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marquisebrown

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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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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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marquisebrown

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Ravens still waiting on first-round pick to make practice debut

Posted on 12 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense was always going to win the battle this spring.

Not only has the Baltimore offense been completely revamped under coordinator Greg Roman, but a run-first system isn’t going to operate with full effect in non-contact practices. As you’d expect, a passing attack with a quarterback entering his first full year as a starter and veteran wide receivers with limited ceilings hasn’t produced many big plays against arguably the best and deepest secondary in the NFL.

But the Ravens — and their fans — must maintain the proper perspective knowing some intriguing upside is on the way in addition to quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rest of the offense simply increasing their comfort level in the new system. General manager Eric DeCosta selected two wide receivers with his first three picks of April’s draft to address the very concern observers have witnessed this spring.

Third-round rookie Miles Boykin missed a large portion of organized team activities with a hamstring injury and is still taking limited reps during this week’s minicamp, but first-round pick Marquise Brown has yet to make his practice debut for the Ravens. The speedy 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver has increased his activity level this week by doing agility work on a side field, catching passes from the Jugs machine, and even taking a couple reps in an individual position drill Wednesday, but the real show won’t begin until the start of training camp in late July. Brown was selected with the 25th overall pick to make an immediate play-making impact, but the Ravens knew they’d have to be patient after the Oklahoma standout underwent Lisfranc surgery on his foot in January.

“He gets a little extra meeting time because he doesn’t get to do the stuff on the field that some of the guys get to do,” wide receivers coach David Culley said. “He spends a little bit of extra time going over those kinds of things. For the most part, he gets extra film work in, just watching everything in practice. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to see himself to be able to correct things.”

Taking nothing away from complementary veteran wide receivers such as Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and Chris Moore who will receive their share of opportunities, the Ravens are counting on Brown to be a difference maker, something they’ve rarely had at the wide receiver position over their history. The combination of speed and athleticism with which Brown consistently burned Big 12 defenses is exactly what Jackson needs to help fulfill his potential as a franchise quarterback.

The wait is almost over to see Brown in action, but he’ll have plenty of catching up to do after missing valuable spring reps.

“When I think about what I saw when we drafted him from Oklahoma, I get really excited about it,” Culley said. “Hopefully, he can do some of those same things that he did. He was a big-play guy for them, and one of the reasons why we got him where we got him was because of his big-play ability. We’re looking forward to him bringing that to us.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and return specialist Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari did not participate in Wednesday’s minicamp practice. Safety Tony Jefferson increased his activity level in only his second practice since having ankle surgery in January.

Elliott shines again

Second-year safety DeShon Elliott continues to be a surprising standout performer this spring as he snatched another interception during Thursday’s practice, victimizing backup quarterback Robert Griffin III during a 7-on-7 period.

The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas showed physicality in his first training camp before being lost for the season with a broken forearm last August, but his range in pass coverage has turned plenty of heads with a diving interception last week being the highlight play of the spring. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Elliott has the size to be used in different capacities even if he’s stuck behind six-time Pro Bowl selection Earl Thomas and established veteran Tony Jefferson on the depth chart.

“He’s just picked up where he left off right before he got hurt, and it’s just going to be another fun piece,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We play a bunch of different personnel and everything else. I know we have two really good safeties right now, but we’ll find spots for the good football players. Obviously, specials teams play a big part in that.”

Elliott’s development could impact snaps for reserve safeties Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark, who both saw plenty of action in sub packages last season.

Rough day for quarterbacks

Even with some inconsistency and the overall shortage of big plays in the passing game, Jackson had done a commendable job avoiding turnovers this spring with only one interception over the first four practices open to media, but that changed Wednesday.

The 22-year-old quarterback was picked off by reserve defensive back Bennett Jackson in a 7-on-7 period and was later intercepted twice by rookie cornerback Terrell Bonds in the red zone, an area of the field in which the offense has struggled. Griffin also threw two interceptions during the morning practice.

Jackson also threw a touchdown to tight end Mark Andrews as the two continue to build on the encouraging chemistry they showed down the stretch last season.

“I’m not looking to win the practices. I’m looking to get ready for the training camp and get ready for the season,” Roman said. “Every opportunity, whether a good result or a bad result, on a play this time of year is a great thing because it gives us an opportunity to grow from it.”

