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Former Raven Suggs returns to place most assumed he’d never leave

Posted on 13 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Marshal Yanda said seeing his name on the scouting report was “pretty funny.”

Rookie Jaylon Ferguson mimicked him in practices this week wearing a new No. 56 unfamiliar to Baltimore while Marlon Humphrey noted it would be strange seeing him in Arizona Cardinals red.

When Terrell Suggs arrives at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday morning, he’ll walk into the visiting locker room, a place he never entered in 16 years with the Ravens. As the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played more regular-season games than any other Raven noted, “It will be kind of weird for all of us.”

“When the schedule came out, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to downplay it as just another game.’ But we all know that’d be bulls–t,” Suggs said on a conference call with Baltimore reporters this week. “It’s kind of a unique situation, isn’t it? It’s kind of weird. Everybody is just kind of anxious to see what it’s going to be like.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Unlike Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed’s free-agent departure in 2013 when the organization showed only tepid interest compared to the more lucrative three-year, $15 million contract he signed with Houston in the weeks following Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens wanted Suggs to return for a 17th season, which would have matched Hall of Fame inside linebacker Ray Lewis for the longest tenure in franchise history. The 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year may not be the dominant and feared player he once was, but he’d still be lining up as the Ravens’ starting rush linebacker had he stayed put.

Of course, the business side of the game has a way of complicating matters as contract talks stalled leading up to free agency and the Cardinals offered Suggs $7 million guaranteed for the 2019 season. The Ravens came “close” to matching that offer in owner Steve Bisciotti’s words, but the thought of playing in Arizona — where he attended high school and college — and seeing so many other veterans exit aided in the 36-year-old’s decision to go home.

“There wasn’t really a moment,” said Suggs about signing with the Cardinals. “They (the Ravens) essentially made a last push. They did. I just felt it was time. It was time.”

Coming off Sunday’s 59-10 win in which Lamar Jackson tied a franchise record with five touchdown passes and produced the only perfect passer rating in team history, the Ravens know the future is now. Jackson is the new face of the franchise while Suggs saw his former Super Bowl-winning quarterback traded in the offseason and his two legendary former teammates of a decade — Lewis and Reed — officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame these last two summers. Those factors are more than enough to make anyone question his football mortality.

After spending years as the last man standing from the old defensive guard that included Lewis, Reed, and the recently-retired Haloti Ngata, Suggs could see the defense getting younger down the stretch last year. And though legitimate questions remain about an inexperienced pass rush that could still use him this season, Suggs apparently felt it was best to move on, a sentiment he shared with former teammates such as inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor.

“When he left, he texted me and said, ‘It’s time for you guys to start your own legacy and start the new brand of Raven football and just continue to be what the Ravens are all about,'” Onwuasor said.

His presence is still felt in the building as he stays in touch with teammates and is still mentioned in meeting rooms with his reputation as a brilliant student of the game. More than a few players laughed this week when asked to share stories about Suggs, often reluctant to share their colorful nature. Viewed as the talented class clown early in his career, the 2003 first-round pick from Arizona State grew into a leadership role over time while maintaining his boisterous demeanor, whether it was singing loudly on his way out to the practice, taking Bisciotti’s golf cart for a joyride, or wearing a gladiator mask during pre-game introductions.

Much like Suggs didn’t become a carbon copy of Lewis following his post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement, the Ravens haven’t replaced his defensive leadership with a single person this year, instead trusting a group of incumbents and veteran newcomers Earl Thomas and Pernell McPhee to help lead in their own ways. It’s never the same when an iconic player departs, but that’s a testament to the individual rather than a slight to anyone else.

“His name still comes up,” said Ferguson, who broke Suggs’ NCAA record for career sacks and was drafted this spring as part of the attempt to replace him. “He’s an awesome pass rusher. He’s one of the best pass rushers in history.

“His name has got no choice but to come up.”

Suggs will be more than just a name Sunday as he tries to help the Cardinals defense slow Jackson and a talented, young offense that surprised everyone last week. He and two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones will try to get past Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., two offensive tackles Suggs has faced plenty in a practice setting.

