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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 November 2019 by Luke Jones

A Super Bowl rematch and preview?

The Ravens have emerged as the Super Bowl favorite in the eyes of many, but San Francisco is an overtime field goal away from still being undefeated, making this the largest remaining regular-season test for a John Harbaugh team that’s dominated the competition for the better part of the last six weeks. Both teams face an extra challenge in this one as the 49ers will play a 1 p.m. Eastern time zone game while Baltimore is on short rest after playing a Monday night game across the country in Los Angeles.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the sixth time ever in the regular season and the first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 3-2 margin and defeated San Francisco 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII nearly seven years ago.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. The Ravens will lose a fumble for the first time since Week 9. The loss of center Matt Skura to a season-ending knee injury and the elevation of rookie Patrick Mekari to the starting lineup already raised concern since Baltimore works from the shotgun or pistol formation roughly 95 percent of the time, but Sunday’s forecast continues to call for rain, creating an extra challenge against the NFC’s best defense. Remarkably, the Ravens have lost only four fumbles all season despite many mesh-point plays in which the quarterback or running back can be prone to mistake. They’re probably due for another.

2. Mark Andrews and George Kittle will each catch a touchdown. Pro Football Focus ranks Kittle first and Andrews second in its season grading at the tight end position, which says a lot about the former fifth- and third-round draft picks. Despite being an every-down player compared to Andrews having more of a situational workload, Kittle has only three touchdown receptions in nine games this season. Meanwhile, Andrews is one touchdown catch shy of tying the franchise single-season record for a tight end (seven), which is currently shared by Todd Heap (2005) and Dennis Pitta (2012).

3. Chuck Clark will intercept his first pass of the season. It’s easy to take for granted what Clark has done replacing Tony Jefferson at safety, relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, and moving down to the dime spot since he doesn’t make many splash plays. However, his emergence is one of the notable reasons why this ascending defense now ranks in the top 10 in several categories and is fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Clark and other defensive teammates will have a substantial challenge slowing Kittle, but he’ll bait 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into an underneath mistake in wet conditions.

4. Lamar Jackson will set an NFL record with his fourth 100-yard rushing game of 2019. The 49ers defense is much stronger against the pass, but the heralded group is just 19th against the run, which spells trouble against a rushing attack averaging 210.5 yards per game. Nothing Jackson does surprises me anymore as he enters Week 13 tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes, but the weather and matchup set up for this to be more of a legs day for the MVP favorite. He hasn’t eclipsed the century mark on the ground since Week 7, so why not? Doing so would set a single-season quarterback record.

5. The Ravens will win their eighth straight game in a 27-13 final over San Francisco. It’s not that I don’t believe the 49ers are a very good team, but it’d be disingenuous to say I believe this is going to be a particularly close game. What we’ve watched over the last six weeks is not only the most impressive regular-season run in Ravens history, but it ranks up there among the most impressive regular-season stretches by any team in recent memory. Double-digit blowouts aren’t the norm in the NFL, but the Ravens are trying to convince you otherwise, almost making you think you’re watching a Clemson or an Alabama play its early-season out-of-conference schedule instead of an NFL team going up against quality competition. This won’t last forever, but I’m not betting against Baltimore until it’s stopped. It won’t be a fourth straight Robert Griffin III mop-up game, but the 49ers don’t have the firepower to keep up with the NFL’s best offense, which still feels so strange to say about a Ravens team.

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Ravens center Matt Skura to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense has sustained its first significant injury loss.

Ravens center Matt Skura will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury late in the first quarter of Monday’s 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Skura was carted off the field and eventually ruled out for the game with what was called a knee sprain, but further testing revealed the severity of the injury.

Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari did a commendable job filling in for Skura, playing 62 snaps and helping the Ravens run for a season-high 285 yards. A collaborative effort from the offensive line held two-time Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald to just one assisted tackle.

“I think it says a lot about Pat Mekari and it says a lot about [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] and the job he does with those guys,” Harbaugh said. “To step in there and still play at that high level. I mean, Matt Skura was playing at a very high level. It looks like Patrick did the same; there was no drop-off at all. Rookie, it says a lot.”

