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New injury adds another wrinkle to Ravens’ right guard situation

Posted on 10 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A new injury added another wrinkle to the Ravens’ right guard competition just days before Sunday’s season opener against Cleveland.

Rookie third-round pick Tyre Phillips was absent with what was listed as an ankle injury on Thursday. The Mississippi State product emerged as the potential favorite to start at right guard late in training camp, but his addition to the injury report further clouds the decision as to who might assume Marshal Yanda’s old spot on the offensive line.

Veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker began the summer as the favorite at right guard, but Baltimore may also consider a younger option such as Patrick Mekari, who worked extensively at center during camp as Matt Skura continued to work his way back to full strength from a serious knee injury. Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week he wouldn’t announce his starting offensive line for Week 1 prior to Sunday’s game.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), running back Justice Hill (thigh), and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) remained absent from practice, further decreasing the likelihood of their availability against the Browns.

There were no changes to Cleveland’s injury report from Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Justice Hill (thigh), DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), G Tyre Phillips (ankle)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Chris Hubbard (ankle), CB Kevin Johnson (liver), CB Greedy Williams (shoulder), LB Mack Wilson (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB M.J. Stewart Jr. (hamstring), C JC Tretter (knee)

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Ravens “honed in pretty well” on offensive line, but questions remain

Posted on 02 September 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are just over 10 days away from revealing their Week 1 offensive line that’s been discussed at great length since the mid-March retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.

The cancellation of preseason games in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has left more mystery than usual for outsiders, but decisions on the interior line — potentially at all three positions — and the swing tackle role are close. All we know for sure is that 2019 Pro Bowl selections Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. will line up at left tackle and right tackle respectively.

“We’re honed in pretty well, I would say,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “There are still some things we need to talk about. We have a couple more practices before game week, so we’ll be there game week. I’m sure we’ll be there game week, but I wouldn’t say we’re 100 percent there yet.”

The status of center Matt Skura has yet to be determined as he’s mostly practiced on a limited basis since passing his physical and being removed from the active physically unable to perform list on Aug. 16, the eve of the start of open workouts. That Skura returned to the practice field less than nine months after sustaining a torn ACL, PCL, and MCL as well as a dislocated kneecap is an admirable accomplishment itself, but whether he’s fully ready from a football standpoint remains up for debate.

Skura being healthy enough to play and healthy enough to succeed are different standards, especially with other viable options available at the center spot.

“We still have a little more time to determine that,” Harbaugh said. “We have more practices, so we’ll keep looking at that. He did well [in last Saturday’s scrimmage]; he had no hiccups, no issues. We’re just going to keep pushing him forward with some more challenging things each day, and we’ll know by next week where he’s at.

“Matt will know where he’s at as much as anything. He’s the guy who’s in that body, and the knee is attached to him. We’ll see how he’s doing with it as we get close to the game.”

If the Ravens determine Skura isn’t ready to return to the starting role against Cleveland on Sept. 13, it’s at least worth noting the 2020-only injured reserve rules that allows an unlimited number of return designations. Any player placed on IR after final cut-down day — he must be on the initial 53-man roster — would be eligible to return after only three games rather than the usual eight-game minimum. The relaxing of the IRs rules and the expanded 16-player practice squad were designed to keep more players available to teams during the pandemic.

There’s also the question of who would play center in his place with the simplest solution being second-year lineman Patrick Mekari, who filled in admirably as an undrafted free agent last season. However, Baltimore has left open the possibility of left guard Bradley Bozeman moving over to center, the position he played at the University of Alabama. Bozeman is the only lock to start somewhere on the interior line, but moving him from the position at which he started every game last year would leave the Ravens with a different starter at all three interior spots, which seems less than ideal for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

But the Ravens value versatility, especially in a game-day setting when teams don’t have an active backup for all five starting positions.

“If you look at our guys, you probably have noticed we’ve been moving all those guys around in different spots,” Harbaugh said. “It helps us to determine really how we want to go into the first game, but it’s also going to bode well for the future having flexibility to move guys around when needed to different positions.”

