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A bright purple idea to replace The Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance with a new thing

Posted on 30 October 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

Because most of you know I turned the Ravens bye week into a “buh-bye” week at WNST and served up a healthy dose of Baltimore Positive conversations, I had some time to digest the Ravens win in Seattle in many ways from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The incredible win at The Link in The Emerald City was certainly a statement win for the 2019 version of the Ravens but also for the franchise and its new leader Lamar Jackson, who has electrified the sport and suddenly reinvigorated the football energy in Baltimore. This kind of Sunday night against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots is everything you’d want for our city and our stadium as Light City – the coolest idea our city has had to bring people back to the Inner Harbor since Governor Schaefer built Harborplace – kicks off in earnest in my ‘hood.

(This is your official invitation to come back downtown and participate in what is great about Baltimore! I will be happy to show you around!)

One thing that a puke green weekend 3,000 miles away in the rain in Seattle showed me was how rowdy a city hungry for football can still be – but also how really inspired the brilliant “12th man” brand they have created for the Seahawks is on game day as a real home field asset. The fans and locally chosen Seattle celebrities and dignitaries and former greats get to raise the flag and make the crowd go berserk at kickoff.

I remember what that was like in Baltimore when Ray Lewis danced every Sunday to ignite an energy that made 33rd Street feel like a bingo hall.

You don’t have to be a rock and roll fan to know that seeing Mike McCready of Pearl Jam stoke the crowd is pretty bad ass. (Of course that didn’t help the Seahawks players tackle Lamar Jackson 20 minutes later but I think you get my point, especially if you ever attended a game where No. 52 did the Squirrel Dance and the hair on the back of your neck stood up. I remember to never forget!)

I have been wanting to write and discuss this for a month now but there was NOTHING that has happened at a Ravens game recently that surpassed that moment when Brian Billick came out of that tunnel holding up the Lombardi Trophy against the Browns on that day they put him into the Ring of Honor.

It occurred to me that we had 105 players (and lots more significant humans if you count coaches, staff and other “ring wearers” from the organization and front office) on the field who won the Super Bowl as Baltimore Ravens and deserve to hoist that silver trophy for the fans one more time.

If Brad Downs and the folks over at the purple palace want my best idea for free, here it is:

Bring back a Super Bowl 35 or 47 champion EVERY week for as long as they are alive and have them lifting the Silver Betty (or its 12-year baby brother “Joe”) and make that our “12th man” or some kind of replacement for the irreplaceable and never to return Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance.

Anquan Boldin came out and took a bow two weeks ago. Was the Lombardi Trophy unavailable that day? Imagine how nuts the crowd would’ve gone?!?

We once had Nelly and “Hot in Herre” and a transcendent football player who now has a statue at the gate. That ain’t coming back any more than the Johnny Unitas statue next to it is walking back into Memorial Stadium in black high tops.

In Baltimore, Maryland, we have trophies that should be shown off more often than the humble Ravens have cared to do so in recent years – and that should change.

I’d never let a team walk into our stadium and not know and FEEL it ever again.

I know it didn’t go well against the Cleveland Browns after the Billick silver “sky spear” than it went for the Seahawks two weeks ago at Century Link Field, but it is a moment worth replicating and certainly better than anything goofy Terrell Suggs ever did in the aftermath of the Ray Lewis Squirrel.

The Ravens could sell it and stock it with players who were a part of a championship team. And then encourage it for the alums who made big plays in January that led to those Super Bowl parades. And every one of them was on the field for many a Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance and a confetti shower.

THAT’S the way to kick off a game against Tom Brady – or anyone for that matter – if you want to intimidate the opponent. If Billick can roll out of the tunnel with Silver Betty then why not James Trapp or Mike Flynn from Tampa? Or Michael Oher or Bryant McKinnie from New Orleans?

We are 23 years into this thing and the Baltimore Ravens are always chasing their own greatness and higher standards than the orange puke across the parking lot where they canceled their own offseason fan festival and still treat the fans like an ATM. As a guy who has dedicated his life to the passion around Baltimore sports, I have seen how hard the Ravens franchise and its human beings have had to work in the aftermath of London and the aging

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With tough schedule ahead, Ravens defense hoping for another step forward

Posted on 10 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense took a step in the right direction in Pittsburgh.