Regardless of how much he has left in his 17th NFL season — he registered just 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 last year — Suggs showed plenty of juice last week with two sacks and a forced fumble in his Arizona debut. The thought of playing his final game in Baltimore has undoubtedly crossed his mind in a way it didn’t during the playoff loss in January when everyone assumed he’d be back.

Being the movie buff and screenwriter he is off the field, Suggs having a big returning performance has to be part of his script even as he said, “You kind of have to let it write itself.”

There’s a job to do on both sides, but Sunday is sure to be entertaining, weird, and emotional after Suggs’ abrupt departure in March.

“I couldn’t help myself; I watched him play last week on tape,” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who coached Suggs for seven seasons and still beams over his accomplishments. “He hasn’t lost a step. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

“But I think it’s going to be harder for him.”

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As Marquise Brown shines, fellow Ravens rookie waiting his turn

Posted on 12 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As Terrell Suggs makes his return to Baltimore on Sunday, the Ravens rookie who broke his NCAA career sacks record has been tasked with mimicking him in practices this week.

Third-round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson was a healthy scratch for the season-opening win in Miami, but he’s embracing his current scout-team role playing the former Ravens great who collected two sacks and a forced fumble in his Arizona debut last Sunday. The 23-year-old Ferguson views it as a learning experience as he tries to expand his bull-rushing arsenal and crack the game-day rotation.

“It’s fun. He’s got a different way of playing than me,” the Louisiana Tech product said. “I’m more of a bang-bang player. I know he’s getting older in age, so he can’t really bang like that no more. Playing like him for a day is fun. I hope I give the offense a good look. A lot of the guys on the team already know him, so they know what to expect.”

Ferguson’s rookie season hasn’t begun how he hoped as he’s behind starters Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee and backups Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams on the depth chart. That standing coupled with the lack of a role on special teams left him on the seven-player inactive list against the Dolphins.

A concussion kept Ferguson out of the third preseason game against Philadelphia last month, but he finished with three tackles (two for a loss), two quarterback hits, and a deflected pass in the preseason with most of his playing time coming in the third and fourth quarters. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale went out of his way to compliment Ferguson’s recent improvement last week, but that didn’t lead to a game-day activation for the opener as the Ravens went with four edge rushers.

Martindale quipped Thursday he wishes all defensive players could be active every week, but he reiterated the 6-foot-5, 270-pound outside linebacker remains on an upward trajectory.

“I believe he is. I really do,” Martindale said. “I’m really excited about Jaylon Ferguson.”

Ferguson isn’t the first Baltimore edge rusher to struggle to find his game-day footing early in his NFL career. Nagging injuries and the lack of a special-teams role kept Williams inactive for 17 games over his first two seasons, and 2009 second-round pick and eventual Super Bowl XLVII champion Paul Kruger was active for just 20 of his first 32 regular-season games before collecting 14 1/2 sacks over his final two seasons with the Ravens and signing a $40 million contract with Cleveland in 2013.

After collecting 45 sacks over his collegiate career, Ferguson said he continues to learn his craft from veterans like Judon and McPhee to be ready when his number is finally called.

“I’m just going to keep on working, keep on doing what I’m doing,” Ferguson said. “I feel like I’m working hard. There’s always room to improve. For right now, I’m just doing what I can to help the offense out giving them a look. Then, when it’s my turn up, do what I have to do to stay on the field.”

Marquise Brown still not at “full speed”

Despite a sensational debut in which he scored long touchdowns on each of his first two NFL catches, first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown says his legs weren’t firing on all cylinders in Miami.

“I wasn’t back to full speed,” Brown said. “I was talking to people telling them I didn’t know if it was the heat or something, but I wasn’t really feeling it. But I was running pretty good.”

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver may have sprinted past the Miami defense with ease, but NFL Next Gen Stats suggest there could be something to the speedster’s self-critique. On his 83-yard touchdown, Brown topped out at 20.33 miles per hour, which ranked as the 14th-fastest ball carry of Week 1. For context, cornerback Marlon Humphrey said in July that Brown was clocked at over 21 miles per hour when he was still working his surgically-repaired foot back to full strength, a scary thought for opposing defenses.