Whatever happens with Skura, Bozeman, and Mekari potentially impacts the center and left guard spots, but that still leaves us wondering who will assume the spot of Yanda, a potential Hall of Famer who can’t truly be replaced. The clear favorite at right guard has been veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker with younger options not appearing to seriously challenge the former first-round pick for much of the summer, but there’s been some late momentum for third-round rookie Tyre Phillips, who was a left tackle at Mississippi State.

Like Fluker, who began his NFL career at right tackle, Phillips has shown the positional flexibility to be valuable on game day. The Ravens need to determine their backup plans at each tackle spot after veteran swing tackle James Hurst was released back in March, but journeymen Will Holden and Parker Ehinger are far from roster locks, leaving open the possibility of in-game shuffling such as Brown moving to the left side and Fluker kicking out to right tackle in the event of an injury.

Whether the 6-foot-5, 344-pound Phillips starts or is an active reserve, he’s clearly stood out among other young options such as fourth-round rookie Ben Bredeson and 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers.

“He’s a good football player — I think that’s the main thing,” Harbaugh said. “We saw the ability to play guard or tackle. I think he can play on the right side or the left side. He’s just a really versatile type of player. He’s a good athlete. He bends well. He’s smart — very smart. He comes from a great family.

“He has a really good demeanor about him. He doesn’t get down on himself at all; he really just pushes through it and learns from his mistakes.”

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Examining Ravens’ roster battles entering final days of training camp

Posted on 26 August 2020 by Luke Jones

Trying to project the Ravens’ 53-man roster is always challenging, but an abbreviated training camp and the absence of preseason games leave more guesswork than ever, even when sizing up a championship-caliber roster.

John Harbaugh and his coaching staff are evaluating players at practice every day, of course, but preseason games always provided that live setting in which unproven players might shine brighter or unfortunately show they’re not quite ready for NFL competition. We all recall Michael Pierce shining in the 2016 preseason finale to win a 53-man roster spot as an undrafted rookie, but Willie Henry went from being a projected starter at the start of camp to playing deep into the final exhibition game against Washington last summer, an indication that he would be waived on final cut-down day.

Teams must trim their final roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 5, meaning time is short for individuals on the bubble to prove they belong on a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations in 2020.

Below is a look at several positions with interesting competitions and roster battles:

Offensive line

Virtually all of the focus has been on replacing the retired Marshal Yanda at the right guard position, but veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker entered the summer as the favorite and theren’s been no real indication of him being seriously challenged to this point. That said, it wasn’t until the third preseason game last year when Bradley Bozeman seized the starting left guard job from Jermaine Eluemunor and never looked back while the latter was traded shortly thereafter.

The more interesting battle might be for the reserve swing tackle job after the Ravens released veteran James Hurst in March. Harbaugh has mentioned the 26-year-old Will Holden — now with his seventh organization after being selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt — as a candidate for the important reserve role, but the Ravens have also toyed with flipping Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side if something were to happen to Ronnie Stanley and moving Fluker out to right tackle, the position he played at the beginning of his NFL career.

Those evaluations could impact the number of interior linemen kept on the roster with third-round rookie Tyre Phillips and fourth-round rookie Ben Bredeson considered locks due to their draft standing alone. Many thought 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers might be Yanda’s replacement, but the Oklahoma product hasn’t really stood out, making one question if his roster spot is secured.

Uncertainty remains at the center position with veteran starter Matt Skura still working his way back to full strength from last November’s serious knee injury. Patrick Mekari is a roster lock, but he could be the Week 1 starter if the Ravens don’t deem Skura ready to go by then.

Safety

The surprising release of seven-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas changed the complexion of this group with 2018 sixth-round pick DeShon Elliott sliding into the projected starting role next to Chuck Clark, but Thomas’ departure could create an opportunity for another safety to grab a spot.

Baltimore was pleased to come away with Iowa product Geno Stone in April’s draft, but a seventh-round pick is never guaranteed a roster spot. The Ravens could also value the experience of special-teams contributor Jordan Richards, who entered camp firmly on the bubble.

With some extra salary cap space created by terminating Thomas’ contract for “personal conduct that has adversely affected” the team, the Ravens adding a veteran safety at some point shouldn’t be dismissed either.

