while Jaleel Scott pushes for a job.

8. The Ravens may forgo keeping a fourth inside linebacker, but Otaro Alaka continued to position himself nicely with a game-high six tackles and two for a loss. Alaka shows good closing speed and would be an obvious practice-squad candidate if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster.

9. Miles Boykin not catching a pass on three targets isn’t alarming, but his failure to curl toward the line of scrimmage on Jackson’s third-down rollout on the first drive reminds that he still needs polish, which is OK. Despite the summer hype, he wasn’t drafted as a finished product.

10. Justin Bethel missed two tackles on special teams and was playing cornerback late in the second half. I’ve dismissed previous questions about his roster status since the Ravens guaranteed him $1 million early in free agency for his special-teams ability, but Thursday wasn’t a good showing.

11. Many were critical of the illegal blindside block penalty on Willie Snead that negated Jackson’s highlight touchdown run, but the call seemed to be in line with the NFL’s expanded blindside block rule (2:00 mark). We’ll see just how vigilant officials are about calling this in the regular season.

12. If you need a reminder of how little the preseason resembles real games, Jackson has yet to target Mark Andrews in two games with the pair not even being on the field together that much. The rapport they’ve shown in camp suggests that’s some sandbagging from Greg Roman.

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Ravens hoping to begin gaining clarity with position battles next week

Posted on 03 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to see business pick up next week as it pertains to their starting position battles.

Not only will they play their first preseason game against Jacksonville next Thursday, but the Jaguars arrive in Owings Mills Monday for the first of two joint practices that should ratchet up the competition level. To this point, the Ravens haven’t gained much clarity at outside linebacker or left guard, two of their biggest question marks entering the 2019 season.

Veteran Pernell McPhee has lined up as the rush linebacker opposite strong-side outside linebacker Matthew Judon for the first-team base defense, but McPhee has always been more effective as a rotational player ideally moving inside to rush in passing situations. You hope the 30-year-old receiving the early honors is more a sign of respect and a motivational tactic for younger options, but 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, free-agent newcomer Shane Ray, and rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson haven’t consistently stood out beyond the flash play here or there. There’s also the important question of how effectively these unproven options will set the edge against the run, which remained an underrated part of former Raven Terrell Suggs’ game even in his later years.

“When we get into the games, the actual preseason games, you’ll have better questions and I’ll have better answers for you on the pass rushers,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “But I love the way we’re competing. I love how fast we are.”

The competition at left guard has been even more disconcerting with injuries and conditioning concerns muddying the waters. Fourth-year lineman Alex Lewis has yet to practice as he works his way back to full strength from offseason shoulder surgery while third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor — who surprisingly lined up as the starter throughout spring workouts — has missed at least part of four camp practices due to minor injury or conditioning concerns.

Rookie Ben Powers received most of first-team reps over the first week , but that appeared to be more a result of attrition than the talented fourth-round pick from Oklahoma being overly advanced in his development. In a perfect world, Powers would win the job since he has the most upside — and team control — of the aforementioned options, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer a glowing endorsement when asked about the rookie working so much with the first team in the early days of camp.

“We don’t have a starter there. Who would you want me to put in there? He’s the guy right now,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “Jermaine has to get in shape still more, and those guys are competing along with James Hurst. James Hurst knows how to play the position, so we’re giving those younger guys the reps. We’ll see what happens.”

The Ravens gave Eluemunor another opportunity with the first team on Friday, but the 2017 fifth-round pick responded with two early false starts that resulted in him being forced to run laps as pre-snap penalties continue to plague the offense early in camp. Lewis remains the wild card if he returns to practice in the coming days as Harbaugh previously indicated an early August return for the oft-injured 2016 fourth-round pick who’s started 18 games in his career.

The position that’s gained the most clarity is inside linebacker where former undrafted free agent Chris Board has worked as the clear-cut starter next to Patrick Onwuasor. Martindale confirmed Board is ahead of 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young for the starting weak-side spot, but defensive back Anthony Levine also factors into that spot when the Ravens move into their dime package. Board appeared to receive more first-team reps in the position’s timeshare during spring workouts, but he’s taken virtually all base and nickel reps with Young relegated to the second team since the start of camp.

“He had a great offseason, and we challenged him on the things he needed to improve on and he went to work,” said linebackers coach Mike Macdonald about Board, who played more outside linebacker at North Dakota State. “He bulked up with some muscle and kept all his speed. He’s hammered out the playbook. He has a really good command of what we’re asking him to do, communicates well, and then when you turn the tape on, his speed is just hard to ignore.”