Even if not quite back to full speed just yet, Brown is rapidly earning respect from his teammates after inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor jokingly told the rookie he hadn’t yet earned his full nickname when he took part in his first full practice in August, instead calling him “Holly.”

“They call me ‘Hollywood’ now,” said Brown as he laughed.

Thursday’s injury report

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey returned to practice a day after resting a back issue, easing any small concern about his availability for Sunday.

Brown remained a limited participant with a sore hip, but running back Mark Ingram (shoulder) and wide receiver Chris Moore (illness) were upgraded to full participation Thursday.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (hip), CB Marlon Humphrey (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Tyus Bowser (groin), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), WR Chris Moore (illness)

ARIZONA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Jonathan Bullard (hamstring), OL Lamont Gaillard (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Charles Clay (non-injury), WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury), LB Haason Reddick (knee), LB Ezekiel Turner (hand)

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marquisebrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 1 win over Miami

Posted on 10 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their season opener in a record-setting 59-10 final at Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith missing “multiple weeks” with a knee injury will test the diminishing depth at cornerback, but the silver lining is an extended audition for Anthony Averett, whom the Ravens have viewed as possible starter material. Averett can now prove it with Smith in the final year of his deal.

2. You can’t expect an 83-yard touchdown every week, but Lamar Jackson’s first scoring throw to Marquise Brown came on a simple run-pass option against an eight-man box. Those backside double slants will kill defenses if Jackson simply plays pitch and catch.

3. Jackson’s “not bad for a running back” quip received much attention, but the image below shows a third-and-three play in which the left edge was clear and Ronnie Stanley was signaling for him to run to easily move the chains. A moment later, Jackson threw the beautiful bomb to Brown.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

4. Speaking of the 2019 first-round pick, just 14 snaps produced four catches, 147 yards, and two touchdowns. Just imagine what he might do when fully acclimated to the offense. For those keeping track, he’s now one touchdown shy of Breshad Perriman’s career total with Baltimore.

5. The pass rush produced three sacks and 12 quarterback hits, but failing to create havoc against that overwhelmed Dolphins line would have been a red flag. Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser played pretty well, but pass rush remains a real question mark until we see it against a better opponent.

6. Bradley Bozeman received praise from John Harbaugh and earned another start at left guard for Week 2 at the very least. He helped set the tone for the day with a excellent pull block to spring Mark Ingram for 49 yards on the first play from scrimmage.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

7. Patrick Onwuasor is so aggressive that he occasionally takes himself out of the play and still has to show consistency in coverage, but he’s the fastest linebacker Baltimore has had since a young Ray Lewis. He was incredibly active and played all but one defensive snap.

8. After a quiet first half, Mark Andrews became the monster reporters watched all summer with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown after intermission. Deep-strike passes may not be there every week, but you should get used to hearing “Jackson to Andrews over the middle.”

9. Leading 35-0, the Ravens had every right to run a fake punt with plenty of ballgame left late in the second quarter. However, going for a fourth-and-goal at the 3 with a 52-10 lead and under 10 minutes to go seemed a bit much or “Belichickian,” if you will.

10. Despite Chris Board having a clear lead throughout the spring and summer competition, Kenny Young played eight more snaps at the weak-side inside linebacker position. A preseason concussion cost Board some time last month, but Young has apparently stepped it up in recent weeks.

11. In his first game as general manager, Eric DeCosta watched his two big free-agent acquisitions — Ingram and Earl Thomas — immediately make splash plays and his first ever draft pick catch two touchdowns in the opening quarter. DeCosta couldn’t have written a better opening script.

12. Reports of Miami players wanting out after the embarrassing loss raise a real question. Tanking in basketball or baseball is one thing, but putting your body on the line with no chance of winning in a sport with greater safety concerns and non-guaranteed contracts? I don’t blame them at all.

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andrews

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2019 season

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Instead of going through the exercise of making league-wide predictions, the following focus on the Ravens and their goal to win back-to-back AFC North division titles for just the second time in team history:

1. Lamar Jackson won’t break Michael Vick’s season rushing record for a quarterback, but his 3,000 passing yards and 60-percent completion percentage will be positive steps in his development.