A strong preseason led to Mekari making the 53-man roster, but he played only guard and tackle at California, making his performance against the Rams even more impressive. How smoothly he now meshes with quarterback Lamar Jackson will be critical with the Ravens working from the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 95 percent of the time entering Week 12, according to SharpFootballStats.com.

Mekari has been active for all 11 games serving as one of two game-day backups along with veteran swing lineman James Hurst, but the 6-foot-4, 308-pound rookie had appeared in just five contests prior to Monday.

“I was ready. I knew with the interior three, whatever happened, I’m the next guy up,” Mekari said. “The time presented itself, and I just wanted to go in there and make it happen and come out with the win and just help my team.”

Despite detractors clamoring for the Ravens to upgrade at center this past offseason, Skura was in the midst of a strong campaign and had graded 12th among qualified centers by Pro Football Focus this season. The 26-year-old is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this winter after starting 39 games over the last three seasons.

Unlike a defense that’s dealt with numerous injuries since the start of training camp, the explosive Ravens offense hadn’t sustained a significant injury with wide receiver Marquise Brown’s two-game absence due to a high ankle sprain being the only notable ailment.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hugs Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Rams

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning a franchise-record fourth straight road game in a 45-6 rout of the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Five games into what was to be a daunting stretch of six of seven contests against teams over .500, Baltimore is 5-0 by a margin of 202-62. The Ravens haven’t trailed in a game in five weeks, a stretch of 18 quarters. It’s really not supposed to be this easy.

2. Much like they couldn’t know Ray Lewis or Ed Reed would be Hall of Famers when they fell to them, the Ravens didn’t foresee Lamar Jackson being the MVP favorite in his second year or they wouldn’t have risked losing him multiple times. But their innovative vision has been brilliant.

3. Despite 22 quarterbacks having more pass attempts, Jackson pulled into a tie with Russell Wilson for the NFL lead with 24 touchdown passes. He’s doubled his season total over the last three weeks and is now nine shy of Vinny Testaverde’s single-season team record. He also runs pretty well.

4. Against a top-tier rush defense, Baltimore ran for a season-high 285 yards, the fifth-highest total in team history. Between that and Jackson’s 76-percent completion percentage since the bye, I’m not sure how much you’d stop them right now even if the NFL allowed opponents to use a 12th defender.

5. Playing with an offense that scores touchdowns on its first six possessions is much different than protecting a late one-score lead, but the intensity maintained by the Ravens defense was impressive. That group has become a very worthy partner that will be needed more at some point — I think.

6. You hope for the best for Matt Skura, who had many doubters this offseason and has played rock-solid football in the middle of the offensive line. However, the Ravens have to be pleased with how undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in at center, a position he never played in college.

7. The group was already improving, but the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the healthy return of Jimmy Smith returned the Ravens defense to a level its more accustomed to being. Both are in contract years and have been dynamic contributors in the secondary, especially Peters.

8. Speaking of dynamic talents, there hasn’t been a better defensive player in football over the last five years than Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Making the Rams defensive tackle an utter non-factor is the offensive line’s most impressive feat of the season.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 from the Los Angeles 34 and then going for a fourth-and-1 shows how John Harbaugh, Greg Roman, and this staff are playing chess while most of the league plays checkers. That’s a compliment typically reserved for Bill Belichick and New England, but it’s fitting.

10. A sideline camera showing Sam Koch and Justin Tucker whenever the Ravens approach — and then forgo — a potential kicking situation would be entertaining. Koch has punted just four times since the bye week. He’s getting plenty of work as the holder, however.

11. My only nitpick from Monday — other than the Rams’ Big Bird uniforms — was Jackson taking a few too many hits, especially when the game was out of hand. I believe in his ability to avoid contact, but there’s no need to test that when up by four or five touchdowns.

12. Hearing Jackson talk Super Bowl, I recall Brian Billick’s words to the 2000 Ravens after clinching a playoff spot in Week 15: “The time is here. It’s time to go to a Super Bowl.” Competitive windows aren’t guaranteed; the moment is now for a team capable of winning it all.

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Ravens not tipping hand at left guard entering Week 1

Posted on 02 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have apparently decided on their starting left guard for Sunday’s season opener, but mystery will remain until pre-game warmups in Miami.