The next test for Board or any other unproven player vying for a starting position will come against the Jaguars as the Ravens will compete against someone other than themselves for the first time in 2019. The transition from spring workouts in shorts to training camp practices in full pads is always the first separator in competitions, but the coming week provides another checkpoint as coaches watch closely to see how young players handle live-game settings in August.

There’s still more than a month to go until the season opener in Miami, but the Ravens would love to begin gaining more clarity at these positions.

“You’d like for it to happen naturally and to be clear. That’s what you’d like,” said Harbaugh specifically about the offensive line. “You don’t want it to be clear because nobody is taking the reins. You want somebody to take the reins. Now, if more guys take the reins and make it tough on us, that would be even better. But we’re not there yet.”

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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: Outside linebackers

Posted on 23 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning Thursday and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line
Inside linebackers
Wide receivers

We continue at outside linebacker, a position entering uncharted territory in 2019. For the first time in their history, the Ravens do not have an outside linebacker on the roster whom the organization drafted in the first round as Terrell Suggs was selected in 2003, Peter Boulware in 1997, and draft bust Craig Powell in 1995. With Suggs and Za’Darius Smith departing as free agents in March, Baltimore lost its career sacks leader and its top quarterback takedown man in 2018 as the pair combined for 15 1/2 sacks last season. Replacing that combination of experience and production won’t be easy, even if the Ravens were wise not to match the contracts each veteran fetched on the open market.

General manager Eric DeCosta is counting on a very deep secondary — where many more resources have been invested — to help pick up the slack as the Ravens need some combination of unproven youngsters and veteran reclamation projects to step up at outside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will also need to build upon his creativity from last season when the Ravens frequently used deception and exotic looks to get after opposing quarterbacks. Even acknowledging those factors, outside linebacker is a very real question mark for a defense whose expectations remain very high after finishing first in the NFL in yards allowed last season.

Below is a look at the outside linebackers who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Matthew Judon
Skinny: The 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State has been more solid than spectacular with 19 sacks over his first three years, but he took his game to another level down the stretch last season and finished 24th in pass rush grade among qualified edge defenders by Pro Football Focus, a career best. Strong against the run, capable in coverage, and seemingly still ascending as a rusher, Judon is entering a contract year and is the most complete outside linebacker on the roster. A strong 2019 would put him in position for a big free-agent payday, and Baltimore needs him to step up more than ever.

Old Reliable — Judon
Skinny: At first glance, Pernell McPhee might be the choice here as the only outside linebacker on the roster older than 26, but he had more missed games (15) than sacks (14) in his four seasons after leaving the Ravens to sign a lucrative contract with Chicago in 2014 and hasn’t registered a quarterback sack in his last 19 regular-season games. Judon has never missed a game due to injury in his career — he was a healthy scratch twice as a rookie — and also plays some special teams, making him pretty darn reliable.

Under Fire — Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams
Skinny: There are no more excuses for the 2017 second- and third-round picks who combined to play just 281 defensive snaps in their second season. With Suggs and Smith no longer in the rotation, there is an abundance of snaps to be won with their competition being a third-round rookie and two veterans who combined for one sack last season. The pair having totaled 5 1/2 sacks in 567 career snaps shows they have ability, but the two must prove in practices and games that they’re ready for meaningful roles.

Up-and-Comer — Jaylon Ferguson
Skinny: There was something fitting about the Ravens drafting the Louisiana Tech product after he broke Suggs’ Division I career sacks record, but Ferguson will need to develop quickly going from Conference USA to the NFL. Trying to gauge his progress in non-contact workouts this spring wasn’t easy since the 6-foot-5, 275-pound edge rusher is known primarily for his bull rush and physicality, but Ferguson will have his chance to shine and earn immediate snaps as a situational rusher if worthy.

Sleeper — Shane Ray
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick appeared on his way to being a strong bookend for All-Pro linebacker Von Miller with eight sacks and 45 pressures in his second season in Denver, but chronic wrist problems have all but derailed his career as Ray collected just two sacks in 19 games over the last two years. Strong hands are critical to a pass rusher’s success, so there’s no diminishing the role of the wrist injuries in his decline. If Ray is finally healthy, however, a $1.2 million flier could be a steal for someone still just 26.