Tight end

We’ve gained little clarity in the competition for the No. 3 job behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, especially with rookie free agent Jake Breeland out for the season and fellow undrafted rookie Eli Wolf missing substantial practice time due to injury. Veteran Jerell Adams and 2019 practice-squad member Charles Scarff have had their moments in practice despite not showing the consistency you’d prefer to see.

It’s also worth noting that Pro Bowl hybrid fullback Patrick Ricard has worked exclusively on the offensive side of the ball and has been mentioned more than once as an option at tight end. Given the importance of the position in Greg Roman’s offense, the Ravens would surely love to have another viable option to back up Andrews and Boyle with the possibility of an outside addition remaining. However, using that roster spot elsewhere with Ricard being used as a tight end more frequently is plausible, even if still unlikely.

Inside linebacker

Rookie first-round pick Patrick Queen and veteran L.J. Fort remain the projected starters and 2020 third-round pick Malik Harrison is a roster lock, but both Chris Board and Otaro Alaka have impressed during camp as they compete for roster spots.

Board has been a regular special-teams contributor these last two years, but he seems to have regained some of his traction from last summer as a potential defensive contributor in sub packages. Meanwhile, Alaka has flashed the same explosiveness and promise he showed as an undrafted rookie last year.

Making room for one of them shouldn’t be a problem, but the amount of dime package the Ravens play would make it quite difficult to justify keeping five inside linebackers on the 53-man roster.

Quarterback

The lack of a normal spring and organized team activities figured to make the quarterback picture elementary, but undrafted rookie Tyler Huntley has been one of the surprises of camp pushing Trace McSorley for the No. 3 job behind NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and veteran backup Robert Griffin III.

A University of Utah product with the athleticism to play in Baltimore’s run-first offense, Huntley has made a number of high-quality throws, including an impressive 55-yard touchdown to Marquise Brown earlier this week. It’s difficult to gauge where Huntley is in terms of grasping the offense, but he’s flashed promise in his limited practice reps.

Meanwhile, McSorley hasn’t taken a step forward in his second training camp from a performance standpoint, struggling with accuracy and not pushing the ball down the field with much conviction. You’d expect the 2019 sixth-round pick from Penn State to have the edge in his grasp of the offense due to being in the organization for a year, which helps in his quest for the job.

With concerns about a COVID-19 outbreak in mind, you’d assume the Ravens prefer keeping both in the organization, which is why Eric DeCosta will need to anticipate how other teams perceive both in the absence of a preseason schedule. Remember Baltimore was concerned about not being able to get McSorley to the practice squad last year, which partially explained why he stuck on the 53-man roster as a healthy scratch for all but one game.

Even though he’s performed better to this point in camp, Huntley being an undrafted rookie could make him less likely to be claimed off waivers than McSorley, who flashed some in last year’s preseason games. That may prove to be the difference in the decision, but we’ll see how the next 10 days play out.

Return specialist

This competition remains very tough to gauge without those live-game opportunities provided in the preseason, but rookie wide receiver James Proche remains the favorite almost by default.

Other viable candidates like wide receiver Chris Moore and running backs Justice Hill and Kenjon Barner have been sidelined with injuries during camp while fellow rookie wide receiver Devin Duvernay is no more proven than Proche at the next level. Proche looks comfortable fielding kicks, but doing that in a controlled practice environment isn’t close to simulating a game situation.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Day 4 of open training camp

Posted on 21 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens wrapping up their fourth day of full-team practice on Friday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Tempers boiled over toward the end of practice when Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark needed to be separated in a confrontation that resulted in Clark leaving the field. John Harbaugh said he wasn’t sure what prompted the conflict, but he was unhappy about it cutting into practice time.

2. That skirmish followed one between Justin Ellis and Patrick Mekari with the defensive tackle taking exception to how Mekari was grabbing him in what was a shells-and-shorts practice. You expect guys on opposite sides of the ball to mix it up occasionally, but your starting safeties? Not so much.

3. After a superb first three practices, Lamar Jackson was a little out of sync early, but the play of the day was his gorgeous deep touchdown to Marquise Brown as the quarterback escaped pressure and threw on the run. Brown got behind Marcus Peters and the rest of the secondary.

