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Ravens add veteran inside linebacker Paul Worrilow to roster mix

Posted on 23 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With final roster cuts a week away and attempting to add depth to one of their most inexperienced positions, the Ravens signed veteran inside linebacker Paul Worrilow Friday.

The 29-year-old has started 52 games in his NFL career, but he missed the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL, an injury from which he’s been slow to recover. Philadelphia released Worrilow last weekend after he’d only practiced on a limited basis this summer and hadn’t yet appeared in a preseason game.

Worrilow will have a week to prove he is both healthy and deserving of being the Ravens’ fourth inside linebacker behind starters Patrick Onwuasor and Chris Board and 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young. Rookie free agent Otaro Alaka has been the consensus favorite to win a 53-man roster spot if general manager Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh choose to keep a fourth player at the position. Board has been sidelined since sustaining a concussion in the second preseason game last week.

An undrafted free agent out of Delaware in 2013, Worrilow almost immediately became a three-year starter for Atlanta and registered at least 95 tackles in each of those seasons. He moved into a reserve role for the Falcons in 2016 before signing with Detroit a year later, making 30 tackles and starting eight of 13 games.

His contributions on special teams are likely to be valued more than his ability at linebacker since the Ravens would prefer to limit Onwuasor’s responsibilities as he steps into a large defensive role. Worrilow played at least 229 snaps on special teams in each of his last two healthy seasons.

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mcsorley

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Sizing up 2019 Ravens roster after two preseason games

Posted on 18 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games in the books, it’s time to to ponder the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current assessment suggests as many as 48 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the depth at certain positions and overall talent level on the roster.

Of the 90 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — I list 15 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar in talent nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the back of the roster.

Bubble players who are underlined are the ones projected to make the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 18.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: McSorley’s summer play has been predictably inconsistent, but the Ravens would prefer not to lose the sixth-round pick after the strides he’s made since spring. The health of Griffin’s thumb will play a big part in determining whether DeCosta attempts to sneak McSorley through waivers and to the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon received early action Thursday, but the absence of any special-teams contributions make it difficult to put him on the roster, especially with his injury history and Dixon being in the last year of his contract. Special teams give Turner and Ervin a better chance, but both are a little too far down the depth chart.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Seth Roberts, Antoine Wesley
LONG SHOT: Michael Floyd, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Roberts appeared safely on the roster 10 days ago, but Moore has looked good in the preseason and has practiced well behind Snead in the slot, leaving the injured Roberts vulnerable. Scott must contribute on special teams, but the Ravens may now value his upside over Roberts’ higher floor.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: With the way offensive coordinator Greg Roman values tight ends, Scarff and Herdman could both be viable candidates for the practice squad. Ricard’s positional flexibility gives Baltimore a fourth option as a blocking tight end behind the top three on the depth chart.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor
BUBBLE: Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
LONG SHOT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: Eluemunor’s strong showing against the Packers probably removed any doubts about his roster status since he might be the best backup left tackle on the roster. Meanwhile, Mekari didn’t stand out after his strong week of practice, and Senat’s current absence has really hurt his roster chances.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Ricard needs be included in the overview of this group as he’s playing like someone who could see some snaps in the game-day rotation. Sieler has had an underwhelming summer, but he’s the only true 5-technique end behind Wormley on roster and Willis hasn’t stood out in practices or games.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Donald Payne, Nicholas Grigsby, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka may have the best chance among the rookie free agents to crack the 53-man roster, but the frequency with which the Ravens use the dime package makes keeping a fourth inside linebacker less critical. Board’s recovery from a concussion could alter the thinking on Alaka, however.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Shane Ray
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: The group behind Judon and McPhee — whose durability is a question — remains concerning, but Ray hasn’t impressed considering his experience level relative to Ferguson, Williams, and Bowser and the competition he’s faced in preseason games. A post-summer acquisition here still feels possible.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones
BUBBLE: Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Tavon Young
Skinny: The serious neck injury to Young takes Jones off the bubble and pushes Canady on the right side of the bubble since he can play outside and at the nickel. Sidelined since last weekend, the rookie Marshall could also end up on IR, which would open an extra spot at another position of need.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
BUBBLE: Brynden Trawick
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Trawick’s special-teams ability shouldn’t be overlooked, but he’s too far down the depth chart at the safety position and there are already too many cornerbacks to try to add another defensive back to the mix. Jackson has done everything he possibly can to earn a real opportunity elsewhere.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek
Skinny: The only question here is whether special teams coaches Chris Horton and Randy Brown will miraculously transform Nizialek or any other kicker potentially added in the final two weeks of the preseason into another late-round pick in a trade. No one develops specialists better than the Ravens.