After trading initial preseason Jermaine Eluemunor to New England last week, Baltimore has chosen from the group of veteran James Hurst, second-year lineman Bradley Bozeman, and rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari. Reasonable arguments could be made for any of the first three receiving the nod — Mekari struggled in a brief opportunity with the first-team line midway through the preseason — but none could be labeled an “established” starter based on track record or preseason performance, an uneasy proposition for a team with high expectations entering 2019.

Hurst was labeled the fallback option entering training camp, but the sixth-year swing lineman didn’t take any reps at left guard even in late-summer practices open to reporters. Powers, a fourth-round pick from Oklahoma, started at left guard in the preseason finale while the veteran linemen — Hurst included — rested, but most of the rookie’s summer reps came elsewhere after the opening week of camp in which he split first-team reps with Eluemunor. Bozeman took most of the first-team snap at left guard in the final open practices of the summer and started there in the third preseason game against Philadelphia, but he played right guard and center in the preseason finale.

Trying to read the tea leaves leaves the left guard competition clear as mud, which is perfectly fine with 12th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

“We’ve decided. We have our starting lineup all set up, but we’re not going to share that information,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Why would we? What would be the advantage for us to do that?”

The Ravens haven’t entered a season with such uncertainty at left guard since 2012, a campaign that culminated with a Super Bowl championship. That’s not to suggest it’s ideal or a harbinger of success, but even the most serious contenders can survive a major question mark at a given position.

Harbaugh and the coaching staff surprised everyone in that 2012 opener by starting Ramon Harewood, who hadn’t played a single snap in the NFL over his first two seasons. That decision was part of the fallout of shifting Michael Oher to left tackle, rookie Kelechi Osemele to right tackle, and Bryant McKinnie to the bench, but Harewood lasted only five weeks at left guard before Baltimore turned to veteran Bobbie Williams from Weeks 6-10 and Jah Reid over the final seven games of the regular season. Of course, the Ravens inserted McKinnie back at left tackle, shifted Oher to right tackle, and moved Osemele inside to left guard for the postseason, and the rest was history.

In other words, the Week 1 starter at left guard isn’t guaranteed to even be there for the home opener, let alone the entire season. That was true last year when four different players started at left guard and Hurst and Bozeman split time at the position in the final games of the season. It was their combined struggles in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that led to an offseason full of handwringing about the position.

Days from kickoff, the only constant has been that concern.

Griffin, M. Brown “full-go” for opener

The Ravens will release their first injury report of the season Wednesday, but 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III are expected to be “full-go” against the Dolphins.

After missing spring workouts and the start of training camp while working his surgically-repaired foot back to full strength, Brown made his debut in the third preseason game, catching three passes for 17 yards in 19 snaps against the Eagles. His work in the preseason finale was limited to two punt returns, both of them muffs.

We’re unlikely to see Brown returning punts again anytime soon, but how extensive his involvement in the offense will be remains to be seen after missing so much practice time this spring and summer, a critical time for a rookie receiver’s development.

“He’s a rookie. He hasn’t had a lot of reps,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to have to get up to speed quickly. We’ll have to be vigilant in what we ask him to do — things that he can do well.

“It’ll be a challenge for [opponents], too, to cover him. He’s really fast. He has great hands. That’s the challenge the other way.”

After sustaining a fracture in his right thumb on July 27, Griffin has been cleared for Week 1, according to Harbaugh’s “understanding right now.” The 29-year-old backup to starter Lamar Jackson didn’t play in the preseason, but he continued to practice on a limited basis throughout training camp.

Injured Dixon “moving on” 

The decision to place Kenneth Dixon on injured reserve raised questions from fans after the fourth-year running back rushed 13 times for a game-high 66 yards in the preseason finale and appeared to be OK after the 20-7 win over Washington.

The oft-injured Dixon missed some practice time during training camp and sat out the third preseason game with a sore knee, but many pundits had already predicted him to be on the outside looking in as he stood fourth on the depth chart at running back and was entering the final year of his rookie contract. That’s why many wondered if there was more to the story, even if Dixon did appear a little hobbled at a couple points against the Redskins.

“He’s hurt. He has a knee [injury],” Harbaugh said. “It’s actually a bone bruise that is a fracture, so he’s got a fractured knee. That’s not to say he would have necessarily made the team. It would have been based on how he played. He’s on IR; he’ll be [waived]-injured. Kenny will be moving on.”