The Rest — Pernell McPhee, Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Mike Onuoha
Skinny: If kept on a proper snap count to keep him fresh, McPhee is still capable of being disruptive and registered the best pass-rushing grade from PFF of any current Baltimore edge defender in 2018, albeit in just 203 snaps. The Ravens would prefer to use him as an interior rusher in passing situations like they did with Smith. … The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Adeoye previously played in the Alliance of American Football for the Birmingham Iron and in The Spring League.

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Baltimore Ravens Tim Williams, (56), and Brandon Williams, (98), warm up at the team's  NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at end of mandatory minicamp

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp in Owings Mills this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marquise Brown not being “certain” to be ready for the start of training camp doesn’t mean this is turning into another Breshad Perriman situation, but it’s fair to be a little uneasy he’s not yet running full-speed. Ask Jimmy Smith or Hayden Hurst how long a foot injury can linger.

2. Lamar Jackson finished offseason workouts with multiple touchdown passes in a short red-zone period Thursday, an area of the field in which he struggled this spring. He fared better overall in 7-on-7 drills than full-team work, but he raised his level of consistency as the spring progressed.

3. Asked about his plans between now and training camp, Jackson said he’s organizing throwing sessions with teammates and will work with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris in Florida. He also “might” work with quarterback guru Tom House, but that sounded less certain. You definitely like the work ethic.

4. Earl Thomas admitted he has his challenging days coming back from his second lower left leg fracture in three years, but he feels like he’s “in the right spot” physically. We’ll get a better feel for the 30-year-old in the summer, but he appears to be gelling nicely with the rest of the secondary.

5. It was interesting how open Thomas was in describing the Baltimore defense as “very complex” compared to the straight Cover 3 looks he ran in Seattle. He admits the complexity and on-field communication have been adjustments, but that’s not surprising.

6. Trying to predict passing and receiving numbers in an offense anchored by the run is difficult, but Mark Andrews is my early pick to lead the Ravens in most receiving categories. He was the best pass-catching target on the field and is playing with an edge, something this offense needs.

7. Unlike Michael Pierce, Matthew Judon reported to minicamp in good shape and practiced like he hadn’t skipped organized team activities. Asked by a reporter if his agent has had contract talks with the Ravens, Judon replied, “They said they were going to pay me what they pay you.” Alrighty then.

8. John Harbaugh described left guard as “a competitive spot” and identified James Hurst as the slight favorite at this early stage despite Jermaine Eluemunor taking the first-team reps there this spring. The coach also mentioned Eluemunor needing to get in better shape. In other words, that spot is wide open.

9. It was interesting that Alex Lewis was not mentioned by name in that mix after Harbaugh revealed the oft-injured guard was in charge of his own rehabilitation from offseason shoulder surgery and the team hadn’t seen him until this week. That’s an interesting choice ahead of a contract year.

10. Harbaugh and Wink Martindale confirmed Kenny Young and Chris Board are competing for a starting inside linebacker spot next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Board is in the lead based on practice rep distribution.

11. The retiring Jerry Rosburg worked his final practice Thursday and was honored in a team-wide celebration the previous day. The Ravens will miss his superb special-teams coaching, but his thoughtful remarks and underrated sense of humor will be missed by reporters. Best wishes to him.

12. I appreciated Martindale’s candid comments about the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle and how the defense is impacted. I especially enjoyed the subtle shade thrown on the “next man up” phrase that’s become one of the worst cliches in sports in recent years.

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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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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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Five Ravens questions for start of organized team activities

Posted on 20 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s practice to the media, below are five questions on the defending AFC North champions in late May:

1. How will Lamar Jackson look passing the ball?

There’s no shortage of unknowns about the Ravens as they attempt to win back-to-back division titles for the first time since 2011 and 2012, but Jackson’s greatest supporters and toughest critics agree his development as a passer entering his first full season as the starter tops the priority list. He again worked on his mechanics and footwork with high school coach Joshua Harris and threw to Ravens wide receivers Jordan Lasley and Jaylen Smith in Florida, but OTAs will offer a glimpse at the strides he’s made. Team-produced highlight videos and public comments from coaches and teammates will be all positive, of course, but media will be permitted to watch three OTA workouts ahead of Baltimore’s mandatory three-day minicamp in mid-June. That’s not to say reporters will — or should — overreact to every rep, but more consistency is needed on a throw-to-throw basis, especially on out-breaking routes. How Jackson throws in spring practices will only tell so much, but it’s more than we know now after an offseason full of speculation, debate, and, in some cases, mindless hot takes about the quarterback’s abilities.