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hill2

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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 linebacker Board leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

Posted on 15 August 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens took a hit at a position where they can hardly afford one in Thursday’s 26-13 preseason win over Green Bay.

Second-year inside linebacker Chris Board sustained a concussion and didn’t return after a helmet-to-helmet collision late in the first half. The 2018 undrafted free agent initially tried to stay in the game, but cornerback Maurice Canady noticed Board was woozy and signaled for the training staff before an injury timeout was called. Board was immediately taken to the locker room and declared out for the rest of the game at the beginning of the second half.

“He said he’s fine, but concussions are like that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to see how that goes. It doesn’t seem to be serious, but that’s one we will be very careful with.”

Depth at the position was already tenuous after the free-agent departure of four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and the Ravens choosing not to draft an inside linebacker or bring in an accomplished veteran to replace him. Fourth-year linebacker Patrick Onwuasor has stepped into Mosley’s old “Mike” position to positive reviews, but Board has held a clear edge over 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young as the starting weak-side inside linebacker this spring and summer.

The North Dakota State product finished with one tackle before his head injury.

Rookie inside linebacker Otaro Alaka was also shaken up on the opening kickoff of the second half, but he returned to action later in the third quarter. The Texas A&M product is considered the best of Baltimore’s rookie free agents at the position and would certainly be in the running for a roster spot if the team chooses to keep four inside linebackers.

Alaka registered a game-high six tackles, including two for a loss, in Thursday’s win.

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onwuasor

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Inside linebackers

Posted on 19 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in days 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 on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line

We continue at inside linebacker, a position at which the Ravens received a Pro Bowl berth in all but six of their first 23 seasons in Baltimore. General manager Eric DeCosta was right not to match the market-altering five-year, $85 million contract the New York Jets gave C.J. Mosley, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens won’t miss his play and leadership in the middle of the defense, especially with no other returning inside linebacker registering more than 434 defensive snaps last season.

A defense long defined by superb play at inside linebacker appears to be in the midst of a philosophical transition that started last year with a platoon at the weak-side spot that proved to be successful. How that will translate to replacing Mosley’s every-down contributions remains to be seen, but this certainly isn’t your father’s Ravens defense with two of the top three inside linebackers on the roster being former undrafted free agents and the other a former fourth-round pick.

Even in the lone season between the retirement of Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis and Mosley’s selection in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Ravens drafted Arthur Brown in the second round with designs of him being the heir apparent, signed 10th-year veteran Daryl Smith, and still had multi-year weak-side starter Jameel McClain on the roster. After investing no major resources beyond a second-round restricted tender and a few rookie free-agent signings at the position this offseason, Baltimore is devoting just under $4.4 million in total salary-cap dollars to its top three inside linebackers for 2019. Cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Williams each have cap numbers more than three times that this season.

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

The Man — Patrick Onwuasor
Skinny: After headlining a three-man platoon that included dime back Anthony Levine a year ago, Onwuasor is expected to go from playing roughly 42 percent of the defensive snaps to stepping into the every-down “Mike” linebacker role, another reason why the Ravens gave him the $3.095 million second-round restricted tender. Undersized at a listed 226 pounds, Onwuasor played the best football of his career with 4 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles over the final six games last year (counting the playoff loss), but that emergence must continue for this group to succeed without Mosley.

Old Reliable — Onwuasor
Skinny: A 26-year-old who played less than half the snaps last season and has just 26 career starts being the only conceivable choice for this category speaks to the paradigm shift at this position from the days of Lewis being one of the highest-paid players in the league. Pro Football Focus graded Onwuasor as its 40th-best linebacker last season, and his improvement in pass coverage and as a blitzer made a big difference down the stretch.

Under Fire — Kenny Young
Skinny: By no means should the 2018 fourth-round pick’s rookie campaign be considering anything but a positive as Young played just under 36 percent of snaps and contributed 51 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble. However, many believed he’d unseat Onwuasor as a starter a year ago and he’s still being challenged at the weak-side spot. Young is at his best when playing downhill and using his speed, but his pass coverage must improve and he was sometimes thinking too much diagnosing plays last year.