Make no mistake, the 22-year-old will continue to run more than any quarterback in the NFL, but general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t invest meaningful resources at running back and the Ravens didn’t practice their passing game so exhaustively this summer for Jackson to again average 17 carries per game like he did as a starter last season. There won’t be a rigid cap on how much he runs, but this offense will use more play action and run-pass options to create higher-percentage, short-to-intermediate throws with occasional deep shots. He’ll still have accuracy lapses, but his mechanics were steadier and he threw the ball more consistently all summer. The biggest question is how much he’s improved his ball security, an area more difficult to gauge in controlled practice environments without the threat of contact.

2. The defense will register 37 sacks and see its pressure rate fall to the bottom half of the league.

Baltimore was tied for 11th with 43 sacks last year, but its pressure rate (33.4 percent) ranked eighth in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Wink Martindale isn’t panicking with one of the best secondaries in the NFL backing up his well-designed blitzes, but there’s so much uncertainty beyond Matthew Judon. Pernell McPhee should provide some help if his snaps are managed properly, but Willie Henry and Shane Ray, two players thought to be potential answers, were jettisoned at the end of the summer. Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs weren’t elite last year, but expecting the trio of Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, and rookie Jaylon Ferguson to just step in without drop-off and growing pains is asking a lot. The good news is Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens first in their DVOA defensive metric when failing to pressure, again illustrating the secondary’s value. They’ll lean on that more heavily this year.

3. Mark Ingram will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

Frank Gore averaged 268 carries per season in Greg Roman’s four-year run in San Francisco and LeSean McCoy was on a similar workload pace in an injury-abbreviated 2015 season in Buffalo, dispelling the myth that the new Ravens offensive coordinator prefers a timeshare at the running back position. That’s not to say 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill won’t have roles, but the Ravens gave Ingram $6.5 million guaranteed for a reason after they had already averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the final seven regular-season games last year. Ingram’s career-high 230 carries two years ago seems like a reasonable mark for him to approach or even surpass.

4. Mark Andrews and Patrick Onwuasor will take a step forward.

It’s easy envisioning Andrews as Baltimore’s leading receiver with Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle and the wide receivers being so inexperienced. Volume remains a question, but seeing the 2018 third-round pick produce 2002-03 Todd Heap-like numbers wouldn’t be shocking. We’ve spent so much time discussing the pass rush this summer that we forget Onwuasor will be replacing four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mostly and only played 41.9 percent of defensive snaps last year. The Ravens wanted Mosley back before offers from the New York Jets became too lucrative, but Onwuasor will be steady enough to ease concerns about the position, even if inside linebacker won’t be viewed as a strength.

5. Gus Edwards and Jimmy Smith will take a step back.

Edwards won’t go by the wayside like recent season leading rushers like Alex Collins, Terrance West, and Forsett, but he’ll have a reduced role and could even lose backup touches to the speedy Hill as the year progresses. The 2018 rookie free agent averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry last season, but his best bet might be short-yardage situations and a bigger fourth-quarter share of carries when the Ravens lead. Entering the final year of his contract, Smith is now 31 and has plenty of wear on the tires after a number of injuries over the years. The veteran cornerback had an uneven training camp, but he has much incentive to prove his value, whether in Baltimore or elsewhere on the free-agent market.

6. Ben Powers will be starting at left guard by the bye week.

The late-summer signs pointed to Bradley Bozeman beginning the season as the starting left guard, but we won’t know for sure until Sunday and this position remains a week-to-week evaluation anyway. Ideally, Powers, a fourth-round rookie from Oklahoma, would be ready to take over in the way Orlando Brown Jr. did at right tackle last October, but he struggled with first-team reps early this summer.

7. A rough November will cost the Ravens their chance at winning the AFC North.

The month of October has frequently been the bane of John Harbaugh’s existence in the past, but the November pain won’t be because of New England’s Sunday night trip to Baltimore. The Ravens will take full advantage of their Week 8 bye to knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots, but three straight losses will follow as they play at Cincinnati and host Houston with both teams coming off their byes, a tricky scheduling quirk not to be overlooked. The month concludes with a long trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams on a Monday night, another defeat that will have the Ravens’ playoff hopes looking bleak.