Waiving Dixon with an injury designation would require the sides to reach an injury settlement unless he remains on IR until fully healthy. The 2016 fourth-round pick averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry as a Raven, but he played in just 18 games in three seasons with another injury putting an official end to his time in Baltimore.

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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2019 preseason

Posted on 30 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding another undefeated preseason Thursday night, let’s not stand on ceremony with the opener just over a week away.

Below is my final projection of the initial 53-man roster for the 2019 regular season:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
OUT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: McSorley is worth keeping, but John Harbaugh used the word “strategy” in discussing his roster chances Thursday. Eric DeCosta must weigh protecting an intriguing developmental quarterback against trying to pass him through waivers and onto the practice squad to clear an extra roster spot elsewhere. That’s a tricky proposition with how much the rookie flashed this preseason.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: The Ravens know exactly what they have in Dixon — good and bad — so why else would you give an injury-prone back 13 carries and play him well into the second half of the final preseason game if that weren’t a showcase for a trade? Turner finished with 94 yards on 22 touches Thursday and plays special teams, but he looks more like a quality insurance policy to stash on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott
OUT: Michael Floyd, Antoine Wesley, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott did everything he could to make the team and has shown marked improvement, making him worth keeping despite being low on the depth chart. Floyd joining Roberts as a healthy scratch Thursday was curious, but the Ravens did the same with Albert McClellan in last year’s preseason finale before cutting him two days later, meaning you shouldn’t read too much into that with a veteran.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
OUT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: There’s less intrigue here than with any other offensive or defensive position group, but Scarff appears to be a likely target to sign to the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
OUT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: This group is the most likely to see an outside addition between now and the opener, especially if an upgrade at left guard or a serviceable swing tackle becomes available. The trade of Jermaine Eluemunor opened the door for Senat to possibly steal a spot as a reserve tackle, but he committed two holding penalties in the opening quarter Thursday and Mekari took some snaps at left tackle in addition to playing right guard and center, the kind of versatility that really helps his roster chances.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack, Willie Henry
OUT: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Henry didn’t show much in the preseason and played deep into the fourth quarter Thursday, which would raise a bigger red flag if Sieler or Willis had shown more over the course of the summer. If you’re looking for a candidate to be an out-of-nowhere cut, Henry might fit that description since he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, but the need for interior pass rushers is too great to give up on someone who showed such promise in that area two years ago.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
OUT: Otaro Alaka, Donald Payne, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka still gets caught out of position and needs to improve his awareness, but he has a heck of a motor and made his share of plays this summer, making it tough to leave him off the initial 53-man roster. The increasing use of the dime package diminishes the need for a fourth inside linebacker, however, and the Ravens will want to protect their secondary depth for now, making Alaka a practice-squad target as Onwuasor was after being waived at the conclusion of his rookie preseason.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
OUT: Shane Ray, Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: Ray was a perfectly fine low-risk, moderate-reward signing in mid-May, but the promise he showed early in his career with Denver was nowhere to be found this summer. This position group still doesn’t inspire much confidence going into the season, making an outside addition possible if the right opportunity comes along for DeCosta.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Tavon Young
OUT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Iman Marshall
Skinny: If the Ravens want to keep Young eligible for a potential designation to return from injured reserve later this season, he must be on the initial 53-man roster, complicating the overall decision-making process. Canady is the shakiest call beyond that, but Bethel and Jones are primarily special-teams contributors, which somewhat inflates the overall number here.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
OUT: Brynden Trawick, Bennett Jackson, Fish Smithson
Skinny: Trawick’s special-teams acumen improves his roster chances substantially, but his status as a vested veteran makes him a candidate to be re-signed when Young is placed on IR or even after Week 1 when his contract will no longer be guaranteed for the full season. Jackson would have had a better chance to stick if this weren’t such a deep group.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek, Elliott Fry
Skinny: There’s nothing to see here, but the struggles of Kaare Vedvik in Minnesota have made any complaints about DeCosta trading him for a fifth-round pick that much sillier. Perhaps the Vikings would have benefited from a Google search on Vedvik’s spring performance before so eagerly pulling the trigger after the first preseason game, but the Ravens certainly won’t lose sleep over that.