Up-and-Comer — Chris Board
Skinny: A former rookie free agent who made the 53-man roster on special teams and is rapidly developing as an inside linebacker? The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? The North Dakota State product played only 14 defensive snaps last year, but he received a large portion of the first-team reps in the spring, often before Young. The Ravens love Board’s speed, so a three-headed platoon is likely to continue with Young, Board, and Levine all seeing time in various sub packages.

Sleeper — Matthew Thomas
Skinny: Any of the remaining inside linebackers on the roster could be considered a sleeper with the lack of depth behind the aforementioned trio, but the 23-year-old Thomas did appear in 10 games as a rookie with Pittsburgh last season before signing a reserve-future contract with the Ravens in January. The Florida State product is one of a few in the running to win a job if he can excel on special teams.

The Rest — Otaro Alaka, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka, a rookie free agent from Texas A&M, flashed with an interception of Robert Griffin III during minicamp and was graded as the top SEC linebacker in run defense by PFF last year. Jones spent time on the Baltimore practice squad last year after being waived at the end of the preseason. … Ejiya was tied for fourth in Conference USA with nine sacks last season.

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marquisebrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following rookie camp

Posted on 06 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens completing their rookie camp this past weekend, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marquise Brown is studying the playbook, but not having the first-round pick on the field took away some luster from rookie camp. He’ll still have extensive summer reps, but overcoming the learning curve at wide receiver on the heels of the foot injury presents a challenge that shouldn’t be dismissed.

2. Miles Boykin revealed he worked out with Brown prior to the combine and the two roomed together during rookie camp. History says Baltimore should be excited if just one of them makes a real impact, but it’s exciting having two young talents with such upside at the receiver position.

3. Pro Football Focus tagged Boykin with only three drops on 62 catchable targets last season, and he credited the catching improvement to the health of his fingers. The 6-foot-4 wideout said he dealt with broken fingers in each of his first two collegiate seasons.

4. It always strikes me how enjoyable rookie camp must be for John Harbaugh and the coaching staff working with so many players who won’t wear a Ravens uniform again beyond that weekend. Harbaugh coaching vise technique on punt return to unknowns had to take him back to his roots.

5. From Joe Flacco’s younger brother to Jerry Rice Jr., rookie camp has brought interesting tryout names to Owings Mills over the years with wide receiver Joe Horn Jr. joining that list this spring. The Missouri Western product drew Harbaugh’s praise, but there were no flip-phone celebrations to be found.

6. Trace McSorley garnered more attention, but former Baylor quarterback Jalan McClendon threw some impressive passes during Saturday’s workout open to reporters. You’d expect the Ravens to add a fourth quarterback to the 90-man offseason roster, whether it’s McClendon or someone else.

7. The most notable of the Ravens’ rookie free-agent signings, defensive tackle Gerald Willis limped off the field Saturday before later deeming himself OK on social media. The Miami product and younger brother of Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins has potential if the off-field issues are behind him.

8. Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, and Silas Stewart were just getting their feet wet, but Baltimore has to hope one will be the latest rookie free agent to stick as an inside linebacker. Former Raven and assistant coach Zach Orr was among those watching closely this past weekend.

9. Beginning Tuesday afternoon, teams are permitted to sign unrestricted free agents without it counting against the compensatory pick formula. As we’ve noted more than once, the cap space is there for Eric DeCosta to make another notable signing or two.

10. Iman Marshall expressed infectious enthusiasm answering questions Friday, but I didn’t know whether to be impressed or offended that he didn’t return to the theater to finish watching “Avengers: Endgame” upon receiving the call that he’d been drafted. I guess that’s why I never made it to the NFL.

11. Haloti Ngata and his family visited the team facility Saturday with the recently-retired five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and Super Bowl XLVII champion taking some time to chat with rookies. The next stop for the 35-year-old should be the Ravens Ring of Honor this fall.

12. Hollywood, Sack Daddy, Biggie, and Mack Truck. Time will tell how successful the 2019 draft class is, but the nickname game is strong. Even McSorley — whose real first name is Richard — was nicknamed after former NFL defensive lineman Trace Armstrong.

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