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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce cleared from non-football injury list

Posted on 21 July 2019 by Luke Jones

Two days after being placed on the non-football injury list, Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce has apparently been cleared to begin practicing.

The fourth-year defensive lineman was listed on Sunday’s league transaction sheet as having passed his physical, meaning he has been removed from the NFI list and is eligible to practice this week. The Ravens haven’t commented on Pierce’s status since last month’s mandatory minicamp when head coach John Harbaugh pulled him from the field due to weight and conditioning concerns. It’s unclear exactly where Pierce is physically compared to his 2018 listed playing weight of 340 pounds or whether he has additional work to do from a conditioning standpoint, but the removal of his NFI designation is obviously good news for both him and the Baltimore defense.

Scheduled to make $3.095 million this season after receiving a second-round tender as a restricted free agent, Pierce is entering a contract year and has become one of the NFL’s best run-stopping nose tackles over his first three seasons. He finished with 32 tackles, a fumble recovery, four tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, and a pass defensed in 14 regular-season games last year and graded as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in the league.

“Don’t forget what a great football player he is, and he’ll get back there [physically],” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the day after Pierce was pulled from minicamp in mid-June. “I can’t tell you when, but he’ll get back there. He’ll get back to that.”

Pierce wasn’t the only Raven to be cleared Sunday as rookie third-round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and rookie fifth-round defensive tackle Daylon Mack were also removed from the NFI list. Both players presumably failed the conditioning test upon reporting to Owings Mills last week, but each can now begin practicing.

With Pierce, Ferguson, and Mack all passing their physicals, rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown is the only Baltimore player currently on the NFI list while guards Alex Lewis (shoulder surgery) and Patrick Mekari remain on the physically unable to perform list. Those three are eligible to begin practicing at any point upon being cleared by the team.

Remaining veteran players will report to the team facility Wednesday with the first full-squad workout of training camp taking place Thursday morning.

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Ravens put Pierce on non-football injury list, Lewis on PUP list

Posted on 20 July 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t conduct their first full-squad training camp practice until Thursday, but questions remain whether standout defensive tackle Michael Pierce will be ready to take the field.

Pierce was placed on the non-football injury list Friday as injured veterans and quarterbacks were required to report to the team facility in Owings Mills. The organization hasn’t commented on his status, but it’s assumed the designation is tied to the weight and conditioning concerns that prompted head coach John Harbaugh to pull Pierce from the field on the first day of mandatory minicamp in June. A restricted free agent who received a $3.095 million second-round tender in March, Pierce is entering a contract year and chose to skip the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program in the spring.

The former undrafted free agent from Samford looked noticeably heavier than the 340 pounds at which he was listed during the 2018 season. Harbaugh didn’t shy away from that perception five weeks ago when telling reporters they “can probably tell” he wasn’t in shape.

“He’s not ready to practice just from a safety standpoint — for his own health and safety,” Harbaugh said on June 11. “We recognized that, and we pulled him off for that reason. … It’s a problem, absolutely. We want guys practicing. We want them ready to practice, physically able to practice. That’s very important.”

It’s unclear whether Pierce was even permitted to take the Ravens’ rigorous conditioning test, which he’ll need to pass to be cleared to take the field in training camp.

Baltimore also placed veteran left guard Alex Lewis on the active physically unable to perform list as he continues recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Scheduled to make $2.025 million in base salary, Lewis is not only competing for a starting job, but his roster spot is in jeopardy as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and faces plenty of young competition. Injuries have limited the 2016 fourth-round pick to just 20 games in his first three seasons.

Lewis rehabbed his shoulder away from the team facility, a curious decision for a player whose roster status is far from secure. Harbaugh had little clarity on the offensive lineman’s status during last month’s minicamp in which Lewis didn’t participate.

“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”

Both Pierce and Lewis are eligible to begin practicing at any point and still count against the 90-man preseason roster. Pierce joins wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot), outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and defensive tackle Daylon Mack on the NFI list while Lewis joins guard Patrick Mekari (back) on the PUP list.

Rookie wide receiver Jaylen Smith was removed from the NFI list Friday, an indication that he passed his conditioning test.

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Ravens place Marquise Brown on non-football injury list

Posted on 18 July 2019 by Luke Jones

Training camp has begun for the Ravens rookies, but a handful of players weren’t yet ready to practice as of Thursday afternoon.

According to the NFL’s daily transaction sheet, Baltimore placed wide receivers Marquise Brown and Jaylen Smith, outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and defensive tackle Daylon Mack on the non-football injury list and guard Patrick Mekari on the physically unable to perform list. Though the Ravens haven’t commented on the reasons for any of these designations, these lists are used for players who had a preexisting ailment or did not pass the infamous conditioning test that’s victimized many veterans and rookies in previous summers.

Each player still counts against the 90-man preseason roster limit and is eligible to return to practice at any point. Baltimore’s first full-squad workout is next Thursday, a day after veteran players must report to the team facility in Owings Mills.

Brown, the 25th overall pick of April’s draft, being on the list isn’t a major surprise as he continues working his way back to full strength from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot in January. On the first night of the draft, general manager Eric DeCosta said he “conservatively” expected the speedy receiver to be back on the field for training camp, but head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged in mid-June that Brown wasn’t yet running full speed on flat ground.