Needing overtime to beat Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges — who still managed a 98.1 passer rating in relief of the injured Mason Rudolph — hardly qualifies as a breakthrough, but standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s strip and recovery against Pro Bowl wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was exactly what the Ravens needed for a 26-23 win and a long exhale after giving up a combined 73 points and over 1,000 yards the previous two weeks. The performance was far from perfect, but it was good enough, especially with a home game against winless Cincinnati looming on Sunday and the rest of the AFC North seemingly in disarray.

Executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome said it best to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale on the plane ride home to Baltimore.

“He said, ‘Just keep getting better. Just keep getting better,’” said Martindale, who praised his group’s improved tackling and situational work against the Steelers. “And that’s true. That’s the way this National Football League is.”

Of course, the road victory over their struggling division rival didn’t come without another significant setback as strong safety Tony Jefferson was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. Labeled the “heart and soul” of the defense by head coach John Harbaugh and having just taken over the responsibilities of relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, Jefferson was a veteran leader for a group already missing former Ravens Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, and C.J. Mosley. Jefferson’s loss on top of the existing concerns about the pass rush, inside linebacker, and the other injuries in the secondary is tough to take.

Third-year safety Chuck Clark is expected to take his place with 2018 sixth-round pick DeShon Elliott also stepping into a larger role in different sub packages. It’s hardly ideal, but Clark played well in two starts in place of Jefferson last year and has been praised repeatedly for his football intellect. The Ravens are about to find out what they have with their two younger options next to six-time Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas, who is still finding his own way in a more complex system than what he was used to in Seattle.

“We just have to go on with business as usual,” Thomas said. “Chuck will come in, and he’ll help out and I’ll fit right where I need to be. If I know the check-it and I see it, I’ll be vocal about it, but Chuck is going to take on that role as well.”

The Ravens were able to slow their heartbeat at inside linebacker with the addition of veteran Josh Bynes, whose performance as the “Mike” linebacker against Pittsburgh after only three practices and not being with an NFL team since March was nothing short of remarkable. The 30-year-old has rarely been a full-time starter in a nine-year career that began in Baltimore and will surely be tested by better offenses in the coming weeks, but the Ravens hope the stability he brought to the position in Week 5 will continue after the offseason plan to go exclusively younger and faster in the wake of Mosley’s free-agent departure clearly wasn’t working.

Bynes’ arrival has allowed the Ravens to move Patrick Onwuasor back to the weak-side position where he thrived down the stretch last season. It’s a move the fourth-year linebacker is on board with after his early struggles at Mosley’s old position. The shuffling led to 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young being a healthy scratch and fellow second-year linebacker Chris Board playing only one defensive snap against the Steelers.

“I felt way more comfortable. I was flying around,” said Onwuasor, who finished with seven tackles and one for a loss. “That was my natural position. It just felt like it fit me perfectly, and I think Wink could tell a little bit that I like that position a little bit better.”

Martindale will continue to tinker with both the starting lineup and sub packages to find the optimal fits, especially in a secondary ravaged by injuries. Last week brought the promotion of veteran cornerback Maurice Canady to the starting lineup after second-year defensive back Anthony Averett had struggled in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, who will miss his fifth straight game with a knee injury. Brandon Carr continues to play most of the snaps at the nickel position after the preseason loss of Tavon Young, but the 33-year-old would ideally be on more of a pitch count to keep him fresh all year.

Still, the greatest concern remains with the pass rush as the Ravens are tied for 24th in the NFL with only nine sacks and 26th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, which is adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. Unlike the secondary that has Smith’s return to look forward to, there are no pass-rushing reinforcements on the way unless general manager Eric DeCosta pulls off a significant trade by the Oct. 29 deadline. Harbaugh and Martindale both expressed optimism this week about an increasing role for rookie Jaylon Ferguson, but 2017 third-round pick Tim Williams was waived just over a week ago after being advertised this offseason as part of the solution to replace Suggs and fellow free-agent departure Za’Darius Smith. Those two combined for 15 1/2 sacks last season and have a total of 8 1/2 for their new teams so far.

The Ravens have received three sacks apiece from starting outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, but they’re playing too many snaps, putting strain on their second-half performances as well as their long-term stamina for a 16-game season. Judon is playing 82.1 percent of the snaps on defense after taking 65.1 percent of them a year ago while McPhee is averaging a career-high 42.6 defensive snaps per game, far from ideal for a 30-year-old with an injury history.

Despite Martindale bringing plenty of blitzes in hopes of pressuring and overwhelming two inexperienced quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, the Ravens managed only one sack and three quarterback hits in nearly 65 minutes of play.

“When it really comes down to it, we have to win our one-on-ones up front,” Judon said. “We have to help our defense. We have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback and applying pressure and helping our secondary out, so they don’t have to cover forever.”