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Ravens mulling roster decisions ahead of final preseason tuneup

Posted on 27 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will rest most starters in Thursday’s preseason finale against Washington while hoping to gain clarity on several important decisions.

One of the most pressing is determining a starter at left guard with training camp and the first three preseason games doing little to narrow down the choices. Third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor remains atop the official depth chart and has long been considered the slight favorite since working with the first team during spring workouts, but conditioning concerns, inconsistent play, and a minor injury that kept him out of the third preseason game have kept the door open for other competitors.

Eluemunor has easily taken the largest share of the snaps, but rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari and second-year interior lineman Bradley Bozeman have all seen first-team reps at left guard at various times this summer with no one really distinguishing himself. Head coach John Harbaugh has also mentioned James Hurst’s ability to play the position at which he’s started multiple games in the past, but the versatile veteran hasn’t received any meaningful time at left guard in preseason games or practices open to the media.

With the season opener less than two weeks away, the Ravens appear likely to evaluate the position on a week-by-week basis, at least early in the season. There’s always the possibility of general manager Eric DeCosta acquiring an upgrade in the coming days, but quality offensive linemen remain in high demand in today’s NFL, making that task easier said than done.

“I’m very open right now. It will probably, in all honesty, remain a competition until somebody establishes themselves as the established starter,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a difference between being a starter and an established starter. That person is going to have to continue to earn that by how they play into the regular season, and I’m quite sure a certain one or more guys will step up.”

Cornerback remains one of the deepest positions on the roster, but the Ravens face tough decisions with nickel back Tavon Young and rookie Iman Marshall, who both remain out with injuries. Despite the team’s medical staff initially recommending season-ending surgery for a neck injury sustained at the beginning of the month, Young has yet to make a final decision and could still be a candidate to return later in the season. Harbaugh confirmed Marshall won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, making it possible he’s placed on season-ending injured reserve this weekend. That outcome would likely improve the chances of Baltimore keeping an additional cornerback such as Maurice Canady.

Any injured player a team wants to keep eligible for one of its two designations to return from IR must be on the initial 53-man roster set Saturday afternoon. That means the Ravens would have to risk losing another player they’d prefer to keep on the active roster to keep Young in consideration for an eventual 2019 return.

“That’s going to be something that we’ll have to figure out,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we talked about with the balls in the air. Those are all the different balls that are in the air right now, and I don’t know what we’ll do with all of that.”

Of course, the Ravens will also be evaluating a number of players on the roster bubble Thursday while long shots will be auditioning for a spot on the practice squad or an opportunity elsewhere.

“Go out there and make some plays,” third-year defensive end Chris Wormley said. “If the Ravens aren’t going to keep you, then put tape out there that 31 other teams are going to want to say, ‘Hey, let’s take this guy and take a chance on him.'”

Forgotten man?

Still listed as a starter on the latest depth chart released by the team’s public relations staff, wide receiver Seth Roberts is one of the more interesting names on the roster with final cuts looming.

Roberts worked regularly with the starting offense before sustaining an unspecified injury in the preseason opener, but he returned to practice over the weekend and could see some action against Washington.

“Some of it has to do with how healthy he is,” Harbaugh said. “He practiced the last couple of days and looked good. He was playing really well — a veteran guy, an experienced player. He brought that to the table, and he looked great. There is a possibility that he could play on Thursday with some other guys.”

The 28-year-old signed a one-year, $2 million contract — $1 million guaranteed — in April and averaged just under 40 catches and 456.5 receiving yards in his first four seasons with Oakland. He appeared to be safely on the roster early in camp to help raise the floor of an inexperienced group that will include at least two rookies, but the Ravens may now view his presence as more of a luxury with first-round pick Marquise Brown and third-round selection Miles Boykin expected to play substantial roles and slot receiver Willie Snead and fourth-year wideout Chris Moore still very much in the passing-game mix.

Roberts is regarded as a good blocker, but he’s played only 13 snaps on special teams in his career.

Tuesday’s attendance report

Four players were absent from Tuesday’s workout, a list including Young, Marshall, fellow cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and offensive lineman Randin Crecelius.