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pierce

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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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yanda

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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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boykin

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Boykin returns, H. Hurst sits for Ravens’ final open OTA

Posted on 06 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Their two high-profile rookie wide receivers working on the practice fields was a welcome sight for the Ravens in their final week of organized team activities.

Marquise Brown hasn’t yet returned to practice as he continues rehabbing his surgically-repaired foot, but the first-round pick completed agility work on the far field and caught passes from the Jugs machine, encouraging signs for his anticipated practice debut at the start of training camp next month. Third-round selection Miles Boykin was a limited participant in Thursday’s voluntary workout after being sidelined with a hamstring injury sustained early in the spring. The Ravens are counting on the speedy Brown and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boykin to bring diverse play-making ability to a developing passing game.

Boykin’s return, however, was offset by the absence of 2018 first-round pick tight end Hayden Hurst, who had performed well in each of the first two OTA days open to reporters. Baltimore hopes to have him back on the field for next week’s three-day mandatory minicamp that concludes spring workouts.

“He tweaked his hamstring about two weeks ago,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Then, he kept, not tweaking it, but he was pushing it so hard that I finally pulled him out. Let’s get this thing ready for minicamp, and we’ll be fine.”

Running back Kenneth Dixon was also present and working after not being on the field for either of the previous two Thursday sessions open to media. The fourth-year veteran made it clear to reporters at the start of practice that he hadn’t been dealing with an injury, directing an expletive at anyone who had reported as much.

Others present for the voluntary workout who missed last Thursday were left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Brandon Carr, defensive tackle Gerald Willis, and linebackers Otaro Alaka and Alvin Jones.

A total of 13 players were not participating in the voluntary workout, a list including Brown, Hurst, wide receiver Seth Roberts, guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis (shoulder), safeties Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson (ankle), linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Cyrus Jones.

Along with Judon, Pierce is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a time when many players around the NFL choose to forgo voluntary workouts to keep themselves healthy and sometimes even send a message to management.

“I can’t wait to see him back here and just to be playing alongside my brother again,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “I expect big things out of him. I told him, ‘Let’s get paid this year. Let’s go out there and ball out and get the bag.’ Everybody wants that second contract, so let’s get him one.”

No missing McCoy

Thursday was the first time Harbaugh was available to reporters since six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy spurned interest from the Ravens and Cleveland to sign a one-year deal with Carolina.

After telling McCoy he felt like he’d always been a Raven during his free-agent visit last week, the 12th-year head coach expressed great confidence in his current defensive line that must replace the interior pass-rush ability of free-agent departures Za’Darius Smith and Brent Urban. The Ravens were hoping to add someone who’s collected six or more sacks in six straight seasons.

“He’s a good player. We went after him, tried to get him, and he didn’t want to be here,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to be somewhere else. I’ll move on and forget about him until we play him. And I don’t think we play Carolina, do we? So, I’m not worried about him.”

“As far as our defensive line, I think it’s the same thing I said about the linebackers. I’m not worried one bit about any of our players on defense or offense. I’m not worried at all. We have a great roster. We have a young roster.”

Former Navy coach visits Ravens

Former Navy and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson was a visitor at Thursday’s practice and talked shop with the Ravens coaching staff in the afternoon.

Harbaugh expressed admiration for the retired coach and noted that Johnson used the same triple-option offense his father Jack Harbaugh ran at Western Kentucky. Johnson, 61, led the Midshipmen from 2002-07 and coached at Georgia Tech for the last decade before announcing his retirement last November.

“It’s always an opportunity to learn football,” Harbaugh said. “We’re sometimes teaching, always learning, and we have a chance to learn and ask a lot of questions and to expand what we’re doing, get a couple ideas maybe here and there, and a couple of ways to say things here and there and all of that.”

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thomas

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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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Pierce officially inks second-round tender with Ravens

Posted on 01 May 2019 by Luke Jones

Less than two weeks after the deadline passed for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with other teams, defensive tackle Michael Pierce has officially inked his second-round tender from the Ravens.

Per Wednesday’s transaction sheet, the fourth-year defensive lineman asked to sign the tender that will pay him $3.095 million for the 2019 season. The move was a formality after no other team signed Pierce to an offer sheet by April 17, but the former undrafted free agent didn’t appear to be in a hurry to sign, a common occurrence with any restricted free agent seeking a long-term extension.