The reality is this is a much different defense than the top-shelf group that last played Cincinnati in Week 11 last season, meaning expectations for improvement must be realistic. Of the 11 defensive players who started against the Bengals in Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start 11 months ago, eight are either no longer with the organization or sidelined with long-term injuries. When dealing with that much change, you’ll gladly take another step or two in the right direction against a struggling opponent Sunday — even if the Bengals’ recent history of success against Baltimore shouldn’t be forgotten.

The schedule picks up considerably in Week 7 and beyond, meaning the Ravens must take advantage of this opportunity for a win and another confidence boost. Yes, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has broken the Ravens’ hearts in the past, but the Bengals have already allowed 20 sacks and rank in the bottom 10 in many offensive categories. The continued absence of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will certainly help as the Baltimore secondary tries to find its way with another key cog now out of the picture.

“We’re seeing what we’re good at. We’re seeing what we’re struggling at, and we’re making the right corrections,” Thomas said. “It might not show up right off, but it’s going to pay off in the end.”

After Sunday, the Ravens will play six of their next seven games against teams currently holding winning records. The defense is going to need those growing pains and adjustments to start paying off much sooner than later.

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O. Brown, Eluemunor, Ray practice after passing conditioning test

Posted on 26 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ infamous conditioning test has victimized many players at the start of training camp in the John Harbaugh era, but the entire current roster has now passed.

After sitting out the first full squad workout of the summer, starting right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, and outside linebacker Shane Ray were all activated from the non-football injury list and practiced Friday upon passing the conditioning test. Brown and Eluemunor — who worked as the starting left guard during spring workouts — were relegated to second-team duties in what appeared to be a temporary punishment for their early-camp conditioning woes.

A failed conditioning test garners much attention in the early days of training camp, but very rarely has fallout lingered beyond some short-term ridicule and embarrassment. Even potential future Hall of Fame safety Earl Thomas found the running test to be intimidating upon reporting for his first camp with the Ravens, a sentiment shared by numerous veteran free agents over the years.

“I feel like I trained pretty well in the offseason,” Thomas said, “but I thought I was going to throw up at the end.”

Center Matt Skura was the only new absence from Friday’s workout as he was excused from the team to attend a funeral, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

With players practicing in helmets, shells, and shorts for the first two days, workouts haven’t varied much from spring organized team activities, but that will change Saturday with pads and full contact being introduced. The threat of contact is frequently a separator between young players who have stood out playing in shorts in the spring and others who haven’t yet been able to use their physicality. As veteran safety Tony Jefferson remarked in the spring, that is when coaches begin finding out who the real players are.

The rookies will also get their first taste of playing at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens hold a free and open practice Saturday evening.

“They’re going to put the pads on, and they’re going to be in the stadium,” Harbaugh said. “OK, what is that going to look like? It could be a little off, but I talked to them. I said, ‘Let’s not get caught up in all of that. Let’s just keep it simple, keep it on football, get in our box, and do our job.

“The field will still be the same length and the same width. It’s still a 10-foot free throw. That’s a ‘Hoosiers’ reference. Remember that?”

Jackson adds “muscle, not fat”

Many have commented on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson looking bigger than he did last season when he was listed at 212 pounds as a rookie, but that is by design.

The 22-year-old said he’s gained seven to 10 pounds of muscle this offseason “to put some more meat on” his bones, stressing that it was muscle and not fat and joking that he’d soon look like head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders. The body change hasn’t seemed to hinder his speed as Jackson has continued blowing past many teammates in practices.

“You take hits. Those guys are big out there,” said Jackson about his reasoning for adding weight. “The league is totally different. Grown men are trying to feed their families. Three-hundred-pounders coming at you running 4.5s. It’s different out there in the league.”

Lewis to begin practicing early next month

Like rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, fourth-year guard Alex Lewis has been working out individually off to the side, but his practice debut is at least another week or two away after rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery.

“If everything stays the same, he should be full-go in early August,” Harbaugh said. “When is that, a week and a half, two weeks? He looks good. He’s strong. He’s over 320 pounds. Everything looks stable. He passed his conditioning test. He’s moving well, and we just have to get him to practice now.”

Currently on the physically unable to perform list, Lewis will be competing for the starting left guard spot in the final year of his contract, but injuries have limited him to just 20 games in his first three seasons.