8. Miles Boykin will tie the franchise rookie record for touchdown receptions with seven.

First-round pick Marquise Brown missing Friday’s practice was a reminder that early expectations should be tempered after he missed so much valuable practice time in the spring and summer and is still managing his surgically-repaired foot to some degree. Meanwhile, Boykin was impressive during the summer and presents a 6-foot-4, 220-pound target with speed for a quarterback whose accuracy issues aren’t a big secret. Boykin, a third-round pick from Notre Dame, won’t put up monster numbers overall, but he will offer a nice boost inside the red zone, an area where the Ravens’ revamped offense struggled down the stretch last year. He’ll tie the record shared by Torrey Smith (2011) and Marlon Brown (2013).

9. Marlon Humphrey, Marshal Yanda, and Earl Thomas will be named to the Pro Bowl.

After being voted Ravens MVP by the local media last year and receiving more praise for his play this offseason, Humphrey appears primed to become Baltimore’s first Pro Bowl cornerback since Chris McAlister in 2006. Meanwhile, Yanda will continue to add to a resume that will receive strong Hall of Fame consideration with his eighth trip to the Pro Bowl in the last nine years. Some intrigue remains over just how close Thomas will be to his old self after his second broken left leg in a three-season period, but he’ll extend the Ravens’ streak of sending a safety to the Pro Bowl to four straight years. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Andrews will be named Pro Bowl alternates.

10. A December rally will lead to a 9-7 finish and another trip to the playoffs.

A 5-6 record and plenty of outside doubts entering the final month won’t stop the Ravens from getting hot and reeling off three straight wins to put themselves back in wild-card position. A last-minute defeat at Cleveland in Week 16 will look like the death knell, but the Browns will “Brown” their playoff spot away in a season-ending loss at Cincinnati while the Ravens will regroup to beat the AFC North champion Steelers, who will only be playing for playoff seeding in Week 17. Baltimore will follow that up with a road playoff win over the Texans before bowing out in the divisional round, ending a promising year for a young team with plenty of salary cap space and draft capital going into 2020.

Bonus Super Bowl pick no one asked for: Kansas City 30, Philadelphia 24

I just can’t stomach predicting another championship for New England, so I’ll go with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid finally getting over the hump against the team he coached for 14 seasons.

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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 add veteran inside linebacker Paul Worrilow to roster mix

Posted on 23 August 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens linebacker Board leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

Posted on 15 August 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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lamarjackson

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at start of training camp

Posted on 25 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 24th training camp in Baltimore, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Brandon Williams carried on the tradition of driving Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart onto the field, but it was very different not seeing or hearing Terrell Suggs on the first day of practice. His trash talk and carrying on largely represented the soundtrack of training camp. Practice was much quieter.

2. Michael Pierce deserves credit for his candor discussing his weight and conditioning problems and the work he’s put in. He took a scale on his pre-planned trip to Italy and ate only seafood and lighter fare. He’s a better man than I would have been for laying off the pasta.

3. The start of practice was pretty ugly for Lamar Jackson, but he knocked off rust to throw the ball much better in the latter half. He was picked by Chuck Clark while rolling to his right, but Jackson made some strong intermediate and deep passes and showed more accuracy.

4. John Harbaugh said the offense “looked like it was the first day” as the line struggled to protect and the unit committed way too many pre-snap penalties. That’s typical for this time of year, but a run-first attack will need do the little things well to stay on schedule.

5. Patrick Onwuasor seems to be taking to a leadership role as he is now playing “Mike” linebacker and even offered an opening statement at the podium Thursday, a rarity for a player interview. He says he listened and learned plenty in his first three years to prepare for this opportunity.

6. Marquise Brown not being cleared for the first day was disappointing, but it’s wise not to push with the soreness he still feels when cutting. The sense is he should at least be a limited participant by next week, but concern will grow if that doesn’t happen. He needs reps.

7. After a hamstring injury limited him this spring, Miles Boykin showed good speed in his snaps with the first-team offense. He dropped a pretty deep ball from Jackson, but he rebounded to haul in a contested catch for a touchdown against Earl Thomas in coverage and made some other plays.