The 340-pound Samford product has emerged as one of the NFL’s better run-stopping nose tackles over his first three seasons, leaving the Ravens with an interesting decision after 2019 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Pro Football Focus graded Pierce as the NFL’s fifth-best interior defender in 2018, but he’s played more than 400 snaps in a season only once while serving primarily as a rotation player, making it fair to wonder how he’d perform with a greater workload. With veteran nose tackle Brandon Williams entering only the third season of a five-year, $52.5 million contract, signing Pierce to a long-term deal while keeping Williams appears implausible. Invited to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, Williams graded 33rd among qualified interior defenders last season, according to PFF.

Releasing Williams after the 2019 season would result in $4.33 million in savings and $9.84 million in dead money on the 2020 salary cap.

There’s also the question of whether committing lucrative money to a run-stopping defensive tackle is the best investment with many having criticized the return on the Williams deal. Pierce’s PFF pass-rushing grade was higher than any other incumbent interior lineman on the roster, but he’s registered just three sacks in his 46 career games. The 26-year-old stated a desire to improve his pass-rush ability at the end of last season, one in which he didn’t record a sack in 14 contests.

“I need to get some more sacks — well, a sack to start with,” said Pierce as he laughed. “I think I’ve been stopping the run pretty well; that is something I pride myself on. I got better as a pass rusher [in 2018], but for me to be able to get some sacks would be paramount for this team going forward.”

That improvement would not only be critical for a Baltimore defense needing to replace the pass-rushing ability of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, but it would only drive Pierce’s price up in free agency next offseason.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of offseason workout program

Posted on 15 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their offseason workout program in preparations for the 2019 season this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The faux enthusiasm for players running and lifting weights dissipates quickly, but the start of the “voluntary” offseason program is a welcome checkpoint on the way to a new season. We’re less than five months away from kickoff for Week 1.

2. We know Lamar Jackson was again working with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris and have seen some videos on social media, but I’m fascinated to hear him discuss his offseason and to see what he’s specifically focused on improving.

3. Until we see the terms of the one-year deal extension for Marshal Yanda, I’m not making too much out of it beyond the removal of any doubt about his status for 2019. The 34-year-old has to have many of the same questions we all do about a team in transition.

4. Yanda will have a compelling case for Canton, but I can’t help but remember the start of his career when he missed most of 2008 and moved between guard and tackle for four years. He didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until his fifth season, which won’t help his chances.

5. Count me among those believing Eric DeCosta would prefer trading back from 22nd overall to accumulate more picks, but you ultimately need to have a willing partner. If the draft’s value is truly on the second day and early in the third, other teams are aware of that as well.

6. Baltimore’s positional needs are clear, but don’t forget the 2015 draft if you’re more concerned about DeCosta checking those boxes than maximizing value. It looked great on paper to pick Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Carl Davis to “replace” Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Haloti Ngata. Reality was different.

7. I enjoy the team projections put out by ESPN’s Mike Clay to gain a universal picture of where the league stands at this point in the offseason. Ravens fans won’t like seeing 7.6 projected wins, but I couldn’t strongly argue a bigger number at this point, illustrating how critical this draft will be.

8. Michael Pierce has deservedly received high praise and appears on his way to a good payday at some point in the next calendar year, but he’s played 400 snaps only once in his three seasons. How does a bigger workload translate if you’re considering giving him lucrative money?

9. With much conversation about the offensive line, James Hurst feels like a forgotten man after a back injury limited him to 10 games last year. He carries the roster’s 10th-highest cap number, so the pressure is on Hurst to show he’s fully recovered.

10. The Seth Roberts signing was a typical Ravens move and carries little risk, but the last former Oakland Raider with issues catching the football didn’t work out so well here. Roberts has dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.

11. The regular-season schedule should be released this week with the Ravens set to play five playoff teams from a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how the league and its TV partners perceive Jackson and a run-heavy offense in terms of the number of scheduled prime-time games.

12. Strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders isn’t a household name, but countless players have praised his work over the last couple offseasons. Luck is a greater variable than we admit, but the Ravens had only seven players finish last season on injured reserve.

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