Leach recognized

Retired fullback Vonta Leach played more games with the Houston Texas in his 10-year career, but he chose to officially retire as a Raven because no organization “glorified or embodied” his position in the same way.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection last played in 2013 and was recognized at a Friday press conference that included executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh. Leach, 37, was named to two Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl in his three seasons with Baltimore.

“You don’t get a lot of praise unless you really know football,” said Leach about playing the bruising fullback position. “But when the fans yelled my name, ‘Leeeeach!’ no matter what I did on the field, when my name was called, that did something. That was very special to me. As I was walking out there today [at training camp], just when they say my name, they’re always going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”

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Ravens bringing back veteran pass rusher Pernell McPhee

Posted on 16 May 2019 by Luke Jones

The man replaced by Za’Darius Smith four years ago is returning to the Ravens to try to reclaim that again-vacated spot.

Veteran pass rusher Pernell McPhee will return to the team which which he won a Super Bowl and played the first four seasons of his NFL career. The 30-year-old is expected to sign a one-year deal to add more competition and depth to an inexperienced group of outside linebackers needing to replace Smith and potential future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs, who both departed as free agents.

McPhee played in 13 games for Washington last season, collecting 11 tackles (three for a loss), eight quarterback hits, two passes defensed, and no sacks in 204 defensive snaps. He spent the previous three seasons with Chicago, who signed the 6-foot-3, 265-pound pass rusher to a five-year, $38.75 million contract in 2015. Prior to playing against the Ravens for the first time in 2017, McPhee acknowledged being disappointed then-general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t try to re-sign him after he recorded 7 1/2 sacks in his career-best 2014 season.

“It was still in my system — being a Raven, playing like a Raven,” said McPhee, who played in eight postseason games with Baltimore. “That’s how I was bred into this NFL world. That was my birth, just playing like a Raven, being a Raven. Not getting an offer from them, it hurt. But I will always salute Ozzie and coach [John] Harbaugh for giving me the opportunity to be a Raven.”

Knee and shoulder injuries prevented McPhee from living up to the expectations of that monster contract with the Bears as he recorded just 14 sacks in 36 games and was released after the 2017 season.

The 2011 fifth-round pick from Mississippi State was at his best with the Ravens as the coaching staff limited his snaps to keep him healthy and productive. He registered a total of 17 sacks as a situational rusher and played all 16 games in three of those four seasons.

With fourth-year veteran Matthew Judon projected to start at one outside linebacker spot, McPhee will compete with 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams and 2019 third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson for playing time in the pass-rush rotation. The veteran’s ability to rush from inside and outside positions could give him an edge in securing a roster spot.

Even if McPhee isn’t an ironclad lock to make the 53-man roster after the worst statistical season of his career, his arrival should put more pressure on the likes of Bowser and Williams, who have been disappointments through their first two seasons.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 30 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2019 NFL draft now in the rear-view mirror, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After undergoing their biggest roster turnover on defense since the offseason after Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens still went offense with four of their first five picks. That’s quite a change from the 2013 draft when their first four selections were defensive players. I approve for Lamar Jackson’s benefit.

2. Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were winners of the weekend with none of Baltimore’s eight picks being used on an inside linebacker. With Eric DeCosta having just over $15 million in salary cap space, however, a veteran addition could still be in the cards at some point.

3. Another winner was Matt Skura despite many predicting the Ravens would come away with an early-round center. There’s certainly room for improvement and Bradley Bozeman could push him with a strong offseason, but I don’t get the sense the organization is as down on Skura as some outsiders.

4. DeCosta said the visit with edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah was “great,” but a potential signing likely won’t come until after May 7 when unrestricted free agents no longer impact the compensatory pick formula. Ansah visiting Seattle Monday should dismiss any idea of a handshake agreement being in place.

5. Fifth-round defensive tackle Daylon Mack was considered a disappointment entering his senior year at Texas A&M as a five-star recruit who hadn’t yet become a starter, but 5 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for a loss changed that perception. That “sneaky” inside rush ability could be a nice addition.

6. Orlando Brown Jr. attending the draft party for fourth-round guard Ben Powers had to be a cool moment for the reunited Oklahoma teammates and speaks to their close friendship. You’d assume the Ravens had a great scouting report on Powers, who is expected to compete at left guard initially.

7. I’ll be curious to see how the Ravens handle Marquise Brown as he recovers from a Lisfranc injury that could keep him off the practice field until training camp. You don’t want to rush what can be a tricky foot ailment, but developing on-field chemistry with Jackson will be crucial.

8. The Ravens haven’t yet made their undrafted rookie signings official, but the addition of Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith made too much sense, especially after he worked with Jackson this offseason. At the very least, it’s a nod to your starting quarterback giving his college teammate a look.