4. I don’t recall many training camps where the defense hasn’t intercepted a pass in an 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drill through the first four open practices, but Friday brought close calls with Geno Stone almost picking off a throw intended for Mark Andrews and Terrell Bonds nearly intercepting Robert Griffin III.

5. Baltimore continues to bring Matt Skura along slowly as he was again limited to individual work, which feels a bit more notable after the off-day. With the opener a little over three weeks away, you’d assume his participation level must increase soon to be ready to start Week 1.

6. Jaylon Ferguson was back at practice Friday and is the presumed favorite to start at rush linebacker opposite Matthew Judon. However, he’ll face stiff competition from Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, and Tyus Bowser, who have all flashed this week and bring different skills to the rotation.

7. The speed of Patrick Queen is a big reason why he was a first-round pick, but how does it measure against Jackson in practice? Queen said he could “probably” hold his own before conceding, “It’s exciting to be in the position that I ain’t gotta play against him!” Rookie honesty.

8. Anthony Averett had a good practice with Devin Duvernay taking the brunt of it. In a 1-on-1 rep, Averett all but ran the rookie’s end-zone corner route for him to force an incompletion. The third-year cornerback later broke up a pass intended for Duvernay in an 11-on-11 period.

9. Friday brought no additional clarity on where Dez Bryant stands after his tryout, but you’d think the Ravens would have wanted to get him on the practice field as soon as possible to start building chemistry with Jackson if he was in their plans. Things can always change, of course.

10. Miles Boykin took a question about Bryant’s tryout in stride by saying it “has nothing to do with me,” but he’s held his own against Marlon Humphrey and Peters this week. As Boykin quipped, going up against Pro Bowl corners in practice should make the games easier.

11. Kenjon Barner left the field early in practice with what appeared to be a left knee injury after a collision during a punt return drill. The veteran is on the roster bubble, but he’s a rare experienced return specialist candidate.

12. You’re used to seeing Harbaugh bring the team together for a huddle to offer a few remarks and conclude practice, but players and coaches keep a little more distance and just raise their hands in the air for the usual “Ravens!” break. That’s football in the midst of a pandemic.

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Ravens lose reserve cornerback Iman Marshall to major knee injury

Posted on 17 August 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens suffered their first season-ending injury before even taking the field for the first full-team padded practice on Monday morning.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced second-year cornerback Iman Marshall suffered a “major” knee injury over the weekend that’s expected to sideline him for the entire 2020 season. It’s a unfortunate development for the 2019 fourth-round pick from USC who appeared in only three games as a rookie after a summer toe injury landed him on injured reserve for the first half of the season.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defensive back was competing for a reserve job behind arguably the deepest and most talented secondary in the NFL.

“He had been working hard and practicing well,” Harbaugh said. “He just came down on his right leg really awkwardly and is going to need major surgery. I believe it’s an ACL and MCL.”

Marshall wasn’t the only player to sustain an injury before the start of full-contact workouts as veteran wide receiver and special-teams contributor Chris Moore broke a finger last week. That’s a notable development for a wide-open kick returner competition, but the Ravens don’t expect Moore to be out for long.

The fifth-year receiver re-signed on a one-year contract in March and missed two games with a broken thumb last November. It was an injury he was able to manage for the remainder of the 2019 campaign.

“It’s amazing, the same thing happened last year, so Chris knows how to deal with that,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll be fine, but it will be a few weeks until that bone heals.”

Second-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and veteran nose tackle Brandon Williams were also absent from the first full training camp practice due to minor undisclosed ailments.

“He should be back in a couple days at the most. He’s OK — just normal training camp-type stuff,” said Harbaugh about Ferguson. “Brandon Williams, same thing.”

As expected, center Matt Skura practiced on a limited basis after being activated from the physically unable to perform list over the weekend. Skura only did some light individual work before second-year center Patrick Mekari worked with the first-team offensive line during full-team drills, but that was part of the plan.

Skura is less than 10 months removed from tearing multiple ligaments in his left knee, meaning the Ravens will be cautious with an eye toward the season opener on Sept. 13.

“He’s just on a process still right now. He was really good yesterday. I saw the tape and thought he moved well,” Harbaugh said. “Today, we didn’t do a ton with him, but he’s in there and he looks good. I do expect him to be able to be ready for the season, but we’re going to be smart with our process with him and make sure he’s fully ready to go every rep that he takes.”