8. Despite failing his conditioning test and sitting out the first day, Shane Ray has a real opportunity to revitalize his career and carve out a big role if healthy. I’m not sure whether that says more about his spring work or the lack of confidence in the younger options.

9. Fellow veteran Pernell McPhee lined up as the starting rush linebacker opposite Matthew Judon on the first day. I’m interested to see how the 30-year-old’s reps are managed with his injury history in mind, but I still anticipate him being more of a situational inside rusher than anything else.

10. Ben Powers reaped the benefits of getting to play left guard with Alex Lewis and Jermaine Eluemunor not practicing and James Hurst filling in for Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle on the first day. This competition is wide open, but the rookie fourth-round pick is definitely in the mix.

11. We’ve spotlighted the early-round draft misses in recent years, but the 2016 rookie class that included second- and third-round busts Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi also produced Judon, a fifth-round pick, as well as Onwuasor and Pierce, two undrafted free agents. Talk about terrific value.

12. One of the biggest surprises to begin camp was seeing a beard-free Marshal Yanda, a sight I couldn’t remember in my time on the beat. The seven-time Pro Bowl right guard appears to be in good shape entering his 13th season.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Inside linebackers

Posted on 19 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in days and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baltimore Ravens Tim Williams, (56), and Brandon Williams, (98), warm up at the team's  NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at end of mandatory minicamp

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp in Owings Mills this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marquise Brown not being “certain” to be ready for the start of training camp doesn’t mean this is turning into another Breshad Perriman situation, but it’s fair to be a little uneasy he’s not yet running full-speed. Ask Jimmy Smith or Hayden Hurst how long a foot injury can linger.

2. Lamar Jackson finished offseason workouts with multiple touchdown passes in a short red-zone period Thursday, an area of the field in which he struggled this spring. He fared better overall in 7-on-7 drills than full-team work, but he raised his level of consistency as the spring progressed.

3. Asked about his plans between now and training camp, Jackson said he’s organizing throwing sessions with teammates and will work with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris in Florida. He also “might” work with quarterback guru Tom House, but that sounded less certain. You definitely like the work ethic.

4. Earl Thomas admitted he has his challenging days coming back from his second lower left leg fracture in three years, but he feels like he’s “in the right spot” physically. We’ll get a better feel for the 30-year-old in the summer, but he appears to be gelling nicely with the rest of the secondary.

5. It was interesting how open Thomas was in describing the Baltimore defense as “very complex” compared to the straight Cover 3 looks he ran in Seattle. He admits the complexity and on-field communication have been adjustments, but that’s not surprising.

6. Trying to predict passing and receiving numbers in an offense anchored by the run is difficult, but Mark Andrews is my early pick to lead the Ravens in most receiving categories. He was the best pass-catching target on the field and is playing with an edge, something this offense needs.

7. Unlike Michael Pierce, Matthew Judon reported to minicamp in good shape and practiced like he hadn’t skipped organized team activities. Asked by a reporter if his agent has had contract talks with the Ravens, Judon replied, “They said they were going to pay me what they pay you.” Alrighty then.

8. John Harbaugh described left guard as “a competitive spot” and identified James Hurst as the slight favorite at this early stage despite Jermaine Eluemunor taking the first-team reps there this spring. The coach also mentioned Eluemunor needing to get in better shape. In other words, that spot is wide open.

9. It was interesting that Alex Lewis was not mentioned by name in that mix after Harbaugh revealed the oft-injured guard was in charge of his own rehabilitation from offseason shoulder surgery and the team hadn’t seen him until this week. That’s an interesting choice ahead of a contract year.

10. Harbaugh and Wink Martindale confirmed Kenny Young and Chris Board are competing for a starting inside linebacker spot next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Board is in the lead based on practice rep distribution.

11. The retiring Jerry Rosburg worked his final practice Thursday and was honored in a team-wide celebration the previous day. The Ravens will miss his superb special-teams coaching, but his thoughtful remarks and underrated sense of humor will be missed by reporters. Best wishes to him.

12. I appreciated Martindale’s candid comments about the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle and how the defense is impacted. I especially enjoyed the subtle shade thrown on the “next man up” phrase that’s become one of the worst cliches in sports in recent years.

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