9. Jaleel Scott was a forgotten man after a disappointing summer that ended with him on injured reserve, but the 2018 fourth-round pick has turned some heads this spring with improved speed and fitness. The 6-foot-5 wideout from New Mexico State needs a big preseason to secure a roster spot.

10. Joe Flacco has more important things to worry about after Denver selected Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round, but it’s crazy the Ravens drafted as many wide receivers for Jackson in the first three rounds this weekend as they did over Flacco’s entire 11-year run.

11. Watching the inspiring Miles Taylor and Mo Gaba announce draft picks this weekend was a reminder of how superb the Ravens’ community outreach continues to be. The efforts of so many in the organization really make a lasting impact, including plenty of examples that aren’t publicized.

12. Despite Steve Bisciotti ceremoniously switching the seats of DeCosta and Ozzie Newsome at the conclusion of last year’s draft, the two kept their old spots. I hear Newsome enjoyed himself while DeCosta didn’t let the pressure of running his first draft stop him from playing a practical joke or two.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 23 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making final preparations for the start of the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’ll finally have a resolution after months of mock drafts, but this is the first time the Ravens own just one pick in the top 80 since 2004, the year after they traded up to select Kyle Boller. Lamar Jackson should be considered as part of this draft class indirectly.

2. Saturday marked 23 years since Ozzie Newsome made Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis the first picks in franchise history while a 25-year-old Eric DeCosta held an entry-level position filling various roles, including getting the oil changed in Ted Marchibroda’s car. This week represents the true changing of the guard.

3. If the Ravens don’t trade back from No. 22 to accumulate more picks, my prediction — really a guess — is they’ll select Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell, which means he’ll probably be long gone by the time they choose. As others have noted, he feels like a Baltimore kind of pick.

4. Why Ferrell? If you count draft bust Craig Powell — Art Modell’s final first-round pick in Cleveland — the Ravens have always had a first-round edge defender on the roster as they took Peter Boulware in 1997 and Terrell Suggs in 2003. You can’t do much better than those two.

5. Then again, inside linebacker has been manned by a first-round pick — Lewis from 1996-2012 and C.J. Mosley from 2014-18 — for all but one year of their existence when the Ravens still took Arthur Brown in the 2013 second round. Michigan’s Devin Bush figures to be gone, however.

6. I’m a broken record talking about wide receiver, but this is a reminder that the Ravens have drafted only two in the first three rounds in the entire John Harbaugh era. They can’t repeat the mistakes they made with Joe Flacco if they want to maximize Jackson’s development.

7. Cornerback is the roster’s deepest position group, but Brandon Carr will be 33 next month and Jimmy Smith turns 31 in July and is entering the final year of his contract. In other words, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Ravens take a corner in the middle rounds.

8. With multiple needs on both sides of the ball, is there a position you’re strongly against the Ravens drafting early? Unless you’re convinced Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the next Saquon Barkley, a running back is a tough sell. Defensive tackle is another spot where they’ve found good value much later.

9. The Ravens entered Tuesday with $13.649 million in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of a weekend trade for a veteran or a notable signing after the draft. It’s unrealistic to expect this draft to address all of their needs.

10. Looking at draft capital in the AFC North, Cleveland has two picks in the top 80 (49th and 80th), Pittsburgh three (20th, 52nd, and 66th), and Cincinnati three (11th, 42nd, 72nd). Of course, the Browns traded their first-round pick for Odell Beckham Jr. last month. This division should be fun.

11. Picking up the fifth-year option on Ronnie Stanley was a no-brainer, but determining his value and working out a long-term extension could be tricky. He’s been solid to good over his first three seasons, but I’d be uneasy resetting the market at left tackle to keep him.

12. I wish the draft didn’t coincide with the “Avengers: Endgame” opening, but it prompts an important question. Who would be your top pick from the Marvel superhero team? I’d consider Thor — he’s a god! — or Black Panther and the resources of Wakanda, but I just can’t pass on Iron Man.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following their pre-draft press conference

Posted on 03 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta began by welcoming everyone to the “Liars Luncheon,” which is what many have called this event for years. It was a fun moment of levity to kick off a question-and-answer session that produces few headlines or revelations.

2. DeCosta estimated the Ravens will have roughly 180 “draftable” players on their board by the time the NFL draft begins in three weeks. He labeled safeties, interior offensive linemen, and pass rushers as the deepest position groups. The latter two could certainly help the current roster.