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Ravens center Skura passes physical, cleared for first padded practice

Posted on 16 August 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens center Matt Skura vowed to be ready to return to the field during training camp and is now set to fulfill that promise.

The 27-year-old has passed his physical and is expected to take part in Baltimore’s first full padded practice on Monday morning. It’s quite a feat after Skura tore the ACL, PCL, and MCL and dislocated the kneecap in his left knee in Week 12 of the 2019 season.

Head coach John Harbaugh had said Skura was “right on schedule” and would be practicing soon despite the Ravens placing him on the active physically unable to perform list at the start of camp.

“That was our plan and work him in as we go. We want to make sure that he’s moving the right way,” Harbaugh said earlier this month. “Then, you want to put him against some pressure where the knee has to react to certain movements with pressure. We want to do all that before we put him on the field. This is a really slow ramp-up period anyway this year, so we have time to do it and we’re going to bring him along.”

Having started 39 games over the last three seasons including 12 at right guard in 2017, a healthy Skura paints a more stable picture for an interior offensive line trying to replace retired eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda. Skura is expected to face competition at center from 2019 undrafted free agent Patrick Mekari, who played well in his place down the stretch last year. Pro Football Focus graded Skura 17th among qualified centers last season while Mekari surprisingly finished 14th.

The competition at right guard will be even busier with veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker, 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, and rookie draft choices Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips all in the mix to varying degrees. However, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have both acknowledged the possibility of shuffling linemen to different interior spots to find the best combination bookended by Pro Bowl offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. That could include moving even starting left guard Bradley Bozeman to another inside spot.

“Every [practice] rep is going to carry an added value to it when you consider no preseason games,” Roman said last week. “I definitely think that’s going to really be our platform to evaluate what gives us the best chance to be the best group we can be. Everybody is going to have an opportunity, and we are always constantly trying to develop every player to their utmost.”

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Examining Ravens position battles: Right guard

Posted on 06 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens ramping up their activity level before the start of full training camp practices later this month, we’ll take a look at some key position battles ahead of the 2020 season.

Below is a look at the competition for the right guard job:

Who will replace eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda? OK, there’s no “replacing” a future Hall of Famer, so who will assume the right guard position?

If Matt Skura doesn’t look like himself after last November’s knee injury, what happens at center?

How does the left guard spot look if Bradley Bozeman ends up sliding over to center?

Is veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker a favorite to start due to seven years of starting experience in the NFL, or will a younger option surprise coaches despite the absence of in-person workouts this spring?

So many questions have only been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the normal offseason program as well as preseason games. The only given here is that Yanda won’t be walking through the door after shedding more than 60 pounds since playing his final game in January.

Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris will have his hands full with the evaluation process this summer.

“The opportunity is there, and somebody has to grab the brass ring, so to speak, and go for it,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said in June. “Not just one, but multiple guys because you can never have enough really in that interior offensive line where things happen so quick. Continuity does matter because guys are working together with all that quickness down on the inside.

“It’s going to be a competition, a process, a day-to-day process, and I like where we’re at. Once we get out there, we’ll kind of see where it goes.”

The post-draft addition of Fluker, 29, appeared to raise the floor of an unproven group of starting candidates, but the 2013 first-round pick from Alabama graded an underwhelming 51st among qualified guards in 2019 and ranked no better than 45th in each of the last four seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. His familiarity with D’Alessandris dating back to their days with the San Diego Chargers should ease the transition to his new team, but Fluker is only now having the opportunity to get acclimated in person.

Patrick Mekari was one of the surprises of the 2019 season filling in for the injured Skura down the stretch, but the former undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley could also receive looks at guard in addition to competing with the incumbent at the center position. Starting the final five regular-season games and last January’s playoff loss gives him an experience edge over other young linemen, but so many coaches and veterans over the years have noted how important that first post-rookie offseason is for a young offensive lineman’s development.

That same challenge applies to 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, who played well in his only game action in the regular-season finale. The 6-foor-4, 310-pound guard may have the most upside of the young linemen, but his lack of playing time as a rookie still makes him a wildcard.