“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” said Harbaugh during mandatory minicamp last month. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”

Brown originally injured his foot playing for Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game last Dec. 1 and returned a month later to play in the College Football Playoff semifinal game a month later, but his injury is classified as “non-football” since it occurred outside of the Ravens’ football activities. In contrast, Mekari was placed on the active PUP list after his back flared up during spring workouts in Owings Mills.

Since Ferguson, Mack, and Smith all took part in organized team activities and mandatory minicamp without any reported injuries, their placement on the NFI list could be the result of not passing the conditioning test. Harbaugh’s training camps have long been known for this challenging obstacle at the outset as several former Ravens players noted on social media Thursday evening. In most cases, failing the conditioning test is much more of a short-term blip than a red flag that sticks with a player.

Ferguson, a third-round pick from Louisiana Tech, is expected to compete for playing time in a pass-rush rotation in desperate need of contributors opposite veteran Matthew Judon. A fifth-round selection from Texas A&M, Mack will be competing for reserve snaps on the defensive line.

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Ravens conclude spring workouts with few injury concerns

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The best news for the Ravens at the end of spring workouts was the avoidance of any serious injuries with the start of the 2019 campaign still almost three months away.

Few developments are more deflating than losing a key player or two for the season as Baltimore did two springs ago when cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta suffered serious injuries on back-to-back days.

All but five players on the offseason roster participated in all three days of mandatory minicamp this week, but one of the non-participants was 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown, who has not yet been cleared to practice despite taking a couple reps in a position drill Wednesday that created some out-of-market media buzz. General manager Eric DeCosta said during the NFL draft that the organization “conservatively” projected Brown to be ready to practice by training camp after undergoing surgery for a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in January.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the speedy 22-year-old is not yet running at full speed on flat ground despite the agility work he began doing earlier this month, but he remains “hopeful” Brown will be ready to go when players report back to Owings Mills in late July. The Ravens drafted the former Oklahoma star to make an immediate play-making impact in an offense needing more speed.

“My expectation is the opening of training camp,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “I don’t think you can say that for certain because you just don’t know how things are going to progress and where he’s going to be. But, from what I’m told, there have been no setbacks.”

In addition to Brown, defensive tackle Michael Pierce (conditioning), guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones (illness), and guard Patrick Mekari (back) missed all of this week’s three-day minicamp.

Lewis’ status remains unclear as he recovers from January shoulder surgery and wasn’t in the building for the voluntary offseason training program. It was a questionable decision for someone who has missed 28 games in his first three seasons and is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

The 2016 fourth-round pick has started 18 of his 20 career games and showed much promise in the past, but Harbaugh made it clear the competition for the starting left guard job is wide open this summer.

“I think he’s progressing well. We hadn’t seen him until two days ago, so I really can’t answer that,” Harbaugh said. “I think it would be a good question for Alex. He’s been in charge of his own rehab.”

Pierce hasn’t been made available to reporters since being pulled off the field by Harbaugh Tuesday because of concerns about his weight and conditioning, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and safety Tony Jefferson were among those offering their support to the fourth-year defensive tackle in the midst of much disappointment this week.

“What I said to him and I said it in front of the whole defense, ‘Life is about choices. Just don’t make that choice make your life,’” Martindale said Wednesday. “He’s a dominant player, and he has a challenge to get from here until training camp to hit a certain stage. That’s [up] to the trainers and Eric and ‘Harbs’ on where they want him to be, and I know he’ll be there. I know he will.”

Safety Earl Thomas wasn’t making many splash plays in his first practices since fracturing his lower left leg for the second time in three years last September, but he showed his new team he’s recovered and ready to resume a brilliant career that’s featured six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship as part of Seattle’s dominant “Legion of Boom” defense. His challenge now is getting used to the complexity of Martindale’s system that puts responsibility on the players to make and communicate pre-snap adjustments.

The 30-year-old said he’s “in the right spot” physically and offered praise to Baltimore’s training staff for helping him get back into football shape.

“I have my days. But, for the most part, like today, you never want to get off the field when you’re feeling good,” said Thomas, who’s missed 19 regular-seasons games over the last three years. “I didn’t want to come out. Usually, I’ll take three reps a period, four reps, but I didn’t want to come out today. I felt really good. I’m just taking it day by day.”

The sight of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda taking part in mandatory minicamp has been a rarity in recent years because of a variety of injuries and offseason surgeries, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection said he never doubted he’d return for 2019 upon finishing last season healthy. Yanda, 34, signed a one-year contract extension through 2020 earlier this offseason, but he isn’t changing his mindset from last year when he acknowledged he was now viewing his career on a season-by-season basis.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling really good about playing this fall, and I don’t look any further down the road,” Yanda said. “I’m worried about playing this fall and playing good football. The best thing is that I didn’t have to recover from an offseason surgery, so I didn’t have to rehab this offseason. I could lift and I could do some shoulder maintenance, but I didn’t have to get any range of motion back.”

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

Posted on 12 June 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elliott shines again

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

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

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

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

Rough day for quarterbacks

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

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

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

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

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