3. Despite owning just one selection (22nd overall) in the first 84 picks, DeCosta said having two choices each in the third and fourth rounds was “gold” with this year’s mid-round talent. You definitely get the sense the Ravens would prefer moving back in the first to add more mid-round capital.

4. Ozzie Newsome remains very much involved in the draft process with DeCosta noting that he’s probably watching more tape than he has in recent years without the burden of the administrative tasks of a general manager.

5. DeCosta again stated the need to “get some at-bats and swing” at wide receiver, which is a delicate balance for someone who’s perceived a sense of inflation with how the position has been valued in recent years. Given the great need there, you hope the necessary adjustments have been made.

6. Reading much into what’s said about prospects is unwise, but DeCosta compared Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf to Terrell Owens in terms of running after the catch while director of college scouting Joe Hortiz compared his size, physicality, and vertical speed to Demaryius Thomas. High praise.

7. While the likes of Nick Bosa and Josh Allen figure to be long gone by the time Baltimore picks, DeCosta confirmed a desire to add pass-rushing help on the edge and inside. That coupled with the versatility of Wink Martindale’s scheme should cast a wide net to address that need.

8. DeCosta said he could see three or four centers being drafted in the first or second round unlike most years when the position lacks high-end talent. North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury wouldn’t excite the fan base, but the Ravens have long searched for stability at center.

9. Both Devin White and Devin Bush are expected to be gone by the time the Ravens pick, but DeCosta praised the next tier of inside linebackers. You’d have to think one is added to the mix at some point. N.C. State’s Germaine Pratt was formerly a safety and carries upside.

10. Just how important is Marshal Yanda to the running game? Check out who owned Pro Football Focus’ best rushing grade when going off right guard. There’s been some ambiguity and speculation regarding Yanda’s status, but the Ravens still expect him to play in 2019, the final year of his contract.

11. How much does the long-term roster outlook factor into draft planning? Baltimore is currently scheduled to have 17 unrestricted free agents next offseason, a list that includes Yanda, Jimmy Smith, Justin Tucker, Matthew Judon, Willie Snead, Patrick Onwuasor, Michael Pierce, and Ronnie Stanley if his fifth-year option wouldn’t be exercised.

12. DeCosta expressed his love for the gamesmanship of the draft and throwing teams off the Ravens’ scent. “As a kid, I loved to play Risk, I loved to play Monopoly — all those games. To me, this is a game. But it’s not a game we can afford to lose.” Indeed.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on DeCosta, Harbaugh remarks from NFL combine

Posted on 28 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh answering questions at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you had simply read the transcript, DeCosta sounded very similar to Ozzie Newsome speaking at his first combine as the general manager, which isn’t surprising as few executives and coaches tip their hands with free agency two weeks away.

2. The balance between keeping as much of the defense together as possible and building a stronger offense continues to strike me as a difficult task, especially factoring the age of some key defensive players. This is what happens when trying to rebuild on the fly.

3. DeCosta expressed pride in the Ravens’ identity being built on defense historically and stated a desire to continue that tradition. It’s understandable, but Baltimore continuing that philosophy has netted one playoff win since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed suited up for the final time.

4. Harbaugh expects Marshal Yanda to continue playing, which is great news for an offensive line that could already stand to improve inside. The seven-time Pro Bowl guard is entering the final year of his contract and probably could play at a high level longer than that if he wants.

5. While dancing around questions about Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith, DeCosta said he expects Brandon Carr to return, which could be bad news for Smith and his $15.85 million cap number. Carr is older, but he’s cheaper, more durable, and coming off a more consistent season than Smith.

6. DeCosta didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of using the franchise tag on C.J. Mosley, but he made it clear a long-term deal remains the goal with talks “ongoing” and expected to continue with agent Jimmy Sexton in Indianapolis. This figures to be a critical week on that front.

7. The Ravens brass being complimentary of John Brown wasn’t surprising, but I remain skeptical there’s a great fit there — from his perspective — in terms of price tag and offensive philosophy. Either way, he should do well in what appears to be an underwhelming free-agent market for wide receivers.

8. Terrell Suggs stated his intentions months ago to continue playing in 2019, but talks will be delicate in trying to be realistic about the 36-year-old’s current value without insulting someone who’s been so critical to the organization. You hope something can be worked out that makes sense for both sides.

9. Harbaugh praised the inside-outside versatility and intensity of Za’Darius Smith, but the lack of discussion about Baltimore’s 2018 sack leader reflects how few expect him to return. His market should be interesting, especially if a few other free-agent pass rushers indeed receive the franchise tag.