Rookies Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson were selected in the third and fourth rounds respectively in April’s draft, but counting on a mid-round rookie to start is a risky proposition even under normal circumstances. Head coach John Harbaugh suggested Phillips will also take reps at offensive tackle with Baltimore not having a clear backup for Pro Bowl selections Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. after the release of James Hurst in March and Andre Smith’s recent decision to opt out of the 2020 campaign.

But the uncertainty extends beyond right guard with Skura beginning training camp on the active physically unable to perform list. His hard work and progress recovering from a multi-ligament tear has been encouraging, but how his surgically-repaired knee responds to football activity remains to be seen. Team officials are open to the possibility of moving Bozeman to center — the position he played at Alabama — but that would leave the Ravens with different starters at all three interior line spots from a year ago.

To be clear, this is an offense that made opponents look foolish on the way to setting an NFL single-season record with 3,296 rushing yards last year. The presence of generational rushing quarterback and 2019 league MVP Lamar Jackson, two Pro Bowl offensive tackles, and Roman’s innovative run-first system should alleviate concerns about right guard, but that doesn’t mean replacing Yanda will be an easy task, especially if Skura’s health prompts further shuffling inside.

There’s no shortage of candidates who may prove to be up to the task, but the Ravens identifying the best starting five is their most important objective of the summer.

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Harbaugh ready to finally lay eyes on 2020 Ravens

Posted on 30 July 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has been in this position before — at least from a football standpoint.

The 2011 NFL lockout canceled spring workouts and kept players away from team facilities until training camp in late July, but the temporary obstacles created by a labor dispute pale in comparison to the COVID-19 pandemic that will challenge — and threaten — so many aspects of preparing for a new season, including whether it will take place at all.

Asked what lessons from that unique experience might apply nine years later, Harbaugh was quick to note his brother, Jim Harbaugh, was a first-year head coach in San Francisco and surprisingly took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game that season. The Ravens also advanced to the conference championship game that year despite releasing several key veterans such as wide receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap on the eve of training camp.

“Maybe the biggest lesson is that it can be done,” said Harbaugh about handling an abbreviated offseason and training camp. “You can build a football team as long as everybody is on the same playing field, no matter really what the organization is. The main thing is being able to keep the players safe enough and healthy to prepare them enough where they can protect themselves on the field [and] they can execute the techniques and the game in a way to protect themselves.”

The Ravens must wait a little longer to hit the field as veterans reported earlier this week for virus testing in hopes of clearance to enter the building to take physicals over the weekend and to begin football-related activities in Owings Mills on Monday. An extended acclimation period for strength and conditioning this summer means we won’t see full-contact practices until mid-August.

Such a timetable as well as the cancellation of preseason games will make it even more challenging to sort through an interior offensive line picture in which the Ravens must replace eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who announced his retirement in March. Bradley Bozeman is expected to start — likely at left guard — and the returning Matt Skura is a strong bet to remain at center if healthy, but offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris must evaluate veteran newcomer D.J. Fluker as well as second-year linemen Patrick Mekari and Ben Powers and rookies Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips, who all are vying for Yanda’s old spot.

Further complicating the offensive line discussion is the need to identify a swing tackle to back up Pro Bowl offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. following the offseason release of veteran James Hurst.

“We are going to give reps to different spots, so even our guards are going to be playing tackle some,” Harbaugh said. “You’ll see Tyre Phillips playing some tackle even though he’s still competing for the starting right guard and the backup left guard spots. That’s just going to be how it’s going to go this training camp, and we are going to have to really be flexible.”

Part of that flexibility is the possibility of players opting out due to the pandemic, something veteran offensive tackle Andre Smith did earlier in the week. Harbaugh called the decisions of Smith and return specialist De’Anthony Thomas “surprises,” but it’s part of a new reality in a contact sport not conducive to social distancing.

As of late Thursday morning, Harbaugh wasn’t aware of any other Baltimore players considering not playing in 2020.

“That’s not something I’ve talked to any of the guys about. Nobody has mentioned that to me,” Harbaugh said. “I think that’s a very personal type of a choice. If a guy wants to talk to me about it, I’m happy to talk to him, but I do think it’s such a personal choice. I don’t really know how much you can add from the outside to that decision.”