Brown, cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackle Gerald Willis, and outside linebackers Jaylon Ferguson and Tim Williams returned to the practice field. According to Harbaugh, Ferguson was cleared from the concussion protocol and is expected to play against Washington after missing last week’s game against Philadelphia.

Having returned to practice over the weekend, starting inside linebacker Chris Board was also cleared after sustaining a concussion in the second preseason game against Green Bay.

The Ravens signed defensive back Fish Smithson to fill the final spot on their preseason roster. The 25-year-old Baltimore native has now spent time with five different teams since going undrafted out of Kansas in 2017. He appeared in two games with Washington during the 2017 season.

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Sizing up 2019 Ravens roster after third preseason game

Posted on 26 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the third preseason game in the rear-view mirror, we take our latest look at the Ravens’ 53-man roster with final cuts less than a week away.

My current assessment suggests as many as 49 players would be considered safely on the 53-man roster if the deadline were to come now. Of the 90 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — I list 13 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 outside linebackers or offensive linemen 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 end 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. 26.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: The sixth-round rookie from Penn State turned in his best performance of the summer against Philadelphia, which should keep him on the right side of the bubble. Meanwhile, Harbaugh confirmed over the weekend Griffin (right thumb) is on track to be ready for the regular season.

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: Of the bubble trio, Dixon is the best back, Ervin the most impactful special-teams player, and Turner the most balanced, but none of them have built an overwhelming case to be kept as a fourth running back. Dixon could have some limited trade value while Turner could go to the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jaleel Scott, Seth Roberts, Michael Floyd
LONG SHOT: Antoine Wesley, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Catching a touchdown and serving as a gunner on the punt team last Thursday, Scott is appearing more likely to make the team. Roberts is an interesting call after missing two weeks of action, but he raises the floor of a young position group while Floyd’s push feels too little, too late.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: Scarff and Herdman continue to look like no more than practice-squad candidates, but Ricard is capable of lining up as a blocking tight end, leaving little need for a fourth tight end on the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: Patrick Mekari
LONG SHOT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: Bozeman’s solid play over the last couple weeks lands him comfortably on the roster while Mekari didn’t really take advantage of his first-team chances earlier this month. The latter could still make the team as a ninth offensive lineman, but an outside addition at guard remains quite possible.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler
LONG SHOT: Gerald Willis
Skinny: Sieler might be the only clear backup behind Wormley as a 5-technique defensive end, but he played only two defensive snaps against the Eagles and the Ravens are playing fewer and fewer “base” 3-4 defense snaps, making him vulnerable. Willis is currently hurt and could go on injured reserve.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Otaro Alaka
LONG SHOT: Donald Payne, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka has had a good summer and is probably the best bet for Baltimore to continue its 15-year streak of keeping at least one rookie free agent on the initial roster. The signing of Paul Worrilow didn’t work out, but that could be an indication that DeCosta will try to add veteran depth here.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
BUBBLE: Shane Ray
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: I’m still concerned this group is more inventory than quality depth, but the pecking order has been defined for a while with Bowser and Williams firmly ahead of Ray. Perhaps a big showing in the preseason finale wins him a spot, but the former Denver Bronco just hasn’t shown much this summer.

CORNERBACKS (7)
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: Trying to project this group remains extremely difficult with no final decision yet on Young’s status and the rookie Marshall having missed more than two weeks with a thigh injury. If both go to IR, keeping Canady appears more likely as the Ravens want to maintain deep depth at this position.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
BUBBLE: Brynden Trawick
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Trawick was a Pro Bowl special-teams player in 2017, but his limited positional value as a reserve dime back behind Levine and the younger Elliott makes it challenging to keep him on the roster compared to other special-teams contributors like Bethel and Jones, who are both cornerbacks.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek, Elliott Fry
Skinny: The three long shots should have a valuable opportunity to showcase their talents Thursday in hopes of catching on elsewhere. We’ve seen it happen before with former Ravens specialists.

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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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Ravens-Packers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 14 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The second preseason game should provide a step up for the Ravens as they host Green Bay Thursday night.

Head coach John Harbaugh says quarterback Lamar Jackson will have “about the same” workload as the 16 snaps he played in the 29-0 win over Jacksonville last week, but the Jaguars held out all but one listed defensive starter on their depth chart. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur says he plans to play his starters “a quarter or so,” which should provide a better test for Jackson and a revamped offense.