10. DeCosta summed up his thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability by saying, “We certainly want to keep him healthy, but we also want to win and … score points.” The keys are his passing development and adding enough talent to diminish the need for him to run 15-plus times per game.

11. Harbaugh acknowledged the organization’s need to draft and develop wide receivers more effectively while DeCosta said, “We’ve got to add playmakers.” Yes.

12. Counting the Joe Flacco trade and the Michael Crabtree release, the Ravens are already dealing with nearly $22 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. With another big release or two still very possible, that figure is shaping up to be their largest amount since 2015.

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Changing Ravens’ song at wide receiver will be one of DeCosta’s biggest tasks

Posted on 26 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The early reviews have been positive for new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta.

Many doubted the trade value for former starting quarterback Joe Flacco before DeCosta struck an agreement to send the former Super Bowl MVP to Denver for a fourth-round pick in April’s draft. The Ravens are counting on Tavon Young to still grow into the three-year, $25.8 million extension that makes him — at least temporarily — the NFL’s highest-paid slot cornerback, but the organization keeping a talented player entering his age-25 season is a welcome sight.

However, the Monday release of wide receiver Michael Crabtree ends the honeymoon for DeCosta. That’s not to say the veteran’s departure was unexpected or the wrong decision after a disappointing lone season in Baltimore, but it officially signals the latest instance of Phil Connors waking up to “I Got You Babe” in “Groundhog Day.”

The Ravens are about to embark on their latest rebuild of a wide receiver room that currently includes Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, and Quincy Adeboyejo — the latter three without a single NFL target to their names — so let’s get the usual platitudes out of the way.

We know it’s a challenging position to scout, draft, and develop. Top-shelf options on the free-agent market are expensive. Talented receivers could be on the board in any round of the draft. And, yes, there are other positions of need — like the interior offensive line — to address this offseason.

The aforementioned statements are both true and weary excuses. And the arrival of 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson has brought additional comments this offseason, ranging from the Baltimore brass stating a desire to have receivers with strong run-blocking ability to others stating wide receivers aren’t as important for a mobile quarterback in a run-first offense. There may be some truth in those sentiments, especially with a young tight end group trending upward, but that remains a limited outlook for the side of the ball that’s gotten the short end of the stick for years. And you’re forgiven for not being enthused about the idea of blocking-minded receivers when the organization can’t find those sporting the traditional requirements of the position.

Jackson needs high-quality wide receivers to help in his development if the Ravens truly hope to maximize their investment in a first-round quarterback. There’s no telling how Flacco’s early career would have gone without Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin after that, but can you imagine what might have been had the Ravens not fumbled the position so much over the last several years? You hope a lesson has been learned, even with the organization now boasting an exciting young quarterback with a unique skill set.

But that’s where it’s tricky trying to determine whether anything will really change under a new general manager who isn’t new at all. DeCosta surely didn’t agree with every move made by his mentor and former general manager Ozzie Newsome over the years, but it would be just as naive to assume he was opposed to every misstep ultimately taken at the wide receiver position.

Considering the Ravens have selected just one wide receiver — Breshad Perriman — in the first three rounds of the last seven drafts despite the position being an annual concern, how do you explain away DeCosta’s responsibility knowing the draft has long been his baby? Before last year’s draft, he was asked about that recent track record and whether the organization valued the wide receiver position enough on their board compared to other teams around the league:

“To get a good player at any position, you’ve got to swing. You can get one at-bat in a baseball game and strike out and everyone’s going to say you’re a bad hitter. But if you get up four times and you hit two singles or two doubles, you’re a .500 hitter, so your whole perception changes. You’ve got to swing. We probably haven’t swung quite as much, quite honestly, for a lot of different reasons.

“I think that [with] the receiver position and skill players in general, what I see is a sense of inflation. The value of the skill players has been affected by inflation. Players are getting drafted probably higher than where we actually see their skill levels necessarily being. What I mean by that is we see players that we think are second-round or third-round players getting drafted in the first round. And we see first-round players at some of the skill positions that may be lower-half-of-the-first-round players sometimes getting drafted in the top half of the first round. I think some of that is because of the perception and the pressure to find skill players. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any better than other players that they’re drafted in front of, but that the value of these players has changed.