“We’ll look at any and every player”

The Antonio Brown questions just won’t go away as MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson admitted Wednesday to “still hoping a little bit” that the Ravens will sign the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.

Jackson and second-year receiver Marquise Brown worked out with the former Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this offseason and Harbaugh said he respects his quarterback’s opinion, but Antonio Brown’s off-field problems make it unclear whether he would face a suspension from the NFL even if general manager Eric DeCosta would choose to take a chance on the controversial wideout.

“We’ll look at any and every player at all times. Antonio Brown is no exception,” Harbaugh said. “Decisions will be made based on whatever they are made on. I don’t think he’s really available to even sign right now, so it’s not really a conversation that you have until he’s available to sign. Maybe I’m wrong about that. That’s something that I’ll have to ask Eric about — where that stands with the league and the player. But that’s where we stand on it, at least from my perspective.”

Safety or cornerback?

Harbaugh downplayed the notion of veteran Jimmy Smith moving to the safety position as he’s expected to be the No. 3 outside cornerback behind Pro Bowl starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.

That doesn’t mean Smith won’t have a meaningful role in Wink Martindale’s versatile defense.

“If he lines up at safety, it will be for a reason to do a certain specific task or number of tasks,” Harbaugh said. “Any kind of a big-picture transition saying Jimmy Smith is a safety, that’s not really where we are going this year. He’s a corner and he’ll play corner, but he could be out there as a first corner, second corner, the third corner on the field, the fourth corner on the field. We’ll put different groups out there.”

Injury report

Harbaugh said slot cornerback Tavon Young (neck), outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (triceps), and safety DeShon Elliott (knee) are all in great shape and ready to go after suffering season-ending injuries in 2019, leaving Skura as the Ravens’ only real injury question going into training camp.

Despite suffering a major knee injury in late November, Skura made great progress with his rehabilitation this offseason and could be ready to practice sooner than most anticipated.

“I’m hearing great things. I’m optimistic about Matt; I really am,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a big plus for us if he can do it, but we’ll be careful. We’ll see how he looks and how he feels. A lot of it will be up to Matt too, but he knows himself really well and I know he’s worked really hard to be ready.”

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bowser

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Five Ravens sleepers to watch for the 2020 season

Posted on 18 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now having a full 90-man roster after last month’s draft and a slew of undrafted free-agent signings, we have a better idea of what the 2020 team will look like.

Roles remain fluid, however, a point even more relevant in an unprecedented offseason limited to virtual meetings this spring. Understanding how that reality may hinder the ability of many rookies and newcomers to play a meaningful role right away, below is a look at five sleepers for the 2020 campaign:

1. OLB Tyus Bowser

An early draft pick who struggles to become a starter often finds his roster status vulnerable entering the final year of his rookie contract — Chris Wormley was the latest example of this — but the lack of an edge defender in Baltimore’s 2020 draft class was good news for Bowser. Surprisingly second on the 2019 team in sacks (five) and quarterback hits (10), the 2017 second-round pick played a career-high 401 snaps and was the top backup to Matthew Judon at strong-side outside linebacker, showing more ability to drop into coverage than other reserves on the roster. If Judon elects to skip some portion of training camp after receiving the franchise tag, Bowser could find more opportunities to solidify his roster spot and earn a larger role.

2. OL Patrick Mekari

Labeling Mekari a sleeper after he started the final six games of 2019 is a bit of a stretch, but much of the discussion in the right guard discussion has been about other veterans and 2020 draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson. The likes of Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, and Ryan Jensen developed into solid starters working with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in recent years, but none found success as quickly as Mekari, who was thrown into the fire late in his rookie season. The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley graded 14th among 37 qualified centers by Pro Football Focus last year and could be a viable option to start at any of the three interior spots, which is impressive for a guy no one was talking about at this time last year.

3. S DeShon Elliott

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defensive back has been limited to just 40 defensive snaps in his first two years because of injuries, but he’s shown promise over the last two summers and the Ravens are in need of a No. 3 safety to back up starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark and play in certain sub packages. A 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas, Elliott will be competing with rookie seventh-round selection Geno Stone, but the former’s experience in the system should be an advantage, especially if he’s fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he sustained in Week 6 last year. With the relationship between Thomas and the Ravens seemingly rocky, Elliott or Stone showing meaningful development this year would be a positive sign for the future.