“Another win, keep striving trying to be the best,” said Jackson about what he wants to accomplish. “Completions, score a touchdown, [and] hopefully get out of the game early. It’s preseason, so I’m trying to get out of the game early.”

The Ravens concluded open training camp Tuesday and will soon have the chance to change their surroundings after the monotony of the last few weeks. Not only will they transition into a practice format more closely resembling the regular season in the coming days, but the Ravens will follow their game against the Packers with a trip to Philadelphia to practice against the Eagles early next week before their first road preseason contest.

The season opener in Miami is just 3 1/2 weeks away.

“They’re getting sick of each other,” said Harbaugh as he laughed Tuesday. “It’s about time. They get out of the hotel this week. They’ve seen enough of each other.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Green Bay will meet in the preseason with the Packers winning 17-15 at old Memorial Stadium back in 1996. Green Bay leads the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

The Ravens own a 34-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won a remarkable 14 exhibition contests in a row, a streak extending back to the start of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Thursday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of several will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Seth Roberts, LB Mike Onuoha (wrist), OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: WR Marquise Brown (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle), CB Jimmy Smith, LB Matthew Judon, CB Tavon Young, CB Anthony Averett, CB Iman Marshall, OT Greg Senat, CB Maurice Canady

Five players to watch Thursday night

G Patrick Mekari

You may have no idea whom the rookie free agent from Cal-Berkeley even is, but Harbaugh first mentioned Mekari’s name in the left guard competition back in June when he was still sidelined with a back issue. Following a very strong performance in the preseason opener in which he saw time at center and right guard, Mekari was splitting first-team reps with Jermaine Eluemunor at left guard in practices this week. The 6-foot-4, 308-pound Mekari being in this spot says more about an underwhelming competition than anything else, but some first-team run could say plenty for his roster chances.

OLB Tyus Bowser

The 2017 second-round pick remains in good shape from a roster standpoint since he’s the only backup behind Matthew Judon at the strong-side outside linebacker spot really capable of dropping into coverage, but his momentum has slowed a bit since a good start to camp. He did some good things in the first preseason game with a half-sack and another tackle in 26 defensive snaps and could be in line to start Thursday after Judon missed the last two open practices, so this could be a golden opportunity to state his case as an impact member of the rotation at outside linebacker.

WR Jaleel Scott

The 2018 fourth-round pick was in danger of being cut last summer before a hamstring injured landed him on injured reserve, but team officials began noticing his improved speed and fitness during the spring as Scott remains in the running for a roster spot. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound wideout from New Mexico State made a 25-yard reception in the fourth quarter on his only target last week, but his besst path to a roster spot is contributing on special teams, an area in which he’s still developing. There may — or may not — be one receiver spot up for grabs among Scott, rookie Antoine Wesley, and Michael Floyd.

DL Zach Sieler

Many anticipated Sieler pushing third-year defensive end Chris Wormley for the 5-technique spot in the base defense, but it’s been a quiet summer for the 2018 seventh-round pick who didn’t make the stat sheet in 18 snaps last week. It’s not that Sieler has practiced poorly, but the Ravens kept him on the 53-man roster all last season — he was active only twice — because they saw upside as he came out of Division II Ferris State. The 6-foot-6, 301-pound lineman remains on decent footing since Baltimore doesn’t have any other 5-technique types on the roster, but Sieler still has work to do to cement his job.

RB Tyler Ervin

We’ve discussed the uncertain roster status of Kenneth Dixon ad nauseam and have typically mentioned De’Lance Turner as the most likely to beat him out for a roster spot behind Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill, but Ervin remains a sleeper after registering an impressive 24-yard punt return in the preseason opener. The former Houston Texan has good speed and has even received some looks with the first-team offense in recent practices, which is something few would have anticipated at the start of training camp. Ervin remains Cyrus Jones’ primary competition for the punt returner job.

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Ravens hold out Marquise Brown two days after ramping up practice activity

Posted on 12 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just as the Ravens finally ramped up wide receiver Marquise Brown’s practice activity, the rookie first-round pick was nowhere to be found Monday.