“We have to make a decision. Are we going to react to that as well in order to get players? For instance, you might have a quarterback as being the 20th-best player in the draft, but the chances that you’re going to get him with the 20th pick are basically nonexistent. He’s going to be a top-10 player because he’s a quarterback. The various positions [and] the values of the various positions in terms of winning and losing football games, it seems like the media, the fan base, draft pundits, the NFL teams, everybody has a different opinion. But that makes the value of those skills players greater than probably if you just graded all those players clinically across board. They would be taken higher than what you have them rated, and we have to make a decision of do we want to participate in that inflationary process basically.”

Perhaps the decision to adapt is coming, but DeCosta’s assessment preceded the Ravens passing on first-round wide receivers DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley in favor of trading down to take tight end Hayden Hurst and trading back into the first round to select Jackson. Wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley were grabbed in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, but neither appeared in a single game last season with Scott stashed on injured reserve and Lasley inactive every week.

The jury is still out, but the Ravens can’t continue to point to one failed first-round pick every decade as reason for not taking swings beyond late-round fliers at the position.

In the same way DeCosta deserves his portion of credit for the great success that includes two Super Bowl championships in the last two decades, he shares in the blame for the lack of draft success at the wide receiver position. And while they’ve found some success — and duds — signing past-their-prime receivers at a discount, this new era for the organization signals the need for a long-term answer or two.

There may be no better way for DeCosta to make his mark on the roster as the new man in charge than putting this longstanding criticism to bed and positioning his young quarterback to reach greater heights. No, wide receiver isn’t the only order of business this offseason, but it’s an important one deserving more than just the typical band-aid or two.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or we’ll be back here again next year as Sonny & Cher plays in the background.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Super Bowl LIII

Posted on 04 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 season coming to an end with Super Bowl LIII, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. While watching New England win its sixth championship in 18 years, my brother-in-law — a diehard Philadelphia fan — said he takes some satisfaction in the Eagles being part of the select group that’s bested the Patriots on the biggest stages. It’s a fair point in which Ravens fans can also share.

2. Some are calling the Patriots’ defensive performance the best in Super Bowl history. The argument has merit considering the Rams averaged 32.9 points per game, but the 2000 Ravens surrendered 2.6 yards per play, forced five turnovers, and allowed the Giants to reach Baltimore territory twice. That darn kick return.

3. Sunday was a feather in the cap for those still believing the “defensive wins championships” mantra, but New England and Los Angeles were middle of the pack in most defensive categories this season. Defense remains important, but elite offense got those two teams to the Super Bowl.

4. Three former Ravens — Albert McClellan, Lawrence Guy, and John Simon — earned Super Bowl rings. McClellan is the most familiar to Baltimore fans, but Guy was a significant player for the New England defense, grading 10th among interior defenders by Pro Football Focus this year.

5. He was enshrined in Canton 20 years ago and many deserving candidates continue to wait their turn, but Ozzie Newsome seeing the third of his first nine first-round picks in Baltimore elected to the Hall of Fame reiterates how worthy he is of a second induction as a general manager.

6. It was a treat seeing Ed Reed included in the NFL’s outstanding 100th season commercial, but was anyone else hoping to see a Reed interception followed by an ill-advised lateral amid the chaos? That two-minute spot was the highlight in an underwhelming year for Super Bowl commercials.

7. James White didn’t do much for New England in the Super Bowl, but he’s the kind of receiving-minded running back the Ravens need to find for their run-first offense. Counting the playoffs, he caught 107 passes for 902 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

8. The resume of new passing coordinator David Culley doesn’t stand out, but hopefully he’ll bring some new ideas after working with Andy Reid in Kansas City. The hire certainly won’t satisfy those clamoring for someone from the collegiate ranks as Culley last coached in college before Lamar Jackson was born.

9. Eric DeCosta’s presser went as expected, but it’d be refreshing for the organization to express urgency about fixing its everlasting deficiency at wide receiver beyond continuing to say it’s “challenging” to draft and develop there. I’m also not buying free-agent receivers being eager to join this offense this offseason.

10. An Atlanta conversation with ESPN writer Ian O’Connor (4:36 mark) made me ponder how the last quarter-century might have differed had Art Modell not fired Bill Belichick in February 1996. Does Belichick ever wind up in New England? Does Newsome gain full control over personnel in Baltimore? Crazy.

11. Watching Tom Brady win his record sixth Super Bowl reminded me the newly-elected Hall of Famer Reed was just a month removed from winning a national championship at Miami when the 41-year-old Patriots quarterback won for the first time. This has to end at some point, right?

12. Former Raven Torrey Smith summed up my thoughts on Super Bowl LIII nicely. Even the biggest defense enthusiasts won’t convince me otherwise.

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