4. RB Justice Hill 

The second-round selection of Ohio State star J.K. Dobbins wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Hill having a bigger role in 2020, but he flashed in December and impressed in his first preseason, showing the ability to break tackles despite his 200-pound frame. Hill isn’t going to become the feature back, but the 2019 fourth-round pick lined up in the slot and out wide on more snaps than either Mark Ingram or Gus Edwards last season despite playing a fraction of the time, which offers a glimpse of his potential to create matchup problems in the passing game. If the Ravens find themselves needing to play off-schedule more often in 2020, Hill finding a bigger role as a third-down back remains plausible even with Dobbins being added to the mix.

5. ILB Otaro Alaka

Last month’s selections of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison made Alaka — a 2019 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M — an afterthought, but it was interesting to hear general manager Eric DeCosta go out of his way to mention the 6-foot-3, 239-pound linebacker in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. After making the initial 53-man roster at the end of last preseason, Alaka appeared on his way to earning an opportunity to play on defense before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve in late September. Playing for an organization that’s produced the undrafted likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Patrick Onwuasor at inside linebacker, Alaka remains a name to watch this summer.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 schedule release

Posted on 11 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL unveiling the 2020 regular-season schedule late last week, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What we know about the alarming incident between Earl Thomas and his wife doesn’t — and shouldn’t — provide any grounds to jeopardize his employment, but the Ravens’ terse statement made clear their disenchantment about being left in the dark. Practically speaking, a public figure’s right to privacy only goes so far.

2. The schedule release highlighted what we already knew about Baltimore being in tremendous shape from a travel standpoint with the longest trip of the season being to Houston in Week 2. Already dominant on the road last season, the Ravens should be able to continue such away success.

3. Even if one argues the Ravens are better from a talent standpoint and have a favorable schedule on paper, ESPN’s Mike Clay presented some data that should make you take pause before boldly predicting another 14-2 or better finish. What they did offensively last season just isn’t easy to duplicate.

4. With five prime-time games, four in a five-week period from November into early December, and the reigning NFL MVP, the Ravens have never carried a brighter national profile than they do right now, which is saying plenty for an organization with two Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years.

5. Asked about the center spot in a call with season-ticket holders, Eric DeCosta mentioning Bradley Bozeman was interesting, especially since left guard was seemingly the only stable interior line spot entering 2020 after Bozeman started every game there last year. Will we see three different starters inside?

6. When an elite player retires at the top of his game, speculation can persist about a comeback, but Marshal Yanda left no doubt by losing 45 pounds in two months after his final game and looking even thinner on “The Pat McAfee Show.” He looked lighter than the ex-Indianapolis punter.

7. No matter how you felt about the second-round selection of J.K. Dobbins, I don’t get the rush some have to trade Gus Edwards or Justice Hill for what would likely be an inconsequential draft pick. If more depth at running back was important, hastily diminishing the group makes little sense.

8. DeCosta acknowledged the Ravens having limited avenues to clear meaningful salary cap space without striking a long-term deal for Matthew Judon or Ronnie Stanley, who carry two of their five largest cap numbers for 2020. These negotiations and decisions won’t get any easier.

9. First-round pick Patrick Queen bought his mother a new Range Rover over the weekend. Seeing a young player fulfill his NFL dream after years of hard work and finally be able to gift a token of appreciation to a parent never gets old.

10. Asked once again — this time by a season-ticket holder and not the media — whether the Ravens were interested in signing Antonio Brown, DeCosta provided a “filibuster” non-answer that would make Dan Duquette smile.

11. With Joe Flacco undergoing neck surgery and reportedly not expected to be cleared to play until late August, you wonder if the 35-year-old has played his final snap. However, Jets general manager and ex-Ravens scout Joe Douglas “discovered” Flacco and does need a backup to Sam Darnold.

12. A personal thanks to director of player personnel Joe Hortiz for taking extensive time to conduct a virtual film session on the Ravens’ 2020 draft class and answering questions from local reporters. Such a forum offers transparency and better educates media to hopefully improve our coverage for fans.

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