2. How will an uncertain linebacker picture start to take shape?

A 23-year-old franchise that’s reaped the benefits of seven different linebackers making a combined 33 Pro Bowls has never had a cloudier situation following the departures of Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. There’s no shortage of competition at outside linebacker with recent free-agent arrivals Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray competing with rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams for playing time opposite veteran starter Matthew Judon. However, general manager Eric DeCosta has yet to add a notable inside linebacker in the quest to replace Mosley, leaving former weak-side platoon partners Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young as de facto starters. We’re a long way from any decisions needing to be made and you can only take away so much from non-contact workouts, but how — and with which unit — these linebackers even line up will be interesting to watch. In an ideal world, at least one of McPhee and Ray would work out and one of Bowser and Williams would emerge to form a solid rotation with Judon and Ferguson. A veteran inside linebacker could still be added, but the Ravens seemingly want to take a long look at Onwuasor and Young as the two starters.

3. What will new offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense look like?

It’s no secret Roman was the mastermind behind the shift to a run-heavy attack when Jackson took the starting reins last November, but head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have repeatedly discussed the rebuilding and revamping of the offense “from the ground up” this offseason, making it clear they want to play to their quarterback’s strengths. We know the ground game will remain the foundation with DeCosta spending substantial money to sign former Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram and blocking tight end Nick Boyle to multi-year deals, but the wide receiver position has undergone significant change and the offensive line remains a position group of great interest with the competition at left guard — and perhaps center — shaping up to be tight. In addition to leaning heavily on the running game and the use of multiple tight ends, play-action passes were a staple in Roman’s past offenses.

4. Who will show up in Owings Mills and who won’t?

This is your annual reminder that OTAs are voluntary, but that won’t stop us from noting player attendance, in part because we know it’s important to coaches and many fans are interested. Prominent veterans around the league seeking long-term deals often skip these workouts, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see Judon, Michael Pierce, and others set to become free agents next year over these next few weeks. It’s also worth noting a few prominent veterans who regularly attended OTAs in the past such as Eric Weddle and Mosley are gone, which makes you wonder if incumbents in their mid-to-late-20s will feel as much unstated pressure to attend. Again, none of this is the big deal many try to make it out to be.

5. Will the Ravens escape the spring without any significant injuries?

Washington lost linebacker Reuben Foster to what’s believed to be a season-ending torn ACL Monday. Two springs ago, the Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta to season-ending injuries on consecutive days. Yes, teams are laying the groundwork for the 2019 season over these next several weeks, but getting through May and June workouts with your roster intact tops any coach’s spring wish list. First-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown isn’t expected to be on the practice field until training camp as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery and guard Alex Lewis’ short-term status is unclear after his January shoulder surgery, but the Ravens will use caution with every little ailment this spring while keeping their fingers crossed that nothing catastrophic occurs.

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Ravens continue adding pass-rush competition with Shane Ray

Posted on 17 May 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens still hope 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams emerge as meaningful contributors to their pass rush, but the competition for snaps continues to grow.

A day after reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal to bring veteran pass rusher and Super Bowl XLVII champion Pernell McPhee back to Baltimore, general manager Eric DeCosta has added former Denver first-round pick Shane Ray to the mix. The one-year deal will give the 25-year-old the opportunity to revive his career with a defense needing to replace free-agent departures Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs.

Ray appeared on his way to becoming a mainstay in the Broncos defense with eight sacks in 2016, but a left wrist injury led to multiple surgeries that derailed the remainder of his time in Denver. The Missouri product has registered just two sacks in 19 games over the last two seasons.

After the Broncos declined to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2019 season, Ray totaled one sack, a forced fumble, and 10 tackles in 253 defensive snaps over 11 games last season. According to Pro Football Focus, the outside linebacker recorded only 10 pressures on 138 pass-rushing snaps for the worst pass-rushing productivity rating of his four-year career.

If healthy, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ray would give the Ravens another speed option to rush the quarterback off the edge while the 265-pound McPhee has the ability to rush from the inside or outside. There are no guarantees with these low-risk signings, of course, but their arrivals should signal to Bower and Williams — and even rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson — that snaps won’t just be handed to them. The competition should be interesting with a mix of unproven youth and oft-injured veterans still carrying intrigue vying for roster spots. Beyond fourth-year veteran Matthew Judon starting at one spot, projecting the rest of the depth chart at outside linebacker is anyone’s guess at this point.

Baltimore begins organized team activities in Owings Mills next week.

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