The 25th overall pick in April’s draft wasn’t on the field for the morning workout after taking his first full-team reps Saturday and Sunday. Recovering from January surgery that repaired a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, Brown had missed spring workouts and the first five full-squad practices of training camp before making his summer debut on July 31. The Oklahoma product took part only in individual position work in his first six practices and didn’t play in the preseason opener before finally participating in 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven drills over the weekend.

Brown saw roughly a dozen snaps split between the first- and second-team offenses Saturday, making five catches and dropping one pass in an encouraging showing. However, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver appeared to take fewer reps the next day, making his full absence just three days before the second preseason game at least a little more concerning. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t offer much clarity when asked about Brown’s absence after practice.

“He’s recovering. All those kinds of things are just part of training camp,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to get into every single guy or why he’s here or why he’s not. We don’t have any serious injuries. It’s just part of our process.”

Brown was one of 11 players not suited up for the start of Monday’s workout, joining safety Earl Thomas, right guard Marshal Yanda, outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Mike Onuoha (wrist), wide receiver Seth Roberts, offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius, and cornerbacks Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, and Iman Marshall. Thomas and Yanda have received occasional veteran days off over the first 2 1/2 weeks of camp, but such treatment would be unlikely with the remaining absentees.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith left the field roughly 20 minutes into practice with “nothing serious,” according to Harbaugh. The 31-year-old veteran was not being accompanied by a trainer as he exited.

Linebacker Nicholas Grigsby practiced for the first time since missing the first preseason game.

New candidate at left guard

Much has been made about an underwhelming start to the competition for the starting left guard spot, but a new candidate has apparently entered the picture.

Rookie Patrick Mekari shared first-team reps with Jermaine Eluemunor Monday and has been regarded by members of the organization as an undrafted free agent to watch. Mekari, a 6-foot-4, 308-pound lineman from Cal-Berkeley, was slowed by a back injury in the spring and was briefly on the physically unable to perform list to begin training camp before being activated.

“We have kind of been working him up to this,” Harbaugh said. “He played well in the game. He had a good practice [Sunday]. Let’s see what he can do. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what training camp is for.”

Eluemunor was considered a slight favorite to win the job entering camp, but Harbaugh has been critical of his conditioning and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris labeled him a “work in progress” Sunday. The 6-foot-4, 335-pound lineman failed his conditioning test at the start of camp, which led to rookie Ben Powers taking most of the starter reps early on. Eluemunor has also drawn a number of pre-snap penalties in practices, drawing the ire of the coaching staff.

The 2017 fifth-round pick from Texas A&M appeared in 17 games and made three starts over his first two seasons, seeing his most extensive action as an injury replacement at right guard and left tackle.

“It’s going well,” said Eluemunor about his play early in camp and in the preseason opener. “It’s just little technique things I want to work on like dropping my pads, changing up my stance, really coming off the ball and hitting the defender, working on my hands better, and just getting a better feel for it. But it was a good start.”

Credit to go around for Vedvik

Harbaugh offered praise to former special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, special teams coach Chris Horton, and special teams assistant and kicking guru Randy Brown for their work in identifying and developing kicker Kaare Vedvik, who was traded to Minnesota for a 2020 fifth-round pick Sunday.

“It’s good to see it pay off, especially for Kaare,” Harbaugh said. “He was in here every single day, every day, the whole year. Everybody would go home. He would be in here working out and kicking. It’s good to see it pay off for him.”

Harbaugh also thanked owner Steve Bisciotti for keeping Vedvik “on the payroll” after the undrafted rookie was assaulted in East Baltimore at the end of last year’s preseason and spent the entire regular season on the non-football injury list.

The Ravens expect to add another kicker to share practice and preseason reps with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch.

Defense shines

The Ravens defense got the best of their offensive counterparts Monday as dime back Anthony Levine intercepted and returned a Lamar Jackson pass for a touchdown during an 11-on-11 drill and cornerback Marlon Humphrey picked off a Trace McSorley pass that deflected off Jaleel Scott’s hands in seven-on-seven work. The offense struggled to complete passes against tight coverage during a few stretches of the workout.

Jackson’s prettiest play came in a seven-on-seven red-zone period in which he connected with rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin on a tight-window throw in the front corner of the end zone. Veteran wide receiver Michael Floyd also continued his recent practice surge with a few impressive plays, including the one below:

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